Thursday, October 1, 2009
The Web: End of the classroom era?
The “The Web: End of the classroom era?” debate today at the eFest meets Teaching and Learning Conference, was well-attended. Initially the rules around the debate were established: panel of 6 people, 3 affirmative (in agreement with the statement) and 3 negative (in disagreement with the statement). Both panels were seated on the stage. The audience and a red and green voting paper. There was an adjudicator and a timekeeper. Each panel had 3 minutes each to speak.
The first speaker was from the affirmative team, and began by giving some statistics around online learning. Learners in online courses spend more time on task than in purely face-to-face contexts, and achievement of learning outcomes is higher. The second speaker from the panel in disagreement, responded by coming from the ‘human’ aspect – human teachers for human learning. It was interesting that face-to-face was seen as a positive approach for emotive factors, and being able to ‘see’ where learners were at, and what they were feeling. There appeared to be no understanding around the range of tools that can facilitate these same factors, the fact that somehow face-to-face learning is better – that there is no boredom, more engagement, more opportunities to contribute. Joyce was quick to challenge these ideas, pointing out that in face online it can be more democratic, that more learners have a voice, can create an identity. She recommends the You Tube video: Mr Winkle awakes. The Internet releases the teacher from the information transfer model and frees them up to debate.
The next speaker did not rebut any of the previous points, saying that she felt nothing had been said that needed to be rebutted! She feels that the Internet caters for the trivial, and referred to Andy Warhole’s 10 minutes of fame. The Web lets inadequate, foolish people express their thoughts, and the Web can deceive. You can’t trust the Web and there are perils and traps for young players. The next affirmative speaker chose to rebut the previous speaker’s points. He pointed that Ivan Illich foresaw the Internet. Schools and classrooms are industrial strength learning and that this is not the sort of learning we need. He quotes Illich’s book around conviviality. Learners are reliant on teachers and the system that makes education work. Learning is what happens on the Internet, and that will usher in the post-industrial age.
The final person from the disagreement panel, Colin Cox made a comment about the fact that he had not heard the previous speaker as he was Tweeting. He than gave an overview of his flight from Auckland to Palmerston North, pointing out that pilots who had learned in a simulated environment would not have the skills to really fly a plane.
Next stage was to throw things open things open to the audience for questions and comments. The first person from the audience made the point that simulators have been used to train medical professionals and pilots for years; that dentists were being trained in second life. The rebuttal made the point that the classroom is as big as the world – which played directly into Joyce’s hands – who pointed to the title of the debate!!
A question from the audience asked why eFest took place in a classroom on Tuesday. It was argued that eFest in fact had started months before in wikis, through Twitter, in Skype meetings – in a collaborative, globally diverse participants. The one laptop per child initiative enables children to connect to each other, even if they are not able to connect to the Internet.
One of the audience pointed out that she felt nervous about contributing to the discussion, but if she were online she would be able to contribute more comfortably. She poses the question – are teachers motivated by popularity, and their ‘ego’, when students appear to ‘love’ them?
A final comment from the audience pointed out that he could’t imagine his kids picking up the skills they currently have in an online environment…like kicking a ball.
A final vote from the audience was requested after a humorous summary of the main points made in the debate. It was a close call. The adjudicator declared the debate a draw given the quality of the debate and the spirit behind it!!!
I heard the people behind me say that it had been the best part of the conference. It certainly provoked passionate responses that showed the depth of commitment and feeling educators invest in their ‘calling’.