Paul Bergen, Director of Instructional Computing at Harvard University, was the second SSP lunchtime speaker delivering an insightful, erudite and humorous talk, “Content in Context: Trends in the Delivery of Digital Course Materials in Undergraduate Education.”
Not limiting himself to cases of emerging educational technology, Bergen began with a short history of technology in the American classroom circa 1700. At that time, the slate and the hornbook (also known as the scholar’s board) were considered hi-tech. Drawing the post-lunch hour crowd to laughter, Bergen, described these technologies as “personal, mobile, and highly-collaborative.” In the event of being teased by a classroom bully, Bergen continued, the slate could fulfill the role of a weapon.
After the personal slate, the blackboard was probably the most transformative technology in the classroom, followed by the overhead projector in the 20th century, and presentation software (e.g. Powerpoint) spanning the 21st. And yet, Bergen continues, all of these devices use the same pedagogical model, which is the linear transmission of knowledge from the teacher to the student.
The slow accretion of technology into the educational system is the result of the teacher and not the learner
Bergen provided a few examples of new pedagogical models that either replace, or supplement, the traditional lecture. These examples, unfortunately, are exceptions — most higher education is still delivered by lecture. The growing “daily divide” between everyday use of technology use in universities will only serve to make higher education anachronistic and irrelevant, he argued.
Faculty are very slow adopters of technology in the classroom and the most popular use is the course management system (CMS), designed primarily to distribute syllabi and related course readings. Providing survey feedback from his faculty, Bergen showed very limited use of other technologies.
While technological change may be uncomfortably slow for some, colleges and universities are moving to update their “monolithic” learning management systems. Providing hope, these systems are becoming more open, allowing third parties to develop applications that work with these legacy systems, Bergen described.
Harvard University is the richest institution in the world, and it would be naive to blame a lack of resources as the cause of slow adoption of technology in the classroom. As culture trumps technology, the conservatism of teaching is a reflection primarily of academic culture and reward and not a lack of brains or motivation.