Get Your Head Out of Your Asana, We’re Still Rockin’ it Old Skool.

So, we’ve re-imagined team communication from the ground up, in an effort to achieve our mission: ‘To help humanity thrive by enabling all teams to work together effortlessly.’” — Asana

                Are you frustrated with your professor’s inability to adapt to new technology in the classroom? Are they pointing the TV remote at the laptop trying to get it to change channel? When you mention Facebook, do they ask under what call number it can be found in the library? Are they still trying to connect to the internet from a corded phone?

Admittedly, I’m creating a caricature out of seemingly inept professors in their digital environments, but this discomfort with technology in the classroom is not a new phenomenon. This has happened before. As The Symons Report attests, an inquiry into Canadian Studies at the university level was conducted in the 1970s and emeritus Trent University professor Dr. Tom Symons noted that the printed word remained the focus of post-secondary university learning. He further observed that “among many teachers and some university administrators, the outright rejection of non-print media as teaching devices is not uncommon” (186) and “for the most part, teachers who do use educational technology are the ones who feel comfortable in handling media. Their attraction to non-print resources is not based on a revolutionary concept of education, but on utility” (176). Sound familiar?

In a preliminary survey conducted for the Student Voices project, we learned from fifty-six Ontario students that the main uses for digital technology in the classroom was either as a digital projector or in-class computer (91%) or for Powerpoint presentations (91%). A much lower number used the technology for interactive purposes such as a Smartboard (45%), social media (14%) or Prezi (14%). The main function of digital technology seems not to be a replacement of old technologies for innovative purposes, but as an upgrade; to replace reel to reel 16mm film projectors and slide projectors with the modern equivalent. We certainly haven’t replaced our organic vision with Geordi La Forge visors, or as Student Voice Nicolas Ashmore suggests, Google Glass. After all, it is certainly easier to pull up a clip on YouTube and project it on to a white board than it is finding and pulling a video from the library and carting a box-television connected to a VCR to class to hold a screening.

Electronic learning management tools such as Blackboard, fare no better. Although, they nullify the need to “hand-out” physical copies of syllabi and readings (students do not even need to show up to class to get them), they seem to do little else. Some feel, as Student Voice Pake Newell, that these tools are bloated with obsolete features.   Other functions that these management systems provide — such as chat, calendars, announcements, and alerts — go virtually unexplored.   Other than accessing documents and grades, do these platforms service the needs of students in more meaningful ways than, say, Dropbox or Googledocs? If it’s merely a platform mainly used for disseminating information (and an expensive one at that) why bother with Blackboard at all? Why not, use stapled photocopies instead?

McGill media theorist Jonathan Sterne comments in his essay “Out with the Trash: On the Future of New Media” that obsolesce is built in to ‘new’ media upon release as in goes hand in hand with our understanding of “progress.” “The ‘newness’ of new media is sustained by people continually disposing of the equipment they have in anticipation of something better. The hope is always that the next generation will work better, be more stable, be more functional” (23). This “working better” is seen in recent times as “working less” or, at least, “working less hard.”  Effortlessness seems to drive innovation, and effortlessness seems to be what we seek from our educational tools. Yet the effortlessness in use of these technologies appears to remain a perceived stumbling block for professors. From our findings, this is as much the case today, as it was in the time of The Symons Report. Only those who are comfortable with the technologies on hand, use them to their full potential. And still, perhaps there is something beyond this perceived learning curve of adopting digital tools. And although ease of access is a wonderful thing, it also has the potential of making us lazy. And why should learning be easy? Perhaps, as teachers and students, we should be making a habit of pushing the tools we are given to perform not at their most useful, but at their highest potential. Wouldn’t it be wondrous if one day, digital educational tools moved beyond instant access to information and were used to enhance critical and creative innovation?

References:

Sterne, Jonathan.  “Out with the Trash: On the Future of New Media.” Residual media. Ed. Acland, Charles R.. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 2007. 16-31. Print.

Symons, Tom. The Symons Report. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart. 1978. Print.

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