(Don’t) Pin the Technology

Note: I wrote this post weeks ago and never posted. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it felt like too much of a rant, and I was sick of ranting. It sort of felt overly argumentative, and that wasn’t really my point. But I’m not going to edit it, I’ll just precede it with this note to not read it as a rant or an argument, but just my own rambling musings. . .

DTLT’s student aide, Joe, blogged last week about the difficulty in getting students to buy into the use of technology in the classroom (and by “classroom,” I don’t necessarily mean four walls). His post has stirred up some conversation among folks at UMW, and I’ve been ruminating on it for several days, trying to decide how to best frame my own response.

Others have already brought up several points that I strongly agree with: the course experience is a shared endeavor and student’s should always have a responsibility to meet (and challenge) faculty in that experience; what students “want” is not necessarily what they “need” and if all courses were driven by simply giving students what they expect, education could get pretty watered-down and bland; faculty should be thoughtful and purposeful in their choices of technology to support teaching goals, not simply paste them on top of traditional classes because it seems to be the trend du jour.

So, I agree with all of those points, and I think among them we can find practical pointers about how to both apply technology in the classroom and how to talk to students about what we’re doing.

However, I think there’s something a lot more deep and fundamental about this (and I don’t think I’m alone in this — I think some the comments that have been made on Joe’s post, which I’ve re-stated somewhat reductively above, are getting at more fundamental issues).

I’ve blogged recently about how I dislike the purely practical approach to technology in the classroom that seems to grip most of our conversations on these fronts. I think it’s reductive and overly-simplistic. I think it allows us and the faculty we work with to practice technology as as an additive as opposed to a baked-in ingredient in what we do in higher education. There is a sense of “otherness” to our use and conversations about technology that removes it from the center of any real intellectual discourse. I’m not saying that everything we do in higher education has to be about technology, any more than I think everything in higher ed has to be about writing, or reading, or research. The recipe is, of course, far more complicated. Rather, I’m suggesting that our use of digital tools is becoming so integral to the ways in which we produce, process, and reflect upon information (in any discipline) that we can longer think of them as simply “tools.” Talking about these things as tools allows users to consider them the way they would a typewriter or a Xerox machine. Can they make our lives easier? Yes. Can they provide practical advantages in the classroom? Sure. Is that the whole point? Not by a long shot.

Pin The TailI may just be repeating what I said in that previous post (I guess that’s my prerogative — it is my blog). But this time what’s driving me is a post by a student that seems like evidence that the overarching mis-guidedness is filtering down to the students’ perspective on why we are doing this. Joe’s not clueless about this stuff — he, has, after all been subjected to the hijinks of DTLT for the last two years. But his post makes me think that from where he’s sitting (and from what he’s hearing from other students), the use of technology at this point still feels very much like a tacked-on tail.

Flickr photo by eszter.