Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Mid-Year Reflection

My ideas on technology and education continue to evolve. Based on the experiences of the group, I really see many great ideas and practices going on, but I am continually struck by the simple fact that it is our diversity with technology that is a strength as we try to reach and engage our students. What works for your class may not work for mine; it might not even work next time around with the same material and different students. As 2011 opens, I am now well into my second decade of college teaching. While I am surprised at how different my pedagogical practices have been over the years, yet I see some common threads too. From the very beginning of the internet (the new Chicago Manual of Style now permits lowercase), I noticed I was drawn to doing it myself (for example, creating a simple website rather than relying on a platform like Blackboard). Of course, I used to teach programming and web development in a computer classroom even before the internet arrived. I see the free-for-all / DIY aspect of Web 2.0 technologies like blogs and wikis as a real plus. I like that we can try new things, even on the fly. I just discovered, for example, a super-clever tool called TiddlyWiki. Bad pun aside, it lets you create a small wiki on a single web page, which can be deployed wherever. How cool is that? For example, I might use this to provide an in-depth bit of web content for a particular topic in one of my upcoming classes.

As I reflect on current web technologies, I am still not sold on social networking for my classroom--again your mileage may differ, but it just doesn't work for me. Does that make me old-fashioned? I suppose it does. I think my ideal classroom would have students with similar eReaders--the text! including film and YouTube and Wikipedia, etc. etc.--and a very smart classroom (with a projector that works every time). Full disclosure--I took some holiday money and bought a Nook Color eReader. I spent 30 minutes 'jailbreaking' it, and it is now a very fine tablet computer and so much more portable than an iPad. I have over 600 books on it right now, and have access to all of Project Gutenberg, plus Kindle and Barnes and Nobles' titles. It reads PDF files for my 'personal research' (academic titles not yet in the maw of Google Books or Kindle or Nook bookstores.) I had to scan those in for this winter's reading--I owe an academic publisher a book proposal in a few weeks. Plus I can write on it too--sort of, though this is still under development. It's smaller than a paperback, and the text is brilliantly clear for actually reading.... Amazing technology!

More and more as I read and think about how we learn (and this based in part on my Consciousness / cognitive science Cluster from last semester AND my reading in evolution and literature), it is all about managing attention for our students. The 'Standard Model' of technology in the classroom seems to state that we can use Facebook and whiz-bang tools to get our students to engage and pay attention to class. We do a sleight-of-hand, don't we: turning enthusiasm for all things online into interest in our classes. This is largely true, or true enough, but our students today are ever more distracted, and just as you can't text while you drive, you can't learn very much if you don't know how not to be distracted in the classroom. I begin to see that less is sometimes more, and if we are all writing and checking our Facebook messages, etc., there isn't going to be much time to look carefully and critically at texts. (I am old fashioned this way--the text in whatever form!--is very important to me.)

In response to this week's guidelines, I noticed that several of us last semester noted how students don't always move from point A--the Web 2.0 activities-- to point B--research papers and exams and the graded stuff so successfully. Thus, my goals for the Spring are to promote success with my students through selective Web 2.0 activities as they look carefully at some challenging texts. I will be aiming to use mid to low-stakes blogging assignments to promote comprehension, critical thinking and synthesis on a variety of texts for ENG 101, ENG 102 and LIB 200. I will again be using wikis to promote successful research papers, finding topics and sources, then refining drafts and promoting community within and between classes. Web 2.0 is excellent at generating buzz and excitement, but I want to make sure that our blogging and wiki activities lead to 'higher-stakes' success--completing a research paper, being able to write a successful essay on a short story by Alice Walker, or a poem by Emily Dickinson, or a play by Shakespeare (The Tempest) or a graphic novel on the achievements in science by Rosalind Franklin or Madame Curie, to name a few of the texts and ideas we will be looking at in my classes.... Besides a new set of courses (versus last Fall), I will be substituting blogging assignments instead of ePortfolio for my ENG 102 class for the very first time. Otherwise, I will be building on what's worked before. Like I said, continual evolution now that I have some 'best practices' with these tools....

1 comment:

  1. A few things....I agree that what works for some doesn't always work for others or even the next semester in your own classes. So much depends on the group dynamics of the individual students. I would also like to touch base with you about the NookColor since it is the one eReader that seems to meet most of my personal needs. Intrigued with your 'jailbreaking' and comparing it to the iPad. Let's talk.