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Informal teaching


Teaching and machines
Richard Gregory Scientist
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Something that of course interests anybody who’s taught in a school or in a university, is how to teach. And I haven’t a clue how to teach, as a matter of fact, although I’ve taught for years and years and years. I never had a lesson in my life on how to teach. I became a lecturer at Cambridge without one lesson on teaching, on how to teach, quite an extraordinary thing, you know, plunged into it and you’re supposed to do it, you know, which actually I did. I loved teaching, it was never a problem, and I used to give lectures, actually, I must admit, minimum of sort of previous work on it. I’d just sort of stand up there and give a lecture pretty well, which sometimes worked, sometimes didn’t. I now think one ought to be prepare an awful lot more than I did at that time. But now there’s a very tricky point here. Cambridge then and now, and Oxford, very much based on individual contact with the teacher to the student. You do have big lectures and so on but they also have about an hour a week where you discuss with one teacher or maybe two students together, maybe one, not more than two though, a particular topic and you write an essay and the essay is then read by that teacher, supervisor, as he’s called, and pulled to pieces. So you see the work that you’ve been doing for a week absolutely torn to pieces by somebody who’s taken the trouble to read it properly, knows the subject and also knows how to think and write. Now, I personally believe that this is really important, that at university level you need individual discussion with the teacher, individual criticism of your work, in detail. But, how on earth can you do that now when 50% of the population go to university, enormous number of teachers, limited finance into the universities, might be they’re completely under financed, so that, you know, the government tends to say education, education, education, and there’s no money given. Well, I say no money, I mean far too little. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s practical to have the ways of teaching in Oxford and Cambridge into all the universities even if the money was there, the people wouldn’t be there to do it. So I think this is a great problem. Now, I wonder you know whether one can really use modern technologies for replacing, if you like, the person to person relationship of supervision, how far IT, as I believe it’s called, can actually replace that intimate criticism and the opposite, every now and again a slap on back, you know, a little indication that you’ve done rather well. How can you do that mechanically? You’ve got mechanic or machines and whatnot in industry producing loads of goods whereas people used to do it by hand, can you do that for teaching? Can you actually have machines teach human beings interactively? And that, I think, ultimately depends on making machines intelligent. Will it ever be possible to have a machine that you can converse with, that you can not only get an amazing amount of information from, which you can from the web or net, whatever it’s called, now, which is wonderful, but even more intimately, perhaps by talking to the machine? And I think this will come actually. I think that the enormous memory of computers almost certainly can be harnessed for teaching in an interactive way once we develop artificial intelligence. That’s my guess. Then I think we can get universal education at a really high level, like in Oxford and Cambridge. That’s a sort of dream but I’d like to see that come about, I really would.

The late British psychologist and Emeritus Professor of Neuropsychology at the University of Bristol, Richard Gregory (1923-2010), is well known for his work on perception, the psychology of seeing and his love of puns. In 1978 he founded The Exploratory, an applied science centre in Bristol – the first of its kind in the UK. He also designed and directed the Special Senses Laboratory at Cambridge which worked on the perceptual problems of astronauts, and published many books including 'The Oxford Companion to the Mind', 'Eye and Brain' and 'Mind in Science'.

Listeners: Sally Duensing Adam Hart-Davis

Sally Duensing currently is involved in perception exhibition work and research on science and society dialogue programmes and is working with informal learning research graduate students and post-docs at King's College, London. In 2000 she held the Collier Chair, a one-year invited professorship in the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Bristol, England. Prior to this, for over 20 years she was at the Exploratorium, a highly interactive museum of science, art and perception in San Francisco where she directed a variety of exhibition projects primarily in fields of perception and cognition including a large exhibition on biological, cognitive and cultural aspects of human memory.

Born on 4 July 1943, Adam Hart-Davis is a freelance photographer, writer, and broadcaster. He has won various awards for both television and radio. Before presenting, Adam spent 5 years in publishing and 17 years at Yorkshire Television, as researcher and then producer of such series as Scientific Eye and Arthur C Clarke's World of Strange Powers. He has read several books, and written about 25. His latest books are Why does a ball bounce?, Taking the piss, Just another day, and The cosmos: a beginner's guide. He has written numerous newspaper and magazine articles. He is a keen supporter of the charities WaterAid, Practical Action, Sustrans, and the Joliba Trust. A Companion of the Institution of Lighting Engineers, an Honorary Member of the British Toilet Association, an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Society of Dyers and Colourists, and Merton College Oxford, and patron of a dozen charitable organizations, Adam has collected thirteen honorary doctorates, The Horace Hockley Award from the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators, a Medal from the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Sir Henry Royce Memorial Medal from the Institute of Incorporated Engineers, and the 1999 Gerald Frewer memorial trophy of the Council of Engineering Designers. He has no car, but three cycles, which he rides slowly but with enthusiasm.

Duration: 3 minutes, 57 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2006

Date story went live: 02 June 2008