Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Education and Convenience.

Spent the day with the teaching and learning committee at Pembroke Lodge in Richmond Park, drawing up the Universities strategy for the coming year. There's some nervousness about e-learning - its possibilities and its application. I suppose I'm on the skeptic wing of the debate, wanting to be sure that whatever systems we subscribe to works for both staff and students and doesn't simply serve as a replacement for activities and exchanges that work well face to face. At the risk of sounding like a miserable dinosaur I think there is a social dimension that we risk losing.

I'm interested in pod casts, wiki and blogs, but dislike the assumption that a lecture is a fixed (or fixable) product that can be replicated and bought into at a time convenient to the student - isn't that how a book works?

To my mind lectures, even to 100 people, are personal exchanges and alongside seminars are still a vital part to student experience at HE level. A lecture may not be improvised, but the effectiveness of its delivery can only be judged in the moment. A recording simply cannot respond to delight, boredom, laughter, dismay, anger or incomprehension - all of which take subtle shades in the theatre.

I also worry about the ease with which we all desire ease. Whilst I'm a champion of accessibility I'm not convinced that education should be always immediately palatable (and it's dangerous to mix the two things up.) Study, reading, imagining and reflecting are acts of pure subversion. In combination, they can be dynamite. An education helps you question assumption as well as challenge behaviour, ambition and ritual. All of this is fairly combative but, if students can maintain dedication and honesty, the process will ultimately defeat any fear that stops them from living life to the full. When you're trapped, confused, angry, or bitter the ability to imagine something else, something other, is the only real chance you have to find happiness. Isn't that what education is for? There's no specific formula and it's hard to live well but it's a cracking prize isn't it? If we always prioritise efficiency, these epic battles will never be fought. Our students will cash in their curiosity early and become content, but dull adults.

The web has been brilliant for democratising knowledge but so much of the new technology is being sold to institutions on the grounds that it's familiar to the students and so, if we engage, we'll improve their productivity. Maybe? It feels lazy like Prozac.

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