Teaching with Open Technologies

So in my various RSS skimmings I found this article about using Open Technologies in the K-12 environment. First, I really liked Hirsch’s point about using open technologies as a mind set. I feel that as I’ve embraced my roll as “new technology tester” on my campus, I have had to explain to a lot of people how it is a mind set. One of my students and I even recently presented at the online Technology, Colleges, and Community conference and had one participant ask about how much expertise a faculty member needed in a technology before teaching with it. I started talking about playing with a new technology for a couple months, and then going live with it and realizing that I would learn more about it along the way. My student started typing (I was doing the live oral part of the presentation, she was handling the live synchronous chat function) about how she felt more comfortable knowing that the instructor didn’t know everything and would be more accessible in asking questions and figuring out how things worked.

However, I also really appreciated Hirsch’s point that open technologies are not necessarily free technologies. This reminds me of another moment this past semester…I was showing one of my online courses to my department chairperson. This particular course was asking students to use blogs (http://uniblogs.org/), online bookmarking/archiving services (http://www.furl.net/), and an RSS aggregator (http://www.gritwire.com/). After seeing all the craziness of the course and what I work with, my chairperson asked me how “we” (the school) could better support me. (Don’t worry, my dean already asked how I better support my students…they’re not ignored).


But she does recognize that although the open technologies I was using were free, it didn’t mean they didn’t have a cost. Of course there was my time and energy of finding and playing with them. But then there is the time, energy, and resources of the institution. I’ve definitely called for help from various IT (both information and instruction technology) folks as well as use various hard and softwares to patch it all together. And I realized after she asked that that I have spent the past four years developing a solid support network that works around and through our more “official” channels on campus as well as other “unofficial” networks off campus (again, coffee, lunch, beer, happy hours, etc. work wonders in this world of support networking).

And back to that idea of student support…most of these open technologies do not have great support mechanisms, unless you start paying for some of the support mechanisms that have sprung up around them (I’m thinking of Open Source Portfolio and Sakai as examples at the moment). I end up having to do a lot of individualized student support that is usually not needed with something proprietary (with lots of documentation) or something officially sanctioned by the school (like a course management system). That clearly is a “cost” in terms of my time, energy, and expertise. But clearly it is a price that I’m willing to pay. But I’m excited that various colleagues and administrators are starting to recognize this and provide different types and levels of support for the different type of work I’m doing.

Tomorrow…the other article I furled for blogging about later…fyi, my furl account (http://www.furl.net/members/puptoes74).

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