Emulate Plato and Steve Jobs, university educators hear

Apple director and Open University v-c tell Universia International Presidents’ Meeting 2014 in Brazil to think pedagogy, not technology

August 7, 2014

Source: Alamy

Forget books: Plato thought people would stop using their memories

The maturing of digital technology is returning higher education to the age of the School of Athens, when Plato dismissed books as a dangerous disruption to education.

That was the argument made by William Rankin, director of learning at technology giant Apple, who said that it was up to universities to ensure that technology was used to connect students to the world rather than to isolate them from it.

Speaking at the Universia International Presidents’ Meeting in Rio de Janeiro on 29 July, Dr Rankin said that the School of Athens was built on the precept of students “walking through the streets exploring the world around them” without relying on the books whose use, Plato believed, would cause people to “cease to exercise their memories”.

As books went on to transform teaching, Dr Rankin said, they “pulled people out of contact with everyday life. In the age of the medieval university there were town and gown riots, where the schools were seen as enemies of culture by people living nearby.”

There were lessons here for today’s technological revolution, he argued.

“I’m not particularly fond of virtualisation,” Dr Rankin said, because it “extracts people from their context [when] what technology should be doing is inserting people more richly into their context…The university of the future should use technology not to lock us away but to return us to the model of the School of Athens.”

Also speaking at the event, Martin Bean, vice-chancellor of The Open University, said that a useful question for universities to ask as they respond to digital disruption is: “What would Steve Jobs [the founder of Apple] do? He would ask: ‘Are we creating rich, meaningful experiences for our students?’.

“It cannot be about the technology, it has to be about the pedagogy,” he added.

“Our role is to give our students the critical thinking skills to interrogate the world they live in and come up with their own view of what the truth is.”

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

Doctoral study can seem like a 24-7 endeavour, but don't ignore these other opportunities, advise Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman

Matthew Brazier illustration (9 February 2017)

How do you defeat Nazis and liars? Focus on the people in earshot, says eminent Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt

Improvement, performance, rankings, success

Phil Baty sets out why the World University Rankings are here to stay – and why that's a good thing

Warwick vice-chancellor Stuart Croft on why his university reluctantly joined the ‘flawed’ teaching excellence framework

people dressed in game of thrones costume

Old Germanic languages are back in vogue, but what value are they to a modern-day graduate? Alice Durrans writes