I thought a lot about techology after our class brain stormed some thoughts:
Wikies, etc., where students together create an extensive knowledge base on a topic, is actually quite an interesting idea to me. An online environment that allows for easy interactive dialogue between students, as well the use of enhanced documents and audio/visual components, is a format I think can significantly reinforce and expand learning. Texts can be annotated, augmented with visuals, and interacted with by students in highly enriching ways. For example, readings from a particular historical period can be greatly enriched by adding historical elements, such as news accounts, photos or artwork from the era on social, political, aesthetic or historical topics raised in class. Another very intriguing emerging genre is online museum sites that explore places like the Globe Theater or the history of the Barnum and Bailey Circus. Students can work with these visual elements to enliven text-based materials. Multiple translations or manuscripts of one work can be uploaded so students can become more aware of the fluidity of texts in motion in the real world in history. Histories about texts, such as critical reviews, interviews, etc., can also be added.
Sites that utilize role-playing activities where students take on character identities from texts and interact with one another is one highly creative use I have seen. This method can really help bring to life historical texts. Students can create their own avatar and interact with other students within the role of, for example, a 17th Century subject position. Another approach is to upload group problem solving projects, games, etc. Working together on a solving project is a powerful learning tool used mostly in the sciences, but can be applied to composition as well. I can imagine assigning groups to work together to rewrite a text together.
Another use might be class preparation and peer review. As in our class, posting a response to readings on prior to our class meeting helps deepen classroom discussions.
Peer review forums are another effective use. In my course design for an FYC class, I plan to have small group book clubs. Students will share responses to texts they are reading together on our class site, add visual elements and extra-textual materials, such as video content about issues raised in book club selections. Since the course is theme-based around the concepts of place, students will also post travelogues and ethnographies that include video, photos, text excerpts and interview quotes from interviewees about the place they are writing about. Another online component for this class is a Grammar Merry-Go-Round I-Learn posting project. Students will choose at least one grammar issue they are struggling with in their writing, research it online, and post an explanation of how to solve the issue for their peers.
Blogs, tweets and wiki contributions can all be part of the composition classroom. One idea is to use public dialogues, such as tweets, to help frame writing assignments. Student-driven inquiry seems naturally enhanced by multiple media outlets and opportunities for dialogue. Contacting a public representative, commenting on a news story or gathering opinions and data on topics of interest can all foster as sense of civic and social participation for students. This type of project might culminate in a video, letter or multimedia essay directed to a particular group or person about an issue meaningful to the student. I am quite excited about the ways in which students will use their creativity to expand the classroom. The notion of multimedia culminating portfolios is an area that I am excited to explore as well.
Slides, audio, video and other multimedia formats can enliven instructor and student presentations. In addition, new media easily allows the whole class to work together on editing, close reading and analyzing texts. New ways of sharing text also allow instructors to give feedback on drafts more easily. This has worked well for me as a teaching assistant. It was very gratifying and effective to work with students via email on drafts and see significant improvement and learning happen from draft to draft.
Some Final Thoughts
All that said, helping students to bring a critical eye to how technology constructs content and who controls the framing of content also seems extremely important. Facebook, smart phones, and new forms of advertising all have embedded persuasive strategies, often designed to generate revenue. Fostering critical analysis of the way in which users are influenced and constructed by technologies seems to me to be an important component of preparing students to be savvy users and informed opinion holders. Moreover, it is worth exploring the ways in which the distraction of technologies can undermine critical reflection as a practice. Continual electronic distractions, superficial content, and lack of mental space for sustained, in-depth thought are factors worth considering. What does it mean to lose regular face-to-face contact and conversation? Who does it benefit? What about privacy concerns? How can technology be used to improve our lives, rather than distract us from the real problems in our lives? These are all extremely important questions that I believe need to be incorporated into a 21st Century education.