You may have watched the video of the Dean who explained his rationale for removing computers from the classrooms at his school. His primary concern was that faculty would simply show PowerPoint slides and deliver boring lectures to accompany them. While I don’t entirely agree with his perspectives on the merits of teaching “naked”, I definitely understand his concerns about the future of instructional technology in higher education and the role that faculty play in making smart choices about which technologies they select and how they use them. I see a similar challenge facing academic librarians.
My point isn’t about the pros and cons of using technology in the classroom. I think that academic librarians are totally on board with the concept of using technology purposefully for teaching and learning. I certainly hope we have gotten away from subjecting our students to PowerPoint slide shows over which we drone on about the virtues of appropriate database search techniques. Now that many of us are teaching in hands-on classrooms we can get more creative with methods for activating the students and really engaging them in learning how to think critically about their research responsibilities, how to work effectively with their fellow students, and even how to efficiently capture, store, retrieve and cite their resources. Of course, like the Chronicle article states, there are students who don’t want to be activated. They would prefer to just sit there and have a librarian-instructor talk at them for 50 minutes, which they can tune out and then get on with what really interests them. So just like our faculty colleagues we are challenged to leverage technology that gets students thinking, working, and maybe even enjoying their time in the classroom with us.
But here’s my point. I get what Dean Jose Bowen is telling us about being overly dependent on technology, especially when the focus is on the technology rather than the educator in the room. It’s all about adding value to the learning process. He is spot on when he says that students can now go anywhere to simply hear a lecture by a talking head that is attached to a series of slides. That describes a good deal of online learning and open education resource experience. You go to a web site or a course delivery system and just tune in to a lecture/presentation. But where’s the added value that comes from the dialogue between the teacher and the student? I believe what Bowen is really afraid of losing at his school is what makes the learning experience truly unique – the engagement between the instructor and the learner.
Academic librarians need to be mindful of the same challenge. We know that while we offer high quality information resources, our students and faculty can obtain information from a wide variety of resources. And there are times when they are accessing our subscription content through free search engines and are not aware that the content is delivered by the library. Those are well known issues. If the boundaries between information sources are becoming increasingly blurry to the end user, what is it that distinguishes what the academic library does for them? Finding the answer to that question is part of the challenge we face, just as our faculty colleagues will need to make clear to future students the value that they add to the learning process. Otherwise why bother with the huge investment in a traditional college education. I will continue to be writing about these challenges and possible solutions here and in other venues. I hope you’ll be a part of the conversation in helping us all to figure out how we add value for our students and faculty.