The Role of Professors in a Changing Technological Landscape


Education is currently at a crossroads.
Traditional teaching methods and tools are evolving as a result technological advancement.

“We need technology in every classroom and in every student and teacher’s hand, because it is the pen and paper of our time, and it is the lens through which we experience much of our world.”

– David Warlick

We are beginning to see schools take the lead in incorporating and integrating technology with pedagogy. These schools and professors are not only enhancing the teaching and learning process, but are also providing students with success skills in today’s digital society. These aforementioned skills include creativity, critical thinking/problem solving, collaboration, technological proficiency, media literacy as well as global awareness. This effort would ultimately yield results such as increasing engagement as well as a sense of relevancy and meaning amongst learners.

Even as we are seeing more schools and educators transforming the way they teach and learn with technology, many more are not. Technology is often viewed as troublesome; and an extra step for educators to have to learn to utilise it, troubleshoot it and to spend more hours going through it. These coupled with the fear of letting go of control or a sense that one doesn’t have the right skills or a concern about digital footprint, privacy or cyber-bullying, many teachers are scared or lack belief in their own ability to create tech-integrated lessons.

“Education is evolving due to the impact of the Internet. We cannot teach our students in the same manner in which we were taught. Change is necessary to engage students not in the curriculum we are responsible for teaching, but also in school.”

– April Chamberlain

The Internet could function as a tool that enables professors to be more in tune with their student’s individual needs and learning patterns. The draw and motivation of schools to participate in offering open online courses like OSS is to discover what aspects of teaching can be done at scale so that scarce resources and energy can be devoted to enhancing learning. In addition, living in an increasingly competitive global market for skills and talent, we need to ensure that today’s students are equipped with the technological skills that they will need as the workforce of tomorrow.

One measure of interest in what professors believe, apart from the content of the course, is interaction outside of class. It’s often during incidental conversations held after the bell rings and away from the demands of the syllabus that the transfer of insight begins and a student’s emulation grows. Students email teachers all the time but those queries are too curt for genuine mentoring. We need face time.

Mark Bauerlein for The NY Times

What we are seeing is a transition of people coming into the classroom for whom technology is the norm and is a natural way of life. Students of today respond to technology in the classroom because it feels like an extension of what they do in their free time. Although technology is not a substitute for good teaching, it provides the best teachers with the tools to engage students in learning. For technology to be not only integrated effectively, but also embraced, a culture needs to be established where professors and administrators are no longer fearful of giving up a certain amount of control to students. The issue of giving up control seems to always raise the fear level, even amongst many of the best teachers. To truly create an innovative culture of learning, we must not fear failure either. When we give up control a certain level of failure will follow. However, it is from failure that we learn best and get better.

While it is understandable that certain professors are comfortable with instructional strategies that are what they experienced growing up themselves, they have to keep up with the times and adapt to what’s current. If teachers themselves have never used OSS in their free time, it will always seem strange. Even something as simple as a blog or social media sound extremely difficult because they are different.

“Teaching in the Internet age means we must teach tomorrow’s skills today.”

– Jennifer Fleming

In a culture of compliance, some teachers will only do what the administration mandates them to do. Lots of professors also (still) think that teaching was a very private affair protected their lesson plans and didn’t share them. There is also a stigma that sharing resources online requires, in most cases, some careful thought and consideration since the implications and stakes are much higher.Sharing and meta cognition should be inseparable. Deep reflectors of the teaching practice is about constantly modifying instruction to make learning more effective. Traditional, lecture-style classes may still work for many professors, but integrating other approaches with technology as a tool, can foster a more inclusive learning environment.

The treatment of technology is optional and is still a matter of personal choice for professors is a way that we would never do with pedagogy. Somehow we’ve allowed professor comfort level to drive what we use with students.

“Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is most important.”
– Bill Gates

The assumption that the current generation of university students are “digital natives” and instinctively know the right way to work with technology in any context is also inaccurate. If we’re not teaching it in classes, students aren’t going to learn how to use technology appropriately in order to benefit from it.

It is important to note that OSS technology is not a substitute for good teaching, which is at the core of effective education. Rather, it provides professors with powerful tools to enrich and extend what the best teachers are good at: explaining, demonstrating, and involving and engaging pupils in learning. In addition, mounting evidence that shows when these digital tools are used effectively, the results are improved grades and retention rates, greater participation by students and increased effectiveness by teachers and tutors.

Several factors may contribute to why educators choose to shy away from technology:


The fear of not being able to meet teaching standards leaves no time in the minds of many educators to either work technology into lessons, the motivation to do so nor the willingness to learn how to. This is unfortunate as contrary to popular belief, integrating technology effectively does not take as much time as people think. Professors would not have to spend a lot of extra hours outside of lessons to plan content when the students themselves are already giving feedback about what they want to learn and the topics they want to explore further.


