Access: The New Imperialism?

lynnz80By Lynn Zimmerman
Editor, Teacher Education

In his article, The 375-billion dollar question. And the new agora , Steve Eskow wrote:

There is a new Agora in the process of creation, a new Commons. And it will flourish free of the constraints of buildings, and, if we let learning move to where it is needed, we will enrich the lives of all those who can’t find their way to our buildings, or can’t afford the price of admission.

This statement reminded me of some of the comments I had read on Innovate-Ideagora in response to James Morrison’s July 2008 discussion, which he called  “Addressing the problem of faculty resistance to using IT tools in active learning instructional strategies.” As I read some of the comments, I started to wonder if this insistence on “getting out of the building” and going strictly to an online format is a form of “technological imperialism.” (See “Aping the West: Information technology and cultural imperialism” by Paul Cesarini.) Although many people have ready access to all kinds of technology, not everyone in the world does. By saying that the brick and mortar classroom is out-of-date and should be disbanded, aren’t we in danger of disenfranchising a large number of people who have no capability of engaging in education through technology? That is not to mention the people who have no interest in and no ability for using technology. I will focus on the practical issues now, but we cannot ignore that while the technical issues can eventually be resolved, must people with no interest in or facility (ease of use – not building) for this type of learning be forced to adapt to it and adopt it?

How does technology access play out? I will offer two examples, one in the US and one in Africa. As I have stated before, I teach in a teacher preparation department. Recently some of my pre-methods students visited a high school lynn2_1located in an urban area in Northwest Indiana. This school has a very high percentage of students on free and reduced lunch. The facility is old and out of date. The technology available to the teachers and students is minimal. One of my students commented, “Do you know, many of the students I talked to don’t even have computers at home?” Because I am familiar with the area and the school, I told her that I was not surprised. She then said that she supposed they went to the library to do their computer work. Imagine her surprise when I told her that the public library in their neighborhood is only open limited hours. I have since checked and the hours are: Monday – Thursday from noon – 8 pm and on Friday and Saturday from 10 am – 5 pm. The small library has a limited number of computers available for patrons’ general use. This is hardly the type of access that would lend itself to a high school without walls.

Four years ago I met a man from Nigeria at a conference. His presentation was about information access, and he raised the same issue of imperialism. He said that you can send all the computers to Africa you want, but if there are no electricity and no phone lines to connect to, they become expensive paper weights. His contention was that money for computers would be better spent to help improve the infrastructure in these countries. Another question I raise is, why are outsiders making these types of decisions anyway? Would it not be better to find out what the people really want and need, rather than telling them what they want and need?

I think that now with weakening economies worldwide the question of who benefits from access to technology becomes even more critical. Countries with weak infrastructures are already being adversely affected by the growing global recession. (See World economic situation and prospects 2008: Update as of mid-2008.) As we academics explore, theorize, and debate the issues, we must not lose sight of the reality that many people face in the US and around the world, which precludes full access to technology. We must keep in sight that “the price of admission” may not be counted in tuition dollars but in “technology dollars.”

References

Cesarini, P. (n.d.). Aping the West: Information technology and cultural imperialism. Retrieved December 2, 2008 from http://www.arts.ualberta.ca/cms/cesarini.pdf

Eskow, S. (2008). The 375-billion dollar question. And the new agora. Retrieved December 20, 2008.

Morrison, J. (2008). Addressing the problem of faculty resistance to using IT tools in active learning instructional strategies. Retrieved November 21, 2008.

United Nations. (2008). World economic situation and prospects 2008: Update as of mid-2008. Retrieved December 5, 2008 from  http://www.un.org/esa/policy/wess/wesp2008files/wesp08update.pdf

Resistance to Technology: Conscious or Unconscious?

lynnz80By Lynn Zimmerman
Editor, Teacher Education
10 November 2008

In July 2008 James Morrison initiated a discussion on Innovate-Ideagora which he called  “Addressing the problem of faculty resistance to using IT tools in active learning instructional strategies.” This lively discussion has touched on any number of issues related to education, teaching, and learning. The contradictions inherent in education always fascinate me, and this topic has brought up many of them, from assessment issues to institutional climate.

In his introduction to the discussion Jim wrote that “we should be using technology enhanced active learning strategies to improve student learning” and effect changes in the organizational culture “so that most professors [and teachers] will be receptive to adopting active learning methods and using IT tools to enhance the effectiveness of these methods in their classes.” I assert this “resistance” is also embedded in how teachers view education.

Although most of the discussion centered on higher education, as a teacher educator, I am always focused on what is happening in the K-12 classroom and what my students may confront as they go into their classrooms. The issue of teacher resistance to technology has immediacy for teachers in zimm02K-12. As I was thinking about these issues, I remembered something I had read when I was teaching an Introduction to Teaching course: many teachers consider that they have a fairly liberal teaching philosophy. However, in practice, their teaching styles tend to be more conservative than their philosophical stance. (If you would like to make this comparison yourself, you can look at your teaching style at Grasha-Reichmann Teaching Style Inventory.) Therefore, it is possible that not only are teachers actively resisting learning about technology and technological advances, but some are perhaps unconsciously resisting it. In trying to determine where the disconnect is, researchers may need to look more closely at what teachers are really doing as opposed to what they think they are doing in the classroom/educational space.

My undergraduate students recently observed teachers and classes in a new elementary school which has up-to-date technology. One student was dismayed to see that the teacher was using the Smart Board to produce worksheets! I know that teachers at this school had received in-service training for using the technology in their classrooms and I assume the training was focused on the effective use of these technologies. As the student described the teacher’s style, it appeared that she used an authoritarian model of teaching, which seems to be reflected in her view of how to use technology. Was she consciously resisting using the technology to its fullest or was she just unaware that she had not made a shift in her thinking about using technology?