Author Archives: peaslee23

Maybe, Just Maybe, Reading Grapes of Wrath on my iPad Won’t Erode my Synapses.

I don’t like Blogging.

I really don’t. I wouldn’t be doing this at all if it were not mandated by the course requirements.  It’s nothing against the form per se, I just do not particularly like working with the internet in an academic setting.  Sure, I will post pictures to Facebook, or argue in forums over who would win a fight between Thor and the Incredible Hulk…

Thor would win- in case you are wondering- he’s a F*&^ing GOD!

…but the internet is a place for slight pursuits.  Sure it simplifies how I do my research on various topics (including this one) and it has allowed me to not have to wait in line at the registrar’s office anymore to get next semester’s schedule booked, but scholastically I have found that writing FOR the internet has been burdensome and against my grain.  I concede that the tech revolution which occurred during the ten years between my undergrad and grad degrees has so altered HOW school is taught, that a large part of the problem is mine — I’m a bit stuck in my ways and slow to adapt.

But then again, how much of the change has been simply for the sake of change? I am reminded of a quote by Jeff Goldblum’s character from the original Jurassic Park (and apologies to classmates who already endured my previous trotting of this out during the seminar).  When talking about the dinosaurs roaming the park he says; “Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should..” (this link is not to that quote- just some cool Dinosaur stuff).  Sure we CAN conduct an entire class online now, posting lectures for students to listen to at their leisure and conducting class discussion in iLearn forums and by email, but is there a benefit- is this inherently better for the students and their learning experience?  Or is this simply a combination of teachers playing with new toys, egged on by the pimps at Oracle who want to sell the latest software update at an inflated price to the University?  What about downsides?  Is there proof that this mode of learning might, in fact, be inferior in some way?  Everyone was all high on moving pictures when those first came out, and they wormed their way into the curriculum I was fed as a teenager- watching films on health, nature, puberty etc on crappy reel-to-reels.  But then brain scan technology comes along and shows that the human brain is less active when passively watching TV. Is there an equivalent problem with the current tech that we aren’t accounting for? Are all my rhetorical questions the basis for sound opposition or just the dying gasps of my antiquated belief system?  Let’s find out, shall we…

Part of my curiosity into this question was created by my happenstance discovery several years prior of a study by Herbert Krugman that rattled around in my brain pan.  In November of 1969, Krugman decided to monitor the effects of watching TV on the human brain.  He observed the brain waves and discovered that, when watching TV, the “alpha” waves in humans were activated.  These same waves are associated with meditative trances, passive, unfocused thought.  When the subjects switched from watching TV to reading a magazine the waves switched to Beta waves signaling greater focus and alertness.  The Alpha waves were not content driven either- just happened as soon as the screen flicked on.  In fairness, he did not study reading things on screen to determine which waves would be triggered (and that is at the heart of what we’re talking about here in a reading class) but it’s enough to make me curious.

I began my search among the various databases by simply using the key words “teacher” + “opposition” + “technology”  (as an aside, I am well aware that I use technology in order to decry it- so there is no need to point it out. [I’m also watching Real Madrid play Barca on espn3.com as I write this so it seems my hypocrisy is boundless]).  Immediately I get a decent number of hits from various databases serving psychological journals. Their focus is on exploring the root causes of technophobia in teachers (I also used one paper that explored that phobia in psychologists- the results were similar.) It appears that the primary root of opposition (technophobia) among teachers is based in large part on 3 factors A) the length of time a teacher has been at the discipline B) prior experience with Computers and C) Amount of exposure to computers (read here). Other articles I found echoed similar sentiments, portraying the psychological barriers involved.

That is all well and good, it helps establish the psychological bent of those who support my position (and establish my bent as well) but it doesn’t answer the question of whether there is an actual hindrance to the idea of using tech to teach reading.  It’s not an easy question to answer- certainly not in academic journals. I found the usual polemics for and against technology in general; articles citing the advent of the printing press or the apocalyptic Skynet.

