|[ Teaching and Learning Forum 2001 ] [ Proceedings Contents ]|
Illustration 1: Today's Aerial Geography Lesson
New York Times No. 306-NT-520 A-6 in National Archives
We can only guess as to how the class was conducted. However, we can assume that the teacher used the technology around her to make the most of the situation. Perhaps she pointed to the globe to show her students where they were located in the world. She may then have directed them to look out of the window, drawing attention to a mountain far below. She may have referred them to the blackboard, where she has written 'a mountain is a lofty ... earth'. The students can be in no doubt what a mountain is - they have seen it with their own eyes as they flew over it. Nevertheless, they look suitably bored.
It is very easy to criticise this picture. The photographer more likely than not was responsible for setting up the shot, which was probably commissioned by public relations or marketing staff, to demonstrate how advanced public education had become. Yet, like recent photographs of modern classrooms with computers, the classroom environment often remains unchanged and very familiar. Are we doing the same with the new digital-electronic technologies in higher education today? Are they being used as a 'bolt-on' to our existing education practices? Are we using these new technologies well? What impact do new digital-electronic technologies have on teaching and learning in our institutions? These questions need to be addressed.
In this paper, I want to draw attention to practices and changes in practices, brought about, in part, or in whole, by the use of digital-electronic technologies, especially CITs. I am, as Postman (1996, p. 207) states, 'not arguing against computers in [higher education] ... [I am] arguing against our sleepwalking attitudes toward it, against allowing it to distract us from important things, [such as educational principles] against making a god of it'.
In last year's TL Forum (Fox, 2000a, pp. 235-41), I argued that the question was no longer whether educational institutions should embrace the new technologies, but where to use them and how they should be used to best advantage. I made a reference to medieval warfare and the use of technology, and the similar challenges we currently face in higher education. In 1066, the Norman's use of 'technology' in the form of riding the horse into battle rather than riding to the battle, dismounting and fighting on foot, was a key factor in the Norman victory. The English, who rode to the battlefield, dismounted and fought on foot were at a distinct disadvantage (Illustration 2). I propose that the Norman's rethink of their battle strategy needs to be mirrored in our approaches to using new technology in higher education.
Illustration 2: Different use of the horse 'technology'
What might help us to rethink the way we use new technology is to develop a model that encourages us to critically question any form of new technology adoption. This paper proposes one such model and briefly outlines its usefulness. The model or framework, designed to help us rethink our adoption of new technology, arose from data collected from interviews with seventy-five staff across two institutions in Australia. The framework consists of four elements that need to be mapped onto any decision making process we would want to adopt in reviewing new technology for teaching and learning. The four elements are: new pedagogical opportunities; changed work practices, technology (non)neutrality and unintended consequences of new technology adoption. Each of the four elements applied to educational practice is outlined below.
The next level of opportunity in using new technology is enabling us, as teachers and our students as learners, to do something different. Something we would not have been able to do without the use of the new technology. For example, the Web has many useful ready-made resources we can tap into. Rather than developing our own content for the course, we could set students activities to use relevant resources already developed online.
... new communication technology leads people to pay attention to different things, have contact with different people and depend on one another differently. Change in attention means change in how people spend their time and in what they think is important. Change in social contact patterns means change in who people know and how they feel about them. Change in interdependence means change in what people do and for each other and how these coupled functions are organised into norms, roles, procedures, jobs and departments. Social roles, which codify patterns of attention and social interaction, change (Sproull & Kiesler, 1991, pp. 4-5).Based on experiences of changes in work practices, in my work and that of my colleagues, I believe that we need to develop strategies to handle these changes, which might be quite stressful. Taylor (1999) has written a useful text on dealing with and making sense of these changes in higher education.
One example of changes in work practices relates to work time. Very often, lecturers and students may communicate with each other and between each other via computer-mediated-communications, asynchronously. At the same time, a lecturer may well respond to student queries late at night, if she is online at the time and has a relevant response to make. This shift in work time and the speed in which responses can be made, change student expectations regarding, for example 'turnaround time': the time taken for lecturers to respond to student queries.
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|Author: Robert Fox, Associate Professor|
Centre for Information Technology in School and Teacher Education
Faculty of Education
University of Hong Kong
Please cite as: Fox, R. (2001). Technological neutrality and practice in higher education. In A. Herrmann and M. M. Kulski (Eds), Expanding Horizons in Teaching and Learning. Proceedings of the 10th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 7-9 February 2001. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2001/fox.html