Donald .... Duck!

Donald Clark's opening keynote for ALT-C 2010 essentially polarised his audience this morning. Some loved his earthy, no-quarter given demolition of an host of established theories of learning. "Maslow's hierarchy of needs is only popular, because triangles are easy to put into Powerpoint slides" he opined. "Socrates was a bully" he claimed, and he also lashed into other long accepted and well established models, much to the delight, and also the chagrine of those assembled. What really rankled though with many of those present (and some of those watching via Elluminate) was his critique that academics do not question learning theories, not are they suffiently critical of them. (Picture above: Donald Clark appeals to the Gods of Pedagogy).

Clark argued that lectures are a relic of the medieval age, and complained that modern university teaching rooms are not tech friendly. Where are the power sockets in this room? he asked. Fair point. And how can you get students to interact when all the seats are bolted down and facing the same way? Another good question. But his outright dismissal of the lecture as a legitimate pedagogical method left many of the delegates reaching for their laptops and harsh tagging him. There was plenty of 'tweckling' from all parts of the hall, and I suppose that by now, Donald Clark has read these comments, and knowing him as I do, is ready for the next round. For he is in a fight, no doubt about it. He cited Donald Bligh's seminal book 'What's the use of lectures?', but failed to mention that Bligh goes on to describe several important ways to improve the lecture and make it more interactive and participatory for students.

Was he too opinionated? One delegate suggested Clark had given ALT-C a 'Glasgow Kiss', but that may be going a little too far. Donald certainly fuelled much disciussion, and became the human equivalent of a hand grenade tossed into an otherwise placid melange of academics and professionals. It certainly had the desired effect. He tore down a lot during his keynote, but many were left questioning whether Donald Clark actually built anything up? When asked what the alternatives were to the lecture, he didn't seem to answer substantially, to the satisfaction of those who were listening.

One final observation: Donald Clark seemed to consider it acceptable to lace his presentation with a number of profanities. It intensified as he became more passionate and warmed to his subject. However, for some in the audience, his style stifled his substance. They were more intent on the language he was using than they were on what he was actually saying. Never the less, whatever your opinion about 'the lecture is dead' rant, it caused a few waves and a lot of dissonance for the 550 or so delegates at this years event. More later. And in the meantime, to lighten the mood, above is a picture of Stu Johnson with an Apple device.

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Donald ... Duck! by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Stu Johnson said…
An excellent summary (& nice photography too :)
Anonymous said…
Thanks for the synopsis Steve. Unfortunately I didn't see Clark's keynote (either in person or online), but I certainly wish I had.

I admire people who have the guts to swim against the tide - though by the sound of it, his presentation style left much to be desired.

Whether contrarian views are right or wrong misses the point. The value they offer is to provoke thought and challenge the status quo. If the masses can defend the popular opinion, then it is validated. More likely, though, the contrarian view will contain elements of truth that can serve to evolve the popular opinion into something even better.

It reminds me of Aneel Karnani's case against Corporate Social Responsibility, which I have considered on my own blog:

Heckling (or tweckling!) is hardly the right response. Let's put forward our rebuttals in good faith. Heaven forbid we take any of it on board.
Anonymous said…
Hi Steve, I was also sat in the audience.I think that is an accurate summation of what was discussed. I personally liked the talk as it shook things up a bit and certainly got a lot of discussion and debate started. I also think he dodged the alternatives to lectures, I think personally there needs to be more interactivity...even with large numbers of students present.
Cheers for the report on the keynote.

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