The Changing Spaces of Reading and Writing

Category — Reflections

An article to share = 540 Reflection

   Hi all! I was asked to write an article for the International Baccalaureate Organization’s (IBO) grassroots educational magazine in Hong Kong titled The International Inquirer. I work at an IBO school, in a bilingual environment and I teach the Primary Years Program (PYP). The article is a reflection on what we learned during the digital literacy exploration in 540 and I really tried to blend MET with my actual practice. I asked permission to share the article here and I was encouraged to. Way to go CopyLeft movement! My article is more generalized than my MET work, and it is written to inspire ed-tech integration. I would not have written it as well without help from this community and knowledge gained through this course. Thanks for inspiring me! During the copy process, some formatting changed and I can’t seem to fix it. The article is not supposed to be APA as the format for references is up to the editor, but I certainly aimed for APA throughout! Erin

A Concept-Driven Curriculum and Educational Technology Integration

In 2001, Mark Prensky, an influential voice in the field of educational technology, considered students in kindergarten-college, who were born into a technically advanced society, to be “Digital Natives”. Prensky’s (2001) Digital Natives were the first generation literate in the digital language of computers, the Internet and video games. Individuals born prior to the introduction of home computers and broadband are considered Digital Immigrants, and they speak “digital” with a strong accent (Prensky, 2001). Similar to Prensky, Don Tapscott (1998) considered  students born between 1977 and 1997 to be members of the Net Generation, a generation of critical thinkers who question the values contained in information. The Net Generation have “grown up digital” and in 2009, we are teaching the new Net Generation, some  members who are being raised by the first “Net Geners” (Tapscott, 2009). Curriculums will never catch up with the digital language this generation speaks unless there is a shift toward centering the learning experience on the individual and providing learners with the tools of new media to enhance interactivity and, importantly, constructivist connections (Tapscott,1998).


 Kids on PC teaching adults at a conference how to play a game(Kids and Computers, 2007)

 In 2007, cultural anthropologist Michael Wesch posted a video concerning this issue on YouTube. The video, A Vision of Students Today, emphasises how the educational system of the 20th century fails to meet the needs of the 21st century learner.  Web development never slowed down to let Digital Immigrants catch up. In 2004, Tim O’Reilly coined the phrase “Web 2.0” and the new Net Generation spoke another digital language dialect (Alexander, 2008). Educators inhabiting the world of the new Net Generation must revamp and extend their prior technology skills to address emergent multiliteracies in the Web 2.0 world (Alexander, 2008). An exploration of how the PYP could meet the needs of the new Net Generation learner through the educational design of a concept-driven curriculum opens up learning possibilities for student and teacher.

The concept driven curriculum in the PYP is a pedagogical approach to learning and teaching that supports inquiry based learning (IBO, 2009). The eight key concepts identified in the PYP (form, function, causation, change, connection, perspective, responsibility and reflection) support the transdisciplinary model of teaching and learning (IBO, 2009). Integrating educational technology opportunities, specifically Web 2.0 tools, into a concept driven curriculum is one way to enrich lines of inquiry (Alexander, 2006; Levy, 2008; Reid, 2007; Wesch, 2007).  Web 2.0 tools give educators the means to incorporate digital literacy opportunities into the inquiry process to help meet the transdisciplinary learning needs of the new Net Generation (Alexander, 2006; Bolter, 2001; Cameron, 2004; Prensky, 2008).

The selection of Web 2.0 tools is dependent on a number of factors, not all of which can be discussed here. For the sake of making reasonable recommendations, it is assumed that the digital divide in Hong Kong IB schools is not a severe restrictive concern. Students need access to a computer with a reliable Internet connection and teachers may require in-house technical support (Bates, 2000). It is also assumed that educational technology integration has been discussed at the administrative level and the school has a general atmosphere of culture change in favour of designing educational spaces with Web 2.0 technology. Staff enthusiasm for learning new Web 2.0 tools in an already stretched schedule is one indicator of this cultural change (Bates, 2000). It is recommended that the terms of service and privacy policies for Web 2.0 applications be analyzed with the school’s online student safety and intellectual property policies in mind (ISTE, 2008). Finally, grade level planning meetings concerning how concepts could be supported with specific technologies during the inquiry planning process would clarify the purpose of the Web 2.0 tool.


