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What and why of technology

January 17, 2017

Dr John Troyer – Director of the Centre for Death and Society at the Univerity of Bath, also lecturer in the Department of Social and Policy Sciences and an RCUK Research Fellow – questions whether it’s time to re-examine what’s considered to be classroom technology.

“If there’s anything we can guarantee about technology, it’s that we know it’s
going to change. Whatever we’re doing today will be different in 10 or 20 years“

Technological aids have helped classroom teaching and learning in many ways, John Troyer told delegates at the 2016 Annual Conference.  But today’s challenge was to make sure it wasn’t ‘all about the tool, not about the teaching’. “When we think about technology, we’re really slipping into the digital at the expense of what has been a long history of human innovation,” he said.
“I can tell you that the most valuable technology I have used in my lifetime is corrective lenses set in glasses that has allowed me to see. If I had not worn glasses since the age of about five, I would not have had the professional success I’ve had. “For me, technology has always been about craftsmanship and the sitting of nature, that means we can look at it in every way possible.”

He said that people who worked in education could sometimes misunderstand what students considered technology to be. “Many of us have done a disservice to the younger crowd in thinking they are all digital natives from the Matrix,” he said.  “I had an amazing moment with an undergraduate who I was helping to register for class. He was terrified of registering so I ended up entering the information. The student said ‘I don’t like technology, it freaks me out’. He said this while holding an iPhone. I asked him what he had in his hand and he said ‘that’s my phone, that’s not a computer’.  “At what point did we get the memo, or the email message, that says technology is the phone?”

John explained why he did not use Powerpoint while he was teaching. “I’ve found that students, through a different range of experiences with technology, find it alienating,” he said. “They can find it difficult to digest the information.  However, if you outline the information and have them write it down – and I do record lectures so they can listen back – they’ll tell me, ’I learn more, I remember it better’.

Students with dyslexia will also tell me they prefer having it written on the board because they can see it, it doesn’t change and they can focus on it.  “All this is to say we’re in a period of higher education when we should start to rethink or re-examine what we consider to be classroom technology.”

He felt it was also important to consider how quickly technology could disappear. “Zip disks are only 10 years ago but if someone has information stored on one, it can only be accessed on a zip disk drive and these machines are increasingly becoming harder to find.  If everything today is stored in the Cloud, and the Cloud becomes inaccessible for whatever reason, we’re in a really tough spot.”

John was concerned at a pedagogic teaching level that we might be teaching students ‘it will always, always be there’. “If everyone assumes that technology is always going to be there, how do we think it through if it’s not,” he asked. “We have to understand how dependent we can become on technology.  I think this is important because if there’s anything we can guarantee about technology, it’s that we know it’s going to change. Whatever we’re do today will be totally different in five or 10 or 20 years.”
Much of what was being built today could be left behind, he warned. “I’m not convinced everything we’ve been doing for the last 30 or 40 years, or even for the next 10, will make it to the next step.”

John said delegates had an important job to raise consciousness about the fragility “and sometimes the futility” of technology in universities.  “It’s been my experience that universities really want to buy something expensive and super hi-tech looking, even if it doesn’t work,” he said. “But we have to say ‘if we’re spending this now, how much further down the road will it work?’. A lot of it we don’t know, but we’ve got to the point where we can speculate.”

Article taken from Connections Issue 7 – access the complete Newsletter here:

Presentation recordings from the conference are available here:


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