Thursday, March 08, 2007

Are you pampering your students?

I always share my enthusiasm about developing an e-learning course with my colleagues and very often one of the issue raised during our discussion is “spoon-feeding”. “Don’t you think you are spoon-feeding your students by putting your hand-outs, notes, PowerPoints slides, etc. for them to freely download?” – This is the question commonly asked by my colleagues and also when I give a presentation about my e-learning course. Hmm....actually I hate this question because to me there is no fine line or clear demarcation as to what constitutes “spoon-feeding” and what is not. True, the overwhelming majority of educators fail to make use of the potential pedagogical advantages offered by online environment. According to Badge et al. (2005), when academic staff begin to use a “virtual learning environment”, they often do not consider how it can be used to improve the educational value of their teaching. Instead, it is seen as a quick way to deliver learning materials that would otherwise have been delivered by alternative means, e.g. printed handouts. In particular, time constraints and the naive expectations that learning technology is either a bottomless pit or a quick technological fix for pedagogical problems, result in the use of sophisticated C&IT systems as mere filing systems.

Recent evidence has shown that simply putting notes on the web does not improve student learning (Evans et al., 2004). The same work also showed that material which is presented with sound pedagogical underpinning and which is easily navigable appears to enhance student learning. So, developing good e-learning course based on sound principles of pedagogy is not a simple endeavour – obviously not for faint-hearted educators. You need a rock (or diamond) solid commitment – you need a burning desire and A LOTS of enthusiasm – and of course, the multitude of skills!! I can say from my experience, it’s not going to be easy.

Well, back to the spoon-feeding issue. This is what the dictionary says about spoon feeding in the context of teaching-learning:
"If you spoon-feed someone, you do everything for them or tell them everything that they need to know, thus preventing them from having to think or act for themselves. e.g. There is a tendency to spoon-feed your pupils when you’re teaching because it is quicker and easier" (Collins Cobuild English Language Dictionary).
So, the result of spoon-feeding in the academic context is the inhibition of the development of the capacity for independent thinking and learning.

I posted a question about this issue in my e-learning portal (title: Spoon-feeding: Are you being pampered?) and asked the students to give their response. Here is one the response (verbatim):
Here is my two cents' worth. Honestly, it is not only me that have been spoon fed, in fact "all" of us will have to raise up our hands and own up! (Please don't sue me for defamation because I think that this is true) Ha ha.... From young, we have been fed with a silver spoon by our biological parents and in school, the same goes with our dedicated "second-parents". The spoon feeding practice is part of our Malaysian education culture which has long built its warm nest and is still very much alive and breathing. That is why we turn out to be pampered passive learners. As children and students, we are very much being sheltered and doted on by our anxious "parents" BUT too much of "loving" can also spoil the child. I understand about the worries our "parents" have for us, always afraid that we will fall and never will be able to rise up. To prevent the fall, they provide us with crutches, something which we can hold on to for support. Little do they realize, their noble intentions will render us disable, never again to be able to walk like a normal, healthy individual. Hence, we become too dependent and perhaps a little too complacent while enjoying the comfort of the supporting bars. What happens if these luxury bars were suddenly taken away? Nevertheless, a little fall wouldn't instantaneously kill us. It will constantly remind us to be more cautious and wiser when we initiate our steps, allow us some time to grimace and reflect upon our downfall but most importantly, after that we are able to gather our strength and get back on our two big feet! Now that I'm in the university, the spoon feeding culture is slowly fading away but it sometimes sheepishly reappears. But, I believe all of us are trying very hard to be more independent in hopes that one day, with our very own effort, we can proudly fly, spreading our great big wings and soar up into the sky.....” (Chan Lai Ean).

Badge, JL., Cann, AJ. and Scott, J. (2005) e-Learning versus e-Teaching: Seeing the pedagogic wood for the technological trees. Bioscience Education E-Journal, volume 5 , available at (accessed 1 March 2003)

Evans, C., Gibbons, N.J., Shah, K. and Griffin, D.K. (2004) Virtual learning in the biological sciences: pitfalls of simply "putting notes on the web" Computers & Education, 43, 49-61.