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Faculty Learning Community: Agenda and Notes (April 1, 2010)

Anne Dalke's picture

TOPIC: Technology in Education

Tapscott on Changing Pedagogy for the Net Generation” and the executive summary of the draft National Educational Technology Plan.

Snacks will be served in Campus Center 200 from 2:30-4pm.

Alice Lesnick and Howard Glasser are looking forward to facilitating an open-ended discussion and are including some initial prompts that might guide our dialogues:

  • What role(s) does technology play in your courses? In your research? In your discipline? Where are there disconnects?
  • How do you use Blackboard, Moodle, or Serendip in your courses? Ideally, how would you like to use a course management system or would you not like to use one at all?
    • What do you want to happen in your classes? How can technology assist?
  • What do you think about the focus on blurring the boundaries between in and out of school time/education, and between work, fun, and learning, that is found in the readings?
  • Assuming for a moment that we want to do this blurring, what do you find are barriers to it in your teaching, and how do you find or imagine technology helping you and your students overcome these barriers?
  • What is our current vision of new and uncharted possibilities that could exist through the utilization of new ed tech ideas and tools?
  • What ways can technology be utilized to bridge gaps and inequalities in educational environments? Or at least work against creating larger gaps?

Along with Maggie Powers, a Bryn Mawr senior, Howard and Alice recently attended the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education’s Summit,  and developed this memo that they wished to share. As part of this conference, they presented a poster on some of their exploratory work involving technology in teaching, research, communications, and other initiatives and collaborations. The poster took the form of a blog which you are invited to review.


Anne Dalke's picture

"focused on action rather than connection"

The line still ringing in my ears from this conversation is Alice's saying that "technology is whatever we aren't yet comfortable using."  And it is echoing strongly with something I'm reading tonight: the work of Mark Hansen, a professor of "literature and the arts of the moving image" @ Duke, who is coming to speak to the Faculty Working Group in American Studies @ Haverford on Thursday evening. In an essay called "Ubiquitous Sensation or the Autonomy of the Peripheral," Hansen draws on a 1991 Scientific American article by Mark Weiser on  "The Computer in the 21st Century" --and takes Alice's statement one step further:

"'Such a  disappearance [of computers into the background] is a fundamental consequence not of technology, but of human psychology. Whenever people learn something sufficiently well, they cease to be aware of it. When you look @ a street sign, for example, you absorb its information without consciously performing the act of reading .... [W]hen things disappear ... we are freed to use them without thinking and so to focus beyond them on new goals.' In line with this reality of human life, the goal of the ubiquitous computer designer can only be to render computers invisible so that attention can be focused on action rather than connection."

It's this last line that I now want to think some more about (and would of course welcome further thinking-with by others!). So much of the current commentary on the effect of computers on our lives has focused on the capacities of social networking--that is, of connecting. But Hansen is suggesting that such connections are only means, only media, only the medium via which we will (and now can, as computers become ubiquitous, and invisible) move on to do new things.

alesnick's picture

connecting as performance/doing?

Hi, Anne, and others --

I'd drifted from this forum but am glad to find my way back through this provocative post.  Isn't it worrisome when we lose awareness of things (people, too?) and become able to use them unthinkingly in the furtherance of our goals?  Can't connecting be a goal, a doing?  Help me out here?

Anne Dalke's picture

"Everything has a right to blossom"

you are (as always!) such a good question asker. The first thing I thought of, reading your questions, was Kant's maxim that right conduct means "treating others as ends in themselves and not as means to an end." Others should not be instruments we put to other uses, but rather engaged with in and for themselves. In your terms, we should not "use them unthinkingly in the furtherance of our goals," but always attend to those before us, never see through them, "transparently," to some object beyond. So that "connecting" becomes, in and of itself, the goal, the "doing." (I wonder if any of us EVER actually do that? Aren't our actions--including our interactions with others, even--maybe especially!--those closest to us--always to some "other" end?)

The second question built in here is whether the rules might-or-should be different for things that are not human--and maybe defined as not human precisely by this difference? That we feel free to use them as means to our ends? But of course the current ecological movement is insisting that this has been the great wrong-turning of the human experiment on this earth: that in using the natural world as a means to our human ends, we are destroying it.

Thanks to my husband the orchardist, I've recently been getting a tutorial in "deep ecology," which emphasizes the interdependent value of human and non-human life. Its core claim is that the living environment as a whole has a right to live and flourish (though the term "environment" is avoided, because of its "anthropocentric bias"); my favorite line (from what I've heard so far) is "everything has a right to blossom."

The big thinker here seems to be the Norwegian philosopher and activist Arne Naess, who coined the phrase "deep ecology," and for whom its "depth" resides in its persistent questioning. His book The Ecology of Wisdom seems to engage in a very open-ended mode of philosophizing, one that combines and steps off from the work of Mohatma Ghandi and Rachel Carson. In which questioning is only always a no particular end. Never checking out...

So, not checking out (yet), questioning further: are you calling us here to a similar "attentiveness" to the world of technology? Not using it only as means, but regarding it as an end in itself? (And again: even if we wanted to take this as a goal, would it be possible?)

Cruising around Serendip, searching for earlier conversations about possible relations between means and ends, I found these (@ least) two intriguingly different directions: an end may justify a means. But an end may also become the means. Consider:

"In science, means causally sanction the end; in religion, the end teleologically sanctifies the means, even crucifixion."

But see also Wai Chee Dimock's talk on what literature might look like outside the classroom, as means to some other object, not end in itself....

And/or a student's observation that "Anne Dalke puts the ball in my court...the paper does not have the usual purpose: a means to the ends of a grade....the means is the ends. A paper is exactly as good as the amount of worth I get out of it."

Paul Grobstein's picture

Education, technology, and Serendip

Interesting conversation today.  Thanks Howard, Alice, all.  Some phrases that stick in my mind to mull further: "technology is whatever we aren't yet comfortable using", "blogging is for old people", "can play in sandbox", technology can facilitate interactivity but can also get in the way of it, technology is of value largely in terms of the possibilities it opens that one might not otherwise have thought of, technology needs to be assessed differently in the local context than in the distance learning context. 

Some perhaps useful historical perspective from Serendip:

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