Of Horses and Carts
Early today Inside HigherEd covered some interesting work going on at Morovian College in Pennslylvania. They’re definitely doing some substantial upgrades to their network infrastructure (along with handing out laptops and tablets to all students), but here’s the part I find interesting:
By fall 2017, the device program will cover all of Moravian’s roughly 1,730 undergraduates, and the network may reach its target speed of one gigabit per second (in other words, capable of everyone on campus streaming about 40 movies and TV shows from Netflix in “ultra-HD” quality at the same time). At that point, said Scott C. Hughes, the college’s chief information officer, “we’re going to take a look at how we redefine the classroom.”
Read that again, and focus on the last sentence. After they complete all the technology upgrades they’re going to look at how they redefine the classroom.
Investing $2.4 million dollars in IT without thinking about how its going to affect your primary business (teaching and learning) seems odd to me. It feels like they are putting the cart before the horse. By doing this, Moravian appears to be putting constraints on the pedagogical discussion before it even starts by assuming, generally, that technology is going to make something better and, specifically, that this particular technology will enable change. They may very well be right, but that’s a lot of money to sink only to find out later that it isn’t going to help. And this is even more distressing considering:
That debate, when it arrives in a couple of years, won’t be painless. The role of technology in the classroom continues to be a hot topic of debate in higher education, and faculty at many colleges have opposed what they see as top-down approaches by administrators.
Interestingly, my institution is embarking on a similar endevour, creating learning spaces that will enable faculty and students to engage with each other and outside sources from where ever they are in the room while simultaneously allowing faculty who don’t want to make that leap to continue using the rooms mostly as they have in the past.
Understanding out end goal we then asked, “what technology will help us get what we want?” For us that will include high density wireless, upgraded network backbone, additional network bandwidth, wireless projection devices, whiteboard walls, and mobile devices (provided for faculty by the institution, BYOD for the students as much as possible).
As I said, this sounds fundementally like the work Moravian is doing, but we arrived at this similar project by focusing first on the classroom we wanted and having those discussions with faculty up front (in an effort to avoid the top-down perception). Once we had some general idea of what would happen in these new classrooms, then we figured out the technology needs. And to me that’s putting the horse before the cart, an addmittedly much more effective configuration.