Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Digital Natives or Immigrants - who speaks and how?

James Lang's column "A Brain and a Book" from today's Chronicle of Higher Education addresses the question of teaching and learning styles and to what degree teachers should digitize their classrooms to meet students where they are -- the notion being that the majority of today's students are largely more technological savvy than the majority of their professors.

As part of his argument, Lang quotes from and responds to Marc Prensky's "Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants" from On the Horizon (NCB University Press, Vol. 9 No. 5, October 2001).
Prensky's main claim seems to be:
Our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach. (Prensky's emphasis). Today’s students have not just changed incrementally from those of the past, nor simply changed their slang, clothes, body adornments, or styles, as has happened between generations previously. A really big discontinuity has taken place. One might even call it a “singularity” – an event which changes things so fundamentally that there is absolutely no going back. This so-called “singularity” is the arrival and rapid dissemination of digital technology in the last decades of the 20th century.
According to Lang, then, Prensky's conclusion is radical:
"Digital Immigrant teachers," he explains, "assume that learners are the same as they have always been, and that the same methods that worked for the teachers when they were students will work for their students now. But that assumption is no longer valid" (Prensky's emphasis).

That means, [Prensky] argues, we have to jettison our old assumptions about everything in education, including the very basic content and skills we teach. Prensky distinguishes between "legacy content," from the predigital era, and "future content," from the digital one.

Lang thinks this radical cognitive change among students ressembles the oral/written change discussed by Walter Ong:
A few decades ago, Walter J. Ong argued, in Orality and Literacy, that writing was a technology that changed thought; the shift from oral to literate cultures wrought a deep and permanent change in the way we reasoned as a species. Prensky seems to be making a similar argument about the role of digital technologies today; they have already changed the thinking of our students, it seems, so now we have to refine our teaching techniques in order to accommodate that transformation.
Lang concedes the value of technology to teach some subjects, but for the teaching of English (he teaches at Assumption College), he suggests that sitting with actual books (gosh!) is still valuable. And he clearly wants to reassure teachers that they can/should(?) resist the pressure to digitize their classrooms. While Lang is writing today, Prensky's work was published in 2001. How has the digital revolution changed teaching since then? Here at OSU, our English department Technology Committee has worked hard to add enhanced teaching technology to our classrooms, and most professors and instructors are using and appreciating the advantages this equipment brings to enhancing student learning. And Lisa Ede's class ENG 595: Language, Technology, and Culture, not only uses new technology but does just want Prensky and Lang (and Ong) discuss: lead students through understanding of how knowledge is constructed and shared digitally, where the power of words lies now, how the Read/Write Web 2.0 enables (or potentially enables) everyone (who has access to Internet) to have a voice.

It seems clear to me that the undergraduates in first year composition and business writing don't read as carefully as I would hope. But it is also clear that technology makes teaching many concepts much easier. And for writing for the workplace, practice with writing with technology is essential. I guess what I would like is both less guilt about not being on the cutting edge (if Laura Gurak of Into the Blogosphere says she feels behind the curve, then I am back in the dust) but also more ideas and "best practices" for using the technology we have more fully.


Monday, May 28, 2007

Of Mail and Stamps

One delightful benefit of teaching is the acquisition of books that one might use in a class, and that's how I came home from the C's conference in New York to find a copy of The Best American Essays 5th College Edition, edited by Robert Atwan, courtesy of Houghton Mifflin. I think I wish I were going to be using this for my upcoming WR 323 English Comp III course instead of Bartholomae's Ways of Reading, because those essays are a lot grimmer than the ones Atwan has collected here.

Fig 1: The quilt pictured above is called 'Housetop' - four-block variation, circa 1965, cotton and cotton/polyester blend, 77x82 inches, by Mary L. Bennett (b. 1942) Tinwood Alliance collection, Atlanta, Ga. © 2003 photographed by Steve Pitkin/Pitkin Studios. from NPR's feature 28 May 2007.

Fig 2. Upper Right - The nw Jamestown 41-cent stamp is now available from USPS.

Among the essays in Atwan's collection is Anne Fadiman's lovely rumination on mail "Mail" (first published in The American Scholar, perhaps c. 2000, and reprinted in Best American Essays 2001). She begins considering the snail mail kind her father (Clifton Fadiman) and then she loved and compares it to the electronic kind, and this helps me think about my purposes with this blog. Fadiman quotes William Cowper that "a Letter may be written upon any thing or Nothing" (316) and lists some of the items in the index of topics for letters: depression, dances, dentistry. (dentistry could certainly lead some readers to depression!). Continues Fadiman, "I have never recieved an e-mail on any of these topics" but this is where blogs may come in, and maybe by now Fadiman has a blog.