“I’m afraid I can’t let you read that for class, Dave.”

However there is not a terrible amount of academic research on this. And when I say there isn’t a terrible amount  I mean I found one study linking the effects of technology to reading.  It’s about how an iPad helped a fifth grader with ADHD. Not exactly the stuff I can use to start an anti-tech revolution amongst my cohorts.

It seems that, after an exhaustive search that took up the better part of the halftime break,  I cannot locate any evidence establishing there is a detrimental effect.  Granted, the initial Krugman study raises the specter of  the possibility of there being potentially being one (if I squint really hard), but that is not enough to stake a thesis upon. I suppose a more daring fellow than myself would take this opportunity to launch there own investigation — drum up some grants, find test subjects, and rent an Soviet-era MRI.  However I have no experience, training, nor even an inclination towards the scanning of Alpha Waves.  This kind of research requires someone with at least 3 semester more study in neurobiology than I currently possess. I cannot present a convincing case to someone with that type of training that it is worth their time to investigate.

However, why should I utilize technology to teach reading?  In my search, I haven’t exactly found anything to tell me why it’s BETTER.  Sure, there is the argument that this is the way the world is moving.  And I can see that there are advantages to the speed in which certain things can be done — the hyperlinking of text allows faster research on tangential topics, Ctrl+F makes searching a text for a particular word or phrase easier.

And ultimately, if I am not going to investigate the neuro-pathway MRI imaging of a student’s brain as they read “This Wooden Shack Place” why should I occupy a position of resistance?  That just seems childish, an unwillingness to adapt for the sake of being petulant.  I would imagine at some point these kinds of studies will be done and it behooves me to stay current on the research, but opposition needs better backing than simply a “bad feeling” Besides — at the end of the day — how bad can it possibly be even at it’s worse?  I mean, I watched instructional films in HS and got nothing out of them, but it didn’t exactly rot my brain to the point where I cannot write a blog post for my class.  There just isn’t enough reason for me to continue fighting at this point.

But I still don’t like it, and will probably make my students read old timey bound books because, as their teacher, I just can. I’m all about abusing my authority.

Link

“Development Through Educational Technology: Implications for Teacher Personality and Peer Collaboration” Ike, Chris (1997) Journal of Instructional Psychology

“Why aren’t you using me to teach your students, Dave?”

It is clear from the outset that “Development Through Educational Technology. . . ” was not written by someone with an interest in guiding his reader gently into the subject.  The introduction to the article is a rather abrupt; “The indispensability of education as a tool for improving pedagogical efficacy, information dissemination, and the speed of learning was examined.”  By whom? How was it examined?  Apparently we’re jumping right into the deep end here.  The author, Dr. Chris Ike, is trained in psychology and that is heavily reflected in the usage of vocabulary terms like “axial tomography” and discussing the concentration of hydrogen atoms in the brain.  Given all this, it is understandable if the prose is lacking a certain poetry in its word choices and turns of phrase.  We don’t typically read the work of educators outside of English expecting the same level of polish and narrative skill as, say, Mike Rose.  Still, for an article that so loudly trumpets the usage of computers to streamline and simplify the work of educators- it is tough to overlook the fact that the author’s spell check somehow confused the s in “defence.”

But let’s be fair and get at the heart of what this article is about. It is intended as a broad overview of the resistance to technology in the classroom.  This paper breaks into numerous categories with headings like “The Teacher and the Computer” “Student-Centered Learning” and “The Role of Teacher’s Personality.”  Many of these comprise little more than a paragraph.  The author does a good job of hitting upon the numerous potential facets of resistance- including the works of psychologists and neurologists.

Ike also, to my pleasant surprise, presents tangible actions for instructors to take to overcome their inhibitions towards instructional media.  He specifically touts a “collaborative autobiography” approach, where a teacher confronts their hesitations or weaknesses in concert with other educators.  It really is an overly elaborate way of saying that technophobic teachers should create a support group– but at least it presents a solution. So many other articles I’ve read in a variety of disciplines content themselves merely to illustrate a problem, tossing off the notion of finding a remedy to subsequent researchers. Ike instead offers a sketch of a collaborative workshop in which this teacher support group can work through their issues.

