Response to Fishing vs. Teaching to Fish

Laura at Geeky Mom raises some important issues as we move away from a traditional model of teaching to one involving more technology: To what extent should IT support staff do tasks for instructors as opposed to teaching them how to do those tasks for themselves?

At the risk of taking some things out of context, here are a few points Laura makes that prompt a response:

Faculty are more problematic. How much technology is it reasonable for them to know how to use without much help?

Comment: It’s a moving target and it depends on whether you’re trying to recruit a faculty member new to technology or whether the faculty member has experience using a given technology. On our campus, it’s no longer appropriate for IT staff to teach email or MS-Word, two of the applications Laura mentions. But if you want me to start using video, you’re going to have to carry me a while.

It’s the more complex tasks that become an issue. Using course management systems is something I think most people, if they’re going to use such systems, should know how to do quite well. Most of the features in CMS’s are pretty straightforward.

A couple comments: I agree with what Laura says up to a point. On the other hand, I’m not an IT professional and it doesn’t make sense for me to try to become one. As an economist, it’s not my comparative advantage. So where do you draw the line? I find that tasks that I do only once a semester are not worth learning the first time I do them. An example of this is doing a course copy in Blackboard. It’s not hard to do, but it is hard to remember from one term to the next. I know it’s frustrating to my IT support (Sorry, Jerry!) but it would take too much time to master something which I only use twice a year.

I often send instructions or explain the process over the phone rather than do whatever the task is for the faculty member.

This is a very reasonable approach. Here’s one that worked effectively in our department: For tasks that many faculty are likely to want to learn, why not create little video clips (for example, using Camtasia) to show them how to complete the task. For visual learners, like me, this is as good as you doing it for me.

Plus, I have this sense (maybe I’m wrong) that because we’re talking about course content, that the process of putting the content together is part of the faculty member’s responsibility.

I think I’m going to disagree with this, at least in part. It’s clear that most IT support staffs are overworked and understaffed for what we expect from them. I agree that the instructor has primary responsibility for a course’s content, and that if that content includes technology the instructor should be able to apply that, assuming this is something they’re doing on a regular basis. But you can’t expect them to try something new without IT support. It won’t happen, or at least the odds are it won’t happen well.

Still this misses a larger point, which Judith Boettcher recently raised:

[A]ll teaching functions no longer need to be embodied in one person but can be assumed by various members of instructional teams.

As we move in the direction of U2.0, shouldn’t we be thinking of inverting the industrial model of teaching? Instead of imagining one instructor teaching many students shouldn’t we revision our enterprise as each student’s learning being supported by a team of instructors, including content experts, IT professionals, librarians, etc? Henry Jenkins (via Will Richardson) goes a step further and asks why we must limit instructional teams to local faculty? Perhaps one role of the faculty advisor could be to help students develop (and vet) links with external experts.

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4 Responses to Response to Fishing vs. Teaching to Fish

  1. Laura says:

    I agree with what you say, and I think what I’m really struggling with is that I want to feel more like a partner in the process rather than the multimedia version of a photocopier. There’s a faculty member whom I’ve realized that I end up doing her video clips for her, but because she sits there and talks to me about how she’s going to use the clips and what context they’re in and generally includes me in her thought process, I don’t feel like I’m doing something for her, but *with* her. Much of the time, I need to have a conversation about context and goals anyway in order to do a better job. But often faculty don’t realize the need for that conversation. I very much like the Boettcher quote. I’m going to have to go read that article. I saw some other people blogging about it too.

  2. Gardner says:

    A strong and provocative post. My fear, though, is something along the lines Laura’s comment describes. At UR the saying was, “We’re not Kinko’s,” which meant that the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology and its subset, the Technology Learning Center, were not a drop-off shop for faculty who wanted someone else to do all the techie stuff and hand them a turn-key finished product. For me, all faculty need to be empowered to do simple stuff with images and sound, no less than with text, and for a lot of faculty that’s going to mean some learning. As Chris Dede noted in his keynote at ELI, faculty who have not had compelling creative experiences themselves with the technology will not be able simply to bolt technology or tech products into their “business as usual.”

    As for the team-based approach, I like that idea very much, especially as it draws on the library model that already works well. The trick is going to be a) having IT people with some content knowledge, just like librarians, and b) keeping the faculty member engaged with the process from start to finish, which will take whatever it takes. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Thoughts and Experiments » Want to work with this one a little bit…

  4. Pingback: Pedablogy: Musings on the Art & Craft of Teaching » Blog Archive » Even More Fishing

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