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.


~ by sbmcdon on May 1, 2007.

5 Responses to “Teaching as technology”

  1. First of all I like that you are not only listening to and participating in the ETS Talk Podcast, but are also synthesizing the ideas … wow. Very cool.

    Next up is the idea — you had me at community. The hard part, IMHO, would be to get enought critical mass going to get to the next level — project team creation and execution. Maybe I am not a true believer in the stuff I am preaching all the time, but I worry the academy may not be ready for the kind of social application you are envisioning. I hope I am wrong and I am obviously more than willing to take this concept to the next level.

    With that said, how do we create this opportunity? How do we jump start the process? Should I set up a wiki with some thread starters, blog the idea, twitter the link, let people show up, and let the community have at it? Would they show up? The warnings about “If you build, he will come …” resonates in my mind … I wonder and I would love to see if they would show up. My assumption is that there would be a group of us that would play … how to get the next level of adoption is my question.

    Could/should this be done in a College-specific way to help “ease his pain” (I am taking the Field of dreams metaphor down a path here) and encourage open participation from peers? Would that help?

    If we are to “go the distance” and start not only talking the talk, but walking the walk then we have to take these kinds of steps. Just talking about web 2.0 in the context of teaching and learning doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. Even the Symposium, with all its web 2.0 support features never took the final step and fully embraced the true notion of what this is all about. Is it too soon? Should we take baby steps or do we plow under the corn and wait to see who walks out of the corn field to play?

  2. It is a good metaphor, the field of dreams, in so many ways. I agree that getting committment would be the difficult thing. The web solves this by sheer size. If you have millions of users finding a community that wants to play together is easier. With 5K+ faculty and I don’t know how many learning design folks, I don’t know if you have the numbers. However, you could use that as the test. Use the same model I described to plan how to create a viable model for gathering the groups. Get it out there through as many outlets as possible that you want to have a group get together and think about how devleop Digital Pedagogy 2.0. Get the people in a room and then everyone is invested and engaged in the final product. Don’t build the field yourself. Ask everyone interested in playing ball to come over and help you design and build the field. Then you have a team and you can play, without waiting for them to come.

  3. I like it … the idea of involving community before the plans are made. Funny the thing we all keep coming back to is the idea of “getting people together.” That to me is the obvious killer app of web 2.0 — real conversation. In our case we may have to do that in a face to face mode — in the millions of people communities the web works well. Let’s push and see where we end up. Shoeless Joe would be proud!

  4. The question is… who’s going to choke on the hot dog and fall off the bleachers??

  5. I think I just volunteered. Ready with the heimlich?

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