The limits of technical solutions.
Technical solutions can only be part of the response to any problem, however well-articulated. For example suppose a doctor sees a patient and comes to the conclusion that they have condition X. According to all the theoretical research known to the doctor, treatment A is the best way to treat condition X. In practice things are much more complicated. The doctor knows from their patient’s history that this patient also has condition B which is being treated with Treatment Y, and condition C which is treated with Treatment Z. From a combination of research and first-hand experience the doctor knows that Condition A and Condition B often occur together. However, while Condition C is unrelated, but treatment Z prevents treatment X from working. In other words the doctor the is having to make a lot of judgements about the best way to proceed – they may not may not be able to articulate the decision making process (which may take place over a period of minutes rather than hours), but this process is taking place in the doctor’s mind before a way forward to recommended. Moreover, even after this process has occurred the process may be repeated or revised in the future, perhaps in response to changes (or lack of changes) in the patient’s condition.
So while outlining the issue or problem any proposed ‘solution’ requires further scrutiny.
For example at the University of Brighton (in common with most other institutions of higher learning) we have done the following:
- We are using online software such as MS Teams to teaching our classes.
- We have developed alternative assessments.
- We have expanded our range of e-learning materials and e-books
- We have made a wider range of software available for home use.
Are these solutions to the current challenges facing us at the present time? In some ways, yes, they are.
- There is a problem what we can’t teach our classes – the solution is to offer MS Teams to communicate with our students and teach our classes.
- Students can’t do the originally intended assessment – the solution is to offer an alternative.
However, these technical solutions have important limitations. Aside from the different personal challenges and circumstances facing teachers and students er, these are tools which can be used well or even misused. Are these adequate replacements for our normal practice, inadequate replacements, or better than our normal practice? If they are less than adequate are there better solutions in view of the current circumstances? If these are better than our previous practice, then clearly we need to change our current practice.
Disciplinary examples of articulating problems with remote teaching
There are some examples of teaching practice which are very firmly established as needing to take place in a face-to-face environment. For it is established practice that recent graduates in Art and Design related subjects display their work at an end of course show -- these shows will not be taking place this year, at least not in the their usual forms. This is not my subject area, but I will offer a few thoughts.
If this is something you are thinking about or regard as the central problem you are facing, think about how you might dissect the problem. You can usefully go back to first principles about why such events take place at all. In this internet age why can’t students just upload photographs of their creative works to a website?
- What is the purpose of an end of year show?
- Displaying art works to the public.
- Learning from the processes of displaying work and organising a show.
- Is the end of course show a cultural rite of passage?
- How do we you articulate the importance of seeing an artefact in person as opposed to seeing a photograph of it online? What is gained by face-to-face engagement with an artefact (or what is lost online). How might these advantages be replicated in an online environment?
- We might also think about the embodied experience of viewing art. The appreciation of size and large and small details.
Another such environment is a science laboratory. Along with clinical environments this a physical learning environment which is not easily replicable (with good reasons) in the home. In a recent blog post Ngumbi and Lovett reference the muscle memory, and the 3D nature of science experiments- to what extent is it possible to replicate these experiences in an online environment?
References/ further reading
Marshalsey, Lorraine. 2020. The preliminary successes and drawbacks of a turn to distance design studio learning. https://distancedesigneducation.com/2020/04/24/the-preliminary-successes-and-drawbacks-of-a-turn-to-distance-design-studio-learning/
Ngumbi, Esther, and Brian Lovett. 2020. "The Magic of Teaching Science Labs Isn't Lost Online." Wired. https://www.wired.com/story/opinion-the-magic-of-teaching-science-labs-isnt-lost-online/
Schön, Donald A. 1991. The reflective practitioner: how professionals think in action. Aldershot: Ashgate.