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: Net Smart by Howard Rheingold

Technology isn’t inherently good, and it isn’t inherently bad — but, then again, technology isn’t exactly neutral, either. To get the most benefit out of the Web’s vast offerings, we need to more closely examine how we are spending time online.
—The Washington Post
The future of digital culture—yours, mine, and ours—depends on how well we learn to use the media that have infiltrated, amplified, distracted, enriched, and complicated our lives. Spurred by evolving technology and changing social mores, the third space and digital realm have altered how we communicate, what we communicate about, and even the nature of our interpersonal relationships. Within the past few years, there has been much commentary about the psychological and social aspects of these trends.

Howard Rheingold who is a teacher, thinker, futurist and author of Net Smart presents us with “essential survival skills” that would be helpful to us in this digital age. Moving past creating online identities and communities, Net Smart educates us on how to operate in day-to-day life and have a better understanding and make deeper use of social media.

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Rheingold, who has been writing about the digital revolution for a quarter of a century, praises and critiques the tools and diversions in third space. The veteran technology commentator argues that a better understanding of how we connect our attention and intentions online can help both individuals and society at large. His aim to make readers more aware of both the benefits and the potential drawbacks of digital life.

In Net Smart, Rheingold shows us how to use social media intelligently, humanely and most importantly, mindfully. Mindful use of digital media means constantly thinking about what we are doing online; cultivating an ongoing inner inquiry into how we want to spend our time. After all, the Web has transformed people into information producers, and not only mere consumers. Blogs, social media, thematic webs, forums and many other sites are allowing every single human being with an Internet connection to communicate anything to the rest of the world, making it accessible to almost 2.5 billion users.

He argues that learning to engage actively and effectively online is a matter of  conscious decision, mindset and practice. If we combine our efforts wisely, it could produce a more thoughtful society: countless small acts like publishing a Web page or sharing a link could add up to a public good that enriches everybody. Done mindfully, digital participation helps build a more democratic and diverse culture – a participatory one.


Randall Packer had commented on my previous hyperessay on Turkle’s Alone Together:
I think the problem is that for the digital natives, in many ways it is becoming a replacement, and unfortunately, this generation doesn’t necessarily know how to think about this predicament. The important thing is to bring our relationship with technology into a critical space (such as what you are doing), so we can examine and expose what is beneficial and what is harmful.

I think Randall’s comment serves as a smooth transition into Rheingold’s book.


Nagging worries about whether the latest bit of cutting-edge technology will have the unforeseen side effect of dulling our minds have been around ever since the dawn of recorded history. Long before Wikipedia or Google, Plato wrote of a king who feared that the invention of letters and reading would give its users the ability to cite facts that they had not properly earned or mastered. Such an invention will lead to forgetfulness among users, the ancient king predicted, and provide them with a false sense of wisdom.
—The Washington Post

In my opinion, whether technology helps or hurts in the thinking and development of digital natives depends on what specific technology is used and how and at what frequency it is used. However, I completely agree that students and people who have access to a huge amount of information but just can’t process, evaluate and effectively benefit from it. There is also little doubt that all of the new technologies, led by the Internet, are shaping the way we think in ways that are obvious and subtle, deliberate and unintentional, and advantageous and detrimental. Research shows that screen media improves visual-spatial capabilities, increase attentional ability, reaction times, and the capacity to identify details among the clutter.

The aforelinked research by the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences in University of Rochester proves that ubiquitous use of Internet search engines is causing digital natives to become less adept at remembering things and more skilled at remembering where to find things. Also, given the ease with which information can be found these days, it only stands to reason that knowing where to look is becoming more important for us than actually knowing something. Therefore, not having to retain information in our brain may allow it to engage in more “higher-order” processing such as contemplation, critical thinking, and problem-solving.

“If like many others, you are concerned social media is making people and cultures shallow, I propose we teach more people how to swim and together explore the deeper end of the pool,” Rheingold said.

