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Education and Technology:
Serendip's Experiences 1994-2004

Expanding the Conversation

Serendip was founded ten years ago in part as "a continually developing set of resources to explore and support intellectual and social change in education ...". Over the past decade, Serendip has been involved in an extended (and continuing) process of "trying out things" to see how the web can be used in education as have many others. This section of reflections on education and technology contains materials contributed by others reflecting on their own experiences.

Dialogues, Roles, and Metaphors: Changing Education

Your reflections on the web as interactive conversation connect with thinking I have been doing over the last ten years and several projects I have developed premised on:

  • The centrality of dialogue - of ongoing exchanges of ideas and perspectives - to education/learning
  • The revision of traditional roles, such as those of 'student' and 'teacher,' in education.

Elsewhere I have described one project that embodies these premises, Teaching and Learning Together, and a larger conceptual framework I have been developing to help me rethink how I understand and engage with others in education, Finding/Creating New Metaphors for Education. Here I and Elliott Shore discuss a related project, Talking Toward Techno-Pedagogy, on which we collaborated.

Alison Cook-Sather

Talking Toward Techno-Pedagogy
A Collaboration among Faculty, Students, Librarians, and Information Technologists

Alison Cook-Sather and Elliott Shore

Background and Funding: With support from a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, we worked in collaboration with two other colleagues to create a four-day workshop for professors, librarians, and instructional technologists, and students. Called 'Talking toward Techno-Pedagogy,' we facilitated this workshop at Bryn Mawr College in the summers of 2000, 2001, and 2002. The first year we invited teams from the social sciences, the second year we invited teams from the humanities, and the third year we invited teams from the natural sciences.

Approach: In conceptualizing 'Talking toward Techno-Pedagogy,' we deliberately foregrounded 'talking.' Our goal in doing so reflects our goal for the workshop overall: to encourage and facilitate processes of communication and collaboration that would start with thinking and talking through pedagogical issues at a basic level and then move toward explorations of how technology fits, or sometimes doesn't fit, with teaching. We also wanted to highlight the possibility of collaboration across college contexts as well as across roles assigned to different members of a college community.

For each iteration of this workshop, we invited teams of four, each team from one of the participating colleges (primarily liberal arts colleges on the East Coast). The teams consisted of:

  • a faculty member
  • a rising junior in that faculty member's discipline
  • a librarian whose area of expertise is in, when possible, or near the faculty member's discipline, and
  • an information technologist.

During the workshop these teams were challenged on one level to explore their roles and how they might work together to integrate technology into teaching and learning. On a deeper level they were challenged to unearth, think about, and talk through questions at the very root of education: What is learning? What should be learned? How? While the explicit focus was a standard one - integrating technology into teaching - deeper down the workshop called for a reconceptualization of the very processes and purposes of education.

Components of the workshop:

The four days were divided up into the following forums:

  • Small, constituency-based, breakout groups, which offered participants an opportunity to talk across colleges with people who share their institutional role.
  • Presentations and small group discussions with experts from a range of educational contexts (e.g., small liberal arts colleges, large state universities, distance learning programs) who were not members of any of the teams but who had extensive experience with exploring teaching and learning with technology. These presentations and follow-up small group discussions with the experts gave participants insights into and inspiration about working collaboratively to integrate technology into teaching.
  • Formal, whole group discussions of all 40 participants and the workshop facilitators and informal conversations at lunch and dinner, which gave participants an opportunity to discuss themes and issues that arose.
  • College-based breakout groups, which gave teams an opportunity to practice and plan their collaborative revision of one of the professor's courses.

Theory into Practice: Participants in Talking toward Techno-Pedagogy rethought their own and others' roles through the dialogues in which they engaged.

Here's what participants had to say:

Professor's PerspectivesStudents' PerpectivesLibarian's PerspectivesInformation Technologists' Perspectives
"Are we the sage on the stage? Or are we in some sense facilitators? Are we in fact not all that different from our students except that maybe we're a couple of years older and we've done these things?'

'[T]he student participation ... was really invaluable to me as a faculty member because even though you have [course] evaluations, here we are talking about this stuff and thinking about it and right there you've got this sense of, well, no that's not going to work at all.'

'[O]ne of the things I thought I heard very clearly from both the librarians and from IT people was, "We're teachers, too. And we want to be recognized as teachers, we want our teaching to be understood as teaching.''

'I have never had such a wonderful opportunity to collaborate with other people on making these judgments. And the things we talked about instead of just thinking about them on my own and making my best judgment, but really bouncing my ideas off of other very well-informed people so that I really think this is going to be wonderful.

'I think I've been able to hide from [hearing the student perspective] before this process because it's been very easy to think about designing a course and say, well, 'This is what I have to offer you, and you're free to take from it or not, as the case may be.

'It was terrific for me because it meant that I never knew what was coming up, and most of it was really interesting, and I learned stuff that I would not otherwise have learned.

'It was very clear right from the beginning that we were a team - [the other people on the team] didn't wait for me to tell them what to do ... it has been lots of fun and very effective ... . Among the ideas that we want to disseminate is that you can get much further by starting a project together at the level of, 'This is the problem we are trying to solve' rather by walking in and saying, 'Please set up the following software for me.

