Apropos of little other than some background reading that I’ve been doing this week, I think I’m just about finished with the arguments about how we need to be careful about “not letting technology drive our X.” Right now, the arguments I’ve been scanning are about pedagogy, but this would just as easily apply to any other set of practices.
Actually, maybe it’s a little apropos of the whole kerfuffle happening at UVA right now. I was certainly struck by the astounding media illiteracy of the UVA Board of Visitors, whose sense of kairos needs an upgrade from its current early-90s version. The idea of pulling out the old “news cycle” trick–making major decisions/announcements after 5pm on a Friday and hope no one notices until next week–was some pretty dynamite strategery on their part.
One of the undercurrents of the blowback has been their apparent infatuation with other elite institutions’ efforts at staking out MOOC turf, and the dismissiveness with which that infatuation has been described. So maybe it’s that attitude that has been resonating with some of the reading I’ve been doing lately. (And while I’m taking issue with that dismissiveness here, that’s not to say that I condone any part of what happened at UVA–I think the tech stuff is a symptom of a much deeper problem.)
And yeah, I get it. The correct answer is that technology should be adopted cautiously and with sound pedagogical reasons behind that adoption and for better reasons than novelty and/or change’s sake. What bugs me about the correct answer, I guess, is that it assumes some degree zero world of pedagogy, as though our current practices aren’t themselves implicated, imbricated, and often enough, driven by the available technologies. Once you teach a course online, with all of the ups and downs that that brings, you realize that face-to-face conversation is itself a technology with certain affordances.
Just because that experimentation happened 4 or 5 centuries ago doesn’t mean that print technologies didn’t have to go through the same phases of novelty, resistance, adoption, diffusion, invention, and experimentation. The difference is a matter of naturalization and invisibility, not an issue of technology vs an atechnological pedagogy.
Maybe I’m personally coming around to a position that’s actually in favor of an “add technology and stir” approach. I can name a number of occasions where that was basically what I did in the classroom. I would rather experiment with the technology (and explicitly invite my students to do so along with me) than wait for the “tool” that matches my goal. So, a couple of years ago, I asked students to use Tumblr to do an annotated bibliography project (a lot like what Ryan Hoover describes, only he used Prezi, which I wish I’d thought of!), with no other real motive than wanting to see what/if/how Tumblr might contribute to my classes. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Just like every other course and every other assignment I’ve ever designed, technology or no.
The fact is that what pedagogical expertise and commitment I have is going to be present regardless of whether I’ve slowly and carefully adopted something or decided to do it on a whim. Just as there’s no degree zero of technology when it comes to pedagogy, there’s no degree zero of pedagogy when it comes to adopting technology for the classroom. Someone, somewhere, has to do the stirring, and I’m kind of tired of the idea that it shouldn’t be me.