In Rheingold’s judgement, Internet surfers should learn to divide their attention optimally; so as not to get lost in the Web’s nooks and crannies. Rheingold advises readers on ways to collaborate with others online and on how to critically consume the information picked up while surfing. He also reminds the reader of the importance of breathing regularly as they dive through their e-mail inbox. Knowing how to utilise online tools without being overloaded with too much irrelevant information is the essential ingredient to personal success in the 21st century.

Net Smart makes a strong case for what Rheingold sees as a set of core skills and competencies which we all need to acquire if we are going to make effective use of the communities and resources we encounter in our everyday lives online. He certainly recognizes the risks and failures associated with the digital era, but he also refuses to let them get in the way of what he sees as the more productive and meaningful ways of engaging with digital culture.

Net Smart offers up a set of 5 literacies Rheingold sees as important: attention, participation, collaboration, “crap detection,” and network smarts. As we’ve become more sophisticated in the ways we use the web, we need to adjust how we use it, being able to tell fact from rumor and able to call on the skills and resources of a community to help answer our questions. Rheingold reminds us of the value of becoming a content curator in the age of the Web.

Curation is a form of digital participation that can refine your captured information into contextualized knowledge, enhance your reputation as well as serve the needs of others

—Howard Rheingold

10603387_913808691980100_8399558099954191424_nPower Law of Participation by Ross Mayfield

“Judgement, taste, depth, and breadth of knowledge can be an asset, a public good, and a commodity.  People can gain attention, admiration, collaboration partners, professional reputations, and business relationships by becoming known curators.”
—Howard Rheingold


Follwing this, Rheingold has also organised the Peeragogy Project, a network of volunteers who are assembling a handbook for co-learners. Rheingold believes that the underlying methodology is enabled by the technology, but the methodology is what is important — giving students a means to continue discursive inquiry beyond the classroom, to tap into worldwide networks of knowledge and expertise, to talk among themselves instead of speaking when called upon by the professor. Making it easier for students to learn together and to take advantage of the infosphere beyond their classroom and their library is what makes for a peeragogy of co-learning. Peeragogy also comes from Rheingold (via his Social Media Classroom) and he explains it here:

When I participated in the Change: Education, Learning, and Technology MOOC, I grew even more interested in the intersection of digital media/networks with self-directed learners and collaborative learning methods. I knew that I wasn’t the first person to explore this space, and I was fortunate that Charley Danoff was in my second cohort of online co-learners. Danoff, it turned out, had written a paper on “Paragogy” with Joe Corneli. I’ve started calling it peeragogy because many people get the point as soon as I use the word.


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.

Living on a Cloud : the Internet learning space

The Internet as a learning platform for digital natives even on social media.
Born after the 1980s and having access to networked digital technologies, “digital natives” grew up and live much of their lives online. Major aspects of their lives – social interactions and friendships – are mediated and developed through gaming and social media. They’ve never known any other way of life so much so that they do not see the Internet as a platform for academic growth and the everyday use of digital and social media could potentially help on the road to being a designer. Pinterest, for example, could be thought of as more than just mindless repining – but as an indicator of trends, popular colour palettes as well as design inspirations. Online forums, where we post questions about our life choices can be related to crowd wisdom comparable to ‘expert’ wisdom. 
“Today, social networks are mostly about sharing moments. In the next decade, they’ll also help you answer questions and solve complex problems.” – Mark Zuckerberg, 2014
Digital natives are relying upon this connected digital space for virtually all of the information they need to live their lives. Research once meant a trip to a library to find a book but now, research simply means a Google Search and for most, a visit to Wikipedia. Living in the time where it is the most rapid period of technological transformation ever – at least when it comes to information – no major aspect of our modern lives are untouched by the way many of us now use the Internet.
We have a fundamental drive to be connected, to be in cooperation and to contribute to a better world but we are often separating the Internet from our ‘formal’ education. If we are interested in living with technology in the best possible way, we must recognise that what matters above all is not the individual devices and social media sites that we use, but rather what we use them for.
Bonus questions: Is the separation of the Internet from education amongst digital natives echoed no matter what culture they’re from? Are American students any different from Singaporean students? And is it symbolic of a larger problem at hand?