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new media in English education

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

18 replies on “new media in English education”

Dear Alex,
I appreciate your thoughts in advance of your visit to 307 on Friday the 16th. I agree with everything you have posted here and then some.
I find students, some, reluctant to embrace the radical change that will mark their ELA teaching careers–and for good reason.
Most middle and high school ELA classrooms are not new media read/write/think classrooms and our students, my students, know that.
They are the vanguard of the changes that you envision defining ELA education in the next couple of decades. 307 looks forward to yours and Lorraine’s visit on the Friday.

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Karen, it is difficult being in the middle of such radical change. Our teachers-to-be need to be prepared for a wide range of possibilities. Certainly they could leave here in the next few years and find a job in a school with little in the way of computers and certainly no pressure to take on that responsibility.
That’s why I think that it’s not so important that teachers become really expert in using current media b/c by the time they find themselves using computer technology it is likely that the technology will have changed significantly.
What is necessary is a new media literacy that will allow teachers to engage with developing technologies on their own throughout their careers.
I’m looking forward to meeting with your class.

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Exactly! We shouldn’t be focused so hard on making sure we know everything about every form of new technology that is available today. However, we should definitely be focused on maintaining an attitude that is acceptant to the realization that technology is changing every single day. By understanding that, we are more likely to stay in touch with everything new that comes out in the next 2 years, 5 years, 10 years, and beyond. That is the only way we are going to keep up with our students in the future. If we can’t stay ahead of them, we need to at least try our best to keep pace.

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I definitely agree with what Alex says about how computers will redefine education in classrooms in the future. We all know, most students this day in age know a lot about computers. However, future teachers should learn as much about technology as they can in order to keep their students on their toes when teaching. On the other hand, present teachers need to realize that not all students are as computer savy as others which is why it’s difficult to keep all students on the same learning level when incorporating technology.

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I really appreciated the comment you made about how people often overestimate student knowledge about computers. I think it’s important to know the difference between students that use the computer to research, download music and movies, and talk to friends. However, not many know the difference between authentic information on the internet and information put there by an “average joe,” so to speak. Many don’t know where to look to figure it out either. I think that it’s important for students to learn the basics before teachers are jumping into topics that are way over their heads.

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Alex,
I absolutely agree with you concerning the capabilities of our generation with technology. We are quick to master an IPOD or AOL Instant Messanger, but when it comes to blogging or wikis, I am ignorant. I feel the need to add more definition to your statement about teachers getting into English for their love of literature. It is important to understand that we do not have to leave our love of literature behind; however, we need to accept the current technological revolution and learn how to incorporate this new information into our classroom. All too often we feel it is either or: sit behind a computer or read a great book. This “choice” does not need to exist, if you see what I’m saying. I love what you have to say and emphatically agree with your most current post. Thanks!

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Alex-
I agree with what you are saying and in truth it terifies me. Even though there are many classrooms that are not new-media oriented, I am able to see that there is a time in the near future when that will not be the case. I am so far behind in my technological education that I am worried I will never even be able to reach the “intensive level courses” that you were mentioning. You said something about most of us entering the profession for a “love of literature” while you have an intellectual curiousity of literature. I need to cultivate an intellectual curiousity of new media; I know I will never love new media, but I should be able to facilitate a love for it in my students. If I am trying to teach my students to love and appreciate literature, I should be able to use the same methods concerning media applications and allow them to love something that I am simply tolerating. I don’t want my apathy for the technological revolution to rub off on my students because it is a driving force that they should embrace and understand.
This is my first english education class and I must admit that it was a stroke of luck that I am taking it so early into my major. I realize now what I need to be doing on the side of my curriculum education and the necessity of pursuing technology on my own and the importance of continuing to modernize my abilities with those new technologies.

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Alex,
I belive that when I become a teacher, many of my students will know a lot about technology. Hopefully however, I will know more about the application of technology not often used outside of the classroom than they will and we can learn from each other. My parents found their information for research papers from book sources and it took them much much more time. However, I can look up the book, an autobiography of the author, the times he lived in and some summary notes on the book within a half an hour. I believe that teachers need to be up to date with the world in order to relate to their students who will be growing up in an age where technology is advanced and much more a part of the classroom and everyday life. I am afraid of this because I cant see what is going to happen with technology, I cant image needing more – except for maybe not wanting my computer to crash as often. I am weary of my skills. I believe you are right when you say that there is a technological revolution beginning to take place and we are only getting started. In order to become the best teacher I can be to students growing up in a new age of technological advancement, I am going to have to try and keep up with them.

