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Age and Innovation
December 7, 2009 - 9:32pm

I come from an academic family. My Dad, George Masnick, has had a long career as a demographer at Harvard. Dad sent me this e-mail the other day in response to some of the work that I'm doing in learning technology:

"Boy, has teaching changed since I was in the saddle! I kind of feel sorry for all the over 50 professors who will become increasingly marginalized unless they can retool their teaching. Love, Dad"

What I told Dad, and what I want to say to everyone, is that he is wrong (rarely happens). Truth is - the over 50 crowd of faculty are amongst some of the most innovative faculty when it comes to leveraging technology to improve learning.

Lanny Arvan has been arguing this point for years now. Senior faculty often do the best and most interesting work in learning technology and advanced pedagogy because:

A) Tenure: Having tenure, they can afford to take both the time and the risks inherent in experimenting with new teaching methods that integrate learning technologies.

B) Mastery: Senior faculty are our most experienced and masterful teachers. They have completed the 10,000 hours of practice necessary to become an expert in the art of teaching, and therefore can fluidly incorporate and evaluate new techniques.

C) Challenges: In my experience many of the senior faculty I work with are ready and eager to take on new challenges in their career. Having succeeded in their discipline, they are ready to learn new things and find other domains to gain proficiency. Exploring, incorporating, and experimenting with new technologies for teaching often provides the challenge they are looking for.

D) Collegiality: The vast majority of the senior faculty that I partner with are the most collegial people on the planet. They are interested in partnering for success, in mentoring their colleagues and younger peers, and in working with professional throughout the institution. Perhaps my sample is skewed, as the faculty who work with me are those who choose to incorporate new methods, tools and techniques. But these collegial senior faculty members are often thought leaders on campus, and always a joy to work with.

The challenge that I see is to align incentives (promotion and tenure) so that junior faculty can be incented to be as innovative in advancing their teaching (and partnering with learning technologists) as our senior tenured faculty. For now, I'll settle for convincing my Dad that his colleagues in the "over 50 crowd" are amongst our most innovative faculty when it comes to learning technology.

 

 

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