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Covid-19 and the next great pedagogic transformation

Covid-19 has been a disaster, from so many perspectives. The magnitude of personal loss has far exceeded expectations. The wilful and reckless arrogance and anti-scientific populism of too many of our leaders, starting with Johnson and Trump's suicidal policies and attitudes. The depths of inequality the virus is revealing. But beyond this time, when the virus is dormant again, there is an opportunity to be had in Higher Education.

If tertiary institutions were already on the way to online provision, patchy and sketchy as it has been for some, Covid-19 rendered it necessary and now we're learning the hard and fast way, on the hoof. Being forced to move ramp up online provision could be the precursor to a second ‘great pedagogic transformation’. We rather squandered the last one, critics like Tom Schrand and AB Fraser contend, and I'm inclined to agree. Back in the late 1990s, the new digital era led to new teaching platforms like PowerPoint that could have heralded a new pedagogic order because they are capable of so much more than we use them for. However, too often we turned it into ‘shovelware’, churning bulk text, documents and bullet points through those new digital platforms and creating 'Death by PowerPoint' scenarios our students do not deserve.

The current move online offers an opportunity to ensure digital curriculum delivery is not a second technological wave in which we do what we did last time, and 'repackage our predigital course materials and our traditional pedagogies of passive student learning’ in new online provision. Instead, digital delivery in the virtual realm provides an opportunity to bring pedagogy in line with two key matters: how the brain works, and how the world works. We live in the most multimedia of all eras, and the world beyond academia reflects that. But curriculum design and delivery remain obstinately monomedia, privileging the word over the image instead of conjoining both. Utilizing online delivery to deliver in multimedia modes would bring pedagogic methods into alignment with how the brain is scientifically shown to work neurologically: like the rest of the human body, it works better when fed a balanced diet, in this case, words and images.

This is no whim; it is supported by half a century of cognitive psychology and works regardless of culture, age, gender or location because it mirrors our neurological architectures. This is an opportunity to discuss how virtual delivery can synergise scientific discovery and pedagogic practice to better engage our students and avoid making the same mistakes we did with the last ‘great pedagogic transformation’.

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