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2012 Winter Issue 6 (February 17, 2012)

Technology in academia: embracing educational innovation

February 17, 2012
By Stuart Urback

Technology in academia often carries a great stigma with it.  We are distrustful of it because we understand the ways it changes our lives in deep, often confusing, ways.  Academia also tends to be a late adopter of technology, waiting until the wave has already crested and it can be “fully understood” so that it is not misapplied. 

However, this tends to lend itself to a rather unhealthy relationship with technology.  We define technology as what is new and different and we use it precisely as that, something new and different.  We see the ways that it can change our curriculum and methodology and we move with its changes.  While this may not be a complete sense, it is the feeling I’ve gotten from my personal experience.

But therein lies a significant problem with the use of technology within education.  We are distrustful of it because we are distrustful of the potential it has to obliterate the values we hold dear.  There is a positivity in this wariness.  But the issue here is that the method that wariness plays itself out only further reinforces the negative relationship with technology.

We use technology because it’s technology.

I think there’s something deeply wrong with that. 

Notice how when I said technology you immediately knew what I was thinking about: new electronics.  But technology is actually a rather basic function of evolution of principles of all types.  A paperclip, a waterbottle, and a pen are every bit as much of technology as an iPad, a massive computer monitor, or the potential to have a fully integrated room with 10 digital displays.

My point here is that it is incredibly easy to lose focus on other things by feeling consistently pressured to evolve with and for technology.

Rather, let us push the bounds of educational innovation.  I think this is something that Carleton professors tend to do a good job of, but let’s push a little further.  Constant educational innovation can include or not include technology, but let the educational innovation define growth.  Interactive media is not limited to youtube, blogs, and computer games.  A baseball is as interactive as youtube, just different.

If we let educational innovation push our limits, then the technology we find necessary will be there for the right reasons; it will exist as a tool to further our ends.  This is much more desirable than feeling pressured to “utilize advanced education techniques through interactive media” that can be found in seemingly every source of news and opinion. 

Let educational innovation define our personal technological process.  We’re good at education, we can innovate it.  If we innovate it, just a bit every single term, every single interaction, in the small and the large ways, I believe academia can find itself just as technologically advanced as anyone else.  But it will be our technology, for our needs.  Not a poor adaptation of some other industry’s goals, politics, and frustrations.
After all, if we don’t need it, why use it?

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