Sometimes I wish these looneyversity managers would take a cold shower. They’re full of dire predictions. The end of the world as we know it, is nigh; if we don’t move quickly we will sink into the technological abyss;  that unless the university puts everything online, embraces all the bells and whistles the internet has to offer, it will be left like the plain girl at the school dance, chewing her hanky in the corner while all the other kids dance to the techno music.

Their thinking runs something like this: the consumers of our products have complicated lives and we can’t expect them to organise themselves around our timetables. (Text or email it to me, dude. I’m like… so over this lecturer shit. Busy life, 24/7, job, parties… you know the deal. So put your stuff on the web and I’ll download it when I can be bothered). So we give them as much as possible on the web and make as few demands on them as we can. As long as they make a reasonable stab at the assessment, they will sashay along the degree path.

Most students now don’t attend lectures (which raises the question of why we’ve been building all these new lecture theatres) and we hope they will listen to the lecture podcasts. But do they? No, most don’t. Not in the week that they were given anyway. If lectures can help them pass the unit, many will cram at the end of semester, but many don’t listen at all. And now we can’t even make them come to tutorials, so after picking up their ipads, they can just head straight off to the beach with no need to come back until exam week. It stands to reason that when they fill in their end of semester consumer satisfaction surveys the blended learning gets a big tick.

But what happens to education when it is based around the idea of the sovereign tech-savvy consumer? Isn’t there a chance it might be dumbed down? The thing about getting together in a classroom and eyeballing your teachers and fellow students, with no technology getting in the way, is that you are forced to listen for an hour to the lecture or the conversation – no distractions, no status updates flicking up on the screen, no checking the Twitter feed or the texts; just old fashioned sustained concentration. If we spend too much time pinballing around on the web our retained memory shrinks to that of a goldfish circling a bowl. Can’t remember what you started out looking on the web for. Can’t think why you ended up reading about Kim Kardashian’s baby when you actually went off in search of Neiztsche’s theory of the self.

Maybe the futurists in the managerial class are misreading the storm clouds gathering on the horizon. Perhaps, after all, those clouds don’t represent MOOCS or the online learning juggernaut, but rather a backlash against technology. As the internet and smartphones collapse everything into whim, fancy and distraction, as time management gets lost in the epidemic of procrastination, perhaps there’s a desire (from parents and students alike) for more discipline and direction,  for real things happening in real time, for the direction to concentrate on one text and one voice.  If that’s the case then, having gambled too much on the new educational utopia, UWS could well be left out in the cold. And don’t expect the highly paid technophiles who run the looneyversity to lose any sleep over this. ‘C’est la vie!’. They will be long gone. Those of us who care should make our voices heard.

 John D’oh

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