More on theory-practice gap

Wendy’s blog entry about the theory-practice gulf struck me on a couple of levels.

First, I recall discussing in a research group meeting about three years ago, where I was reviewing a paper for an international conference–a paper on the technology infrastructure for streaming powerpoint. At that time, I was critical of the transmission model approach to learning underlying the authors’ approach. Wendy, Clare, and Bruce, however, pointed out to me that many educators would still be interested in finding out more about this kind of teaching and learning. Indeed, I recognized then as I do now, that higher education teaching in large lecture halls depend on this sort of delivery of content. Maybe not ideal, but necessary in contexts like undergrad courses of 400 students, for instance, unless there is a cataclysm in education toward a constructivist model 🙂

Second, in learning to balance my own research interests in learning theories and actual teaching practice, I realize how great the “gulf” is. While the teaching for higher ed course I’m enrolled in features exemplary instructors at University of Toronto in various disciplines giving seminars on things like presentation skills, finding your teaching voice, innovative technology, etc., it really comes back to the “list of tips” that Wendy mentions unless you understand the theory. While I can pick out the theoretical principles from cognitive research on learning underlying many of these instructors’ pedagogical tips because I have a psychology background, I don’t think my classmates from the disciplines without any learning theory background can. So, they might not be able to develop a really deep understanding of how those principles work together pedagogically. Also, in my own teaching, I need to make a conscious effort to avoid teaching in a way that doesn’t lapse into the conventional information transmission mode when using tools like powerpoint. This is challenging given the pressure to focus on research and to publish. I hope that as I gain more experience, I’ll be able to find ways to bridge the gap a bit better, faster.


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