Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Fear 2.5: Afterthoughts

One thing we discussed as we prepared for our talk at ELI 2008 was that we should all confront our own personal fears and some of us did that. Barbara talked about fear as a faculty member using blogs to teach of being exposed, making a mistake, or generally looking stupid in front of her students. Leslie talked about fearing stagnation, of the fear of investing in technology that takes us backwards instead of forward. A fear I have that I don't think I articulated was a fear of being irrelevant and unnecessary.

How important is my position, really, to the institution as a whole? If my position disappeared, would anyone really notice?

Most of the faculty that reach out to me are really just asking for tech support. They want to know how to perform certain tasks in Blackboard. They want to know how to edit a web site. They don't tend to ask the bigger questions: what is appropriate technology for me to use to achieve my goals, how should I use x to help my students learn.

My fear is that I will never be trusted to answer such questions. I am glorified tech support, someone who knows the technology and who also happens to know and have experience with teaching and learning. What's valued is my ability to answer the technical questions. But that's not what I personally value about my skills.

If me, or someone like me, isn't around to ask the big technology and education questions, will faculty turn to each other for such questions? I don't know that they will. Faculty tend to be insulated and don't discuss such issues with each other. There are a few faculty who are are thinking about these issues, but I suspect when they try to evangelize about what they're doing with technology in their classes, they get the same looks I often do.

Sure, I want to justify my position out of a sense of survival, but I think it's important to question--sometimes in a dramatic way--the logic of certain structures, to ask why and really mean it. So why do instructional technologists exist? Are they really needed and what is their role within an institution? How could they be more effective? Should their role change? Could we envision them teaching or doing research? Or do we want them to shift to be more tech support and be less concerned about the big questions?