Is There a Tech in This Class?*

I have often had students contribute to a class blog as a writing assignment. There are two things that I’m wrestling with. (Well, at least two things…)

Students are really nervous about using an unfamiliar technology at first, and then they figure out only so much as they have to. They don’t take advantage of the platform because they don’t want to invest the time to work out even little things, and I don’t want to require using the tools in a particular way because learning the tools isn’t an outcome I am particularly focused on. Should I focus on it more? Should learning to incorporate links and visual materials be a goal for these writing assignments? I’m worried that they will get hung up on the technicalities, and I want them to see the forest, not be blinded by trees.

Second, I ask students to post weekly. They always complain that they can’t think of ideas to write about. I tell them this is all about paying attention to the world around them and about invention, and they get that – but they still sit down to knock out the task at the last minute with a completely blank slate; few seem to really acquire the habit of paying attention and squirreling away those things that they might want to explore more thoroughly in writing. I think they are just busy, and they want to focus on getting each task out of the way rather than finding connections or letting things simmer on the back burner.

What I guess I am wondering is how do we get busy students who are conditioned to focus on grades that depend on products and tests to relax and play with technology – and with ideas? How can we reward them for playing?

*Yes, I’m riffing off Stanley Fish.

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About barbarafister

I’m a librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter Minnesota and a blogger for Inside Higher Ed and Library Journal.

9 Responses to Is There a Tech in This Class?*

  1. audreybilger says:

    I ask students to turn in a self-evaluation portfolio for their web postings at the end of the semester. I have them compile all of their posts into one file, tell them to read them all as a group, and then ask that they evaluate the quality of their work. Students are frequently surprised by how much writing their posts add up to, and they often comment on how they can see their own intellectual development over the course of the postings. I’d love to talk with people about other things you do with these sorts of assignments. I don’t think I make the most of the possibilities offered by technology and would be glad to hear from people who do.

  2. bboessen says:

    This is a problem I’m sure we all struggle with to some degree.

    At some level, it seems you’re asking, “To what extent are simple digital networked media literacy techniques/practices, like turning dead text into a live link to somewhere, becoming part of the basic “grammar” of contemporary communication?” Is knowing how to post an update to your blog at the same level of literacy as knowing when to make a new paragraph? Or is it more like knowing how to format a bibliography? Or something else? And then, identifying that, how do we encourage our students to both understand the value of such tools and to practice them so they improve doing them?

    I’m interested in talking more about this with some of you as well. (Although I do think at some level this may be a very personal question to answer, i.e., what is the amount of technique/procedure I want my students to be responsible for in this or that class?)

    • B”H

      I love what you are saying here, BBoessen. This is a conversation that needs to happen. Are we really teaching writing to our students if we aren’t including how to do digital texts in a digital world?

  3. B”H

    I know that I spend an inordinate amount of time teaching my students how to use the technology–from simple “how to use a MSWord ruler” to “How to build a 3D object in Second Life.” A lot of the time I think I should be teaching a five credit course–three credits of English and two credits of technology.

    I have discussed this issue with my college, and suggested that, instead of teaching a technology class that is supposed to cover all the bases (and never actually touches deeply upon ANY of them), that we, instead, teach a one credit “lab” course with each GE class.

    For example, each math course would be paired with a 1 credit lab in Microsoft Excel/Graphing Calculators; each English course would be paired with a 1 credit lab in MS Word/blogging; and each Speech class would be paired with a 1 credit course in Powerpoint/Prezi/Youtube. I think it would be a lot more productive for the students to learn these programs as they need them in their “real” classes, and, as my students build skills, I can add requirements to my assignments (i.e. this week, you are required to include two hyperlinked sources and one embedded photo with caption into your writing assignment, etc.)

    • I like this lab idea a lot. I’m increasingly frustrated with how much class time I’m devoting to all kinds of “basics,” including research and writing. Adding in the basics of technology will leave me with very little time for discipline- or course-specific content. As committed as I am to process over “data dumping,” I think we need to give our students enough content for them to get excited about engaging the material. A lab would address the balance effectively and efficiently. How this proposal would fly with curriculum committees is another issue, however.

    • I am quite keen on the idea of labs being attached to courses. I might just write this up as a separate post, but I am interested in conceptualizing those lab sessions as “methods” sessions. In some contexts that might mean how to use excel/spss/zotero/iMovie, in others it would be time to collectively work through where and why you might want to apply a certain approach.

      As methods we might consider aligned with digital scholarship or digital humanities make their way into courses, too often they are framed as pushing out valuable content. We might consider flipping the script and encouraging more classes to hold (and give credit) for lab sessions

  4. Barbara Fister says:

    We’ve had really good luck with a political science course / weekly library lab pairing, but that’s to learn research tools and skills (and to talk about how information works). This is a required PS course and it comes at a point when most advanced courses can build on it – but it’s all geared to a major, not general education. (I could imagine combining technological know-how with a “how information works” component, though they are very different.)

    I think getting agreement across campus to require certain tech skills attached to general education courses would be … interesting. Most of our faculty don’t have these skills and presumably get by without them.

    And arguing for a new grammar makes me wonder about the inefficacy of teaching old grammar. Covering grammar in a course doesn’t typically make people better writers. In the same way, I wonder if learning how to use technology would actually transfer into using it well. I wouldn’t count on it, but I would agree that a lab attached to a course would be far better than a standalone course.

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