I am going to introduce myself by being a bit of a contrarian.
Don’t get me wrong. The first thing anyone should know about me is that I’m a huge fan of technology in general; just about everything from iPods to Martian colonization will get enthusiastic interest and support from me. And I’m the same way about a lot of classroom technologies, as you’ll see in the coming weeks and months.
But for right now, I’d like to be the voice of reason and measured skepticism. Specifically, I want to highlight the “why” of classroom technologies.
There are a lot of naysayers out there when it comes to utilizing technology in a classroom or lecture hall. If you’re a proponent of technology, you’ve probably run into at least a little resistance at some point. This might be, for example, an administrator that is hesitant to make an investment in hardware or software that doesn’t have a very long track record. It might be an entire IT department that refuses to open up yet another port to their firewall for someone’s online project. It could be fellow instructors and even students who might not “see the point” of doing something in a new way – regardless of how starry-eyed we get when describing an exciting or useful technology.
In some ways, I can’t blame them. Who wants to be the university administrator who green-lighted a campus-wide adoption of Betamax or laser-disc systems? What student wants to purchase some gadget that they’re only going to use once? All too often, the speed of technology’s evolution outstrips our ability to keep up with it, leaving schools with loads of outdated, worthless machines and half-finished projects. No one wants to pick up the tab for that.
But even more importantly, we who are at the forefront of the tech wave—the early adopters, those who think outside the box—need to simply sit back and slow down. We love technology. We love its potential to revolutionize and reinvigorate the processes of teaching and learning. And rightly so. Back when the overhead projector was new, there were resisters who thought such a device had no place in a classroom. Today, we see it as an old but reliable technology that inspired us to adopt other kinds of projector systems eagerly.
We need to be careful. Our enthusiasm is a double-edged sword. If some of us had our way, every classroom in America would have a Betamax VCR collecting dust somewhere. Well, you know what I mean. We can be pretty rash and adamant about being early adopters. Sometimes we need to reexamine what we’re doing.
Most importantly, we need to remember that technology is not an end in itself. I know many of us don’t need to be reminded of this, but it’s worth saying out loud every now and then. As instructors, teaching is supposed to come first. That means that new technologies should be evaluated with the teaching in mind, regardless of how cool they are. Can they enhance our teaching? How so? Are there potential detriments to the classroom environment? How do these weigh against the benefits? What’s the learning curve, for both instructors and students? Is this a technology that’s going to be around for a while, or is it just a fad? Will the skills the students must learn to use it serve them well in the future or in other contexts? Will we have to adjust our teaching styles to accommodate it, and is that asking too much of overburdened instructors? We have a responsibility to ask ourselves these and other questions when something lights up our imaginations.
Of course, I’m not a naysayer. I’m a virtual-worlds researcher with a focus on the juncture between literature and technology. I believe in the enthusiasm of people like us, because that enthusiasm helps us both push technology forward and find innovative uses for existing technologies. Technology keeps us fresh as we face a new group of students every term. Often enough, it does indeed provide new possibilities for our classrooms. But enthusiasm is not enough. We all need to consider whether a great technology is also right for our individual teaching situation. I don’t think we should stop what we’re doing or even cool our enthusiasm. I simply believe that since our students and the world are depending on us to get things right, it behooves us to remember that classroom technology is about the classroom. Not the technology.