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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:



( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 15th, 2009 07:17 pm (UTC)
Nov. 15th, 2009 08:09 pm (UTC)
thank you! :-)
Nov. 15th, 2009 07:56 pm (UTC)
Does anyone still use calculators?
Nov. 15th, 2009 08:04 pm (UTC)
heh - well, what do I know ;-)
Nov. 15th, 2009 08:14 pm (UTC)
I still have a slide rule but I haven't used a calculator in years
Nov. 15th, 2009 09:09 pm (UTC)
I do - it's useful for quick calculations of concentrations and such in the lab.
Nov. 15th, 2009 09:11 pm (UTC)
I could see how that might be so. I'm pretty much always sitting in front of a computer when I need a quick calculation so it's easier to use either the Calculator or a spreadsheet.
Nov. 15th, 2009 09:21 pm (UTC)
Yes, it's the same for me when I'm using a computer.

That reminds me of our new tech*: she didn't know how to use spreadsheets and did hundreds of calculations with a pocket calculator until someone caught on to what she was doing and showed her how to do what took her days in five minutes.

*who is about 30, so she should know, really
Nov. 15th, 2009 11:43 pm (UTC)
My corner of the scientific community doesn't seem to have embraced the new social media much, even though we make heavy use of the Web and even earlier technologies like FTP. (NASA plays around in a rather uncoordinated way with Twitter and the like -- and NASA-JPL actually added me as a contact on Flickr, which felt very odd.) Most of us really don't have the time or energy to wade into the comments sections of popular-science and pseudoscience blogs, however tempted we may sometimes be.

Nov. 16th, 2009 03:56 am (UTC)
This reminds me a bit of the outrage many express about people who don't read or don't follow politics or don't exercise.

Interesting that no one in my family, including the brother who works in IT, is into much by way of the Internet. Google and email are pretty much it for them, and not even that for some. I think they might associate blogs and twitter with youth, but I've never asked them.
Nov. 16th, 2009 11:12 am (UTC)
Well, there's me. :)

I don't talk much about teaching writing though for various reasons, at least partly to do with student confidentiality and copyright. I'm supporting students using the Open University's materials, which are all on the web, but password protected and only available to students and tutors. This means I can't share them openly. This will also apply to the other British universities that teach creative writing online, such as Lancaster.

We OU tutors also have our own online "common room" for our course where we exchange tips, moan about problems, post links to interesting and relevant extras etc. I think this probably scratches the itch that might otherwise make us write on Twitter and blog about our experience.

There may be snobbishness about the new medium in some places, but I haven't noticed it in the OU which has always adopted new technology with enthusiasm. For example it has a signficant presence in Second Life, which I'm currently unable to explore because my computer isn't really up to it. :(

As for blogging, some people are doing it, for example there is a tutor on the new OU course on Children's Literature who is blogging about it here.
Nov. 16th, 2009 02:55 pm (UTC)
Of course, I have the same issue with linking to student work. But I'd love to hear ideas for lesson plans or assignments? And yes, if you already have an online forum for sharing ideas I can see that you wouldn't need to be out searching Twitter, but it's that kind of forum that I'd love to find for myself.

The other thing is - we are already using the technology. I'm lamenting the many many of my colleagues who have no interest at all in its potential.
Nov. 16th, 2009 12:22 pm (UTC)
the ability to develop world-wide networks sharing information, pedagogies, material.

Can you link to some networks that are doing this well? I hear a lot of 'Web 2.0/new technologies is so great for teaching', but I'm yet to figure out what it actually means, in concrete/practical terms.
Nov. 16th, 2009 02:51 pm (UTC)
Well, I guess to some extent, that's partly my point. On Twitter, I see enormously effective networks of ed-tech people, who have only to put out a question to their "PLN" and will have multi responses within the hour, if not minutes. They are also constantly linking to one another's blogs and to articles of interest to one another. I only see this because I'm hooked up to a few of them via my own involvement with online teaching. But there's nothing similar amongst people in my own discipline, at least not that I've found. That's not to say they don't exist - I may just have not stumbled across them yet.

And LJ of course is one such network!

I'm using blogs in all my writing courses, and require the students to read and comment on each others. I had a wonderful class wiki one year, but it was dependent on a platform that doesn't exist any more, and I've been unable to persuade the IT people at my college to give me one.

Here's an enormously effective use of web materials for teaching:
The Canadian History Project
Nov. 17th, 2009 04:31 am (UTC)
Bravo! Can I have you at my university?

We're slowwwwwwly staggering our way into doing this better; one thing that makes me hopeful is that as we built a larger set of sample course applications that we can show professors, we're getting more successful at connecting the technology to the right instructor.

I was all set to jump in here with links to academic tech. users whose writing I enjoy, but then I realized that they were all historians and/or medievalists. Well, and librarians, but that's an occupational hazard.
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )


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