Values are (im)mutable

So today OLT had its monthly departmental meeting, and as part of it engaged in a World Cafe dialogue on what our “values” as a unit might be… I’ll be honest, the sounds of something like this usually brings out the McNulty in me, but I had a good time. It helped that the session was very well facilitated, that I have so much affection and respect for the people I get to work with — I found myself particularly provoked hearing what our student employees had to say.

Apparently “distance education” (or we might say technology-based distributed learning) has been part of UBC for what will soon be sixty years. Being the type of person who talks a lot more in these exercises than I probably should, I offered the assertion that “values” are a product of time and culture, and that it would be hard to imagine the distance educators of 1949 engaging in a “values visioning” exercise at all, much less coming up with the same sorts of values that we would. Most people seemed to agree – if only to shut me up, perhaps – but one person in our unit (whose experience and expertise vastly outstrips mine) strongly disagreed, suggesting that these values are more or less universal.

I think this question speaks to a fascinating thought experiment of a fairly classic epistemic problem.

Here are some values expressed by our “strategic planning and operations” group (not the unit as a whole) a few months back:

I’m ignorant of the history of educational technology (maybe Dr. Schwier or one of his proteges can help) but I have a hard time imagining people in 1949 coming up with a list like this. Even accounting for shifts in terminology, the only potential common threads I see here are ‘collaboration’, ‘service’ and ‘integrity’ (and in all cases, I think what would be meant by those concepts would be different).

Am I being small or shallow-minded? How many of the values that (we might assume) are (mostly) shared by educational technologists today might also have guided our predecessors? “Access” comes to mind… others?

About Brian

I am a Strategist and Discoordinator with UBC's Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology. My main blogging space is Abject Learning, and I sporadically update a short bio with publications and presentations over there as well...
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