Drifting Away, or Brief Respite

Increasingly, I find myself disconnected from educational technology in higher ed and from higher ed more broadly.  I used to be interested in structural issues surrounding higher ed, especially the pressures that have been brought to bear on higher ed by technology.  I still have some interest in those, but I find myself reacting to blog posts and articles on these topics with a big, “Meh.”  Partly, of course, this is due to my not working in a higher ed institution anymore, though my husband still does and many of my friends do.  Will higher ed change as a result of the economy and/or the influence of technology?  Probably.  Eventually.  But not across the board.  And not necessarily in ways that are good.  And frankly, part of me doesn’t care.  I’m still reading those blog posts and articles, but they don’t inspire much in me.  Perhaps if I worked in a college again, I’d be inspired again.  But part of me thinks it’s a lot of tilting at windmills.  So it’s not that I don’t want to see change; it’s that I’m not seeing any truly constructive suggestions for how that change might happen.  What I see is a lot railing about faculty not using technology or at administrations for hiring too many adjuncts or at state governments for reducing funding.  It’s not that these aren’t legitimate complaints; they are.  But few writers out there–whether for “real” publication or on blogs–are suggesting practical steps that might really change something.  I know from experience that even if you do have some practical steps for small change, that change can get swallowed up, even reversed if it occurs within an institution or environment that is clinging to the status quo, or worse, grasping at some bygone golden age.  Too often in higher ed, both of these are true, and frankly, a lot of it comes from the faculty.  There’s a lot of whining and moaning about salaries, about “kids these days,” about work loads.  And again, some of these are legitimate complaints, but a lot of people just whine and don’t do anything about it.  In many places, faculty are still the ones who set the policies and more importantly, the tone of a place.  If you want to change those policies, start working on it.  Yes, it’s hard work, but it’s why you have tenure.  I think my fading interest in higher ed has to do with this constant whining about the administration, about the students, about everything.  I want to scream, well get off your ass and do something about it.  And take a long, hard look in the mirror first.  Maybe it’s you that needs to do the changing.

And I would say the same thing to the technology people out there whining about how people won’t use technology, how they don’t understand the changes it’s bringing, etc.  First, I’d say think a little more critically about the technology you’re espousing.  Too many technologists out there really sound more like evangelists, trying to convince people to use the snake oil.  I understand.  I was there.  I felt the frustration, the worry.  But I think technologists need to acknowledge the fear and the skepticism, not dismiss it as ridiculous.  Yes, it’s a barrier, but not one that you knock down with a bulldozer.  It needs to be dismantled bit by bit and it needs to be done with the help of the people that put it up in the first place.  And we need to acknowledge that sometimes technology isn’t the answer and that some technology is being used in ways that are counterproductive to teaching and learning.  Not everyone needs to blog and twitter and create multimedia presentations.   Too often faculty see us as pushers of tools rather than as partners in education.  And sometimes that’s because we project that attitude as often as that attitude is projected onto us.

In my distance from these issues, in only having to think about them once in a while rather than daily, I think (I hope) I’ve gained a better perspective.  I’ve come to realize that real change is slow, that it’s a rare thing for transformation to happen overnight, and that it takes cooperation among many different kinds of people for change to happen.  You can’t be the lone voice in the woods advocating for change.  You need partners from across the spectrum.  In places where nearly everyone is clinging to the old ways, those partners can be hard to find.  But if I ever return to this work as a day job, those will be the people I’ll seek out first. And I would try to avoid the places that aren’t open to change.  I know what those look like now.

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