Sunday, September 20, 2009

Technology Never Promised to Take Less Time

Technology never promised to take less time. Well, if it did that was back in the '70s when we thought 2001 would never come and by then we'd all be wearing white zippered polyester suits a la Star Trek. This week I spent four days doing with Web 2.0 what used to take ten minutes the old-fashioned way.

Okay, now, to do it again, I could probably accomplish it in two-days, given what I learned in the process.

My students had made what I call "Beowulf Tapestries," panels of muslin fabric on which the students depict a scene from Beowulf on each panel. Together they roughly make up a project in the style of the Bayeux Tapestry, which we study as well. Each panel is to depict a moment from a particular canto and quote text. Then students identify themes that resonate from this scene.

In my early years, I would stitch the panels together for a wall hanging. One year I had a panel for each of the hundred-some cantos. Lately, I've stapled them together on a bulletin board for a similar effect. This year I decided to go digital.

Rather than present their work in the room, I had my students snap a picture with the web cams in their laptops and maneuver the file into our PB Works wiki for an online ensemble. No sweat, right?

No. . . sweat! Computers didn't log on. User names were mispelt. And my students had never played in a wiki space before. So it took four days and we learned along the way. By the third day I realized that I should have started by having everyone make a sandbox page first. This facilitates them all working at once and uploading their files simultaneously--a huge time saver. They also can "play" in their sandboxes! while waiting for others to finish.
All in all the project turned out. My students and I have a few more digital skills in our respective repertoires and Beowulf is still our hero.

Monday, September 7, 2009

iPod Curriculum

First let me say, for those who don’t know me from previous posts, I’m a digital media literacy advocate. I believe that it’s imperative for media literacy and digital skills to be taught in the English Language Arts classrooms, and elsewhere. But I also believe that students must be taught these skills in tandem with traditional literacies of reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing, and representing. The new media expand these literacies, but first they stand on them.
Without the traditional skills and understandings of basic language arts, digital literacies become just so much pushing buttons, tinkering with software (soon to be updated and outmoded), and presenting the superficial.

I am reminded of Mike Schmoker’s essay “The Crayola Curriculum,” published nearly a decade ago in Education Week. A professional stickler for academic results, Schmoker raises the alarm for classroom activity without learning, products that lack process, and process that lacks rigor.
Technology in education often has the allure of that was once held by the diorama, the poster, and the book jacket project. Nowadays, we see PhotoStories, iMovies, and PowerPoints accepted without anything more critical than “Wow!” “Cool!” and “Neat!” Not only are digitally made projects new and glitzy, they may even beyond the can-do of the teacher, which grants them special but superficial esteem. Add to this the mandate that the teacher-learn-along-with-if-not-from-the-students, and it’s tough to develop best practices, let alone be sure that language arts our being taught and learned at a deep level.
As an advocate for media literacy and digital skills in the English Language Arts classroom, I must constantly remind myself to plan backwards using essential questions, outcomes, and objectives that use technology in service to reading and writing and other traditional literacies. Although digital literacy is part of literacy, the tools of the trade are still thinking and practice, expression and audience. Another factor in the equation is time. Figuring out how much time to teach, which skills, and what is relevant to the curricular unit at hand is key. Sometimes the Crayolas make more sense than the computers.
Students, too, are a strong motivating factor. They love the technology, especially if they can check surf a few of their favorite sites in lieu of staying on task. What teacher doesn’t want to be popular not only with administrators pushing the tech but also with students who gravitate toward the cool teacher that brings out the laptops daily. The question for us professionals is –now as ever--what and how is being taught effectively and efficiently?
Technology has become part and parcel to English Language Arts. Perhaps it’s been that way since stylus and clay, stage and theatron, Gutenberg and moveable type. Today, skills of expression, representation, and reception are multiplying at a blurred pace. Teaching our students the basics is still essential to teaching the latest device, lest our students produce creative and satisfying but mindless and vain Power Points, iMovies and video games, and become casualties of “The iPod Curriculum,” unable to read, write, and think about texts critically.

Image credit: Remix of "Sweet Sweet Phone." By Miss Karen. 10 June 2007 and "Crayola Lineup." By Laffy4k. 26 Feb. 2007. Flickr. Used by permission provided by Creative Commons License: BY.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Respect, Kindess, and Empathy in Social Media

Can social-networking technology actually be social? I've worried, not just about anti-social behavior like bullying and ranting, but about people substituting face-to-face, or ear-to-ear, and hand-in-hand communication. Much is lost in the media.

Will the next generation be burrowed in their own niches, texting in syllables, with only like-minded fbfs--completely incable of geniune social skills?* No tubs of ice cream in this picture.

Yet I saw a glimmer of hope in the words of Himanshu Nigam, chief security officer at News Corp. and MySpace. In an article posted by Cnet, Nigam made the following points about the potential of social networking sites to promote certain social behaviors:

Post with respect: photos are a great way to share wonderful experiences. If you're posting a photo of you and your friends, put yourself in your friends' shoes and ask would your friends want that photo to be public to everyone. If yes, then you're uploading photos with respect.

Comment with kindness: compliments are like smiles, they're contagious. When you comment on a profile, share a kind word, others will too.

Update with empathy: sharing updates lets us tell people what we think. When you give an opinion on your status updates, show empathy towards your friends and help them see the world with understanding eyes.

So with lessons in media literacy can come lessons of social literacy. What an engaging and unsexpected arena to teach caring for ourselves and others! Conversations about fair, just, generous, and kind dealings naturally can be reasoned out as we teach our students how to best interact on the web. Alas, maybe with media can be geniunely social, even if the ice cream must be served separately.


*fbfs - Facebook friends

Image credit: "Goat Milk Ice Cream." By Stu Spivak. 29 May 2007. Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons: BY, SA.