Designing Learning Series

‘Chalk and Talk’ or Technology. Do I Have a Choice?

Making a case of the complementary role of technology in achieving an impactful learning experience.

Abd Karim Alias
Jun 3, 2019 · 8 min read
Photo by Jelleke Vanooteghem on Unsplash

If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow
John Dewey.

ecently I shared one article on the Facebook (FB) group, Learning innovation Circle (LIC) and asked for comments from the members. The article, “Chalk and Talk’ Might be the Best Way to Teach After All”, sparked the idea for this brief article.

The article I shared on FB described the ‘finding’ of seventy teachers from the UK who visited Shanghai to investigate why Chinese students perform so well in international tests such as PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS (see below). Upon their return, the teachers reported that much of China’s success came from “chalk and talk” approach, rather than the much-hyped ‘student-centred learning’ and the collaborative form of learning where students take greater control.

To those champions of student-centred learning, including yours truly, the conclusion of the observation came as a shock. Should I be disappointed or celebrate this ‘finding’? The first thought that came to my mind was, hmm…well, maybe I will take this with a pinch of salt.

My first thought was, what do PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS actually measure? Do these tests sufficiently measure the overall intelligence as well as other skills and values that a good education system should impart in the student? In my humble opinion, these tests are not necessarily good estimates of the value of teaching, simply because they are less connected with what is actually taught and the way in which it is taught. I’m of the opinion that no standardised test can ever test real-world knowledge and skills — that’s a myth!

Let me quote some of the thoughtful comments (verbatim)posted in the comment thread.

Malaysia needs to be concerned about its poor results, and those results are likely because of a reliance on an educational system that favours chalk and talk and teacher-centred environments that do little to teach students to think critically. The Shanghai/Pisa situation is wrought in controversy and results are seriously biased by the Hukou system that is still practised. Shanghai and China have very unique characteristics that must be considered before drawing any conclusions about their ‘effective’ teaching practices”.

Firstly, let’s think about what we could mean by “chalk and talk”? Isn’t this about teachers using the black/whiteboard, electronic board, flip chart, slides, videos, etc? This is where the “teaching” of concepts need to be effective and teachers need to help students master the concepts or else…. If you have watched Khan Academy videos, you will see that they represent the “chalk and talk” that we need. Learning happens after good teaching. Chalk and talk are usually first, followed by other approaches to engage the students.

I agree that we need to look at what ‘Chalk and Talk’ means but it generally is associated with the traditional teacher-centred approach where the teacher is telling. Khan Academy is a lot of Chalk and Talk but they definitely are not the panacea of effective teaching strategies. The flipped learning, collaborative learning, and a plethora of other strategies are definitely what is needed I think. I also think that a bit of Chalk and Talk might be necessary but the problem is one of balance. In every single one of the public classrooms, I have been in Malaysia Chalk and Talk is the order of the day. And it doesn’t serve our students well”.

This is my own input to the discussion which leads to the title of this article:

“Yes, chalk and talk are still prevalent. I would like to reiterate that we can strike a balance with a multitude of instructional strategies, blending the traditional approaches and technology. The bottom line is to achieve effective learning while fostering high order thinking. It takes a lot of effort though, for teachers have to put a lot of thought in the effective instructional delivery”.

Photo by Peter Hershey on Unsplash

I believe a ‘good’ teacher builds a repertoire of practices that suits individual learners at different times, which is why teaching well is exhausting. There is not just one way to teach. The “one size fits all” approach in regard to individuals and subject matter is not conducive to effective learning or teaching. This is where the role of technology can help to add value in engaging and enriching the learning experiences of our students.

Notice that I used the keyword “add value”. Many so-called disruptive technologies have promised to revolutionise education, but so far none has. The reason is simple — technology is a tool — “a fool with a tool is still a fool”. Technology is not a silver bullet. We still need good teachers trained and guided to use technology as one of the tools to add to his/her repertoire. There are many other ‘non-technological’ ways of engaging students — demonstration, practical exercises, discussion, debate, storytelling, etc. The bottom line is, the role of a teacher is even more important in a student centred learning environment, i.e., as a facilitator and as a learning designer.

Is it really necessary to use technology?

