Technology in Higher Education

(This was originally written as part of the requirement for Royal Holloway’s Programme in Skills of Teaching to Inspire Learning (inSTIL) course)

This post was inspired by Janine Utell’s ‘Making a Space for the Digital and the Scholarly: The Editor as a Teacher’, 2 April, 2015.

The question of whether technology influences teaching is obsolete. That is to say, there is no question: technology has influenced teaching whether or not teachers consciously make an effort to include technology in their teaching practice. That is not what I mean to discuss under the banner of ‘Technology in Higher Education’. Higher education differs from other teaching forms in its requirement of participants to continue their own work as researchers, publishers and writers, all while maintaining their responsibilities as educators. The ‘Research v. Teaching’ debate has been carried out countless times in a multitude of forums, and I won’t resurrect it here. However, I do want to focus on some problems with active integration of technology into fields of higher ed: specifically publishing, and how teaching with technology needs to go beyond simply using technology.

Janine Utell frames her Hybrid Pedagogy piece within Bloomsbury, specifically in the London of Virginia Woolf’s writing. Her opening passage notes the resonance of literature within the very streets of this city, and its existence both as a place of physical and immediate experience as well as a memory of words and images received and interpreted via another person’s mind’s eye. I am familiar with both Londons, the two finally crossing paths in my delight at finally understanding the Underground-related puns in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere when I re-read the book after starting my Ph.D. Utell’s focus on London’s existence as a literary setting is important, because it shows how easily we romanticise elements of literature: not just the contents, but the physical objects themselves. While this piece does not engage with literature directly, I don’t think we can ignore the influence literature has had in determining value on the physical, printed word. Utell’s descriptions of colleagues who feel that a digital journal will be somehow less ‘credible’ is understandable: for people who have spent much of their lives placing monetary value on physical objects, a PDF can be disappointing.

Utell suggests that a concern of editors of digital (albeit scholarly) publications is that they cannot fulfil the role of ‘mentor’ to young scholars; this ‘mentor’ role coming from the ability to offer these young scholars continued survival in their field via publication (as Utell puts it, ‘that all-important file in the conventionally acceptable format for a P & T committee’). In other words, the value of publication is still being evaluated (at least in part) by associating worth with a physical object. This physical value translates to scholarly interaction with open-source material, as well. There is still an underlying, Pandora-esque idea that something behind a paid firewall must be more valuable than something left out in the open, and Utell brings up what Dan Cohen has called ‘the social contract’ between authors and readers: that the value comes from the time required to produce a physical object, beautifully presented and free of error. The immediacy of technological publishing and ability to quickly edit already-published material must mean that less work is required for the initial draft, right? Well, no. Books still contain typos and varying degrees of error; the difference is that the books will continue to possess such errors until a second edition is published, while the digital format can be updated as needed.

This is obviously not meant to be taken as a diatribe against books. Instead, I’m hoping to shed some light on why technology remains a contentious subject in higher education. Teaching with technology only becomes successful if the pedagogy develops alongside the resources. In the case of editorial work, Utell suggests that one way to counteract the de-valuing of digital publication is to rethink the process of peer review. She acknowledges the pedagogy behind modern reconstructions of the peer review process (championed by the editorial staff at Hybrid Pedagogy) as being akin to a collaboration; a conversation between a writer and editor with its roots in the Socratic method, allowing both writer and editor to learn and develop from the process.

It is in this description of editorial pedagogy that I believe the most important aspect of ‘Technology in Higher Education’ is found. If we want to include technology in higher education, we must not only think of it as a tool for presenting information or a way to elicit interest from bored students; we must allow our classrooms to spill over into new platforms. If we want students to place value on digital content, their own work included, we must prove as teachers that we understand that content’s worth.

Bibliography

Cohen, Dan. ‘The Social Contract of Scholarly Publishing’. DanCohen.org (blog). 5 March, 2010, http://www.dancohen.org/2010/03/05/the-social-contract-of-scholarly-publishing/.

Utell, Janine. ‘Making a Space for the Digital and the Scholarly: The Editor as a Teacher’. Hybrid Pedagogy. 2 April, 2015, http://www.hybridpedagogy.com/journal/making-a-space-for-the-digital-and-the-scholarly-the-editor-as-teacher/.

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