You can't give an apple to a computer

Can teachers be replaced by computers? Professor Ron Oliver (pictured left speaking earlier today) thought not and quoted Arthur C. Clarke: "Any teacher who can be replaced by a computer .... should be!" (I thought at the time that giving an apple to a computer is not quite the done thing). Ron, who is Pro-Vice Chancellor at Edith Cowan University in Western Australia, provided us with a very entertaining and incisive keynote at the LYICT Conference entitled: 'Engaging Learners in Open Learning'. He came from a traditional classroom perspective, arguing that good teaching is always required, whatever the learning context.

I have heard Ron speak before. Several times. And he is always fresh, amusing and thought provoking. If he can't produce furrowed brows, says Ron, he is doing something wrong. To engage students, we must produce task-oriented learning he argued. This can come in the form of complex tasks, ill-structured problems and a whole host of other online based exercises designed to keep the learner engaged at a high level of information processing - not just information access, which he considers to be quite passive, or even information organisation, which is getting there, but information processing, which involves critical enquiry and reflection as well as problem solving. He showed several learning models he is currently working on with colleagues, all of which resonated with real teaching and learning.

Ron suggested that good learning must take diversity into account, which may produce arguments (if we are lucky) and dissonance for individual learners. Ultimately, the end result must be diversity of outcome - where every students takes away new skills and knowledge which they can use within their own personal contexts. His talk completed, Ron sat down next to me on the front row. The audience applauded. He had to get back up again and walk out once more, though. They wanted to give him a gift (souvenir) for his speech. Not quite giving the teacher an apple. But well deserved none the less.

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