The 2 faces of IT in education

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A recent study by David R. Johnson, "Technological Change and Professional Control in the Professoriate," revealed that the overwhelming classroom use of software is not in teaching or learning, but in classroom administration, and that in general, academic teachers find IT more useful to record and calculate grades, format and print handouts and exams, and communicate with students than they do for pedagogy.

When Johnson's findings were reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the article touched off a flame war between techno-pushers and techno-teetotalers that should be required reading for technologists contemplating any new initiatives. If you read through the comments -- and I do recommend it -- you will probably notice immediately that there are four basic explanations for why grade sheets are automated and pedagogy isn't:
Wicked faculty won't give innovative technology a chance because they don't want the world to make progress.
Wicked IT staff have taken massive bribes from outside consultants who are trying to force colleges to spend their budgets on useless software instead of actual instruction.
Stupid faculty don't want to learn new ways.
Stupid IT people don't care about learning (which they call "content") but only about the technique of delivery.

As a humanities scholar contemplating several millennia of the human record, I see the attraction of stupidity and wickedness as explanations. But isn't it just as interesting that IT was adopted for classroom logistics very nearly as soon as it was available, with virtually no resistance and enthusiastic cooperation between faculty and staff?

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