Sunday, March 11, 2007

What Came First? The Chicken or the Computer?

I've been involved in a lot of conversations lately about technology and people. These conversations have revolved around the topics of technology, education and people, and more importantly for me, technology education. As an IT faculty member do I teach technology or do I teach people to use technology, or do I in fact teach something completely different?

I have also been reading Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond (W.W. Norton and Company New York and London, 1999 ISBN: 0-393-31755-2) He comes to the conclusion that "technology develops cumulatively... and that it finds most of its uses after it has been invented, rather than being invented to meet a foreseen need." (pp245-246). So technology develops as it is used, by the people who use it.

To add fuel to the fire I have been talking a lot to people about online course development and the use of Web 2.0 technologies in traditional (brick), blended, and online learning environments. One of my wise friends has clearly stated that "instructional computing is about people, not technology". He has been preaching this for over 30 years and I believe what he says. I have forgotten more technology than I know, and still believe that I am a good technology instructor. I believe that I am a good technology instructor because, in fact, I do not teach technology, I teach people how to learn and how to use technology. Technology supports learning and learning allows people to not only use technology but to think up those uses of technology that have not even been thought of yet. Many of the jobs my graduates will be doing 10 years from now have not even been created yet, let alone the technology that they will use. So as a technology instructor it is my obligation to give them the skills and knowledge to learn, to use technology, and to push its boundaries, but it is NOT my place to simply teach technology.

What does this mean? Well for one thing it means that I should never focus on a particular piece of technology as the be all and end all of my teaching practice. I teach programming and right now I happen to be using Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 to do it with. What I am doing (or I hope that is what I am doing) is teaching programming principles, skills, and knowledge that are transferable to any programing environment - the learning of Visual Studio is a happy by-product. The same applies to the use of Web 2.0 technologies - the emphasis must be on the people, the social aspects of the tools, the change in how information is gathered and shared, not the tools. So as I go forward and explore new technologies and tools I remind you that at the end of it all - it is the people, not the technology that we are here to support.

So it WAS the Chicken that came first...

(Chicken photo from Mark Lorch) (@ photo from borabora)

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