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?
Photo Credit: alles-schlumpf via Compfight cc
Welcome to the dark side,
Welcome to the dark side, Laura! Just kidding. =) But in all honesty, I feel like you did a good job of articulating the concern that so many educators face when thinking about incorporating technology in their classrooms. Namely, that of possibility overload. There are SO MANY possibilities out there when it comes to choosing which piece of technology that we wish to use to help shape our students' learning. I feel like that shear volume of possible content or tools is enough to give anyone pause when trying to decide what technology will be the most useful to our pedagogy and to our students.
And that's the real concern, isn't it? We want to ensure that we give our students the best possible educational experience. I feel like this goal can cause us to be hesitant when thinking about ways that we might change our classes with new technology, especially when it means blindly diving into a field that is unfamiliar to us. We want to ensure that our students are getting the best education possible and so we do our best to examine all of the possible technologies they might use. I'm sure that the human aversion to change plays a part in it as well. Bravo to you for showing us what is possible if we challenge ourselves and our pedagogy!
Bleak Beginnings with Blackboard
Laura, I have to say that I used to agree with your "past" self--my experience with technology in "traditional" classrooms as a student has largely been, in a word, lackluster because it's largely been with Blackboard. Something about it just reeks of "duty" to the classroom and not much about the site promotes the interaction between students that instructors seem to desire when they add that discussion board component to their classes. In an undergraduate Education course, a professor introduced the class to the wiki, where students would write "chapters" of the course's digital "textbook," per se, and I found that I rather liked the experience. Students engaged with one another's writing in a way that I hadn't seen before in a college course when Blackboard was the primary source of digital interaction among students, and I started becoming more open to the idea of blogging in the classroom. Like Matt said, there are so many options available to instructors that I don't think they take into consideration when they default to Blackboard, and I think that the wave of technology that's permeating the classrooms will inevitably change the way we think about pedagogical approaches in the future.
All of this to say: I totally agree with what you say, and I'm glad that your experiences have been so positive and rewarding--not just for you, but for your students as well! We don't know whether or not we like something without experimentation!
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