The Balance

Before doing this “educational technology” thing, I made a small living as a writer. I wrote for ERiC, the Educational Resources Information Center, way back in the 1980s. I wrote articles and research reports, at the same time I wrote short stories and plays.

As I writer, I found myself balancing two things: writing skills and communication/emotional intelligence. The most important thing I learned as a writer was to do multiple drafts, and to never attach myself to a first draft as being “some brilliant hunk of gold that just fell from the heavens.” Secondly, I learned to never blame the reader. If I wrote something that was confusing, unclear or off-putting, it was my fault, not the audience’s. It was full responsibility time.

Given that it was difficult to live on $500 a month, I went to grad school and found myself teaching college courses (in writing, composition, etc.) afterward for about ten years. As a teacher, I found myself balancing two things: teaching skills and communication/emotional intelligence. Teaching students meant shaping a spiraling set of learning experiences (drafts, one could call them) that could challenge students to realize their strengths and abilities while also improving their skills. Again, however, if the students were confused or lost doing an assignment or understanding my comments on their papers, it was my fault entirely.

Back in the late eighties, as the first PCs began to roll into colleges and universities, and students started using them for writing, I found the computers to be a natural fit for the development of skills and the doing of multiple drafts. Yes, there were frustrations and reliability issues and limits, but at that time the computers were definitely a way to improve and take one’s skills in a forward, positive direction. Using computers for writing is still their prime academic use today.

What has changed in the last ten years, however, is that computers are now in the other side of the equation as well– the communications/emotional intelligence side of writing and education. A colleague of mine spent an evening at a panel discussion with UK journalists, who were very open about how they are really struggling to decide how reshape their roles in light of Web 2.0 technologies. What was once more of a solitary (and some could say egotistical) profession as a writer (broadcasting one to many) is now becoming more of an expert in broader group discussion of many to many. What was once very little feedback from readers (occasional letters of praise or scorn) is now a fire hose of responses and desired interaction or input from individuals with direct knowledge or experience.

In essence, technology changed and moved forward their skill sets, but now technology is amplifying the ability of their audience to react, respond and ask questions in the communication/emotional intelligence realm.

As my own children do their homework at night, often until 8 or 8:30 p.m., they will email their teachers if they have questions or need help with something. We don’t expect a response that night, but typically there is a response in a day or two. Alternatively, they Skype or email their friends in the class (and receive an immediate response). In essence, all homework can now be collaborative, in real time.

Over the years, as I have worked with faculty who don’t like technology, I have tried to understand their concerns from their perspective. In essence, it appears the primary concern is “it is changing the way I teach in ways I don’t like.” Or “kids can’t control themselves with technology, so I don’t allow it in the classroom.” Or “it breaks all the time so I don’t use it.” Or “I didn’t need that when I was in school.”

As computers and the production/communication tools become as commonplace in the home at night as having dinner or talking about the day, it’s hard to imagine how this genie is going to return to its bottle. There are changes needed in both one’s teaching skills and communications/emotional intelligence as technology increases interactivity and expected connections. We can’t be there 24×7 for all of our students, but we have to come to accept that we are entering a much more interconnected realm of thought and expression. Again, it’s a question of balance and respect, and acknowledgment that we are responsible for how we write, teach and relate to others.

The audience has changed. Interesting events are underway.

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