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Plug in – but tune in, too

13 October 2011
An iPad or Kindle does not magically improve education, says Cathy Davidson

Because it’s autumn, US universities are busy announcing what new technology they will offer new students. Across the country, institutions of higher education are dispensing Kindles and iPads in the hope that they will spur revolutionary pedagogies.

Duke University, where I teach, is often credited with beginning this trend in 2003 when we gave first-year students free iPods. At the time, iPods were simple music-listening devices. We received a lot of public criticism for investing in them. As I was the vice-provost for interdisciplinary studies who helped initiate the Duke iPod experiment, one might assume that I enthusiastically embrace the subsequent iPad trend.

Well, not so fast. I believe strongly in the importance of education addressing the urgencies of the moment, but I also oppose “techno-determinism”: the tendency to think that a technology in and of itself promotes systemic change. The point of our experiment was not that an expensive technology can reform institutional practice. Rather, we were trying to orchestrate an exercise in calculated disruption – seeking to reorder some of the terms and consequences of learning in higher education. I am against the mere technologising of higher education. But I am an ardent proponent of calculated disruption of the pedagogical status quo with the aim of reshaping education for the Broadcast Yourself era of the interactive, digital age. That’s a mouthful. Let me explain.

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Cathy N. Davidson

Cathy N. Davidson

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