Much has been written about integrating technology into a classroom. The question that is usually asked is, is it really necessary — is it really useful? In my opinion, the traditional approach of chalk and board still has its place but I strongly believe that educational technology could offer myriad of pedagogical benefits. Technology today, in various forms, have grown tremendously and have permeated all areas of our lives. Similarly, students are connected today in ways that previous generations could never have imagined and this has a direct implication on how they learn and impact on how teachers teach in a classroom.

Photo by Lilly Rum on Unsplash

So it makes sense to connect with our students in ways they are already familiar. It is incomprehensible if educators today are still reluctant to use technology in teaching and learning activities or still perceive technology negatively. Of course, like most things in life, we should be cognizant of the shortcomings and over-dependent on technology. Too much of a good thing also runs the risk of becoming ineffective. Technology should always be used in tandem with sound pedagogical principles. It’s NOT THE ONLY thing, but it will add value. It would never replace a good teacher!

How can traditional modes of classroom instruction engage and inspire students when life outside the classroom has changed so dramatically? I believe in leveraging the technology available to enhance the educational experiences of my students. Although I teach a full-time course (face-to-face), I also supplement some topics of the lecture in the form of an online (virtual) lecture. This is done to further enhance understanding of certain difficult concepts or to discuss more examples which otherwise not covered in the classroom due to time constraint.

Preparing some lectures as online lecture also serve a few functions: (1) I can ask the student to view the lecture before the class (normal face-to-face lecture) so that I can use the class time for more discussion and interaction; (2) student can review the lecture at their convenience.

To be honest, the preparation of good online materials is strenuous and time-consuming. It involves preparation of the slides, the script for each slide, recording and editing the video, recording the audio and finally combining everything into a single presentation. However, with regular practice, the process of preparing an online lecture would become easier and faster.

How useful is an online lecture?

Photo by J. Kelly Brito on Unsplash

How useful is the online lecture? Used wisely and sparingly, an online lecture can be used effectively to add another dimension to the classroom lecture. The students can view the presentation repeatedly either for revision or get a better understanding of the process. This is a great way to add value to the classroom teaching because very often the time to cover even the important aspects of the course is very limited. It is advisable that each online lecture is limited to 10 minutes. For a longer lecture then you can divide it into a few 10 minutes segment.

I’m teaching science and technology subject (food science/technology) — a subject which requires a practical approach. While many food science/food processing concepts can be learned in a classroom they can be greatly enhanced by reaching beyond the walls of a lecture room. One cannot teach a course on food processing just by showing the flow chart and perhaps some pictures. Likewise, it is not sufficient to explain the principles and the step-by-step procedure of certain analytical method. In an ideal situation, it is best to teach a principle or concept by hands-on approach or by a direct demonstration.

Imagine teaching a student about Lane-Eynon titration to determine reducing sugar. Being an empirical method and the reaction is nonstoichiometry, strict adherence to the procedure is critical in order to obtain good results. A video recording of the whole experiment can be made and critical steps of the titration can be highlighted. This would avoid students making unnecessary mistakes or systematic errors in carrying out the analytical procedure.

Similarly, when teaching food processing operation (e.g., extraction and refining of vegetable oils), each step of the process can be recorded in visual form and combined with narration. When I teach about the production of snack foods, I can explain the sequence of the process and showing the picture and video clip of each stage of the process. These examples represent a different form of pedagogy (teaching methods) that can be fully utilised for effective teaching and eventually will greatly benefit the students.

The bottom line? Regardless whether it is ‘chalk and talk’, PowerPoint, Prezi, Twitter, or a group discussion, the most effective teacher brings out the best in every student at all times with all kinds of methodologies in order to motivate the students in every way. Period.

So let’s embrace technology but don’t forget the low-tech but time-tested chalk and board!

Anecdotes of Academia

The world of academia is vast and vibrant—full of exciting…

Abd Karim Alias

Written by

A Professor of Food Technology at Univ Sains Malaysia (Malaysia) (since 1994). A strong advocate of online education and driven by a passion to share knowledge.

Anecdotes of Academia

The world of academia is vast and vibrant—full of exciting anecdotes. This publication presents stories of trial and tribulation of academics (educators) in their journey to become a scholar in the world of academia.

Abd Karim Alias

Written by

A Professor of Food Technology at Univ Sains Malaysia (Malaysia) (since 1994). A strong advocate of online education and driven by a passion to share knowledge.

Anecdotes of Academia

The world of academia is vast and vibrant—full of exciting anecdotes. This publication presents stories of trial and tribulation of academics (educators) in their journey to become a scholar in the world of academia.

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