Thursday, October 30, 2014

Your Professor Isn’t a Lazy Luddite

October 30th, 2014

Lucas Matney, a junior at Northwestern University and columnist for the Daily Northwestern, is concerned that his school is not adequately preparing him for the challenges of today. In his experience, he says, “very few” of his professors “have used technology in the classroom in a way that offers a radically changed educational experience.” Instructors like me and my friends, he argues, “need to ponder what a 21st century education really means if they desire the University to maintain relevance as an institution.” Trust me, Lucas, most every professor younger than 75 (and a few older!) has pondered this question a-plenty. In the words of the great rhetorician Ali G: “Techmology … is it good, or is it wack?”
As someone who routinely teaches paperless courses and has made regular use of class wikis, discussion boards, and of course my great nemesis PowerPoint, I still tend toward wack.
I see where concerned students like Matney are coming from, and some of the ideas he presented when I pressed him for specifics in a follow-up email were quite compelling: He suggested videoconferencing with the scholars who write the academic articles he’s assigned, for example. But as someone who has done a lot of work with teaching technology (one of my grad-school pedagogy projects was to develop a bookless second-year German curriculum based on online “modules”), I’ve still come to the conclusion that unless you’re teaching a course actually on technology—digital humanities, computer science, engineering, fascinating-sounding stunt courses at Penn, etc.—what our students could really use is some time unplugged. That professor you think is a lazy Luddite might actually be doing you a favor.

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