Pedagogy, or just technology?

MIT News, the website that publishes news items from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is consistently worth reading, both so as to follow what MIT is up to, and for quick insights into some really interesting topics addressed in the university’s teaching or research.

This does not mean of course that MIT always gets it right. One item on the website recently caught my attention, but its main arguments don’t particularly persuade me. It presents some thoughts on the future of university education by one of its Mechanical Engineering faculty, Professor Sanjay Sarma.

Professor Sarma asks ‘what a college education will look like in 10 years’, and then paints a picture of an IT-dominated experience in which students’ work is (apparently) graded automatically and in which the largely online menu will, for any subject, possibly include video games. This particular vision is explained as focusing on student interaction and participation, but seems on the other hand to offer few settings in which such interaction could play out. Professor Sarma appears to think that MOOCs will be the main influence on future degree courses.

There is absolutely no doubt that new technology will play a big role in higher education in future; and indeed that is a good thing. It is also clear that students will learn differently, and at different times, and at different stages of their lives; also, all good. It is well worth asking whether traditional lectures will still be a key teaching platform – something which I doubt. But I would equally suggest that universities must not abandon the social side of learning, and the building of a student community in which learning comes from student peers as much as from professors. All-round automated processes will not easily produce such environments.

Technology is here to stay, and is a hugely important tool. But it should support, and not replace, real pedagogy.

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3 Comments on “Pedagogy, or just technology?”

  1. anna notaro Says:

    No, MIT doesn’t always get it right…what irritates me particularly of this kind of techno-driven narratives is their teleological aspect…i.e. this is *bound* to happen, not to mention the disregard for any humanities perspective, and yet art and science were equal partners in that same Renaissance culture evoked by Sarma (director MIT’s Office of Digital Learning) at the start of the interview. Besides, anyone who defines a lecture environment as a ‘passive’ one has never set foot in a classroom and experienced the sort of interaction that is possible to establish..
    The piece also includes the familiar “Moocs bringing quality education to the world” story, even though “one of the biggest studies to date showed that rather than helping the poor, most MOOC participants already have degrees and are among the wealthiest classes, even in developing countries. It seems those who didn’t make it through a traditional college aren’t motivated to plod away at online modules, even if they’re free.”
    Sarma reassures us that MOOCs and other digital technologies will not replace professors or the residential college.“Technology isn’t here to somehow displace; it will sweeten the experience.”
    which sounds to me more like a ‘sweetening the unpleasant pill’ strategy rather than reassurance..
    One of the latest pedagogical innovations are the nano degrees, again heralded by some as “The Future of Education”
    When I first heard of them I thought there was a typo..and the right spelling was “Nanu Degrees”..I probably watched too much of Mork & Mindy ( while growing up..

    • anna notaro Says:

      I have just come across on Twitter this very interesting piece “Critical Digital Pedagogy: a Definition” which is worth sharing. It might be useful to compare the acritical approach to digital learning technology proposed by Sarma with the following:

      “Most digital technology, like social media or collaborative writing platforms or MOOCs, does not have its values coded into it in advance. These are tools merely, good only insofar as they are used. And platforms that do dictate too strongly how we might use them, or ones that remove our agency by too covertly reducing us and our work to commodified data, should be rooted out by a Critical Digital Pedagogy. Far too much work in educational technology starts with tools, when what we need to start with is humans.

      We are better users of technology when we are thinking critically about the nature and effects of that technology. What we must do is work to encourage students and ourselves to think critically about new tools (and, more importantly, the tools we already use).”

      This piece is a timely reminder that there are dangers not only in abandoning the ‘social side to learning’, as today’s post implies, but also in ignoring the political and the critical one. Technology and pedagogy are not mutually exclusive, of course, they can fruitfully work together, it is a matter for universities to fulfill their most important mission: to promote and support critical thinking in a digitally enhanced world.
      Nanu Nanu

  2. V.H Says:

    I know we generally disagree on thing one.
    Where I come at this s the 3rd world and the use on-line education could play there. What occurring at the moment is a vast brain drain from those regions leaving the universities replicating what goes on in the 1st world, a century ago. This has the effect of establishing a premium for basic education non existent in the west. Then what lecturer in a cutting edge subject will want to leave his intellectually rich environment to devote his/her life to building a cutting edge department in Lusaka.
    Those places are still in the space not seen in the USA since the High Schools were established around 1900 and subsequently in much of Europe after WW2.
    You see this using the cost base currently applied. And really you cannot view it any other way for you are pretty much in the space of the abbot with a scriptorium looking at a printing press with a very gimlety eye.

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