Sunday, May 4, 2008

Technology and I

I've been invited to present at many a panel-discussion in academe, but I think the most surprising invitation so far came about two weeks ago, when someone invited me to speak about how I use technology as a professor. The invitation seemed as counterintuitive as inviting a hermit to speak about social etiquette.

One of the presenters, a professor of political science, really is gung-ho about technology and pedagogy. He revises a student-centered departmental blog with bunches of links every day. He uses Moodle and wikis and facebook. He's 15-20 years younger than I and brings a certain comfort-level to this stuff that I probably don't. He's enthralled by the possibilities. It was fun seeing him unveil some of what he's doing.

--Not that I'm uncomfortable with technology. Just slow. And occasionally skeptical. I never liked overhead projectors, for example: more trouble than they're worth. The same goes for Blackboard.

But I think a professorial web-page (on which one can post, for example, syllabi), facebook (on which one may create academic-related groups), wikis (group-writing-projects in cyberspace), and podcasting all have huge potential, so I'm slowly getting involved in these. Of course, email has been a godsend for teaching and scholarship.

In 1984, I attended one of the first "computers and composition" conferences in the U.S.--near Salt Lake City. What we thought would happen with computers and composition really didn't happen--the totally wired writing-classroom, in which the PC would be a kind of textbook. But of course computers have affected contemporary rhetoric, and the teaching thereof, in innumerable other ways.

Interestingly, two of the most skeptical colleagues at the presentation were far younger than I--humanists who, I suspect, both think all this technology is merely decorative. Instead of seeing possibilities, I think they see wasted time--or something. Another colleague just seemed confused or wearied by all the possible combinations--a blog linked to LibraryThing, youtube, and facebook--wikis on Moodle, gravy on noodles--help!! She had that too-much-information look.

I rather like just rummaging around the technology-dump, like a bear, picking things up to see if they're "edible" (useful). I'm not an enthusiast, per se, but I love the possibilities the technologies sometimes suggest.

Writing a blog has been a very nice surprise, and as I told the group, watching students write blogs and reading the blogs have been a fulfillment of something composition-studies has been interested in for 30+ years: trying to create "real" rhetorical situations (as opposed to the artificial 5-paragraph "theme" that only the prof reads) for students. Writing a blog is a great way for students or anyone else to work on writing, no matter what else the blog achieves. I think writing a blog can also help students take their academics more seriously, for they may start sharing their viewpoints with the world, may craft points of view, get responses, and evolve as thinkers.

There's a certain percentage of faculty, staff, and students that is way ahead of me on technology-and-academics, and it will only widen the lead. But I'm surprised by how relatively interested, curious, and engaged I am--especially compared with some younger folk.

And I do have to put in my usual defense of Luddites, who were not so much opposed to technology as they were in favor of keeping their jobs. When the van backs up and robots start unloading Robo-Profs to teach English, I'll probably already be out in the virtual pasture, blogging or podcasting.
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