Saturday, October 9, 2010

Blackboards v/s Technology

Yesterday, I sat through a talk by one of my former colleagues, Srinivas Palanki entitled "eLearning: An Engineering Professor's Viewpoint".

He sketched out a very brief history of education starting from the times of Socrates, during which one teacher under a tree would engage in a dialogue with four or five students, through the Nalanda University, in which the idea of "classrooms" was developed, to about 1801 when James Pillans introduced the blackboard, which served as a focal point, and allowed class sizes to swell even more. It solved the classroom analog of the question (source: Joey from Friends) "You don't have a TV? What does all your furniture point to?"

The rest of the entertaining talk was a demonstration of the practical tools one could use such as, how to easily make videos (Camtasia), annotate slides using a tablet PC, and track usage using a learning management software (Moodle). For a motivated student (like someone who works, and likes the asynchronous aspect of learning), this development can really be a blessing. We already see some of this via MIT OpenCourseWare and Khan Academy.

My only remark at the end of the talk was how far we seem to have come from the "Socrates model", where learning was primarily question-directed, to increasingly more industrialized, efficient, and unidirectional models.

As a counter-point, check out this blog in support of traditional classroom teaching. Crudely summarizing, it suggests two important points: (i) just because something is old doesn't mean it is out-dated, and (ii) so much of communication is non-verbal.

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