July 31, 2009

What’s so good about Face to Face?

I’ve been grabbling with this question for quite some time now. Influenced by this book as well as my own journey into a hybrid teaching situation, I’m more and more convinced answering the question, "what is face to face good for?" is one of the most important in education today.

With the advent of technology and distance learning, I’ve stood in front of teachers and administrators many times and asked them to consider why their students would choose to come to school. While the quality of distance learning is far from perfect, it offers the opportunity for students to learn with and from anyone at anytime. With more and more choice students will start asking if they really need to come to class. At the same time, it’s hard to deny what it means to learn in the same physical space. Notice I was careful to say "learn". Many people take for grant it that students will come to school simply to socialize and enjoy extra-curricular activities with others. I say that’s not good enough. Learning has to be social, otherwise why come to school?

This article and the accompany video might at first glance be a anti-technology message but in fact its arguing for better face to face encounters. Some might view the article as anti-technology or anti-powerpoint, I simply see this as trying to determine what the best use of face time might look like.


The undergrad course I teach is usually 3 online for every face to face experiences. I’ve learned a great deal in teaching online for the past 3 years. I’ve worked hard to make it interactive and participatory. I’ve had my share of successes and failures and will endeavour to make the best experience possible. That said, the face to face classes prove invaluable. In many ways, the content and delivery of these classes is no better than the online sessions but somehow students say it offers something the online sessions can’t do. Simply seeing faces and understanding each other in a different way fosters community in ways online interaction cannot. Maybe it’s just a return to the comfortable setting they are used to. I believe its more than that. Yet, without the asynchronous and synchronous online components, my courses would not have near the impact. We need both. I no longer take face to face time for grant it. I think many teachers have become lazy and aren’t considering the current and upcoming options that are available to students.

Rob Jacobs viewed the above video and article and considered Professional Development. I also think about meetings and conferences. In the district I work, we have many teachers and administrators travelling 3 hours to go to a meeting.  It is deplorable that they might attend a meeting and leave thinking, "I should have stayed home". Consider the time and money spent. I don’t want to be responsible for wasting their time. It shouldn’t really matter how far you have to drive, being together should be time well spent. We owe to teachers and students to make the face to face time we have valuable and important. 

While interactivy and particpation are two huge elements that ought to be present, what else is good about face to face? How do you insure that your students/teachers/co-workers/clients find the time they spend with you valuable?