The Digital Lectern

The Digital Lectern

Tom McBride (Beloit College, USA) and Ron Nief (Beloit College, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-3962-1.ch001
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This chapter projects how higher education will be systematically transformed once the practice of capturing lectures is widespread and common: in particular how the practice will affect the lecture format itself, bring about a reversal of homework and class work, influence the dialectic of interdisciplinary education, transform the communications ontology of the lecture, and affect small liberal arts colleges, for whom in-person pedagogy has been a hallmark—and to which captured lectures would appear to be alien.
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Colleges and universities have always been ‘capturing’ their lectures. --a prospective item on The Mindset List for the Class of 2042 (born 2020).

In this chapter we offer speculation about how a single technological change in American higher education—the captured lecture—will transform educational practices and possibly redefine best practices regarding the subject of pedagogy. Our perspective is that of two authors who have been studying the impact of technological change as it affects the mindsets of succeeding generations of young persons. In our past studies we have focused on how different generations absorb what appears to be novelty and quickly make it a normal part of their everyday lives. We approach the subject of captured lectures in the same way: once they become a routine part of the mindset of higher education, what else will seem always to have been true? Our objective is to stir imaginative discussion about the pros and cons of this almost inevitable technological change in higher education.



Last year in the New Yorker Adam Gopnik neatly summarized major attitudes about digital technology. He said there were three major points of view: those who thought such technology had fostered a paradise of vast information and individual choice; those who thought it had unleashed a dystopia of diminished concentration and fragmented knowledge; and those who shrugged and said that every new technology was a blend of good and bad that required lots of adjustment. (Gopnik, 2011)

As authors of The Mindset Lists of American History (McBride & Nief, 2011), which traces what was normal for ten generations of Americans from 1880, count us as mostly in the third category. In our research we discovered that every older generation regards the technology that marks the new one as having caused a great decline and loss. Thus automobiles brought unwelcome strangers into town and allowed youngsters to get away from home and do Lord-Knows-What. Telephones would end house visits (just as text messages, it might be feared, will end phone calls). Radio would destroy conversation around the fireplace. Television would ruin viewers’ eyes. Besides that, by 1961 Newton Minow, former head of the Federal Communications Commission, called TV “a vast wasteland” (Minow, 1961) of culture: this after a decade that is now regarded as TV’s golden age with its many live theatrical performances. If we go back long enough we discover that even the lowly zipper was thought to have been a threat to civilized values. Buttoning up was thought central to a virtuous and industrious life. The microphone that made crooners like Bing Crosby possible was regarded as the ruination of American music, which had depended upon more full-throated tenors and baritones who required no mic and performed on a live stage.

At the same time, new technology has also brought with it no shortage of theorists to explain what it meant. The most famous of these was the Canadian English professor Marshall McLuhan, who wrote about how television had created an electronic global village and punished politicians whose stentorian gifts may have once been appropriate to the sweaty convention hall but utterly inappropriate, and even scarily off-putting, on the cool medium of the Tube. (McLuhan, 1964) Meanwhile, in an earlier era the microphone had made possible a more intimate form of singing, and while no theorist of McLuhan’s stature was around to say so, it just became obvious after a while. What is equally apparent is that new technology is frightening. It brings with it new ways of presenting and organizing information, new consumer habits, and new words. No wonder the public, especially the older public, craves an explanation of what seems to be a new, and not necessarily brave, world. Theorists who can say What It All Means will often find an audience: hence, Mr. Gopnik’s categorization of today’s theorists in three slots.

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