Unnecessary technological devices.

9 09 2010

I may be a little late to the party on this one, but I just noticed that the Huffington Post has let the CEO of a company that’s going to make tablet computers for digital textbooks run a big self promotional ad on its college page. Apparently, he wants to do to us what that woman did to Big Brother in that Apple commercial from so long ago. Here he is, Osman Rashid:

Many of those in leadership positions view change with a skeptical eye, seeing themselves as guardians against overly-rapid, unconsidered adoption of new ideas which might be faddish or even dangerous.

Who are these people in leadership positions? Administrators who want to start online versions of their colleges the day before yesterday? Bold reformers who want to eliminate tenure? Apparently, it’s professors:

Training teachers – yes, that includes university professors with impressive credentials and equally impressive egos – on how to integrate technology into the pedagogical experience is critical. It is the only way, in fact, that American education can recapture the global leadership position it once had.

Condescension is a lovely way for me to better enjoy my day. Things got worse when I visited the website of Rashid’s company, Kno Inc.

Problem 1: The firm is soliciting assistance, from everyone under the sun. If you actually want to make higher education better, you might do better soliciting educators more directly rather than lumping them in after both students and parents. Shoot, you’d think we’d at least get our own web page.

Problem 2: The thing itself is utterly unnecessary:

Yes, it’s a digital textbook. Yes, it’s a whole new ecosystem. Two spacious panels. Touch-screen interaction. A fully-stocked store. Video. Note-taking. Sharing and community.

Paper and print have been a very durable technology. They’re cheap, effective and they don’t require a large capital outlay to participate in them. Same thing goes with pen and paper for notes.

What do computers get you that paper can’t? Sharing and community, I guess, but who says sharing and community are conducive to actual learning? Indeed, as UD has suggested literally hundreds of times, give students computers with access to the web inside the classroom and they’ll start checking Facebook long before the lecture is over.

Problem 3: The cost. Maybe, just maybe, the cost of textbooks will go down if they all come delivered on your tablet computer, but who’s going to fix the tablet when it breaks? The university? [I can’t tell you how many times I get a “Blackboard is down” e-mail each semester directed to all my university’s faculty.] Will those resources come out of thin air? And who’s salary is going to get cut for building all those wifi enabled classrooms?

There’s a really good reason that professors are going to be the roadblock to the Kno-enabled future. They’re the ones who stand to lose both coming and going.


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3 responses

9 09 2010
Historiann

I don’t think professors stand to lose anything. I just don’t see that we have to gain anything either. Prove to me that your little Kno-thingie works better at what I want it to do than what I’m using now, and I’ll go for it.

But, this ain’t my first rodeo. Count me a skeptic–this smells like pretend innovation as a marketing ploy. (And as you note above, not a very smart one.)

9 09 2010
Jonathan Rees

Historiann:

One of the questions I cut out of the final version of that post was “What happens if the textbooks we want to assign aren’t available?” Another thought I meant to get to was “If students can get everything their their Kno, why should they come to class at all?” Call me paranoid, but I suspect that this is just one of many first steps on the road to making every college an online college.

12 09 2010
Historiann

Word. Remember Stanley Fish’s words of wisdom: do your job, don’t do someone else’s job, and don’t let anyone else do your job.

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