Wednesday, March 12, 2008

“At what point does practicality trump pedagogy?”

“At what point does practicality trump pedagogy?”

That was a question I asked Tuesday at the SL Education Roundtable, which is held each week at 2:30pm PST (which is 5:30pm EST) on the Montclair State CHSS Island. Each week we start off with a subject and the conversation just goes from there. The session is only supposed to be an hour long but inevitably people stay longer.

The topic for our meeting on Tuesday the 11th was “Would your central IT shop say that your institution was ready for Second Life”. We had a number of instructors there and even a few IT people. Some of the instructors were complaining that the IT people didn’t even want to look at, or talk about, Second Life. Some of the IT people complained that all instructors do is demand, without caring what impact something might have on the organization as a whole. Both, of course, are right – for the most part. I sat and listened to the conversation with some interest because I’ve been part of this very conversation for so many years. As the founder and current co-leader of the EDUCAUSE Distributed Technology Support Constituent Group, we hear this all the time.

So, here is where my question came in. At what point does practicality trump pedagogy? At what point does an instructor’s request for the use of a tool in their teaching outweigh the technology shop’s ability to say, “no, you can’t.” At what point does something drain on the resources so much that an instructor simply can’t do what s/he wants? Of course, either answer is mangled up by an additional complication and that is the institution’s attitude toward this type of technology use.

I was astounded when one of the attendees told a story about the first night of class, a class in which this person was using Second Life. The class, although in SL, was taking place in a computer mediated teaching lab on campus. Someone from the central IT department came into the class and argued with the faculty member, in front of the class, that Second Life should not be used and that it was not appropriate.

I asked if the person who did this was just some rank-and-file employee or if it was, perhaps, the Director of IT. The answer – just some technician. I was flabbergasted. This shows a clear disregard for not only the educational process (certainly the conversation could have waited for some time when class was not in session or the tech could have pulled the instructor out of the class to talk) but it inverts the Pyramid of Educational Importance. Its not like this instructor has never used SL before or this was the first class at this institution to use SL.

So, the bottom line on this example is that it was an ill-prepared tech handling the situation poorly. But how much of it is that this is the somewhat hostile environment being created between techs and instructors at this institution. This just goes to show you, technical know-how is not the be-all-end-all.

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