Inventing the Humanities

Sunday, May 07, 2006

"Distant Voices: Teaching and Writing in a Culture of Technology"

Chris M. Anson's article entitled "Distant Voices: Teaching and Writing in a Culture of Technology," examines how multimedia is becoming a neccessity in the classroom. Throughout the text, he discusses the issues, fears, benefits, and possiblities that emerge from the new technology and the teachers who are obliged to utilize it. The article even provides a glimpse into the next possible generation of classroom teachers, an image projection of a teacher from thousands of miles away. Anson continues to explore the impact and the effect of technology on students and teachers throughout the article. Nevertheless, he often generates some of the following questions in his writing. What does the influx of new technology mean for the everyday teacher? How will it impact the social skills of the students who are privileged enough to be a part of it? What will happen to those who cannot afford this luxury? Chris M. Anson delves into the benefits and issues surrounding this shift of the traditional classroom setting to the unprecented world of technology in a way that not only informs, but warns educators as well.

Intially, many enthusiastic teachers used, and still use, hypertext and multimedia in "...linking such texts to their social and political contexts, revealing connections to pieces of art of the time, playing segments of the music that the characters may have heard, or showing brief clips of famous stage presentations" (265). Although this makes for a good lesson, students remained virtually uninvolved only "...receiving deposits of knowledge from authomatic teller machines that supplemented the more direct, human method" (266). The article examines how the integration of technology has shifted from using the computer in this way to a more interactive learning experience. According to the author, instead of simply using the computer to write or revise a composition or witness a text, students are now able to communicate across nations, learn at thier own pace, discover new ideas, texts, and mediums at the stroke of a key. Technology is moving from the passive to the active. In other words, students are observing less and taking part of their own education more.

Anson continues to explain how computer interaction may be implemented in the students' lives through distance learning or independent study. This is an individualized program that relies of technology to integrate multimedia with student-centered learning. The author does this by creating a futuristic scenerio of a student fully interacting with technology. The student starts her day by plugging her "...multimedia computer 'tablet,' just a half an inch thick...into a slot on a little vending machine...and downloads the current issue of USA Today" (267). Then she "goes to class" comprised of specialty professors thousands of miles away via pre-purchased CD-ROM. She can also enter a computer lad and receive a digital image of her professor offering personalized comments on her composition. Once the student revises her work, including audio and visual attachments, she can add it to the class webpage. All of this happens at her own pace and in her own time with little to no social interaction. It is important to note that Anson makes it clear that the student never interacts or negotiates any part of the learning process with a peer. Therefore, the student remains devoid of real human experiences or contact throughout her entire educational development. Chris M. Anson cleverly denotes that although all of this may seem farfetched and futuristic, much of this type of technology is already being used and/or developed. However, with this new and expensive techonology comes a price, and not one that revolves around money.

The most striking and somewhat disturbing line is when the author states, "because Jennifer is a privileged, upper-middle-class student who has a paid subscription to an online service, her own high-end computer system and modem, and the money to buy whatever software she needs for her studies, she can continue her schoolwork at home" (268). This student has access to this advanced technology at home. It is in this statement that a particular class divide may in fact leave some children behind. The students without access, or personal motivation, may not be able to contend with those who do. How then, can these students of lower-income status compete? What will happen to those students whose parents cannot afford these multimedia luxuries? Are these our students? What then, can we do for them?

Anson suggests that teachers must become a part of this ever-changing world of technology for the sake of our students. He explains, "...we must learn to assess the impact of each new medium, method, or piece of software on our students' learning" (278). He also indicates that the conversations about the technology need to be not only local but "...broader, institution-wide dialogues about the effect of technology on teaching, paticularly between students, faculty, and administrators" (278). It is not enough to just expose students to the computer and claim that you have provided them with techonology in the classroom. This type of claim is dangerous, for the students are not taking part in their own learning. But rather, as teachers, we need to find ways in which we can incorporate technology so that the students interact with it and advance their knowledge of it. It is time we realize that whether we like it or not, technology is moving forward and we need to move students, and ourselves, along with it.

Questions for Discussion
-Do you have access to technology in your school?
-How readily available is it for you to use?
-Do you feel that your students have ample opportunity to interact with computers and multimedia?
-What are some activities that you have used or would like to use with technology in your classroom? Do you think that this is a beneficial use of technology for your students or is it just to say that you use technology?
-When using techonology, are your students actively engaged or passively learning? What is the difference between the two types?
-In response to Jennifer's situation: How can students of lower-income status compete? What will happen to those students whose parents cannot afford these multimedia luxuries? Are these our students? What then, can we do for them?
-Will a reliance on multimedia classrooms create antisocial students? Why or why not? Will it matter in a computer-centered world?


At 3:27 PM, Blogger georgia said...

having access to computers in a classroom is okay but i feel students should not rely on computers for everything especially when creating a piece of work. drafts should be done on paper first. 9th graders are not ready to just write without graphic organizers or even drafts. even great writers had drafts!

At 8:16 PM, Blogger Joycelyn said...

I'm pretty sure quite a few of our students have access to computers at home, but some don't. Even though public libraries have free access to computers, the time limit is very short. For instance my school has computers, but is is very difficult to use the because they always seem to be reserved for one program or the other. I truly believe that students who don't have access to computers are at a disadvantage because in our modern world of technology, there is so much one can gain from them such as homework help, research etc. However, I think more and more people are able to own computers because they have become a lot more affordable.

At 9:53 AM, Blogger elizabeth said...

I have one computer in my classroom that is for student use, and I have approximately 28 students per class, so the time that my students have on the computer is limited. We have 2 computer labs within my school, and I basically use them for composing/editing work with the students. Most of my students do have a computer at home, but I do not think that the motivation is there for learning, I think it is more for personal agendas. My concern is the lack of social skills, social interaciton, teacher-student interaction, and peer interaction that these students would be able to develop in the computer driven world discussed in the article. I think that being in a school and socializing is part of education; the possible future of education described scares me.


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