Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The tech'd teacher

Can we become so reliant on technology that we don't even realize the impact it has in our working environment? I had to laugh at myself as I came in to the office this morning. I went through my regular routine, turn on the desktop, turn on the printer, hang up the suit jacket, check voice mail on the office phone, then turn on the iPad to explore the task list/calendar for the day. I saw that I have a meeting scheduled to discuss collaboration with two folks (one in California and one in Europe), which meant Skype. Since my institution does not allow Skype on the desktops, I had to bust out my laptop, then I had to pull out the webcam and headset. I walked away to meet with a student. When I returned, I laughed out loud. Then I had to take a picture (with my Blackberry, of course) and share it with readers who are probably staring at similar work environments these days:
My first thought was how hysterical this image is.  I had to chuckle at the tech-laden desk. My second thought was concern, surely these are not all necessary items? Have I become over-tech'd? Can I not function without all of these tools?

Then I shrugged it off, I had all of the tools I needed to accomplish the day's goals. Why should I worry? I can teach "naked" (without any technology) or with tech enhancements. I let it go and sat down to work when a colleague came in and said, "I'll never understand all that computer stuff you use!" Though this colleague is an excellent instructor, she does not often integrate any technology into her course. This isn't a problem, necessarily, but she discussed feeling "behind" and concerned about reaching her students. She asked me to help her "update" her classes. We set up an appointment to explore her options over coffee for simple ideas to broaden her availability and enhance assignments. I realized that my concern of being technology-heavy in my classes and her concerns of not using anything other than her phone and an email may be confusing for students. We're all on one campus with a wide array of experiences and comfort levels with technology--and though I was thinking from a faculty perspective, I began to wonder about the students who find one teacher who Tweets, chats, Skypes, IMs, and prefers digital communication and another who checks email once a week. It may be frustrating for students to try and negotiate communication with such varied approaches on campus.

Many campuses are experiencing a technology gap, not just between newer faculty members and those who have been in higher education for years, but also between students and faculty. Some of our students are ready for new instructional communication opportunities and classroom projects embracing technology and others simply are not. What a challenge for higher education -- particularly as the landscape of technology innovation geared at higher education continues to grow so rapidly. From capturing lectures to mashups, faculty and students with access to new tools could find disgruntled students and colleagues around them.

There is a great article about this technology "gap" in the Chronicle this week, which noted the benefits of being "part geek" when it comes to technology in higher education. There are many excellent resources exploring this important issue (see below for a *few* inroads into this area of research).

The additional side of this interesting topic is the assumption that all students are somehow tech-savvy. This also emerged from my conversation today where I had to, rather sheepishly, admit that I did not have an email address until I went to college and that I was "old school" regarding technology until mid-way through my Master's degree when I realized the benefits for instructional communication and taught myself and sought every seminar and workshop I could. In the end, we've all got to get a little "geeked up" to continue moving forward with many exciting innovations in higher education and to stay current with students and the job market they face. In my opinion, the trick is to balance the innovations with the pedagogy and purposeful intent to enhance the work we do as educators (and to avoid getting overly captivated by the glistening new technology that is continually available without first considering what it brings to the educational environment).

Additional reads in random order:

Schneckenberg, D. (2009). Understanding the real barriers to technology-enhanced innovation in higher education. Educational Research, 51(4), 411-424.

Hannon, J., & Bretag, T. (2010). Negotiating contested discourses of learning technologies in higher education. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 13(1), 106-120.

Renes, S., & Strange, A. (2011). Using technology to enhance higher education. Innovative Higher Education, 36(3), 203-213.

Saeed, N., Yun, Y., & Sinnappan, S. (2009). Emerging web technologies in higher education: A case of incorporating blogs, podcasts and social bookmarks in a web programming course based on students' learning styles and technology preferences. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 12(4), 98-109.

Schreyer-Bennethum, L., & Albright, L. (2011). Evaluating the incorporation of technology and application projects in the higher education mathematics classroom. International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science & Technology, 42(1), 53-63.

Photo of desk by Lora Helvie-Mason, Clipart created by Lora Helvie-Mason using Picnik
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