By Greg Smith, CIO George Fox University
What a great time it is to be working with technology in Higher Education. It was not that long ago that IT departments really only worried about supporting the traditional microcomputer or keeping the enterprise systems running. But the real fun occurs at the front lines where technology may actually assist with teaching and learning. And it is on the front lines where so much is changing which translates to an exciting time at least for the tech comfortable academic.
However, this excitement is not shared by all. There is plenty of stress associated with the influx of recent technology. Now this is not the same as when the micro computer entered the playing field or even when the calculator introduced disruption. Technology’s place in the past was understood and controlled. Only the fortunate few had access and only on administration’s terms. No, the difference today is that technology is now in the hands of the masses, using it on their terms. The confused administration now debates what is the computing device of choice or what is a computing device and how will it be utilized in teaching and learning. But why so much concern?
Why? Because Higher Education struggles with how to accept technology for what it has become. What we have seen in recent years with the advancement of personal computing devices is flat out amazing; and Higher Education is not immune to the desire to have and use these tech toys. We just have to divorce ourselves from the past and accept the freedom that comes with this new technology. We need to accept that these new computing devices are as pervasive as pencils and paper. Why can’t we just embrace it and adapt? Isn’t it natural for technology to challenge portions of teaching & learning without disrupting it. Maybe we are over reacting. Are we dealing with more of a culture change rather then a technological revolution?
It is probably acceptable to hand out iPads to our students and just call it a marketing gimmick. We don’t have to create or select an educational app to justify why we allow our students to use mobile devices in class. We do not need a standard e-book format or preferred e-reader to justify the use of e-textbooks. We just have to accept that this is happening and figure out how we can take advantage of the opportunities. IT support needs to transition from control to coach. Great teachers can teach without technology but when technology is dictated, leave it in the hands of the tech savvy. But this is all so new to higher education, and new is difficult for the academic academy.
So what does this new culture or landscape look like? It starts with allowing the Web to rule. Most special apps that we need are easily handled by the Web so we do not need to complicate this access with proprietary operating system apps. One of the last barriers fell a few weeks ago when Adobe gave up on Flash for mobile. Our professors should be allowed to teach. If a specific technology or media technique is truly needed to enhance their teaching then let’s have skilled technicians help provide it. The instructional designers may be getting the headlines but let’s remember that their skill sets are much more of a commodity. A proven effective teacher is an asset. And we can’t confuse adoption of technology with online learning. A valuable online course still adheres to the fundamental structure of any well taught class and must be supported accordingly. We also have to relax our academic phobia of nontraditional publishing. Maybe the whole concept of peer review needs to change. Maybe tenure will survive but not unless we change our definition of scholarship to include all forms of media expression.
What I am really advising is for Higher Education to relax and let this information access transition play out. We don’t have to incorporate technologies just because they are popular. All we need to do is remember to focus on the student. Ensure that knowledge transfer is taking place and let the well educated graduate do the rest.
Greg Smith is the CIO of George Fox University, his blog can be found at http://www.higheredtechtalk.org. More information about Greg is located at http://www.georgefox.edu/offices/inst_technology/about_it/about_gsmith.html