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Teaching with Technology
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Why Technology?
by James G. Lengel, Hunter College CUNY, 03/19/2008

We can't seem to avoid the new technology. It gets into our homes, our cars, our laboratories, our factories, and our students' minds. It's big business. Microsoft offered recently $44 billion for Yahoo, more than the total net worth of many small countries. Why is technology so important? Why do we talk so much about it?

Productivity

The new technologies get it to you quicker. They help you find it faster. The GPS in my mobile phone helps me find my way without getting lost. Email saves paper, stamps, time, and fuel for mail trucks. We get our work done with less waste, and perhaps more fun. Technology makes us more productive.

Communication

Madonna's most recent melody migrates to the masses in a minute. The time from its recording in the studio to playing in the ears of our students is measured in minutes. Recalls of unsafe toys or automobiles or spinach reach worried consumers in hours, not weeks. Videoconferencing lets my cardiologist review my EKG in real time even if I'm in China. Teachers in France and Boston collaborate over the web to conduct classes for students in Algeria and Malaysia. Today's panoply of choices for sending and receiving messages is unprecedented. Technology helps us communicate with ideas and with each other.

Research

Google is helping the world's greatest university libraries to digitize and index their entire collections, and make them available to us for free. The NOAA has just put all of the nautical charts for U.S. waters online and downloadable to my laptop. Online databases allowed the folks in Woburn Massachusetts to find a heretofore undiscovered link between the location of water wells an incidences of cancer in town. DNA sequencing, all done on computers, is incarcerating criminals and uncovering genetic diseases. The new technologies let us research our way to a better world.

Media

Music, film, radio, television, and newspapers today are all produced on computers. And most are available online. The quality is better, the resolution finer, the colors more accurate. We have more choice of what we can see, where we can hear it, when we can read it. And it costs less. (Much of the media is trash, but it's diverse and cheap trash.) Technology enables us to think and express ideas in whichever of the media works best.

Publishing

We can all be authors, thanks to technology. While I might need a big company like Pearson to publish my book, I need only a laptop to reach the world with my blog, or persuade the proletariat with my podcast. Everybody I know owns a digital camera and I can see their pictures on Flikr. Any idiot can post a video on YouTube for the world to see, and millions of them have. At the national technology conference for higher education last month in San Antonio, the number one educational trend for 2008 was identified as grassroots video. The new technologies enable more and more of us -- and our students -- to publish their ideas to the world.

And notice that the technologies that enable us to produce, communicate, research, mediate, and publish are for the most part small, flexible, portable, interconnected, and democratic. More so than they have ever been before.

Why Technology? Technology is changing the world because its helps us do the work we want to do. Now it is our task as teachers to help us do our work as well -- which is what this series is about.


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