Thursday, May 13, 2010

There is much to be learned about how collaborative technologies can change the way we teach and interact with literature

There is much to be learned about how collaborative technologies can change the way we teach and interact with literature. As a recent Ph.D. with ten years experience working at a Fortune 100 technology company, I know how powerful collaborative technologies can be; however, rarely do you see the right technologies facilitating collaboration within the creative writing and literature classroom and beyond. Students who are constantly updating and checking their Facebook status page will not engage in a discussion driven by a text-heavy PowerPoint slide deck delivered in a darkly lit room. But how will they engage? Do we need to constantly entertain the tweeting youth in order to keep them engaged in the Higher education classroom? Does every college student learn in exactly the same way? No, and no. Technology (especially collaborative technology) evolves because people adapt it to solve problems. My approach to integrating collaborative technology into my creative writing and literature classrooms is to encourage collaboration, expand the modalities used to reach a larger breadth of students, and to open the doors of the classroom to the greater community.
What can we learn from Facebook and Twitter about teaching a poem?
A great deal, some examples are:

The Wisdom of the Crowd – students constantly interact with content on the web. Why not create a learning environment where students can comment on, rate, share and recommend poems?

Ambient intimacy - Typical students have 100s of Facebook friends but only respond and interact with a core group. They do, however, glean information about many more friends through ambient intimacy. Ambient intimacy is the indirect relationship achieved by reading and following someone’s microblog posts. Why not encourage students to follow key microbloggers and bloggers who are experts on the topics you are covering in the course? Who knows what they may learn by following these threads?

Microblogging as a creative tool – writing Twaiku, or poems written in the 140 character-limit form of microblogging can teach students about the power found in brevity. How about requiring 140 character responses to specific poems?
The Collaborative Classroom
Collaborative technologies extend our reach in the classroom by allowing us to create an online community where students can feel empowered to interact with content. Not every student will understand a poem by H.D. by reading it on the page, but by including a video clip and an audio file or by encouraging students to comment on poems and interact with their peers about a poem, more students may come to understand H.D.’s work. The other area where students can be empowered in the Web 2.0 space is in collaborative research. In many American survey courses students listen to one-way lectures and skim through an anthology, with little interaction with the work. But I believe topics like American literature can be opened up especially in the online classroom. By encouraging students to engage and empowering them to do so. How did American literature come to be American literature? How did Alice Walker stumble upon Zora Neale Hurston’s work? Serendipity. By looking for what was not yet there. By introducing students to online databases and resources and teaching them how to access this information and encouraging them to believe that the American canon is a living thing, ever changing, and that they, too, can discover great works of art they feel empowered to look and read more closely.
There are technologies available today where video quality is so high that the person viewed appears real, as if she were sitting across the table for you. Think about the possibilities these technologies could offer up to students? Speakers from around the world could visit the classroom, sharing their knowledge and interacting with the students.

This is by no means an exhaustive list but rather a drop in the bucket. Technology is not something that should be thought of an additional peripheral tool that can/can’t be added to enhance a class. It should be thought of as part of the organic experience of the learning environment, especially within the humanities. The question isn’t what technology can I use to enhance this lesson? It’s more symbiotic - how does this lesson evolve using technology/ how do we evolve this technology to enhance teaching? How can we re-think how we think about texts by using technology? It’s also important not to use technology just to use technology. All technologies are not equal and will not solve the same problems. I’m looking forward to future research in this area – how to evolve how we think about using technologies in the Creative writing classroom not as a means to draw more students to our classrooms but as a means to teach better.

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