It’s nearing the end of the year and so it’s time for the proliferation of top ten lists and predictions for 2011. It’s always both enjoyable and, often, more than a little irritating. I just read a piece in Campus Technology, “5 Higher Ed Tech Trends To Watch in 2011,” by Bridget McCrea. Most of the list is boring and very predictable– cloud and mobile technology dominate– until you get to the very last item: “A Retreat from Technology Overload is Imminent.” It’s an intriguing idea, I think, although the shape of the retreat is debatable.
Arguably, what we are seeing is a bifurcation of the use of communication technologies along class lines. It’s an emerging picture that’s both hazy and complex. On the one hand there’s the emergence of technologies that are either so expensive or so time consuming to master– the I-PAD and many so-called new media technologies might be good examples– that they are difficult to implement outside of elite settings. This sort of bifurcation is aided by the increasing cost of education, of course.
On the other hand there’s some indication that elite institutions may be retreating from new communication technologies. If we wanted to be optimistic, we can hope that this is becuase they’ve realized that certain kinds of learning– particularly those associated with social capital– are facilitated by face to face interaction. If we want to be cynical, we might suspect that these institutions are attempting to strengthen their brand identification by creating a sharper contrast with the ever growing use of technology elsewhere.
The community colleges and for profit schools continue their embrace of educational technologies such as the internet, and continue to serve working class and poor communities increasingly ignored by the elite institutions. Meanwhile, the elite schools seem to be racing away from even the middle classes. In this sort of environment, the use of technology in the classroom may eventually become a sign of a lesser education, rather than the mark of innovative experimentation. Now that’s a trend worth watching.