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Academics voice fears over zapping culture

Speakers at a recent Canadian conference on the impact of the digital revolution on the classroom were certainly not blinded by technology.

Edith Ackermann, a professor at France's University of Aix-Marseille who has worked at MIT's Media Laboratory, is one voice of caution in the emerging debate about new technologies and academe.

Where some would push information highway technology unreservedly, Dr Ackermann believes it encourages a "zapping culture, a quick fix".

Dr Ackermann, a developmental psychologist, criticised the current "boundless enthusiasm" of some towards the so-called information highway.

She acknowledges that the technology provides very useful tools for storing, accessing and re-using already-packaged information.

But she deplores the fact that "no one is thinking about the time of gestation or the time needed for people to create their own forms of expression reflecting their experiences from this information".

Dr Ackermann believes people must become producers and not just consumers of information.

Her ideal is an atelier approach, where high and low-technology tools are combined, permitting students to draw on all the sources of information they have used.

Asked if she sees a significant shift in the offing for professors, she offers a qualified no.

But she adds: "Traditional teachers, who think knowledge construction merely involves transmission of knowledge where, for instance, there is no room for hands-on activity, could benefit a bit from tools that allow improved visualisation".

However, Dr Ackermann sees the potential for radical change in computer networks, where there is, she believes, a true two-way flow of information.

Dominique Delage, a French consultant, appeared more concerned than Dr Ackermann, asking if academics will be made redundant by new information technologies.

Mr Delage suggested that the new technologies play a mediating role between teacher and learner, with the teacher responsible for developing an environment where the learner can develop his or her own learning style.

Jean Roy, who works in the Quebec ministry of education's educational technology branch, said that "a major consequence of the new technologies is to enhance educators' roles."

Mr Roy believes that professors should primarily "make students conscious of how to learn" rather than providing them directly with course content.

He says most university courses could rely exclusively on pre-packaged multimedia content.

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