NEW TECHNOLOGIES & THE CLASSICAL CANON
University of Tasmania (AUSTRALIA)
New teaching technologies have been demonized on the one hand, or marketed as the panacea for all teaching. It seems to me that a much more nuanced approach is called for. First, we need to differentiate between different areas and different levels. The hard sciences and engineering have a different approach to content from the Humanities, and both require different pedagogical tools relative to the students' competence, age, and chosen degree course.
In my paper I want to explore the advantages and disadvantages of new technologies in a field within the Humanities, namely philosophy, more specifically, incoming first year students. There are considerable dangers that come with uncritical use of new technologies. In particular, there are major traps in using PowerPoint presentations, video-conferencing, pod-casting, and the over-use of the internet. However, apart from obvious advantages, such as easier content management, assessment, and logistical support in general, I argue that new technologies in the classroom help in an unexpected way. They "show," in Wittgenstein's sense of the term, the very contrast to real, lasting, and substantive content, i.e., the classical canon.
Uniformity, flashy or rhetorical presentation [PowerPoint slides with the dreary three bullet points], argument by "familiarity" [the mandatory film clip] which seems to replace the argument from authority, the tapping into the ubiquitous media for teaching [TV clips, media clips in general], etc., "show" that what is covered up is the difficult, sweat and blood questioning, the engagement with a text or a a line of thought which cannot be presented in a quick and public way because it deals with one's very own development. Silence and learning (if it is not merely mimicking the latest fad) require distance and disconnection. This cannot be technologically produced. In fact, the new technologies conspire to shut off these possibilities. The new technologies tend to "engage," catch student's interest at all costs, as if idleness and free time were not part of learning. As it so happens, free time or idleness is the original meaning of "school" in Greek and Latin. It is that which shows itself to be the truth which eludes the technological mastery that we aspire to.
Consequently, I argue for the ironical use of new technologies in the classroom. We must use them to initiate what they cannot produce: playfulness, disconnection, silence, irony, etc. This is not such a new situation. Already Plato wrote a book in which he "showed" and argued directly that words ought not be written down.