Changing lives

I keep running into the same wall from different directions. It hardly seems fair, but there it is.

These information and communication technologies really do amount to the difference in degree that’s also a difference in kind. There’s just no way to pretend they aren’t disruptive, a hassle, a pain, and perhaps even worse. ICT may cripple an entire generation’s ability to focus on, and respond to, a sustained argument. I haven’t seen that effect myself, and I started teaching back in 1982, but others have and I take their reports seriously. On the other end of the anxiety continuum, it may be that we cannot rely on any of the organizational structures, roles, certifications, and comfort zones that we depend on from day to day to define the scope, nature, and value of our work–and often to define our identities as well. Further, it’s almost certainly the case that  the effective integration of ICT into teaching and learning will also disrupt signature pedagogies (the term paper, the lab report, etc.), course design and course organization (what is a semester? what is a syllabus? what is a course of study?), even the very roles of student and teacher. Will we lose valuable things along the way? Probably. Every new phase of human development combines loss and gain. Is it zero sum, or a losing proposition? Or a net gain? I know what I think, but I don’t know.

At the same time, ICT has the potential to take us into a deeper and (paradoxically) a broader, more inclusive experience of what we value most in education, in community, in the spread of social justice across the world. In other words, the massive disruption we are experiencing–and it’s just beginning, believe me–is also potentially a time of great reformation, of finding or making more authentic means of getting to what we truly value. Or at least what we say we truly value.

How can it be both? How can this change be both a disruptive difference in kind from familiar practices–in some cases, cherished practices–and a return to core values and essential commitments in our vocation as educators?

I don’t know. But I’ll keep thinking about it. And I’m committed to some significant part of that thought being aloud, in this public space, though part of me shrinks away, knowing that I’ll get much of it wrong, again and again. Yet I ask that openness of my students, and fair is fair–to return to the beginning of this post.

6 thoughts on “Changing lives

  1. I think you’re in good company when you hit that wall, Gardner. The questions that keep returning to my mind is this: Why is it so disruptive? What is it about having access to ICT that makes it more difficult to be a traditional student? Is it the increased access to more/better/worse/different/wrong information, or the ability to communicate with remote friends when one should be reflecting/studying/quietly having a one-on-one conversation, or the fact that these technologies just don’t resemble the things that usually look like scholarship (the term paper, syllabus, lab report)? What about the cases where ICT enables students to study better, or include more perspectives, or have more “Aha!” moments?

    What if it’s not just the ICT? What if it’s the intersection of ICT, faculty expectations, and student attitudes or abilities? I keep thinking there’s a deeper question here and I just can’t see it. Maybe I spend too much time on Twitter…

    Not looking for answers, just adding to the pile of questions. Thanks for the post — it’s good to know you wonder about this too.

  2. Great post, Gardner! It reminds me why I love to read your writing. You find a way to articulate abstract ideas, feelings really, that are flying around my head but unable to land. As both you and Rachel alluded to, understanding the question (and identifying follow-up questions) is the first step towards finding an answer. Learning is messy. Sometimes it’s the struggle, the process that teaches you, even when you haven’t found “the” answer. Learning may not mean finding the answer but studying the questions. Much to think about here.

  3. Great Post! I really appreciate your ability to try to make us stretch outside of our own worlds while we trying to create new realities with the concepts that are new to us.

    Yes, at this time ICT is disruptive becuase it is causing us to change our paradigms. I do think that ICT opens us up to create better outputs with assistance from others. The outputs (for lack of a better term on my part) that we can create are a shift that ICT technology is affording us to do on a grander scheme than we ever thought possible before. One mind creating something new with the assistance of many in real time as we are actually going through creation process. Very Powerful.

    The wall that you are slamming up against is resistance to change. It takes both time and a change agent to break down that wall. Keep being our agent of change. We will get there!

  4. Let me echo the sentiments of earlier responders–thanks for continuing to challenge us to continue to wrestle with the questions. I’ve had a number of those nightmares where I’ve awakened in a cold sweat to the revelation that google actually does make us stupid and that all the evangelism for blogs, wikis, collaboration and all that stuff led a whole generation into a oblivion. Who knows how many articles in peer-reviewed journal articles this generation would have created if we hadn’t led them astray with BlueHost accounts and WordPress MultiUser blogs.

    It doesn’t take me long, though, to realize that most of the world finds our (academics) obsession with sustained arguments and juried journals to be very curious. For most of the rest of the world, sustained arguments are over-rated. The ability to find something you’re passionate about, connect with others who share that passion, respond to changing environments, tell stories and feed your creativity with a constant stream of new ideas are far more important. The ability to do those things in a sustained way for a life-time is what you’re banging your head against to wall to achieve.

    Keep the faith.

  5. I don’t know if it is all resistance to change, Sandy, at least not in an unreflective way. Speaking for myself, I do change and adapt to new technology and to the extent I have, I’m the better for it and my students are, but that is also because I’m careful to make it be authentically part of what I already do. I’m not embracing it for the sake of embracing technology and trying something new just because it is a social media that is here now, so why not use it.

    Gardner, you might be running into a wall because there really is a wall there but not in the sense that it is the wall of the old way of doing that we have to get over or tear down.. or at least not only that… it may be that the wall is in front of the new the wall is part of the making of a new way of doing. I couldn’t help but think of Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall when I read your post title. I wonder…. are we also creating a new cave/ a new web of social structures with their own modes of indoctrinating discourse that will box us in ways we never imagined and perhaps all the more so because we are embracing it as a revolutionary force.

    Anyway, more on all this on my own blog.

    We don’t need no education
    We don,t need no thought control
    No dark sarcasm in the classroom
    Teachers leave them kids alone
    Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!
    All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.
    All in all you’re just another brick in the wall.

  6. Perhaps it’s because I’m in the throws of watching a four-year-old come into her own wrt to learning at the moment, but I find myself believing more and more in the power of the human brain to adapt to a myriad of influences and complications. For me, as I witness this unfolding of a mind, it’s impossible not to believe that, while we may be in place of discomfort right now, we will most certainly learn how to live within this new space — and in doing so I really do believe that we will also figure out how to solve bigger, more complex problems with increased creativity and ingenuity. I think that’s the real story of human experience, a constant melody of key changes and new resonances (forgive what I am sure is a terrible musical metaphor there — you know I’m musically challenged. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *