Education and Digital Writing
Where does “it” end? Of course, I am referring to Nicholas Carr’s article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?,” and the worldwide internet at our fingertips; Carr’s question is posed after analyzing the “industrial efficiency” of technology and he comments that Google’s efforts to “supplement” the human mind creates an environment in which “there’s little place for the fuzziness of contemplation. Ambiguity is not an opening for insight but a bug to be fixed” (Carr). Give the students a metaphor and they stare back with blank eyes (Antonio Porchia anyone: “Infancy is what is eternal, and the rest, all the rest, is brevity, extreme brevity” (Voices)); introduce the students to a “typical” college essay assignment and they panic because Google or Siri can’t help them by interpreting the question—and they especially can’t use Sparknotes and the like to assist them—when the assignment is purposely ambiguous. How, then, does Google facilitate their learning when thinking is not a prerequisite? I am not sure the answer is clear-cut, but I believe that Google, like any technological application, can be utilized successfully when students are introduced to another approach for using the applications: using the applications not to inform, but to question.
I suggest that the end Carr seeks to explore is connected to the likes of Feed by M. T. Anderson, or with “Trivia Crack,” the trivia game that the majority of my students, if not all of them, play during class and have to ask the teachers for help because they do not know the answers. (I'm joking somewhat, of course, but the students do not seem to be able to unplug.) In some ways, Feed has become true with the exception that the computer chips are not in their brain but are perpetually in their hands; even I am guilty of tearing apart a room or dumping my bag out onto a desk to find my cell phone when in a frenzy over “losing” it, just as my students can’t seem to have the phone out of their hand for longer than a second. Texting, gaming, Snapchating, Tweeting, and perpetually being distracted by selfies are all “symptoms” of this live feed between their phones and their productivity, in addition to, and perhaps worst of all, “writing/typing” papers on their phones (not quite sure what to call this form of writing)! The instant gratification they receive from their phones during every waking moment translates to their writing habits: they view papers longer than 500 words (or roughly one-page) to be a waste of time, not worth reading, and certainly not worth writing if what they have to say can be “said” in less. I am all for quality over quantity, yet their writing has neither when they merely repeat the same idea (puts me in mind of Chief Bromden in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest as he recalls his Native American father’s response to the white government agent/visitor who promises great things for the tribe, to which the father responds, “…And the year before and the year before and the year before…” (Kesey 55)). In other words, the “end” is not really an end at all, but just the beginning of the “minimum amount of work and effort” cycle perpetuated through our use of technology—now all that remains to be seen is how educators meet the students all the way, rather than the current educational trend of half-way.
As a teacher, my job is now to utilize appropriate channels of technology supported through the school and district in order to incorporate a “learning tool” that allows students to practice a formalized (i.e. academic) “multipurpose, highly participatory, ‘always on’” (Dànielle Nicole DeVoss, Eidman-Aadahl, and Hicks, Because Digital Writing Matters, 3) digital network and presence, though I would hope for engagement in addition to this criteria but I mustn’t get my hopes up. I will be honest, Because Digital Writing Matters suggesting that students will be able to “think of multiple possibilities and interpretations…[which] encourages a more comprehensive way of thinking” (7) based on perceptions of how technology can be used in the classroom could be true if the technology is utilized in such a way that critical thinking is not compromised, but I am not sure we have been entirely successful just yet. I am not entirely convinced technology can do what Because Digital Writing Matters wants, but that does not mean that technology does not offer some rewards: although students display disinterest in contemplating complex and ambiguous ideas, technology has allowed students to merge multiple media outlets (such as videos or memes) in their approach to writing; although students struggle to understand how visual elements do not just show “what is...[but] are arguments made in graphical form” (Johanna Drucker, Graphesis, Overview), technology has allowed students a creative outlet for representation of ideas. However, I have found that students seek the “easy way out” and their work demonstrates their reliance on such sites like Sparknotes as they struggle to think for themselves.
Interestingly, Because Digital Writing Matters does make note of parental fears in regards to the lack of effort (Dànielle Nicole DeVoss, Eidman-Aadahl, and Hicks, 8-9), yet I believe (and this really is just my opinion as I face similar struggles of my own) that a lack of effort is a product of the ease of access to information through Google and is not synonymous with a lack of intelligence—the students have just not had a reason to think for themselves when there is information in their palms. Now, as educators, our goal is to merge the information they find and technology they use with tasks that draw out their own ideas and display various perspectives. In other words, our goal is to teach students how to use said technology to develop critical thinking, reading, and writing skills, even if that means showing students how to “read” the sites they explore not as informational sources, but as “interviews” in which they must put in the time to research as much as possible and interpret from there. In short, we must, as educators, make the internet become just as ambiguous as the literature we read and write about, thereby creating an opportunity to promote thinking. The difficult part is how to make the internet ambiguous. Any suggestions?
P.S. Sorry for the length and/or the rambling. Quite an interesting topic and reading set to write about and respond to though!