  (ICT Enhanced Interative Writing, 2009)

A number of Web 2.0 technologies are available to teachers and choosing a tool may seem daunting. However, it is up to the teacher to decide how the tool could be integrated to make concepts in the planner relevant to the student. Alexander (2006; 2008), in his discussion of multiliteracies, identifies four qualities of Web 2.0 tools which help students develop their digital literacy. They are considered by Alexander (2008) to be the creation of microcontent, social connectedness, openness and social filtering. The new Net Generation speaks this language and learns in this manner (Bolter, 2001; Anderson 2008). When choosing tools it is important to identify characteristics of the new Net Generation in order to inform educational design. These students desire faster interactions with information, multitasking, processing multiple data simultaneously,  informative graphics with a text backup, hyperlinking through materials rather than reading linearly,  networking with electronic communication devices, immediate and clear feedback or reward in return for efforts (Bolter, 2001; Cameron, 2004). Our students see technology as empowering and necessary (Bolter, 2001; Cameron, 2004).


Web 1.0_2.0_comic(“Ed-Tech 1.0 Meets 2.0”, Gillespie, 2009. Created on MakeBeliefsComix)

Digital storytelling and the emergent form of Web 2.0 digital storytelling is a tool popular with educators (Banaszewski, 2002; Benmayor, 2008; Meadows, 2003). Enthusiast, educator and Web 2.0 researcher Alan Levine has created an excellent resource for anyone interested in Web 2.0 digital storytelling at Blogging and wikis have been popular for over a decade and both have been researched and found to be supportive of constructivist learning opportunities. Some recommended tools are Landmarks’ Class Blogmeister (, Edublogs (, Wikimedia’s Wikikids ( and PB Works ( For a snapshot of wikis in use, visit Educational Wikis (

Other excellent Web 2.0 tools to support digital literacy and inquiry are Kerpoof Studios (, M.I.T’s Scratch (, Make Beliefs Comix (, Voice Thread ( , Prezi (, Gliffy diagram software ( , the Jing screen capture application ( and the sound editor Audacity ( Creative Commons ( is an excellent place for student and teacher to search for “copyleft” and reusable and web content. The above Web 2.0 tools are designed in English, but some lend themselves to bilingual content. Generally, they are tools which can be mixed and “remixed” with one another. For example, a wiki could have an embedded 2.0 digital story which is itself hyperlinked to a blog in order to meet the student’s digital literacy preference for nonlinear reading. In addition, the forums on the online curriculum centre (OCC) are rich resources concerning the practical implementation of Web 2.0 tools. Several Ning ( networks, wikis and TED ( talks have been created by IB educators for IB educators.

Our students are memory stick carrying members of the new Net Generation, a generation defining emergent multiliteracies. In a knowledge society, our learners need liberal arts skills to be integrated with information technology (Bates, 2000).  It is the educator’s responsibility to integrate tools with meaningful relevance to our 21st century students in order to help them reach their greatest potential when navigating a concept based inquiry. Today’s students live Web 2.0 digital lives and a growing number of teachers are beginning to explore and develop new ways of teaching with these technologies and practices (Alexander, 2008). It is the intention of this article to provide inspiration for IB teachers to integrate Web 2.0 tools in order to help students construct knowledge necessary for a meaningful understanding of concepts.



Alexander, B. (2006). Web 2.0: A new wave of innovation for teaching and learning? EDUCAUSE Review, 41(2), 32-44. Retrieved from

Alexander, B. (2008). Web 2.0 and emergent multiliteracies. Theory into Practice, 47(2), 150-160. doi: 10.1080/00405840801992371

            Bates, T. (2000). Managing technological change: Strategies for college and university leaders. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Beetham,H., & Sharpe, R. (2007). An introduction to rethinking pedagogy for a digital age. In H. Bentham & R. Sharpe (Eds.), Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age. (pp 1-10). London:Routeledge

Bolter, J. D. (2001). Writing space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Cameron, D. (2004). The net generation goes to university? Journalism Education Association Conference , Griffith University. Available online from

International Baccalaureate Organization. (2009). The IB primary years programme. Available online from

International Society for Technology in Education [ISTE]. (2008). ISTE’s Educational Technology Standards for Teachers. Available online from

Lamb, B. (2007). Dr. Mashup or, why educators should learn to stop worrying and love the remix. EDUCAUSE Review, 42(4). 12-24.

