Final reflection of EDT 6020: At last, a technology class that lets you use the tools!

My experience in EDT 6020 was extremely gratifying:  it introduced me to a multitude of new tools and ways of thinking about those tools. It challenged me to learn web-based applications like Skype, Prezi, and Diigo that I had previously only read about, showed me a wealth of professional development and network memberships that are now certain to be a part of my ongoing reading, brought me up-to-date with current discourse around educational technology, and provoked praxis (conscientious reflection on my professional practice) in a veteran public school teacher, a laudable goal.

Getting Close to it

    EDT 6020 Critical Educational Practice and the Internet could be sub-titled “an intense survey of web 2.0 learning tools.”  And I loved the technological, tool-related focus. It moved me from the most abstract, intellectualized, text-heavy semester I have had at CUC and placed me in a playground of digital tools–some of which were actual games! The related readings assisted my reflection on the implications and broader frameworks of my tool use, but also allowed plenty of tinkering time. What a relief! It was like, “let’s leave the adults in the parlor and go to the family room and play with the toys”–almost fun.

The “Practice” in the course was honored as Prof. Pate’s instructed it. She provoked interest in and time to explore a wide variety of digital communication tools–tools that did not exist ten years ago! For a hands-on, tactile learner like me, it was perfect. According to our most recent authors (especially Margolis and Fisher 2002), the practical focus of EDT 6020 was probably perfect, too, for my gendered “male” classmates as well.  Indeed, the “magnetic” pull that men feel to “master the machine” got room for expression in Prof. Pate’s class. I was able to do what all good Lego builders and craftspeople do:  get close to the tools and play with them. The course zoomed my intellectual focus from the solely-macro to the micro, from the broad theoretical to the near and practical. The class gets my vote for Most (Practically) Valuable for sure. 

    But it also gave me the “Critical” part of the course title. While it got me close to the tools, and evaluating their technological aspects, it also brought me closer to the social justice issues of teaching, giving me plenty to think, or, rather, feel about. The Internet’s rise in our society brings up the unfair “digital divides” that separate our population in the offline, where our physical bodies reside.  EDT 6020 readings explored the divides between the sexes in American public schools and “gendered” American society (Margolis and Fisher, 2002; Barker and Asprey, 2006), between our extremely “wired” students and still “un-wired” schools (Levin and Arafeh, 2002), and between the privileged two-thirds or so of US citizens who  are “wired” and the predominantly poor and disadvantaged entirely “offline” Americans (Horrigan 2010).

    The course got me thinking about my students differently. Reading Steinkueler (2006, 2007) and Boyd (2007) made me aware of the vibrant online lives that a significant percentage of my students have. And this life is all literacy-based!  The possibility of co-opting those literacy practices for the classroom is exciting and perhaps inevitable. Internacting meaningfully with students in literacy acts is a boon any English teacher of the 20th Century would covet. And in Web 2.0, I have it, and am beginning to exploit it. Containing all of their “native” literacy in a ning would seem to be a logical next step, but what about the way we’re interacting online today with students? What about the dialog between English teacher and student over the possibly tender subject of his/her writing? How are our digital discussions working?
    In order to be strictly “green” in essay grading, I must find some means of exhanging textual information with the student. The purpose of my grading (an evaluation tool) is to help students understand and address their writing skill development. For the past year or so I had been using the “discussion” tab of  student wikipages to respond to their writing. I found that the inconvenience of going from one screen to observe and another to write was frustratingly slow, insufficient to match the flow I get when holding the papers in my hand. In my grading process, I read the essay through twice, leaving comments and marking errors on the fly. Since there is no easy to use notation system yet there (as there isHere is a comment in google docs. This would work for grading. Much better than the process possible through the wikispaces discussion mode. -andrew bendelow 3/7/10 12:21 AM  I hit upon the best possible alternative. And this is something I do with my own teenage daughters when they ask me to comment on their papers, but about which I feel uncertain. I WRITE IN ALL CAPS, INTERPOLATING THEIR TEXT IN BULLHORN SHOUTS AT THEM.   This has not resulted in any negative response, yet. It’s the best tool I can find for the job right now. When I contrast its clunky BRASHNESS with the simpler comment function on google docs, diigo-enabled pages, or what will be available, perhaps on a ning, I am somewhat chagrined, and anxious to move on.
     EDT 6020 has pushed me closer to the new tools of our new learners. Its premise is sound:  that to be good teachers, we must have learned the processes involved with a new tool ourselves, first.  Although it was relatively small (when compared to the sheer number of resources Prof. Pate shared), my learning here was measurable and meaningful to my students. The practice it gave me propels me to seeking more practice, so that with greater confidence I can digitize language arts curricula.

