OK, you wise guides

29th September 2000 at 01:00
Hi-tech means teachers are no longer the fount of all wisdom, says, Chris Hughes retorts..

It is a cliche to say that technology will change things. The point is not that things will be different, but how they will be different. And over what timescale.

Bill Gates reportedly remarked that most people over-estimate the impact of technological change over a three-year term, but under-estimate it over ten years. It is easy to miss the incremental changes that really make a difference, and that is as true for education as it is for anything else. Like any institution with a national research brief, a lot of my agency's work revolves around trying to pick out trends, and interpret change.

Questions of technological change pose important questions for teachers and trainers. If the world really is changing as fast as we think it might be, the supply side will need to be ready. For example, Feda has been putting together a project to assess the potential for using the mobile phone as a device for Internet-based delivery of learning.

Public policy decisions are being taken now, so I believe that "future-gazing" in a structured way - asking rigorous questions and articulating options - is valuable. Research is an obvious example. Colleges are already creating new learning professions. The role of librarian qua-resources-support professional is a good example. The emphasis is on supporting the learner in using technology to do his or her own research.

But I believe it is the communication element of ICT that is the great change (as well as the great democratiser of the internet). Just think what this might mean for teaching. Where once you had to visit world- class experts in a subject to chew over ideas, the e-mail, the teleconference, and the onlin tutorial may radically transform the learner's access to the specialist.

One view that is consistently shared among those looking at the future is that information technology will change profoundly the relationship between teacher and student. Given easy access to the very latest reference material, and possibly contact with subject specialists, the role of the teacher may change radically. Less the fount of all wisdom, more the wise guide.

The advent of IT is already heralding a change in the attitude of learners. In the case of computer-based courses, perhaps it is most obvious. Students are not satisfied with a vague explanation of their course content, because they are acutely aware of the uses and relevance of the programmes they will be working with. And whether it's version 2.4 or 3.0.

A more collaborative approach between learners and teachers might help to focus on the outcomes of learning. For example, different examination regimes may be compared with a keener eye, based upon their credibility with employers.

Students more engaged in their course may want to negotiate on the content. How might this stretch funding systems based upon qualifications as outcomes? How might it stretch the nature of the qualifications themselves?

Feda and the University for Industry have launched the 'Learning 2010' project to plot some of this territory. Through a series of seminars we are working with leading thinkers from industry, education and the media, culminating in a conference on November 2, and a book later in the year.

In the words of the Dylan song "The future is happening, but we don't know what it is". Well, at Feda, we intend to find out.

Chris Hughes is chief executive of the Further Education Development Agency

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