If I could describe my attitude towards teaching with technology over the past few years in one word it would be “resistant.” It’s not that I didn’t understand times were changing, or even that I didn’t appreciate how digital technology was becoming more and more a part of day to day communication –these issues were clear. Rather, what gave me pause was the haphazard nature of how I saw its implementation. As I looked to my colleagues using Twitter, WordPress, Google docs, Soundcloud, YouTube, and even Facebook I failed to see continuity. The last thing I wanted was to ask my students to tweet for the sake of tweeting or blog for the sake of blogging. Like many (I know you are still out there) I just wasn’t convinced using these formats would improve student writing and comprehension and saw digital technology as a distraction.
What changed? Last year I decided to take the plunge. Though still skeptical, I felt I couldn’t continue to be critical of something I so intentionally avoided. I wanted a better way for my 100 level Introduction to Literature students to respond to the reading and decided to have them create a blog through Google Sites for that purpose. I picked Google Sites over other blogging platforms because I found it more user friendly and accessible to beginning students (not to mention myself), though admittedly it lacks a bit in sleekness. I honestly didn’t know what to expect, but I figured it was time to give it a try—and if it failed I’d be justified.
What happened surprised me. I dreaded dealing with e-mails from a class of 35 students asking about technical difficulties, but the percentage of students in the class that required personalized help was fairly small and easily managed. As the semester went on, some of the students in the class started to experiment with importing images and playing with design of their site and adding sound and video links in responses. Because the students had access to each other’s blogs they shared ideas, helped each other figure out “how you make it do that” etc. In short, what I feared would be a distraction from the subject matter actually became a point of engagement with the subject matter. At the end of the semester, one student who struggled early on with the reading assignments thanked me for incorporating the blogs in the course, stating it helped her relate to the literature.
With this positive experience under my belt, I branched out the next semester and experimented with digital portfolios and a student authored course wiki. Though some students were frustrated in the beginning, many students indicated that the communal experience of contributing to the wiki and bringing in links and supplementary materials was one of the most useful assignments in the class.
The biggest lesson I learned through this process was that the very concern that immobilized me for so long—figuring out which technology or digital platform was best to use—was really not that important. I realized the point in both classes was not to help my students become proficient with Google Sites but to help them learn that they can teach themselves to use most any platform for their own rhetorical purposes—a skill I learned as well. Still, I know my initial trepidation is by no means unique. So what is it that holds us back from experimenting with new technologies in our pedagogy and how can we continue to overcome it?