I came to EDCT 552 by a bit of a fluke — or perhaps it was kismet. I was supposed to take a different class, but it was full. My advisor said, “Well, we have this new technology professor who has an open class…” And the rest, as they say, is history.
Actually, I grudgingly agreed to take this class. I used to be a bit of a curmudgeon when it came to integrating technology into my curriculum. Don’t get me wrong — I have always enjoyed technology, and I have taught myself quite a few handy applications. But after 17 years in a public school, I know how difficult it is to utilize technology in my classroom. There is no money, no supplies, no time, not to mention the support needed to ensure that whatever technology we have is actually functioning… plus not all my students have reliable access to technology at home. I have purposely kept my own children away from what I think are technological excesses: our family doesn’t have television, I just got my first cell phone a year ago, my son and husband don’t have cell phones, we don’t have video games, and until I bought myself a laptop, our family of four has shared just one computer. We haven’t done this because we think technology is inherently evil; we just don’t see a need for excessive amounts of the beast. Plus we have seen how people can latch on to whatever is the latest in technological gizmos and gadgets, assuming that tech = good, which is just as ridiculous as the other sides’ assumption that tech = evil. So I take a cautious middle road…
When I left class after our first meeting, I was a convert. I have always worked hard to offer my students engaging curriculum, and I knew that technology, if nothing else, could engage them in work that they otherwise may not be interested in. But more than engaging them, it didn’t take me long to see that if I neglected to integrate technology into my curriculum, I would be doing my students a grave disservice. Not only is their world one of rampant technology, but their learning styles are changing due to their experiences with media. As an English teacher, I need to make sure the “reading” and “writing” that I teach my students is the reading and writing they do and will need to do in today’s world. No more parchment paper and fountain pens! It’s time for blogs, wikis and social networking sites to be recognized for the reading and writing of today.
When we researched the use of cell phones in the classroom, I realized how backwards we in the education field can be when it comes to keeping our students and curriculum on the cutting edge. Yes, there are many hurdles to be cleared when we try to include technology in our classrooms, but our tendency to brand as evil and outright ban the tools of today makes us look like the proverbial ostrich with our head firmly buried in the sand… while our students frolic on the beach without us.
When I took the dive and invited my students to post their literary analysis journals on a new class blog, I fully crossed over from cautious to hallelujah-praise-blog! My instinct told me that the blog would be a success simply because the students would enjoy it, plus they might proofread a little better since their work would be published, and I might “hook” some kids who so far weren’t all that engaged. What I didn’t expect was the radical shift my students took from being solitary readers and writers who worked for their teacher, to actively participating in reading and writing communities. The blog, as we have learned about so much of today’s technology, changed the way my students worked, changed the way they participated in class, changed the way they viewed their peers, and – glory, hallelujah — motivated them to actually proofread and edit their work before publishing it. Wow!
A side note about my blog project: the students in the blogging class are a homogenous class of advanced/gifted students. Most of these students are already earning A’s in their classes, completing most or all of their homework, and appear to be motivated to do well. However, what I know about these kinds of kids is that their motivation tends to be tied to the letter grades they earn, and if they are able to earn those grades without really engaging in the work, that’s fine with them. But since literary analysis demands full engagement in the literature, I see even advanced students struggling to write strong literary response. If they don’t engage in deep discussions with other readers, they probably won’t discover and dwell on the many ideas woven throughout the books. What the blog did for these students was provide a medium that pushed them up to that higher level of analysis that they weren’t reaching because they were used to their individual efforts being “good enough.” While our state and country focus all resources on raising the scores of underachieving students, it is absolutely vital that our advanced, “performing” students not slip through the cracks due to lack of engagement. Just because they earn A’s doesn’t mean they are challenged, intrigued, motivated and learning.
Without a doubt this class has changed my professional practice. The one guinea pig blog will become home to three other classes of 8th grade readers in January, and next week my students will post their “proudest” piece of writing from the semester on our new writing blog. But it is not just the use of blogs that has changed for me; I have an uneasy vision of my entire career of teaching junior high English being tipped upside down, and all its contents — my brilliant lessons, projects and exams — spilling out, tumbling down around the desks, cartwheeling to the floor, while wikis, digital stories, podcasts, blogs and cell phones take their rightful place in my classroom. That is an exciting, yet also terrifying, image for one who has developed a pretty darn good curriculum over the years. But it’s time.
I have always been the kind of teacher who sharesexciting lessons and projects with other teachers (whether they want to hear about them or not), so I see myself easily stepping into the shoes of our school’s media missionary. But I am anticipating a pretty easy audience. Our district has shown pretty good support already for technology (although that very physical kind of support – someone to fix it when it breaks and the money to do so – is slow in coming), and the leadership at our school is relatively young and tech-savvy. The teachers with whom I work closely have already heard about and expressed interest in what I have been learning this semester, and I am sure mine won’t be the only blog on campus in the near future. But I suspect it will take more than my cheerful enthusiasm for technology to bring about the radical kinds of changes our students need. I will need to get involved at the districtlevel, and I will need to become more than just familiar with the various kinds of technology that we ought to be utilizing, how to do that well, and how to fund it all. It is a big job, but as they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day… and even with our technological advances, it will take time to bring our schools out of the dark ages and into the full-spectrum anti-glare light of modern media.