Tech savvy

January 7, 2016

For those of us who deal with instructional technology and educational research, the argument in support of technology for its own sake is flawed (“Future perfect: what will universities look like in 2030?”, Features, 24/31 December).

Enthusiastic technological determinists are usually from the hard sciences, technology enthusiasts and software vendors who have a stake in assuming and prophesying an educational future determined exclusively by technologies. Since the widespread introduction of computers, there has been little indication that teaching styles have changed radically. In fact, there is a growing critique of what exactly e‑learning has offered in terms of improvements beyond widening participation and empowering some who lacked traditional access to education. Technologies are not a solution but rather a facilitator and an enabler when used appropriately – a very old aphorism for those who do educational research. The radio did not wipe out newspapers. Television did not wipe out the radio. The internet has not wiped out newspapers. Co-existence of instructional media and a blended approach is the realistic way forward, and has been for a while.

Fortunately, some contributors did emphasise the need for cross-disciplinarity and a return to broad-range skills and competencies. The recipe for success for teaching and learning is simple. As far as possible, embed learning in real-life scenarios; contextualise knowledge and promote project-based learning; use technology as a facilitator of transferable soft skills; equip each graduate with the skills to carry out small-scale action research and grounded theory; acknowledge informal learning and connect it to a formal system of certification; and give good teaching the same rewards as we do good research.


With many students apparently unable to stay awake in class or follow complex arguments (as Warren Bebbington writes in “Future perfect?”), do busy university staff have time for the challenging diversion of solving “major societal problems” (as Dan Schwartz and Candace Thille argue they must do)?

Neil Richardson

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