The Shiny New Tech Sydndrome and What To Focus On Instead: An Interview with Kevin Guidry
Kevin R. Guidry is the Senior Research Analyst at the Center for Teaching and Assessment of Learning. He is also a well-established higher ed blogger with a keen interest in the use of technology by students and student affairs professionals.
In today’s interview, Guidry talks about how some of his views on technology in higher education have changed over the course of his career, why learning, whether online or in the traditional classroom, should always be a challenge, and his reasons for not jumping on the social media bandwagon.
As most of us know all too well, the views and opinions we hold in our younger years tend to evolve and sometimes even change entirely as we gain more experience, and looking back and acknowledging those changes can often be very insightful.
In Guidry’s case, he points out that his experiences as a researcher in higher education have helped him see more of the bigger picture when it comes to technology.
“As I’ve become more experienced and mature as a professional and as a person, my views and interests have become broader,” he says.
“In particular, I’ve become less focused on the details of technology and more focused on its impact and use. Don’t get me wrong – my technical background and knowledge of details (e.g., networking protocols, system administration) still come in handy and play an important role in how I understand things.
But I’ve been able to better understand how those details function in larger systems and environments as I’ve gained more experience and knowledge.
“I’ve become less focused on the details of technology and more focused on its impact and use.”
Let’s take flipped classrooms as an example. A younger me (not that I’m very old!) may have focused more on the technical details of the out-of-class experience such as recording and annotating lectures.
Those are very important details but now I’m more focused on the larger experience such as understanding why a faculty member would want to free up class time and what he or she plans to do with it. In part, that’s because I have wonderful colleagues who focus on the technology which makes me free to focus on the other components and the larger picture.”
Guidry also believes that reviewing the history of higher education and technology can help to build better understanding of how technology can and should be used in an educational setting.
“The body of evidence is quite convincing that technologies rarely have an immediate and significant impact on teaching and learning.
At its core, learning requires meaningful, sustained application with ongoing feedback and guidance. There are definitely ways we can use technology to become more focused and make better connections but we can’t ever make it too easy because then education loses its power. You have to work to learn and no program, device, or app can change that.”
One big movement in online education right now is that of the massive open online course. As someone who is involved in teaching and assessment of learning, Guidry has a better understanding than most of what makes teaching effective, so how does he feel about this mass approach to education?
“Given what I’ve said about learning and how it requires a lot of work and ideally incorporates lots of feedback and guidance, it’s hard for me to have a positive view of the dominant MOOC paradigm that focuses on recorded lectures, few opportunities to meaningfully practice the skills being taught, and poorly monitored peer feedback.
I don’t think it’s very effective teaching and I agree with the widespread critiques that it replicates some of our worst practices.
On the other hand, the drive to make education more affordable and much, much more accessible is an honorable drive and one that should be supported and encouraged. Even if I’m completely right about the (in) effectiveness of the current MOOC paradigm, for many participants the poor education they get with MOOCs is better than no education at all!
It’s highly unlikely that massive courses – online or offline – will ever be as good as smaller courses where experts can effectively provide feedback to students. But I’m very happy that people are continuing to work in this area and I would be thrilled to be proven wrong.”
In order for education, both in on and offline environments, to be effective, Guidry points out that it is important for the goals to be fully understood.
“Clearly understand your goals; they are often not what you first think they are,” he says. “Make your implicit knowledge explicit (often by using metaphors and explicit demonstrations), provide students with many opportunities to practice the specific skills and ways of thinking you are trying to impart, and offer students meaningful, timely feedback.”
When it comes to social media, Guidry, in contrast to the majority of education bloggers these days, isn’t a big fan of the popular offerings like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.
“I’m an intensely private introvert,” he says. “I use Facebook to keep in touch with some friends and family but I don’t use it as much as most people because merely ‘keeping in touch’ isn’t the kind of relationship that I want to have with others. “
“Clearly understand your goals; they are often not what you first think they are,”
“I’m not a very active Twitter user as I’m not (a) terribly interested in sharing opinions unsupported by experience and evidence and (b) very good at saying in 140 characters the things I want to say.
I don’t use LinkedIn because I fundamentally object to using people merely as stepping stones to new careers or consulting gigs. On the other hand, I admit some grudging admiration for LinkedIn in that it makes it very clear that it exists for that purpose; people use other networks and opportunities to do the same thing but at least in LinkedIn you know what you’re getting into.”
So how does he stay informed of what’s new and happening in higher education?
“I am an avid RSS user and I regularly monitor several Twitter hashtags,” explains Guidry. “I enjoy learning from those who share well-supported, nuanced, or interesting thoughts, ideas, and experiences.
But I don’t want to participate in the many echo chambers, groups, or discussions that seem to exist primarily for the sake of inflating the opinions, egos, and profiles of everyone involved.
I don’t want to be a thought leader; I want to do things and support my ideas and opinions with solid research and experience, not engage in trivial and fleeting interactions with people whom I hardly know.”
As far as students acquiring tech skills, Guidry feels that having a good grasp of technology fundamentals can be more beneficial in the long run than learning a few specific tools inside out.
“I’ve been well served by having some understandings of technology fundamentals instead of focusing on specific tools that may quickly become out of date or useless,” he comments.
“Knowing a little bit about how the Internet works has allowed me to understand what kinds of things are possible and easy, and conversely what kinds of things are impossible or very difficult.
A tiny bit of understanding about the fundamentals of file systems has also been quite helpful in staying organized and safe; when my university experienced server issues a few weeks ago, I was able to keep working using automated backups because I know that it’s cheap and easy to create backups of files and directories.
A bit of knowledge of security fundamentals has also been very helpful for me; I don’t worry about the security of the files I routinely back up or the sensitive files I have on my USB drive because I have them securely encrypted.”