ETEC 540 Text Technologies: The Changing Spaces of Reading and Writing was my first MET course, and I have enjoyed it immensely, though (like some of my colleagues have also mentioned in their reflections) I feel like I need a year to digest the content, catch up on my reading, and invest in some new technology. The course opened many doors for me, giving me the impetus to immerse in many technology tools and strands of thought that I simply had not taken the time for before. It has also created a caution in me to be very careful and balanced in my approach to new technology, as I get a sense that we are hitting a threshold of possibly going too far too fast when it comes to embracing digital media in favour of traditional forms.
On the surface, the course served as a text technology trade show for me. I read with interest (and envy) how colleagues were incorporating e-readers, smart phones, I-Pads, social networking sites (Twitter & Facebook) and on-line resources to keep up with their reading and posts to discussion forums, collaborating and staying connected to current trends, and teaching in their classrooms. The incredible speed at which technology tools are becoming available and accessible to everyone is breathtaking, and for me, exciting and daunting in almost an equilibrium of internal debate. I cannot help but view these changes through the lens of education, as I am an elementary school principal. Since the early 1980’s schools have been chasing the technology rocket, fundraising and begging for money in order to “keep the computer lab current.” For a number of years schools were a little bit ahead of the curve, having better digital technology than most of the kids had at home. Is that the case now? Maybe for some schools, but not mine, and I know many other schools that lag behind us when it comes to technology. When a smart phone walks into our school, it can outmanoeuvre every computer in my lab. We have approximately 5,000 books in our little library, but not a single e-reader. Ninety percent of our students have access to the internet, but we do not offer a single course (or substantial part of any course) on-line. When I read about the preferences and aptitudes of NetGen students, this is a problem! I know that I need to step out and lead when it comes to preaching the gospel of the changing spaces of reading, writing, and learning in general (as it relates to new technology). And yet, Neil Postman’s words come back to me when I start feeling anxious about being left behind, “Every technology is both a burden and a blessing.” (Postman, page 5), and “When we admit a new technology to a culture [insert school], we must do so with our eyes wide open” (Postman, page 7). It is easy to buy new stuff, but the challenge is to integrate new technology as part of an integrated, proven and enriching pedagogy. Not a small task, when monumental changes are happening every two years or less on the digital side of things (hard to know what to choose in terms of “best practices” for technology integration), and textual culture in schools has a 400 year head-start (hard to know what to throw away).
As a platform for clarifying some of the historical and modern trends in text and print as they relate to education, ETEC 540 does a wonderful job. I don’t immerse myself in history very often anymore, as the present day seems to consume all of my time. I was engaged by the thoughts and images within the learning modules that swept us through museums and websites dedicated to textual antiquity, from papyrus scrolls to the codex, from the printing press to the word processor and world wide web.
What I found more challenging was trying to reconcile myself with what I should know and immerse myself in when it comes to digital literacy. Michael Wesch’s 2008 blog titled, “A Vision of Students Today (& What Teachers Must Do)” spells out how kids in this modern digital age will not be served by archaic and fully textual teaching methods. In his “Solution” section (solution to how to engage students who are immersed in digital media and are not engaged by traditional methods), he states, “Fortunately, the solution is simple. We don’t have to tear the walls down. We just have to stop pretending that the walls separate us from the world, and begin working with students in the pursuit of answers to real and relevant questions. When we do that we can stop denying the fact that we are enveloped in a cloud of ubiquitous digital information where the nature and dynamics of knowledge have shifted.” He (and many other authors in the course), goes on to encouraging the embracing of these new technologies in the classroom. Throughout the course I got a sense that many of my colleagues truly believe that this is the most beneficial direction for students (and I do too), but there is that niggling doubt as to whether we can embrace new technology without losing too much of the fundamental skill set that have long defined a learned person – reading ability, spelling, printing or handwriting, creative and technical writing, and so on. I say yes to an emphasis on acknowledging digital literacy, but a more emphatic yes to recognizing that students need to be formed in a way that encourages and solidifies their multiliteracy (a balance of the traditional and the new).
The multi-faceted readings and activities in ETEC 540 have provided many insights from the prophets, the sceptics, the realists, and the academics. The breadth of discussion and insights from students and instructors in the course (within the discussion forums and weblog) has made the journey very communal, while allowing for many side trips. I admit that I read more people’s ideas in the discussions than I contributed. More of a tourist than a tour guide this time around.
I conclude the course with a sense of knowing much more than when I started (doors opened), knowing much less than I want to know (some doors to still walk through), and knowing many sources and avenues from which I can continue to glean information as I form my impressions and responses to the changing spaces of reading and writing.
Gordon Higginson, ETEC 540, Making Connections
Postman, N. (1992). Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. NewYork: Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, Inc.
Wesch, M. (2008). “A vision of students today (& what teachers must do).” Available: http://www.britannica.com/blogs/2008/10/a-vision-of-students-today-what-teachers-must-do/