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Kristan Venegas

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The Thursday Pop: The Day I Asked Faculty If They Play Video Games

I sometimes say stuff at work where I’m like, “Why did I say that? What did I just do?” I imagine the phone call that I’ll have with my dad later on in the day where he’ll laugh with me and say, “Be careful Kris—don’t mess up your job.”

I’m a first-generation academic and while I have some ridiculously supportive mentors, I sometimes feel like I’m walking a line where I just might say the “wrong thing.” The protection of academic freedom is important, but saying potentially silly things does not make you seem like a “serious academic” among your peers isn’t always the best thing to do. For example, I once made a reference to the Partridge Family during a research and writing meeting. It broke some of the seriousness in the room but I tortured myself about it for the rest of the meeting (at least).

During the last weekend of January, I was invited to USC’s Provost & Academic Senate Annual Retreat on Teaching and Learning. We spent a couple of days learning about how our peers use technology in innovative ways in the classroom.

We had some exceptionally strong speakers. Manuel Castells spoke about the future of universities and Larry Johnson spoke about among other things, the most recent Horizon Report, which recognizes current and emergent technologies.

Dr. Castell’s offered a couple of subtle but also just blunt “hey, universities need to be thought leaders, get on board” and “it’s time to crumble the ivory tower” kind of stuff. Dr. Johnson’s mention of tech-enabled clothing brought up a lot of jokes about being able to tweet from your pants.

At the end of the conference, we did the requisite activity, where we get in small groups and talk and then report out to the large group.

While we were supposed to be engaged in this brainstorming activity for new ideas on the use of open source tools at USC, we weren’t getting much innovation, just a lot of strengths and weaknesses on an abstract concept. After spending two days talking about the use of technology, I realized that a number of people in my small group didn’t actually use a number of the tools that we were talking about.

Put a bunch of people in a room and ask them to consider the role of catfishing in modern romance and it’s going to cause a little bit of frustration if you don’t know what catfishing is.

So when I go to do my part of the “report out” back the big group, I say, “this exercise was a little difficult because the group realized half way through that not many of us use a lot of open source or other related tech tools. For example, how many of us have ever taken a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) or played video games?”

Yeah, so that wasn’t a winning statement. I wish I had a video of that moment. I literally saw people frown and make comments to their peers. (I even saw a dean from another school point at me—no lie!)

I mean, I know it was a little risky because it’s not polite to ask your peers, especially people who have Ph.D.s, M.D.s and J.D.s, etc. if they know how to do something.

But if we’re going to pay attention to changes in technology we need to spend time playing with it.

I’m not saying a four-year intensive mixed methods study where you read all of the related literature. Catch an episode of Portlandia on Netflix to see how the episodes are set up in a commercial free format, play a game on your iPad like a three-year-old would so you can break down the pedagogical approaches, read Perez Hilton to check out how he displays information.

What technology-based experiences do you think that professors should have to be innovative in their teaching?

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