However, the entire premise of this article hinges on the idea that the use of technology is not only an inherent good- but that it is often “better” than traditional methods.  “The teacher who understands the computer concept seems to be the one who appreciates the fact that the computer is indeed a productivity mechanism for the student as well as for the teacher…” (emphasis mine).  The words “fear” and “weakness” are constantly evoked throughout the text as the source of resistance to using technology.  While these personality “traits” (“deficiencies” seems to loaded a word, despite it feeling more apropos) certainly comprises a good chunk of that resistance (hell I’ll concede most of it), does this leave absolutely no room for reasoned debate? Must every objection be born out of some deep-rooted fear that when the lights go out a rusty commodore 64 will climb out from under the bed and murder me in my sleep?

Ike does seem, at the very end, to acknowledge that the need for teachers to get comfortable with tech is due to “…the realities of technocratic orientation that has overtaken the contemporary educational philosophies…” the root causes are all attributed to “fear.”  This creates an argument where any objection based on pedagogical concern may be dismissed as rationalization of the “fear.”  I might be more convinced if Ike had devoted any part of his essay to debunking these objections or at least explicitly linked them to a rationalization as opposed to valid intellectual questions.  At least then he would be allowing for those types of arguments.  Instead it’s just assumed that any objection is “fear” and “weakness” based and can be cured with group hugs and black coffee.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go plug in the nightlight so that commodore doesn’t sneak up on me.

Teacher Resistance to Blogging

So I got me an article from the interwebs by Larry Rosen and Michelle Weil entitled “Computer Availability, Computer Experience and Technophobia Among Public School Teachers”- which is pretty on the nose for my subject of inquiry. I have decided to write this post in real-time as I read the article. To paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson, think of this post as “Gonzo Scholarship.”

First point that needs to be made is the time stamp on this article is from 1995 which, given the progressive march of technology in the subsequent 12 years makes it a bit problematic. It is a bit like using a survey of cavemen’s opinions on fire to extrapolate a modern chefs take in regards to the broil setting of their oven. Still, psychology is psychology and I’m betting that some themes will still carry through.

The sample of this survey was 2066 questionnaires spread across 54 schools in 6 SoCal school districts during the ’88-’89 academic year with an approx. 61-29% split between secondary and elementary level educators.

Having plowed through the Methods section of the work and more than a few math equations and decimal numbers, we come to the first substantive bit of information for my purpose; of those surveyed the best predictors of technophobia were A) prior experience with computers B) length of time teaching (the longer you taught, the more afraid of using computers you were) and C) current use of computers reduced anxiety.  Now I am far from an expert in psychology but I feel confident in chalking these findings up to the “no shit” category.  The more experience you have with computers the more comfortable you’ll feel around them.  Seems pretty cut and dried to me.

Another finding- somewhat intuitive but still important to codify- is that there was a noticeable disparity between levels of anxiety in Caucasian vs. non-Caucasian educators.  Do I even need to tell you which was greater?

So the conclusions of this are about what you would expect- a lack of familiarity largely drives technophobia in teachers.  It’s kinda obvious… I’m hoping that some of my further research might uncover some actual pedagogical basis for resisting. Still this sets up the underlying premise of my question, that there is INDEED resistance to using technology by teachers.  Of course that was in 1989, but still…

 

Image

You thought I might choose something else?

You thought I might choose something else?