Levy, P. (2008). Inquiry in the Web 2.0 environment: Tools for students for ‘design for learning’? Learning Through Enquiry Alliance Conference 2008. Available online from

Reid, P. (2007). Inquiry based learning with Web 2.0. Educational Computing Association of Western Australia 2007 Conference Proceedings. Available online from

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1-6. Available online from,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

Prensky, M. (2006). “Don’t bother me mom-I’m learning!” St. Paul, Minnesota: Paragon House

Tapscott, D. (1998). Growing up digital: The rise of the Net generation. NY, New York: McGraw-Hill

Tapscott, D. (2009 ) . Grown up digital. NY, New York:McGraw-Hill.

Wesch, M. (2007). A vision of students today, video. Available online from

Image References

Kids and Computers. January 13, 2007. Flickr upload by shapeshift. Available online November 25, 2009, from

Owen, H. (2009). The ICT Enhanced Iterative Writing Process \’;//.[Electronic Version]. Retrieved from

Gillespie, E. (2009). Ed-tech 1.0 meets 2.0. Created on MakeBeliefsComix , GNU license

December 4, 2009   No Comments

Yesterday, today and tomorrow

I feel like in the past few months of the course my original ideas on communication technologies have been completely torn apart at times, stretched out to accommodate new ideas at others, and turned around, upside down and shaken out when I have least expected it.  I came into the course with specific notions of orality, literacy, and hypertext/social technologies.  I realized very quickly that my ideas were quite closed, and desperately needed to be challenged, opened up for debate, and in some cases, revamped in their entirety.

Projects and discussions in the course offered great theoretical thought provoking materials, such as Ong and Bolter ‘battling it out’ for a win on two different sides of the arguments regarding technological determinism.  Throughout each stage of the course I found myself stopping frequently to consider the information, search for further reading on topics of interest, and eager to begin research for commentaries which would help me to come to terms with issues that left me with more questions than answers.

Orality and Literacy

Considering a world without literacy was an incredibly rich experience.  I had never considered literacy to be technology, and had not thought in depth about the implications of print to a society or culture.  Questions regarding the effects of literacy seemed to fall out of the pages as I read about changes in our society over the past few thousand years as communication moved from orality, to a combination of orality and literacy(through the lifespan of papyrus scrolls, codex, the printing press), to more modern technologies (hypertext and word processing faculties).  Real-world examples came to mind in my own area, of the First Nations cultures in my community that have been, effectively, ripped from orality and heaved headfirst into literary traditions.  Where many, if not most, cultures have had thousands of years to adapt, what happens to cultures that are expected to openly adapt, and adjust to the dominant literary traditions in less than a century?  There are still First Nations people alive today that can remember a time of pure orality. 

New Technologies

I began to realize that communication technologies affect our lives as we choose to (or are coerced/forced/manipulated) into adopting them.  We take on new technologies, realize they ease our daily lives and as a result, develop a perceived need for them and then work to develop increasingly efficient and effective technologies that we can no longer seem to live without.  I wonder at how our world will change as a result of online technologies including but not limited to social media technologies and hyperlinking trends.  We seem to be in the midst of a huge revolution in an Internet presence that is simultaneously everywhere and nowhere.  This presence that we can not see or physically feel, is affecting our society in exponentially increasing degrees.  Michael Wesch’s, Youtube video, Information R/evolution really brings to light the dramatic changes that have already occurred since the introduction of these new technologies.

Branching occurs whenever a new technology is introduced.  Literacy has branched off from oral traditions and new technologies are creating yet another branch in the media of communication.  In a world where “social media” and Web 2.0 are new terms arising from technologies of the recent few years, the rate of change is exceptionally fast, as new technologies build upon old, answering the needs of current society.  As Francois de la Rochefoucauld reminds us, “The only thing constant in life is change.” 

orality to literacy

Please take a look at the chart I have attached which provides a general overview of some ways the transition from Orality to Print to Hypertext and Online technologies has occurred.  It provides an overview of the branching off which has occurred as a result of these three technological movements.  In their book, Remediation: Understanding New Media, Bolter and Grusin state, “Our one prediction is that any future media will also define their cultural meaning with reference to established technologies.  They will isolate some features of those technologies…and refashion them to make a claim of greater immediacy.”  (271)


Bolter, J. and Grusin, R.  (2000)  Remediation: Understanding new media.  Accessed at: Accessed at:

Wesch, M.  Information R/evolution.  Accessed at:

December 4, 2009   No Comments

Making Connections / End of Semester Reflections

End of semester reflections.

This was my first semester in the MET program and the past few months were quite a change from what I am normally used to. Not only were these my first online courses I also had to readjust to being a student again. I decided to take a sabbatical from my district this year in order to work on the MET program fulltime, and it was quite a challenge for me.

I thoroughly enjoyed the reading for this semester. I particularly enjoyed reading the Bolter book. Although the Orality and Literacy book was a dense read, the information presented in the book was extremely useful and relevant, not only in this course, but in all of my courses. In taking 3 courses this semester a few things occurred to me. The MET classes are certainly a community in their own right. I have started to recognize names and even the type of writings and views that many of my peers have. I have really enjoyed getting to know everyone, in a virtual way at least.

Posting the projects to the community weblog was a unique experience. Although I am versed in internet and technology technologies this was a challenge for me. Although I read many, many blogs and wikis, I rarely contribute. I am not sure why this is. By requiring us to post on the weblog, it helped me in terms of feeling like I was part of a community. As well, it made me realize that this really is the way that literacy is going to be taught and presented in the future. All in all I had a great experience in this class, and in the semester in general.


November 30, 2009   No Comments

Connections and reflections

This course was my first with UBC and it was a (how can I describe it?!?) somewhat stressful, engaging, rich, eye-opening experience. Having taken my first 5 courses with ITESM, I must say that working with UBC is very different: from the planning and design of activities, methodology and resources used- completely opposite. This was the first course in my MET classes that I’ve worked completely alone… that was a handful to take in.

From the experience this semester taking two courses with UBC, I can honestly say I won’t do it again! LOL! There were a lot of very interesting readings and discussions going on that I sometimes wasn’t able to digest because of the massive amounts of information from both courses.

I also have to admit I wasn’t at my best this semester because of personal and work-related circumstances, and although I did read very interesting posts and comments from everyone, sometimes I couldn’t get around to responding. One thing that was very encouraging though, was to find “classmates” willing to give you a hand and share their experiences and expertise wholeheartedly.

I learned to enjoy (I didn’t at first!) browsing and reading through the Weblog, it really spices things up and changes methodologies from the very structured Vista work format. I enjoyed the folksonomic (cloud) tagging, it’s a very visual way to identify were the group was heading to.

I really enjoyed Bolter’s book since it was a very “light” reading, yet full of interesting and powerful statements and messages. I’ve also managed to make my online archive of readings and sites from this course which I’m sure I’ll use later on.

Regarding the course topics, the ones I mostly enjoyed were “Orality to Literacy” and “Literacy and new Media”. These were very engaging topics I hadn’t discussed or analyzed as we did in this class.

Thank you for commenting on my posts and for engaging in rich, motivating discussions. I hope we’ll meet again in another course!

November 29, 2009   1 Comment


I am attending an IT conference put on by my school board today.  So far, 2 of 3 sessions have been useful.  One session, however, was disappointing in that it was not what we’d hoped to learn about.  The general gist of the presentation was about students being involved in creating their own assessment.

I am sitting here reflecting on what exactly I am learning in the current session, realizing that we are all on a learning journey.  As adults in this professional learning workshop, we’ve been able to choose what to explore.  So we hope to maximize our learning as a result of choosing sessions that are part of our learning path.

When relating that to students choosing their own assessment or being involved in it at least, I wonder if that’s possible because they don’t have the ability to choose their learning path as we do.  They might choose certain elective courses and even what stream they want to follow, but those are so limited.

When you consider that most digital natives are used to choosing their information path because of the nature of the internet (hypertext links and all) and the speed at which they access all the information they need/want, is it any wonder they can’t sit still without being connected to some electronic device or feel they can decide the outcome of everything they put effort into?  I think it explains why my students seem to think they can negotiate every assignment I give them.

November 22, 2009   2 Comments

Eye Tracking

My husband works for Enquiro and they do market strategies for search engines.  The are a small Kelowna, BC company but all of their business is large US corporation and the major search engine players.  The recent reading by Bolter and Kress made me think of the connections to what this company has to offer.  One line of Enquio’s business is eye-tracking research – they capture where people look on a screen and create an image of it.  I have taken part in these studies and have seen the images of where by eyes have looked.  Very interesting technology and very powerful for the company’s to utilize.  If you are interested take a look.

November 4, 2009   1 Comment

Derrida and Writing

In a number of the readings for this course the philosopher Derrida has been mentioned, along his “graphocentric” view that writing is a more primary type of communication than speech. He is a difficult philosopher to understand, but I’ve studied his thought somewhat in the past and I’d like to try to clarify his ideas about writing as far as I understand them.

The background that Derrida was coming from, and reacting against, was structuralism. According to structuralism, words have their meaning by how they relate to other words in a whole system of language. Proponents of structuralism thus draw a distinction between language (the whole system that gives words their meaning) and speech (the things we actually say). The distinction is discussed by Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie in this comedy sketch

YouTube Preview Image

A related distinction made by structuralists was that between the signified and the signifier. The signified is the place a word takes in the whole system of language and the signifier is the spoken sound of the word or written mark of the word.

Derrida rejected the idea of a fixed system of language giving meaning to everything written and spoken, and rejected the idea that there is a signified that gives meaning to the signifier. He believed that language should be understood in terms of the signifiers only, which in turn are to be understood as dependent on acts of signifying. These acts of signifying have meaning, he thought, only in relation to all other acts of signifying. With new acts of signifying, these relations could change, and so meanings are never fixed but are open to change, their meaning being constantly “deferred”. His method of “deconstruction” is an attempt to change received meanings and received interpretations, using methods such as reversing the received view about what is important and what is unimportant in a text.

Derrida believed that the notion that speech is primary and writing secondary was based on the mistaken view that, with speech, the meaning of our words is something “present”. According to this view, the person who speaks has mastered the system of language to some extent and is an authority on what he or she means. For instance, when you speak to me I am able to respond to your questions and reply, “No, what I meant was…” The written word, in contrast, is something whose meaning is more elusive, for it depends on what the writer meant when he or she wrote it, and the writer may be absent and might even be dead when we read it.

Although he acknowledged that from a historical point of view speech appeared before writing, Derrida thought that writing revealed the nature of language more fully than speech did, for it reflected the way in which the meanings of what we say are not within our control and are constantly open to revision and reinterpretation.

The clearest introduction to Derrida’s views on writing that I have come across is in Richard Harland’s book Superstructuralism. You can see some of it here.

There’s also a movie about Derrida on google video, which is not too bad

October 11, 2009   No Comments

Reflections Modules 1 and 2

I am enjoying the content of the two courses I am taking this semester tremendously, both via readings and sharing by keen and engaged fellow-learners. Unfortunately, I have a sense of missing much since there is such a plethora of material and it rests in many different places, both within course materials/wikis/weblogs/webCT,  and via the excellent links to further reading and viewing.  As I read through the postings while catching up after the flu, I feel all the salient points have been presented in so many comprehensive ways—what else can I say that is even remotely witty or wise? That adds to the discussion in a meaningful, scholarly way?


 In our readings, we have explored the way humans transitioned from primary orality and adapted to new ways of putting pen to “paper”. That process took from 3500 BC to now. Very recently, text is becoming more plastic and functional by integrating hypertext, and news travels very fast by widespread social network collaboration. We are moving away from solo writer, and set in “stone” letters and words, to plastic text—textology is changing fast.


Postman in Technopoly presents a position of concern around new technologies.


In Brands’ Escaping the Digital Dark Age, the loss of digitized data is explored in detail. He admonishes all to sit up and take notice of this hidden risk.


The CBC commentary surrounding the digital universal library concept is a wandering exploration of the issues of copyright, and private corporation involvement. The Kelly article “Scan this Book” explores many similar themes as in the other readings about the universal digital library.

O’Donnell proposed in the Virtual Library piece that the idea is neither new nor golden.  He speaks of the historical aspects from The Great Library of Alexandria through the Memex in the ‘40s, and expresses concern that “infochaos” will be the only thing to emerge from the debacle of the dreamed universal digital library of the future.


In the video version of funeral oration of Julius Caesar, and in Phaedrus, we saw classic oratory in the rhetoric form, which was also exemplified in the Plato Iliad excerpt. The irony of the Plato oration is that the written word is the vehicle he uses to expound his theories about the downside of writing, and he proposed that nobody who had serious and important ideas would write them down—how ironic is that! The issue Plato raises of the relationship of memory with written word is revisited in modern times in the Visible Language article, Hypertext and the Art of Memory.


James O’Donnell in “From Papyrus to Cyberspace” explored the flip side of new technologies—the downside, when we do not know fully the effects until after implementation. He believes that unpredictable change and a less intimate community are hallmarks of the modern time.  Dr. James Engell feels the state of affairs is that education is already transformed by new technologies, and the generational divide is a big one. He emphasizes instability in business and in information storage as examples of how unclear the future direction is in these frontier times.


Lamb’s article “Wide Open Spaces: Wikis, ready or not” is a good ingress into the next section of the course where we deal with the connections between text and fluidity of the web-based text realm. His thoughts about the use of wikis in academics and otherwise were a refreshing introduction to “wikidom”, the new and evolving kingdom of wikis.

October 11, 2009   No Comments

Reflecting on Spaces in Modules 1 and 2….

I’d like to take some time to reflect on our spaces in ETEC 540. During Module 1, we were introduced to our Vista course space (forums, mail, chat…), Flickr and our Community Weblog. During Module 2 we added to our Orality and Literacy wiki pages and we were encouraged to create pages. We also have our Textology Weblog, which I’ve commented on, but haven’t posted to yet. So far so good, but I have to remind myself this is my 9th MET course. I am now fairly literate in reading and writing in these new spaces. This is a long way away from my 2007 self, who was a little lost in ETEC 510.

In ETEC 510 we had to navigate Vista (tricky your first time!) and edit a class wiki (what’s a wiki?) and I was petrified! I spent one hour with our in-school “techie” just learning to post to the wiki and I remember my heart racing as I thought about what I might do “wrong”. Later MET classes introduced me to social bookmarking, creating my own wiki (!), creating my own Moodle (!!) and creating my own blog (!!!). It was a sharp learning curve for someone who read the class outlines concerning MET technology know-how and thought “Yes, I can e-mail with attachments, I’ll be fine!”  🙂

I can’t believe how quickly I have improved my literacy! I can use a WYSIWYG editor in a relaxed manner, a tool which once frightened me with all its buttons and options. I admit, I did have a little palpitation during my ETEC 540 wiki edit, but I knew I could revert to the old page if something went terribly wrong. Another “new spaces” skill!

I know I am at the beginning of understanding this development from an academic point of view. However, I feel that the various readings in 540 relate to my experience. Two years ago I was literate, but not digitally literate. Now I can  draw parallels between  digital literacy and orality, specifically in knowledge community development and creating a sense of  a cohesive “group”. Now I can navigate new spaces of literacy. Now I know these spaces exist and there are other people in them!

I just wanted to share my growth with the class because somebody out there is new to these writing and reading spaces. I want them to know we’ve all been there and by Module 3, navigating these spaces will be old hat.  I’m left wondering, along with you no doubt, what the next big literacy space will be.

I’ll leave you with a great clip “Learning to Change-Changing to Learn” concerning K-12 students and teachers and the shift from traditional reading and writing spaces to the changing spaces we’re being exposed to in ETEC 540 . My favourite quote: “We have a classroom system when we could have a community system”. Enjoy!

 See you in the forums, or the wiki, or the blog, or on delicious or Flickr….Erin

October 6, 2009   1 Comment

Time to set aside childish uses of technology

From Ong and his critics to O’Donnell, Brand, Kelley and Grafton grappling with some of the more pressing concerns of the digital era (storage, digitization of books and access to same, respectively)—Module 2 covered a lot of ground!  I particularly enjoyed Kelley’s discussion of the economic aspects of digitization (shipping books to China for scanning, for example), and contrasting of business models (a much under-rated influence) as the world of copyright and protected copies gives way—not without much wailing and gnashing of teeth—to the age of free (though not worthless—an important distinction) digital copies.  Kelley is correct: “The reign of the copy is no match for the bias of technology” (2006, p. 13).

The question of how this progression of technologies has and will continue to modify reading and writing and thus education is not just at the centre of this module, but of the course.  I couldn’t help, however, relating this discussion to one in which I have been engaged for some time now concerning the role of information and communication technologies (computers, cell phones, smart phones, social networking applications, etc.) in the lives and learning of our students.  As a secondary teacher, I tend to think of that age group first in this regard, particularly since I believe it’s still the age (13-18) of most rapid adoption and most intense use.  Having said that, I am regularly told of middle schoolers developing cell phone and Facebook habits to rival those of their older contemporaries, and undergrads still inhabiting the high school world of more than a thousand text messages a day and religious, narcissistic Facebook updating.

This particular facet of technology in schools: the uses it is put to by teens and the effect it has on their learning, was the focus of our school pro-d Sept. 25—which I inadvertently became involved in organizing.  I’m not on the pro-d committee, but as the teacher-librarian responsible for purchasing, I was asked to order 80 copies of the book The Dumbest Generation:  How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future —one for each member of the teaching staff.  They arrived on the last day of school in June and were distributed for summer reading. Then last month I was again recruited to set up a Skype discussion with the author, Mark Bauerlein, an Emory University professor.  Bauerlein acknowledges that the title is a provocation and adds that he is not a technophobe.  One of his main arguments is that while there is clearly tremendous power in the current technologies of reading and writing that we employ (email, databases, online access to thousands of books and newspapers, blogs, wikis, etc.), and we would certainly not want to give them up, the uses to which teens put them as a result of their developmental stage locks them into a kind of adolescent feedback loop.  This narrow preoccupation unnaturally extends adolescence (mentally, at least) to the detriment of acquiring knowledge and maturity—which are, after all, also important functions of secondary and post-secondary education.  Bauerlein opened our 67-minute pro-d Skype session with a 15-minute summary of his thesis, and then fielded questions from teachers.  He was challenged as often as he was lauded, but I must admit, I find his argument persuasive an in accordance with my observations and those of many of my colleagues.  I have been teaching secondary full-time for a decade now, so I experienced roughly five years of little to no cell phone and Facebook penetration before the explosion in their use of the last five years.  Again, I think Bauerlein is correct to worry about the quality of communication texting and the Facebook Bathroom Wall promote as well as the 24/7 intrusion of adolescent concerns (What are my friends doing? Where are we meeting tomorrow? Who said what about whom?) that these technologies permit.  The mental space and even quiescence that used to exist when teens were alone at home in their rooms reading or doing homework no longer exists thanks to texting and Facebook.  Bauerlein suggests that the current technologies allow teens to become far too self-referential and this crowds out the (previously) natural expansion of interests to less egocentric concerns.  Of course, there is still the top 10 percent who will use ICTs to organize peace rallies and email pictures of a toxic spill to the traditional media (after starting a Facebook and Twitter group on the topic).  It’s the other 90 percent he worries about—and I agree.  In any case, coming out of this pro-d dialogue, I may have come off a little more curmudgeonly than usual over in the Orality and Literacy discussion where I chimed in with some of these musings in a thread started by Drew. I’ll see if I can attach an excerpt of the Skype discussion with Bauerlein.  (He gave me permission to record the exchange.)

