Friday, 11 June 2010

H800: Week 17 – Activity 6 – Administering knowledge

Reading Brabazon (2001) 'Internet teaching and the administration of knowledge'.


When I first read this article I felt somewhat depressed, because I can recognise nearly all the issues which Brabazon raises. For a while it forced me to question my enthusiasm for technology-enhanced learning. Then I started to think about it and I realised that, much like the Hara and Kling article in Activity 2 of this week, Brabazon appears to lay the blame for many of the problems with higher education today at the door of technology, when in fact the true cause of the problems is much more complex.

I would like to highlight some of the issues which Brabazon raises, and to argue that that the problems are not necessarily derived from the technology, but are sadly part and parcel of modern higher education:

Internet-based learning is a response to consumerism in which ideas are crushed into modules, criteria and bullet points, and rendered consistent and predictable.

Yes – sadly the prevailing approach in HE is to reduce everything to bite-sized modules. But this is nothing to do with web-based delivery – it is a product of the modularisation of courses, a system which most universities nowadays adopt.

The role of the teacher is changing, and the expectations of teachers are increasing.

Yes – but again, this has much more to do with the managerialist culture which now prevails in universities as corporate organisations than with the increasing use technology.

Staff have heavy administrative workloads.

Yes – but yet again I don't see this is directly a result of web-based delivery. Even for traditionally delivered courses the administrative burden is incredibly high nowadays.

Staff are expected to be contactable all the time.

I accept that this is definitely an issue. Electronic communications mean that staff can easily fall into the trap of being a slave to emails. However, I would flip this issue on its head and say that electronic communications can also be used to one's advantage. For example, I might respond to emails from students from home in the evening or at weekends, or even from my iPhone when I'm out and about. However, if this means I can free up large chunks of time during the week to devote to this course, then I am using the flexibility afforded by electronic communications to my own advantage.

The 'powerpointing of knowledge'

I will also concede that PowerPoint can be incredibly tedious as a delivery medium. However, in my experience this is because it is not used properly. If lecturers fill slides with text then proceed to read the text then of course it's going to be tedious. But you will not convince me that a chalk board, a white board or an overhead projector are better tools. I have used all of these in my time in education and none come close to PowerPoint, which enables me to incorporate images, animations, video clips and also allows me to have much more control over the way the information is presented. Yes – PowerPoint can be mind-numbingly boring when poorly used, but this is generally down to the incompetence / ignorance / laziness of the lecturer rather than an inherent problem with PowerPoint.

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