Richard Noss, in his initial introduction to the conference as a whole, answered my first key question, as an Australian coming (back) to the UK to think about teaching and learning. By and large, the awaited radical transformation - the sea-change, if you will - has yet to occur in the ways in which technology and new paradigms of social communication fundamentally shift the way we teach and learn.
This is clearly true of Australia, but my question had been to what extent the much more overtly policy-driven agenda towards e-Learning in the UK had been effective. What I am hearing initially is: not all that much. As Noss pointed out, the transformation in other parts of our lives (social, financial; who doesn't bank online nowadays?) has been rapid and pervasive. Likewise in both Australia and the UK, dramatic shifts in the nature and culture in HE have taken place as a result of other external drivers (student fees, internationalization, widening access).
So why do we sit here, waiting for the sea-change? Even those who avowedly rally to turn back the tide, fighting a rear-guard action against the evils of technology in the classroom, appear to be fighting phony war. When will come the large scale institutional commitment to drive whole universities into the forward into the utopia or dystopia of the future.
Saul Tendler, somewhat perfunctorily, took a contrary view, and talked about the transformation he had seen over the past twenty years. However in his passing reference to "new ways to deliver material", he revealed that while the available gadgets, bells and whistles may have changed, his paradigms of learning had, maybe, not. "Deliver material": the junk mail paradigm of teaching and learning.
But Donald Clark returned to the theme that "nothing much changed". The ways in which physics, for instance, is being taught now remains the same as it was when Clark was a student thirty years ago. Clark used the lecture as a metonym for the intractability of higher education practice, and observed teachers' unwillingness, in the main, to adopt a research-informed, scientific or reflective attitude to their own practice or to the nature of learning as causal.
Systematically, Clark destroyed the rationale for the lecture as a teaching method. "It's not just that that the great majority of lectures are shit ... The method itself is flawed ... it's a fossil, a mediaeval relic. ... We have to have a more sophisticated view of the solution to this problem than just to shove them down on tape.". The passivity; the lack of critical reflection or collaboration; the lack of practice or repetition; the lack of collaboration; the cognitive overload: these are all persuasive arguments as to why the lecture is an unsuitable learning experience.
Clark's review of the history, philosophy and etymology of the lecture was an entertaining tour-de-force. But by and large, he was preaching to the converted. The talk was more motivational than informative - and that was no bad thing. Those of us committed to transforming education for the better could deal with a morale boost.
Yes, we are convinced. The lecture is bunk. So WHY, Donald, WHY do we continue to subject our students to an uninteresting and unedifying diet of second- and third-rate lecture experiences? This is the question, which was left haning.
Which brings us back to my original question. Why - given the technologies available to us, the prevalence of leadership committee to transformation in at least some parts of many of our institutions, and the decade or more that has passed since we have been trying - why are we still waiting for the sea change?
That sad truth about most contemporary higher education is that it is not rich or strange. On the contrary: it is poor and ordinary.