An Open Letter to Joshua Kim

Hi Joshua!

Allow me to preamble a little while to get you and I (and LLU readers) up-to-speed on my version of events that led to this open letter being electronically penned….

  • I have been a subscriber to Inside Higher Ed for about a year now…found out about it from Facebook, of all places. I think of it as a fantasy Web 2.0 mashup of the best of the Chronicle of Higher Ed and the defunct Lingua Franca, for those of you who can think back about a decade or two. Great journalism and an enjoyable read.
  • I noticed around the start of this school year that the BlogU section of the IHE site added a Technology and Learning blog (your blog, to be precise) and began to follow it. In my mind (perhaps based on the “feel” of the rest of the site) I had visions of a mashup of Jane Hart, a learning-technology  version of Lingua Franca’s old BreakthroughBooks section, and perhaps a little gravitas à la Gee, Rheingold, etc. But as a language-learning technologist who spends as little time as possible working with course management systems, thinks that even constructivism is too straight-laced (I trend toward SCT and dialogic constructionism myself), and as one who is definitely not a generalist (nor are most learning technologists, I’d bet), I find myself either straining to meaningfully connect to your posts (although I do agree with most of your “cloud computing” arguments) or just get downright irritated with them.
  • Those of us in the language -learning technology discipline who follow IHE were (cue the Captain Renault paralanguage) shocked, shocked to find that we were (yet again) “obsolete”, that you declared our centers to be “basically gone“.
  • This of course created some chatter on LLTI, the ListSERV for the International Association for Language Learning Technology. Knowing that your home institution houses LLTI, I was certain that you would likely see this chatter, yet that did not prevent me from clicking the send button on this hastily-made and admittedly snarky contrubution: [I don’t know how many of you follow Inside Higher Ed., but it has been my experience that anything that Joshua Kim pens has to be taken with a grain of salt…you’ll notice he doesn’t get a lot of comments on his entries, which for someone who is begging for them speaks volumes. I find he is mostly off-the-mark (present case in point), so much so that it seems pointless to take on the task of continually correcting him, although this case might be an opportunity to gently inform him of his misinformed state….]
  • As almost expected, your reply was swift, yet decidedly less snarky: [Hi Doug……..Would always enjoy a discussion – as a guy who is usually off-the-mark I see these as opportunities to learn something new. Yours…Josh]

My first reaction to all of this is pure elation at the confirmation of how small our world has become. While I suspect that our ListSERV daemon or a minion forwarded the comments along, I would not be surprised (even more elated) if it turned out to be a colleague from the West Coast that developed a relationship with you through technology. And Steven Thorne is right: all of this technology…these tools we use and take for granted… are cultural artifacts that must be mediated culturally.

That having been said, lest you esteem me to be an enemy (or worse yet, a gadfly), let me say that my comments were an extremely truncated version of what follows. The  LLTI comments, in retrospect, really do seem ad hominem. Mea culpa.

I think that your role at IHE as the “learning technologist” by default places you into what I think is an untenable position. General Learning Technologists (GLTs, to distinguish them from Disciplinary Learning Technologists or DLTs) by and large are an outgrowth of Rousseau’s educational model: dualism of pedagogy/technology/instructional design and subject matter. In this model, you bring a subject-matter expert (SME) together with a GLT and voilà!… your online course is perfect. I do not subscribe to the “plug-and-play” metaphor of educational technology, and I dare say that most SMEs don’t, which is why you see subject disciplines running away from this model. Pedagogical and technology environments in higher education are now more and more contextual, even if common tools are shared at times.  A great deal of authority in the pedagogical/IT training of graduate students lies at the disciplinary level and is facilitated by DLTs. I believe that this structure has been necessary for the achievements we have enjoyed in our lifetime. Some of the great advances in thought and technology use in many disciplines would not have been possible without the affordance of a system that fosters more highly specialized expertise and discipline-specific leveraging of technology.  Disciplines have emerged that are devoted to the idiosyncracies of teaching certain subjects, even using technology in teaching certain subjects .

It could be argued that as society becomes more and more specialized, people become less and less effective in communicating with professionals in other fields. I would respond that while this may be true, it also creates the need for interdisciplinarity and collaboration, which may be what you are asking us (me) to do. My point is that there is a difference between inviting professionals to a discussion on a blog and goading them with ill-researched hyperbole, which is why I will likely continue to lurk, hoping that I get to see a few more “cloud computing” geek-gasms to make my trips worthwhile.

Doug Canfield has been running an "other-minded" language center down in the Tennessee Hills for about 8 years. A lapsed (recovering?) medievalist and French teacher, his passion now involves emerging research paradigms for exploring language instruction and learning, especially in virtual worlds. His goals include fostering the use of technology for instruction, communication, collaboration, and recreation. His alter ego sometimes blogs elsewhere.


  1. Ben Johnston · January 12, 2010 Reply

    Why are you attacking Joshua Kim’s job ? I thought this was about language labs becoming obsolete. A discussion about the future of language labs would be really interesting. But a rant about the difference between general and disciplinary learning technologists? Who cares? The subject specialist / general technologist relationship works just fine. A sprinkling of Latin words and references to Rousseau do not add weight to a pointless argument.

  2. Deanne · January 12, 2010 Reply

    @Ben Johnston, @Doug, @Joshua Kim
    I think actually Doug’s point is a valuable one even if it is lost to “some” in the use of academic rhetoric. The idea that language labs have become obsolete, indeed that language lab Directors, have become obsolete, in favor of course-management systems and centralized IT departments is one that ultimately takes root in the theory that “one shoe fits all”, which ultimately, in the world of technology-enhanced learning, also leads to the result of technology for technology sake and technology before pedagogy. To ignore the discipline-specific aspects of disciplines such as language learning in favor of the “one shoe fits all” course-management system is to produce sub-par learning environments.

    Joshua Kim may also wish to consider an article that ran in The Chronicle of Higher Education on December 11, 2009, “Computer Labs Get Rebooted as Lounges” to note that his “one-size fits all” attitude doesn’t match the needs of all campuses and their students either. Temple University is expanding its computer labs to meet growing student need. Not all institutions have ascribed to the theory that “our students have money to buy their own computers” because it simply isn’t true. Nor has Joshua Kim taken into account the actual cost to institutions of offering tech support to students on a system-to-system basis.

    I would suggest that Joshua Kim may wish to visit some campuses, where he can witness first hand the value that students and faculty place on our facilities, which to this day are more than just a “computer lab”.

  3. Annoyed · January 12, 2010 Reply

    It looks like Joshua Kim is bored, miserable and does not know what he talking about. Someone who has time to blog daily for hours should not be an academic – why doesn’t he concentrate on something useful as opposed to being a fortune teller. It think people like Joshua Kim are the obsolete and will disappear quickly. If he has nothing positive to say, he should keep his ridiculous thoughts to himself!

  4. Low hanging fruit | Language Lab Unleashed! · January 14, 2010 Reply

    […] comments that followed (both after Doug’s post here and and Mr Kim’s posts there) ranged from righteous indignation to just-barely-audible […]

  5. Joshua Kim · January 20, 2010 Reply

    Hi Doug…..Very much appreciate the opportunity to have this interaction.

    I posted some thoughts about language labs on my blog today:

    Looking forward to the discussion.

    You raise a bunch of points in your post above that I’ve been thinking about – which I hope to talk about in a subsequent post.

    Thanks again…..Josh

  6. Low hanging fruit · April 11, 2013 Reply

    […] comments that followed (both after Doug’s post here and and Mr Kim’s posts there) ranged from righteous indignation to just-barely-audible […]

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