Teaching as technology
On my way to work today I was listening to ETS talk, a great podcast that originates with Educational Technology Services (thus the ETS) here at PSU. [Minor disclaimer - I have been a guest on the podcast]. The director of ETS and the podcast’s host is Cole Camplese [second disclaimer - Cole is a friend of mine], who does a lot of interesting work / thinking around how to integrate technology into learning and teaching. In episode 22 of ETS talks, one of the regulars, Allan Gyorke, begins a discussion was about developing a boot camp so that faculty here could start to think about how to really integrate Web 2.0 technologies into their courses. What struck me was that while talking about moving the conception of technology toward this new paradigm, they were also talking about teaching and learning using the equivalent of a Web 1.0 metaphor (or maybe Web 1.5). I think this is really common not only in the learning design community, but in the teaching and learning community in general (e.g. Colleges of Education). Maybe we can expand our thinking about teaching and learning by remembering it is a form of technology.
On a fundamental level, teaching is the ultimate (and by that I mean not greatest, but original) technology. If we define technology as a tool that helps us accomplish a task, then it becomes clear that teaching is a technology. In fact, it is the technology that sets us apart as a species. Humans ability to teach each other, and by doing so transmit information from generation to generation, is what makes us so successful. Alan Kay said “technology is only technology to those born before technology.” [Thanks to Cole for that quote] Obviously, there is no one around to remember when teaching was technology.
If we are willing to conceptualize teaching as technology, then what does it mean for us to think of teaching as a 2.0 endeavor? I think what it means is the “teacher” needs to give up the idea that they own the technology. We (the teachers) have to give it away. I posted about an un-conference the other day as an idea of how to reconsider academic conferences. This is, in some ways, an extension of the un-conference idea. I will try and use the idea of the ETS boot camp as an example. They proposed getting a group of learning designers together, getting them in groups and setting them a design challenge from a faculty member. They would solve this challenge using social software tools and then present their solutions to a panel of faculty for evaluation. Then these ideas / design projects would be made available for others to see as exemplars of how to integrate social tools. Given the metaphor for teaching, this is good pedagogy.
Now let me propose an alternative that attempts to change the metaphor [recognizing this is not fully baked]. Create a social space that is open for proposals from the learning design and faculty community at PSU. Anyone can make a proposal for development – e.g. I am interested looking at how del.icio.us could be used in an undergraduate course in science teaching or I am interested in thinking about how YouTube might be used in any course. The people in the community would “vote” for different proposal by adding their name to the proposal. When a proposal reaches some critical mass of people signed on, perhaps a mix of designers and faculty, it becomes a real group. The group is given resources – i.e. physical space, online space, other resources from ETS, etc. Once the group is up and running, others may join. The group sets up its own meeting times and goals and its only responsibility is to report back to the larger community, maybe in a on-going blog that includes products that can be shared. This creates a system that is responsive to need and not “owned” by the teacher (in this case ETS).
Imagine a university that worked this way. Students or faculty could make course proposals to the community. When a critical mass was reached the course becomes reality and then other can join. You could set criteria like enrollment limits and how the course would count toward a degree, etc. You might end up with a proliferation of courses about The OP, but you also might end up with a incredibly dynamic, innovative and powerful learning community. Talk about an open university. The Un-university? University 2.0? Just a thought.