Posted by: MandyS | April 20, 2013


Block 2, Week 11, Activity 1: A ‘classic’ debate

Gosh this was a bit different and took me back to my time at college and the ‘mooting’ we used to endure. In legal circles this is a discussion of a hypothetical case as an academic exercise but a very sound way of preparing students for life in the real, legal world. As a Prosecutor for 22 years, ‘discussions’ of this nature were my bread and butter, although, I must admit, they were not always quite so friendly.

The proposition here is “The continuing introduction of new technology and new media adds little to the quality of most education”. For me, the key word is ‘quality’ and I agree with Sir John in that respect, it is not about how ‘useful’ technology can be in education it is about how ‘effective’ its use is. Quality doesn’t just mean having a ‘degree of excellence’ it also means that something has a ‘distinctive attribute’ and, for me, the ability to engage is a distinctive attribute. Good teachers can engage students without the use of technology; my ‘A’ level law teacher was an actor as well as a barrister and, basically, he could tell a good tale, but this gift made his teaching engaging. Teachers and lecturers of this ilk are few and far between. What technology can do is fill in the gaps to make the delivery more engaging. It was interesting watching the video clip about OLI with the students sitting on the steps with their laptops reciting words; they were engaged and that, to me, is an example of technology not only being useful in education but actually improving the quality of that education. On that basis, my vote before reading the debate was Against.

In some respects, the aim of this activity was not just about understanding the arguments for and against but in assessing the delivery of those arguments. I found Sir John much more informal in his presentation than Dr Kozma, who relied heavily on studies and projects in order to defend his position. I rather got the impression of Sir John making throw away remarks, Kozma beetling off to find a way of proving him wrong and the moderator acting as some sort of referee to identify who had the upper hand.

The only commentator who made any impression for me was Kevin Bushweller. He made the interesting point of ‘how will the use of them (new technologies) prepare students to compete for jobs in a technology-driven global economy?’ I was taken with this statement simply because the only forced access to technology the law programme students have is using the internet to find cases on law databases. This is clearly a necessary skill they will need but what about their experience with online conferencing, recording information electronically etc. The quality of the education must surely be improved if student exposure to the use of technology during their studies provides them with the necessary transferable skills they need in the real world. In that respect, the quality of the education is not just simply about the quality of the teaching; it is the overall experience a student achieves throughout that education.

So the debate with my cohort is ‘Debates of this kind do not advance human understanding.’ I think what debates of this kind do is allow one to see the arguments from various angles. My own thinking was not swayed, but I now know far more than I did about the debate surrounding the use of technology in education. If nothing, it has given me pointers for further research if I was so inclined. What I have also gleaned is the sorts of evidence the debaters use in support. For me, this is quite valuable. Although I am very used to supporting my arguments with evidence, that evidence has to be ‘legal authority’ i.e. statute and case law. Journals etc. are simply a spring-board for developing ones own argument and, although academic writings are a source of law, the writer has to be renowned before reliance could ever be placed on their views in a court of law. I certainly understand more than I did before the debate so I would have to vote against this proposition.

Darling-Hammond said: ‘It seems to me that both Houses are right. And it appears that, in many ways, both Houses actually agree.’ Do you agree with her?

I must admit when I read both openings, my initial reaction was that both parties made some valid points and yes, I did rather think that there was a lot they agreed upon. The fundamental issue appeared to be that of the what is meant by quality and, to me, that was the only disagreement.

Do you think the debate was affected by the electronic format?

I don’t think I have ever witnessed an asynchronous debate but what it enables is various points of view, which you perhaps would be able to digest and consider in a live scenario. At least in this situation, one can go back to what has been said and reconsider ones own view-point.

Were you surprised by the results? (Pro 44% / Con 56%)

No, I wasn’t surprised by the outcome. I think Sir John makes a valid point but I think the evidence produced by Kozma would be the ultimate swaying factor for many voters. Facts are a valuable tool and that is what the studies and projects evidenced. I would argue that the majority of people would be more swayed by a fact than a supposition.


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