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Online Learning | Munk Debates

SEASON TWO - EPISODE #3

Online Learning

Be it resolved, distance learning is a disaster.

Guests
Mark Bauerlein
Caitlin Fisher

About this episode

When COVID-19 shut down schools around the world last March, it launched an unprecedented experiment in education with a billion students as participants. At the heart of this experiment is the home computer, the new conduit to teachers, classmates and learning.

Supporters of digital education say that the pandemic offers a much-needed opportunity to rethink our approach to learning for the first time in over a century. They argue that digital learning is the wave of the future and that students in virtual classrooms connected through a computer and the internet will learn more quickly, retain more information, connect to an extraordinary library of resources, and arm themselves with the knowledge and skills needed to solve the problems of the 21st century.

By contrast, critics of distant learning believe we should be concerned not only about the inequitable access to the digital tools that support online learning - the real threat to education is the computer itself. Screen-based learning doesn’t place the same cognitive demands on students as the physical classroom and negatively impacts the reading and reasoning abilities that foster lifelong critical thinking skills. They argue that if the global experiment in distant learning continues, we are going to witness a steep decline in the educational attainment of hundreds of millions of children the world over.

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Guests

Mark Bauerlein

"The problem is how do we disengage remote learning from the very same tools that kids use for social media, games and fun, all of which are anti-intellectual, anti-historical, and anti-eloquent?"

Mark Bauerlein

"The problem is how do we disengage remote learning from the very same tools that kids use for social media, games and fun, all of which are anti-intellectual, anti-historical, and anti-eloquent?"

Mark Bauerlein is an editor at First Things and Emeritus Professor of English at Emory University, where he taught after earning his PhD in English at UCLA in 1989. He served as Director of the Office of Research and Analysis at the National Endowment for the Arts 2003-05. He is the author of several books, including Whitman and the American Idiom (1991), The Pragmatic Mind: Explorations in the Psychology of Belief (1997), Literary Criticism: An Autopsy (1997), Negrophobia: A Race Riot in Atlanta, 1906 (2001), and The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (2008).  His scholarly essays and reviews have appeared in PMLAPhilosophy and LiteratureWilson QuarterlyPartisan Review, and Yale Review. He has published reviews and commentaries in New York TimesWall Street JournalWashington Post, Weekly StandardThe GuardianChronicle of Higher EducationNew Criterion, and other national periodicals. He has appeared on CNN, CBS News, Fox and Friends, BBC World News, All Things Considered, C-SPAN, ABC's Nightline, PBS Frontline, and other national media outlets. He hosts The Conversation podcast at www.firstthings.com.

Caitlin Fisher

"We need to welcome this moment of rupture and acknowledge that the physical classrooms of the recent past are not great models for the future. The communicative tools this generation has at its disposal are incredibly powerful and what they're already making and sharing with them is inspiring."

Caitlin Fisher

"We need to welcome this moment of rupture and acknowledge that the physical classrooms of the recent past are not great models for the future. The communicative tools this generation has at its disposal are incredibly powerful and what they're already making and sharing with them is inspiring."

Caitlin Fisher serves on the international Board of Directors for HASTAC, the Humanities Arts Science Advanced Collaboratory, whose tagline is ‘Changing the Way We Teach + Learn’ and as Vice-President of the International Electronic Literature Organization. She directs both the Immersive Storytelling lab at [email protected] Studios and the Augmented Reality Lab at York University in Toronto where she held the Canada Research Chair in Digital Culture for over a decade. A co-founder of York’s Future Cinema Lab and a 2013 Fulbright Research Chair, Fisher is the recipient of many international awards for digital storytelling including the International Electronic Literature Award for Fiction and the Vinaròs Prize for AR poetry.

She is currently engaged in an Artificial Intelligence Storytelling project funded through the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada and is part of a large collaborative Speculative Energy Futures project, that brings together artists and engineers to consider the wicked problem of energy transition. She is also Co-PI on a New Frontiers project investigating “Immersive digital environments and indigenous knowledges: co-creation in virtual reality environments to advance artmaking, digital poetics and reconciliation.” An artist as well as an educator, she explores digital tools and future forms with enthusiasm and cautious optimism.

Show Notes

Mark is a senior editor at First Things where he hosts a podcast called “The Conversation”. You can listen to his  most recent podcast, What has Big Tech Done? here. He is also the author of The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes our Future.
 
Caitlin is the founder and leader of the Augmented Reality Lab at York University in Toronto. You can learn more about Caitlin’s work with augmented reality and storytelling in this CBC Spark radio piece.
 
During the debate, Mark argues that the American education system is in crisis and links American students’ declining reading and writing scores to increasing use of digital devices. He refers to the recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) report card which shows that that the average reading score for 12th graders declined between 2015 and 2019. This article explains that there is just a slight decline from 2015 and that the results “show an alarming and widening gap between students who generally perform well in school, and those who already struggle academically.”  Mark also refers to continually declining ACT scores, and studies that show that students are learning very little in college.  In response, Caitlin refers to studies which show that Canadian reading, writing, and math scores are among the highest in the world. 
 
Caitlin suggests that one of the reasons we should support online learning is that student retention increases and that learning takes less time. This World Economic Forum report says research shows that “students retain 25-60% more material when learning online compared to only 8-10% in a classroom” and “e-learning requires 40-60% less time to learn than in a traditional classroom setting.”
 
During the debate Mark and Caitlin discuss the Waldorf system of education which discourages technology in the classroom. You can learn more about the Waldorf schools here and how Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are choosing to send their kids to these kinds of schools.

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