What does Pedagogy Mean in IT?

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Way back in January of 2002 I wrote a rationale for this blog. It’s been linked to and quoted a few times, most recently by Shelly McCauley Jugovich and Bruce Reeves in an Educause Quarterly article entitled “IT and Educational Technology: What’s Pedagogy Got to Do with IT?“. They quoted this bit (without the links):

This comment came from Lisa Spangenberg, a self-proclaimed digital medievalist:

Frequently faculty who would like to use technology are bewildered by the jargon and by the unfortunate arrogance of the technical experts they must work with, who, for all their technical expertise are, not surprisingly, sometimes woefully ignorant about pedagogy, and have no interest or understanding of the humanities.

You’ll note, if you looked at the full article via the link, that this is from their section on “Skepticism About IT Staff.”

They counter my quotation with the following paragraph:

We address such skepticism by demonstrating our experience with, knowledge of, and ongoing commitment to pedagogy. UMD and the ITSS department encourage and support the pursuit of coursework, degrees, and professional development in the pedagogical use of technology. Moreover, our work on campus with faculty members from all disciplines provides access to campus best practices on a regular basis. We publicly share with the campus community our credentials and experience in campus publications, meetings, workshops, and so forth, and in our workshops we model effective uses of the technology tools we are teaching others to use. These activities give us the opportunity to establish and maintain credibility with the faculty.

In other words, they missed my point almost entirely.

There’s a repellent but effective expression in commercial software development, one that was generally associated with the dot com frenzy, when executives, marketing folk, and PR departments referred to “eating their own dog food,” meaning that they used the same tools and products that they wanted their customers to buy.

When I talk about IT folk who “for all their technical expertise are, not surprisingly, sometimes woefully ignorant about pedagogy, and have no interest or understanding of the humanities,” I’m essentially saying “they don’t eat their own dog food.”

It’s not enough to know how to use the software and hardware to produce content. It’s not even enough to know how to teach faculty and others how to use digital tools without engaging in technical double-speak. I expect anyone encouraging faculty to teach with technology, digital or other, to be prepared to use that technology to practice what they preach; they have to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. Modeling doesn’t cut it.

I expect someone who is going to discuss pedagogy with faculty to have experience actually teaching academic content with a live class using the same technology they expect teachers to use.

Frankly, I don’t really have a lot of faith in instructional technology professionals’ discussion of pedagogic theory when they don’t use the technology they’re expecting teachers and students to use, and use it in the same environment that the teachers and students use, under the same conditions. If you don’t use technology to teach English literature, or Japanese or Medieval history or music, to use examples from the humanities, how much value does your pedagogical advice have? How much credibility do you have?

Oh, and by the way, the “self-proclaimed digital medievalist” was a bit disingenuous. If it was meant as humorous, it fails since it was presented without context, suggesting that I’m a technology-opposed Luddite, which, in fact is the way readers have taken the reference. If it was meant as meiosis, it fails as well; I’ve got solid technical credentials, including seventeen years of experience developing software for higher education, for publishers, and for consumers. I’ve supported users, and supported and evangelized digital technology use with faculty and students. As a Mmedievalist, I have more than six years experience teaching college English literature and compositions classes, where I ate my own dog food, even while working to support faculty using instructional technology.