In many cases, teachers themselves have only used computers for entertainment and social interaction. The stigma of computers over books in the classroom is also prevalent. Reading is viewed as educational while technology is viewed as entertainment. In addition, some professors think that books are “good escape” because “at least students are reading”.


Teachers see quality, tech-integrated strategies. They know that these strategies work as they’ve seen it in action for themselves. However, there are still many educators fear technology as they feel there is not, or will not be, the appropriate level of training to support implementation. Equipment in schools is if unsupported can lead to massive issues for less confident teachers. For example, a lesson planned around the interactive whiteboard can fall apart if the projector fails to recognise your laptop. Or a lesson using online resources can become impossible if Internet access happens to have failed. Unfortunately they cause many teachers to decide that technology makes life harder. Thus, a teacher who lacks trouble shooting skills is likely to abandon technology turn to more reliable resources such as the trusty ‘ol whiteboard and marker.

There’s also discord in the academic community about whether to embrace digital tools in lecture halls. Professors eliminating laptops and tablets from their classrooms say they are part of a growing call to put an end to the distractions caused by pervasive technology. Some say the temptation for students to check social media instead of listening to a lecture is strong and point to studies that show students retain less information when they take notes on the computer compared with writing them by hand.

When professors worry more about managing liability than pushing for change, technology becomes an easy scapegoat and makes it easier to create anti-technology policies in the name of safety and comfort. In cases like these, setting clear expectations about technology in the classroom is important.

“You can’t become a moral authority if you rarely challenge students in class and engage them beyond it. If professors do not do that, the course is not an induction of eager minds into an enlarging vision. It is a requirement to fulfill. Only our assistance with assignments matters.
When it comes to students, we shall have only one authority: the grades we give.
We become not a fearsome mind or a moral light, a role model or inspiration.
We become accreditors.”
What’s the Point of a Professor?, Mark Bauerlein for The NY Times

Reading Reflection: Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle


ReclaimingConversation_3d“First, that we will always be heard; second, that we can put our attention wherever we want it to be; and third, that we will never have to be alone. A fourth wish, is implied: that we will never be bored.” —Sherry Turkle

Sherry Turkle, a distinguished scholar in the area of how technology influences human identity to understand what happens when mind meets machine, is an Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor in the Program of Science, Technology and Society at MIT. Also a noted author, Turkle, has spent the last 30 years studying the psychology of people’s relationships with technology and how technology is changing how we live.

Fear of missing out; has escalated into fear of missing anything.

Turkle’s latest book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (Penguin Press, October 2015), is one in which she argues that our most basic technology, face to face conversation, is our most important tool. In this world of ceaseless connection, it is wrecking open-ended conversation.

Turkle uses our net habits and experiences to show us that when we constantly phones in hand, we turn away from our children, friends and co-workers, and even from ourselves. When relationships are mediated through online messages more than face-to-face encounters, complications multiply. Everyone and anyone can find something in Reclaiming Conversation to induce guilt. Therefore, Turkle not only points out how we’ve lost conversation, but also how we can reclaim it and why doing so is critical for us all.

We as human beings have been accustomed to reflect, talk and repeat. Technology interrupts this cycle; it ends conversation. Our relationships now come stamped with “the assumption of divided attention”.

Turkle’s previous book, “Alone ­Together,” which I wrote about here, was about human relationships in the digital age; in it she observes people’s interactions with robots, and by interviews them about their computers and phones. With the data she collected for the book, she mapped and charted the ways in which new technologies render older human values outmoded.

Paralleling this shift is an increasing preference for the virtual over the real. Despite the fact that robots don’t have the capacity or human instinct to care about people, Turkle’s subjects were outrageously quick to settle for the feeling of being cared; this can be argues to be similar to the sense of community that social media delivers. Though the findings are pretty shocking, it is understandably so as the ‘virtual world’ comes without the risks, threats and responsibilities of the real world.

In her interviews, Turkle observed disappointment with human beings, who are flawed, needy and unpredictable, in ways that computers are wired not to be.

“We are being silenced by our technologies. In a way, ‘cured of talking’. That silence means our ability to relate to others is disappearing, too. We face a flight from conversation that is also a flight from self-reflection, empathy and mentorship.” —Sherry Turkle

Her new book, “Reclaiming Conversation,” extends her critique, with less ­emphasis on robots and more on the dissatisfaction with technology reported by her recent interview subjects. As in “Alone Together,” Turkle’s interviewees have adopted new technologies in pursuit of greater control, only to feel controlled by them; they communicate incessantly but are anxious and apprehensive of face-to-face conversations.

