Lecturing to ghosts: Blurring the face-to-face and online divide

By Carla Bluhm and Kevin Mobbs
June 11th, 2015

How the dynamics of today’s live music concerts can shed light on teaching to the device generation.


Copyright: Ververidis Vasilis /

Dear Professor Google: Can you identify three topics you feel you cannot reasonably offer your students and that only a face-to-face professor can offer?

Conversely, are any of us as college professors better than Google as an instructor? Is there anything value-added vis-à-vis your classroom teaching? Might one contribute a unique understanding, or presentation, of content? Is offering a professional, high-quality, filtering of fluff and misinformation your unique contribution? Or, is there high-quality feedback that deepens and furthers learning – something arguably Google still does not do?

Kitchen table pedagogy

The point is, of course, that you probably can Google every single concept you currently teach and your students know this well. An added challenge is to grapple with the informal course designs that are popping up all over the net. We might reference this phenomenon as “kitchen table” pedagogy. These home-based “course designers” are challenging in ways that most academics have not even begun to consider; that is, their value, and perhaps the edge, they may have over other forms of transmitting traditionally taught academic information.

In the field of psychology there are numerous kinds of homegrown experiments peppering the net. For example, many good examples of kitchen table concepts exist, such as object permanence, the rouge nose experiment, and examples of ego centrism.

One can wonder how professors justify their classroom design in light of knowing how much teaching and learning is available any time and free of charge on the Internet. How can one in good faith continue to teach as if the Internet does not exist? With each semester that passes, students are not just a little bit more digitally native, but are algorithmically more in-tune with how to find information on the Internet.

In a recent NPR interview with correspondent Anya Kamenetz, former Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Superintendent, and current CEO of PDK International, Joshua Starr, asked a prominent school superintendent in the Washington D.C. area similar questions. Starr, discussing his stepping down as superintendent comments “I ask teachers all the time, if you can Google it, why teach it? Because we have so much information today. How do you help kids navigate that? That’s critical thinking and creative problem solving.”

Like modern day explorers we might head onto the high seas of the web and explore and evaluate, perhaps colonize it, too, by landing and frequenting places that provide valuable resources that can be shared with others. Obviously there is no value-neutral way to do this kind of pedagogy, but it is clearly the future of education — as unavoidable as the rising seas themselves.

(Next page: The ghosts in the classroom phenomenon)

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