Shar-E-Fest and the Sage on the Screen

Shar-E-Fest is an E-Learning and M-Learning conference which I am currently attending. It has been quite a change for me to be with E-Learning people. While I provide distance education, I work within an organisation focused on the special educational needs of gifted students, and for a few years now every course and conference I have attended has had a gifted education and/or special needs focus. Overall, Shar-E-Fest has been refreshing, recharging and wonderful, and I am looking forward to tomorrow.

There is just one area I am a little concerned about. Some types of E-Learning appear to be replacing the Sage on the Stage with the Sage on the Screen. Teacher-driven, content-centred learning is being recorded, uploaded and tested upon. And to tell you the truth, I am probably most uncomfortable about this because I cannot be entirely confident that it is a bad thing!

In New Zealand primary schools, constructivist learning is very dear to our hearts. Bloom’s taxonomy, as executed in the some of our classrooms, looks more like a Christmas tree with a very thin trunk than a pyramid. “Rote memorisation” is a foul phrase. It’s not just that it isn’t allowed to dominate. In some classrooms it is scarcely allowed to be seen. Our national curriculum is a process-oriented document, to the extent that it has been criticised by some for its scant attention to content. So you see, I should be awash with cynicism about a such things as a lecture being recorded and uploaded for students to watch again and again.

On the other hand, I’m going to be pretty miffed if the presentations I liked the most don’t get uploaded for me to look at a few more times. Their content was largely transmitted for my consumption rather than being a negotiated co-construction of knowledge by the all of the wonderful people in the room. However, I like to hope that some of my on-the-fly musings on how these presentations could inform my own practice were actually higher order thinking, notwithstanding the knowledge-transmission mode of their delivery. I am willing to bet that watching the best of them again in my own time will enable me to further synthesise and create ideas as I merge new information and perspectives with old practice.

I am still absolutely passionate about Communities of Learners, but my past includes some very well-loved Sages on Stages, and my life would have been so much the richer if I could have heard and watched them again. Further, I love a good TED Talk – I relate very well to the new Sage on the Screen. What is more, a purist Community of Learners actually makes room for the Sage on the Stage.

Furthermore, I am a regular seeker of basic how-to information online. I also look back again and again at certain things that I just need to remember, like the ways HTML tags have changed since I first learnt them. So how can I criticise E-Learning delivery that puts basic how-to-information-that-must-be-remembered online for students? There are things in this life that you simply need to know. And yet part of me does criticise. Strange, isn’t it?

Is a recorded Sage on the Stage actually a Guide on the Side, because you can take them or leave them? Is the holy grail of Meddler in the Middle entirely achievable online given New Zealand’s bandwidth and the high teacher time input inherent in that kind of digital delivery? Will we just end up feeling like Jugglers in the Jungle if that is always our aim?

I suspect that not turning students into Steve Lowe‘s black funnel-headed boxes, is about balance, relationships, and many things besides a total shunning of the transmission mode. I shall ponder these things some more tomorrow!


About Mary St George

I teach in gifted education, both online and face-to-face.
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