AAUP and Educational Technology: Weathering the Digital Storm

(a video-enhanced version of this article appears at https://writingsdls.wordpress.com/aaup-and-edtech/)

While three faculty members at Eastern Michigan University presented a mandatory first-year interdisciplinary session in a 230 student lecture hall, some of the students made use of Yik Yak, an anonymous web posting system, to share with the rest of the students highly inappropriate and harassing messages about the faculty members. Schmidt (February 6, 2015) reported that “administrators at Eastern Michigan refused demands to track down and punish the offending students, saying it was logistically and legally impossible” and that use of Yik Yak may have freedom of speech protections. The campus AAUP president called the incident cyberbullying, “an issue of classroom safety” that posed “a serious threat to faculty members’ work environment and ability to conduct their classes” and might only be resolved through new contractual language on cyber-harassment.

Besides using some of the extreme teacher reactions collected by students with cell phones in classes throughout the world as illustrated by funnyvideos (2013),


what might college faculty do to stem the misuses of technology in the classroom?  An economic professor in a community college, played by George Takei in the 2010 film Larry Crowne, told students in his filled lecture hall that “they call them smartphones, but only dummies use them in my class” and collected them in a pile at the front of the room (CBS, 2015). On the other hand, Professor Sugata Mitra, Professor of Educational Technology at Newcastle University, asks if we can access all the information we need from the smartphone in our pocket, what is the purpose of education in the classroom? (thinkvoices, June 21, 2011)

The future of educational technology in higher education is highly contested at this time. As Martin and Harris (May-June 2014) noted,

“if online course materials such as lectures, quizzes, readings, and simulated experiments are used primarily to reduce instructional costs, with no corresponding shift in institutional priorities, they are likely to harm students and reduce the value of the institution’s brand. But if they are used for increased individual coaching and mentoring, performance feedback, and more intensive personalization of each student’s educational pathway, these materials can greatly benefit students and improve an institution’s brand.”

AAUP has in the last decades responded to the potentials of educational technology to impact university learning and teaching and faculty working conditions.   In a 1999 statement, the Association’s Special Committee on Distance Education and Intellectual Property Issue noted that “the development of distance-education technologies has created conditions seldom, if ever, seen in academic life—conditions that raise basic questions about standards for teaching and scholarship.” The special committee discussed the need to delineate the different areas of responsibility for distance education for the administration, faculty, and students; define teaching assignments; and assure academic freedom for the selection of materials, faculty proprietary rights, and other curricular matters Committee members concluded that ”the development of appropriate institutional policies concerning these new technologies as instruments of teaching and scholarship is therefore the responsibility of the academic community.”

Euben (2000), then the AAUP Counsel, elaborated on faculty rights and responsibilities in distance learning.   She noted that “traditional notions of ownership, control and use of educational materials are being challenged by the revolution in communications technology” and that “the AAUP does not oppose the concept of distance education.” In this summation of AAUP statements from 1996 to 1999, Euben outlined understandings about educational decision-making, ownership and control of course materials, educational quality and integrity issues, institutional support and compensation, use of intellectual property, and resolution of disputes.

Educational technology continued to evolve to the extent that Ohler (2009) concluded that “being literate in a real-world sense means being able to read and write using the media forms of the day, whatever they may be.”   He suggested that “as our students migrate to new media, we must blend the essential aspects of more traditional media with the offerings of new forms of media.” Ohler counsels that “with minimal training, the least technical among us can create a basic blog—essentially an interactive Web site—in minutes” and that “instructors also need to be able to organize their students into learning communities so that they can share their talents. In other words, instructors need to be the proverbial guide on the side rather than the technician-magician.”

During a June 2013 presentation at the AAUP national conference, Green (2013) discussed how to encourage faculty to make use of technology for instruction, massive open online courses (MOOC) and other forms of online learning, and open educational resources. He outlined the impact of big data on educational policy development, although noting that “higher education is years behind efforts in the consumer market to leverage the value of data.”

