I remember the days of the Motorola bag phone, the Intellivision, and Laser Disk. At some point in my life, society has transitioned into what has
often been termed “the information age.” I remember computer bulletin board systems (BBSes) being one of the coolest things ever—I could talk to people I couldn’t see and I didn’t know–at the time without the possibility that they’d really come and find me–Not only was this prior to the regular civilian use of GPS, this was a new, different world, and it was only the beginning. For me, that was nearly 25 years ago.
In the two and a half decades since I felt ridiculously overjoyed to establish a “dial-up” connection at 57600 bps, the proliferation of computing technology can probably best be described as overwhelming, particularly when it comes to education. Not only are new technologies continuously invading the educational landscape, but questions of pedagogical purpose and management are constantly being asked by educators and administrators alike. The real difficulty is that these questions (and others) don’t have straightforward answers—Who will pay for it? When will I find time to learn this? What evidence is there that this technology is better than what I’m currently doing in my class? Who’s going to maintain the technology? How ephemeral will this be?
While the questions keep coming, immense pressures continue to mount for institutions and educators to integrate technology into teaching and learning–at times, this seems to be the only pervasive constant. Anyone working as an instructor, teacher, professor, etc. in an educational setting, can attest that the call to integrate technology into teaching and learning is not a new one. Each time the call is usually accompanied by some new initiative or purpose, and one that is, in my opinion, not always sustainable. Aesop’s fable, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, comes to mind…We’ve all heard the message—technology is going to shake things up and, as educators, we ought to change. We’ve heard it so often that it’s essentially a “false alarm” followed by a lack of action.
Amidst all of this, as educators, we must bear in mind that the integration of technology for teaching and learning is not merely a call or a directive, or in the case of our office, just something we hope others do so we can remain gainfully employed. The value in our participation as educators, as leaders, as institutions, extends well beyond our surface reputation and our perceived constraints.
Just as all of us have witnessed technological changes in the world, so will our students. I grew up in a time where the International Correspondence School featuring famed spokeswoman, Sally Struthers, was all over television talking about how you could get a career in “TV/VCR Repair”—training via mail. Revolutionary for the time, I suppose. Fast forward to my current position at the university as a digital learning designer, a possibility that I didn’t even know existed when I was in high school—namely, because it didn’t. In retrospect, it turns out that I was one of those students that teachers were told they needed to prepare for the future.
I am beyond fortunate that my educational environment included educational technology innovators at all levels–from my grade school experiences in computer programming camp (innovative for the mid-1980s) to a new learning technology lab class in high school to subsequent adventures, both formal and informal, in higher education, including the Internet, e-mail, instant messengers, online courses, etc. Indeed, I am lucky to have had such a breadth of opportunities but also because there were enough people in my life willing to take professional risks for my educational benefit.
Unless we are willing to shift our paradigm of thinking about the role of teaching and learning with technology and its relationship to our students, every call to integrate technology in education is like striking a match on wet wood. When it comes to effective teaching and student learning, neither is mutually exclusive nor does one necessarily translate to the other. The successful integration of technology into our classrooms and our lives depends as much on “conventional” or existing practice as it does on the willingness to change. Those two pieces—existing practice and willingness to change–need to be examined and potentially retooled to form a strong foundation to support any technology integration initiative. We can call this is a “fire by friction” approach, if you prefer, but regardless, if that’s what it’s going to turn a routine call into a course of action, it is something worth pursuing.