She quotes Lytton Strachey: "No good letter was ever written to convey information or to please its recipient: it may achieve both these results incidentally; but its fundamental purpose is to express the personality of its writer" (317).

This conveying of personality, then, may be a major reason for writing these pages. I'm always glad to hear from readers, who may be more than the comments would indicate. And I am interested in interacting with ideas of others. But I do also value the opportunity to think publically about ideas. Of course I could write this in my journal (and maybe I did), but the notion of writing for other minds is stimulating as well as comforting.

And thinking of mail requires thinking of stamps (especially now that the price has gone up, again). I love the new 41-cent triangular stamp featuring the sailing ships at the founding of Jamestown. The stamp (fig 2. above) is lovely and unusual. In fact, I may not mail any and just keep this sheet. When I do use the stamps, it is because of their aesthetics and not as an endorsement of history because the historical event they commemorate is not so lovely - as the English invaders of this New World were racist, oppressive and patriarchal and set the tone for contemporary American society.

By comparison, the 39-cent quilt stamps from the Quilts of Gee's Bend are also lovely, though again the history may be sad. NPR had a feature by Neil Conan on February 4, 2003, about the small Alabama village where descendants of slaves created these amazingly modern designs, which I greatly prefer to the classic floral quilt designs, such as the quilt at the top of this page. (I haven't yet figured out how to post pictures other that at the top of the page.) Apparently there are now books about the Gee's Bend quilts, according to Amazon.com. And Auburn University, among others, has a research project about this art form.

And to finish thinking for a moment (lots of digression) is the new and not so elegant (I won't picture it here) "Forever Stamp" which costs 41 cents and supposedly will always be valid no matter how high the postage goes in the future. Hmmm. By contrast, Fadiman's essay describes the institution of the Penny Post in England in 1840. Of course a penny was worth a good deal more in 1840 than it is today - perhaps as much as 41-cents worth!


Friday, May 25, 2007

Gender in Advertising / Truth in Advertising

I just want to share this great website called Gender Ads. Com that was sent to me recently by my friend and colleague Michael Faris that details the studies made by Dr. Scott Lukas into how genders are represented / mis-represented and used for advertising. Check it out!


Many kinds of literacy - in this case, Bible Literacy

See Update below: (should updates go at the top?)

This post has been sitting on my desk for nearly two months, but I am determined to share this. Time Magazine on April 2 ran a great cover story by David Van Biema "The Case for Teaching the Bible" in which he argues that the "Holy Book" should "be on the public-school menu" because "It's the bedrock of Western Culture." And, he says "it's constitutional - as long as we teach but don't preach it."

Van Biema's point is well taken that many Americans today do not know the Bible well enough to understand the positions of those in society whose values and politics are closely driven by what they read and understand in the Bible. Van Biema quotes Stephen Prothero, new author of Religious Literacy, as evidence:
In the late '70s, [students] knew nothing about religoin, and it didn't matter. But then religions rushed into the public square. What purpose could it possible serve for citizens to be ignorant of all that?"
Prothero's book will be out soon. According to Lisa Miller's March 12 Newsweek article "The Gospel of Prothero" the professor at Boston University bemoans the fact that "In spite of the fact that more than 90 percent of Americans say they believe in God, only a tiny portion of them knows a thing about religion. "

Miller points out that when Prothero "began teaching college 17 years ago, Prothero writes, he discovered that few of his students could name the authors of the Christian Gospels."
What happens when I teach Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech or his "Letter from Birmingham Jail" is that students do not recognize the references. Many don't notice the epistolary form and connect that to the New Testament or get many of the allusions. So I tell them. They don't recognize "every valley shall be exalted" from Isaiah, even after I sing to them from Handel's "Messiah." This makes me sad. College is supposed to be a time to broaden horizons, so I explain about cultural and religious literacy and urge them to become more informed.

