Old dog learning new tricks

This old dog is a day late and hasn’t followed the rules. All the same, this blog is a great opportunity to see what other younger dogs are thinking about and what tricks they’re getting up to.

My own thoughts have been wandering round the issue of whether and how e-learning will be sustained in our global society of the year 2050 (or, if you like, 2100). It seems to me that the shortages of energy, water and fertile land may by that time render e-learning either absolutely essential or somewhat fragmentary or both. Being a prophet is a job for a madman or a fool, so I don’t want to be either. Instead, I feel some affinity with James Lovelock, who combines hope with pessimism.

E-learning is the only solution on the horizon that would enable higher education to continue when campuses have been abandoned. Its excellence needs to increase: being robbed of face-to-face human contact is a high price for teachers and learners to
have to pay. Can virtual systems improve sufficiently? I hope to learn new tricks as they do.

Like John Fothergill, I’d like to add a joke at the end, but that will have to wait until next time.


Do. Or do not… there is no try. Or is there?

It is with these words that Yoda inspires the brash Luke Skywalker to master the Force and become a Jedi knight. How might they work, I ask, when applied to learning technologies and their uptake by academics?
Like the severe challenges that Yoda poses to Luke – challenges of the will and body, more challenges than Luke had ever faced before – helped mould a reckless youth into a Jedi knight, academics in Higher Education face a range of internal and external obstacles in their day-to-day work, before even engaging with learning technologies.
These challenges range from making sense of wider, sectoral issues like student retention and ever shifting, government education policies, to more ‘at home’ issues like meeting research and recruitment targets, battling institutional cultures and keeping up with the ‘state-of-the-art-knowledge’ in their chosen disciplines.
An earlier post to this blog suggested that there is a widespread but misinformed trend among academics of converting Word Documents to PDFs, putting them into a VLE and declaring that they have come to terms with learning technologies and that they are ‘do e-learning’. The author, rightly, declared these approaches to be wrong!
Is there then a case for academics to ‘unlearn’ their preconceptions?
When asked to raise his sunken craft from the Dagobah swamps with the power of his mind alone, Luke responded he would try. ‘No,’ chided Yoda … ‘Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try’.
Luke did not believe the Force could lift such a massive object. He was proven wrong when Yoda telekinetically lifted the X-wing fighter and placed it on dry land. Again, Luke was incredulous. And Yoda, pointed out that he failed because he did not believe.
The challenge is to get academics to believe in learning technologies and commit to their use in learning and teaching. But unlike Luke, they HAVE TO TRY it first. The thought of University academics transforming their courses en masse, with learning technologies overnight – and unlearning the experience of several millennia worth of face-to-face teaching is barely credible.
So beware of the Yoda who prophesizes that unlearning will be easy. Easy not it will be!

Jaideep Mukherjee, 20 Feb 2009

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