Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Technology & Teaching - #CCK12 #CHANGE11

MOOCs such as CCK12 and Change11 almost by definition involve a lot of technology, and so questioning the use of technology in teaching might seem … well, almost sacrilegious. Still, The Chronicle of Higher Education published an article recently entitled A Tech-Happy Professor Reboots After Hearing His Teaching Advice Isn't Working, which seems to suggest that Michael Wesch, the Kansas State prof who has supposedly turned his back on educational technology, has finally seen the error of his ways. So are those of us who followed Michael Wesch's marvelous viral videos into the 21st century now supposed to do an about-face? I don't think so.

The title is a flagrant abuse of journalistic license that maligns both ed tech and Michael Wesch. You should read the article yourself, but clearly, Wesch has not dropped technology. Still, you can almost hear the collective sigh of all those tenured professors who can return to their lectures notes and bits of chalk ends, content that this instructional technology thing has been exposed as a bad idea.

It hasn't. What has been exposed is poor, passionless teaching whether to a face-to-face group of 20 or an online group of 200 or 2,000. The article itself makes the case plainly, despite its inflammatory title:
Mr. Wesch is not swearing off technology—he still believes you can teach well with YouTube and Twitter. But at a time when using more interactive tools to replace the lecture appears to be gaining widespread acceptance, he has a new message. It doesn't matter what method you use if you do not first focus on one intangible factor: the bond between professor and student.
Duh. I really doubt this is a new message from Mr. Wesch. I suspect he has always supported impassioned, competent teaching, even before he went online.

So here's the message: a passionless, inept teacher can muck up 20 students in a classroom or 200 students online. Upon reflection, this might actually be something of an argument against instructional technology. Given that through the use of technology, an inept teacher can damage more students, then we should keep technology out of the hands of inept teachers. I can buy that. However, it doesn't strike me as an argument against instructional technology; rather, it's an indictment of poor teaching.

The article is also an illuminating example of The Chronicle's bias toward teaching as the salient aspect of higher education rather than learning. The point of technology is not mostly to work for the teacher, but for the student. Technology does, in fact, work for students in my writing classes. Pen and paper doesn't work in some f2f classes.

Finally, the article creates a false dichotomy. Technology and f2f are not mutually exclusive. We can do both in different situations. I can imagine a wonderfully delightful f2f session with Cormier, Downes, and Siemens around a couple of pints on a clear, summer evening in Charlottetown, PEI. No doubt, as the student, I would learn much—perhaps they would also learn a few things—but this is not likely to happen as I am in south Florida and they are scattered across Canada (actually, Downes in Moncton is closer to me in West Palm Beach (1,960 m/3,154 km) than he is to Siemens in Athabasca (2,897 m/4,663 km)—just in case you are wondering). While the pints of beer have certain desirable affordances, the Internet has other just as desirable affordances (okay, not quite as desirable, but you get the point). Fortunately, we can have both, and the Net is just so much more accessible. So don't disconnect just yet.

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