“Everytime you check your phone in the presence of company, what you gain is a hit of stimulation, a neurochemical shot; and what you lose is what a friend, teacher, parent, lover or co-worker just said, meant, felt.” We think our devices deliver comfort and efficiency, but, in Turkle’s argument, they offer loneliness and chaos.

Unlike in “Alone Together,” where Turkle diagnosed the problem, the tone of “Reclaiming Conversation” is scholastic and pedagogic. She urges netizens to understand what’s at stake in conversations — “the development of trust and self-esteem,” “the capacity for empathy, friendship and intimacy” — and to recognize their own vulnerability to the charms of technology.

To her credit, Turkle doesn’t ask us to get rid of our technological devices altogether. They “are facts of life and part of our creative lives,” she writes. “The goal is to use them with greater intention.”

“My book is not anti-technology. It’s pro-conversation. I don’t think we should give up our phones at all. I just think we have to use technology more mindfully…”

Additional Links:
Sherry Turkle’s Interview with VLBZ2
Face to face in the era of digital conversation with NPR podcast

Reading Reflection: Alone Together by Sherry Turkle


Technology is shaping our modern relationships: with others, with ourselves, with it.

Digital natives like myself utilise modern technology and incorporate it in our everyday lives more rapidly and unceremoniously. We are the lucky ones; lucky enough to be born in the era of the Internet with the ability to be connected to vast pools of information and data allowing us to navigate the world right at our fingertips.

“Technology has become like a phantom limb, it is so much a part of them. These young people are among the first to grow up with an expectation of continuous connection: always on, and always on them.” —Sherry Turkle

Our attention is continuously grabbed by an overabundance of content in our mobile devices. In today’s technology-driven world, people expect to have the means to communicate with others at any given moment. Constant communication through use of technology changes the way people think of themselves and how they communicate.

“What excited me most was the idea that we would use what we learned in the virtual world about ourselves, about our identity, to live better lives in the real world.”  —Sherry Turkle

Sherry Turkle, a distinguished scholar in the area of how technology influences human identity to understand what happens when mind meets machine, is an Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor in the Program of Science, Technology and Society at MIT. She is also the author of the book, ‘Alone Together’ and a guest speaker at TED 2012.

In her book, Turkle suggests that just because digital natives grew up together with the Internet, we tend to see it as all grown up and fully developed, but it is not. Digital technology is still in its infancy and there is ample time for us to reshape how we build it, add to it, and use it.

Turkle studies how our devices and online personas are redefining human connection and communication — and asks us to think deeply about the kinds of connection we want to have. Although I share the same sentiments as Turkle on that in her insightful book, I’d like to offer my critique on an issue that I found disconcerting.


In Chapter 2 of her book: ‘Video Games and Computer Holding Power’ she states that:
“It is an understatement to say that people are ambivalent about the growing computer presence: we like new conveniences but on the eve of a new era, we, by definition, do not know where we are. We are ill at ease even with our children, who are so much at ease with a technology that many of us approach at arm’s length. Parents want their children to have every advantage, but this new expertise estranges them.”

A PBS documentary which aired in 2010 by Digital Nation, also addresses Turkle’s same concern. The purpose of the program was “to examine the risks and possibilities, myths and realities presented by the new digital culture we all inhabit”. However, the most concerning to me is the suggestion that multi-tasking online is not to be applauded but to be concerned because of the impact on one’s social and cognitive abilities.

Research throughout the past decade has shown that technology can enhance literacy development, impact knowledge acquisition, provide greater access to information, support learning and enhance the self-esteem of students. Because technology and our online personas are so ingrained in how we do things today, I believe that it is an advantage for us to be with each other but also elsewhere — experiential learning on the Internet.


Although it is undeniable that each of us, in our everyday interactions, choose between letting technology shape us and shaping it towards human purposes, an open online learning community like Open Source Studio (OSS) isn’t a substitute for traditional learning.

Rather, OSS is a tool to enhance and improve the traditional model of learning. It is an opportunity to suss out, experiment and bring research methodologies into education. In the learning environment, technology can propel and transform academics into a more dynamic and social space where students can work through problems and make their opinions and standpoints known (like in this blog post). By reviewing content and issues that students bring up in the third space, the professor can better prepare lessons and address challenging ideas or questions surfaced through online interaction during face-to-face time in the classroom. The Internet could function as a tool that enables professors to be more in tune with their student’s individual needs and learning patterns. The draw and motivation of schools to participate in offering open online courses like OSS is to discover what aspects of teaching can be done at scale so that scarce resources and energy can be devoted to enhancing learning.