Market forces threaten the role of colleges and universities by making more enthusiastic uses of educational technology.   Bethke (2014) envisions not an educational technology revolution, but a learner revolution, that may be “characterized by accessible, affordable, customizable, transparent services from post-secondary providers, be they old school or new school.” Van Der Werf (2014) envisions that 8 growth areas in “credit portability, 21st century skill assessment, competency-based credit, personal learner coaching, facilitated peer learning, real-world learning labs, skills-specific academies, and adaptive learning and feedback” will “crack the traditional system’s credit-hour stranglehold” by “using predictive modeling to determine which students need interventions, and what kind of interventions are most likely to work.” In Hire Education, Weise and Christensen (2014) found that there is a “critical convergence of two major vectors: robust advancements in technology and a growing set of nonconsumers of higher education who are not finding what they need to progress through traditional forms of education.”   Rees (2014) envisions a time when “administrators can simply shift the burden of flipping the classroom or teaching with MOOCs to different departments or to faculty members who are untenured or who teach exclusively online. At the same time, they can steer resources to faculty members willing to jump on the technological bandwagon, as Powers suggested he’s doing already. When professors who cling to older modes of instruction retire, they can be replaced by more technology-friendly faculty—assuming those faculty members aren’t themselves replaced by technology.”

Refuting what others are planning for higher education, in 2014 AAUP participated in the Teaching Millions or Making Millions? Campaign for the Future of Higher Education. (A video on this campaign is available at from http://www.aaup.org/news/teaching-millions-or-making-millions or at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vkKPt0Aacg .) “Part of a national grassroots campaign to inform families, educators, higher education leaders, and policymakers about the serious concerns of faculty members and educational staff who are on the front lines of higher education”, this campaign envisions that “many colleges and universities have rushed to online education without real analysis of what works for students and what doesn’t–a rush driven by companies looking for profits.”

Technology is changing the relationships among faculty, students, the curriculum, the delivery of information, and the assessment of learning and teaching. AAUP will play an even more essential role as a forum for faculty colleagues as we react to technological innovations and their impacts in our classrooms, whether they be on campus or virtual in the digital cloud. AAUP members will continue to develop policies and pathways to safeguard our educational effectiveness, working conditions, and our dedication to our students.   We live in a revolutionary era that will focus on the learner and not the means to academic goals.


AAUP Special Committee on Distance Education and Intellectual Property Issues (March 1999, endorsed at AAUP national conference June 1999). Retrieved from http://www.ecu-aaup.org/Statement%20on%20Distance%20Education.pdf

Ron Bethke (December 02, 2014). Learner Revolution in, Ed Tech Revolution out.   Retrieved from http://www.ecampusnews.com/technologies/learner-revolution-invest-522/

Campaign for the Future of Higher Education and FutureofHigherEd.org (May 13, 2014). Teaching Millions or Making Millions? Retrieved from http://www.aaup.org/news/teaching-millions-or-making-millions or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vkKPt0Aacg

CBS Interactive Inc. (2015). George Takei. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/george-takei/28/

Euben, Donna R. (April 2000).   Faculty Rights and Responsibilities in Distance Learning. Retrieved from http://www.aaup.org/faculty-rights-and-responsibilities-distance-learning-2000

funnyvideos (Jan 31, 2013). Teachers Don’t Like Cell Phones. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMnVt6lWveA

Kenneth C. Green (June 2013).   The Campus Computing Project. Retrieved from http://www.campuscomputing.net/sites/www.campuscomputing.net/files/GREEN-AttentionMustBePaid-AAUP-June%202013_0.pdf

Martin, Wendy and Harris, Jed (May-June 2014). From Bureaucratic Entropy to Student-Centered Institutions. Retrieved from http://www.aaup.org/article/bureaucratic-entropy-student-centered-institutions#.VH8_nYVf9qk

Ohler, Jason (May-June 2009). New-Media Literacies. Retrieved from http://www.aaup.org/article/new-media-literacies#.VH8_4YVf9qk

Rees, Jonathan (May-June 2014). More than MOOCs: What are the risks for academic freedom? Retrieved from http://www.aaup.org/article/more-moocs#.VH8_bIVf9qk

Schmidt, P. (February 6, 2015). A New Faculty Challenge: Fending Off Abuse on Yik Yak. Retrieved from http://chronicle.texterity.com/chronicle/20150206a?sub_id=pwEHEEnGaFqP#pg13

thinkvoices (June 21, 2011).   The Smartphone to Replace Education? – Prof. Sugata Mitra, Newcastle University. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Q0xpObCJ_Y

Van Der Werf, Martin (2014). The Ed Tech Revolution is about to Become the Learner Revolution. Retrieved from http://eddesignlab.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/LearnerRevolution_EducationDesignLab.pdf

Weise, Michelle R. and Christensen, Clayton M. (July 2014). Hire Education
Mastery, Modularization, and the Workforce Revolution. Retrieved from http://www.christenseninstitute.org/publications/hire/#sthash.JbZRK5hf.dpuf



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