I agree with Van Biema's claim that "knowledge of [the Bible] is essential to being a full-fledged, well-rounded citizen." And my motivation accords with Prothero's position as reported by Miller:
His motivation is more than pedagogical. In a world where nearly every political conflict has a religious underpinning, Prothero writes that Americans are selling themselves short by remaining ignorant about basic religious history and texts, by not knowing the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite or the name of Mormonism's holy book. "Given a political environment where religion is increasingly important, it's increasingly important to know something about religion," he says. "The payoff is a more involved [political] conversation."
Right now one of my students is writing an essay claiming that public high schools should offer electives in intelligent design but continue to teach evolution in the required science classes. He and I talked about whether these proposed courses should only feature the Christian perspective or creation as explained by all religions.

Well -- it's getting late and I want to head home for the Memorial Day weekend to grade papers. I have one more short blog post to make up for being absent for so long. Have a great weekend.

Note: Prothero now has a 15 question "religious literacy" quiz on Newsweek. The quiz would not launch for me at first, but then it did, and I scored 87, missing 2 questions.

According to Chronicle of Higher Ed (but an article I don't have a subscription for)

Secularism in the Elimination Round By JACQUES BERLINERBLAU

Christopher Hitchens closes his subtly titled God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything with the following directive: "It has become necessary to know the enemy, and to prepare to fight it." The enemy in question would be religion. All religion, all manifestations of religion — Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and all their sundry denominations, too. It's all bad! And unless Hitchens's grand strategy is to taunt religion so mercilessly that it packs its bags and storms, red faced, out of the cosmos, his book provides little of use for the coming struggle.
Here's a link to an excerpt of Hitchens' book, entitled "Religion Kills."


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Ephemera - word of the day

Update: Spelling corrected! "Aargh" (as the pirates cavorting in front of the local theater said, advertising Johnny Depp's new film)

Not at all sure of my audience here - unless it is primarily myself - who else would wait two weeks or more for the next installment? Many apologies. Anyway, I do have ideas and plans for thoughts to share, just no time to think.

But this morning, reading an article by John Lemuel called "Thanks for the Memory" from the Chronicle of Higher Education, I saw myself (or myself and my office) piled with papers. Lemuel's comments are apt:
At what point would she be forced to quit filing things or get a bigger office?

The fear of forgetting makes many academics file our memories in those ubiquitous metal boxes -- as well as in piles of papers stacked in front of, on top of, and all around the cabinets. The erudite term for such documentary accretions is "ephemera." But despite the fleeting, here-and-gone connotations of the term, those accumulations of memorabilia can have a considerable half-life.

But at least having the dignity of calling my assorted papers ephemera makes them sound much more worthy.
As anyone who has seen the piles of paper in my office can attest, I can relate to this dilemma. And after all, with a grandfather as an archivist at the Library of Congress, I may be destined to accumulate papers. Actually, today's new technology, especially databases such as tag clouds (see TagCrowd) make it easier to file (mentally?) and find information because I find it so limiting to have to pick a single category and later have trouble guessing which category I might have chosen. Which is why I don't file things.


Friday, May 04, 2007

Women & Technology

Today's Chronicle of Higher Education led me to a great new article by Eva Miller called "The Women Who Drive Library Technology" from the recent issue of Library Journal. Miller's article shows the obstacles that women have faced in technological careers with a note about Darci Hanning, who is now at the Oregon State Library. (I didn't know there was an Oregon State (not OSU) Library). Miller says that Hanning,'s "college experience [in engineering in the 1980's] made her miserable, but she persevered.
“I try to succeed in spite of these things or go to a place that’s better for me,” Hanning explains. “I didn’t doubt myself or my ability.”
Hanning's advice to librarians is good for all of us. Says Miller,

"...keeping pace with change is integral to who [we] are. Hanning calls this “living the digital life”: seeking out and sampling new tools, troubleshooting your own technology, and making time to play. “Everyone can find their level of expertise. Everyone can learn one new thing a month,” she says.
Indeed, keeping up with technology is a great challenge for those of us who teach rhetoric because of all the new discourse communities and aspects of techne we want and need to be proficient with.

With my Del.icio.us account slowly growing, I try to keep a bit current. And today's excellent WIC talk "Read, White Share: Emerging Technologies in the Writing Classroom" by OSU's Undergraduate Services Librarian Anne-Marie Deitering, was a great step forward.

While I know I lag in many areas, in some ways, I am ahead of my students - who today in Business Writing class got a talk from Career Services on how their FaceBook page might jeopardize their job hunt. Which reminds me, too, of another piece I read today - whether Chronicle of Higher Education or Google News - about hoping that technology can learn to forget and not remember every single thing. I do not remember now where I saw it, so if anyone knows, I would like to read this again.