Shift Happens

Posted by Monica Martinez-Gallagher,

This last April, I had the honor of taking over as director of NW/MET for this year at our annual conference held at Skamania Lodge. During my prior year as director-elect, Doug McCartney from PSU mentored me by helping me with all aspects of the conference and my upcoming role in leadership. Since I am a PSU alumni, I was familiar with one of his faculty, Dr. Randy Blazac, as he was one of my undergraduate Sociology professors, so when we were looking for a local faculty speaker to come and give us a reality check perspective, we both thought of Dr. Blazac, and were delighted that he agreed to come and be our keynote speaker.

Dr. Blazak’s keynote speaks to many things under the overarching theme of paradigm shifts in our techno-society and it’s effect on pedagogy, faculty reluctance to adapt, and generational views on technology and it’s uses. His candid style of presenting a holistic perspective tied to popular culture references is something that always engaged me when I was in his “boring lectures” at PSU (Hey Randy, they were never that boring. ;)) and I also knew from experience that he generally doesn’t shy away from telling it like it is, (with academic respect, of course) which I admire for his ability to provoke deep thought.

As he wraps up his talk, he tells us that faculty are working to ‘preserve something ancient and sacred in the classroom, the time where you would sit down and talk about something for an hour and only that no matter how boring that may seem because that’s worth defending’, and I wonder how many of us working in technological modes of instructional delivery agree or disagree with that statement, or to what degree?

For me, I think technology democratizes our ability to choose for ourselves that mode or style of reaching our learning objectives which works best for us individually. Yes, we have to develop a sense of understanding what that is for ourselves, and that’s one form of guidance we in instructional design and curriculum planning may need to re-examine as core to any lifelong learning path.

He also stresses that learning is a communal act in the idea that we go for an hour to one place together to participate in learning, whether it be physical or virtual, but I think there is great value for some in these overworked times to have access via the asynchronous community that now exists online. This is also helpful for those who might prefer to think about what they say and then write it, rather than using live chat in a classroom or virtual space. I want to hear from faculty what experiential essence is perceived lost in translation so I can respect as a technologist what you value enough to preserve it, though I’m always happy when we can turn that into a discussion about what can be found in parallel in the ‘hive’ culture online, feeling myself proud to be a bit of an ambassador to technology in this role with faculty- something else Dr. Blazak expresses as a clear need to support his classroom.

My technology literacy and gamer mindset began in an academic program that gave me access to start building that literacy at an early age, as well as many hours playing Pitfall on the Atari 2600 after school, so I’m not necessarily coming from the same world view as Dr. Blazak. For me who now assumes near ubiquitous access to search engines a default tool in existing, where faculty come in for me is being able to articulate what their subject objectives are, and how to meaningfully assess if they’ve been reached, regardless of the mode of instruction or product generation a student might choose to support their own continued engagement. Our faculty, they’re the people to me that love their subject matter to the point of engagement being contagious, like intellectual fire starters. Though each one of us tend to teach the way we think we learn best as we naturally gravitate towards what we know works (at least for us), learning styles are such an individual and multi-faceted quality that I think we can only guide each learner to find theirs for themselves, and then offer guidance to the myriad of solutions that continue to bloom from what technology enables us to do to support their style.

Over the year of planning for our annual conference, all of the NW/MET board of directors had a hand in the success of our event at Skamania lodge. Each member brings qualities to our community of practice that foster all of our techno-social growth. We’re supporting each other in being the experts our faculty are asking for to guide them in technology selection and adoption. We’re learning to use new tool kits for collaboration so our efforts have greater impact with the reality of reduced resources. We’re facing the challenging questions of copyright and universal access as a community.

This presentation by Dr. Blazak is being publicly shared to generate discourse among us, but also as a taste of the sessions that were recorded at NW/MET 11 and are made available to our members first. Access to this community and it’s resources have always been 35$ a year, which for me has been some of the best professional development dollars I’ve spent, and I encourage anyone in our higher Ed tech community from Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Western Canada, Montana and Wyoming to join us in our collaborative never-ending evolution.