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I definately agree that teachers must really become “experts” in using technology at this time of rapid change. In the past, I have had many teachers that made a point not to use technology in class, either because they weren’t familiar with it or they were scared of losing the upper hand in the class to tech savvy students. I think that it is important to incorporate the rapidly changing technology within the high school english curriculum, which can be old and tired, examing the same old books like “The Scarlet Letter” and “Hamlet.” I think that as educators (or potential educators, in my case) we need to bridge the gap between the old and the new and spark the minds of our students, who are already being engaged everyday with computer games, chats and online sites. I think that by using the exciting technology that our students love and use everyday, we can excite the minds of our students with our daily curriculums of grammar lessons and novels.
I look forward to seeing you on Friday!

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i agree with the arguments that you’ve made here regarding how teachers have to become more informed and experiment with technology. i personally feel that if teachers aren’t willing to learn then students aren’t going to be either.

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I agree with this. I feel you should definetly be well-trained in this new technology. I feel it’s important even if you dont have a love for it to at least have an interest in it. The reason being that it’s going to be a big part of our teaching generation and it’s important to learn about it so we can pass what we learn onto our students.

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Dear Alex,
I appreciate your honesty in admitting that literature is not the subject matter you are passionate about.
The comment in response to Prof. Stearns’ comment is an important comment as well. After graduation, students could find a job with little technology use in the classroom but it is important to have a curiousity to keep ourselves informed on our own until the district we are working for catches up!

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Dear Alex,
I enjoyed your views on the way technology is shaping our teaching profession. I believe that these new technologies can be useful, but we can’t abandon the tried and true methods of the past. Instead, we need to incorporate the new technologies into the tried and true methods. Doing this we can advance our skills in the classroom along with advancing our tech-savvy. I would say that you are definitely correct in the statement about most ELA teachers joining the profession due to their love of literature. Teaching, as you stated is more about the literacy, but without the literature; where is the literacy? Maybe technological literacy will become more important, but the literature of Shakespeare, Dante, and other greats will become more accesible, along with opening up more resources to analyze, understand, and appreciate these literary greats. Technology can be a great thing, but not to destroy or forget the past. Instead it should be there to benefit the literary lover, the creative writer, and the ELA teacher/student.

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I think you made an excellent point about high school English being more about literacy than literature. As a want-to-be English teacher, that point hasn’t been made clear to me in four years of college. The new media seem to be overwhelming now, but I am willing to learn. I look forward to your visit to our 307 class.

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Hi Alex,
I look forward to your visit to our 307 class on Friday. I think your reality check is a good one, and probably right on target. An item of concern for me is this: if we (students becoming teachers in the next few years) are on the cutting edge of this change, doesn’t it become our responsibility to help students integrate “traditional” literature studies with new media in meaningful ways? Won’t we have some influence on the speed and degree to which new media technology enters our classrooms and transforms our students’ thinking? It seems to me that critical reading and thinking skills were never so important as they are now- but in order to truly develop these, don’t students need to be reminded of the value of the literary traditions out of which new media has grown?

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I appreciate the comment you made about teachers not needing to be expert about computers because in the future technology may be completley different. Of course it is important to understant how to properly use a computer and integrate its usage into classroom activities. Who knows where the future of technology will take us?

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Dear Alex ,
I appreciate the many ideas you have opened up to me in your recent post. I certainly believe that most adolescents are more tech savvy than I but I never reallly thought of the disparity of their tech concumption and actual technological prodution.
I am also concerned with your observation and personal dilemna of how much time ELA teachers have (or believe they have) in responding to technological demands. I find in EDU 307 that it is hard to manage the time consumed with blogs, RSS feeds, tech lingo, tech history, web page construction, etc. and still enjoy it wholeheartedly. One really has to commit to changing their way of thinking, which I am working on.
Thank you, Cara

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Nice post, Alex. I agree completetly. First day of the Online Documents and Documentation course (senior year university Scientific and Technical Communication course) I teach isn’t about the syllabus. It’s an entire class about Consumption vs. Production (and how the shift from Consumption to Production isn’t abandoning consumption, but rather just a larger awareness of both ideas). It’s supposed to be a singularly meatspace course, but I require a Virtual Friday, and force them to produce texts almost constantly in both spaces. Incrementally drive people into these new spaces and then discuss what we are doing. Production as reflection.
Nice post.

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