Thursday, February 23, 2006

The centre of the university?

I was at a talk today called Web-essays, wikis and weblogs: Teaching with digital texts by Sian Bayne from the University of Edinburgh. Very interesting!

She started with a screen full of university crests and logos. She pointed how many university crests included a book - often at their centre. This is true not just for the ancient universities, but you see it in more modern universities, eastern universities, even some online universities! The University of Strathclyde, my employers, (who pride themselves on on being modern enough to include a wavicle) has not one but two books on their crest.
S
ome educators are uneasy about all of this. As teachers we are making increasing use of digital texts and our students are using and creating them so we recognise the value of the easy accessibility and the potential of collaborative creation... and yet we remain suspicious. However, although we have trusted books for a long time, we want our students to ask if we should still trust them?

This discussion on print verses digital surfaced in the comments to my last post on the AOL poster adverts. A related topic was raised in a recent post about digital versions of ancient texts from Antoninus Pius. (that well known dead Roman general!) What are the implications of making texts like this available outside specialist academic libraries? Apart from easier access, what other advantages will digital texts bring?

Other questions I find myself asking include, how do we enforce copyright when it is so easy to make copies of digital resources which are indistinguishable from original and at essentially no cost to the copier? How do intellectual property rights apply when the work is collaboratively produced in a rip, mix and burn digital world?

Sorry, another blog post with more questions than answers. I'm really just thinking aloud here. Have I any conclusions? My only thought is that I see some parallels with where we are just now in education and where the music industry was. How did the music business react to MP3 sharing? They reacted with draconian actions, for example by taking legal action for huge sums of money against teenagers... then along came iTunes who said, "Here's a cheap, easy way to get music legally, are you interested?" And, surprise, surprise, millions of people were interested. Then there's the Arctic Monkeys who gave away their music on the Internet and when they released their first album, not only does it go straight to number 1, but it beats the combined sales of every other album in the chart!

So is education's response going to be to raise the barricades against the digital hordes or are we going to take the Arctic Monkeys' route and look for the best ways to use both to the mutual advantage learners and teachers? I don't think it has to be exclusively print or digital. (I listened with some disquiet to a radio report on an American school that had got rid of textbooks altogether and given every child a laptop with a wireless Internet connection.) The Arctic Monkeys embraced the possibilities of the Internet - but they still released a CD. I don't think the book should be removed from university crests, but perhaps digital media will begin to join it centre stage.

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