Thursday, 11 September 2008

The amazing technological chocolate box.

We had a staff development day, focusing on two not altogether unrelated topics: retention of students and use of Web 2 technology in our teaching and learning. Across the higher education sector there is, and has been for the last six years, a 10% drop out rate for undergraduate students in their first year, and, in line with other institutions, we're being asked to reduce this rate.

Over the last couple of years my colleague, Paul Woodward, has been collecting data from the students who've left the courses without completing but it's been hard to discern a trend. Some students have felt over stretched, some under stretched, for some the course didn't feel right, for others University in general was wrong. Given that students have free will and inevitably will respond to their changing circumstances I wonder whether 90% retention isn't respectable rather than problematic?

One solution, offered implicitly in the second part of the day, is to adapt our approach to teaching and learning, to embrace the technologies that students are familiar with and sophisticated users of. I guess this very blog is a clunky attempt to do that... but we were offered a plethora of additional approaches: pod casts, facebook groups, wikis, eportfolios and myspace sites.

Intelligently used I think all of these might aid students to work smartly, so I'm broadly supportive, but the virtual world of convenient on-demand accessibility - lectures downloaded at 2am after a night out at Oceana, pod casts listened via ipod on the bus etc. - can only augment the visceral security of being live in the space with your peers and lecturer. The risk is when we pretend the technology can substitute for interpersonal experience.

The gift of facebook has been to democratise fame - so we don't just get Andy Warhol's rather mean fifteen minutes - but where we're able to create, control and manipulate our identity into perfection and , rather brilliantly, we can all do it similtaneously. Spending time working in a class or seminar is a much more exposing business, as your personality, unedited, is present to the demands of each moment and that includes sometimes being popular, sometimes not; sometimes getting hurt, sometimes upsetting others, sometimes being assertive, sometimes kind, and hopefully gaining some form of insight, knowledge or skill through the process.

Web2 -even in its abundant possibility for social networking - encourages us to create fixed islands of ourselves. Exciting and innovative educational experiences, however, require a commitment to meet openly face to face and be alive to the possibility of being wrong. I can't see this changing and that bodes well for the future of Drama both as an academic subject and educational methodology.

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