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The Cost of Accommodating Classroom Technology

by Michael Bugeja - December 14, 2007

In the course of thirty years in higher education, I have seen technology used as delivery system, then as content in the classroom, and finally as classroom, building and campus itself, and in every case, pedagogy changed to accommodate the technology.

In the course of thirty years in higher education, I have seen technology used as delivery system, then as content in the classroom, and finally as classroom, building and campus itself, and in every case, pedagogy changed to accommodate the technology.

Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

Moreover, why are educators so quick to alter erudition—theories, analyses and methodologies that have withstood decades or even centuries of peer review and assessment—to invest in new media vended by for-profit corporations? And why do taxpayers and benefactors who enjoyed that erudition keep underwriting the cost of equipping high schools, colleges and universities with trendy gadgets and applications programmed for revenue generation rather than for learning?

I have been investigating these questions since the early 1980s when I participated as “the talent” in a distance learning initiative at Oklahoma State University. We paid thousands of dollars to upload my lectures to a satellite that transmitted them to closed circuit televisions in schools across the state.  We couldn’t see the classrooms in those schools because the technology wasn’t yet two-way; however, students and teachers were supposed to see us at the designated hour. When it ended, we waited breathlessly for all that interactivity to begin with telephone calls to the studio.

The phones were as dead as the thinking of administrators who promoted the experiment in distance education.

I recall questioning my supervisor about why we simply didn’t use the campus studios to record the lectures and send them as video tapes to school districts. He said something to the effect of—“then we wouldn’t have got the grant”—a kind of logic still extant today concerning technology.

In the end, Oklahoma school districts were unwilling to schedule journalism classes at a precise hour of the same day to receive those misbegotten feeds. So they taped them and re-played them on demand.

Now we not only alter schedules for technology, working at home or on campus at all hours of the day; we also alter pedagogy, precisely as the French philosopher, Jacques Ellul prophesied, maintaining that any system challenging the technological imperative is doomed.

Insert technology into the economy, and the economy adapts to technology to such degree that it becomes the economy. Insert it into politics, and politics adapts to such degree that elections must rely on it. Insert technology into journalism and it adapts to such extent that reporters seldom leave the newsroom, leashed to computers and relying on sources to argue the news. Insert it into education, and education becomes the technology such as we have in virtual worlds.


Because technology is autonomous and independent of everything, it cannot be blamed for anything.

The impulse is to blame anyone who criticizes it.

That hasn’t stopped me from criticizing technology and holding it up to traditional standards, especially in education.

My scholarly research concerns the most basic standard of education: the footnote, upon which our combined pedagogies rest as well as peer review and scientific method. Internet has destroyed that too, although most academics—even those directing some of our top graduate programs—overlook the deterioration of online citations so that sources no longer can be found after a few years as they once could be found permanently in the library. Once archives of erudition upholding standards, libraries now are no more than high-end cafes. Library science, perhaps the most systematic of disciplines, also succumbed to the Ellulian rule to such extent that that technology became the library.1


I am mostly known for my articles about technology in The Chronicle of Higher Education and for my Oxford University Press book, Interpersonal Divide: The Search for Community in a Technological Age. I was among the first to analyze the use of Facebook before many professors had even heard about social networks on which most of their student bodies already had registered. Likewise, I was among the first to analyze Second Life before most of the student bodies had ever heard about it.2

Perhaps more significant is my research on the “interpersonal divide,” or the social void that occurs on campus and in communities when we over-consume media and overuse technology. My book by that title was researched between 1999 and 2004, accurately predicting:


Corporate media consolidation focusing on entertainment and celebrity news, exemplified by “Paris Hilton” on any given day enjoying more “hits” on the Google news tab than “Paris, France”—an indication of the state of our culture.


Proliferation of digital devices developed by the military to surveil and by industry to sell, and which often do both simultaneously as on social networks.


Loss of fundamental freedoms due to an ill-informed populace distracted by rampant consumerism—so much so, that we live in a new media world reminiscent of the dystopian Brave New World.


Inheritance of a global mall rather than a global village.


