Learning & Technology

Warning: Looking back at this, this response is particularly rant-y.  Sorry all!

My personal, knee-jerk reaction to this week’s reading, Chapters 1-3 of Future of Thinking, was not a positive one; this may improve with more time to reflect but there is no guarantee.  While I agree that out current education system in the U.S. has issues, I am less ready to agree that the answer to these problems is increased use of technology, like online multi-player games, in education.  At one point, the authors assert that No Child Left Behind has decreased creativity in the learning environment as teachers teach to the test, necessarily so if they wish their schools to continue to receive funding.  I agree.  I do not agree that the only way to reinsert creativity into the classroom is via technology.  As someone who managed to avoid No Child Left Behind, if not standardized tests, my K-12 experience was different than that of students in public school today.  We wrote analytical essays in English class.  We played a diplomatic version of RISK in World History to enhance our understanding of the complexity of global politics, and on a side note, my Russian compatriots and I won by creating alliances we never intended to keep and generally backstabbing all our classmates gleefully in our quest for world domination.  Such an activity is not far removed from the repeatedly mentioned World of Warcraft (I think…do correct me if I’m wrong), but did not require computers and internet access.  Moreover, we had to lie to our classmates faces rather than hiding behind the anonymity of an online identity.  Classrooms can be creative and interactive without technology, just as technology can prove to be a great tool in certain classroom activities.  I’m not advocating no technology (this would be ridiculous considering I’m currently typing this response on my computer and online), but the implication that students can only learn with technology is, I think, false.

I guess I agree with those stodgy educators cited as being frustrated with the use of technology in the classroom by distracted and unengaged students.  Yes, it’s our job as instructors to engage our students, but I don’t think we are helping out students if we start constantly giving in to their preference for digital entertainment–Because you’re more interested with online social networks, I’ll make using Twitter part of the classroom; because you are bored by lectures, I’ll show movie clips in class to grab your attention, etc. etc.  Can these be valuable tools? Absolutely. But there is also still value in learning to pay attention when you are bored and in realizing that not every important piece of information is going to be available to you via the internet.  Those are process-skills that are also valuable.

If this post is seeming a bit bitter or resistant to change, I must admit that I’m dealing with some frustration with technology in the classroom myself.  I use a course wiki (via pbworks.com) that makes available session objectives, assignments, and even lesson plans/notes that I record during class for students to later refer to as needed.  But this almost inevitably seems to result in at least one student thinking they do not need to pay attention in class because they’ll just check the wiki for the notes later. So when I fail to take notes, even when I tell them explicitly that they need to write down what I’m saying because I’m not putting it on the wiki, they fail to listen, and I’m sent emails asking questions that demonstrate that particular students are not paying any attention in the classroom.  This is not active learning. This is expecting me to be responsible for their notes and their learning.  Learning might not always be fun, but it is important, and not everything in life is going to be learned via World of Warcraft.

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2 thoughts on “Learning & Technology

  1. We read some of this book last year for Julie Klein’s “Digital Humanities” seminar. I had some of the same reactions as you did the first time around. However, after completing that class, my mindset has softened a bit. I don’t know if the authors are advocating using those kinds of online games in the classroom, per se (but I will say, in like, every book I’ve read about the digital humanities or digital rhetoric, WoW gets mentioned. This is the fourth thing I’ve read this semester that has discussed WoW, between this class and Jeff’s Writing Technologies class). I think rather, they are pointing out that these kinds of games represent a new, incredibly widespread way of learning and interacting. The digital, and everything it encompasses, is with us now and there’s no turning back. So, instead of insisting on classroom methods that were meant for 19th century pedagogical situations and modes of learning, we need to come up with new methods which are better suited to these strange new ways people are thinking and interacting. I’m not sure what happens in the rest of the book, but maybe they have some suggestions based on the situation they describe in these chapters. It’ll make for interesting conversation in class, though, no doubt!

  2. Rant-y it may be, but I think it accurately expresses the frustration I feel many of us, including myself, have towards this topic. One thing you mentioned, that I, too, noticed, but refrained from commenting on for fear that it would send me into a rant spiral, was the focus of this reading on K-12 classrooms. It seemed, to me, that addressing the college classroom was an afterthought and that the crux of piece was centered on K-12 learning. Well, I don’t think the college experience should be a reflection of the K-12 experience. I actually expect, to some degree, to see two different and distinct education models. Institutionally mandated course requirements, goals, instructions, etc. explicitly and implicitly inform us (educators) that we, in addition to teaching English, are to be preparing students for the professional world. I fail to see how things like the incorporation of video games prepare students for the professional world. The skills they can learn from such things can be achieved through a different form of instruction…one that is both accepted in the professional world and will be required in the professional world.

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