All the changes in technology have brought with them their own special kind of hype, so that the answer to the question “What can technology do?” can seem to be another question: “What can’t it do?” Looking past the hype, it’s not hard to see that what technology has brought to higher education is a new range of possibilities for accomplishing long-standing goals. These new possibilities come with new layers of complexity, but we can see the goals behind them as the three Cs: content, connection, and collaboration.

Most think of education as first and foremost access to knowledge, to the storehouse of learning gathered throughout history, growing exponentially over time. Contact with such content is certainly important, and technology has certainly improved that. Someone with an internet connection today has admission to more scholarly content than the vastest libraries in the world granted just a few decades ago. That enriches us all, at least potentially.

But just as the advent of printing in the middle of the fifteenth century did not make teachers unnecessary – made them, in fact, all the more necessary – access to content is not enough. Learning only begins with access to stored-up knowledge. It depends on human connection, on interaction with and around that content. Here, too, technology has performed wonders, connecting us to each other more than ever before, escalating possibilities for communication and interaction between students and teachers enormously.

Even that crucial interaction is not enough if we think of knowledge as something we simply receive. It is also something we use and make by applying it, adding to it, addressing its incompleteness, making it relevant to our time and our lives. This means collaborating, working together, and technology has allowed us to do that in ways that defy what seemed to be the limits of time and space, even the capacity of the human mind.

None of the technological advances is without its own special demands on us, introducing new needs for content, connection, and collaboration even as it improves these for us. Keeping the focus on the key principles, keeping in mind that technology is only the means to these ends, will help us distinguish the important changes within the dizzying whirl of change, the true advances from the mere trends. Above all, we need to use technology to learn and work together, remembering that, like all things new, technological change asks us to be learners of the new together.

I invite you to connect and collaborate with us in fostering effective practices and new uses for academic technology. If you’re not already there, a good place to start would be the CUNY Academic Commons, though you should also feel free and encouraged to contact me directly.

George Otte
University Director of Academic Technology