First of all…I Had to Look Up Social Media

Okay, I’m not a dumb-dumb, really, but I wasn’t sure what social media meant.  I got my bachelors from UMUC (Univ. of MD Univ. College).  They’ve been forerunners in distance education, and all of my classes were online, and I thought, ‘Oh, yeah, I learned a lot through social media.’ Yeah, you sweet, simple thing, bless your heart.

So we’re talking Wikipedia, Facebook, blogs, and the like.

Hmmm, well, the knowledge that I consume through social media sites could be compared to indulging in cucumbers, simply because there isn’t any real value (other than a transitory value) to the information I get from places like wikipedia or blogs. I don’t think there’s supposed to be real sustenance on those types of sites anyway. I think they’re meant to be jumping off points, or at least that’s how I use them.

Artwork by David Plaztik

I’m going to have to amend my last analogy. Using Wikipedia is like eating cucumbers, but reading (yes, I admit it to the world!) and watching videos like this:

Now, that’s eating some cheetos, right there.

(The above is a video of Aziz Ansari acting as a “swagger coach” to Zach Galifa-you know the rest. No profanity, so you can enjoy it at the office or in front of the wee ones.)

Them’s Fightin’ Words

In his essay, Media Literacy: 21st Century Literacy Skills, Frank Baker delivers the message of media literacy with the urgency of a tent revival minister. In his essay, media literacy seems to be touted as a panacea for educating the digitally-connected masses who are yearning to be freed of the traditional strictures of the present-day classroom. Media literacy raises awareness among youth about the subtle messages they encounter all the time that shape their perceptions about the world and themselves. Baker (2010) writes, “…we are surrounded by a culture filled with visual images and messages, many of which work on a subconscious level” (p. 133). Preach it! (nothing new, but preach it anyway)
The NCTE has been promoting media literacy in English classrooms since the late 90’s and media literacy is a part of state and national standards of learning. Media is not new, however; it’s just more pervasive and high-tech. Cave drawings were just forms of low-tech media. (I stretch the definition of media to include non-language based modes of communication.) Images and sound add a helpful (and sometimes necessary) dimension to language communication. Technology gives us easier and portable ways to communicate with images and sound. The format or conveyance has changed, but the sensory output and input has not. We could have used a little media literacy during WWII:

I’m with Baker all the way until he quotes George Lucas as saying, “If students aren’t taught the language of sounds and images, shouldn’t they be considered as illiterate as if they left college without being able to read and write?” Ummm…NO!
Language is still a much more precise way of communicating than communication with the use of sound and images alone, and although we’ve heard of the functional illiterate person who runs a chain of restaurants that is not the norm. Reading and writing will continue to be the cornerstone of communication. Images and sounds layer meaning and it’s important to be able to identify the nuances of the subtext created by images and sounds, but the words are the meat (or meat analog if you’re a vegetarian).

Using Google Docs for Independent Work and as a Collaborative Platform

I wish I had been aware of Google docs throughout my time at Marymount. There were a few times that I had a presentation to give and realized that I had misspelled a word or failed to include some information. As a student teacher to 6th graders there were numerous times that I encountered the student who begged to work on an assignment at home only to forget his or her flash drive. I’ve forsaken the use of any sort of tangible, external, information-saving device for some time now. All work that I need to share is done via e-mail. I’ve used e-mail as a tool to counteract my habitual forgetfulness, but Google Docs is by far the better tool.

The benefits of using Google docs for any classroom cannot be overstated. For teachers, having students complete work on Google docs allows the teacher to have a centralized location to look at student work and offer feedback, as opposed to the pen and paper method, which not only results in waste, but can also result in towers of student work. Student work won’t get lost¸ and turn around will be much faster. (No late night burrito or ice cream stains on a student’s carefully and neatly written work.)
For students working on a project, participation can continue at all hours. Students who generally take a back seat when surrounded by peers can feel comfortable to think about what and how they want to contribute, and will therefore do so at a greater rate.
Here are some initial ideas that I’ve thought of for Language Arts activities and projects:
• Groups can present poems on the same theme using a specific form of poetry. Google docs would allow them to provide feedback on each other’s work and to check each other’s poems for the appropriate prosody and rhyming pattern, for instance. Other students could visit their document to learn the features of that poem’s form.
• Students could write create stories or scripts together.
• Students could complete character interviews outside of class. (Interviews that take place between the reader and a “character” of a text).
• If laptops were available in the classroom this would be a great way to practice generating questions and answers about a text.
The list could go on and on. I appreciate the seamless linkage of communication Google docs provides and I will undoubtedly be using it in my classroom.

