Another Ed Tech Day

It’s 5:45 am, and I’m off to a full day that begins with an ed tech presentation at 8:00 am. I will keep an open mind (what a tired phrase that’s become), but the basic gist is that these folks want us to pay them for the service of increasing our reach into the ever flattening growing online market. This is reasonable. More students at my institution equals a good thing. Yet there are a few things about the digital, especially in education, that have recently crystallized for me.

Back_to_the_Future_film_series_logoEven though online courses have been offered for about two decades now (I’ve been teaching online for 12+ years), it is still passed off as “the future”; this is its transactional strength.Online is the future…Everyone knows online is the future…What are you doing online? 

And people buy it. Whether it’s faculty, administrators, students, legislators–it is repeated daily as if we live in some kind of infinitely receding past.

Let’s get it right: online education is not the future. It is the past. It is the present. Like other forms of education it has a future.

So why go on about this? When you’re in a room (maybe even virtually), the person describing the future is the one with the power. If you’re listening, you are likely being told what to do. (This is where I say that one should simply read Audrey Watters over at Hack Education to see how trite all that I’m writing here is.)

It’s hard to tell people that online education has a pretty established past when you’re dealing with mid-career to older faculty working where online programs haven’t exploded. If online education is only “the future,” then it’s hard not to buy right into the LMS, to make that digital space as much of a twin to face-to-face instruction as possible. In short, for teachers, there is still a lot of fear of teaching online, and the common response is to lock things down. Fast.

Fear, of course, generates a willingness to build budgets and commit money to people who are willing to help you “win the future.”

But there’s a lot of fear in teaching of all stripes. I will have fear when I set out to teach Sylvia Plath poems today. I hope that, when online, I deal with such fears in a way that doesn’t require a digital identity of students as consumers. I have yet to hear anyone say that employers want someone fluent in D2L. There’s a lot of creative online/hybrid teaching happening out there, just working with different parameters than fear, future, and finance.

So this is my digital identity by 6:18. Pre-coffee. I have to go to work soon and be mindful of how small decisions–like what we do as an institution with online classes (!!)–affects the students I work with every day. I am increasingly unclear who their advocates are, even among a growing field of allies.

So, it’s time to go and listen.