Tuesday, March 06, 2007

More about fishing

Steve over at Pedablogy continues the conversation about how much faculty should or shouldn't learn about the technology they use in their teaching. He mostly agrees with me (I'll get to the disagreements in a moment). One point he makes bears unpacking a bit:
On the other hand, I’m not an IT professional and it doesn’t make sense for me to try to become one. As an economist, it’s not my comparative advantage. So where do you draw the line?
Steve recognizes that what I and others on the IT side do is a professional activity. It's something we work at, that we study, that we sometimes have advanced degrees in, etc. Just as I will never become a professional economist, I wouldn't expect Steve to become an IT professional. All I ask is for some mutual respect. I will respect the faculty member's knowledge of their content area and I hope they will respect my expertise in technology and its application to teaching. I sometimes think this equation gets messed up. I am expected to have respect for the faculty member because they have a Ph.D. and tenure while I do not receive the same respect in return. This is a subtle thing. It's not always an upstairs/downstairs explicit kind of snobbery, but it's there sometimes. I'll concede that maybe this is my issue, but I've been in enough conversations with enough IT people to know that there's a grain of truth to this.

Where, indeed, does one draw the line? As Gardner says in the comments, we don't want to be treated as "a drop-off shop for faculty who wanted someone else to do all the techie stuff and hand them a turn-key finished product." The reason we don't want to be like Kinko's is that it feels kind of degrading (not to knock those who work at Kinko's) re: what I just said above. We may not know much about chemistry, but we know good ways to help people learn chemistry. And we'd like the opportunity to talk about what we know rather than just be told what to do with an image or a video. My favorite question is, "What do you think?"

On the other hand, I totally understand that a lot of these things are very time-consuming and not always the easiest things to learn. Today, I had someone stop by to work on some video. I've worked with this person before, doing a little teaching and little fishing. The last video I processed ran into problems and it took me basically all day to troubleshoot what the problem was and get it into an appropriate format. Before that, s/he had been sitting with me, watching what I was doing. When the person showed up today and I was 10 minutes away from going to a meeting, I wanted to do the work myself rather than going through being watched and running into problems again. On another hand, with a little planning, we probably could have done something more compelling than simply processing these videos ad hoc. It could have been more than just the photocopy version of multimedia. That's where my professional skills could have really helped. Like many faculty I work with, this person hadn't planned ahead.

Steve says we shouldn't expect faculty to learn something new without our support, and I totally agree with that. I think I need to really understand how difficult it is sometimes for faculty to learn these things and that they're sometimes uncomfortable with the messiness of technology. I think we need to work together on an individual basis to figure out what's the best approach for each individual faculty member. At the same time, I think we can set some policies and procedures that can create some acceptable expectations. My biggest fear is that we'll offer to do some tasks for faculty and we'll be so overwhelmed we can't keep up. Then no one benefits.

I still think it's important for faculty to at least have an appreciation of how what they're using works and how it can benefit them and their students. Too often, I think faculty don't know what's possible even with the tools they're already using. Partly that's something I need to educate them about, but it's hard to get their attention. I just keep trying.

Update: Tim articulates what I know is going on in faculty member's heads all the time. Heck, it goes on in my head sometimes. There's a lot there. Go read.