Feeling a bit hopeless…

I attended a keynote presentation today – the equivalent of last gasp of traditional education viewpoints. The bulk of the session focused on essentially saying “don’t use technology in teaching, be engaging instead”. The focus is largely on preserving the ideal of educator centrality in the learning process. At one point, presenters made the statement that teaching a large on-campus class (of 500 or more) was more personal that teaching with technology. I’m stunned. And quite distressed at how narrowly technology is being conceived.
I’m getting tired of this argument…and hearing it from individuals who have not spent time teaching online. Technology is not (or should not) be in conflict with good teaching (I’m going to assume here that teaching has a valid, important role in education – not focusing exclusively on self-directed learning). The most poorly informed arguments I encounter come from those who are not familiar with the space they are criticizing.
“Blogs are impersonal” Do you blog? “No”.
“Wikis are too confusing.” Have you collaborated in a wiki? “No”.
“Students don’t pay attention in class when they have laptops – they’re busy surfing online.” Have you changed your teaching model over the last 10, 15, 20 years?…have you augmented your course with technology as a means of extending learning, not as a means of replacing teaching? “No”. Oh, well, with that line of reasoning, let me tell you how we should perform heart surgery, based on extensive opinions, but no experience.
I personally enjoy a good lecture. I enjoy hearing from experts in different disciplines. So, in my theory of education, teaching, and learning, the expert plays an important role – some times lecturing, other times guiding, encouraging, fostering, and promoting values and characteristics of a field (not only the content).
For too many, technology is seen as a means to replace lectures. So, we have traditionalists standing up and saying “technology removes engagement…what we need is charismatic lecturers”. This same myopic view is seen by technologists – eliminate all lectures, make everything self-exploratory – give the learner complete control, let them choose their own learning. The inability to think holistically is the key fault of both camps. News flash: to traditionalists: technology isn’t going away – the toothpaste is out of the tube…to technologists: technology tools won’t be adopted without critical reflection…your attempts at conversion are as narrow in focus as those you are criticizing. And, the part that sucks, is that at various times, I have been in both camps.
Higher education is deeply entrenched in its historical rituals; research, tenure, publishing, and recognition. Teaching has been largely ignored. But, I think that’s changing. Statements of “scholarship of teaching and learning” are more common in mission statements, now even reflected in tenure considerations. The dichotomy of teaching and technology is falsely conceptualized…and arguing too strongly in either camp essentially reflects preservation of ideals rather than true consideration of the learning, the context of learning, the nature of society today, the type of future learners with inherit, and so on.

8 Responses to “Feeling a bit hopeless…”

  1. Karyn Romeis says:

    “don’t use technology in teaching, be engaging instead” Why oh why does it have to be either/or? Why in the name of all that is educational can’t it be both/and?
    I always made an effort to be the engagingest teacher my learners had ever encountered (sometimes I even succeeded – competition wasn’t always very fierce). Like you, I enjoy a good lecture, but personal they are not, and the lecture style only works if the learner is interested in the subject matter (unless the lecturer is drop-dead gorgeous, of course!)
    Be encouraged – your campaign will not be fruitless!

  2. Cheri Toledo says:

    I feel your pain. I sat through two sessions today listening to Mark Taylor (www.taylorprograms.org) talk about Generation NeXt and our need to change from focusing on our teaching to focusing on their learning. He was definitely preaching to the choir. Less than 25% of the university faculty attended, yet he congratulated the 100% for being instructors using the new paradigm.
    I disagreed, I know that more of our faculty would agree with the presenters you talked about today. It’s a sad fact that so many college faculty are performers on their own center stage … and so few are really educators.

  3. Paul Justice says:

    The continued growth in the popularity of networked communications as well as delivery mediums such as wikipedia, YouTube and podcasts and the upcoming opportunities presented by games platforms (such as Second Life) all point to changing times for training, development and education, and as Bob Dylan told us, “Don’t stand in the doorway, Don’t block up the hall … For the times they are a-changin’. ”
    I initially thought the market would drive change within the sector, but the stubborness of the traditionalist are driving the market (Reed, Thomson) to put up their hands and concede defeat.
    So perhaps change has to come from within – a learning theory which they can get their heads around, debate, write papers on, deliver presentations on, etc.
    I still believe that in the long term, the economics of training, development and education will ensure technology based tools & techniques become core. The traditional model is moving closer toward a financially bankrupt situation.