The last course you might need

    Another great thing for me about EDT 6020 was how it held within it the seeds to its successor and, perhaps, conquerer.  In the plethora of professional development open-source learning materials Professor Pate introduced in week 2, we saw the future of learning:  auto-didactic behavior.  Sites like Merlot and the rational discourse propagated by knowledge projects such as that outlined by Hansen (2009) are steadily proliferating, and their growth means “goodbye to schools as we know them.” In the future, if a human being has Web 2.0 access and a will, s/he can autonomously and automatically learn –the need for academic institutions will have disappeared. S/he will not need to go running panicked through the streets looking for a teacher, as Bradbury’s  Montag does in Fahrenheit 451. With an open-source multi-versity at his/her disposal, the 21st learner no longer needs to get into a professor’s classroom. With podcasts and peer-to-peer sharing, the cost of quality information has collapsed, and EDT 6020 does not blink it. No, it bravely allows its students –who are all teachers– to reach an existential realization: that perhaps the role of the 21st Century teacher is to make students permanently beyond the need for any teacher ever again.

How I have changed as a learner?

    I exercised discretion in consuming the large smorgasbord of valuable material in EDT 6020.  While what I have been able to digest  has already proven extremely valuable to my practice (see Field Test for evidence), the sheer volume of the entire array of readings  for the course would have been impossible for me to fit into my  life. And one eight-week course was insufficient to explore (that is, at some depth) even partially all of the wonderful open source learning materials presented to students. I will leave for another term the exploration of simulated learning environments like Second Life (SL). The potential of this field, its relation to gaming and learning, seems very promising to me. But I could not effectively manage it.
    Suppose somehow I could have completed the readings and done write-ups of the SL questions within deadlines–could I thereby have adequately explored the depths of immersive, engaging-and-thus-time-consuming-by-definition “virtual learning worlds like SL? Not at all. It would take days and weeks of time. I realize that one reason I have resisted “entering” these avataristic new learning environments is that I fear it will consume all of my discretionary time. I have 140 real students relying on me every day to get their literacy learning done in the offline classrooms of my high school. I have no time to waste. The full extent of the learning of EDT 6020 will have to go beyond its term. I have learned of how much there is to learn, no small knowldege. And I have realized  that when it comes to learning new tools, “one at a time is just fine” for me. I will have to pick wisely.

Unsolicited suggestion for EDT program enhancement

    I would recommend a course in the Educational Technology degree program that explores immersive learning environments such as SL. Other courses (perhaps a set of electives available under a “Practicum” label) could be offered in audio and video applications, perhaps another in social networking and learning programs, etc. There are so many tools to learn, and each takes time to “tinker” with and learn. “Workshops” courses would allow the student to some time to learn the learning tools. Of course, they could also be designed to engage students’ minds through questions based on carefully-selected readings. Answers would be exchanged through discussion boards, a valuable part of the learning experience in EDT 6020. I would also recommend that these classes always seek to incorporate the actual tools into the actual instruction. More of this meta-tech learning would have been welcome in EDT 6020, perhaps resulting  in even deeper learning. Why could EDT 6020 not have established an educational ning of its own (at Edmoto, say), or a common blogspot, or even a facebook group, when discussion social networking in education? Why could each student not have posted a screencast on a topic, though it would not fit on Blackboard? And why could there not have been a social bookmarking component to the instruction (no delicious or diigo, alas)?  Given our online hybrid status, the sharing of common information in a network would have digitally “substantiated” the course for the students, perhaps built some community among them. In a community, “horizontal” learning, from peer to peer, happens. And since horizontal learning is reputed to be the 21st C. learning mode, more of that would have been great.

Conclusion

EDT 6020 was an extremely valuable course that will influence my thinking about and my use of technology in all aspects of my teaching and non-teaching life. I look forward to more courses of this engaging quality.


References

Barker, L.J., & Aspray, W. (2006). The state of research on girls and IT. Chapter 1 in Cohhon, J.M.  & Aspray, W. (Eds.). Women and information technology: Research on underrepresentation (pp. 3-54). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Boyd, D. (2007) Why youth (heart) social network sites: The role of networked publics in teenage social life. In D. Buckingham (Ed.), MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Learning, Identity.

Bradbury, Ray. (1953). Fahrenheit 451. New York, NY: Random House.

Kennedy, T., Wellman, B. & Klement, K. (2003). Gendering the digital divide. IT & Society, 1(5),
72-96.

Hansen, S. Berente, N., and Lyytinen, K (2009) “Wikipedia, Critical Social Theory, and the Possibility of Rational Discourse.” The Information Society, 25: 38-59, 2009.
Horrigan, J.G. (2010). Broadband Adoption and Use in America. OBI Working Papers Series No. 1.  Federal Communications Commission, Washington, D.C. 2010.

Levin, D., & Arafeh, S. (2002, August 14). The digital disconnect: The widening gap between
Internet-savvy students and their schools. PEW Charitable Trusts: Washington DC.

Margolis, J. and Fisher, A. (2002). Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing. Cambridge, Massachusetts. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2002.

Steinkuehler, C. (2007). Massively multiplayer online gaming as a constellation of literacy practices. eLearning, 4(3) 297-318.

Steinkuehler, C. & Williams, D. (2006). Where everybody knows your (screen) name: Online games as “third places.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11(4), article 1.

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