What does “teaching with technology” even mean? For some, it means the virtual classroom. Others snarkily point to their pencils and moleskines, quick to explain how those tools are technology too. Like so much else in education, “teaching with technology” is at once tacit and automatic, while also being hotly debated, objectified into a thing that can be assessed, tested for, counted, measured against other nations and legislated.
Happily, the first few chapters in The Future of Thinking quickly acknowledge this tension, and aim to address it head on. Much of what is offered is not new. However, I appreciated the approach that leads through theory and problematization as much as it points to “cool” new gadgets, apps, and tech. It is a bold move to insist that institutions are networks, capable of mobilizing student learning as well as proving a framework for it. The trick, which I think the book does quite nimbly, is to begin to bridge the divide between the theorizing about technology and the implementation of it in the classroom.
One of the most salient questions, for me, became: “If people are, in fact, self-educating via the Internet, how are we, as educators, using skills to help transform learning practices both in the classroom and out” (23)? This is a question I’m asking myself, all the time. Any attempts I might make to “technologize” my classroom are–I know for a fact–woefully out of touch for many of my students. I know this, because there is a regular contingent, who every semester chooses to gather data and compose research papers on some niche digital discourse community or other. I learn so, so much from these student papers. Like, I never knew what “speed playing” was before, or who the K-pop fandom was. Many of my students come into my class knowing vast amounts more than I ever will about gaming, coding, and random corners of the web. So, how do I teach them about technology?
The short answer is, I don’t. I guide them to teach each other. I guide the students who don’t know much with what little I do have to offer. I so appreciated the section in chapter two on collaborative learning for this reason: thinking about students’ tacit facility and confidence with social networking sites like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram, I cannot hope to keep up. However, I don’t have to feel pressure to do that:
“The best way to extend the reach of student networks is to involve youth in the learning process, encouraging them to explore their individual talents and guiding them as they work together to find ways that those talents can contribute to larger projects” (27).
I try to implement this in my First Year Writing classrooms by first: setting up my assignments to involve as much student choice as possible, and second: by encouraging students to pursue their interests, to bring their expertise to the assignment. Nowhere is the more easily seen than in my secondary-primary research projects that span the middle of each semester. Here, students read about and develop primary research projects that center on topics and discourse communities they are passionate about. It leads to projects as varied as they are personal for students. I love this. I’m encouraged that, at least in part, I’m not crazy.
There is, however, one aspect that I’d like to work on. Moving forward, I want to integrate more of a “common project” that can somehow pull together all the research work my students do. Disparate as it is, it hardly ever coalesces for students in any class-wide way. Something to think about for the future, I guess.