EduSocal: It’s Not about Tech; It’s About the People

Ah humility. Not my first – to use a word bouncing around in our department these days – mode. I’m a teacher. I like to know what I know and tell you what I know. But I have a confession. I don’t know that much about integrating tech in the classroom, and at EduSocal on May 14th at Loyola Marymount, I was afraid, as that was the topic.

The event was a happy place, with solution-oriented talks on reinventing the self (think more job interview than Carl Jung), presentations by our best and brightest (Jean-Marie Venturini, Parme Giuntini and, yikes, me), and breakout sessions with Information Technology Directors. It was a place for me to be on the receiving end of what we call in higher ed parlance – a teachable moment. Quite a few actually.

First teachable moment: Dorie Clarke, our keynote, who spoke of the personal brand as synonym for your reputation. The biggest take away for this terrified-of-making-a-mistake-teacher was – failure! Clarke said we need more failure in this culture. Wait. I don’t have to know everything? Hmm.

Next teachable moment: a little web tool called During our presentation, we asked everyone in the room to provide a one or two-word answer to the question – “Who are your students today?” A word cloud slowly began to amass on the screen. Answers like – Mobile. Curious. Mobile. (Every time someone responds with the same word it pulses bigger). Lazy. Mobile. Tech-dependent. Mobile. Self-absorbed. Mobile. Socially Conscience. Mobile. Are you getting it yet? That aha moment? I mean, if these students are mobile (and yes, who isn’t lazy and self-absorbed at the age of 18? Or 35? Or 71?) am I to not allow cell phones in the classroom? What if they used their cell phones to respond to a question about the book we read by Flaubert? “Describe Madame Bovary in one word.” Perhaps they won’t raise their hand in class, but I know they like to text.

The second half of the day, Otis presentations complete (reports of a fantastic MOOC by Parme were in) was the Un-conference, were we all skittered away to tables that interested us. My bailiwick? Incentives for instructors to adopt new technology. AKA – what’s in it for me? I arrived to a table populated with mostly tech personnel. They wanted to know how to better serve teachers. One Tech Advisor informed the group – “I tell our staff we are janitors and psychologists.” He said it’s important to respond quickly but to also assess the emotional state of the instructor. I turned red, thinking of the outbursts I’ve had when a smart classroom turned stupid and I had a slide show I’d spent hours on and twenty-five students starting at me. Parme was in the session, and she said that instructors don’t want to look stupid. Oh. So she knows. I really don’t. But what really looks stupid is when I blame Academic Tech Support, or myself, or the ghost of Steve Jobs, for a glitch in the projector. Problems arise. Delays are infinite in tech, in traffic, in understanding a sentence, in cutting Bristol board. This intolerance for technological hiccups – be it a doc cam or wifi connection – is something that expends everyone’s precious energy. It’s not personal. It’s not a blame game. Keep going. I have dry erase boards and vocal cords, no? Teachable moment three – voila.

And this leads me to Moonbeams and Marshmallows. No. Really. That’s the title of the final session. Crista Copta of Loyola performed a monologue. She was even off book and there was a set – a projection of the cosmos behind her. This Director of Academic Technology didn’t show one web tool, but performed a battle cry for all those integrating technology in the classroom: “It’s not about the tech; it’s about the people.”

Oh. That. The people. You mean, like, my students? That’s what this integration of technology into a flipped classroom is about? Not me? Others? Interesting concept.

Copta’s battle cry was actually more of an invocation, not just for reinventing technology in the classroom, but for reinventing teaching, for a better wellbeing on college campuses.

So I shall sign off with Copta’s parting words, an articulation of the optimism and reinvention the conference purveyed via a reminder of those twentysomethings in cap and gown:

“Read their words. View their art. View their crafts. It’s the totality of who they become so they can reinvent the world.”