  4. Carol Braun says:

    I have just listened to your recorded opening address for the Connectivism conference, George. In searching through the Moodle site and blogs, I was intrigued by your “feeling kind of hopeless” coomments. From the morning address I was struck by the human adaptation still required to collaborate effectively in creating shared knowledge. As has been the case so often throughout human history, the technology is (in some ways) way ahead of the human. People, especially long-revered experts, are not nearly ready to give up the personal power and prestige of their expertise. Especially in the world of academia. There has to be a place of honor and equality for the courageous uninformed for connectivism to become an acceptable knowledge creator and knowledge base.
    Another critical human struggle will be the willingness to embrace uncertainty and ambiguity. In the human search for control and order, people struggle with and fear the unknown. As a teacher in an alternative setting, we deal with learners everyday where mistakes and what they don’t know has been dangerous. Ambiguity and uncertainty are flags for impending disaster. The irony is that it is connections – literal and through technology – that keep these learners afloat in difficult lives. So while you talk about connectivism creating uncertain and ambiguous knowledge, it is the connections to people that create the safety net, or certainty, for learners to embark on their forays into learning. Each time they are safe after showing what they don’t know, and learn by connecting with someone who does and connecting what’s new to what they do know, they are empowered. The next time it’s easier, and soon the learner is hooked by the power of their own learning.
    So…it really is okay that people are where they are. Learners are way more adaptable than teachers. This creates frustration in the moment, but certainly will not stop the shift of power from the expert to the connected learner.

  5. Diane McCarthy says:

    Hi George. Nelson Mandela spent 28 years of his life in prison before he could negotiate with the white minority government in South Africa on the terms and conditions of a multi racial constitution. Even then, some of the black South Africans used violence to try and sabotage the ANC led initiative. Integrating digital technology into our pedagogy as early adopters before it becomes the dominant paradigm is challenging, just as being a critically reflective teacher is challenging. But as Stephen Brookfield says, we teach to change the world.
    Good on you for venting, and hopefully, you experience these posts as assurance that your thinking around connectivism inspires us to persist, and they are dimming any tiredness you may be feeling in the face of predictable resistance from teachers who, as Foucault and Freire have rightly noted, are conservative people in under resourced controlling institutions. Your work is resonating globally among like minded educators, and I hope you make it to NZ sometime.

  6. Stephen Cook says:

    Wow, that presentation must have been BORING. I dont see how this guy cannot not see student engagement and technology going hand in hand. I work in the education business mainly promoting my company’s education website, http://www.careersandeducation.com, and see on a daily basis how technology influences and changes the education field. This guy is trying to stop to big of an army in technology, the two have already integrated and there is no seperating the two!

  7. Rita Kop says:

    Hi George
    Your rant sounds familiar. I think most people working in learning technology have had the same arguments as you just described over the past 5 years. Of course teaching (in the lecturing sense) has an age old tradition that stems from religion and reading out loud from the pulpit. Very much based around the old technology, the book. Lecturing was the most appropriate way of disseminating information at that time. It is only really in the past 10 years that enthusiasts can see that information and communication streams can be linked on the Internet and might make for a better way of disseminating information, of creating knowledge if you like (but the luddites also have a different view of knowledge). Teachers will have to change their ways, but as Barnett said that is not easy. In this world of ‘supercomplexity’ the world of work is changing: ‘Work, communication, identity, self, knowing and even life: the meaning of fundamental concepts are no longer clear in a world of change.’ It is easier to switch off to change than to get involved! In my experience the best way to change reluctant tutors is to show them what is out there on the Internet for them, but I am sure you already do this all the time!

  8. Stephanie says:

    Hi all!
    I’m enrolled as a University student at Concordia University in Montreal and I stumbled upon this website when conducting a research project based on communal constructivism in a multicultural context. This topic is of particular interest to me mostly because I think that the realm of education has been waiting for this ‘redesign’ so to speak. I’m convinced that the current ‘teacher-centered’ educational practices that are being imposed on me do not
    reflect valuable learning opportunities and the notion of communal constructivism that I was presented with in an Education class has provoked my interest. The course is called Children and Technology and considering that the theory of communal constructivism is a ‘community’ concept, I simply wanted to contribute to the existing body of knowledge and emphasize the technological potential that our course focuses on. The idea is that with the possibilities of e-learning, knowledge can be gained virtually anytime and anywhere, to learn for, from and with each other. After reading some of your comments, I was immidiately interested in this connectivism theory, I would love to know more about it. I agree that many teachers have trouble embracing the unknown aspects that technology presents in a classroom context, but more importantly is the application of that technology for valued learning.
    However, in this vast interconnected world of information exchange, not everyone is presented with the
    identical opportunities and access to resources. On that note, I suppose that I would like to begin a discussion and gain alternative opinions on the notion of this existing ‘digital divide’ and comments on how you think it poses a disadvantage for participating in modern society. Moreover, with all the parameters that prevent the right to Internet acceess (specific disabilities, income, geographic location), do you think that it is possible to ever completely eliminate the discrepancies that exist?
    One of the components of this site that attracted me was the prescribed definition of communal constructivism that seems to be on par with the concept of connectivism. I would delighted to see what everyone thinks and how technology as a teaching tool can be approached. I think it would be of great interest to anyone wishes to express a more indepth interest on the topic, I strongly urge everyone to get their hands on a very useful e-learning book (our textbook used):
    Holmes, B. & Gardner, J. (2006). e-learning: Concepts and Practice. London: Sage Publications.
    And for any further information regarding this, it is worth while to visit these sites: