Should we teach all the things? And to whom?
I wrote at least 2 other versions of this response during the Computers and Writing 2013 conference last week. Each time I thought I had it finished, I went to another session that shifted my thinking (and many thanks to the fascinating scholars who did so) and so, after returning yesterday, I finally struck upon what will have to be the last draft of this post. And my answer is:
It depends. It depends upon context, upon students, upon technology, upon infrastructure, upon administrative support, upon programmatic goals. It just depends.
Initially, after an extremely well run WordPress workshop, I wrote about my own personal struggle with whether or not I wanted to adopt WordPress into my classroom. I went back and forth on the value of templates, encouraging students to look under the hood, the economic constraints and what that means to a student population that is as mixed in its economic background as it is in its level of technology literacy.
I then thought about Karl Stolley and James Paul Gee’s keynotes - about the importance of coding, difficulty, and knowing how to build from ground up (Stolley) and the critical role the ability to make plays in motivation and the belief that resiliency is an end goal for a responsible education (Gee). These of course are very reductive descriptors of their arguments, but they are what factored into my thinking on this particular topic. I then wrote another piece that was a more critical reflection upon the thinking in the first.
Then on the conference’s last day, I went to a panel lead by Kathleen Turner from University of Mississippi Tupelo and Cortney Barko from West Virginia Institute of Technology. My head was left swimming with the descriptions these presenters gave of uphill struggle and roadblocks to fundamental computer literacy that their students faced. Needless to say, these women are impressive in the work that they do.
Again, I found my response inadequate. And so I came to the conclusion that what I really wanted to talk about was the “it depends” factors regarding the choice to use and implement digital technologies into the classroom curriculum.
So this brings me back around to my on-the-fence personal dialog about WordPress. The largest question truly is, does it work in my context? My students want to learn web design. Learning to write and design in digital environments is a programmatic goal. However, these students vary greatly in their access to technology and their experience with various technologies. So as an entry technology that allows them to do website design work, WordPress rather nicely allows for a hacker pedagogy (something I’ve recently completed a book chapter about with Shelley Rodrigo) where students can shape the parameters of their learning and can choose among quite a number of things to learn with the tools they have on hand. However, this does change the end game of teaching web design because students don’t necessarily control the process from beginning to end. So where does that level of control fit into the curriculum? Into student needs? My conclusion at this point is that what becomes most important is what students’ personal technology goals are and the preparation we give them to adapt to rapidly changing technology landscape. It is this last word - adapt or as Gee might suggest resiliency - that I think is most critical. It isn’t the tools taught that matters; it is the flexibility, adaptability, and confidence learned that probably matters more than the chosen technologies.
What are the possibilities and constraints in your context? What are the goals of your programs and your students? What technologies have you critically inquired into for your pedagogical use? Do you have a personal teaching philosophy regarding your choices about using digital technology?