Re: The Feb '96 CAUT Editorial

Sam Lanfranco (lanfran@YORKU.CA)
Tue, 27 Feb 1996 21:02:17 -0500


Joyce Lorimer, President of CAUT, in her editorial "High-Tech 'Teacherless'
Classroom May be No Place To Learn" (CAUT Bulletin, February 1996) suffers
from two levels of confusion in this area. She argues that learner centred,
technology-based, teacherless classrooms are likely to end up studentless
because they fail to deliver quality and the full richness of the current
mix of teachers, and face-to-face engagement.

There may be those within the university, and working with the new
technologies, who believe that technology can simply substitute for the
teacher -as a delivery and testing device- and be gone with the teacher. If
so, they are few and far between. For the most part I encounter people who
ask how can the electronic venue (with its appropriate and inappropriate
tools) be used to (a) enrich the learning experience, (b) enhance access to
education, (c) re-inforce more collaborative approaches to learning, and (d)
'connect' the student better to the society in which they live. If anything,
the role for the teacher in a learner-centred educational process is more
demanding, not less. The standards of accountability higher, not lower. The
technology complements some, and substitutes for other, traditional ways of
doing things, while introducing new ways, often more attractive to students
than to faculty.

What is clear is that what works in the small here may well be workable in
the large. This strikes at the heart of the university's belief that it
'owns' students across a certain geographic area, or subject area. What is
unclear is whether the good will dominate the bad, or the bad will dominate
the good. Overall, students gravitate toward the good, and I expect them to
do so in this case. The President of CAUT may believe that this 'good' can
only happen between a professor (how good) and student (how many) in a
classroom. To have a belief is one thing, to test it is another.

The world is not about to test the hypothesis that 'education' is done
better, or worse, in a "..teacherless, electronic classroom." It is about to
test what happens when the old ways of education (actually not so old in
Canada) with their heavy reliance on the literal campus (harder for many
students to attend) are joined by new ways which make use of the terrain of
the virtual campus. The challenge, and the test, will be about what happens
when we blend the two, not when we pit one against the other. The sooner we
understand this the quicker we can get on with the task before us. The
slower we understand this the more likely external political and economic
forces will dictate solutions which serve nobody's interests.

Sam Lanfranco <lanfran@yorku.ca>