Let’s Go Back to the Stone Age, Teachers!

[For this post, I take you back to my “stone age,” a time during grad school and community college teachings in which I began to grow frustrated with technology issues in the classroom. These were my thoughts.]

I hate technology today. I hate how it creates as many problems as it solves. I hate how maybe you’re right if you want to point out that this is not always the case, such as in modern medicine.

Still, I hate technology. I hate planning a lesson and then coming to class finding that the program that worked fine on my computer doesn’t work fine on the school computer. I hate having to learn how to operate a new program or web tool every time I take a new class because the teacher wants to try it out. I hate students sending me .wps documents, or telling me their printer “wouldn’t work”. I hate teaching online-only comp. I hate Scholar. I hate Blackboard. I truly think I would should have been born in the 1800s, when writing was either done in pencil or on a typewriter. I know, it had its drawbacks. I’m overreacting.

I am interested in the use of multiple technology interfaces in the classroom setting. The only problem is, sometimes I really think it’s foolish for me to teach them. There is a reason it takes at least a semester to really bring about some changing in writing for students. I’m no luddite who wants to ignore the emerging social technologies in our world and thinks they ruin writing. It’s not that texting ruins writing. Not enough writing ruins writing, and whatever method people are used to will bleed into their writing. If all they do is text, texting will bleed in. It’s not texting’s fault; it’s the lack of writing’s fault.

So with technology, I don’t mind having it. I just want to do everything I can to keep me from being the one teaching it instead of teaching textual composition.  Two reasons why:

  1. Students are increasingly already aware of how to use certain technology tools better than their own teachers, and can often learn these faster.
  2. (Especially in cases where the above is not true) There should be an entire class that focuses solely on digital composition and social media tools.

I don’t want to wake up one day and find myself spending half my class showing students how to make cool videos, and then spend the other half cramming composition itself into smaller a space than we need. Still, I know there are problems with my two assumptions.
1) There are students who aren’t techno-savvy.  My students don’t even have internet access at home, or their own computer.  Is is their fault they’re behind on technology?
2) An entire class just on digital comp. means another class has to go, because full schedules are full schedules.
The only other solution I can think of is to replace traditional comp. with digital comp. and make every other teacher in every other subject promise to grade papers for comp. skills as well as task performance.

Either way, teaching students the manipulation of words and words alone is too important a skill to be pushed aside just because digital media is expanding so rapidly. We don’t stop teaching math because we have calculators. We don’t stop teaching Driver’s Ed. just because cars are being made that apparently will never crash because they’re so “smart.” It takes forever to teach writing skills; it can only take an afternoon to teach iMovie.

So anyway, were anyone else’s feelings hurt when they came across what S.B. Kajder observed about her students? “Those literacies and tools that these students valued the most were the ones that lived almost completely outside of our classroom.”  I mean, it’s no surprise. But she goes on. Her students say things like, “Writing in school is about telling answers,” and “When we use technology in school, it’s to produce…When I write with technology outside of school, it’s because I have something to say and someone is actually listening.” Ouch.

Of course, that reflects attitudes about education in general, not about English teachers (right?). But I think that’s what happens when we try to squeeze in technology use unnaturally just to say we did it and pat ourselves on the back. Kajdner lists her rules for us:
1. What are the unique capacities of this tool?
2. What does it allow me to do better?

It reminds me of Wendell’s Berry’s rules for new tools, taken from his article, “Why I am not going to Buy a Computer.

(As you can tell, I have a computer.  I find it useful.  It’s a few years old.  I don’t plan on buying a new one until it breaks.)
[note: I bought a new one four years later.]

Unless a digital media project fits naturally into the less on plan, don’t use it. That’s my rule. Or at least offer it as extra credit.

But then I read Boardman’s story about the kids who no one could get to write, and then break out with a humorously written movie.  My first thought: That’s great.  They made a movie, which takes a lot of talent, and felt proud for accomplishing that.  But it doesn’t help their composition skills.  My second thought:  Well, if they don’t take that pride in what they did, and had never done it, would they ever have felt motivated at all by a sense of accomplishment in something that, in the end, took writing skills to make after all?  Pacing, organization, audience, purpose, humor, description.

I think about our current experience with the students on our Ning.  I’m not quite into the Ning think with these students, but when I think about it, it’s not because of the technology itself, but the fact that I don’t know these kids and feel it’s hard to evaluate them and interact with them if I don’t know their performance and attitudes in class (maybe that’s a good thing for perspective’s sake).  I hate communicating with strangers  on message boards, even though I love the idea of writing books for them to read.  Strange.

So for the longest time I’ve avoided heavy technology in my classrooms (I say “for the longest time”, I haven’t even taught for a long time).  Powerpoint, Youtube videos, minimally using blackboard and scholar—that’s as far as it has gone.  I will try to invest more faith, to branch out.  If anything, I’ll need it to be marketable.  There are already enough old fogey teachers resisting change in school systems.  Everyone expects young hip teachers to know the ins and outs of Digitania.  Help me, please.

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