Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Clear thinking ...

... there has been a lot of discussion lately about learning and technology, much of it having to do with the loss of authority by those who have been gatekeepers. But Alan Wall's A Defence of the Book (hat tip, Dave Lull) is different in that it makes a distinctly valid point:

"That new and potent ideology which claims that it is not the internalisation of knowledge that should be the aim of education, simply the acquisition of techniques for effectively accessing it. In other words, the skills do not have to be ‘learnt’, simply located, downloaded, then stored for future use" is indeed, as Wall says, cant pure nad simple. And his explanation as to why it is cant is right on the money: "Real learning modifies the human being who undergoes it. We change; we grow; we see reality differently. If we don’t, then we have not, in fact, learnt: we have merely skimmed the surface of a learning subject. Learning is participatory, which is why in any text-based subject, reading is usually more educative than watching a DVD. The more passive the student can be, the more the information simply passes over the mind, rather than entering it. In one ear and out the other, as we say. But reading, serious reading, close reading, reading of the sort that I still teach in a department of English, cannot tolerate such superficial engagement. Surface contact with the text results in failure, and so it should. Reading involves the whole mind; it is a negotiation of meaning. It is demanding, and rightly so. Merely ‘accessing’ the text does not help."

Technology can aid learning. It cannot substitute for it.

1 comment:

  1. Another someone who believes that pixels on a screen results in poor comprehension? As if learning requires ink on paper.

    In other words, the skills do not have to be ‘learnt’, simply located, downloaded, then stored for future use. As long as a student can find where the knowledge lies, and process it for the task presently in hand, then that, it would appear, is acceptable. This is cant, and dangerous cant too.

    Which skills are those, Mr Wall? Book lugging, page turning? Yep, holding paper and turning pages, damn it, is the only way to learn. Talk about cant. Did Gizmo Gus say holding a keyboard and touching the return key was the only way to learn? I doubt it. But if he did, it would have been a silly thing to say, right?

    I watched my 17 year old text message to 5 of her friends the other day, at lightening speed, about a book they all were reading. I'm so confused.

    It seems to me that what Wall is defending is 'limiting access to knowledge'. All so he can make money selling paper. And why wouldn't he, it's served him well enough so far. No telling what might happen if the rabble had access to MITs curriculum without paying for it. Oh wait ..


    "Peaceful co-existence requires reasonable men. Would that include Mr. Wall?"

    "Sure it does. He admits to using pixels on a screen as much as most people."

    It is not possible to function in higher education these days without constantly being plugged in.

    -Alan Wall