Years ago, some time in the 90s, I came into work one morning, and there was a brand new Gateway computer on my desk. Over the years the college has gone through several computer manufacturers.
For a while I had a laptop. Now I’m back to the desktop, so I’m not tempted to bring this godforsaken institution’s tech home with me. Currently the entire college is largely powered by Dell computers with Intel processors running Windows.
I communicate with faculty through Outlook email. Oh, wait, no I don’t. But if I did, it would be with Outlook. We submit our grades with Peoplesoft. I post course-related material and assignment scores on Canvas.
In our system of “shared governance” (bahahahaha!) with the president and admin, faculty were never consulted about any of this. We were told what applications the college would adopt and told when they would change. Nobody asked if we wanted any of this, but here it is. Nobody asked me if I even wanted a computer in my office, but here it is. If I had the choice now, I’d say, “Fuck no I don’t want one.”
So who benefits from all this, uh, “progress?” For a short while I thought it was the students. Bless my heart. It’s not. Enter, as just one example, Morgan Stanley. What do they have to do with technology in education? Not much except for over 38 million shares of Intel. There’s nothing inherently evil about that. I merely point out that with all those Intel processors in all those computers on all those college campuses…
Well, you do the math, and remember it the next time you hear about some corporation or computer company launching any kind of educational initiative. Somebody’s making money from it, but it sure as hell isn’t any school. Then what is all this for? Years ago I read the consultant report for my institution’s “strategic technology plan.” Here’s a representative example from the first paragraph:
[College] leadership and faculty generally appear to accept the on-going deployment of technology enhancements as both inevitable and positive, although there is a predictable level of frustration and concern. Approximately half of the faculty have taught at least a web-enhanced course on Blackboard, which suggests a solid level of basic buy-in; however, some are quite concerned about online instruction and, to some extent, suspicious of the motives of related initiatives.
“Buy-in?” That certainly has a little Madison Avenue to it, yes? And “deployment” just unnerves me. When I pointed this out on our in-house email forum, I was informed (well, flamed really), that “deployment” is a standard term used in connection with technology. Somehow, I find this less than comforting, maybe because tech-related language has been driven if not dictated by military interests for decades.
Don’t just take my word for it. Douglas Noble pointed this out over thirty years ago in his book The Classroom Arsenal: Military Research, Information Technology, And Public Education:
The classroom arsenal serves, in its own right, as a laboratory, as a testing ground for research, much of it sponsored by the military, on human-computer interface design, on “knowledge acquisition,” on technological problem solving…Military-sponsored educational innovations reflect the distinctive needs of military training—in particular, the needs for efficiency, for specificity, for uniformity, and for the assurance of high levels of task performance…Efficiency of training stands above all other concerns of military training.
And Noble’s not alone. Cliff Stoll was pointing at the silicon emperor’s balls during the late 90s in High Tech Heretic and Silicon Snake Oil. So was Neil Postman in Technopoly and The End Of Education. It’s also worth noting that the aforementioned consultant was himself an administrator from another college which had an extensive online learning program and was considered a model for technology in education )critical and unbiased to be sure).
The pro-tech rallying cry is that this improves education. There is not one shred, however, of substantiating evidence to prove this. To the contrary, a report from The Reboot Foundation in Paris argues that with daily, frequent computer use in the classroom, “performance lowers dramatically.”
More tech just adds more electronic bricks to the towering wall of laptops, smart phones, and social media that increasingly solipsistic students live behind. The only thing they have in common is isolation. No network can link a learning community. At best, you get cloistered individuals vaguely connected to the same material.
What else happens? Faculty get kicked out of offices to make room for servers. Classrooms which are already in short supply become computer labs. Libraries (I’m sorry, learning resource centers) lose more and more space to computers versus actual books.
In the event of a tropical storm or hurricane, we get emails about making sure to cover up our office computers with plastic bags in the event that the roof leaks (depressingly likely). Fuck that. I didn’t ask for this accursed machine. If you want to protect it, you do it. Another item on a long list of shit I don’t get paid enough to give a fuck about. As one of the few colleagues I’m friends with likes to say, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”
Even our so-called Advanced Technology Center is an imposing monstrosity that looks like some ungodly union of Space Mountain and A Wrinkle In Time (a few of us even call it the Central Central Intelligence building). I’ve been in it maybe half a dozen times. Looking at it creeps me out sufficiently enough to suspect that if I go in, I may not come back out.
Your faculty advisor, if you have one, and if they actually teach and still read, might tell you the truth about all this. But your dean, your counselor, or anyone in your college’s administration would prefer you never find out. So would all those good folks that head up Microsoft, Intel, Dell, or Hewlett Packard.
And, you know, Morgan Stanley.