Don’t Blame the Technology (Well, Maybe Blame It a Little)

Don’t Blame the Technology (Well, Maybe Blame It a Little)

I spend a lot of time in both my working for pay and not working for pay life thinking about the relationship between technology, pedagogy, and labor. Part of my job as a Digital Fellow is to work with both students and faculty to educated them about the tools available to them to expand their pedagogical and research skill sets. In addition, my own research is largely concerned with the ways in which people learn about and utilize these new tools.  This means that, aside from making me a blast at parties, I spend a lot time wondering about whether or not the technologies available to professors and students are actually things they want to be using. Of course, there’s a certain element of fear or distrust (and sometimes with perfectly good, valid reasons) that is always associated with the introduction of new technology, but there’s also a fairly strong current of thinking about technology that argues that if you’re not on board with the newest developments then you’ll only be left behind. When working with both students (undergrads and fellow graduate students) and faculty, I try to be as sensitive as possible to the fears that people have while also trying to find the appropriate tools and techniques that will help them accomplish what they want. It’s been my experience with the CUNY Academic Commons, the OpenLab at City Tech, and Blogs@Baruch (just three examples of open source software based, interactive platforms in use at CUNY currently) that working with tools that are by nature open and interactive makes for a less skeptical and more willing participant.

With that on my mind, a recent post from the Wired Campus blog at the Chronicle of Higher Ed’s website that I came across a few weeks ago disturbed me a little. The post highlights a recent article published in Science, Technology, and Human Values titled “Technological Change and Professorial Control in the Professoriate” by David R. Johnson that, according to the Chronicle, argued that far from enhancing pedagogy and engaging professors in their craft, the utilization of technology in the classroom was aimed almost entirely at managing the workload of the ever increasing classroom. Which is, of course, an understandable adjustment, but upon a review of the study itself, it would seem to be a disservice to instructional technology writ large to blame “technology” for this.  From my reading of the piece, it’s not hard to tell that the majority of the technology being utilized by professors in the study might be a certain not-to-be-named proprietary course management system that a great deal of us are familiar with. Which is far from the open and interactive platforms that I and an increasing set of CUNY professors, adjuncts, and students are using. I wonder what this study would have looked like if it had been conducted with as a comparison between closed, proprietary systems and open, open-source systems.  Would professors still be so skeptical? Would instructional technology still look like just a patch to cover for degrading labor conditions? I’d like to think not.

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