The Lecture as pre- Postmodern Relic (Jean-François Lyotard)

“What is transmitted in higher learning? In the case of professional training, and limiting ourselves to a narrowly functionalist point of view, an organized stock of established knowledge is the essential thing that is transmitted. The application of new technologies to this stock may have a considerable impact on the medium of communication. It does not seem absolutely necessary that the medium be a lecture delivered in person by a teacher in front of silent students, with questions reserved for sections or ‘practical work’ sessions run by an assistant. To the extent that learning is translatable into computer language and the traditional teacher is replaceable by memory banks, didactics can be entrusted to machines linking traditional memory banks (libraries, etc.) and computer data banks to intelligent terminals placed at the students’ disposal.”

Pedagogy would not necessarily suffer. The students would still have to be taught something: not contents, but how to use the terminals. On the one hand, that means teaching new languages and on the other, a more refined ability to handle the language game of interrogation — where should the question be addressed, in other words, what is the relevant memory bank for what needs to be known? How should the question be formulated to avoid misunderstand‑ ings? etc?) From this point of view, elementary training in informatics, and especially telematics, should be a basic requirement in universities, in the same way that fluency in a foreign language is now, for example.

It is only in the context of thr grand narratives of legitimation –the life of the spirit and/or the emancipation of humanity– that the partial replacement of teachers by machines may seem in adequate or even intolerable.

(Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge pp 50-51).

Hat tip to Edward Hamilton

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