'With teams of different kinds of professionals - students are professionals in one way, librarians another way - we don't all look for or need the same kinds of returns to keep going ... There is a long-term issue of what makes people keep going, keep doing this, and how to create a reward or encouragement system that is equally good for a faculty member or a librarian or an [instructional technologist] as well as a series of students.

'When we talked about questions of responsibility and authority we focused, necessarily, on the faculty's sense of being the expert people about the content of the course. Then the question that we asked - to which we had varying answers, quite varying answers - was whether technology has the potential for redefining what the content of the course is and therefore for redefining the issues of authority and responsibility for the course. If we're redefining the nature of the subject matter of the course, then does the relationship between faculty, student, librarian, technologist become a different kind of relationship?'

"As a student. . . I am usually encouraged to give feedback about what's working [in a class] and what isn't and to develop ideas about what would work better, not to participate directly in making changes."

"I think there's a gap between the student and the professor ... I believe that I can express an idea adequately through both pictures and text. It seems that maybe it's a different [way of being], maybe we grew up on it, maybe the technology has changed [the way we think and can express what we think]."

"Sometimes you're talking to a professor and maybe it's registering but sometimes it's in one ear. [But here] maybe they thought they could actually benefit from this ... that they were going to be better teachers or more fun in the classroom ... I think there were many moments when [professors realized that talking with a] student ahead of time saves you the anxiety of planning a course that may or may not work. To realize that is a really liberating thing and I think that happened for a couple of people and I don't think they [had] imagined that as a possibility."

"Because [the professor I worked with was on leave the year after we participated in Techno-Pedagogy] we spent a whole year reconstructing the course, and then I had taken the course two years before, and I attended every class [this year]. I was very involved with the students, talking with the students about how the class was going, and also doing a lot of work keeping Blackboard up and running ... and we were doing a lot of discussion board work ... we chose to do that rather than have people email each other because people lose emails and that way all the information was on the web and that way we could drop in and see how they were doing and not be monitoring but have them aware that we could tell who was contributing to groups ... we really wanted the small group work because of the kinds of understandings we wanted them to be coming to, we thought that would help."

"For years the librarian was the portal to information; now the computer is the portal. Librarians need to find ways to help people discriminate between the sources of information and find the best ways to search."

"Librarians are service orientated"; to work with people in new ways "requires lowering lots of barriers and [uncovering] assumptions ... we need to do a better job of articulating what it is that we do."

"[The most useful aspect of the workshop was the recognition that emerged in the minds of different groups about what it is that the others do and what they have to offer each other."

"[Through talking with other] myths and stereotypes were broken down."

"I realize that I'd rather have more student input about what kind of resources they think are good"

"Through challenging assumptions and preconceptions of my work within education and changing views of my own work, I actually came to value my work more."

"We moved from roles of reactivity to proactivity."

"[I am] an evangelist ... a planner and navigational designer ... a graphic designer ... a project coordinator ... a trainer."

"[Faculty] kind of come and say they want to use technology in class, you know that doesn't really leave you with anything to work with. We need to know a lot more about what that class is about and what they're looking to do and how the technology might be helpful if at all, it might not always be helpful."

We are really much more interested in hearing about others' needs first before we start contributing a lot of what we have to offer."

"As a member of computing services it becomes so easy to function solely within the confines of our day-to-day maintenance of the critical college functions that I find I do not focus on the components of technology that really enhance the curricular mission of our institution. What has inspired me most over the past few days is the understanding that viewing the faculty/library/IT/student groups as a team - we can work together to create opportunities to use technology in a more integral fashion in a way that empowers all the players, and ultimately enriches the student experience."

"A couple of things I use over and over: when folks talk to me about being hesitant to use technology, I now ask questions about where they think it will fit. I am working harder at getting hesitant people to just become aware of what technology can do, and opening up a dialogue. When folks express discomfort, I don't pooh pooh it, I'm not nonchalant, I acknowledge the time it takes. I am much more comfortable talking to faculty about using technology."

"[Our goal is] an evolved role on our campuses. . . over time, whether it's through our own actions or by changing other people's perceptions of us, that we could have more sophisticated involvement with teaching and learning issues."

Further Reading: Here are three publications and a website that provide more information about and discussion of Talking toward Techno-Pedagogy and the insights that emerges from it. I welcome further dialogue about these either on this forum or by email (

Cook-Sather, A. (forthcoming). "Translating Within and Against Institutional Structures." In Education is Translation: A Metaphor for Changing Learning and Teaching. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Cook-Sather, A. (2001). "Unrolling Roles in Techno-Pedagogy: Toward Collaboration in Traditional College Settings. Innovative Higher Education, 26, 2, 121-139.

Shore, E. (2001)."Liberal Arts Education in the New Millennium: Beyond Information Literacy and Instructional Technology." Moveable Type: The Newsletter of the Mark O. Hatfield Library, Willamette University.

Talking Toward Pedagogy website:

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