Symbols of knowledge

Interesting discussion on talk-back radio about the value of books in an increasingly digital world.

It was sparked by the revelation in the SMH that the University of NSW was discarding thousands of books, journals and papers some dating back to the 1860s.   According to the university, it’s in response to a demand for online resources by students and lecturers.

Some academics believe it’s scandalous that the library is removing books to make way for ‘space for students to sit around, have lunch and plug their laptops in.’

David Miller from the school of history and philosophy was quoted as saying ‘Universities are in the business of passing on knowledge and books…..still remain a very important symbol of knowledge.’

Historically and culturally, books have been a symbol of knowledge.  The invention of the Gutenburg press led to the democratisation of knowledge. That’s really the point – books are symbols of knowledge but they are no longer the only source of it.

Fast forward five centuries and we see an even greater democratisation of knowledge with the  invention of the Internet.  Tim Berners-Lee says the web evolved into a powerful ‘ubiquitous tool’ because it was built on egalitarian principles.   Knowledge is created, shared and is available to anyone, anywhere.

This is not an either/or argument e.g either you love technology and hate books. It’s about context and our moral imperative as educators is to prepare all learners for work in a knowledge age, using appropriate tools to enhance the experience.

Much of the information students need to access is now available online and accessible anywhere, anytime.    The popularity and power of mobile devices like iPads is beginning to change the way we think about learning and teaching.

This year, RMIT University and Adelaide University gave students enrolled in pharmacy and science degrees an iPad.   At the touch of a screen, students will be able to access the latest scientific and pharmaceutical information.

Professor Peter Hill from Adelaide University says that providing information for students on iPads means that information is “more accessible, more relevant and more frequently updated, providing the flexible learning environment students are looking for.”

The Stanford University School of Medicine is also trialling iPads in its first year and master’s program to improve student learning experiences.   The school’s associate dean, Dr Charles Prober believes the use of these technologies will help students access the ‘enormous amount of medical knowledge that is being produced constantly.’

We’ve come a long way since the Gutenburg press.  Books brought us to where we are today but mobile devices will take us into the future.



One thought on “Symbols of knowledge

  1. You make some very sound points Greg.
    I have just read The Horizon Report and whilst it is aimed at the higher end of education it’s still very relevant for all learners and teachers.
    I am convinced that the lower end of education (primary) is leading the way in the use of technology and its integration in the day to day learning/teaching.

    The challenge for me is ensuring that my teachers/staff are up to date with the latest technologies and their usefulness in the leaning process.

    The excuse that we are so busy fitting in the mandatory curriculum doesn’t hold with me as the technologies must be seen as integral tools to be used with all learning. They are not an ‘add on’.

    You’re dead right. Its not about books versus technology. It’s about what’s the most effective tool at the time.

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