I’m still in the process of sorting through ideas for my graduate course on “Technology in the Language Arts Curriculum,” and I’d like to jot down a few ideas and request even more suggestions. In a comment on a separate post, Maria reminded me that I should be aware of the “paranoia” that exists in some school districts regarding the use of digital technologies, and in general her comments suggested that I should perhaps leave some flexibility in assignments with the recognition that students will be coming into the course with specific needs and possibilities (and thanks to everyone who has already commented online or IRL). Many of these thoughts were inspired by conversations and panels at this year’s MLA convention, and more recently, by a number of blog posts and other materials.
One of my frustrations in thinking about such a course is the degree to which the existence of digital technologies have been used to reify an entire generation of students, to assume on the one hand that Kids Today have shorter attention spans and on the other that they are fluent in using digital technologies. These assumptions often say more about the people who articulate them and their attitudes toward digital technologies than about actual students, and in fact, I would argue that attention is relative. Take for example the attention required to play video games for hour at a time, attention I sure don’t have. At the same time, students use some digital technologies, such as texting and social networking sites, but may not others. Still, it’s clear that digital media can be used to rethink writing, argument, and other concepts commonly addressed in the freshman composition classroom (and elsewhere). To take just one quick example, Alex Halavais has an intriguing post on the role of the web in creating a “distributed memory” that will provide us with a more detailed dossier on pretty much everyone. He imagines what we will potentially know about our 49th president, who willlikley have a Facebook page, a MySpace account, and who may blog or Twitter. These questions of information literacy are important and I’m excited to be asking them with a group of current (or future) teachers.
As I mentioned in an update to my previous post, I’d like to spend some time thinking about microblogging in general and Twitter in particular. As the election season deepened, I became a much more avid Twitter user, and the Twitter panel at MLA, reviewed here by media scholar Cathy Davidson, covered many of the strengths (and concerns) about Twitter. As the panelists pointed out, a number of critics have argued that Twitter fosters an unhealthy narcissism and that it prevents deeper reflection. However, these readings often focus only at the level of the individual “tweet,” which taken out of context can seem a bit navel-gazing. Instead, the panel helped to provide a language for thinking about the connective elements of Twitter and its larger role in aggregating knowledge. To be sure, this aggregation could (and probably will) be used in some form of data mining–imagine what the two major political parties could do with all of this year’s election tweets–but the “ambient intimacy” of Twitter can be used in a variety of powerful ways, as Shaun Huston and Nick Rombes point out in a couple of recent posts.
I’d also like to spend some time talking specifically about Wikipedia and about wikis more generally. David Parry’s article, “Wikipedia and the New Curriculum,” looks like one good place to start. In my freshman composition classes, I often try to have a conversation with my students about what they’re taught about Wikipedia, and in some cases, they are still taught not to consult it. David’s article addresses how Wikipedia fits within contemporary digital literacies and looks like a good starting point for larger conversations about how to do internet research. If you have other articles or discussions of Wikipedia, both positive and negative, I’d enjoy having them.
One alternative assignment that I’m considering is getting my students involved in one of this year’s Teaching Carnivals. I’ve already volunteered to host one, and given that George is hoping to expand the concept of the carnival to include interviews with educators at all levels, getting the class involved might be a good way (1) to diversify the carnival’s contents even further and (2) to illustrate how some of the social networking and social bookmarking technologies can be used in creative ways (on a relate note, I’ll also likely encourage my students to play with delicious.com some during this semester (here are my course links, so far).
I’m continuing to sort out ideas for my class wiki idea, The Fayetteville Project, which would entail using wiki software to create a hyperlinked text about Fayetteville. I’d like to avoid creating something that is either a consumer guide or an encyclopedia. Those materials already exist online. Instead, I’d like to do something closer to Benjamin’s Arcades Project, albeit on a smaller scale. Brian Croxall’s suggestion of incorporating timelines using Google docs also looks like a good activity. There are a couple of really good histories of Fayetteville, and students who wanted to identify traces of the past in the present would be welcome to do so.
Finally, I do want to spend some time thinking about how my approach to this course is invested in recent scholarship on participatory media. I think that essays such as Henry Jenkins’ “Why Heather Can Write,” is one good place to start, but I’d also like to discuss some of the essays compiled in Joi Ito’s FreeSouls collection, including Howard Rheingold’s “Participative Pedagogy for a Literacy of Literacies” and Dan Gillmor’s “Principles for a New Media Literacy” (thanks to Tama for the last two links). I’ll try to pot something more specific–possibly even a draft of a syllabus–in the next few days, and as always, I’d love any feedback that you might be able to offer.
Update: By the way, here is the course blog for English 518, in case anyone is interested.
Update 2: I’ve started a new post on “Wikis and Place” in order to continue the conversation that started here and to respond to Krista’s blog comments on her 35 W Bridge Collapse course wiki, comments that started out on Twitter, evolved into an email conversation, and then found another form as a blog post.