ltc miranda critique

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Article Critique
In “The adventures of Miranda in the brave new world,” Barnes and Tynan (2007) imagine
the future possibilities of Web 2.0 technologies for universities. The paper utilises the
fictional case study of Miranda, a university student in 2012 Britain, who demonstrates the
potential of instant messages, podcasts, e-books, email, skype, wikipedia and social
networks for learning and teaching. Miranda’s “brave new world” was first revealed in
Shakespeare’s The Tempest in a naive exclamation on seeing a man (other than her father)
for the first time, and subsequently populated by Aldous Huxley in the 1930s, who
envisaged a dystopia of reproductive technologies and sleep-teaching to program social
conformity. Barnes and Tyson’s Miranda is not ironically named; instead, she earnestly
demonstrates a vision of University 2.0: a digital interconnection between subject,
education and technology.
Barnes and Tynan (2007) articulate the goals of their paper as raising awareness of the gap
between Miranda’s world and our own, and demonstrating the desirability of bridging this
divide. The main points of their argument can be broken down into a description of
teachers (and university policy makers) and their interactions with web 2.0 technologies,
and a description of students and their (possible) interactions with web 2.0 technologies.
They offer a theoretical framework of a history of teaching and learning styles, including
behaviourism (teacher transmits knowledge), cognitivism (teacher facilitates learning),
constructivism (teacher collaborates with students to construct knowledge) and the
emerging theory of connectivism, where students create knowledge that is mediated by the
teacher. University 2.0, as Barnes and Tynan imagine it, is the culmination of these
approaches: knowledge is open with students valued as its creators; learning environments
are flexible; sources of information are diverse; collaboration is vital for learning; and the
integration between the personal, professional and educational is seamless.
If this idealistic framework is accepted as a standard, then universities are failing. As
Barnes and Tynan (2007) put it, “teaching staff and the latest cohort of undergraduates live
in different … worlds” (p. 190). On the part of teachers, Barnes and Tynan highlight a
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reliance on traditional didactic teaching styles; a lack of training as teachers, in particular
as orators; limited experience and a lack of engagement with technologies and new
pedagogies; and challenging workloads. The example they provide is of the timid use of
podcasting as though it offers nothing more than “a high-tech alternative to the audio
cassette” (p. 192). Students, on the other hand, are constructed as able users of web 2.0
technologies. Following the research of Oblinger (2003) and Prensky (2001a; 2001b),
whose definitions of the “net generation” and “digital natives” implicitly inform the
construction of Miranda, Barnes and Tynan note students’ ready access to technologies
such as mobile phones, laptops, iPods and digital cameras, and the engagement with Web
2.0 in the form of wikis, blogs, social networking sites, podcasts, RSS feeds etc). As an
exemplar of a 2012 student (and note that this is a mere undergraduate degree in the future),
Miranda demonstrates a use of these technologies that is fluent, sophisticated, integrative
and creative. But is Miranda representative? Is University 2.0 a realistic, or even desirable,
goal? Barnes and Tynan do not adequately engage with these obvious questions.
In “Back to the future”, Bridges (2000) comments on the risks of new technologies for
learning and teaching, and offers pause for thought when he notes that the “total lack of
quality control or scholarly screening” of online resources means a greater reliance on
“students’ capacity to read this material critically and to assess its reliability for
themselves” (p. 49). Miranda’s reliance on Google seems indicative of this problem – she
uses it to find a podcast, to read a book, to search (unsuccessfully) for a journal article, to
look up a scholarly concept (with little understanding), and to check history dates. Bennett,
Maton and Kervin (2008) are highly critical of the claims around students and technology,
questioning both the assumptions of students’ skill with technologies, and the arguments
around radically changing education to avoid seeming outmoded or archaic.
In a view that is consistent with Barnes and Tynan’s (2007) University 2.0 (albeit from a
constructivist rather than connectivist perspective), Bridges (2000) writes that individual
learners will be “located at the centre of a multi-layered, multimedia, multi-dimensional
learning environment through which they have the power to construct their own learning”
(p. 49). Bridges refers to the “anarchic” potential of web-based learning. His vision is one
of radical upheaval and transformation with universities no longer in control of higher
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education curriculum, the construction of knowledge or the awarding of degrees. Barnes
and Tynan similarly refer to the “revolutionary promise” of technologies and the need to
radically and urgently rethink learning and teaching and the university itself before “a
generation of opportunities is lost” (p. 198). Such claims have a whiff of the apocalyptic
about them. Bennett et. al. (2008) are critical of the sensationalist language, implied
threat, and proclamations for profound and urgent change that pervade much of the
literature around student learning and web 2.0 technologies. Such approaches detract from
more considered, research-based investigations into the possibilities for technologies in
learning and teaching, and their impacts on students, teachers and universities themselves.
The beguiling picture of Miranda struggles to stand up to such critical questioning – as a
fictional student she is a little too immersed, engaged and motivated to provide the
evidence for universities to “rethink the concept of the university itself” (Barnes & Tynan,
2007, p. 198).
Barnes and Tynan (2007) conclude by saying that “Miranda’s narrative is intended to do
no more than provoke, to open the door to new ways of thinking” (p. 198). In this, their
paper is a success. In the goals that they identify earlier – raising awareness of the
differences between Miranda’s “brave new world” and the world of universities today and
convincing their readers to change the nature of higher education – the paper is less
convincing. Indeed, their use of the phrase “brave new world” offers all of the naive
exclamation from The Tempest with little of the cautionary irony of Aldous Huxley.
References
Barnes, C. & Tynan, B. (2007). The adventures of Miranda in the brave new world:
learning in a Web 2.0 millennium. ALT-J, 15 (3), 189-200.
Bennett, S., Maton, K. & Kervin, L. (2008). The “digital natives” debate: A critical review
of the evidence. British Journal of Educational Technology, 39 (5), 775–786.
Bridges, D. (2000). Back to the future: the higher education curriculum in the 21 st
Century. Cambridge Journal of Education, 30 (1), 31-55.
Oblinger, D. (2003). Boomers, Gen-Xers and Millennials: understanding the new students.
EDUCAUSE Review, 38 (4), 37–47.
Prenksy, M. (2001a). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9 (5), 1–6.
Prenksy, M. (2001b). Digital natives, digital immigrants, part II. Do they really think
differently? On the Horizon, 9:6, 1–6.
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