Blurring of home and work and with it, loss of free time for family and friends in a 24/7 work-day.


A generational divide in academia with Baby Boomers viewing technology to inform and Millennials to socialize.


Technology addiction so distracting it can kill—from cell-phone drivers to iPod pedestrians.

Interpersonal Divide warned readers that no other media era had hallmarks of the current one, challenging those who claimed that society had incorporated technology before and would do so successfully again. My book argued that society had reached the tipping point with these effects eventually documented empirically by others:


Mobility of gadgets to contact anyone or groups of everyone anywhere at any hour any day.


Time spent with devices often two or more at once so that use becomes the top life activity.


Convergence of gadgets each with an historical culture from 19th Century telegraph-like texting to 20th Century television-like videos streaming into one hand-held 21st Century gadget, such as a cell phone, so that the medium no longer is the message, but the moral.  


Addiction to these devices harming mental health in unprecedented rates.


Marketing is integrated seamlessly into gadgets eliminating proximity and leaving only consumer niche.


Belief by all sectors of society including education that we need these gizmos no matter the cost.


Rising college debt because students can be tracked via global satellite positioning software and now have funds from outsourced loans by private banks vending credit cards, which digital devices require for impulse purchases.

What precautions can educators take to offset these threats to academic standards?

For starters, they should stop celebrating technology and start seeing it as an autonomous system so as to introduce it responsibly into the classroom.

To be sure, digital technologies can be used judiciously to supplement and enhance many but not all educational endeavors. That is why assessment before investment is more important now than ever.

Educators must ask fundamental questions before adopting devices, applications and platforms that may erode rather than promote critical thinking, such as:


How will this device or application enhance or detract from my learning objectives?


How will my pedagogy change, if at all, if I adapt the technology into my lesson plans?


What is the motive programmed into the interface, template or application, and how can I adjust for that in the classroom, online or in-world?


What are the risks—privacy invasion, online harassment, restrictive service terms, etc.—that might trigger controversy or code violations?


What type of learning curve is required to use the device, application or platform and what am I willing to sacrifice during class or office hours to make up that loss of time?


What will the new technology drain from the existing IT system in terms of bandwidth and/or upgrades and support to existing computers, devices and services?


What new costs will students incur in addition to any texts if I require use of any device, application or platform?


What will the cost be in workload to my colleagues if a new course is created to accommodate the device, application or platform?


Has the new course been assessed in terms of effectiveness and student demand in an existing module such as a seminar, workshop or independent study in the course catalog?


When, where and for what purpose is use of the technology (especially mobile devices) appropriate or inappropriate?

If we practice these tenets, we will model the behavior we wish to see in students so that they develop new awareness of technology and its power, cost and limitations. With such awareness, they will be able to accommodate technology effectively into their lives.

If we fail to practice these tenets, students will accommodate technology to such extent that it will use them, complicating their lives with government surveillance, impulse buying and constant distraction.


1. You can read more about “the half-life of Internet footnotes” on the research site, http://www.halfnotes.org, which chronicles my work with Internet expert Daniela Dimitrova.

2. See, for example, my articles: “Facing the Facebook”: http://chronicle.com/jobs/news/2006/01/2006012301c/careers.html; “Distractions in the Wireless Classroom”: http://chronicle.com/jobs/news/2007/01/2007012601c/careers.html; “Second Thoughts about Second Life”: http://chronicle.com/jobs/news/2007/09/2007091401c/careers.html; “Second Life, Revisited”: http://chronicle.com/jobs/news/2007/11/2007111201c/careers.html

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: December 14, 2007
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 14858, Date Accessed: 1/27/2022 9:26:53 AM

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About the Author
  • Michael Bugeja
    Iowa State University
    E-mail Author
    MICHAEL BUGEJA directs the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University. He is the author of 20 books, including Living Ethics Across Media Platforms, and writes for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed and The Quill. He contributes comments about ethics to such outlets as USA Today, Associated Press, Christian Science Monitor, Columbia Journalism Review, American Journalism Review, Editor & Publisher and other publications.
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