The Office of Academic Technology (OAT) is being developed at my institution (Westmont College) to partner with faculty to find productive and strategic ways to leverage technologies that students are already using (Twitter, mobile phones and iPads, Google Hangouts) to support course pedagogy. I am using action research to document the experience of students and faculty in tech pilot projects that explore the various ways that technology can enhance the learning experience. The classroom used to be where students came to find and use computers and projectors, but now so much more, it is the students who are bringing the technology to the classroom. Yes, it can be disruptive for the social media tools of the day to enter the classroom, but when combined with a teaching strategy, these personal technologies carry with them the possibility to connect student's formal and informal learning environments. Homework that used to be an activity students did mostly isolated from their teachers or peers can now be a much more connected activity allowing for more of a learner's community to be a part of their knowledge building. Reports and essays still need to be written and produced but now can include video narrative, audio files, descriptive photographs and links to other sources of information. It is not a new concept that our learning occurs in all parts of our lives, not just the classroom but it is now more than ever enabled by technologies we encounter every day. Augmented reality apps and tools like Aurasma and Junaio that can add layers of information and depth of experience to field trips and every day tasks are just beginning to move beyond a curiosity. Academic technology is also an area of growth and discovery as we begin to have a greater understanding of not just the tech tools of the day, but of how educators need to strategize how to help their students become effective and productive digital citizens. Partnering with innovative teachers and even cautious educators is the work of todays IT department.
In higher education, the charge to integrate technology is fueled by a desire to address the escalating cost of a college education along with a need to better prepare graduates to be the critical thinkers and dreamers that our society will value more and more as what was once cutting edge technology is now the new norm. The new and the shiny academic or social tools are not necessarily the best application for learning in and of themselves, but we can no longer afford to set aside and turn off all of the devices. And, I would say that it is not our task to keep away the distractions, but rather to educate tomorrow's leaders how to work within the internet connected, computer directed world in which they live. Academic technology is not your parents' homework and will never again involve only a solitary learner, but is new enough to us all that it will require a greater working together and community. It is interesting that the technology so many thought would divide us and depersonalize our interactions is also a force that brings us together.