Future Tense

About 15 years ago those of us interested in using computers to teach– we were teaching composition or literature classes– saw ourselves as fighting against academic Luddites who refused to understand that these new communication technologies were both beneficial and inevitable. This is the future, we would say, and we should welcome it and use it to our advantage. That wasn’t the only development in our field, however.

Alongside this technology we also saw the rise of a higher education system in which the ordinary standards of professional life– established over decades– had been eroded. The tenure track academic was being replaced with the poorly paid itinerant adjunct without health care, a pension, or any job security. I’ve long believed that our technological optimism was used as a kind of trojan horse to help destroy the profession.

Times have changed. I don’t mean to suggest that there we have lost our technological optimism. We have not. I think, though, that the technological emperor has begun to seem more and more naked. Multitasking is dead. There’s been a conference on “The Dark Side of the Digital” and more and more faculty– not surprisingly, in California (see here and here)– are resisting the online dystopias. We’ve come full circle.

As I’ve said, we were overly optimistic and this new-found realism is a helpful sign; I am hoping it does not presage a new form of academic Luddite. Resisting ineffective or immature online technologies, however, is only one-half of the picture. We also need a political movement dedicated to re-professionalizing academia. If that is ever going to happen it’ll have to include a savvy understanding of online technologies.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and Smarthinking.com. I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol] writinginthewild.com

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