Ever since I enrolled in the SFSU Composition Master’s program, I’ve been intrigued by the idea of student resistance. This is no doubt due, in part, to my former life as an obnoxiously contrarian undergraduate- or my current life as a slightly less obnoxiously contrarian grad student. I can be a dick like that… There is some quintessential need in me to react in an opposite manner to those around me. It transcends simply playing devil’s advocate in the classroom; any social situation I find myself in I tend to take the alternate tract. And this is not strictly limited to expressing an alternate viewpoint- my expression, mannerisms, and temperaments are all hardwired to resist those around me.
I’m not bringing this up as a way of self-compliment- it’s been largely detrimental. Friends think me disagreeable, coworkers believe me tiresome, and women at the bar are wholly immune to my entreaties regardless of the number of Jagerbombs consumed. I am a horrible salesman. Any benefits I like to think I bring by way of offering contrasting viewpoints tend to lose out in the balance.
So the notion that students would embrace in particular scholastic environments my default setting is intriguing to me. It also helped that upon entering this program, I found myself first in class with Professor Jennifer Trainor, a brilliant thinker in the area of student resistance to issue of race (and the fact that she is the second reader for my thesis is purely coincidental and holds ZERO sway upon my adoration of her work-seriously, not kissing up or anything). In terms of this class, my own resistance to embracing technology in the curriculum has taken some prominence in the last several discussions. So it seems like a bit of confluence here. Plus I saw “student resistance” listed as one of the previous topics that Professor Wormuth put up on iLearn and we had a sale.
However, I do care about my grade and about being innovative (to the extent that I’m able) and about not simply phoning it in- senioritis be damned. So I tried to think of a less conventional way of looking at the problem, a perspective that maybe has not been previously covered in this course. But how to do that…
If you’re still reading up to this point, you’ll notice that I am pretty heavily invested in talking about myself; I’m partially overcompensating from all those years of being told not to use “I” in academic work and also because I am a partially treated narcissist. First person pronouns have already been used 35 times in this blog- approximately .08% of the total word count. Which doesn’t seem like much until you realize that a variation of the word “reader is clocking in at only .004%…
But I digress. I am interested in a teacher’s resistance to technology in the classroom- both from a pedagogical standpoint and also a psychological one. How founded in valid principle are arguments against tech and how much of it is just being a reactionary Luddite? I figure this to be important for two reasons:
A) I want to explore my personal reactions to the use of blogs, wiki’s etc
2) If I choose to pursue a curriculum that encompasses these genres, I want to know the roots of potential opposition from faculty, administrators, etc
D) Graduate students in this field are in the somewhat unique position of being both teachers as well as students, and viewing them in both contexts might illuminate some of the responses and motivations at play. Plus, it allows for work done on both students as well as teachers to be potentially relevant.
To that extent I will be exploring the works of Larry Rosen who has written extensively on technophobia- particularly in the academic realm. I’ve also got my grubby little paws on Johnson and Kongrith’s Teaching Teachers to Use Technology as well as “Altered Geometry: A New Angle on Teacher Technophobia” by Margaret Lloyd. I’ve got some other articles and avenues of pursuit- but this post is getting long and you probably don’t need me to name drop anymore.

Two Ways- My way or the Highway…

Soooooo. I asked a question about whether it might not be a bad thing for teachers to embrace the role of gatekeeper if it helps students to better articulate and achieve their own personal goals.  I kinda screwed myself a little bit here in setting up this, my 3rd, blog post.  After all, I went a little far afield with that initial question and thus it is making it a bit difficult for me to bring the various readings back to that point.  I mean, discussing how reading is taught within the context of a writing class does not directly relate in an obvious manner.  

However, the more I thought about class discussions we’ve had- especially about technology and its use in the classroom, has me thinking that maybe there is a direct correlation in how we choose what it is that we teach and the extent to which we go to choose texts that are “engaging” to students.  Creative lesson plans that incorporate Twitter or Facebook or Smart Boards may do a better job of keeping students interested in our class- but then again so could watching movies or playing sports or anything that students like to do beyond reading a book.  If our goal is to make students happy to be in our class and eager participants, why should we ever impose anything on them that they don’t want to learn?

