Ever since the invention of the printed word, academics have been arguing about the proper place of technology in teaching.

On one side are those who I’ll call the traditionalists who insist on the primacy of face-to-face and barely tolerate online delivery. For the traditionalists, students need, as one colleague put it, to be exposed to the “rhetorical performance of the lecture”. For them, students learn a great deal from simply watching academics nut through problems.

While they may decry passive lectures, their own teaching, they insist, is a highly interactive affair. They adopt a Socratic approach in which they engage students in a rich dialogue. While technologies such as the web have a place in teaching, it is a secondary one, limited for broadcasting announcements and pasting up subject learning guides.

On the other side, are the technologists. The technologists would happily do away with lectures — or give face-to-face teaching the flick entirely. New technologies provide tools for reaching into students’ lives. Students can learn when and where they want. And now that students are getting online delivery at high school, it’s time that universities caught up.

As an Associate Dean, I’ve heard passionate defenders of both sides — and I have some sympathy for both.

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