Monday, February 9, 2015

Education and Digital Writing

Samantha Sarantakis
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!


  1. Thanks so much, Samantha, for starting us off with such a comprehensive and thoughtful blog posting! I think that new technologies such as search engines, addictive phone apps, and even the ubiquity of retrievable information pose difficult challenges for educators. I have noticed a change in student behavior in my teaching career, though, the changes are not as drastic as I think Carr or even Cascio depict. In fact, each new text technology, from alphabetic writing to the printing press, did indeed contribute to changes in reading and writing practices. However, I do not think such changes were changes in work ethic or intelligence. And I have to remind myself that there may indeed may be legitimate reasons for a student to compose an essay on a phone, for instance. It sounds crazy and it doesn't sound smart, but I don't think my befuddlement can account for the complex reasons behind it, which may be economic (e.g. the student doesn't have a keyboard computer or has to work so many hours that the phone may be the only option). I'm not suggesting that we should just allow students to do what they want, but I am suggesting that we think carefully before we make any prohibitions or even express out dismay to our students.

    1. Samantha, your post gives us quite a bit to consider!

      The sentiment I can't help but continue thinking about is the fact teachers are tasked with utilizing technology in meaningful ways. Since teachers want to provide their students with as many opportunities as possible, finding ways to integrate technology into the classroom is a new means of doing this. To this point, you write that the job of the teacher "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..."

      With that being said, your words inspired some thoughts for me, all of which are rooted in the fact that we are at a "learning-curve" moment of teaching-with-technology. First, how exactly does a teacher determine which channels of technology are appropriate and which are not? Some channels' appropriateness are more obvious than others (databases - yes!//gambling sites -- no!), but how do we separate the wheat from the chaff in terms of utility vs. novelty -- trial and error? Independent research? Word of mouth? ENGL 613?

      Secondly, issues arise when we must not only find the right tools for the job, but the ones "supported by the school and district." Although the internet has provided voices and opportunities for many who would otherwise be unrepresented, technology can -- and does -- definitely reinforce class hierarchies. Anecdotally, I teach at a school that is halfway through its first year of a Bring Your Own Device initiative. Although I think the BYOD initiative is well-intentioned, I can't help but feel dismayed when I see the some students sheepishly taking out their school-provided devices while others proudly pull out the newest addition to their already teeming gadget-armory.

  2. Great blog Samantha, thanks for getting the ball rolling!

    It seems like you mostly agree with Carr and that some of the primary negative implications of the technological age on the student's mind are:

    - stifled interpretive thinking
    - impatience (with writing and reading lengthy pieces)
    - apathy or a desire to take short-cuts
    - distraction / productivity

    I appreciate these problems and the sentiment of your "solution" here but I'm not sure I'd agree that making the internet ambigious is the way to allay many of the educational problems of the technical age that you've laid out here. On the contrary, I think it is the educator's responsibility to elucidate the internet and related technologies to students in a classroom setting. Sure, many students are experts in their own right (they know how to download entire discographies in minutes, or where to find a detailed summary of even an obscure book) but many of them have no idea how to use the library's e-resources (Interlibrary loan, World Cat, RefWorks). They've been acquainted by word of mouth with academic shortcuts which, I would agree, stifle critical thinking and promote a culture of instant gratification. But perhaps we can introduce them to technological tools that promote the kind of critical thinking we are worried is lacking and that are truly helpful and timesaving in areas where creativity isn't at stake.

    Of course, digital writing (and learning) does matter. I think DeVoss et. al. do a good job of establishing the fact that we can't and shouldn't ignore the technological culture around us but she is careful to also point out that "computers will not replace teachers, nor should they" (2). So for me, it becomes a kind of negotiation for educators. There isn't much room for "Luddites or nostalgists" because that seems to become a kind of out and out denial. On the other hand, we have to make the available technology comprehensible and intellectually meaningful to students -- and it seems that "Because Digital Writing Matters" will cover much of that judging from their chapter previews.

    Also, to quickly piggy back on Alex's observation -- "I do not think such changes were changes in work ethic or intelligence." I very much agree with this, and I think Carr would agree with the work ethic bit too. In reflecting back on his piece in light of this, some of his argument seems to imply that this change in the way that our brains our wired is not our 'fault' but rather, we are products of a larger society that we can't control and that is being made manifest by people like Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Carr implies that it isn't our work ethic that has suffered, because try as he might, his ability to engage deeply has been snuffed out. It's got nothing to do with effort. Because his piece did seem to rely on this assumption, it seemed a bit of an oversight for him not to address the dimension of personal responsibility. For example, if someone consciously avoids the internet / technology can they preserve their capacities for deep and creative engagement? This made me think of Jonathan Franzen, who has had a whole lot to say about the internet destroying creativity, and who only writes on a computer not connected to the internet. Anyway, that's neither here nor there, just a parting wayward reflection!

  3. Samantha, thanks for making the first post! You do a great job pointing out Carr’s precautions towards the loss of intellectual stability, and lend way to some questions that I’m sure we’ll try to figure out the answers for throughout the semester.

    I like that you create a goal for educating students in the 21st century: " merge the information they find and technology they use with tasks that draw out their own ideas and display various develop critical thinking, reading, and writing skills..." However, of course, we are left with the question: How exactly do we create this merge and teach these (or similar) skills? I agree with Allen that we are certainly at a learning-curve moment where most educators are trying to find the right balance of writing, synthesis and presentation among our advancing technologies. Then again, we could say that we are likely to always be in this learning-curve moment since new technological tools and modes are constantly being presented to us and our students. In short, tech is changing the way we communicate and make meaning in our own lives; therefore, it is integrated into how we learn.

    DeVoss and co. will help shed some light on our predicament, especially by asking that we "rethink oftentimes, the rhetorical situations that we ask students to write within, the audiences we ask them to write for, the products that they produce, and the purposes of their writing" (14). I feel that we will spend a majority of our semester focusing on how exactly to rethink the classroom so that our students are intellectually engaged, creating products that represent their own opinions and voices, while displaying them in tech-infused, identifiable modes. We certainly do not want, as you say, our students to always look for an easy way out, but we have to figure out how to do that – to make them feel that the task is worth their time.

  4. Thank you, Samantha, for your wonderful post!

    As I was reading the assigned texts, there were two voices lingering in my mind debating over the question raised by Carr, “Is Google making us stupid?”. However, neither could win over the other. For me, it’s not simply a Yes/No question. Although Carr seems to criticize the overuse of Internet and new media that makes people duller and hard to concentrate, which I find quite convincing, I still cannot help thinking about what the world would become if there’s no such a thing called Internet.

    Samantha offers great insights into the current role of educator as “[merging] the information they find and technology they use with tasks that draw out their own ideas and display various perspectives”. It’s indeed the most urgent issue for today’s education. But to some extent, I deem the role as a compromise to students’ fever of high-tech: we cannot divert their attention from the computer or cellphone, therefore we can only integrate learning into their use of these electronic devices. Samantha here brings about a quite interesting suggestion: to make the internet ambiguous. Actually, I’m hesitating to accept her idea. To me, the word “ambiguous” itself indicates an unsettled state of something. As an English major whose concentration is literature, I always find some ambiguous literature quite puzzling and that it scares readers away. Maybe Internet will not scares its users away (which I’m ninety-nine percent sure), the ambiguous state will hinder people from getting access to it, not to mention using it to promote thinking. Furthermore, as Samantha notes, it’s difficult to make Internet ambiguous. Or we may say, we are not capable of doing that. I’m in favor of Theresa’s idea that we should explain the technologies which involve in the teaching process as clear as possible and try to foster students’ interests in them.

    Another point I want to make concerns about students’ reliance on the Internet to do homework, such as Sparknotes. I appreciate that Samantha acknowledges students’ intelligence and ascribes the fault to the indolence on thinking. However, I assume it’s not fair to say that students go to the websites for answers as soon as they are assigned some questions. Some of them may do, I have to admit, for convenience; but there are others who just seek help on the Internet because they cannot come up with an answer or simply cannot convince themselves after thinking the question over. It is merely out of their eagerness to find a more authoritative voice to back them up. So it’s not simply internet and hi-tech to blame. We have to be careful and attentive when tackle this issue.

    Anyway, it’s just my humble thought over the issue. Thanks again for your thought-provoking blog!

  5. There is so much to say in response to this blog post and the readings this week! In regards to the reading- one point to make (reiterate) is that Google cannot think for itself, Google is meant to be a tool for supplementary thinking. As a teacher or educator in the language arts it is our responsibility to teach students how to deconstruct an essay question and plan and evaluate a response and then HOW to use Google to further ones claim and provide evidence in a response to an essay. Of course Google can not write an evaluative response for a student (as it shouldn’t) but it can be extremely useful in researching and extending one’s thoughts and ideas if a student knows how to use the search engine and what to look for. As Samantha pointed out, it is also important as an educator to teach students how to be critical thinkers. They need to learn how to evaluate one topic from multiple perspectives (sometimes a good exercise for this is having a student write a paper or argue the opposite point of view on a topic that he believes). This teaches students how to find, read, and evaluate materials that go against what he believes and ultimately further their knowledge on a certain topic and/or sometimes change their own point of views from what they have learned. But it is also of utmost importance that students learn how to evaluate sites and information that they find themselves through Google (what is an academic site vs. what is not).

