This post from Cyborgology piggybacked nicely on some thoughts that I’ve had recently about the use of technology by faculty at my university.
My thoughts arose from an experience with an adjunct faculty member who came to my office for help in building a robo-graded exam on Blackboard. In working with her for just a few minutes, I realized that she didn’t know what a web browser was or where software like Blackboard “lived” (she thought that because she created the exam on Blackboard on her laptop, that her students would somehow be remotely logging into her laptop when they took their Blackboard exam). The upshot of this visit to my office was that she left still fairly confused about Blackboard (my outstanding explanation of servers, notwithstanding), but with a functioning exam that was set to deploy for her students to take at the appointed time.
After pondering my interaction with her for awhile, I began to wonder whether the model of Academic Technology as it works at most universities is flawed. We automatically give faculty a login to our courseware regardless of whether they’ve attended any trainings, and we provide basic “getting started” tutorials that give faculty just enough click-by-click instructions to begin using it for teaching and assessment within just a few minutes of logging in. As a result, few have any level of mastery at the technology. And this approach leads to many problems, which are compounded by the seriousness of administering grades and coursework through a platform that they barely understand and can’t troubleshoot on their own.
As I thought in this vein, it occurred to me that another (perhaps more effective?) way of providing support for Academic Technology would be to do hand-on trainings of the technology first, and then have faculty who would like to use the technology pass a proficiency exam on that software before they receive a login that would deploy their courseware. While doing that sounds like a bit of a bureaucratic nightmare (and I can just imagine the resistance to attending the training meetings), at least faculty would have a much better sense of what they’re getting themselves into when they start using an LMS for distributing their course content. In fact, I would say that faculty “ought” to have to have acquired some level of proficiency with the software before they use it, as quoted from the article above:
The ought, I argue, is a carefully curated relationship with technology, one in which the social actor has access, know how, and above all, control.
Because when a technology enters the classroom, it changes teaching and it changes learning. And instructors ought to be cognizant of this as they’re structuring a learning experience for their students.
But at the same time, I wonder if we ought to pile one more responsibility on the heads of our stretched-thin faculty. Perhaps the ought should read something more like this: only faculty who have the inclination and motivation to integrate technology ought to use it in the classroom. Others ought to continue teaching in the ways that they know best.