Sunday, July 9, 2017

Back to Base Camp: Technology, Voices, and Equality

If it has to do with technology, collaboration, and education, I more than likely support testing it. Even some of those quirky tools that never really worked quite right, yep, I probably said something along the lines of, “But what a great experience that was!” when reflecting on it with faculty. It’s impossible to know all of the learning tools out there, but I still like to check them out. Just this afternoon as I was looking for new people to follow, I came upon one of my classmate’s blogs about how she still doesn’t see much value in Twitter, and I respect her position. I even laughed at her statement that it’s like an “org chart gone crazy” because I’ve thought the same thing before. I’ll probably still think about how to work Twitter into a faculty enrichment course I’m teaching, but her words will stick with me as I think about how much emphasis to put on it.

This class has changed the way I look at online learning. As I mentioned in last week’s reflection, this is the first time I’ve thought that online communication could rival the authentic interactions that take place in face-to-face classes. I’ve seen that through choices – not everyone will love every tool – students will find their niches and the platforms with which they feel the most comfortable. Since I work entirely with faculty now, I already have an idea of which technologies they want to use and which ones they typically shy away from. But today as I was reading through everyone’s blogs, I began to worry that maybe I’ve been out of the classroom for too long to feel genuinely connected to the student experience. And for someone who still sees herself as an educator, that’s a tough pill to swallow.

All of this got me thinking about the experiences I had as an instructor. My time in the classroom was spent pretty evenly divided between traditional college students at a state school and non-traditional students at a private career school. As an instructor, my expectations never changed. I recognized that students were coming in with different knowledge bases, and although my methods changed, the rigor of my classes never did. I knew that at-risk populations had different needs, so I got more creative and arguably more effective at what I did because of that. So I’ve tried to remember the faces and backgrounds of all of those students as I’ve worked my way through this course.

Earlier today I tweeted an infographic from EduCause  on technology and students. I didn’t find that by accident. I was curious about what today’s student technology profile looks like, and I think that’s what’s been on my mind throughout this course. As I think about sharing this with faculty, I try to foresee the complications they might encounter in their classes. All of these tools have been working so well for our class, but would a version of this work for undergrads in a typical online class? And that’s the thing, I don’t know. A few years ago I feel like I would have been able to answer that question, but now I’m not so sure. Luckily, I am surrounded by faculty who openly talk about what’s working and what’s not, and for that I am grateful.

College students, no matter what their career goals, should have some level of online literacy, and I know that I will always work with faculty who are early adopters and who, like myself, will openly embrace technologies. But I worry a lot about the “gap,” that space where technology and education fail to create equality and begin to lose students (or institutions) who don’t have the means, financial or otherwise. While technology closes the gap in some ways, it expands it in others. As instructors, if we aren’t using some of the digital literacy methods, are we leaving our students at a disadvantage? This is a complicated discussion, but I really like one of the suggestions from our readings. Start small, or as Lowenthal, Dunalp, and Stitson (2016) would put it, go back to base camp.

This idea of a base camp, a controlled environment where students can build an on online portfolio, seems to be beneficial in so many ways for both the students and the professors. Once everyone feels more comfortable with working as a person in the sometimes isolating experience of being in an online class, the opportunities will present themselves. I tend to jump right in, but it’s important for me to remember that not everyone feels that way, so we need to look for a common ground that can be lightly treaded on by nervous students and apprehensive professors. We're cautious, but we are making wonderful strides in online education, and my experience so far, especially in this class, has been one of hearing everyone’s voices.  And when we really step back and think about it, isn’t that what equality is all about?


Lowenthal, P. R., Dunlap, J. C., & Stitson, P. (2016). Creating an Intentional Web Presence: Strategies for Every Educational Technology Professional. TechTrends, 60(4), 320-329.

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