digital rhetoric

Technology in the classroom

I agree that it appears reasonable to hold to the position that no faculty member should be required to use specific computer technology in the classroom. It is a matter of academic freedom, as well as a kind of “job creep” where we are continually asked to be responsible for more knowledge, skills, content, etc.

However, to see, even for solely oneself, that computer technology has no value in the classroom is problematic. I am not a proselytizer or even really a technophile. I conduct critical, philosophical investigations into technology, so I know a lot about it. But concluding I therefore “love” technology is analogous with saying that an economist loves capitalism b/c s/he studies the American economy.

Say computers have no value is much like saying books have no value. Obviously some books are not poorly written, outdated, or not valuable for a particular reader for any number of reasons. That’s partly why there are a lot of books out there. Computer technology is equally varied. Saying computer technology has no value for you in teaching is roughly equivalent with saying “I don’t cotton much to that there book learnin.’”

Logically speaking, if we say it is reasonable for faculty to refuse to use computer technology, wouldn’t it be reasonable for them to refuse to use other technology, e.g. books, chalkboards, writing utensils, lighting, desks? As academics our courses and teaching are reviewed periodically. Is it acceptable for me to say, “I don’t use books b/c I believe books have no value in teaching.” Or I don’t use writing or lights? While in some disciplines, saying this about writing might be acceptable, mostly these attitudes will not be accepted, academic freedom or not.

Academic freedom is clearly limited. Obviously one must be hired, and stay hired, as an academic in order to enjoy it. This will mean meeting certain responsibilities and adhering to a particular communal ethos.

So I think the point is the reasonableness of saying faculty should not be required to use technology depends on most folks nodding their heads when you say that at a department meeting….which may not be for that long.

I think the more reasonable analogy is to say that just like we have wide latitude in ordering books and creating our courses, we should have wide latitude in the means by which we integrate technology. However, just as we expect college courses to have reading materials, assignments, and a syllabus, we should expect some incorporation of technology.

As one of my colleagues put it, quite honestly, she requires some external motivation to incorporate technology (the carrot is nicer than the whip but both will work). If we have colleagues who might be here for another 5, 10 or more years, we simply need to begin pushing them toward technology…not to say you must do x, y or z but educating them in the possibilities, encouraging and supporting their experimentation, and rewarding their successes.
Again, I’m not a proselytizer for computers, but I’m not a bibliophile either. However, I think my colleagues are mistaken if they believe English Studies can survive as a kind of amusement park of past technology, as the Amish country of higher education.

As I have said before (and will say, I guess, again and again), folks in English Studies need to realize that their critical competencies, their ethos, their knowledge, and their methods are not inextricably tied to a particular technology. If they are then English Studies will fade away and die from irrelevancy. Our disciplinary task is to learn, critique, and engage emerging forms of information/knowledge production and communication and to develop new modes of literacy in response that carry forward our ethical, political, and intellectual concerns and values.

One reply on “Technology in the classroom”

[…] Audrey Waters writes today listing “the 100 worst ed-tech debacles of the decade” (h/t Seth Kahn). Coincidentally I learned today I had been nominated to be one of UB’s SUNY Online Teaching Ambassadors. This got me thinking about the 20+ years in which I’ve been teaching online and hybrid courses (which is basically the span of my career). As Waters’ list indicates, there is no shortage of debacles. It is a litany of hucksterism, boosterism, short-term thinking, knee-jerk reactions, technophobia, bureaucratic corruption, and corporate greed… especially those last two. Really it’s not so different from the broader stories of debacles in digital culture. As I (and many, many others) have argued over the years, we do not know how to live with digital media, and one of the most important roles the humanities might play in this century is helping us figure out how to do that. Or, to quote myself: […]


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