Let’s Thoughtfully Embrace New Technology

Feb 9th, 2012 | By | Category: 23-3: Technology and Culture

Last fall Tribal College Journal staff traveled to New Mexico for an American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) meeting. One afternoon we visited the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI) in Albuquerque and also the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe.

Although our visits were unannounced, we were immediately welcomed by everyone we met at both schools. Instructors and administrators introduced themselves and gave us license to wander. We came across computer labs with high-tech equipment; ground-breaking science projects; and inviting and accessible libraries, cafeterias, and bookstores.

Not only that, but all of these facilities— as well as the architecture, landscaping, and classrooms—were infused with tribal culture. The people we met were often brimming with satisfaction, diligently involved in their vocations, and more than happy to share their projects with us. One such project, IAIA’s Digital Dome, is featured on the cover of this issue.

As we reported in Vol. 21, No. 3, Spring 2010 (“Under the IAIA Dome”), the tribal college has constructed the world’s first articulating dome. Envisioned as a 21st-century storytelling device and now fully functional, it is round like a hogan or a kiva. It can be raised and lowered or pivoted by 90 degrees and used for motion picture imaging, IMAX films, and astronomy classes. The dome and its accompanying equipment also enable students to create stories and art and then to immerse their audiences within them.

While we were visiting IAIA, Digital Dome Director Ethan Bach demonstrated its capabilities. As the lights went out and the show began, we were propelled back in time and space and enveloped in culture and tradition by this brand-spanking-new technology. It was an out-of-body experience and a fine example of how tribal colleges are not just learning about modern technology—but are creating their own technologies and using them to define what tribal education means in this millennium.

Many of us are instinctively suspicious of the change invoked by emerging technologies. How will these new “gadgets,” often readily embraced by our children, affect our society, human relationships, and cultures? How healthy is it for our environment that we have come to rely upon equipment that contains materials so toxic they cannot easily be recycled or discarded in landfills? Such questions can’t be ignored. As with any new idea, the positive must be measured against the negative. We must approach these decisions with careful contemplation, and we must strive to use our “new powers” for good.

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