Twenty-three things: Blog about Technology

I’ve challenged some of my colleagues to take the 23 Things challenge to become more invested in online learning this summer. This website includes a 10-week game plan for learning some online learning and presenting methods that are useful for teachers, and that are appropriate activities for the age group we teach.  There are other 23 Things lists out there, I know, but this is the one that we’ve chosen to work with, and that I’ve decided to complete.

The previous entries in this series are here:

  1. Getting Started
  2. Discovery
  3. Setting Up a Blog
  4. Starting with Flickr
  5. Find some Flickr Toys and Tools

This week, I’m supposed to blog about technology (Activity 6 of the 23 Things).  If I’d been teaching for less than 10 years, I’m supposed to blog about how I think technology will change my teaching over the course of my career; if I’ve been teaching for more than ten years, I’m supposed to blog about how I’ve used technology to change how I teach in the classroom.

I’ve been a teacher for 17 years, and I have to admit that how technology has changed my teaching — Not Much.

That’s an awkward admission to make.

Some background.  In 1996, while I was a student in seminary, I learned about this weird thing called the World Wide Web. You had to use dialup service and a web browser to reach it, but using FTP and a bunch of code in a new programming language called HTML, you could write pages for the World Wide Web (we really called it the World Wide Web then, not just “the internet”).  So I put my brand-spanking-new Master’s Thesis online.  And after months and months, someone else linked to it!  I couldn’t analyze traffic or count hits, but it was exciting to know that someone online could find my page without knowing the address ahead of time.

Fast forward eighteen years.  I’ve done a lot online — kept up this blog, joined Flickr, learned to write budget spreadsheets for trips to Washington DC with my school, learned some digitally-based accounting, wrote two novels, published a lot of poetry online, and to show for it — seventy-six thousand views, all time, on this blog.  Eighteen years of activity online.

Eighteen years.

In my last year at my old school, I thought, “I’ve been at this long enough.  It’s time to create a different way of teaching.” I asked IT services at my school to turn on the software on our server to use wikis and teach wikis in my ancient history class.  That was thirteen years into my teaching career — and I feel that it was an abject failure.  I had few girls in my classes. The boys made social pages rather than academic pages; they defaced one another’s pages (and it didn’t really matter to them that I could see who had vandalized one another’s pages through my administrator functions — because they’d steal one another’s usernames and logins, and deface under someone else’s name; the “innocent” victim of this prank would sputter and protest that they hadn’t defaced “Kevin’s” page, while knowing full well that they’d done it to somebody else’s page.  Loads of kids from several classes, all studying the same subject, building a wiki together — but not being good writers, nor good readers, nor good historical thinkers… asking them to build an ancient history wiki?  Disaster.  A complicated disaster, with a lot of complicated lessons for teachers:  kids as pranksters and tricksters at heart. Kids as social animals.  Digital learning as a risky strategy for learning.  THe problem of “Walled Gardens” in education — creating safe environments for kids to learn in online at school, while they’re used to much more wild-and-crazy environments like Instagram and Facebook (which are themselves walled gardens of a sort, but in service to other masters than schools, and much larger, and thus much more apparently open. And full of people — seventeen kids is not enough to populate a wiki).

So, a retreat from digital learning at my new school.  Some experimentation, yes, but mostly the old standards of traditional education: typing, spreadsheets, a little bit of page layout. Not much.

Last night, coming home from the inaugural Mo’Mondays in New Haven, I was talking with my friend Hollie.  We were talking about the work of alchemy as a metaphorical tool for understanding creativity.  She mentioned the daughter of a friend of hers, though. “Andrew,” she said, “this kid doesn’t ever seem to be curious about anything.  She doesn’t follow sports. She doesn’t care about school.  She talks to her friends on the phone, texts them, but it’s like, about nothing.  So I think curiosity is something we’ve taken out of kids today. And I don’t know what to do about that for her. But it scares me.”

It scares me too.  I feel like I see a lot of kids like this friend of Hollie’s — kids who don’t seem interested or want to engage in many ways.  And I don’t think that putting them in front of a computer screen is necessarily the answer, unless we’re also empowering them to make, do, dream, create, and invent.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say about this, and that I’ll be given a chance to later on.  But it seems to me that in eighteen years, I ought to have done more with computer technology in my classroom, and with internet services, than teach kids to use a word processor.

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18 comments

  1. How much have your age group changed in eighteen years? I bet they were just as difficult back then? You’re an optimist. Make sure you never change!

    • I’ve mostly taught the same age, and it’s been up and down — some years awesome, some years horrible. I think it’s worth remembering that the various standardized tests try to control the data so that the teacher’s effectiveness can be analyzed; but the individual kids in the class matter much more for the shape and identity of the classroom.

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