Sunday, October 23, 2011

Using Technology Wisely

Class goals for the week:
- continue to practice doing online research
- create a properly formatted Works Cited page
- submit an essay draft via SafeAssign

Before I get to the above, I'm feeling another reflective post this week. In the WID seminar I'm leading, we are discussing the article "Teaching and Learning with the Net Generation." It argues that Net Generation students (Net Geners) are easily bored and therefore exhibit a greater need for variety in the classroom, need more interactive and inquiry-based activities, have short attention spans and demand instant gratification, and are "shallow learners" often due to their use of technology. If this is true, do we try to combat the more negative aspects of technology by railing against it or are there ways to use technology to enhance their learning?

Our WID group has had a lively discussion about it on our blog, with some feeling that technology can end up encouraging lazy thinking, lazy researching, and lazy students overall (someone compared using FB in class to letting young kids watch Sesame Street -- it may be "educational" but it's still T.V.). Others feel strongly that in order to serve our students best, we need to adapt our pedagogy to meet them where they are and use the strengths of technology to overcome the possible drawbacks.

Another point made by the article is that Net geners seem to feel that learning must be "fun" and "entertaining" and they therefore resist lectures, workshops, or other activities that seem "boring." Do we think this is true? If it is, is it because of social media or is this just how students are (and have always been)?

One thing my WID group agreed on is that technology needs to be used wisely and with purpose. It's OK (and even necessary) for faculty members to practice and experiment (many of us are not Net Geners, after all) but using technology for the sake of using technology will produce disjointed lessons, confused students, and not-so-great results. That's why I think this seminar has been so valuable for me -- it really forces me to think about my goals for each activity so that it has substance and purpose and can be assessed for future use or revision.

One general concern I have had about technology is that we tend to assume that all our students are perfectly comfortable using Ning and Blogger and Facebook and in my experience, that has not been the case.

As I stated at the beginning of this (overly long) post, this coming week we will continue to practice online research skills, learn to create a properly formatted Works Cited page (using online resources), and submit the first draft of an essay via SafeAssign. I'm nervous about the last part for several reasons but since technology can make plagiarism so easy, I'm curious about using it to deter and detect plagiarism for a change. More on how that goes next week...


  1. Great post. One thing I realized last week was that some of the problems I had with students' reading might be because they had never read a book before. I asked my Ethics of Food class whether that was the case, and wasn't surprised to learn that none of my students had read a book before. None.

    The issue with "screen writing" (and I don't mean the movie type!) is that aside from shifting attentions students really don't have a capacity to sit somewhere and read for more than half an hour. I do believe this is a significant issue. I also think there might be some biosocial "wiring" taking place when the students are young. In short, they're not "wired" just because they're online. They're "wired" biomechanically, in their brains, to receive information and media differently than an earlier generation.

    Having said this, I don't think that learning is now somehow exclusive to screens. And I think it's incredibly valuable for students to learn to grow their attention spans. I think that what we must do as educators is slowly stretch those attention spans, consciously and transparently. We must devise a range of activities, but some of those activities must be consciously designed to grow their attention.

    And we must find ways to grow attention and to keep the classroom wired and fun. We must do all these things. Our roles and responsibilities must change with the technology, but they must change too because short student attention spans don't indicate a moral failure. It's not their fault they haven't read a book, or can't right away. It's not their fault any more than students who have certain learning "disabilities." What we need are better tools for teaching students how to read -- and to read books -- including books that are on screens. If we put the books on screens, would they read them then?

  2. Oh, no, they did not mess with Sesame Street...I learned some of the most important lessons of my life from that show. And I watched in Spanish!

  3. We are a culture that values instant gratification. Even scripted television (once considered a wasteland and now akin to Elizabethan drama compared to youtube and reality tv) nowadays cancels shows based on a week or two of ratings. If something isn't instantly fun and buzz-generating, kill it.

    I think given these cultural headwinds we must try to get students to expect education to be anything but entertainment, and a process that yields results only after long and hard effort. Yet we must also not fall victims to the typical declension narratives that those who reject any change love to promote.

    Maybe it is because I have a ridiculously good memory, but I still remember what people used to say about my generation when I was a child and teen, and how watching TV and reading comics, instead of Jules Verne and classical literature, would lead to the demise of civilization (then as now, such narratives precluded the possibility one could be doing both). It wasn't true then, I doubt it is true now. But we are perhaps experiencing a new paradigm shift, cultural plates moving in tectonic dimensions as big as the shift from orality to literacy.

  4. Will we be techno-gurus or techno-peasants?

  5. And strangely enough, the very things we were doing (reading comics, playing D&D) is what led many of us into academe. I wonder where all the tech and texting is leading them now?

  6. Thanks, everyone, for posting such interesting comments! In response to Luke's post about reading comics, one of the WID Writing Fellows shared a list of "doom and gloom" statements about earlier forms of "technology" in the classroom. Enjoy!

    From a principal’s publication in 1815:
    Students today depend on paper too much. They don’t know how to write on a slate without getting chalk dust all over themselves. They can’t clean a slate properly. What will they do when they run out of paper?

    From the journal of the national association of teachers, 1907:
    Students today depend too much upon ink. They don’t know how to use a pen knife to sharpen a pencil. Pen and ink will never replace the pencil.

    From Rural American Teacher, 1928:
    Students today depend upon store bought ink. They don’t know how to make their own. When they run out of ink they will be unable to write words or ciphers until their next trip to the settlement. This is a sad commentary on modern education.

    From PTA Gazette, 1941:
    Students today depend on these expensive fountain pens. They can no longer write with a straight pen and nib. We parents must not allow them to wallow in such luxury to the detriment of learning how to cope in the real business world which is not so extravagant.

    From Federal Teachers, 1950:
    Ballpoint pens will be the ruin of education in our country. Students use these devices and then throw them away. The American values of thrift and frugality are being discarded. Businesses and banks will never allow such expensive luxuries.

    From a fourth-grade teacher in Apple Classroom of Tomorrow chronicles, 1987:
    If students turn in papers they did on the computer, I require them to write them over in long hand because I don’t believe they do the computer work on their own.

    From a science fair judge in Apple Classroom of Tomorrow chronicles, 1988:
    Computers give students an unfair advantage. Therefore, students who used computers to analyze data or create displays will be eliminated from the science fair.

  7. I am sort of with the guy on the ballpoint pen thing. ;)

  8. Oh, and Michelle, I totally stole that list for my blog.