Saturday, November 3, 2007

Some lessons we apparently haven't learned

  • If you are an expert in educational technology, you should know better than to put 300 words of text on a powerpoint slide for us to read while you also want us to be listening to you.
  • You might want to plug your computer in for your presentation so it doesn't shut down in the middle.

  • Pointedly, the student presentation on Powerpoint that immediately follows these technical difficulties points out how uninspiring and distracting it is when a professor has to spend time fiddling with and apologizing for the technology before giving the lecture.

  • The same student presentation mentions the distracting and unnerving cell-phone-ringing-in-the-classroom phenomenon -- commenting ironically on the white-haired professor in the front row half an hour earlier who not only dug out his ringing cell phone during the presentation, but answered it without leaving his seat.

  • It's really hard to believe -- and disheartening -- that after the wowzer keynote presentation by Derek Powazek on harnessing the power of online community, we have a presentation about why a course should use online discussions followed by one about how not to use Powerpoint. During two successive presentations that really pushed the envelope about how to develop the rhetoric of student empowerment into a reality -- Rick and Phil's visions of a disintermediated, collaborative Honors 2025 followed by Derek's evangelism for the wisdom of crowds and the transformation of passive audiences into creators and organizers -- the response was overwhelmingly fearful. Students need lectures! This will devalue the great books! Web-based voting and ranking systems reduce truth to a popularity contest! We spent our careers becoming experts and now we're going to be rendered redundant! Now in the presentations in the paper session that follows, we're back where people are comfortable ... tools rather than ideas, widgets rather than structures, how-to's rather than why-to's. We've got to keep pushing on this. It's not about what program to use or what plug-in to buy -- it's about how technology provides a medium that shapes, for good or ill depending on how intentional you are, your community's participation in your mission. It's about how technology sends a message about your values and goals. It's about getting rid of the layer of unfulfilled or contradictory rhetoric between your community and their educational experience.

  • My favorite part of my job is my discussions with my fellow administrators, Phil and Rick. (My second favorite part is being in the classroom with students. My third favorite part is realizing that something I said to a student made a difference in their work or their life.) We are three people excited about doing more for students, infecting the whole university with our passions, thinking big, imagining new structures, reinventing existing traditions. Together we are ready and eager to make it all real. My least favorite part of my job is dealing with people who dig in their heels and don't want to change anything. People who are skeptical of anything new, automatically. People who would rather rehash past debates and explain how everything went wrong than think about what to do next. People who'd rather not hear about the mission of their institution because it might indict their teaching and practice as out of step with the mission, or worse (and this absolutely happens) in direct contradiction to that mission. My intense dislike for dealing with this attitude is a problem for me -- because my academic colleagues by nature are very conservative and independent. They do not want to be told what to do, and they do not want to change what they do. That attitude is on full display here at NCHC, as evidenced by the last bullet. And so I have roller-coastered from euphoria at Derek's magnetic, arresting, and wholly inspiring presentation, to crushing despair at the petty, rudimentary, and unreflective information (if you can call it that) that people here are so much more comfortable with. Unfortunately, without a structure for this organization and its meeting that puts those values of innovation, rigor, and challenge front and center in every aspect, we'll continue to be a feel-good weekend with a big party where everybody gets patted on the back for having "Honors" attached to their titles, and nobody has to submit to any tough questions about what that means.


Jeremy said...

Great post on the trails and tribulations of the NCHC and technology. Also, thanks for lunch - I owe you one!


katie j. said...

I think I need to teach in a good Honors program before I settle into teaching elsewhere...because where I am now, we're all about reaction, not revolution.

I'll put that on my list of things to do...

doafy said...

We have many of the same problems in high schools. One of my favorite things is talking about what works *well* in the classroom, but then so many people only want to talk about the negative. I get such a rush getting other ideas from people, but those rushes are few and far between.

And then when I move to public school (next year?) there will be government interference.