Something to Start Thinking About: Feelings and Technology

A big part of my job is to teach teachers how to teach with tech. (Yes, I intended to write it this way. This is actually how I think of my job; it is my “elevator speech” description of what I do.) One of the questions I am often asked is “Should I use this tool?” This usually results in discussions of the concrete steps involved, often becoming a dialogue about pedagogical applications for any given tool. However, I find that “Should I?” question is fraught with barely stealthed anxiety, so as part of my response I try to get my clients to answer my unasked, broad question, “How do you feel about using this technology?”

I rarely broach the question as boldly as I have here, but I try to take the conversation to a “feeling” place. After all, teaching, good, solid, inspirational teaching (teach=inspire, no?), is propelled by feeling: a love for the subject, the satisfaction that results from exchanging knowledge, and the exhilaration of knowing that, no matter how prepared a teacher may be, whether in a one-on-one tutoring session or a lecture before 500+ students, there is always a chance the unforeseen will grace teachers and their students with a creative, fertile teaching moment that enriches everyone involved.

All teachers, because they take on the authoritative role of oracle, are vulnerable, because their knowledge, and therefore their legitimacy, can always be instantly challenged, undermined, usurped.

Oy.

What fascinates me is that the reactions to my bringing up feelings (yes, I mean getting touchy-feely) are propelled by feelings, oft unacknowledged. Some instructors abruptly end any such dialogue because they feel a need to appear professional, unquestionably competent and self-assured at all times. Others eventually shrink from all discussion and decide not to use the technology in question because they are overwhelmed. And yes, to me these two extremes are both thinly veiled expressions of fear. However, most teachers, to varying degrees, engage in the discussion.

Bringing feeling in when discussing the pedagogical uses of technology is crucial because, as I see it, when a teacher adds any technology to her or his toolbox, he or she should (I want to say must here, but I will refrain) share with her or his students why and how it will be used. Doing this effectively involves a strength of conviction, of certainty, a feeling of comfort with knowing what you know and what you do not know, because the teacher needs the students to buy into her or his expectations.

Then each teacher needs to consider how her or his professional cohort feels about adopting advanced, shall we call it, technology for teaching. As Thomas Kuhn pointed out long ago in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, all knowledge groups, all academic disciplines, no matter how scientific, are communities, and they all have what Stanley Bailis calls “rules of right behavior.” Indeed, when you have two or more people together, such rules are “automatically” put in place so the group can coexist, thrive. Teachers most often practice their art as part of an umbrella institution. In turn, within that institution, each teacher is part of a department or program based on any given knowledge based collective’s tenets. Perhaps there is a sub-group of that department, and so on. And again, as Thomas Kuhn highlighted, no matter how “scientific” any discipline’s public posture may be, privately, it is kept alive, relevant, and growing because of feelings.

So, this is something for y’all to think about, specially since I know that getting touchy-feely about pedagogical uses of technology is rather unexpected, and rare. For now, I would like to leave you with this: Ramit Sethi, is the author of the awesome, no-nonsense, funny and deeply insightful blog and book, I Will Teach You to Be Rich. If you can imagine it, he is a sharper, more energetic version of Suze Orman, who he greatly admires. Worships? Anyway, both of them are always trying to get us to understand that under the cryptically mathematic, objective formulations, for all of us, dealing with money is really highly emotional. The way we deal with money reveals our feelings about ourselves and the world around us. To me, the same principle applies to how teachers use technology. It reveals their feelings about themselves as teachers and about their students and their professional cohort. I will let y’all marinate on it and later I will discuss each point I raised here in more in detail.

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2 responses to “Something to Start Thinking About: Feelings and Technology

  1. Thanks for broaching such a crucial subject here Fernando. When it comes to folding new technologies into our teaching I think you are right that fear of stepping beyond the comfort zone created by the tools and techniques we are familiar with often drives our reactions to new options. You also raise the equally important issue of the ways that these new tools might affect or alter the teaching persona we use in the classroom.

    Your post brought to my mind an effort by Professor Monika Rankin at UT, Dallas to harness the power of Twitter in order to radically alter the participation dynamics in her classroom. A nice summary of the experiment is available on YouTube(http://youtu.be/6WPVWDkF7U8). Professor Rankin’s story provides a nice example of the positive results that are possible when you are willing to go out on a limb and really embrace a new technology as a teaching tool.

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