Technology, Community & the Future – Reflections at SPU
On November 17, I spoke at Seattle Pacific University to a group of faculty, administrators and support staff regarding how digital learning and educational technology can support notions of community and active learning in alignment with both a liberal arts and a faith-based mission.
Turnout was impressive, and the audience was active and engaged with the presentation, musing on the potential for student-centered learning techniques and digital platforms, as well as expressing concern about obstacles facing the state of higher education, both in terms of technological infrastructure and the unique structure of academia. I had the pleasure of spending the entire day meeting with various members of SPU, conversations that deserve thought and reflection. Some of those early thoughts:
- There were two breaks in my presentation for small group conversation and active learning; I supplemented this with Google Docs (for break 1 and break 2) so the conversation could be multi-modal. It was interesting to find that of the four tables, one engaged highly on their devices and the docs, while the other three were entirely spatial conversations. The professional development initiatives at SPU focus on communities of inquiry and small-group conversation, and the work done by Dr. David Wicks, Dr. Margaret Diddams, Robbin Riedy and the ETM team has shown sizable change in pedagogical attitudes amongst faculty.
- Dr. Wicks has noted to me that the asynchronous element of these learning communities has struggled to take off, and several faculty told me they saw technology as antithetical to community. I took time to talk with them about ways in which community could be strengthened through a technological augment or perhaps even engage primarily through technology, and the faculty were open to the possibility. I would be interested to see how future professional development iterations structure the asynchronous technology component and how the staff at Educational Technology & Media can create more buy-in around technology and then measure its use and potential efficacy.
- I had an excellent conversation with Computer & Information Systems. We talked about the Reclaim Hosting project, ironic because while I was advocating for adoption they were getting ready to finally shut down their longstanding hosting of student and faculty web space due to extreme lack of use. This spurred a very thoughtful conversation about the importance of getting administrative systems to communicate, as well as how to better advocate for and inspire the use of such tools. CIS wants to support all sorts of student learning ventures and platforms, but lack of use/misuse/adoption of other hot-topic tools creates a graveyard of systems CIS is expected to support and makes them a campus villain for the few who continue to use the tools at a manpower and resource cost the campus cannot sustain. We spent the last 20 minutes talking about potential solutions, advocacy efforts, and methods to keep all administrative departments on the same page.
- Seattle Pacific is a Christian, faith-based school, and there were a number of conversations regarding the role of technology in the Church and other faith-based environments. I was excited to see the efforts of many staff in engaging this topic and looking at the history of religion, its present practice and the use of technology to forecast potential futures. Since I was a child watching religious programming from a rural Arkansas area due to geographic hardship, I have thought about ways in which the benefits of religious practice could happen at a distance. Religious programming is a staple on radio and television, but these are spaces of one-way communication, and many of the Internet communities are limited to one-way communication and thus have difficulty in networking, much less growing into community. Rev. Christopher Ellison notes a key benefit to an in-person religious practice is a sense of community; how can that extend into the digital and provide the same benefit?