Laurence Musgrove is no Luddite, but he's sick of being told he has to learn some new gizmo to reach his students.

February 22, 2007

I’m feeling a bit cranky.My colleagues and I have just received word that our next professional development day will focus on ways we need to technologize our teaching methods so that we can better facilitate the success of the newest new generation, commonly known as “Millennials.”This latest alien invasion of first-year students, we are told, are teenage battery packs “with wires running through their veins” plugged into video games, MySpace and iPods.Therefore, we better get our collective act together and at the very least hybridize the delivery of knowledge so that we can help them make the grade in the global marketplace.

I’m no Luddite. In fact, I spend a good deal of my day reading news online, communicating with family, friends, colleagues and students, banking, writing, listening to music, checking job lists, updating my queue in Netflix, and so on. This morning, I received some garage-band mp3s from my daughter who is studying in Italy, and yesterday my brother in Houston sent me a funny wmv. I opened it last night just and showed it to my wife just after I had looked up a recipe for kale on www.marthastewart.com. Sometime today, I’ll be updating my CV html and ftping it to my academic domain. I regularly put course materials on Blackboard, and I’ve taught an online course in contemporary American poetry using the rich resources of video easily available on the Web.

So one of the reasons I’m cranky today is because most faculty development workshops I’ve attended assume no knowledge and experience on the part of those being lectured to about the latest advances in technology, learning style, and interconnectivity.

Nobody asks us what we already know and do. Nobody wants to know what the personality of our learning is. Nobody really wants to hear what we have to say. We’re stuffed into row after row of folding chairs facing the PowerPoint torture of illegible pie charts, tables, and data we need to remember so that we’ll be better prepped to perform in the learning community breakout sessions just after the chicken wraps at lunch.

Another reason I’m cranky today is that I detest these facile characterizations of our students. At some point, I expect the next newest generation to be labeled “USBs” or “ScanDisks” or “Intels” or “iLearners.” These names and framing metaphors, of course, support all sorts of false notions of knowledge and learning and teaching and success and most frightening: humanity.

And I’m cranky because this attempt to equate pedagogy with technology confuses ends with means. “Student engagement” has become the latest assessment buzzphrase, and thus, the newest once-and-for-all measure of and purpose for learning. In other words, any desire to understand the value of learning to individual students is replaced with the desire to promote the most efficient and engaging mode of learning by as many students as possible. And faculty better get in line to be online.

Techno-teaching and ilearning are also best because that’s what our students expect from us. They are the current experts on learning, they know how they best prefer to learn, and we should deliver unto them what they want in the way they want it. Thus I’m cranky because in between the government money pouring into institutional assessment and the tuition pouring in from 18 year old students, faculty members get shortchanged.

Finally, I’m cranky because I have to confront all of this professional development ruckus to claim my own professional authority, to say that I am smart enough to keep track of my own discipline and the latest pedagogical advancements without having to be lectured to two or three times a year about what college students need.

What our students need is not more of what they come in the door with. They don’t need more of the same in the same way they got it before. They need to be confronted with people who talk about ideas that matter. They need to become people who can confront and talk to other people about ideas that matter. They need to sit in a room of people and learn about humanity.

Also, not more Facebook, but more faces in books, extended periods of silent and sustained reading and writing, developing intellectual stamina and the ability to ask questions that don’t lead to easy answers or a quick and final Wikisearch.


Laurence Musgrove is an associate professor of English and foreign languages at Saint Xavier University, in Chicago.


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