Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Brave New Teaching Worlds

Every so often, I'm struck by how much the world has changed since I started teaching--and I'm not talking about political change or generational change.  I'm really talking about technology, at least for today.

I'm teaching an independent study for a Business student who literally has run out of courses to take--so I offered to teach Introduction to Literature as an independent study.  Once a week, we meet in my office to discuss literature.  It's quite delightful, and in some ways, she's learning the material the way she would have had we been teacher and student in the days of Socrates.  Except that we have literature on paper.  Perhaps the more apt historical reference is the way that students learned (and probably still learn) in the hallowed halls of Oxford and Cambridge.

Yesterday she wasn't as prepared to talk about Alice Walker's "Everyday Use," so we switched gears.  We looked at poems, and we spent time with Gwendolyn Brooks.  When we read "We Real Cool," I had a memory of Gwendolyn Brooks reading the piece, and I thought, let me see if I can find this.

We meet in my office, which has 2 computer screens, so I found a clip which included Brooks discussing the poem and arranged the screens so we could both watch.  It was a still photo, which in a way was great because we could focus on her voice.  She reads the poem so differently than I do--which lead to a great discussion of how the words are arranged on the page.

Later, I thought about the miracle of the Internet.  Once, if I wanted my students to hear Gwendolyn Brooks read a poem, I'd have needed to plan ahead:  I'd need to find the recording, and I'd need to make arrangements to play the recording.  In fact, I stockpiled materials so that I wouldn't have to think ahead.  Yesterday it took about 30 seconds from the idea of Brooks reading the poem to her voice coming to us through the speakers.

I do understand all the ways that technology can detract from the learning experience:  the constant distractions, the materials that seem like good sources for a research paper but aren't, the technology failures which disrupt our teaching plans.  But what an astonishing world we've created in just a few decades.

I came home to complete my online classes, another miracle afforded by the technology that's emerged in the past three decades.  When I started teaching in the fall of 1988, I turned in my grades by using pen and paper (or pencils for a scantron sheet).  Last night, it was all electronic--which means I plan ahead, in case my internet connection isn't working that particular day.  I turned in grades for students whom I have never met in person, but we have been communicating by way of satellites and computer connectivity.  A brave new world indeed!

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