Bauerlein excerpt (11 min.)

Note: Bauerlein does allow that most of the studies in his book are American and his observations are about U.S. teens.  I would submit, however, that based on similar Canadian studies I have seen, the behaviour of Canadian teens is not significantly different where ICT use is concerned.


 Bauerlein, M. (2008). The Dumbest Generation:  How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future.  New York:  Jeremy P. Tarcher.

Kelley, K. (16 May 2006). Scan This Book! New York Times.

October 5, 2009   2 Comments

Reflection – musing, rumination


First, the disclaimer: I don’t feel reflective.  Reflexive, in one sense of the word, yes.  Musing – or bemused.  But not reflective, which suggests calm, unhurried contemplation of a reasonably quiescent subject.  Fat bloody chance.

In large part this is due to personal circumstances… the start of my grad studies adventure coinciding with a serious family illness and an (unrelated) major change to our household structure and dynamic.  In smaller part it is due the steep learning curve involved in taking a course in this (to me) new environment.  I’ve been a student for a very long time, and I figured I knew the drill.  Appears someone changed the layout of the parade ground while I was in the loo.

The effect, anyway, is rather like what I used to experience in the race car when something went seriously sideways – all of a sudden, tunnel vision: everything disappears except a few things right in front of me, obscured by a vision of my bank manager’s ugly mug.  And way too much time spent searching frantically for things that suddenly aren’t where they should be – like third gear, and my sense of confidence; and the two hours’ worth of work I’m dead certain I completed last night.

The effect, anyway, is rather like what I used to experience in the race car when something went seriously sideways – suddenly, tunnel vision: everything disappears except a few things right in front of me, obscured by a vision of my bank manager’s ugly mug.  And way too much time spent searching frantically for things that suddenly aren’t where they should be – like third gear, and my sense of confidence; and the two hours’ worth of work I’m dead certain I completed last night.

So in addition to reflecting on the content of this course I am spending a lot of time reflecting on the form.  An example: I have been a moderator for a couple of online forums in the past; a very busy one on relationships and sexuality, which could get extremely heated at times (no pun…), and another of race drivers and officials, which was less busy but not much less heated.  I was struck in both contexts by how the combination of medium and a topic brought out – and influenced – the ‘writer’ (often an otherwise very latent one) in their participants.  And similarly I’m noticing how this medium is influencing my own approach to ‘academic writing’, and the conventions and assumptions that have formed it for years.  Most noticeably, I feel freer from the constraints of traditional academic style (which I confess tends to give me a rash anyway).

But the medium also leaves me feeling much less certain that I know exactly what I’m supposed to be doing… I worry persistently that I’ve missed finding something important, lodged in some ‘corner’ of the course site that I have overlooked.  And things are constantly changing – in appearance and in content.  The ‘course readings’ keep proliferating… some days this seems very exciting, and other days it just seems damned unsporting.  My response to all this varies between a sense of liberation and perhaps even defiance – “If it were really important, it would be front and centre, and anyway, we’re not bound by convention here – I can do this my way!”, and a constant sense of being out of touch and scurrying around at an ever-growing distance behind the field.  It’s… disorienting.

Which really gets to the point of this particular rumination, and how it relates to text and technology…  it boils down to this: that for most of its history, text has stayed where it was put – and now, it doesn’t any more.  In many ways, it has become as transitory and mutable as voice.  I think this is important to be aware of when we think about comparing orality and literacy in an environment of computer technologies.  The written word has lost some of its fundamental difference from speech, and gained some significant similarity – in a small way, of course, but importantly nonetheless.

(Image – copyright The Walt Disney Company 1986; found on a Hallmark postcard… posted on the bulletin board of a colleague who teaches English but only because we don’t have any real Oral Communication courses hereabouts.)

October 1, 2009   No Comments