Monday, August 26, 2013

Digital Literacy in the Age of Slow Computers

It's natural to be afraid of new things.

We want to be assured of things. And there is nothing inherently wrong with that. When I try something in my future classroom, I would love for all of my lessons to be crafted from sound research that took years to compile, but the world moves quickly, and things that mattered to students 20 years ago, sometimes don't now. Things that matter to students now may be irrelevant even quicker than that. The students we teach are an eclectic bunch, ever-changing--constantly finding themselves, losing themselves, and uncovering entirely new personas. Our classrooms need to be fluid, and we need to be fluid. We can't allow ourselves to be left behind by the advent of their interests, their changing world, and their adaptability.

At least, that's what I wanted to write about before my field experience.

Don't get me wrong. I still believe what I wrote up there. I always tell the truth, even if I lie. But I realize that maybe, I need to be a little more cautious not to assume things I don't know about. The statements made above take for granted many things that I now realize may require a little more insight than my blanket advice to embrace change. I am, above all, naive. The concepts in our reading this week are particularly telling. I wrote last about the benefits of technology and digital writing in classrooms. I talked about the democratizing effect of the internet, and how students can not only use the internet as tool, but as an entirely new medium of exchange. For many schools, this is the way to go, and they can be on their way to a brighter, technologically inclined future by the end of next week. For others, it's a little easier said than done.

Admittedly, finding a way to fit in to my field experience has been a challenge. Washington-Wilkes Middle School is in a completely different environment from my own upbringing in New York City public schools. Washington-Wilkes is a middle school and a high school combined into a single building. It is the only school in the entire county, which is a tight knit community where all the teachers know all the mothers know all the administration know everyone but me. The students that make up my class are mostly rural and from financially struggling families. It's the kind of county where paddling is still allowed as an acceptable form of punishment in primary and middle school. No joke. Kind of crazy if you think about the day and age, and what is acceptable in a public school.

My mentor teacher is a man named William Peek, and a very nice person. William is also an authoritarian in the classroom. He is very traditional in his teaching style, rarely using anything but lecture to explain information, and he rules with an iron fist. He threatens to write someone up in every block at least once (except maybe in the gifted course). The kids, admittedly, can be rowdy. They can be troublemakers, and sometimes putting yourself in the position of the premiere authority in the room and not their friend is important to get the message that there is no nonsense. Writing instruction still involves the instruction of the five-paragraph essay, another concept which they will have to throw out once they reach college.

In our reading, it is said that: "Through engaging in multimodal productions, students have the opportunity to adopt new aesthetic notions of visual rhetoric, performance, and embodiment constituting identity construction" (Beach, Thein, Webb, 58). I wholeheartedly agree that it is imperative that the students learn to express themselves an adopt new ways to interpret and create concepts. I agree with a lot of what I've been learning about in our classes and our readings. Call me a bright-eyed and naive youth, but I want to believe in that. I'm just not seeing it. Washington-Wilkes has very little funding for anything that can be used as effective technology teaching tools. The computers that they do have are slow, and scarce. Some of the students themselves may not have access to a lot of those resources at home. While William's 8th grade class is equipped with an ActivBoard (sort of like a SmartBoard, or touch screen/projector combo), it is rarely used for more than just a projector, because the computer monitor at the teacher's desk is not functional.

Students are not allowed to have a phone on campus at all. While I'm not quite gullible enough to believe that this rule is strictly adhered to, it is worth noting that many students do not have one. While other schools in Georgia worry about whether or not computers, phones, tablets, and e-readers are replacing the book, the students here have no choice but to accept the books and teacher-centric lessons as the only form of education they will get.

The availability of digital resources that are necessary to help these students succeed in the real world is shaky at best. And that sort of difference between schools such as Washington-Wilkes and highly-funded schools in more well-to-do areas hinders progress not only for them, but for the education system as a whole. For how can I wholly embrace the implementation of digital literacy education on one hand, while struggling with the reality that many other schools are struggling to get decent computers?

Works Cited:

Beech, Richard, A. Thein, A. Webb. Teaching to Exceed the English Language Arts Common Core Standards. New York: Routledge, 2012. Print.


  1. Eric,
    First off, I love your artsy. Second, Your writing is beautiful and real. Now, out of the mush and into the meat of my commenting. I grew up in a school that had Kindergartners through Twelfth Graders in the same building: Yeah, small. But the differences are that mine was a private school and the school embraced technology like new fashion. The students had trouble keeping up with the "newness." It is sad to think that we cannot provide equal opportunities to all students as far as technology is concerned. But, we can push, and push hard, to change that. I would suggest talking to your MT and trying to start small. Slowly introduce something simple. Who knows, you could be the change that sparks the Washington-Wilkes Revolution. ;-) Just some thoughts.

  2. I totally agree with the part where you were saying how the students are ever-changing, eclectic bunch living in a constantly-changing/evolving world. I actually had a conversation with my MT yesterday about how people may expect everything going on in school to be stable and so structured, but in reality, school is one of the most random places, full of unexpected things, where you just need to know how to ride this roller coaster. Otherwise, we would be stressed out to death!!

    And about the last part of your blog, I think it's really sweet of you to have concerns for those schools that are not as fortunate as some other schools to have enough technological resources; however, I think that's out of our control, and those teachers or all teachers will be able to find other creative ways to create an engaging and innovative classroom environments even if they are not blessed with certain resources and funds. Teachers are like superheroes, really. haha..