No thinking person can simply be for or against digital technology. You have to be able to use your critical faculties and evaluate any particular technology in an independent way, trying to balance the plusses (which there will be) against the minuses (which there will also be).
In my job as a teacher I use some recent technologies and avoid others. I assign blogs for some of my classes; I ask students to submit papers as PDFs which I then annotate. This kind of thing makes some of my colleagues think I am very cutting edge. On the other hand, I don't use Blackboard, not because I am philosophically opposed to it but because I think it is really terrible software — though admittedly not as terrible as it used to be. I think I can get at what Blackboard tries to do in other ways, some of them electronic, some not. I make a good many handouts, often with very sophisticated software like Omnigraffle, because I think such handouts are almost always better than PowerPoint. As I say, I evaluate on a case-by-case basis.
I just learned the other day that the classroom in which I usually teach — maybe three-fourths of my classes are there, the others in seminar rooms — will be transformed this summer into a “smart” classroom. This means that an enormous console will be hauled in, to enable a range of digital audio and video stuff, online and local. But the size of this console, and its accompanying projector and screen, will in turn require that the rectangular room’s seats be rotated ninety degrees, so that they will now be oriented lengthwise — that is, broad and shallow instead of long and narrow.
But this means (a) the space will be much more crowded, leaving me little room to move, and (b) it will be impossible to rearrange the seating. Now, as long as I have been teaching in that classroom I have arranged the seats in a two-desk-deep semicircle. This has enabled me to move among the students, to lecture when I need to, but also to get them talking to each other about the books we read. I have, I realize, adapted my teaching style to the characteristics of that space — I use the space as one of the tools in my pedagogical toolbox. But from now on the space will be significantly altered, and everyone in it will be in neat rows, facing the same direction, so that they can all look at pictures on the screen — and spend less time looking at books.
I think this is a bad trade-off, because what we have here is the facilitation of a particular set of technologies at the expense of others. It’s a net reduction of pedagogical options — or at best an even trade — and the pedagogical options it does enable are ones poorly suited to teaching students to read books with care.
So now I have a choice: Do I try to get my class reassigned to another room, almost certainly in another building? (One major advantage of this room is that it’s twenty feet from my office.) Do I try to adapt my teaching style to this new environment? Or do I try to persist in my old teaching style, fighting this new environment?