Teaching a graduate seminar on technology and innovation

In a couple of weeks I’ll start teaching two graduate seminars in Georgetown University’s Learning, Design, and Technology program.  I’d like to share my plans with you all as part of my commitment to transparency in practice.

Today I’ll describe one of the classes, Technology and Innovation in Higher Education  (LDES 502 – 01).

This one is a deep dive into, well, technology and innovation.  We’ll approach the topic from multiple views and disciplinary frameworks, including history, social justice, economics, medicine, sociology, critical theory, and science fiction.  Obviously the field is enormous, so I’ve had to focus on what could fit in a single semester.  I’m also relying on what students will be learning in other LDT classwork and experience.  I wanted to pick readings they were unlikely to have already encountered.

As per my usual practice, this is a very student-centered class.  Students get to shape some class content and policies, democratically: several readings; which technology we use for asynchronous communication (Canvas or WordPress or Discourse or Hypothesis); how we should best interact with each other online.  Student writing, thinking, and creativity is crucial.

One key aspect of that student democracy is that they will decide how open the class will be.  Will they choose, for example, to publish their reflections on the open web (through a central class WordPress instance, or an open Discourse, their own blogs on their own domains, etc) or not?  Will the students appreciate my blogging about the class?  Such decisions occur on the first day (see below) and will probably be tweaked in subsequent weeeks.

Readings include:

  • Brian Arthur, The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves.
  • Ruha Benjamin, Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code.
  • Jon Gernter, The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation.
  • Everett M. Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations, 5th Edition.
  • David Staley, Alternative Universities: Speculative Design for Innovation in Higher Education.

Other readings are available online, either through the open web or ereserves.  There are also a handful of recommended texts:

  • James Bridle, New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future.
  • Charles Fadel, Wayne Holmes, Maya Bialik, Artificial Intelligence In Education: Promises and Implications for Teaching and Learning.
  • Shoshana Zuboff, Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power.  (We read and discussed this one in our book club)


September 3

Topic: Introductions: you, the class
Designing the class: technology, community
Reading: Staley, Alternative Universities*

September 10

Topic: The process of innovation, 1
Reading: Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations, selections  

September 17

Topic: The process of innovation, 2
Reading: Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations, selections  

September 24

Topic: Disruptive innovation
-Christensen, Raynor, McDonald, “What Is Disruptive Innovation?”
-Lepore, “The Disruption Machine”

October 1

Topic: Theorizing technology, 1
-Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”

-Arthur, The Nature of Technology, selections

October 8

Topic: Imagining innovation
-Forster, “The Machine Stops” 
-Haraway, TBA
-Bush, “As We May Think”
-Schroeder, “Noon in the Antilibrary”

October 11      MIDTERM PROJECT #1 DUE

October 15

Topic: Theorizing technology, 2
-Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology”
The Nature of Technology, selections

October 22

Topic: The innovation of innovation
-Gawande, “Slow Ideas”
-Rosen, prelude and first chapter of
The Most Powerful Idea in the World
-Student selections

October 29

Topic: Justice and innovation, 1
Reading: Benjamin, Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code, selections.

November 5

Topic: Justice and innovation, 2
Reading: Benjamin, Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code, selections.


November 12

Topic: Case studies, 1
The Idea Factory, selections.
-Student examples

November 19

Topic: Case studies, 2
The Idea Factory, selections.
-Student examples

November 26

Topic: student work
Readings: determined by students

December 3

Presentations and feedback on final projects




…Pedagogically this class combines project-based learning, discussion, constructivism, and educational technology.  You will each play a key role in creating and sharing meaning – collaboratively – as we explore this subject together.  The class is yours, and so you have a say in how it goes and is shaped.

There is also a strong meta- level to this class, since we are using technologies to learn as we think about the same.  You are all encouraged to reflect on this dynamic.

Our goals:

  • to advance your thinking about innovation and technology
  • encouraging your creative practice
  • expanding your interdisciplinary knowledge


Students will engage with the class through several ways:

  • Seminar discussion. The focus of each class period is thoughtful reflection and conversation about that week’s topic and materials.  We expect each student to contribute to the discussion, participating in a way that advances our collective understanding.
  • Online discussion. Each week students will respond to our topic and materials through an asynchronous technology, such as Georgetown University’s learning management system or through class blogs.  (We will decide which technology during our first class session, and may well adjust things during the term.)
  • Selecting several readings and a topic. This includes preparing to facilitate class discussion – i.e., raising good questions, identifying key points.
  • Mid-term project, 1: a short (900 word) analysis of a currently emerging technology or other innovation, in light of class readings and discussion so far.
  • Mid-term project, 2: this is an annotated bibliography aimed at a final project. Each student will assemble and analyze a series of scholarly materials for their project, including readings that address the subject, as well as those that describe its technological medium.  Materials should focus on scholarly articles and books, as well as items in other media (video, audio, web pages, etc.). Aim for twenty (20) items.
  • Final project: an analysis of one technological innovation, either current (emerging) or historical, with an emphasis on its educational implications. Please be creative with your choice of presentational platform – i.e., consider creating a game, video, audio file, etc. – although I would prefer something asynchronously experienced. At the same time this must be academically rigorous – i.e., making an argument with a thesis, supporting it with evidence, engaging with current discussions on the topic, addressing counterarguments.  You will present on your project in process to the class on the seminar’s last day, and we’ll discuss it informally before then.

…and that’s the plan.  Next up I’ll share stuff about my other class, the seminar on higher education’s future.

PS: Classes sometimes appear as grand designs emanating from a single faculty member’s mind, as per copyright theory or the Romantic idea of creativity, but that’s not the case here.  I’m teaching a class that LDT program faculty members invented and developed.  A wide range of students offered their thoughts about the seminar.  Many friends and social media contacts suggested a range of practices and materials.  I owe them all a debt of gratitude.

*It might seem weird to expect students to read Staley’s entire (and excellent) book for the first day, but they already had to read it for a pre-semester mini-class.

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4 Responses to Teaching a graduate seminar on technology and innovation

  1. Bryan – Sounds like an amazing class. I offer an article for the Justice & Innovation section: “Friction-Free Racism: Surveillance capitalism turns a profit by making people more comfortable with discrimination” by Chris Gilliard (October 15, 2018)


    One of the most influential articles I had read in my thinking about technology and racism.

  2. Jim Parker says:

    Very pleased to see that you are using Ev Rogers’ book. Not only was he an outstanding scholar he was even a better person. For some background on him you might have your students check out the following videos.

    Remembering Ev Rogers Parts 1 & 2

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