Posted by: Mark | October 23, 2008

Teaching and Technology

I’ve made a friend through the web named Jabiz who writes a great blog on education in the technical age. His most recent post is particularly intriguing, and it got me to thinking and I realized it’d be worthwhile for me to chat a bit about my thoughts on teaching with technology, since I haven’t done that in this blog yet. I mean, I just started it people, give me a break.

First, to quote Jabiz a bit to demonstrate what got my thoughts stirring:

“As a teacher who understands and champions the benefits of using new media, social networking, or for lack of a better word- technology in the classroom, I think I often lose sight of what it is I am actually teaching…

It is conceivable that after all the talk about our philosophies, skills, and technological know how, we as teachers should sit back and reflect upon what it is that we love about the subjects we teach everyday.

There is something indescribable about the feeling of sitting in a comfortable place, highlighter in hand, reading a great book. That feeling of kinship, understanding and bonding that is formed between author and reader is the epitome of social networking. We spend so much time and energy discovering new tools to help connect our students to information and to each other, that we sometimes forget that truly understanding a great piece of literature, having the ability to deconstruct, analyze, and synthesis text, and finally being able to produce a carefully crafted critique of a work can be just as effective of a skill to have as say blogging.”

You should really check out the full post to get a better sense of him, because if you read this quote out of context you might think that he’s anti-technology. He’s certainly not, but I think he introduces himself more eloquently than I can so just go check him out.

So here’s where I stand on this. I am definitely a huge proponent of technology in my classroom. I teach two courses: World History 1500-Today, and Global Issues, but my major academic focus is unquestionably history. When I first became a history teacher, my grandfather sent me a newspaper clipping featuring an interview with renowned historian David McCullough. I can’t find the article online, but in it McCullough cites studies proving that History is America’s least favorite subject in high school, period.

This was a pretty heavy challenge to be issued just before starting my first year as a history teacher, but it’s one that I never forget. As much as I may inherently love learning about the past, most kids just don’t like it at all. Ok so what does this mean? My teaching philosophy revolves around making history alive and relevant for today’s students so that if nothing else, they don’t hate history and rank it as their least favorite subject.

In order to do that, I believe that I need to speak to kids using their language. I may salivate over reading American slave narratives, for example, but most of my kids don’t care for much more than a few minutes about them. And even though I rant and rave and do a dance in the classroom to convey my enthusiasm, I know that the text, while it’s beautiful and seductive to me, leaves many students unsatisfied.

So I have turned to technology to help me. Today’s students obviously speak the language of technology and can get excited about it. I can’t help but to think of a scene from the movie “Adaptation,” when Meryl Streep’s character hosts a swank dinner party with fellow New Yorker writers. That scene is just so adult. That’s not how high school kids normally converse and discuss. They converse through facebook, text messages, and in general, behind computer screens and not always face-to-face.

There are vocal chunks of society that bemoan this fact and talk about how we’re losing our values and humanity and all that stuff. I don’t want to engage that discussion right now, and so I’m going to dismiss it.

But here’s the point. I can make history more alive for kids if I speak at their level. History doesn’t have to be dusty books in a library. I find that charming and love it….few others do. History can be about youtube videos, twitter, facebook, Moodle, Wikispaces. We’re still talking about history! I am writing this right now in the library because my students are working on wiki-style essays about the global impacts of the Industrial Revolution, and so in between circulating and answering questions I’m able to type this up. I walk around the room, and I don’t hear about html-coding. The kids are disagreeing about India’s views on wage regulations, not logging in.

I don’t think any of this is news to Jabiz. He thinks and writes a lot about this, and this recent post is a reflection of a recent wave of self-questioning with regards to his methods. Such self-questioning is the only healthy way to progress in this career as far as I’m concerned. I guess my point of this is to reassure Jabiz, and other teachers, whether they willingly engage technology or fear it like the plague, that implementing technology does not necessarily detract from your subject matter. Instead, I think that by engaging students in an active way that they relate to, it instead enhances the subject matter.

Of course, I am open to hearing any thoughts and comments.

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Responses

  1. There are some really important points in this post. Also, it is really cool for me to check out the progress of your students’ wiki pages, as I was in class on the day they were assigned. Totally impressed.

    I agree with you most when you claim that students have a language of their own–one that is different than yours and therefore requires you to adapt. It seems that technology is an effective way to bridge this gulf.

    I’m taking a class at Vanderbilt right now called Literacy and New Media. We’re doing a lot of cool stuff in this class, but the thesis of our efforts is particularly relevant to this discussion.

    Essentially, we abide by the principle that the idea of an English classroom (in your case History) is a moving target; it’s never been a fossilized notion that is complete. It ebbs and flows like anything else in the wake of culture, politics, technology, etc.

    Right now, in 2008, our world has a huge crush on technology and most students take part of this little romance. As such, the classroom needs to in it as well because only then will the classroom become relevant and useful to these kids.

  2. [...] I gained knowledge of how to create a web page by using Dreamweaver, too. Through reading the blog, Teaching and Technology by Mark, some of my views about technology in the classroom have changed. I came to the [...]


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