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Pedagogical ping-pong

Posted on: October 6, 2016

A university website claims that bookending lectures is innovative learning. It is neither innovative nor does it focus on learning.

The first bookend is providing an advance organiser and the other bookend is summarising. In between is a series of lecturing and activities that I call pedagogical ping-pong.

Pedagogical ping-pong is an iterative process: Deliver-practice-repeat. In layperson’s lingo, it is often “I tell you first, then you give it back to me”. This is often repeated cycles of just-in-case delivery followed by practice or testing.

What is wrong with this design? The presenting of information first is providing a solution before a problem is obvious. It reflects an expert’s deconstruction of a problem and the retelling of a solution. This makes no sense and does not reflect the logical or authentic problems in the wider world.

Pedagogical ping-pong encourages short-term use of recently provided information. For example, you provide a formula and you get students to practice using it. They will seem to understand and even apply it because of recency, not long-term learning.

An alternative approach is to put the problem first. This presents an issue in all its complexity by dealing with a puzzle or phenomenon first. Where lectures are a must, the design of the lesson could start with a wider world issue as captured in a video, followed by questions to clarify and scaffold, and then by providing just-in-time information.

The alternative approach makes visible expert and novice thinking behind problem-solving. It focuses not just on content but also on thinking processes. Taking this approach requires a shift in mindset: Content is not an end in itself; it is a means of teaching learners to master new thinking skills, change attitudes, and/or adopt different values.

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