Now I am talking about college level here, where students are not forced by the state into compulsory attendance.  If a student would prefer to read Tattoo Quarterly and analyze that instead of Hamlet, maybe the University is not where they should be.  This is not an endorsement of the banking system, I’m not suggesting that students sit there passively and take whatever educational punishment I give them.  However, if students are not finding themselves sufficiently engaged by a text as to produce the desired critical thought necessary for acceptable work, after we have examined our curriculum to eliminate needlessly difficult or esoteric works, maybe then we need to start asking ourselves if our clientele our too broad- many of their desires too incompatible with the aims of a University education.

(This is not a value judgement of a University education verses any other kind.  All educations are what the participants make of them whether they occur @ Stanford, in a technical school, or on a prison yard).

 

“Thus in the United States, the drive to educate all students about a set of ‘facts’ in the name of literacy education can be seen by minorities as a thinly veiled guise for the imposition of a particular type of cultural identity” Bernado Ferdman “Literacy and Cultural Identity”

To be certain, no reasonable educator is insensitive to the perils of teaching and cultural identity.  We all know about the transitory nature of “fact” and the dangers of “pushing one way of knowledge” as Ferdman says.  We live and teach in a world of grey tones, where reality is subject to the interpretation of those interacting within it. We should be wary of absolutes, they tend to get easily disproven and cause more trouble than they are worth.

But the denial of absolutes is a value in and of itself and one that I would argue does get pushed at students. It is also a value sharply in contrast with much of the religious ideology in which students are raised.  Subjectivism fundamentally undercuts the basic tenants of any theistic religion- that there is a moral absolute established by an outside force.  If we as teachers, reject absolutism (and I actually do) are we not denying religion as many/most of our students understand it?

What about Global Warming deniers? Or Homophobes? How about strict Muslims who believe women shouldn’t drive?  If protecting cultural identity is of the utmost importance, then we are not allowed to challenge these antiquated notions, lest we violate someone’s identity.  It is easy to embrace the principles of Ferdman’s article when we identify with/sympathize with/ agree with the oppressed view-points.  And within the context of “the classroom” the commonly accepted “minority” view-points are often championed by those in power (even if not wholly understood) so it can be hard to argue that they exist in an oppressive space at the academy.  Compare a teachers reaction to a student arguing that the bombing of Hiroshima was racist vs. a student arguing the Bible bans homosexuality.  Which is the true “minority” opinion in that circumstance?

I think, at some point, teachers need to begin reconciling themselves to the fact that ALL education is, to an extent, the imposition of your world-view on a student.

My first blog post ever (I feel so growed up)

OK, I’m hoping that this turns out to be a valid question that inspires lively debate, instead of the caffeine-fueled rambling that I suspect it to be…

In the “Academic Literacy” chapter of Handbook of College Reading That Cost Me $100 ‘Cause the Bookstore Didn’t Have a Used Copy, the author invokes at the top of page 27 that buzz-phrase meant to strike fear and disgust in our egalitarian hearts- “gate-keeping”.  Now, like every other God-Fearing, Freire-Reading, Occupy-Wall-Street-Embracing Comp major, I have a visceral response to the very idea that our beloved discipline could serve so odious a purpose as the denial of students the right to higher education.

However, the more I think about it, the more I wonder if this actually may not be a valuable aspect of the job.  As the three case studies from “Strengthening Practice with Theory” highlight, there are many types of students who require very different things from their education.  Should we, as reading/writing teachers be working to broaden our curriculum and pedagogy to embrace all those different agendas- or should we embrace our  position as gate-keepers to the University so that, when we encounter students who’s needs might best be served by internships or trade schools, etc, we can better steer them towards those avenues instead of working to keep them in a system that will not best serve their needs while putting them $40K in debt?  Maybe the solution is to tighten the parameters of University programs while working to promote and (in some cases de-stigmatize) those different means of education.

Also, at what point should our flexibility end and the students responsibility to adapt take over? Lord knows the real world is not very forgiving of people who cannot adjust to the way things are done.

Or am I simply establishing a straw-man argument here? I can never tell…