Friday, March 28, 2008

Making space and time for technology

I'm so blown away by this article in the Chronicle, I don't even know where to begin. It expresses some of my deepest-held notions about what institutions need to do in order to incorporate technology more fully into their curricula. As I've said time and again, my struggle to change the way faculty teach by embracing technology has little to do with technology and a lot to do with the structures of higher education. There's just no incentive for faculty to innovate. And institutions have just thrown up their hands. The CMS is a good example, as Tabron says,
most higher-education administrators feel that they did their bit for instructional technology when they adopted course-management systems in the 1990s.
What more could we possibly need to do? Those systems look mostly the same now as they did in the 90s despite all the development that's occurred on the web. And I'm sorry, but the open-source alternatives aren't a whole lot better. All these systems simply put online the teaching methods that we desperately need to get away from--the idea that students are there just to absorb information, not to interact with each other, or *gasp* to learn how to learn. It's why, despite faculty and students saying that their satisfied with the CMS we have, I resist such complacency. Sure, they're satisfied with it. It maintains the status quo. I want to push them beyond the status quo. Blackboard isn't going to do that any time soon.

Tabron also argues for IT staff with teaching experience, something that we at least have right. But I know plenty of places where this isn't true.
IT-staff members with teaching experience and an understanding of the mission of liberal-arts education need a place in which to demonstrate the latest technologies. And they need both space and time to help professors develop new types of lessons, assignments, and grading methods that can fundamentally change how teaching and learning happen.
My institution is halfway there in that I at least fit the description of IT staff with teaching experience and understanding of the mission of a liberal-arts education. And I guess I have some space and time to help professors. In theory, that's how I should spend all my time. In reality, not enough of them seek me out for this kind of development. What I get called in for is to fix something in Blackboard, cables in the classroom, and other such mundane questions. I provide workshops on topics such as effective use of blogging, using RSS to manage information, and Web 2.0 presentations. But these are sporadically attended. And the people that do attend often respond, "This is great but I don't have time to think about this right now." So it's not me that needs the space and time, it's the faculty. Tabron suggests, too, that we need to resist the urge, when faculty aren't banging down our door, to shift our focus to those more mundane tasks. We have to keep trying. I'll take that to heart and redouble my efforts (look out faculty!).

Because I agree with Tabron's last sentence: "It will be a dismal future if the only thing our graduates cannot do online is learn."