High-tech tips for teachers

December 22, 1995

Olga Wojtas reports from the Society for Research into Higher Education at Heriot-Watt University.

Learning technology can be used as a Trojan horse for change in teaching methods, according to Terry Mayes, research director of Heriot-Watt University's Institute for Computer Based Learning.

New methods which focused on learning rather than technology could promote a more reflective approach to how all academics taught, he said.

"I feel strongly that the role of the computer in education is being misconceived because it looks too like a television. People see it as delivering knowledge," he said.

But ICBL was emphasising communication rather than knowledge delivery, and once people started to think of novel ways in which students and tutors could communicate with one another, the role of the computer subtly shifted.

The success of the five-year-old ICBL, which has generated more than Pounds 2 million in external funding, was partly due to strong support from the university principal, Alistair MacFarlane, Professor Mayes said. Dr MacFarlane believed that new technology was an essential means to retain the virtues of an elitist university system at a time of mass higher education.

But it was crucial not to downgrade initiatives that did not involve technology, and the last thing Heriot-Watt wanted to do was simply replace lectures with computers, since lectures were one of the most cost-effective ways of educating students.

The principal had proposed a teaching and learning board equivalent to the research councils to give teaching and research equal status, Professor Mayes said, and institutions should reward academics for innovative teaching.

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