When the internet knows all, is the humble testamur valuable?

By Dr Kwong Nui Sim & Associate Professor Michael Cowling (CMP facilitators)

The ASCILITE Community Mentoring Programme (CMP) organised the first ever debate at the end of April 2021 as a way to connect the 2020 alumni with the new 2021 members. It is worth noting that the position of the participants was determined by a random digital draw so the arguments below may not represent what the team actually thinks and hence, no recording was made but this blog post was written to share with everyone.

The affirmative team (Oriel, Ash and Camille) argued that “When the internet knows all, the humble testamur is no longer valuable.”

After defining the roles of the internet, as well as the conceptions of ‘know’, ‘testamur’ and ‘valuable’, the first speaker claimed that when knowledge and wisdom is available via an electronic connection, the graduate’s traditional certificate of completion does not carry a lot of worth to anyone anymore. The second speaker then argued that a testamur needs to certify something of worth to provide value, and gaining a testamur does not necessarily require that a graduate has valuable knowledge. She suggested that if you can gain knowledge without a testamur, and if a testamur does not necessarily certify having valuable skills, then the testamur itself has no value. The third speaker reminded us that if the construction of knowledge is based on Anderson et. al.’s 9 principles (2009), it is difficult to see how static document can represent the dynamic value needed for knowledge. Most importantly, she highlighted the fact where the testamur shows a static gain, the internet provides a dynamic gain. The team concluded that testamurs do not impart knowledge, so they must certify something of value to someone – the learner, a potential client, or a potential employer. Given that they do not certify this value, the testamur is no longer themselves valuable.

The opposition team (Kirsten, Robert and Richard) started off though by disputing the affirmative’s claim that a testamur is a misrepresentation of actual learning and that, as just a piece of paper, it was pretty inadequate. The first speaker argued that the significance of the testamur is valuable in many ways – as a life experience, as a ticket to a career, as social capital, intellectual capital, as a organising principle of social productivity, prosperity and cohesion etc, etc. Indeed, as a symbolic representation of the valuable experience that we call “getting an education,” the testamur has a wholistic value that is more than its parchment.  Building on that, the second speaker claimed that as a recognition of education, certification is valuable because it is a way for society to understand who knows what (both subject area and quality of knowledge), and this is especially valuable because the internet doesn’t differentiate or care. As ‘all knowing’ the internet is by definition non-differentiating. The third speaker then picked up on this theme and contended that the internet is a terrible teacher or learning tool. There are many things it cannot teach us, and so much information in it that is incorrect and not verified. The internet fails as an alternative to the Education institutions we already have. In sum, the team argued that the testamur is still valuable, particularly when it provides a level of trust in expertise aligned with recognised educational standards. Significantly, since the testamur is a measure of education rather than of learning, the affirmative’s arguments about how it fails to verify that learning has actually happened or that the knowledge that has been learned is ‘valuable’ is beside the point.

The highlight of the debate was the rebuttal.  The affirmation team claimed  that testamurs may reflect hard work and authentic assessments etc. but they do not necessarily certify these things. The prevalence of diploma mills confound the value of education and throw into doubt the value of the knowledge gained.

The negative team contended that the existence of dodgy alternatives, including internet enabled phoneys, merely confirmed the importance of genuine education certification, providing more evidence for the value of the testamur.

Even though the turn up of the audience is less that what was expected, we managed to do an anonymous vote in order to determine the winner. After a lot of background communications among the two coordinators, a tough choice was made and it’s the opposition team who won the debate. Even though it wasn’t an easy decision, it was relieving when all of us are working in an environment that provides testamurs J! Well done to both teams, a lot of thought provoking ideas throughout the session and we sincerely thank their time as well as effort in this participation.

Debate Participants

Oriel Kelly
Curriculum Development Manager
University of Auckland

Ashley Anderson
Learning Designer
Melbourne School of Professional and Continuing Education (MSPACE)

Dr. Camille Dickson-Deane
Senior Lecturer Higher Education Learning Design
University of Technology, Sydney

Kirsten Black
Senior Learning Design
College of Design and Social Context

Dr. Robert Vanderburg
School of Education and the Arts
CQUniversity Australia

Associate Professor Richard Lai
Computer Science & Information Technology
La Trobe University

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments