what can the academy do with technology?

Why do we always ask, “What can technology do for the academy?” Shouldn’t we be asking, “What, if anything, can the academy do with technology?” The difference in perspective is profound. In the first question, which is the one most commonly asked, we are the object being acted upon. We are on the defense. Our only recourse is to react (or not).  In the second we are the subject. We have a hand in shaping events. In the former pedagogy is dictated by IT and gadget geeks. We are presented things and told to do something with them.  In the latter pedagogy is driven by learning theory and learning geeks. We present what we need to enhance the learning experience and go out and find (or create) them.

Which side of the verb are you on?

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    • Patrick
    • June 16th, 2011

    Yes, you see a lot of schools that just go out and buy a bunch of iPads with no idea how they might use them. I suspect it’s merely end-of-fiscal-year money that they need to spend, or as a gimmick to get students to go there as opposed to somewhere else. Then they get them and decide that they better come up with a pedagogical use for them, so they shoehorn some kind of “study” in to justify it.

  1. In short, I attempt to be on both sides of the verb. It is our responsibility to grow the skills and interests to be able to switch from side to side. There are great reasons to take risks on technology before having a firm understanding of the affordances — how on earth could we make informed connections with faculty without first unpacking what can happen with the technology? At the same time, I think the notion of “leading with technology” as a negative can be a cop out. It all depends on where your own intellectual curiosity guides you. I am no less an intellectual because my interest in technology runs deep than someone who thinks primarily about practice. We are allowed to have various lenses to look at challenges with. I think this statement, “We are presented things and told to do something with them” presses the wrong direction … I would like to think what you hear is something along the lines, “We are presented things and told to do work to understand them.” If you aren’t hearing that something is wrong with either the sender or receiver of the message.

    To Pat’s point, I think something like the iPad (or any brand new computer paradigm) requires getting some and putting them through the paces. Here at PSU, we didn’t go out and buy them for every student when they appeared on the market. We first got a few to understand them so we could see what affordances they did have. When Stuart Selber wanted to extend his research on mobile devices for technical writing we were ready to help him investigate that. In the year since we’ve purchased them we have assisted in several pieces of real scholarship in the Colleges of the Liberal Arts, Engineering, and Education. Without us taking the risk and focusing on the technology that may not have happened. In each instance there was thoughtful dialogue between the faculty and us — we didn’t lead with “who wants to use an iPad.” We listened, made suggestions based on our knowledge and expertise, and found ways to help design the right kind of intervention.

    At any rate, I think it is important for everyone to have a base — in our case with what we do, our base should be built upon our responsibilities within the University. Our jobs are to explore, inform, design, research, share, and inspire. All of those things are complex when taken by themselves and even more so when combined. We don’t have the luxury of living in a world where we can take a stand and impose a perspective in this issue — we need to be able to act on both sides of that verb.

    • Hi Cole, Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I would post that we do not operate as you suggest “being able to switch from side to side”. From my perspective we primarily operate from a technology-centric perspective. The pedagogy seems to be a secondary thought. See what you can do with this is a fine question but what’s wrong with asking what can we do with this?

      I absolutely love your last line about us not having the luxury to take a stand. But that is exactly what we do. Every product we buy. Every service we offer is a stand. I just think we should bring the pedagogical view point in on an earlier -and equal- perspective. I consider myself as an educational researcher who chooses to research the potential of various technologies. I think that’s the value that people like me bring.

  2. “I think that’s the value that people like me bring.” Amen … but don’t sell yourself or your colleagues short — you bring much more to the table than that.

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