More questions than answers: the intersection of education and technology

When someone asks me what I do, I have a hard time answering them. My job title is Educational Technology Specialist, and I do sometimes call myself a technologist. But what do either of those labels mean? The latter is a catch-all term that accurately matches the vagary of what I do on any given day. The former (incorrectly, imho) implies that technology can be broken into two groups – the kind that’s suitable for use in education, and the kind that’s not – and that I work with only one of them. Neither really shed light on what I do.

I normally prefer to mock labels, but in this case I’m preoccupied with them because I have yet to figure out What I Want To Do When I Grow Up. During college I worked in an environment where you weren’t supposed to like your job; you just did it, got your paycheck, and then went to the bar and bitched with your coworkers (both student and staff) about what a rough life it was. Many of the people around me had been doing this sort of work for years or even decades and assured me that this was how it was everywhere, and that I should just get used to it. Call me naive, but that’s exactly what I did. I stopped (or at least slowed down) trying to figure out what fit my wants/needs in favor of how I could fit into what others wanted/needed from me.

Fortunately, I’ve learned (unlearned?) quite a lot in the last 16 months (!) since I graduated. For instance: working in an educational institution doesn’t mean you have a real interest in, or know anything about, education. Again, call me naive, but I don’t get how anyone, least of all those who work in the field, could be uninterested in education. The same goes for technology support. How can anyone look at technology and think only about how things could go wrong, ignoring any possible positive outcomes? I’d love to understand, but this time I’m not taking “that’s just how it is” for an answer.

So, I find myself sitting at the intersection of education and technology, feeling frighteningly unprepared for what the combination might deliver. How do I, with only the most basic grasp of educational principles, explain to my former-supervisors-now-colleagues (the same ones from two paragraphs up) that I’m asking for x or y because I think it might positively impact education on our campus, and not because I’m an overly-optimistic PITA? How do I convince my faculty that technology isn’t anything to be afraid of, and I am here to help, but that integrating technology into the classroom needs to be done deliberately, and that they need to both meet me halfway in the process, and be respectful of me, my time, and my abilities? How do I persuade administrators that Project A is worth hours upon hours of my time even though I can provide no guarantee of success? How do I persuade myself of the same when I have no guarantee that Project A’s success will mean it is put to use?

In the midst of it all, how do I put aside the politics and the noise to find where, if anywhere, my interests are leading me?

Ryan has been proudly maintaining and contributing to Language Lab Unleashed since 2005, and is the current President of SWALLT. Since the summer of 2013 he's been causing trouble with his all-star colleagues in the UMW DTLT; when not wrangling websites Ryan can be found doing strange things with heavy objects.

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  1. Sam Jackson · September 27, 2006 Reply

    I heard this recently–where from, perhaps my math teacher?–but it seems pertinent: “students no longer use technology to learn; technology is the medium in which students learn.” Something like that–I think it was maybe marketing tripe perpetrated by IBM and someone else, but it’s still something to munch on. It’s true a lot of the time.

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