I have always been a book lover; perhaps this is why I found myself seamlessly fitting into the mold of a Digital Immigrant. I preferred books to my Kindle and iPad, and I was incessantly scribbling away in one of my zillion notebooks. I considered myself an "old soul," and avoided certain aspects of technology, even in my classroom - full of young, inquisitive minds that happened to belong to Digital Natives. I was digitally resistant. I looked at the brilliant young students in my classroom and thought to myself often, "these kids have no idea." My belief was that they were simply too tuned IN to their devices and social media to be tuned in to school, especially boring old English class. I often found myself
Along came my knight in shining armor, (more accurately, my Christof) - Media Literacy. Much like Cinderella is transformed by her fairy godmother, so I have been transformed by Dr. Bogad and all of you, my peers. By getting the chance to talk about the opportunities technology offers us in (and out of) our classrooms, and the chance to play around with so many digital tools, I've started to believe something I have heard before (thanks, Cinderella 2015) and now understand in a new way: "Just because it's what's done doesn't mean it should be done."
I've started to believe that the two camps aren't in opposition at all, and that falling somewhere in the middle is alright. My goal in the English classroom is to work on bridging the gap between Natives and Immigrants, technology and tradition, reading and writing and thinking. My goal is to ensure that we, students and teachers alike, all have a place on (what I'd like to call) the "Digital Fluency Spectrum," similar to Scott Noon's 4 Tiers of Teacher Training. I now believe that we are all part of the same camp: Digital Learners. Dana Boyd poignantly states, "rather than focusing on coarse generational categories, it makes more sense to focus on the skills and knowledge that are necessary to make sense of a mediated world." That's what this is all about, and that's why we're all here - the skills, the knowledge, and the learning. How can we, as teachers, use the ever-changing digital tools and concepts to enhance the learning going on in our classrooms?
Part of the Common Core goals in schools include ensuring that our students are college and career-ready. This means that they will become adaptive problem solvers, collaborative communicators, and digitally fluent. These are skills that even the "Digital Natives" have to learn, develop, and practice. Linda Christensen claims that "if [we] want [our] students to wrestle with the social text of novels, news, or history books, they need the tools to critique media that encourage or legitimate social inequality." Much like I want my students to critique media, I know that they will ultimately create their own. If I want my students to be able to become active participants and producers in a digitally-evolving technological world, they need the tools to critique what is already out there as well as creating their own products. What better place to learn about, talk about, and practice with these tools than in the safe space of my classroom?
So thinking about all of this during this course forced me to think about how these concepts were relevant even in my own classroom. In a world where my students and I see things very differently, I've decided to start focusing on the things we can do together that will enhance their digital fluency as well as my own. I've also (finally) started to, like Turkle, embrace the fact that technology is a part of our world and our classrooms, and it's here to stay. She argues that "When we communicate on our digital devices, we learn different habits. As we ramp up the volume and velocity of online connections, we start to expect faster answers. To get these, we ask one another simpler questions; we dumb down our communications, even on the most important matters." Unlike Turkle, I believe that parts of these conversations can absolutely happen through, with, and because of technology. These conversations are very much a part of today's world, and I have the chance to help my students learn effective ways of communicating with one another through some of these tools. So now what do I want to do with it?
At the start of this course, I comfortably identified as a (resistant) Techno-Traditionalist. I emailed frequently and used an online gradebook (although that really consisted of transferring the grades from my paper gradebook to the computer). I envied teachers that were able to find creative and exciting ways to incorporate technology and digital tools into their lessons.
I did try. Last year, instead of my usual journal writing, I set up a blog - which was pretty neat and fun to share with others...until I stopped writing on it. Note that my last post was January 5...oops. But even that blog was never really meant for my students or my classroom, just me. I feared that I would forever remain a Techno-Traditionalist. After the past 8 days of thinking and talking and collaborating and creating and learning, I started to gain some momentum and excitement thinking about what I could bring back to the classroom. I got a glimpse of how others utilized technology to enhance student learning and I started to regain hope...
I'm here today, and I can say now that this is what I believe. I believe that we are all a part of this digitally-evolving world. I believe that we can learn as much from our students as they can learn from us. And I believe that there is no such thing as a Digital Immigrant OR a Digital Native - so I can no longer identify as one and look at my students as the other. Instead, I believe in Digital Fluency. I was overwhelmed by the project at first, and sort of afraid of failing. There were so many tools to choose from and I kept getting distracted by all of the shiny and fun things on the computer. I forced myself to focus and refocus, and think, "what will support my belief about students and their learning? What do I believe?"
I believe that learning happens when students and parents and teachers are all able to connect in and out of the classroom and carry on conversations from many different places and spaces. Building a community of learners will enhance the education of every single person involved, and sometimes doing that takes risks. So what could I risk, here and now?
I finally started to think about the website I had always dreamed of as an anchor for and extension of my classroom, and knew this was my chance to try and do it. It's very much not finished yet, and it took a LOT of playing around and frustrated forehead smacks, but it's a work in progress I'm extremely proud of. I decided to use Wordpress because I liked the clean, professional look of the sites, and found the customization/navigational tools relatively easy to learn and use. Suddenly, hours had gone by and I had an official class website, which I'm looking forward to working on and finalizing before September comes.
My goal for myself was to stop looking at technology and all of the opportunities it presented as an intrusion of my book-filled, traditional, "Digital Immigrant" world. My new website offers a meeting-point for my students, their parents, and me to come together, and a starting point for incorporating some of the other tools we've experimented with here. By offering a virtual extension of my classroom, I am offering students (and parents) a new way to connect and build a community of learners.
Earlier in this course, I talked about my fear of failure. Today, I'm here to promise myself that I will take more risks with technology in my classroom, because I believe learning happens when risks are taken. I will ask my students to take risks for that same reason. I began this course believing that when my students were "plugged in" they were "tuned out" of my classroom. As a newly self-proclaimed (and website-creating!!!) Techno-Constructivist, I believe we can absolutely make learning happen when students are plugged in - we just have to try plugging in too. It is through taking these great risks that we can learn, become better, and, ultimately, grow.
I felt as if Michael Wesch's words could have been my own: "Because I do not know everything . . . . I am in the wonderful but awkward position of not knowing exactly what I am doing by blissfully learning along the way. My job becomes less about teaching, and more about encouraging students to join me on the quest." I'm looking forward to what comes next in my Digital Journey, and I can't wait to ask my students to join me on the quest.