Authentic Learning through Technology


It is the goal of most teachers to bring the world to their students, to ground knowledge in reality. I’ll never forget a lesson one of my high school teachers gave on Middle English. I was fascinated by the content of the lesson, but I felt overwhelmed by the information, taught by someone who knew it well and had a passion for it, but no realization of how far removed the world of the Middle Ages was for 17 and 18-year-olds living in an Oklahoma suburb.  As a result, my initial enthusiasm turned into a concerted effort to simply stay awake.

That lesson was given 14 years ago and by a teacher whose age I could only guess then as being “old”. She was an excellent and knowledgeable teacher. If she’s still with us she’s probably running a marathon as an octogenarian or doing something else amazing.  I have no doubt that if she had the 21st century tools that Bill Sheskey describes in his essay “Creating Learning Connections” she would have had us doing podcasts news reports in Middle English on the Black Death. Learning about the history of our language may not have seemed relevant to many of us students, but the relevance of technology in learning about the history of our language and other subjects is obvious.

Technology brings dimension to content that could easily float away into the ether. Technology helps us to ground content through the use of our visual and auditory senses, but it’s been doing that for decades. The digital world we live in now brings something new to the learning process. It makes learning interactive. Knowledge is now easily shared and scrutinized. Students have a platform for engaging with other learners in a virtual space.  So now, something 2-D like a blog on a computer screen or the image of a students writing on a smart board can create a mulit-dimensional learning experience.

For so many teachers, who feel the pressure to move on to the next lesson, the next unit of study, a vital component of learning is all too often abandoned.  Students need to understand that their work has relevance. When students are given the space to share their work and learn from each other they begin to take more ownership of their assignments. By giving students various formats to present their knowledge, through technological means, students learn that knowledge isn’t just self-contained information to be used solely for the purpose of a teacher’s evaluation.  

Jean Jacques Rousseau said, “I hate books; they only teach us to talk about things we know nothing about.” Well, I love books. I own three different editions of My Antonia, one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors because there’s something about the tangible nature of that body of beautifully-written language that makes it real to me. I appreciate Rousseau’s hyperbolic statement because I hate grasping for the tangible in the intangible as well. I much prefer to measure my knowledge by the touchstone of experience.

Entering a New Landscape

…or a moonscape is more like it. I’m no technophobe, but neither do I embrace technology for technology sake. I’m still stuck in the Crestaceous period of e-mail and (gasp) snail mail. I hate texting. My fingers are much more adept to writing with a pen or typing on a keyboard than pressing the small pads of numbers and letters on my archaic mobile phone. (I have yet to shell out for a computer-in-a-pocket mobile device called “Droid”, or “Atrix”, or “SomedayYouWillBeMyHumanSlave”- that last one is still in production)  About 50% of the time I accidentally hit the caps button and YELL A WHOLE MESSAGE, realize what I’ve done once I’ve stopped concentrating on the teeny tiny keypad, and then start all over. (Yes, I know that I sound like Andy Rooney.)

As I watched this youtube clip, “Did You Know? 4.0”

I found myself struggling to process the onslaught of information about this new frontier. Technological jargon pinged against my ears. Although the words were submerging in a vagueness of unfamiliarity at the time, I had a premonition that they would become as common as “apple” and “horse”. Someday our toddlers’ flashcards will read: “A is for App” ;  “B is for Blog”; “C is for Computer” (eh, that last one shows the extent of my comfort-level in this area).

How does a simple human like me process all of this new information about  this new world, where beyond-human processing speed is an asset? By the time I finally understand what’s going on, come to understand that a cloud refers to a massive cluster of stored information and not just aerial water content, the world will have moved on with out this citizen. I keep running towards the future, but tethered to my heels, weighing me down, will be all of the antiquated technology that I just finished figuring out.