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Manifesto for Teaching Online

About the manifesto

The Manifesto for Teaching Online is a series of short statements first written in 2011, and rewritten in 2016, by the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. It was designed to articulate a position about online education that informs the work of the group and the MSc in Digital Education programme it leads. This position was perhaps best summarised by the first of the manifesto statements:

Distance is a positive principle, not a deficit. Online can be the privileged mode.

Such a position was (and to an extent still is) at odds with dominant discourses of digital education that described it either in terms of replication of offline practices, or in terms of inadequacy, where online learning is the ‘second best’ option when ‘real’ (face-to-face) encounters are not possible or practical. We rejected both of these positions, and the instrumental approaches to online education that tend to accompany them.

The manifesto was initially developed over a period of a year, June 2010–May 2011, as a key output from the Student Writing project, and it was further shaped and refined during a series of discussions and events among students and colleagues at the University of Edinburgh. Over the course of 2015, members of the Centre revisited and reassembled the manifesto into its 2016 version.

Responses to the document ranged from excitement to discomfort, and when the manifesto was launched in early 2012, it was met with considerable interest. Coverage in the media and the blogosphere particularly emphasised its break from traditional academic writing, and its – to some surprising – focus on teaching rather than learning. The latter was a deliberate move to highlight the over-emphasis on learning and ‘learnification’ (Biesta 2005), especially in the context of online education, and to stress the importance of continuing to value and work with the idea and function of the teacher, however that role might be shifted and redefined by the digital.

Although there are many ways of reading the manifesto, one intention is that it be seen as productive in thinking through the design of online education and assessment – something that teachers might find useful and generative. It is intended to stimulate ideas about creative online teaching, and to reimagine some of the orthodoxies and unexamined truisms surrounding the field. Each point is deliberately interpretable, and it was made open so that others could remix and rewrite it.

Biesta, Gert (2005) Against Learning. Reclaiming a Language for Education in an age of Learning. Nordisk Pedagogik 25 (1): 54–66.


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