The Independent has an article entitled Something Wiki This Way Comes today about the increasing use of the Internet in higher education. I’m quoted as saying that “one of the most amazing technologies ever invented is reading from paper…It’s a key way to learn”. The journalist puts a “phew!” at the end of it as if my comment might help to justify the continued existence of newspapers.
Actually I’m more interested in the affordances of text in relation to other media for education than in whether text appears in print or on increasingly sophisticated and portable digital devices.
Al Gore in his book The Assault on Reason, which I’m currently very much enjoying, argues that television is so realistic a medium that it triggers instinctual responses similar to those triggered by reality itself – and without being modulated by logic, reason and reflective thought.
When reading text, people are actively engaged in imagining the world the author is trying to create. Gore suggests that the parts of the brain that are central to the reasoning process are continually activated by the very act of reading printed words.
This is one of the reasons why text is not going to go away as a medium for distance education though we will continue to integrate it with audio, video, animations, simulations, eassessement and other wonders of the digital age. Text can also so much more easily be a two-way medium now than it was when I was a student with the development of blogs, wikis, forums and instant messaging – and all the reflective and creative benefits that these bring about. Books will continue to accumulate on my bookshelves due to their portability (and the sheer wonder of them) but I fear that the day is not long away when the readability of new portable digital devices with the advantages of dynamic, hyperlinked text will make my bookshelves seem quaintly old-fashioned.