the last visible dog (intertext) wrote,
the last visible dog
intertext

Sunday Rant - A Plea for the New Media

Are there any Math teachers out there who still refuse to use a calculator? Who still use a slide-rule and memorize times-tables?

To me, that's the same as the way many of my colleagues, not just in my department, but everywhere, seem to be in a state of denial about the importance of new developments in web technology to what and how we teach.

I admit that I was an early adopter; I jumped all over the web when it was all server-based and clunky and before YouTube and Twitter and Facebook and Wikipedia. And I can understand that anyone whose first contact with all this was back then when it was server-based and clunky might have been put off wanting to try it again. But still.

One of the most valuable benefits of all the new Web 2.0 social software sites has been the ability to develop world-wide networks sharing information, pedagogies, material. Well, at least, for some. In vain, I've been searching for my "PLN" - my personal learning network. Oh, there are academics and professionals out there. Historians appear to be all over the web - medievalists for gosh sakes! Librarians are all over it. K-12 people are all over it. Writers - mostly working writers rather than writing teachers - are all over it. ESL teachers are all over it. So my Twitter feed is full of historians, librarians, K-12 and ESL teachers, and some writers and ed-tech people (though many of them tend to focus rather too much on the technology and not on the content). But where are the college or university level writing teachers? The literature profs?

A large part of it, I think, is workload. Many of us are just so busy that the thought of learning something quite new is daunting.

But - pssst - guys! This stuff is EASY. If you can use Microsoft Word, which you all can, you can do this.

But another large part of it, I think, and here I may be in danger of stepping on some people's toes, so forgive me in advance, is ... elitism. Snobbery.

There's this perception that it's all brainless and shallow and produced by and for the unwashed "masses" and is therefore beneath the notice of those of us who read the Globe and Mail (paper edition) and read only Booker prize nominated novels. It's all about dumbing down and reduction and therefore should be resisted with all our intellectual strength. Oh, yeah, our kids are all on Facebook and into that Twitter thing and writing fanfiction, but there's no need for us to dirty our hands with it...

But you know what? There's some brilliant stuff out there! Denying that it's there is like refusing to watch any television because much of it is stupid. Don't dismiss as silly the "Twitterization" of literature - think about its potential for our teaching! The new media is not about the death of literacy and critical thinking, it's about the growth of universal literacy. It's about the ability to collaborate and share and create and publish at a rate unimaginable even ten years ago. It's about recognizing that the ways we read and write and publish are changing and are going to change even more - and it's going to happen probably within our professional lifetimes. We are going to have to rethink our ideas about copyright and - yes - plagiarism and originality. Students are going to need the critical skills to help them wade through the information overload, to help them sort out good from bad. And, just as the birth of the calculator meant that students no longer had to waste their time doing the "grunt" work of mathematics, so, potentially, does the new media technology mean that students can concentrate on higher thinking skills: synthesis, critical analysis.

But only if we teach them how. And we need to know the tools ourselves before we can teach our students.

ETA: and speaking of convergence culture, look what appeared in my Twitter feed, quite coincidentally, just after I posted this:



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  • Paris Memories

    It's amazing how far away it already seems. It was a wonderful holiday, and I thought I would post some final thoughts about memories and…

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    It's 8:15 pm, and I'm sitting in my apartment, munching potato crisps and drinking wine, coming full circle from almost three weeks ago. I can't…

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    Today, I noticed a big influx of rather well-heeled touristy types at my favourite cafe, then I remembered that the French Open starts today or…