Over at Edge, Don Tapscott appears to have a flawed and somewhat limited understanding of teaching and learning at universities as he predicts their imminent demise (though not without some truths in there). For all that he derides lectures, he might be surprised of the extent to which students sometime prefer to attend lectures. [Another similar story].
Actually, I’d happily drop most of my lectures for more discursive forms of interaction – though I can only do this if students adequately prepare and take steps to learn enough of the subject so we can actually have a discussion. Some of my trials with this have not been totally successful, others have worked a little better. Without any hard statistics to back this up I’d say the success of such an approach depends a lot on many contextual factors: the students, the institution, the delivery mode (online vs campus), the tutor (maybe I’m just not that good at this?) and perhaps most significant of all the course itself (to what extent does the core content of the course suit such a learning mode, and do students need to gain some degree of technical knowledge before discussion becomes possible?).
Anyway, there are two replies to Don’s piece on the Edge website, both making quite strong cases to illustrate that Don is somewhat out of touch. One of these is by Marc Hauser – whose weighty volume on the Evolution of Communication I referred to a lot back when I was doing my PhD. In his reply, Marc says:
Tapscott’s article thus underestimates the ingenuity of good teaching, that from my perspective, continues to thrive in many universities, and is not based on the premise of a blank slate student, waiting for professorial scribbling. Although I realize that many universities are turning to online classes, with virtually no personal engagement with the students, I find this trend sad. There is nothing more riveting than the dynamics of a class, when it is buzzing with discussion, to and from student to professor.
Indeed, in Don’s piece he seems strangely ignorant of the extent to which many universities world over are trying to adapt to new technologies to supplement and enhance teaching and learning. It’s not as if there is a shortage of material out there. If Don is serious about understanding how the internet may be changing education – and how some universities and leading academics are actively trying to extend the reach of their material out to users who, for whatever reason, are unable to attend university then I would recommend the MIT Press book Opening Up Education – and he doesn’t even need to pay for it, as the book itself has been published online for free: