This week, I learned a lot more about technology, and I feel that this is the most productive week I have had in class thus far. I consider myself skilled with technology, but I have learned through reading that I am not what James Lang calls a “digital native.” I was not fully immersed in technology until adulthood. Now, digital natives have been raised with technology. My two girls are digital natives. My oldest daughter mods her own Minecraft games, and they both navigate computers, tablets, and mobile phones with ease. In fact, they are both much more comfortable with writing using computers instead of handwriting, and my oldest daughter loves to utilize PowerPoint to make presentations for school–and she is only twelve. The high school students I taught were also digital natives, but the assignments I gave them did not often utilize the technological skills that the students had gained outside of the classroom. I found that working with my students taught me more about technology. It changed the dynamics of my classroom in a good way, as it destabilized the traditional dynamics of power. The students were experts and I was the novice. This is something I would like to utilize when teaching a course–allowing students to utilize their various forms of expertise in the classroom.
Jesse Stommel’s post on Hybrid Pedagogy, “The Twitter Essay” reminds me of struggles I faced in teaching high school, and trying to connect the classroom with what they experience in the outside world. I had never thought of utilizing twitter to write an essay. The 140 character limit seemed too little to write an essay. However, that thought comes from my indoctrination into the five paragraph essay form. Stommel’s piece exemplifies why rethinking what an essay can be is important. The most salient point of his piece is this:
In fact, more often, text-messages and tweets rely on very conventional sentence structures and word order to create clear contexts for the various abridgments. However, like a poem, this form has the ability to condense what might otherwise be inexpressible into a very small and self-consciously constrained linguistic space. And, also like a poem, a clever text-message or tweet unravels, offering layers of meaning and interpretability for the reader.
This idea has influenced the change in my perception. Writing using technology, even with character limits, takes just as much (if not more) thought than more traditional modes of thought. The audience for Internet based writing is much wider, and much more diverse.
Another advantage technology provides is collaboration. At a commuter campus like Wayne State, technology allows students to collaborate on projects even when they live miles apart or work different schedules. Collaboration also enhances class discussions. Last semester Professor Donnie Sackey had several authors of the articles we read Skype into class. One of the most interesting times was when he had 4 authors on Skype at once. They were not only able to explain their methodologies to us, but they were also able to talk to each other and share new ideas or emphasize points. Without technology, something like this would be impossible, as one professor was in California, one was in Kansas, one was in Kentucky, and another was in Virginia. These professors were able to Skype in and only take an hour out of their day, instead of arranging (and paying for) travel and accommodations. I hope that I am able to utilize technology in this way with my students.
Collaboration also takes place on learning sites like Blackboard, but Blackboard has other advantages. I personally have had issues with the site, but it does allow instructors to compile information that students can access anywhere. It also allows nearly instant access to that information, and allows instructors to change instructional plans without too much difficulty. One of the best things about Blackboard, for me, is that an instructor can include sources which may not be required for the course, but may be interesting to students. These sources can be organized, and students can access them on their own.
I do not believe that, as an instructor, I will use Blackboard for assessment purposes. I do not believe that Blackboard can assess writing in a way that is beneficial for students. In my current employment as a tutor of MSW students, I am forced to utilize a program called Criterion. Students are supposed to write responses to Criterion questions every week, and the program “grades” the responses. It does not grade them for content, however. The students feel stifled by the program, and are often frustrated at why it focuses only on word usage and other structural components. I wonder about that myself, as technology should be an enabling tool, not a stifling one.
Even though some programs my be stifling now–technology is great because it is always evolving to become better and more useful. I plan to keep up with the advancements in technology so that I can utilize them in my classrooms. I may not be a digital native, but I can always learn, and sometimes my students have a lot to teach me.