Over the past couple of weeks, we have been reading about the digital landscape and technology in the classroom during my composition class. The readings, varying in years from 2001 to the present, have gotten me interested in thinking about the ways that I incorporate technology into the classroom while at the same time making that implementation engaging to the students and not just a flip open the laptop or pull out the phone and follow along type of experience.

When reading Marc Prensky’s “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants” (2001), I became infuriated with the language that Presnsky chose at various points throughout his essay. Essentially, he calls teachers who do not change their pedagogical practices to fit the evolving ways students learn “lazy” and “dumb.” He writes, “It’s just dumb (and lazy) of educators – not to mention ineffective – to presume that (despite their traditions) the Digital Immigrant way is the only way to teach, and that the Digital Natives’ ‘language’ is not as capable as their own of encompassing any and every idea.”

My opposition to this is not related to the call for us to change our pedagogy to teach students who have grown up in a world where technology has infiltrated every aspect of their lives. Rather, I became frustrated by the accusation that teachers who do not change are “dumb” and “lazy” for refusing to learn themselves. I do not think this is a technology issue; rather, it is a simple pedagogy issue. Prensky, who founded Games2Train, creates technology tools for education. However, I cannot program a game for my students that will simulate the Holocaust or have them determine what a philosopher’s response would be during a debate.

While I cannot program these exercises into an interactive computer game, I can create these types of experiences for students. For example, I could create a paper based role playing game where students, possibly after reading Art Spiegleman’s Maus or another text, role play as specific characters. For the philosophy exercise, I could have students take on the persona of specific philosophers and have them debate in class, even having teams for each philosopher. This is the pedagogical aspect. Even though I may not be able to construct an interactive game on a screen, I can find ways to engage my students and have them think critically about the material rather than just showing them Schindler’s List or Monty Python’s “Philosphers’ World Cup.” (This is below for your viewing pleasure.)

That’s all well and good, you may say, but you may be wondering how to incorporate technology into the classroom to get your students interested. I have written about this before when thinking about cell phones and laptops in the classroom when I do not teach in a computer lab. For me, these tools are invaluable in the  literature and composition classroom because they allow for students to approach projects and lessons in ways that are familiar to them. Through this, they learn how to use the tools at their disposal to enhance their work and collaboration in the classroom.

google-docsgroupI’ve always used some form of technology in the classroom, and whether or not the implementation goes well depends not on the technology but on the way I use it. For example, I have recently been thinking about using Google documents for the entire class to collaborate on during class to help facilitate discussion. I did this is a literature survey class where we were reviewing for the mid-term. I provided students with the three sections of the test then had them go in and add questions and terms to identify. This exercise went well because as they typed in the information, I was able to see their thought process in real time with the document on the screen. When finished, we went through the document, leaving some questions and removing others. I explained to the students that what they presented, essentially, was what I had already planned to ask them. I plan to use a Google document in this class again soon, for a regular lecture period, and when I do, I will let you know how it turns out.

In the composition classroom, I tried something similar. Our current assignment is a rhetorical analysis where students must rhetorically analyze two articles that present different sides of a topic. To prepare, students read Justin Reich’s “Laptops in the Classroom: Mend It Don’t End It” (2007) and Timothy Snyder’s “Why Laptops in Class are Distracting America’s Future Workforce” (2010). For this assignment, I prompted students with nine specific questions that would help them think about ways to rhetorically analyze their sources for the essay.

  1. In the table below, present the arguments from Snyder and Reich.
  2. Below, search the Internet to see what information you can find about Snyder and Reich. Write sentences that address their ethos from the information you find.
  3. Below, provide instances of logos from each author.
  4. Below, provide instances of pathos from each author.
  5. Based on the Major Project II assignment sheet, create an outline that would show how you could write an essay for the assignment based on Snyder’s and Reich’s readings.
  6. Below, provide information that you can find about the Christian Science Monitor and its audience.
  7. Below, discuss what contextual questions you can ask about each of these readings?
  8. Below, discuss what other readings that we have discussed can be considered in conversation with Snyder and Reich. Provide examples of this conversation occurring.
  9. Discuss each author’s tone & style. Use examples.

Students worked on the document for about 15-20 minutes, each working on whatever question he/she decided to answer. As they worked, I again had the document on the projector, editing along with them and making comments in the margins (asking them questions or pointing out where they may need to add certain information). As the process went on, students showed varying ways of engaging with the prompts. For question 2 (ethos), someone found the Twitter page for John Reich and discussed what it says about the author. I added links to the authors’ Twitter pages and faculty profiles, thus allowing us to discuss how to use these sources when analyzing the readings. Other students provided how they saw logos in each piece and included specific examples.

Through this process, students engaged with the readings in a way that allowed each student in the class (24) to collectively tackle a project that will help them as they move forward with their essays. When they finished, we took the rest of the period to discuss what they had written, how it could be used to help construct their essays, and what other information they could have added.

These are only two brief examples of the ways I am using technology in the classroom to foster learning and critical thinking. There are other exercises that I plan to do this semester. When I deploy these in the courses, I will write about what worked and what did not work.

What are your thoughts? As usual, let me know in the comments below.

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