    As for what Samantha said about being frustrated with students using their cell phones to compose essays I agree that this practice is not really the most ideal for students to compose essays. However professor Mueller makes a good point: It’s not really appropriate for us to judge (prohibit) how students compose essays because sometimes a cell phone is the only piece of technology students have available to them based on their socioeconomic status. Last quarter I was student teaching in the Worcester public school system and the sixth grade ELA class I was working in had a set of 6 ipads that students used in rotating groups to do vocabulary flashcards and look up definitions etc. In another class at UMB last semester, taught by a principal of an east Boston K-8 school, I suggested using ipads in an ELA unit I was planning as a project. The only critique of my unit plan that I received was that it was unrealistic to expect the classrooms to have ipads for student use and he told me that a lot of times at his school students used their cell phones to look up definitions IN CLASS. Two things shocked me: Primarily, that students were allowed to use their cell phones in class because that was a BIG no-no during my 6-12 education. But also because I assumed that Boston and Worcester, both being urban school districts, would have similar resources available. This professor (principal) explained to me that using cell phones for classroom use was really the only economically practical thing for his school to do. So, as an educator we can encourage students to hand write essays and critical reading responses, but especially for children with special needs and ELLs a cell phone (if they do not have access to a computer) might be a more practical tool for writing for these students. I think we have a duty as educators to evaluate writing tools on a case-by-case basis for students to assess what the best tool for their learning needs is.

  6. Samantha,

    Thank you for your thoughtful post! I'm glad that you were able to expand upon some of the readings we won't otherwise get a chance to discuss this week. I'm particularly glad that you decided to contemplate Carr's notion that the internet holds "little place for the fuzziness of contemplation. Ambiguity is not an opening for insight but a bug to be fixed.” I agree with his assertion, but as you point out, it's imperative for teachers to refuse to accept this. Instead, we must find ways to use the internet and other mediums of technology to expand upon our student's abilities to think and write critically. As you noted, the only way that we can accomplish this is to incorporate the use of this technology into our lessons as tools meant "not to inform, but to question." If we can't beat them, join them, right? It's a lot easier said than done. As you point out, "students seek the “easy way out” and their work demonstrates their reliance on such sites like Sparknotes as they struggle to think for themselves." So assigning work that pushes them to think critically, to question authority, and to interpret ideas for themselves is crucial now more than ever.

    I wish I could offer an easy solution to this. Despite the many problems that this "instant gratification" of the internet poses, there are ways that we can "make the internet become just as ambiguous as the literature we read and write about, thereby creating an opportunity to promote thinking." One of the greatest advantages of the internet is the ability for students to collaborate with each other, and within a larger community. As noted in Because Digital Writing Matters, "there are students in China, Australia, Bangladesh and the USA who collaborate on projects everyday (3)." Promoting the idea that the internet is a tool for investigation, and communication, rather than for immediate answers will be hard for students to fully accept, but if the essay prompts that we assign are ones that students simply can't Google the answer for, students may start to enjoy the "fuzziness of contemplation." Ok, maybe I am being too optimistic, and this is a very simplified explanation to an extremely complex question, but I have to think that in some ways, this forces educators to think critically ourselves, to challenge ourselves to "beat the system."

  7. Thanks for this, Sam!

    I can't help but agree with Alex that do some degree Carr here sounds like a modern day version of Socrates from Phaedrus. There is a large part of me that suspects this fear is not specific to this instance but is rather an aspect of the "good old day" sympathy. It is easily understandable for people to want the skills they've learned to remain relevant as time passes, and so it is equally understandable that people become wary or irate when they see their long efforts become obsolete. I hope I'm not coming across as ageist here, but I just strongly suspect that if Homer complained that "men were stronger in those days" in the Iliad, then the "good old days" have never existed. This class is also a testament to the alterior attitude, that this technology is here regardless of how we feel about it - our job it to figure out how to now best use it for education.

