One of my new colleagues, Karen Stearns, has asked me to address her class of English Education majors on the topic of blogging, specifically on some of the things I do with blogs here and in my courses. In thinking about that, I thought I would write a little about my own perspective on what the upcoming English high school teacher should know about new media.
A couple of caveats, though… I’m not trying to be comprehensive; I’m just throwing out some ideas. NCATE and all those other state agencies have the job of being comprehensive. Nor am I suggesting our program should necessarily be doing these things or that they aren’t doing these things or anything like that. These teacher preparation programs have to keep a lot of balls in the air, and I’m glad its not my job to make sure it happens.
So with all that in mind, here are my thoughts:
- First, a little reality check. We are in the midst of a tremendous economic and cultural revolution regarding information. Computers are everywhere. They will continue to expand in their use as we approach ubiquitous computing, though paradoxically this expansion occurs while the digital divide grows more severe (it’s getting harder to catch up and stay current). In this context, it is, in my view, undeniable that over the next 20-30 years high school teachers’ jobs will be completely redefined by information technology, just as public education was largely defined by industrial culture and technology in the 20th century. That said, I don’t see technology as deterministic; our fates are not sealed. However, in order to play a role in shaping the teaching profession and its technology over the coming decades, one will need a thorough understanding of technology, confidence in using and teaching with technology, and a critical insight into the role of technology in culture.
A teacher preparation program cannot provide that, but it cannot open the door by graduating teachers who are prepared to enter into such a project.
- How is such a task acheived? Two primary ways. First, through a technology intensive course or series of courses. Though many academics view students today as technologically savvy, that’s really not the case, at least not in my experience. Many students are skilled consumers of new media (e.g. cell phones, mp3 players, video games, internet, etc.) but they know little of producing with new media or really using a computer. An intensive course (or courses) introduces students to producing web pages, video, images, sound, and using computers and networks to communicate.
Second, there must be an infusion of technology. That means that all of the faculty need to be at least as well-trained with technology as their students (n.b. actually its kind of strange, can you see this happening in literary studies…the students are required to take Chaucer; there’s a Chaucer expert to teach the course; but none of the othe faculty had ever studied Chaucer–that’s rought analogous to the situation in many English departments regarding new media). Infusion means that (nearly) all the courses in the program include new media. Faculty have websites, create new media objects for instructional purposes, use online discussions, assign new media projects for their students to complete, etc. I’m not suggesting that new media need to completely supplant traditional teaching methods (though that will likely happen over the next few decades). I’m just suggesting that some portion of the course needs to function through new media. This has two key effects. First, it gives students an opportunity to make use of the new media skills they learn in their intensive course. Second, they get to see how faculty make use of technology in teaching English.
- Third and finally, new media needs to become a visible part of an intellectual life. Students need to see their professors considering technology, experimenting and evaluating technology, and ultimately making choices about what technologies to incorporate into their professional lives. It is a difficult choice for faculty to make. If one has been teaching 10 or 20 years without technology, doing one’s research and fulfilling one’s other professional duties without much technology (besides maybe word processing, e-mail, and a litte web browsing), then it becomes hard to make a choice to do otherwise. I sometimes find it frustrating myself to try to keep up with this blog (see the dearth of posts over the summer) and remain current with all this other business. I guess partly this blog is making visible my work with new media–philosophically, pedagogically, and technically.
In any case, next Friday, when I’m speaking with these students about this topic, I’m going to mention these three points as challenges for them in their professional careers. Having taught and advised these English Education students, I know many of them enter into the profession out of a "love of literature" (not unlike many literary studies professions). It is not a passion I share (I have an intellectual curiosity for some literature but not a love). And yet, the job of the high school English teacher is more about literacy than literature and increasingly that literacy will be a technological literacy.
Prepaing students to work in that environmnet, to carry forward the best attributes of our disciplinary past into our disciplinary future (if there is to be one)–that is our task.