Augmentation and Support

The role that technology should play in teaching and learning.

March 10, 2014

“The vast majority of talk about education and technology, at least publicly, is about disruption and "innovation," rather than support and augmentation”.

The above quote by John Warner, writing in response to my thinking on the debate between techno-utopians and techno-skeptics, helps puts much of our discussions on this topic into perspective.

Where John sees most of the talk about education and technology has focused on disrupting the system, all the talk on my campus is about how technology can support and augment the teaching of our faculty.   

What John has helped me understand is that the various members of our IHE community may simply be talking past each other when we talk about the intersection of learning and technology.

That the campus specific context for these discussions may be so different that it may be difficult to find enough common ground to really listen and learn from our varying perspectives.

At my institution the idea that the true value of the education that we offer starts and ends with the quality of our faculty is unquestioned.   

Teaching and research are understood as mutually re-enforcing, with the best sort of learning considered to be the kind that helps (undergraduate) students transition from consumers to creators of knowledge.  

Learning technologies are introduced in the context of a shared set of values around the importance of nurturing a close-knit learning community.   

Would my perspective on the potential of technology to aid in teaching and learning be different if I made my living at a different type of institution?

If I worked at a large public university, or a community college, as opposed to a small and private liberal arts institution?

I don’t think so.

Any college or university that believes that in the potential to substitute technologies for faculty will be writing their own death warrant.

The future of any education worth paying for will be one the student will have opportunities to build relationships with educators.

Personal relationships.  Coaching relationships.  Mentoring relationships.  

Learning is a relationship.

How could this be different in the age of Wikipedia, iTunesU, YouTubeEDU, and the MOOC?

If information is abundant, than what will be most valuable is what is most scarce.   Today, that scarcity is the sort of hands-on and close-up educating, coaching and mentoring that is only possible at human scale.

Every college and university, no matter their position or selectivity, should be investing in their faculty.  This is an investment in the only educational resource that can set an institution apart from the commoditized digital educational platforms that are pushing information transfer and assessment to scale. 

Where does technology come into all of this?

If we can arrange things so that every single course is taught by an experienced scholar-educator, and that every single class is capped at 15 students, then let’s throw out every single learning technology under the sun.

Until we can get to that place together (and we should work towards that goal), are there ways that we can leverage technologies to enhance connections, interaction, and active learning?

Can we think about options in blended or online learning that will allow us to offer new programs and smaller classes?

Are there methods we can employ, such as flipped and blended teaching designs, that will enable more time for discussion, debate and collaboration in class?

There are many good reasons why an institution should invest in its faculty.  One of the most compelling reasons should be purely economic - in the near future nobody will pay (either students or state legislators) for an education that is little better than what can be had at low or no cost online.   

Any academic technology strategy not built on the understanding that learning requires a relationship will result in both worse outcomes for students and diminished prospects for our colleges and universities.

How do we move our learning technology discussion forward?


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