    But on the other hand, I don't want to trivialize what is obviously a major human concern. I don't have the evidence in front of me, but I would bet that every major technological advancement in every culture throughout history came packaged with its share of detractors, arguing that the technology will bring decline or doom in some fashion. Although I'm sure there have been instances where these fears proved true, I don't think it diminishes the overwhelming trend that adoption of a new technology, if proven useful, is not only inevitable, but largely beneficial. I'm not trying to say that technology should never be investigated with a scrutinous eye, just that for cases like Google searching (or printing, or writing) the detractors have never won, are constantly proven wrong either directly or implicitly through obsolescence, and yet are still around, making the same argument. My question is: why? Why do we humans do this? Not proximately, but ultimately? Is it just a side effect of pragmatic skepticism? I feel that by trying to answer this question we could gain some valuable insight on best practices for introducing new concepts to a wide population.

  8. Thank you Samantha for your thought provoking post and sharing all your practical experience with us. It's always nice to hear about people on the front lines (for lack of a better metaphor) to be able to asses and adjust your own expectations on what to expect in the future.

    I first have to admit I largely disagreed with much of what Carr had to say in his article. My main problem with his piece is really that it seems to perpetuate a lot of the general cultures fears and prejudices about what technology has to offer without really providing any positive view of technological advances as they can applied both to teaching and society as a whole. Samantha's experiences in the real world of teaching give us a much better context for what the difficulties and realities are in incorporating technology into the classroom in order to better serve the students leaning.

    I would definitely tend to agree with the point several others have brought up in that, to a certain extent, we are at the mercy of the technology as it has been adapted and assimilated (excuse the Star Trek terminology but it's really the best way I can think to describe it) into our culture. As such, I think, as a couple others have noted, we have to be open to the different ways in which technology has been adapted by students in making it easier for them to learn. I guess where I might differ slightly from others is in how we view our students using this technology. I think a couple of people mentioned an example of students writing papers on their phone, and while I certainly agree this could be due to time or financial constraints that happens, it just as easily could be that this is the easiest and most efficient way that student has adapted themselves to writing a paper. I know I personally certainly would never be able to write a paper on my phone and feel satisfied with it, but my experience is not the student's experience, and really I feel my philosophy is to adapt my thought to the student whenever and wherever possible. I think this also includes being open to students who might feel more comfortable writing a paper on their phone as opposed to ways we might be more comfortable with (I think it's important to note that it wasn't all that long ago, certainly within my scholastic lifetime, that writing papers trumped typing them for some primary school teachers.)

    Theresa notes in her response, "perhaps we can introduce them to technological tools that promote the kind of critical thinking we are worried is lacking and that are truly helpful and time saving in areas where creativity isn't at stake." I think the critical thinking point she makes here is key. I think the saying goes, "give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime." While maybe a cliche, I truly believe this is the thing, as it relates to critical thinking that is most essential to how we incorporate technology into the classroom. To me it's beyond Sparknotes and what could be seen as taking the shortcut, but learning to adapt these thing into learning abilities. I.e. How many times did a teacher encourage you in school to read the Sparknotes after you read a chapter instead of warning you to avoid them? I think it's a quick tweaking of philosophies on this and potentially other potential tools that can allow us to almost "trick" students into doing kind of the long work. (Please note: I'm not naive and I realize not all students are the same and will often try to take advantage of using something like Sparknotes as a substitute instead of supplementary. That's when I think it's incumbent on us as teachers to be crafty in making sure this doesn't happen.)

    Thank you again Samantha for your post and to all who shared their thoughts and experiences in each post. I look forward to learning more from all of you throughout the semester.

  9. Excellent blog post, Samantha, you bring up some very interesting points. The others comments have also brought up some valid points. Theresa brings up a valid point concerning students’ knowledge of applying the use of the internet to their studies. Often students are not aware over the resources they have at their disposal and when they are many do not know how to use the resources. Even on light of this, I do think you’re very correct in saying we need to change how students ‘read’ the internet. Information out there needs to be read critically and in depth.

    Students also look for the easy solution, as you said, and Jennifer posed the solution of assigning work that properly challenge them. In addition, we could even use their own tactics against them, so to speak. If we check out such websites as Sparknotes, we can see what manner of information is there and perhaps adjust assignments in light of that. However, that’s both time consuming and perhaps a bit of an impossible task, considering how general the information on the internet can be.

    But in the vein of using the internet to our advantage, why not use websites such as Sparknotes to our advantage? If we use it as a tool to show what manner of patterns one can spot in literature and other writing, perhaps it will help the students realise what sort of questions can be asked. It could also have the effect of discouraging them from using such websites as their primary source, instead deriving inspiration from them. It does have a tremendous chance of completely backfiring, however.

