In my basement, I still have a box of vinyl records and another of cassette tapes. Nearby are some shoeboxes full of photos, and a stack of 35mm slide carousels. Next to these is a rack with some 3-ring binders stuffed with lecture notes which I used when I stood before a class of anxious college students and explained the many complex and useful things that could be derived from Newton’s three laws. Except perhaps for the binders, my adult kids have only a vague idea of what any of these things are for.
The first compact discs were released when I was in graduate school. You could count me among the skeptics who were convinced that digital music couldn’t possibly have the subtle tonal qualities of a good analog recording. While some such audio purists remain, the switch to digital music is a fait accompli. Digital cameras go back a bit further, and although there are still a few remaining film fanatics, photography has also gone compellingly digital.
As for using lecture notes to explain difficult concepts in a classroom, that too may be a doomed notion. The wort of high costs, tough job markets, and crushing student loan debt has fermented, and the result is a tighter scrutiny of ROI, along with an amplified hype of digital learning. Billions of public dollars have been spent, and various combinations of MOOCs with other online learning protocols are the new campus buzz. It all sounds very natural and logical, but unlike music and photography, it doesn’t work.
Experts like Noel Enyedy have documented at length how people learn best through human interaction and conversation, the kind of exchange that happens in a well-managed classroom or study group. Textbooks on iPads (with links to video clips and backup reference material) are a wonderful digital tool for augmenting the learning process (and lightening up student backpacks), but until a computer can pick up and respond to the sense of bewilderment that occasionally sweeps over a room during a lecture, those old non-digital professors still have a chance.