Thursday, April 30, 2009

Faculty & Technology: Epic Fail

Location: Antique Desk, Scoring Writing Portfolios

It's time for us to assess a random sample of student work again.

I'm both pleased at the progress in using wikis, blogs, video, and even Second Life among our adjunct and full-time faculty teaching first-year writing.

At Richmond, the writing program has gradually integrated forms of technology, and what we in composition call "multiliteracies," over the past decade. Gone (thankfully) is the era when "comp" meant personal narratives (and grade inflation) or "lit lite," with short critical essays divorced from the schools of theory and research that have both enlivened and bedeviled literary studies in the past 20 years.

At the same time, other signature programs at our school and elsewhere in the humanities are mired in a pedagogy of Great Books or facile Multiculturalism, both of which I find out of touch with students' needs and interests in various ways. Both approaches presume that students know little and need to be exposed to a new form of thinking, either to civilize or sensitize them.

On May 11, the faculty here vote on a curriculum reform that has devoured dozens of hours of my rare free time. We've drafted a good proposal, one step to take us past the pedagogy of the 20th century. And we may fail.

Higher education, like the publishing industry, libraries, and even the "record store," faces the biggest change in literacy and the transmission of intellectual content since Gutenberg's press began to run. Faculty by and large are not prepared. To our students it's largely a non-issue.

This is the new generation gap.

It's not that students are careful users or even all that adept at new forms (they struggled this semester with video editing and backing up files on their iPods) . It's that they are so much further ahead, even in this clumsy way, than mainstream faculty who often have terrible problems posting to an online forum or learning a new version of MS Office.

But deeper still is the difference in epistemology: it's a difference of seeking knowledge from the hive-mind vs. great minds. Faculty, at my school and nationally, made strides in using Web 1.0 technology such as course-management software, online quizzes, and discussion lists. Where they have not adapted is with technology that is not so teacher-centered: wikis, embedded media, social networks, student-generated multimedia, and (of course) virtual worlds. To paraphrase from the a recent Second Life educational roundtable, too many faculty come to SL and expect to lecture...or build a lecture hall.

It's an ancient, and doomed, impulse. Consider this line from our current Core Course common syllabus, that "one of the best ways to learn to read, think, and express oneself well is to study the work of proven good readers, thinkers, and writers." Not a word about creating content, the basis of Web 2.0 technologies. Granted, studying "masterworks" is a fine notion, and it can advance student learning, but only to a point. The great minds of the past we've studied were largely Cartesian thinkers who relied upon an Aristotelian sense of order. Even Jefferson, with his protean mind, would have a hard time teaching college freshman today.

Now it's the link, not the line, as the mode of communication. And it's less "I think" than "others tweeted/blogged/tagged" that matters to the generation I'm teaching.

There's a saying I heard (source? I've lost it!) that Millennials want things to be free and they want them not to suck.
For too many of them, what is on offer in higher education is both expensive and out-of-touch.

To appropriate some gamer-talk: Fail. Epic Fail.


Kenneth said...

I'm sure my LOL'ing and ROFL'ing at the title of this post is a valid indication of my generational association. If faculty, by and large, are not prepared to communicate and promote active participation with Web 2.0 (and ultimately Web 3.0) tools - then who do we hold accountable, and, of course, how can we?

I wholeheartedly agree that in order to "think", one must comprehend a legacy. But one must also be encouraged and empowered to create the future (contextualized digital storytelling, perhaps? *hint, hint*). If failing is an option for the administration, do we just remain patient and wait for archaic faculty to either retire or cash in their tenure? I hope not, for as an instructional technologist, I need job security. ;)

Unfortunately, the students who feel their professors' "techno-pedogogical fluency" is a non-issue seem to be receiving a 19th/20th century education for a 21st century price. Wonder who's really getting PWNED.

Iggy O said...

I'm a old fart, but a geeky one. I made the transition to the new paradigm gradually, though (tho??) I'm a rotten multitasker :)

Death and retirement happen. The question for universities will be: will they survive long enough, as we've known them, for that to happen?

Love your analogy of a 20th c. Ed at a 21st c. price. ROFLMAO, so to true a note you hit here!

Kids and their parents, when we get younger and more tech-savvy ones, will vote with their wallets. I hope that my school will be a winner.

Viv Trafalgar said...

I look forward to the time when co-learning, immersive narratives, and multi-threaded and multi-layered discussions are more than the norm.

Here is to teaching that spans multiple forms of media, using each tool as is best suited to the task or point. This is what the students are already doing - as you point out so eloquently - often with multiple tools simultaneously.

Iggy O said...

Viv, a week from today I have to speak--for two minutes--on a proposal to bring first-year seminars to Richmond. It may go down, largely because of the resistance of a group of faculty wedded to the existing Core class, which makes close reading of rigorous texts the end-all for developing analytical skills. Great approach..for 1930. For 2030? We need more.

My current students learned more from doing short promotional videos posted to YouTube (along with a wiki with an annotated biblio and a short essay) than they'd learn from yet another 12 pp research paper. Their projects will be used by other schools, now.

But it will be a long and rocky road to get the majority of faculty to that place. The humanities will be last in line, I fear, an eternal rearguard.