Friday, July 20, 2012

My Love/Hate Relationship with Technology

My Love/Hate Relationship with Technology!

by Dr. Vanae E. Morris

I LOVE technology gadgets! I have been fascinated with technology since the day I walked into a Skaggs Drugstore and saw a display with a black & white television with a PONG game system hooked up to display this fabulous new game! My fascination grew when I purchased the first little computer developed by Texas Instruments, which then led to the gaming systems by Sega and Atari, which then led to my first “real” computer where I learned DOS! My first laptop was a Compaq and it did not have an internal floppy drive so I had to buy an external 3 ½ inch floppy drive so I could load programs. My first cell phone was a “brick” and I never lost or dropped a call! I loved all of these “firsts” of my technology gadgets!

Technology has both improved and exasperated my life!  The word processing software alone has been worth the wait, since I learned how to type on an electric typewriter! I know that having my smartphone, tablet, and netbook have made it possible for me to be more productive and made teaching and learning online a viable reality!  However, there is a hate relationship with technology because so many things can go wrong, all of which I think I have experienced at one point or another while teaching and learning online! 

I am currently teaching online courses, which oftentimes includes students (and myself) taking vacations and traveling for work. My students have been faced with the dilemma of how to travel and still complete the assignments required for an online asynchronous class. 

My first experience with traveling and teaching online occurred a few years ago on a four week road trip vacation to New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Washington DC. I made meticulous plans that would successfully help me complete the process. I contacted my dial-up provider (yes, I still had one at the time) and made a copy of all the dial-up numbers needed for the various cities and towns we would be visiting just in case I did not have access to a WiFi connection through the hotels, and I practiced several times connecting to the internet using my cell phone and the dial-up numbers (not a PDA or smartphone) so that I would be prepared for various scenarios.  As I think about that experience, it would have been much easier with the smartphone, tablet, and netbook that I now have to make the necessary internet connections, not to mention the unlimited data plans that are currently available through cell phone carriers!

For the most part, my plan was successful and I completed the various tasks required when teaching an online course. However, there were a few memorable experiences (that I can now laugh about) such as sitting in the van in the middle of Jamestown, New York dialing up with my cell phone because that was the only place I had a strong enough signal to connect to the internet, upload my course content, and participate in the discussions.  It seems that resort towns such as Jamestown, which has the Chautauqua resort, do not like cell towers restricting their view. Besides, if you are on vacation, you should not need your cell phone, right? 

One of my students shared her recent escapade while traveling to southern Utah. She had contacted the hotel to confirm that they had WiFi access, which the hotel confirmed, so she traveled to her hotel only to find out that the access was limited to the hotel lobby. The lobby had no available power plugs for her waning laptop battery and her limited data plan had been used checking and sending emails.  Needless to say, she was quite exasperated with the whole experience. Another student shared that she had all the necessary software and hardware to conduct a live Chat session but quickly discovered that her internet provider did not have the capacity to allow for this type of live session. I have had several students lose power during storms, fires, and other natural disasters outside of their control. 

I introduce all of this as a precursor to the thoughts that have been rambling around in my head lately about accountability in an online course. Most of the classes I teach are graduate level, and I have several times been faced with the dilemma of how to accommodate the technology glitches of an online learning environment, with that of accountability. I also have other instructors asking for my advice regarding the online learning environment, technology, and accountability.  Excuses come in all varieties and my students (and myself on occasion) have used every excuse in the book about why an assignment is late or missing; however, my all-time favorite occurred last semester when one of my graduate students told me she missed an assignment because “CANVAS did not remind her!” 

I have a strong philosophy about constructivism (based on the learning theories of Piaget (1973), Vygotsky (1978), Dewey (1938), and Bruner (1996) and adult learning principles as outlined in Knowles, 2011), which places more of the responsibility on the student for learning; however, over the last few years, I have tried to mesh the glitches of technology with this constructivist view of accountability in an online learning environment.  I have not always been successful and I can think of a few instances where the situation was excruciatingly painful! Because of these experiences, my syllabus now includes a “technology paragraph” that I have developed (and re-developed) over the years of teaching both ground and online courses. 

Should we hold students more or less accountable for their learning in an online class? How have you meshed accountability with technology in your online courses? 

What are your thoughts?


Bruner, J. S. (1996). The culture of education. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Knowles, M. S., Holton, E. F., & Swanson, R. A. (2011). The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development (7th ed.). New York: Elsevier.
Piaget, J. (1973). To understand is to invent: The future of education.  New York: Grossman.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

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