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I don’t know why I’m thinking about this, but here it is:

Last year, I was asked to take part in a roundtable discussion on technology and pedagogy. On this panel was one particular bigwig, Elizabeth T_____. She’s an unbelievably nice lady, and she delivered what was, I thought, a particularly insightful monologue about the benefits of technology in the classroom. Admittedly, she’s primarily interested these days in distance learning, but that’s beside the point.

Several times in her talk, she made statements like this:

Technology is a tool.

She was the first speaker on the panel; I was the last. She opened by talking about “the biggest luddite” in her department, and the next three speakers offered up what were, essentially, a series of debriefings–here’s what we’ve done in our department; here’s why technology is cool; here’s why everyone needs to jump on the bandwagon.

When my turn to speak rolled around, I opened by saying that I hoped not to be the biggest luddite at the table. I went on to attempt to interrogate why it is we feel so compelled to deploy these internet/web/online technologies in our classes, and to suggest that we need to think about their usefulness more thoroughly before we do so.

I expected to get booed off the panel.

Instead, my comments sparked a fascinating debate about the value of technology in the classroom and the “bandwagon” approach to using it in our classes.

Dr. T______ responded, leaning across the 8 foot table to look directly at me, by insisting again that “technology is a tool.” She has a thick drawl that many confuse with a southern drawl, but it’s not. It’s the same accent you hear in Texas and Western Louisiana. I’m from Mississippi, and I live in Oklahoma. I hear these differences.

I need to say here, now, that it’s important to remember that I’m the youngest person at this table. I’m just-turned-29. I’m ABD (“all but dissertation,” which means I am just another graduate student). I’m not a specialist in Comp-Rhet, distance learning, or IT.

I’m a Victorianist with a penchant for technogeekiness. I’m unequivocally the most unqualified person at the table.

While Dr. T_____ leaned down the table at me, I kept thinking the same thing over and over. The same thing. But, for political/diplomatic reasons, there was no way in hell I was going to say what I was thinking. It was such an obvious response–I can’t believe someone else (with much less to lose) at the table didn’t say it. Here it is:

Sure, technology is a tool. But is it the right tool? Are using a jackhammer to hammer a nail? Are we using a dumptruck to haul dirt for a small flowerbed?

In the end, I’m more interested in making sure my students can read and understand what they read, that they can make connections between and among texts, and that they can construct arguments about those texts. Technology brings an entirely different set of problems/complications into the mix (like using arena football to teach painting), and I’m not so sure that it’s an appropriate approach to the question of how we might teach our students more efficiently.

I will write more about this as we get closer to mid-March, since I’m speaking on this in Chicago, and I’m sure I’ll need to work through a few ideas before then.

Please feel free to comment on this. I’m interested in all the comments I can get.

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Written by srogers

July 2, 2011 at 2:02 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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