June 23, 2015
"Do you see a divide in your profession between those who see their work a supporting teaching by teachers and those who see ed tech as a way of replacing teachers in the interests of scale and productivity (and profits)?
Is this a fault line in your profession? And is it aligned by type of institution (e.g. well-resourced liberal arts residential college v.public university v. community college)or by philosophy? Just curious."
Barbara Fister, commenting on my blog post What If EdTech Stood With Non Tenure-Track Faculty?
Thank you Barbara for always asking the right questions.
I’ve always been struck by the strong ethical backbone that runs through the academic library world. The academic library seems to be built as much on a core group of ideas as it is on any set of practices. The Code of Ethics of the American Library Association are not just nice words. My sense is that my academic library colleagues will defend these ethical practices to the last.
Just as ensuring access, protecting privacy, and fighting against censorship are at the core of library ethics, the primacy of the educator should be at the core of edtech ethics.
My hypothesis is that the only way that the edtech profession is going to make a strategic impact on higher education is if we find common cause with educators.
Addressing the challenges of the postsecondary three-legged stool of access, costs, and quality will require a true partnership between faculty and technologists. We need each other.
Technology in education is, at best, assistive. Additive. Complementary. At worst, technology in education is a red herring. A false idol. A massive distraction.
The appropriate leveraging of technology can support and amplify learning. If learning is to go beyond information transmission, and progress to higher order skills of critical and flexible thinking, judgement, and leadership, then an educator better be involved.
There is no doubt that new technologies and new platforms (think MOOCs) are rapidly commoditizing the information delivery models of education. Information, and information manipulation (think adaptive learning platforms), has blessedly moved from scarcity to abundance.
Figuring out what to do with all this information, how to create value and improve the world, remains the domain of the faculty / student relationship.
Barbara Fister asks, "Do you see a divide in your profession between those who see their work a supporting teaching by teachers and those who see ed tech as a way of replacing teachers in the interests of scale and productivity (and profits)?"
The answer depends on who in the edtech profession that you ask.
My sense is that those of us on the learning technology side of the edtech profession are firmly in the camp of the educators.
Want to raise the status of the faculty? Hire more instructional designers.
Learning technology folks understand that good teaching is wickedly difficult. We only seek to arm the educator with a better set of tools.
Learning technology folks know that to commoditize a university education is the fastest way to kill it. We have no desire to enter into a race to the bottom.
Barbara Fister next asks if the belief in the primary of the educator amongst edtech professionals is “aligned by type of institution (e.g. well-resourced liberal arts residential college v.public university v. community college)or by philosophy?"
Hmm. This is really an excellent question. My sense is that we have learning technology folks at every type of institution. To the extent that edtech professional identify themselves first as educators, and only secondly as technologists, then the belief in the idea of “supporting teaching by teachers” will dominate.
The fact remains that any attempt to substitute faculty with technology, or to not support faculty in their teaching, is a short-sighted and ultimately self-defeating economic strategy.
Colleges and universities with less resources will need to make hard choices about which degrees, programs, and departments to support. The days of every college teaching every subject (or most subjects) are gone. Schools will need to specialize.
Playing to your strengths, and finding areas of differentiation, are not signs of capitulation and weakness but rather signals of good leadership.
When a school does decide where it is strong, the only path forward is to invest in the people teaching in those areas of strength. When it comes to education, the value add is in the educator.
An educator-first philosophy is most important at those institutions that are the most resource constrained.
Are the edtech people on the campuses straining under the severest scarcities making this educator-first argument? They should be.
What do you think needs to happen if a coalition between the edtech profession and faculty at every level is to be built?
What can the edtech profession do, besides speaking out for the rights and status and security and pay of non-tenure track and contingent faculty, to lend support to the cause?
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