Friday, July 24, 2015

Educational Technology - Toys or Tools?

Probably it's some of both.

Stephen Bell discusses EduTech in his latest From the Bell Tower post. I'll be here when you get back from reading it.

Engage rant mode. 

Our library has its share of whiz-bang new technology. Our main library classroom, for example, has a  set of large monitors spaced around the room. Students can sit around the table by the monitor, and wirelessly connect their device to the monitor. The point of this is that when working on a group project, they can all be working on the same copy of the video, the document or picture, instead of emailing copies around the group and losing track of who's got the 'official' or 'final' version of the project.

At the front of the classroom are the big projection screens, attached to the monitor at the instructors stand. That computer has the same software as the big monitors, so that any group can pass their screen up to the projected screen and let the whole class see it. Multiple documents can be displayed at one time. 

That's great, but after two years with this stuff, I have yet to hear of any of the librarians using this technology in an Info Literacy or Reference Instruction session. It's not that we haven't been shown how to use the software; what hasn't happened is the opportunities for us as librarians to incorporate it into what we're trying to teach. A lot of us have very limited opportunity for teaching between faculty who don't ask very often, and faculty who ask us to cover only specific things.

Forgive me for sounding like an old Luddite, but I'm going to, a little. Why do we need this group project software in the library?  That's not where most classes meet, and certainly not on a regular basis, so the classes that are doing group projects don't get to use this very clever technology. 

We had a fellow from our campus Information Technology department come in to give us a lecture/presentation about using ed tech. His biggest point, which I could easily appreciate is that whatever level or amount of technology your library has available, the technology is still just a tool for the people doing the educating. People teach, technology assists. Technology does not teach anyone. This, I understand from an article Bell links to, is known as the Law of Amplification.

His second point was that when using ed tech, we should teach the method or process instead of  'how to use this device or software'. When I speak to classes about library research, I talk about the concepts that all database search interfaces share, not how to find articles in EBSCOHost.
"it’s a move away from an “I need the latest bright, shiny ed tech” mentality."
 Exactly.  In perusing the online literature and discussions of higher ed, I see/read a lot of searching for magic bullets, and an unhealthy dose of wanting to sound socially progressive and 'relevant' which often means uncritically embracing every new edu-fad and shiny technology that comes along.

I have listened for years to various higher education types both in and out of the library talk about the 'inevitability' of e-books overtaking and replacing print books. I'm still not convinced it's going to happen, and that it's going to happen within a generation. Perhaps I can point towards a few articles that show the continued viability of print, like this 
http://www.theamericanconservative.com/olmstead/save-the-print-library/

and this
http://www.infodocket.com/2014/10/18/winthrop-university-the-book-vs-e-book-e-book-survey-report/
  Or you can just take my word for it. This is of course far from conclusive, but at least it is clear I'm not alone in thinking that the techno-utopians who sigh for the death of the print book are going to be disappointed for some time to come.

Luddite moment over, everyone can relax.

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