I caught a few minutes of Virtual Revolution recently and was intrigued by some of the comments made around the template-style social networking tools that have exploded onto the scene in recent times. The comparison was made with the garish websites that adorned cyberspace in the mid to late 1990’s when Geocities and Angelfire were the order of the day gaving vent to all manner of personal in silico expression.
Does anyone remember the old themes on Geocities? I recall having the address http://www.geocities.com/CapeCanaveral/7716 as “CapeCanaveral” was a close to the science theme as you could get. With clumsy hand-crafted HTML my science was now on the cutting edge!
What a contrast to the neat and tidy template-driven sites such as Facebook, WordPress and Twitter which have opened up online communication to the non-geek. With a click of the mouse and a few personal details you’re on your way.
Keeping Teaching Between the Lines
In a similar manner template-driven “teaching areas” on the average VLE now allow academics to enter a world of digital communication unheard of before. What freedom of communication! What freedom of expression! Or is it?? In the rush to get our notes online and our students to engage is there the danger of the dreaded tick box teaching? Almost in the same manner as we have lost many of the eccentric scientists with mad hair and spotty bow-ties that once walked the corridors of academia; many of the teaching websites stamped with the individualism of their devoted web master are now redundant. And perhaps for some of these that is best for us all.
But it begs the question. Are we becoming increasingly conformist in our teaching; too ready to accept the latest template as the best way forward? Being an inspiring teaching may manifest itself in the presentation of template-based resources in an innovative way. It can equally manifest itself in an enthusiastic lecture aided only by whiteboard and marker.
In reflecting on all of this I was reminded of some of the most memorable lectures I sat through. Often the notes were handwritten and the lecture marked by the enthusiasm and a clear desire on the part of the academic to instil something of worth into the minds of the students.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against VLE’s, Powerpoint or any other innovation attached to a USB. I do however hope that technical innovation and all that it offers will not stand in the way of creative and innovative teaching in the future.
I wonder what our students think?