Week One, in the Bag!

It’s true, and god bless Martin Luther King, Jr., not only for all of his good work but also for a federal holiday. For those of us who teach Monday/Wednesday, it means that we began a bit late in the week and finished early. Hooray! That extra respite from teaching has given me the chance to reflect a bit on the introduction of technology on the first day of classes.

The question I find myself pondering is this one: what is it that differentiates a student who takes new tech. and runs with it from the one who tentatively does the bare minimum? In both of my classes this semester, I’ll be using individual student blogs extensively, as a way for students to archive their thinking and interpretation of texts over the course of the semester, and perhaps more importantly, begin to engage in a practice that many literary scholars are using to express their nascent ideas to a community of readers and writers (oh, my poor theory class—I’m warming up my new media in academe lecture just for them!). In both classes, I had a series of students who looked utterly surprised that the courses would require extensive online work, despite the fact that they are listed this way in the registration materials (note to self: think about how one might “package” this more clearly for students…). Some were happily surprised, I think; others were more cautious, and some were downright petrified.

Since their first assignment was to set up a blog (here at WordPress) and write an introductory post and send me a link to the blog so that I could add it to the blogroll, I’ve been fielding a series of student emails. A few students are having some initial difficulties with posting, but not setting up the blog (which means that WordPress is seemingly more intuitive than the old Blogger system). I can imagine that if you’re not used to it, the posting window is a bit confusing, to the extent that you have to interpret the various icons and such. These difficulties, however, are few and far between. And in the meantime, I’ve received a note from a student saying that “she’s already having too much fun with her blog.” Hurrah! But what conditions this response? And more importantly, how do we spread that willingness to jump in?

In the coming days, I’ll be quizzing the student above as to her background with computers and new technologies. I will say, however, that I don’t necessarily expect that she considers herself a whiz. Anecdotally, my theory is that there’s not a one-t0-one correllation here between enthusiasm and prior experience. It’s not the case that student bloggers are all excited and hip to this, and neither is it the case that the less technologically savvy students are quaking. It may be that there are at least two other things at work here:

  1. A student’s particular willingness to try something–anything–new. Many teachers are noting that as we move toward a “school 2.0,” the classroom is going to begin to value very different skills and tendencies in students. We may be less invested in sitting and focusing on a single activity(e.g., reading quietly) than we will be in a racous, multi-tasking student activity (surfing the web for sites that will enhance their blog post, for example).
  2. Could it be that the early introduction of technologies that the students’ are less familiar with (than, say, the controlled evironment of Blackboard) signifies something to them about what the class might be?

2 thoughts on “Week One, in the Bag!

  1. I’ve had very similar experiences with the students being surprised about the online component — even though, with my 251 class, I listed blogging and writing for the web as types of writing we’d be doing. But I wonder too how to make this more explicit in the course description. I will be interesting to see how this plays out (again this semester) because not a single student in the class has any experience blogging (not even a myspace or livejournal type of blog), and some are completely unfamiliar with what a blog even is — though I’d say about five (of 18) said that they’ve read other people’s blogs. I’d love to know how we spread the willingness to jump in. The way I’m going to try to handle it this semester is spend more in-class time blogging. — especially in these first three to four weeks. I’m trying to slow it down this semester, working with them more in class to ensure their comfort level with this new (to them) form of writing.

  2. Your solution makes sense to me, and intutively I want to say that there is real pedagogical value in communal writing. Your other point, though, is structural–how do we make it more clear that this is an integral part of the class, so that students know when they register?

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