Edinburgh Manifesto: A Disturbing Subtext

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

[Note: The following article was first posted by Harry Keller as a comment to “A ‘Manifesto for Teaching Online’: The Edinburgh Edict” on 2.25.12. -Editor]

In “Manifesto for Teaching Online,” I find a subtext that’s disturbing. The statements suggest an active and strong group of people opposing online distance learning in a variety of ways. In other words, such a manifesto would not be necessary in a logical world.

Imagine the introduction of the book. Was such a manifesto necessary to get people to use books in learning? Did people suggest that books stifled creativity by putting the ideas on pages? Did they say that books created a “literacy divide” by denying learning to those who could not read? Did they complain that books result in a decline in people’s ability to remember because they could just look in the book? Of course, I wasn’t there at the time, and anti-book people would be unlikely to put these thoughts into books for us to read today. Some historian may be able to answer this question. It doesn’t matter.

Learning through online communication makes perfect sense. Books actually allowed people to learn things without being physically present at the side of the author. In a sense, they were the first distance learning. I learned electrical wiring through books and much more without having to sit in a class or become an apprentice. That learning was “distance learning,” although not as wonderfully dynamic as today’s online distance learning.

We can sit back today and criticize textbooks as old-fashioned and more. Yet, they freed up people from the tyranny of in-person learning and even freed up teachers from having to create all of that material themselves.

Is it a fair comparison: the advent of books and the advent of online learning? I’d say so. The concept of online schooling, with all of its ramifications — many to be seen, is as big a deal in education as the invention of the printing press and thus textbooks. It’s bigger, I say, than blackboards.

Just as books provided equal access to information for all who were literate and could gain access to a book (buy or borrow from friend or library), so will online education level the learning playing field for all who have access to the Internet. We just have to make sure that that access is as universal as access to a library has been — or even more so.

The quality of education should not be tied to a postal (or zip) code. How’s that for a manifesto?

One Response

  1. @ Harry. Sir, I think that you have missed the point. I do not believe that any sub-text can be decoded from such a mish-mash of statements, some more contradictory than others. I do not for one moment see any reasoned argument against teaching on-line. However, I am concerned that there is a general misunderstanding of the place of on-line activity in the field of teaching AND learning. As I stated in an email direct to Jen Ross:


    “I liked the 20 statements of your ‘Manifesto for Teaching Online’. However, I feel that the very title gives away a possible weakness, viz the implicit underlying differences between ‘Teaching’ and ‘Teaching and Learning’.

    “However, without even mentioning ‘the Sage on the Stage’ I would argue that the principle of ‘the Ownership of Learning’ moves the teacher/lecturer/professor away from centre-stage. Quite simply they are no longer the fount of all knowledge. Collaboration allows students to observe/gain insights from a much broader range of sources and that those collaborative experiences help to expand and/or consolidate one’s own dimensions of learning.

    “I would therefore suggest that #11 becomes ‘Feedback from a range of sources…’ and #20 becomes something like ‘Community and contacts drive a wider and deeper range of on-line learning’.

    Kind Regards,”

    If I were to detect any sub-plot from this list of bald statements I would suggest that the authors have not discerned that on-line learning (and teaching for that matter) is not a crude duplication of conventional ‘me teach, you read my textbook and learn’ strategies but that on-line learning opens up many new approaches to learning as I suggested above. Or perhaps I could be more generous and suggest that they had not thought it necessary to state the obvious?

    I would suggest that these are 20 statements worthy of serious disagregation and look forward to the 20 separate discussions!

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