F & F: Unconscious and Uncritical

Douglas Rushkoff writes about Computers in the Classroom. He starts with a discussion of the mystic ritual of 16mm film.

I was raised back in the day when teachers showed 16mm films in the classroom. It was a special event: the A/V librarian would wheel in an aqua-colored Bell & Howell projector, one of us nerdy types would wind the film through the various rollers, the screen would come down, the lights would go off and the magic would begin. Even the most boring film was still surrounded by this specialness, which set it apart from business-as-usual in the classroom.

Digital technology doesn’t enjoy this same elevated, ritualized status in school. If anything, most schools integrate digital technology as transparently as possible, hoping to blend it effortlessly into classroom activity. I think that’s a mistake.

When I read that I was expecting to read further that he wanted ritual integrated into the use of technology, to make it stand out. However, that is not where he was going.

The point where he really caught my attention was with his discussion of context being critical. He talks specifically about the classroom as the place “where we are supposed to notice things.” He applies that to teaching literature and then uses it to discuss technology.

This aspect is something that I think some of us have done, trying to cram tech into the classroom.

I was making that mistake when I first conceived of my iPad textbook. It wasn’t going to be any different than a paper anthology, except that it was going to be on the iPad. However, as the work materialized, I transformed that vision into something which relied on the technology to be successful or to increase its success. It’s not just a readings book; it includes and uses multiple kinds of media, focusing on images, to help students remember and conceptualize ideas in the literature.

Rushkoff then asks if the tech will enhance the experience and discusses an example where it takes away from the classroom.

If I succeed (which I am not doing yet) in getting this book to function within a flipped classroom, then I think the iPad text will enhance the intra-classroom interaction.

In his discussion he brings up scale, a topic I had not considered before.

“Inch” devices, with little screens that fit in your hand, are best for individuals, and favor reading or watching over writing or doing. “Foot” devices, like laptops and computers, are great for production, and are aimed at groups of one to three collaborators. “Yard” devices, such as smart boards and projectors, are great for presenting to larger groups of people, but not particularly interactive for anyone but the presenter.

This article is literature-centric. He asks the questions in terms of literature classrooms. That can help English professors particularly to conceptualize the points he is making.

He ends saying that we should be aware of and take into account in our various technologies and their uses– “their presence, their impact and their specific role in the design of the lesson.”

I’m going into this iPad textbook class with an approved IRB to see if students learn better from the iPad textbook, which has tons of pictures. But I am also comparing it with a class where the works were all read online and one where all the works are in the textbook. So I will end up with three different groups of technologies. To further complicate it (and in a way I will not necessarily be able to account for) each of the three different techs will be used by three different groups of students.

However, as Rushkoff recommends, I am thinking about why I am using an iPad here (and it is no longer just because I can).

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