Imagine, if you will, a time on the road ahead when information technology becomes so ubiquitous, stable, and integrated into the educational enterprise that it is no longer the center of great debate, fervent support, or angry contention. The hardware, software, networks, and integrated database systems work together to make everything we do easier. We are empowered to better focus on students and their unique learning journeys. Information technology simply “goes away” from immediate attention, no longer trapped in wonder and confusion, and is more comfortably welcomed as an everyday and valued part of our world. Although some would have you believe that this heavenly time is upon us, our everyday experiences defy the prophecy. All too often, we find ourselves earnestly turning our computers off and on again, hoping that their demonic behavior will somehow be exorcised by a lack of power. We passionately pray for the lost document to return, for the e-mail attachment to open, and for the wireless card to connect. First-born children are jokingly offered as sacrifices to keep a computer lab working through a class period or a network connected to a printer. And, the technology mystics on our campuses still descend from their mountain tops to help us solve problems without being able to adequately explain what they’ve done—trust them, have faith we’re told. All the while, academic leaders and scholars all over the world are offering poignant prayers within the text of national studies, conference programs, and committee reports to any and all powers that might help us realize what Steven Gilbert from the TLT Group calls “a vision worth working toward” with technology. Judging from the rhetoric of the researchers and painful practical experience, the following prayers are going to have to be answered if our desired technology heaven is ever to be realized on earth, if technology is ever to “go away” in the best sense. Please Make it Work Help our hardware, software, and systems stabilize to the point where befuddling incompatibilities, buggy software, and conflicting network protocols are a thing of the past. Give us truly user-friendly projectors, programs, and web services that don’t embarrassingly crash in the middle of key projects or important class presentations. Weave change and improvements seamlessly into products and services, so our health is not endangered by the stress of our technological worlds being turned upside down with each new version of software or upgrade in hardware. We’ll gladly take the responsibility for the problems we cause in use if only the information technology itself can mature to the point where these all-too-frequent problems no longer take precedence over our work with students. Please Help Us Accept It Give us the patience to temper the true believers and carefully listen to thoughtful critics. Help us understand and welcome technology as a tool, not as a savior sent from on high or a devil destined to destroy us. Let not hyperbole or fear stand in our way as we thoughtfully integrate information technology savvy as a basic skill, necessary for our students as they become educated citizens in a world fueled by and filled with information. Teach us all the important lessons of critical reflection and intelligent consumption of the mass of information at our fingertips. Please Help Us Pay for It Show us the bottom of this hell-fire pit in to which we seem to be pouring our money for technology upgrades, improvements, replacements, ERP systems, course management systems, and data warehouses. As we explore purchasing, leasing, and elaborate phasing plans, give us options that don’t force us to sacrifice the Peters of our organizations to pay this pervasive Paul. Finally, grant us the wisdom to integrate technology planning into the broader production of a learning-centered institution, where technology plays a role without overpowering the more important members of the cast. In addition, help technology become a welcome part of our overall infrastructure planning—and the lion of facilities shall lie down with the lamb of technology. Please Help Us Help Each Other Encourage us as we collectively embrace the humbling feeling of techno-ignorance. Help us use this process to better empathize with the fear and discomfort, the challenge and stress that many of our at-risk students feel as they begin their studies at our institutions. Bring the continuum of technology users closer together and keep us open to learning from anyone—external agencies, internal trainers, and colleagues. Let us not forget the importance of professional development and technology support as we move forward. More important, open our spirits to the possibility that students may need to be our guide at times as we step into this new world. Please Help Us Bring All into the Fold In our zeal to move forward with technology, let us not leave anyone behind. Help us remember that education can be the gateway to information technology inclusion for all, much like public libraries were for the printed book. Remind us also of those with disabilities and their needs. Quality technology accessibility efforts can help many more ascend in education. Help us work to make sure that any and all of our students can benefit from the information technology infrastructures we develop. Please Let It Bring Us Closer Together Tempt us not with terse e-mails, immersive ipods, bombastic blogs, and beeping blackberrys that consume our time and inhibit thoughtful, sensitive, and more substantive interactions. Make us more mindful of the ways and whys of our communication, so technology becomes a useful tool in improving and expanding our relationships—so technology remains the medium, not the message. Let us never lose sight of the importance of the caring smile, the encouraging word, and the interested ear. Remind us that human connections change lives in the education world more so than any email, podcast, social network, or interactive game ever will. Please Let Learning Lead the Way In all we do with technology, let us ask the burning question: “How does this practice, policy, or procedure improve and expand student learning?” Moreover, let us use technology to answer even more insightful questions about our students’ learning journeys. And let these answers help us ensure that our technology use significantly supports them all. In short, grant us the ability to move beyond the intoxicating interest in the novel and the new to a deeper and more systemic concern for the learner and the learning. In Closing If someday all of these prayers are answered, our image of a time when technology “goes away” may come into full relief. Until then, however, most of us will continue searching for answers to these prayers and grappling with the emotionally charged issues associated with each. And, we will keep turning our computers off and on with mystic and positive expectations.
*I used this framework in a town meeting this week and promised to post this slightly updated version. I wrote the original version of this piece with a dear friend, Dr. Cindy Miles, who is now the chancellor of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District since March 2009.
Note: This post was originally published here, with the following comments.
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