(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.

6 thoughts on “(Don’t) Pin the Technology”

  1. If we’re putting the pedagogy first, how can this happen?

    In a sense, educational technology is a tool like a typewriter, because we don’t want to focus on the typewriting machine but rather on what is typed.

    If we start with “look kids! I’m typing”, of course students would see the emphasis on the technology itself, and it would feel tacked on.

    But if the teaching goal is first, and we just happen to be using THIS technology (blog, wiki, cms) rather than THAT one (overhead, chalkboard, slide projector), how could they perceive it this way? Surely the whole donkey would be of one piece.

  2. Martha, thanks for the opening caveats! I’ll be sure not to read what I’m reading!

    Just givin’ you a hard time.

    You know I agree wholeheartedly with you. It’s one of the reasons why this notion of a convergence center makes so much sense. By making access to the technologies relatively transparent you enable all kinds of things to happen on the part of the learners, which includes the teachers. Sure beats wheeling in the projector cart.

    Keep ranting!

  3. Martha, I love the visualization and message here. I am struck by parallels of what you say to what Clay Shirky said in HERE COMES EVERYBODY. “The most profound effects of social tools lag their invention by years, because it isn’t until they have a critical mass of adopters, adopters who take these tools for granted, that their real effects begin to appear.” {Italics mine} Jeff and I were talking this morning about how UMW seems to be further along in the use of blogging instructionally than others…you seem to be solving the transparency part.

  4. When I read this statement that you wrote–“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”–it reminded me very much of something Chris Lehmann who teaches at SLA said in a keynote recently.

    He pointed out that we still think of it as “school PLUS technology” rather than it being integral. He pointed out that technology should be ubiquitious and invisible. Clearly, as you point out, the pedagogy has to be the point of it all.

    Britt, I’m thinking I need to read HERE Comes EVERYBODY–great quote.

  5. But unless we build a school from the ground up, technology will almost always be seen as the “additive” because that is what it is. We are trying to squeeze the tools into an existing structure and often that happens before the pedagogy is even in place.
    I wonder if schools that are now being designed (maybe these are Charter Schools in the current climate) around full technology integration will have a completely different persona, identity, whatever, than a 30 year old school with a new computer lab or laptop cart.

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