Randall Packer created OSS in 2012; an exploration of new online methodologies for teaching multimedia art. In the ‘Internet Art and Culture’ and ‘Media and Performance’ classes in NTU taught by Packer who is a Visiting Associate Professor —both of which I enrolled in and completed— we create hyperessays that take full advantage of the multimedia capabilities of WordPress: with embedded images, gifs, video, hyperlinks, sound etc. drawn from readings, discussions, previous projects and other research.

An extension of the multimedia presentation, hyperessays promote stronger memory links than text alone. The Internet provides students with access to materials like images, news articles, literature, videos etc. By utilising these resources, comprehensibility is enhanced through student control and annotations as well as hyperlinks to different media. It also grants students quick and easy access to different parts of instructional materials when a textbook is not used; allowing the students to more easily digest information in manageable bite-sized pieces.

Digital technology motivates and engages students. When students have a choice in their assignment, see the relevancy, or can self-assess with professor feedback intertwined, motivation increases. When students are given more choice in their tasks, those tasks in turn are more meaningful and increases the students’ intrinsic motivation.

While technology is indeed an escape route to awkward alone situations, it hasn’t completely destroyed how human beings communicate with each other; especially in the online learning environment. However, I do find this issue just needs to be better anticipated and redefined for the betterment of future students.

Reading Reflection: Mindsharing by Lior Zoref


While researching about the power of the Internet and how our network practices have changed our lives within the last decade, I came across an idea called ‘Mindsharing” in a book I found at the National Library. Mindsharing was the term coined by Israeli-based “crowd wisdom researcher” and public speaker, Lior Zoref. Mindsharing, he notes, comes from similar ideas as crowdsourcing.

mindsharing!The Art of Crowdsourcing Everything:

Crowdsourcing, a modern business term coined in 2005, is defined by Merriam-Webster as the process of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, and especially from a large pool of people in the online community. Crowdsourcing is distributed problem-solving. By distributing tasks to a large group of people, you are able to mine collective intelligence, assess quality and process work in parallel.

Mindsharing, on the other hand, means to utilise the power of social media and crowd wisdom to improve our work and personal lives. Former Microsoft marketing and online services guru, Zoref, takes an informative look at the way crowds can help us make better, smarter decisions. By this logic, you’ll get better results if you ask lots of people for advice, because groups can actually provide more accurate answers than experts.

With access to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc, we are able to turn to mindsharing to find information about topics like relationships, finance, careers and many more. It invites people to think with us instead of for us and goes beyond our circle for advice and support.

In his 2012 Ted Talk at Long Beach Convention Centre, Zoref brought a live ox out on stage and invited the audience through crowdsourcing to guess its weight. The average of the crowd’s guesses pegged the animal at 1,792 pounds —only three pounds less than its actual weight, supporting Zoref’s idea that crowds can be smarter than individuals.

Zoref refers to studies such as Mark Granovetter’s 1973 paper on the strength of less intimate relationships, or “weak ties.” We’ve long recognized that a diverse group of acquaintances might be able to create a better solution to a problem than our more biased friends and families. However, never before have we had such ready access to a huge number of acquaintances as we do now in the era of social media and mobile connectivity.

“If we learn to rely on and trust the wisdom of the crowd, our decisions will be better, quicker, and easier. It is important to note that when we Mindshare, we aren’t asking others to think for us, but rather, to think with us. Through actively Mindsharing, you can access the global brain, which is far more powerful than any individual brain, and hack your way into a better career, stronger relationships, and the fulfillment of virtually any dream or goal you can imagine.”

—Lior Zoref

This idea of mindsharing can be brought back to the practices of OSS. We are able to hang out on the class site where our posts are being brought together and on our classmate’s personal websites to discuss their works and progress and offer our input. On the OSS platform, we can easily post an open-ended question on our research posts for our peers and even professors to respond to; just like in social media. Social media is truly an example of how learning and research has changed through collaboration, connecting and communication tools.

Great minds think alike.
Creative minds think together.

OSS is hence a very powerful and open-environment medium for professional and academic growth for digital natives; for we are presented with a much larger platform and resources to be more immersed in research. There, digital natives like us are able to apply what we have learnt navigating social media to our academic work. By leveraging technology through OSS in our academic journey, we are now able to engage in many-to-many collective form of participation, develop and engage in new modes of social interaction, social media, and mobile connectivity.

Additional sources & links:
Best Passive Income Model Podcast with Lior Zoref
7 Tips to becoming a Crowdsourcing Ace