New Directions

What do you do as a teacher when the conditions and the environment for which you’ve been longing for years finally come to fruition?  I’m sure we all have these kinds of dreams: perfect class space, a cooperating teacher we’ve been dying to work with, an elective class dreamt about since student-teaching, a new administrative team.

For the past ten years, I’ve wanted a dedicated 1:1, computer-to-student ratio for a composition class. It looks like I’ll be in a computer lab full time for my freshman composition English 101 & 103 classes. No more jockeying for lab space, no more, “I’ll see if I can find some computers.” Instead, when my students need these tools, we have them.

But, as I’ve been thinking of this through July and now into the beginning of August, with September 4th being when this ride will begin, I’m thinking, what? How do I make this work? I don’t want this to be simply another, “Come on in kids, here’s another thing I want you to do today, post it at the end of class” experience. As in the real world, digital technology is part of what we do every day, and in the professional world, the use of digital technology is indispensable in creating the work that we do as teachers, lawyers, doctors and so many other fields. My overarching goal, to use a metaphor, is that if learning is the left hand, technology is the right.

My guiding principles of inquiry, critical and radical pedagogy still need to be central. At the core of my composition classroom is process, inquiry, collaboration, and conversation. While some teachers see the use of computers as a way to keep kids occupied while they grade papers and check emails, a kind of 21st century autopilot that has replaced the Friday/Monday VCR lesson. This experience needs to be participatory, collaborative, and I want to be able to use it to build more connections between myself and my students, to be more connected to my students work, to have them be more connected to our course, my teaching and in the end their own learning.

Recently Diane Ravitch wrote about some dangerous technologies. She wasn’t speaking about the tools online that help students to create and collaborate and research. Instead, she was talking about digital technologies that exploit identities, that steal information, that create mash-ups of student work by grading in place of teachers. These degrade the potentials of digital technology, and unfortunately, because they are used to harm students and learning communities, they often come to the forefront of our conversations and our fears. These are things that must be avoided

I’ve read the books on composition, technology, and writing. I’ve followed the blogs and done my own pedagogical homework. My students have worked in Edmodo, created blogs and wikis, and created learning with a smattering of other web 2.0 tools. This is the next logical step.

Over the next few weeks, here are some questions that I’ll be pursuing as I get ready for September 4th:

What will be the point and purpose behind using a computer lab on an almost daily basis?

What will I accomplish in a tangible and concrete way? And, how will my students be part of that?

How will management be different?

What goals can I set?

How can I instill a sense that we’re not just simply spending more time on computers?

What is digital citizenship and how can I teach it as part of an English classroom?

How can we document and this, learn from it, and help others to reproduce these experiences?

What models are out there for hybridized courses at both the college and secondary level that can act as guides?

I hope that you’ll reach out with advice, experience, and to follow along as I move through this odyssey.