    After writing this, I checked to find more had offered their comments. Erik’s in particular echoes what I said above. Rather than vilify what we currently have to deal with, we adapt and, using Erik’s Star Trek reference, assimilate. Technology has tremendous potential in the classroom, but it will take time and effort to adapt it in a way we think will benefit the student’s thinking and learning.

  10. Great post Samantha. I first must say that I am conflicted about this question of how these technologies are affecting our thinking processes. While reading this relatively short article struggled with distraction and felt a strong desire to take a break from it. This is a struggle I always face when reading, and it is easy to find validation in an article like this by blaming the internet for my inability to concentrate. I am, however, not convinced that this is a fair conclusion, and so I side more strongly with Cascio than Carr. There is no doubt that technology like Google has decreased our need to store bits of trivia, but this can free the mind to think critically about other things. This seems to be the way that knowledge works. Developments in science or philosophy are built upon all of the advancements that have come before. I it would be impossible for an ancient Egyptian to invent a computer, no matter how clever the person is. That sort of advancement requires a certain foundation of knowledge.

    To get to Samantha’s question about the impact of such technologies on the teaching of composition, I am pleased with such developments. For the student using a typewriter to write a term paper, the writing process was as much about the student’s ability to compose as it was about the student’s ability to spell, to punctuate, to touch-type, to proofread, and to develop wrist/finger strength. The developments of the word processor have allowed the student to focus more on composition by not worrying about spelling or editing concerns like margins and spacing—as I write this response about 1/3-1/2 of the words are automatically corrected. A research tool like Google shows the next development in the ability of a writer to focus more on content and less on the inefficiencies the accompany the writing process. With the internet a student can effectively and (relatively) quickly preform research, she can focus more on composition by worrying less about spelling and editing, and she can quickly receive tailored feedback from an instructor. Cascio’s question of how to manage this prevalence of knowledge is what remains. For teaching composition, I am convinced that these technological developments are (or at least can be) beneficial, I am just not sure how to avoid the pitfalls that Samantha points to.

  11. Thank you Samantha for your thoughtful post and for starting such a great discussion! Clearly the issues that we are addressing in this course (and that were introduced quite nicely in the assigned readings so far) are complex and polarizing. For most of us at this point, the technologies that we have been discussing are an inevitable and unavoidable part of our daily lives. It is clear that we as educators need to learn how to work with and make the most of them, while also avoiding the less desirable side-effects of tech-dependence that you addressed so well in your post.

    I 100% share your concerns about how immediate access to information might prevent students from learning how to come up with answers of their own. Like the parents referenced in Because Digital Writing Matters, I worry that constant use of technology can result in a slacking-off of effort as students come to depend and rely on the easy access to information and the various shortcuts provided by technology. Like Nicholas Carr I worry that constant immersion in technological streams of information is weakening our focus and attention spans, and “chipping away [our] capacity for concentration and contemplation” (Carr). And yet, I also recognize that there is tremendous potential for learning in the new capacities available to students in the digital age.
    It is undeniable that the way that we learn, teach, and think is changing as a result of the new technologies and information available to us today. But as our discussion of “Phaedrus” showed, patterns of learning and thought have changed throughout time as new technologies and possibilities emerged, and at many moments throughout history people have feared how the emergence of something new might change how we think or weaken skills that the new technology makes obsolete. In some cases those fears were probably justified, as we can’t deny that certain things (for example our capacity for memory and the transmittal of oral histories) have to some extent been lost. However, each of those transitions also opened the door to new possibilities and allowed us to expand and grow in amazing ways, just as the digital revolution has paved the way for new and exciting possibilities today.

    Regardless of our concerns, the digital revolution is clearly here to stay. Our world is increasingly one based in and on technology, and in order to be successful our students are going to need the skills to navigate and work in digital formats. Many of our students have been immersed in technology for their entire lives, and yet, as DeVoss, Eidman-Aadahl, and Hicks state, “access does not ensure that reflection and learning take place” (Dànielle Nicole DeVoss, Eidman-Aadahl, and Hicks, Because Digital Writing Matters, 2). I suppose that our job as teachers in the digital age is to help our students make the most of the digital landscape, to engage in and celebrate its potential for collaboration and exploration and to emphasize how it can be used to practice and develop skills of critical thinking, analysis, and thoughtful expression, while also guarding against the negative effects that we have discussed. Quite a task! But hopefully one that this class will help us to tackle!


Leadership and Technology

I’m writing this as I read Chapter 5 of BDWM, Professional Development for Digital Writing . Teaching is the next step past learning ...