Acquisition or Participation – The Pedagogical Divide

Tom PreskettBy Tom Preskett

When you think about the various options for using technology in teaching and learning, there is a stark contrast between those that come from the Web 2.0 movement, which are often free and easy to use, and those that come from the commercial software companies, which are often expensive and cumbersome. Overall, you can also draw a pedagogical dividing line between these two areas — acquisition or participation.

Acquisition is all about preserving what we have, transmitting the knowledge in the way we have done in formal education. I’m talking here about web conferencing systems, Learner Management Systems (I mean the core products, not the added-on interactive stuff), lecture capture systems. They are complex, bandwidth heavy, and usually accompanied by a manual or require expensive training and support.

Participation is about . . . well, participation, collaboration, knowledge construction, all that stuff. The tools to achieve these are usually stand-alone, free, easy to use, graphically impressive, and have built-in communities of support to draw on.

I wonder why this is. Perhaps it’s because commercial companies that focus on expensive systems know they can make more money by building a product that fulfills what the customers want rather than what they, perhaps, should want. Or it might be that it’s more natural to make a Web 2.0 tool about communication and collaboration online than it is to build something that is all about preserving the face-to-face lecture. Whatever the case, the collaborative media is certainly easier to use.

Whatever the reason, it feels, from where I’m sitting, that acquisition stuff is made the priority in colleges. No matter what it costs, we want technologies to preserve what we already do. It’s as though we’re saying, “OK, there is all this collaborative stuff, but we can think about that later, once we get our heads around this LMS control panel!”

I’m simplifying things, of course. The divide isn’t that stark, and in reality you need a combination of both. What’s interesting is that if ever we want evidence for the dominant pedagogical model, we only need to look at how we are using technology. Despite all the affordances for collaboration and communication, it’s the transmission we want it for.

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