Education, Technology, and the Human Spirit
"Education, technology, and the human spirit" is a phrase that might be confusing
to those who fear that these three elements cannot fit together well at all.
They see technology as an irreversible force driving education to become ever
more mechanistic, impersonal, and divorced from important community and societal
Others see technology as supporting education that can be more individualized,
personal, and nurturing of communities and of the human spirit. They may recognize
this phrase as a doorway into a new placea place where they can continue building
something worthwhile together.
But information technology can also be the excuse and the means to new goals,
new accomplishments, and new visions in education. As we see more clearly that
education is changing in response to new technology, we also see that we can
make choices. Will we allow technology to change education and to change usin
ways that we do not predict and may not prefer? Or will we make decisions and
commitments to use technology to enable the kinds of change that matter most
Many people already seek to understand and improve the human condition that
underlies any educational activity. And some recognize and try to improve the
spiritual dimension of educationone that might be deeply hidden, actively denied,
or set aside as irrelevant or inappropriate. Many of the people making these
efforts rarely talk to each other or even acknowledge each others' existence,
legitimacy, achievements, and goals.
During the past seven years I have helped hundreds of groups use several "Fundamental
Questions" as they consider changes brought on by new choices for information
technology in teaching and learning. The conversations that result often help
the participants understand more clearly what is really important to achieve
in technology-supported education. More recently, we've begun to suggest the
Think about some examples of teaching and learning you have appreciated in
your own experience. Think about the changes in education that now seem possible
or unavoidable. As you recall these instances consider the possibilities of
change you are now facing:
- What do you most want to gain?
- What do you cherish and most want not to lose?
- What or whom are you thankful for?
- How can information technology help/ hinder what matters most to you?
As you explore your answers to these questions, list specific ways of using
information technology to effectively link education, technology, and the human
spirit. These questions can be even more stimulating when asked in a way that
encourages you and your colleagues to consider not only your professional goals,
but also your deeper personal aspirations. I expect that in these new conversations
we will understand much better what people mean by the "human spirit."
As that becomes clearer, I hope it will also become more influential.
Education, Technology, and the Human Spirit Success Stories
Blind Teacher, Deaf Student
Norm Coombs, a blind history professor (emeritus) at Rochester Institute
of Technology, reports that electronic mail has enabled him to develop
effective teaching/learning relationships with some of his students who
had certain characteristics that made it unlikely to happen otherwise.
For example, he describes a deaf student with whom he learned to communicate
at a distance and in his own office. In the office, Coombs typed his ideas
into his computer which displayed the results in large characterseasy
for the student to see and read. The student could type her ideas into
the computer and software converted her text into audible speecheasy
for Coombs to hear and understand.
Undergraduate Success Story
An undergraduate leader in a highly structured and successful Student
Technology Assistant Program began her first encounters with no self-confidence
and frequent self-deprecating comments. During the next two years, she
discovered her own ability to fix technology problems and help others
gently, respectfully, and authoritatively. She earned the respect of her
student colleagues, faculty members, and technology professionals. Instead
of dropping out, she opted to continue her studies beyond what was needed
for her bachelor's degreelong enough to fulfill her hopes of becoming
the top student manager for the entire program.
A tenured professor received top marks in student evaluations for many
years. He agreed to teach one of his favorite courses via two-way video
teleconference for a group of students at a satellite facility. He delivered
the same lectures and asked many of the same questions he had been using
successfully in the past. But he wasn't getting the kind of active participation
he had enjoyed from his students in the classroom; the student ratings
of this new course were very low. The structure of the teleconference
cut out the informal time that had been supporting his face-to-face sessions:
arriving early and staying late, sharing stories relevant to the subject