Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Technology Manifesto of Sorts

Some encounters with other faculty in the past week have prompted me to try to do an inventory of the assumptions and goals that guide me in my use of technology in teaching and learning - which is to say, my assumptions and goals about teaching and learning in general. I figured this would be a good thing to do to organize my own thoughts, while also giving me a handy reference to share with people who seem to be operating with quite different assumptions and goals and who might misinterpret my work as a result. (That happens to me in minor ways all the time and in one MAJOR way this past week; you can read the gory details here.)

I'll adopt a kind of outline form here, which will also be a good way to keep in mind some prompts for topics that I might want to write about in detail later/elsewhere, too! Sunday morning is a good time to think big thoughts that there just is not room for during the regular days of the week...

TEACHING AND LEARNING ASSUMPTIONS

1. Change is not inherently good or inherently bad - but it is inevitable. As the Latin saying goes, Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis - "The times are changing and we too are changing with them." (For any closet Latinists out there, that line is a dactylic hexameter - pretty nifty, yes?) Just looking at the evolution of my teaching over the past ten years, I am amazed (and, overall, pleased) by the changes that have taken place, especially with regard to technology.

2. Communication takes many forms. Watching, speaking, listening, touching - reading, writing - in person, at a distance - analog, digital... Our modern lives are a blend of ALL these forms of communication. The more forms of communication we master, the better able we will be to choose the forms of communication that best suit our needs. Each person has their own communication preferences; it's important (and not always easy) to be aware of our personal strengths and weaknesses in how we communicate. Technology offers us new ways to communicate that were not even imaginable ten years ago.

3. Sharing is good. This is one of my most deeply held assumptions, but I recognize that this is probably more of a personality disposition than a conscious choice. I personally find it easier to give things away than to take them - that's just how I feel. Yes, I understand that others feel differently, of course! The university is a very odd place that way with regard to sharing: it is in some ways a place of sharing, but far less so than you might expect... that's a topic definitely worth reflecting on at length in a future post. One of my favorite things about Web2.0 technology is the way that it is founded on and promotes the practice of sharing.

4. Time is precious. I guess I am just getting OLD, ha ha. But seriously, time is a commodity that I value highly, and there are so many things I would like to be able to do for which there is just not enough time. To me, being able to save time for important tasks is of great personal importance. Wasting time on trivial tasks is something that makes me extremely unhappy. Being able to save time is one of my main goals in using technology in my teaching - if I can save time on mindless tasks, that gives me more time for things that really require my full attention.

5. Ignorance is opportunity. I positively rejoice when I realize that there is something I do not know or something I do not know how to do, because it gives me an opportunity to decide if I want to go find the information or learn the skill. Because of the limits of time (see above), it's not possible to know and do everything - but until you realize your ignorance, you don't even have the choice. So, I am quick to embrace my own ignorance and very grateful for the way the Internet helps me find the answers I seek. I am someone who pursues a few subjects in real depth (ask me anything about Aesop's fables!) and I have a lot of respect for others' scholarship, but I also put a high value on breadth of knowledge and purely random knowledge, too.

TEACHING AND LEARNING GOALS

1. Help my students become more confident in their writing. This goal has come as kind of a surprise to me personally, but I have no hesitation in listing it as my number one goal. When I taught in the classroom, writing just did not seem that important or practical as a teaching goal. Now that I teach fully online, it is natural that written communication has assumed a new importance, and I love the way that new technologies make it possible to students to share their writing online with others in ways that just could not happen with printed paper in the traditional classroom. An added benefit is that my own writing has improved dramatically and I now think of myself as a writer - something that definitely was not true ten years ago.

2. Help my students become more confident in using technology. While I doubt anyone at my school could object to the goal of teaching writing, I can imagine that teaching technology is a goal which is not widely shared, and might even be repudiated. Yet I would rank the teaching of technology more highly than, say, the teaching of the subject matter of my courses. This is because I teach Gen. Ed. courses, courses which are outside of my students' majors and, understandably, often perceived by the students to be irrelevant fluff. Yet by including a strong focus on technology in my classes, I am confident that I can make the classes relevant and useful to any student at the university, even if they are not likely to embark on a lifelong study of fables and folklore as I have.

3. Help my students with time management. It seems to me that the single biggest problem my students face is lack of time combined with not-the-best time management skills. I've worked hard to organize my courses in a way that is both highly structured but also flexible and customizable, so that students get the benefit of the reinforcing structure while also exercising lots of individual choice. That is something I was never able to do in the classroom, but online technology has made it a realistic goal.

4. Promote student-to-student learning and interaction. In the classroom, I was invariably the center of attention, being a pretty outgoing person with lots to say, standing up there at the front of the classroom. Still, it is not my goal to be the center of attention! Instead, I am so glad for the way that by teaching online I can shift the focus away from me and let the students interact with each other and learn from each other. Practically speaking, I was not able to manage this in the classroom very easily, but it is very easy to do in online classes!

5. Explore the world of stories and storytelling. Although I am not confident that all the students in my classes would share my specifically academic interests in storytelling (for example, my intense curiosity about just where on earth Ioachim Camerarius found all the fables he included in his Fabulae Aesopiae of 1579), I do think that storytelling is one of those universal human endeavors that has something to offer to everybody. I would like for the students in my classes to become self-aware and eager consumers of stories that they can find online, both in the form of printed books as well as stories told using new digital media. In this way, I hope that they can both discover old stories and create new stories that they will want to then share with others.

~ ~ ~
... well, that was not so hard to write after all! I was worried I would find it difficult, but since I spend a lot of time pondering these questions, it was easy to come up with five main assumptions and five main goals. I'm sure I could go on and on, but that feels quite satisfactory for now!

In later posts, I will look at the specific learning activities in my classes and the technology tools I am using to see how they fit in with these goals and assumptions. I may discover as a result that some of my class activities and tools should be reshaped in order to accord with these goals and assumptions, or I may be provoked into reformulating these goals and assumptions based on an examination of my practices. Either way, I think this will be something good to have in place when I look back and evaluate the Fall semester over the winter break and start getting ready for Spring.

Based on the goals and assumptions I've listed here, you can guess that I would be very interested in reading about other people's goals and assumptions if they would like to share them! In the hope of that happening, I'll go replicate this post over at Fireside Learning, too. :-)

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