Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Underlying Assumptions of Educational Technology Implementation

Educators rush to adopt new technologies into their curricula. Shouldn't we ask what unintended consequences accompany new ways of communicating?

I am currently attending the 2007 Campus Technology Conference in Washington, DC. Discussions of the use of educational technology have circled around faculty resistence to change, objectives in employing technology in the classroom, and effective deployment of new technologies within classical teaching environments. The emphasis of the conference is on understanding the goals of using of technology in education, the metrics that can be used to assess those goals, and the methodology for achieving those goals. The repeated theme is "It's the pedagogy, stupid!"

There are multiple sessions exploring the latest technologies and their potential use in the classroom setting. Key areas of concern include managing change, developing an achievable technology vision and ensuring reliability of the technology infrastructure. An underlying narrative of so-called "digital literacy" runs throughout all conference presentations.

As I sit and listen to various panels concerning the adoption and impact of technology in an academic setting, it occurs to me how much this conference could benefit from a Media Ecology perspective. So far, there has been no discussion of how the introduction of any significant technology may create a paradigmatic shift that may ultimately affect the very definition of what teaching (and learning) is. We would benefit from a discussion of Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions. How to deal with the winners and losers of the new technology environment has not been addressed. Several of Neil Postman's works, like Technopoly and Teaching As A Conserving Activity would be of use. The relative biases of the new technologies have not been examined. A session on Harold Innis's The Bias of Communication and Marshall McLuhan's The Medium is the Massage might shed some light. There are a number of narratives being promulgated that attempt to define the course of technological innovation in an educational setting. So I would also add an exploration of Claude Levi-Strauss's notion that the structure of the stories we tell each other is of greater importance than the actual content. Add a copy of The Savage Mind to the list.

What I am suggesting is that a technology conference that isn't grounded in the fundamentals of Media Ecology is not dealing with root cause issues of technology change, but only the symptoms. In other words, as campus technology professionals and educators rush into the adoption of such things as Blogs, Wikis, IM, e-mail, Google, Yahoo, MySpace, Facebook as part of their curriculum, shouldn't we first ask the question of what unintended consequences might accompany each of these new ways of communicating?

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