Back in the heyday of claims about "the internet revolution"--I'd say 1997 was a peak year--there was naturally a backlash. I sympathized a little bit with the backlashers, since so many people who knew nothing about computing and information technology participated in the hype. But mostly I did not sympathize. In '96 or so I was asked to write a short review of Barry Sanders' A is for Ox: Violence, Electronic Media, and the Silencing of the Written Word (Pantheon, 1994) and I used it as my chance to respond to those who fretted about the impending demise of the book. (I knew Barry a bit from our days researching together at the Huntington Library and actually--from those good conversations in which he seemed no troglodyte--I was surprised when reading his book how much I disagreed with him.) Here are the first two paragraphs of the review (the rest can be found here):
Some anxieties become merely historical. One is surely Barry Sanders's. His book A is for Ox: Violence, Electronic Media, and the Silencing of the Written Word (Pantheon, 1994) is full of worries that the flow of data across the screen is replacing the cozy curl in the armchair--frets about the death of the book. I'm not really much concerned with the problem of making a rejoinder to Sanders, or to Sven Birkerts, whose book The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age (Faber, 1995) eloquently joins the trend of English profs become anti-computing Jeremiahs. I'm more concerned, actually, with the way in which the logic of Sanders and Birkerts and others affects our thinking about universities at a critical moment when teaching, the intellectual relation of teacher to student, and basic university structures, can dramatically change for the better if we take a few conceptual cues from the information age. The parallels between the two situations--how electronic media alter the book and how they alter education--will have to remain somewhat implicit here, for lack of space. (But, partly to prove my point, I invite discussion of the animated sort these printed pages won't enable; see below.)
For Barry Sanders, computers are intellectually fascistic. He thinks that when young people read books, as opposed to electronic text, they experience a kind of authority (the author's) that is engaging and not forbidding--entreating interaction. Horrified, he imagines that when a "young person...enters into an electronic world, [it is] one in which the rules are immutable and pre-established.... He or she comes to know that authority, real knowledge, and skill, reside in the machine, dictated by an anonymous disembodied programmer.... Authority resides in the book as well. But it is authority, not technological ukase." This so completely mistakes electronic text that one hardly knows where to begin. Sanders is wrong about the relationship between the authority of the programmer and the individual reader of e-text. If anything, authority is both more transparent and more effectively open to response in the new media for reading and learning than in the context of print--and here is where we might conceive of a powerful author-reader/teacher-learner relation for the near future.
John Gee has responded to my recent writings about higher education — for the blog called Penn Political Review. Here is the link. Gee's piece is titled "In Which I Take a Thought by Al Filreis and Run With It." "We will continue to evaluate students on their retention of information in addition to their analytical skills. But we might, however, stop gathering students together for the purpose of taking in that information."
Hillary Reinsberg, one of my advisees here at Penn and a fabulously snarky blogger and twitterer, is writing pieces now for The Huffington Post. Her first piece is about technology in the classroom. The power-point-aided lecture of today puts her to sleep.
Despite great claims made for the introduction of computer and other new-media hardware and software into the classroom, and huge expenditures made by colleges and universities, 60% of the undergraduate students surveyed for a 2007 report by the Educause Center for Applied Research said that they disagreed with the statement, “I am more engaged in courses that use technology.”* The issue, of course, is not whether we should be equipping our classrooms with the necessary current tools; we should. No the issue is whether teachers feel that in such a setting the box marked "learners' engagement" has been checked.
“The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2007,” September 12, 2007, educause.edu/ir/library.
“The income-producing research activity will follow the trend of moving into nondepartmental locations — institutes, centers, and programs — that can be closed with less fuss if the income dries up.” — MARC BOUSQUET, Associate professor at Santa Clara University, and author of How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation (New York University Press, 2008)
From: “FORUM: The Faculty of the Future: Leaner, Meaner, More Innovative, Less Secure,” Chronicle of Higher Education.
Tim Carmody, whom I admire and whose blog, Facebook updates, and now tweeting I follow, has a statement here too, part of which reads:
The curriculum, especially in the humanities, valorizes thoughtful curation and recirculation of material rather than comprehension or originality. The traditional unidirectional model of knowledge transmission (best represented by the now-deprecated “lecture”) has been effectively discredited, although it persists through habit, inertia, and whispered doubts about the efficacy and rigidity of the new model. Many professors periodically pause to lecture, but only apologetically, or when distanced by ironic quotation marks. / The ’teens are as widely remembered for technical innovation and radical dissemination of knowledge as the ’20s are for job loss, technological retrenchment, and economic concentration. In 2019, when Google used its capital to snap up the course-management giant Blackboard and the Ebsco, LexisNexis, and Ovid databases, it effectively became the universal front end for research and teaching in the academy.
Anyone who has read this blog knows how much I would (and do) disagree with Tim’s use of the lecture (his valorization of it and pre-nostaligia for it) in this scenario. His error is to tie inextricably the “traditional unidirectional model of knowledge transmission” (which he implicitly commends) to the techno-corporate consolidation of profit-making information providers.
Now, as for “originality” in this context: oh, don’t get me started. For another time. I promise.
Happily I join MIT science in calling for the end of the lecture as we know it. Here’s today’s New York Times on what MIT is doing. Back in March ’08 I waxed rhetorical on this topic in “end of the lecture (redux).”