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Technology and Composition Classrooms

Fredrich Nietzsche famously stated that man is a slave to the state. If Nietzsche were alive today, he might say that man is a slave to technology.

a month ago

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Fredrich Nietzsche famously stated that man is a slave to the state. If Nietzsche were alive today, he might say that man is a slave to technology. More preciously, humankind has become a willing slave bound to the (proverbial) whims of its new taskmaster, information and communication(s) technology (ICT or IC technology). ICT permeates every crevice of society, including manufacturing, warfare, politics, healthcare, dating, and now, learning in public and private institutions. To make matters worse, ICT has readily progressed at a steady clip for nearly a half-century, creating ICT billionaires for three decades and dominating the modern global economy. Furthermore, modern ICT products have become powerful, complex, and far cheaper than their predecessors, making their mass adoption plausible and worthwhile.

To better illustrate the last point in my introduction, I must switch the focus to an intellectual product of a professional chemist, who helped pioneer the fledgling ICT industry, and whose legacy still haunts and excites industry insiders. “In April of 1965, Electronics magazine published an article by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore” (Jon Stokes, “Understanding Moore’s Law). The article sparked the beginning of an eponymous law (Moore’s Law) that continues to dominate ICT industry thinking. Utilizing Moore’s Law, one finds computing technology advances follow a simple, predictable curve. Every eighteen to twenty-four months, the industry doubles transistor density on integrated circuits, increasing computational power and halving prices, making the modern computer what it is today. Since the Internet went public in the 1990s, it too has benefited from this predictable progress, creating transnational communication, information, and business network unlike any in history. Moreover, this steady progression explains why our mobile devices and home computers have computing power and software capabilities unknown to the US military during much of the Vietnam War. Our simple devices hold more computing power than the computer used to put two American astronauts on the moon on July 1969. Consider this, the HEALTHCARE.GOV website contains some five million lines of code, whereas the computer used in the first moon landing stored around 100,000 preprogrammed command lines. HEALTHCARE.GOV has around 50 times more code than the computer used in the first moon landing, and the OS code behind many computers accessing this website surpasses anything the Apollo moon missions had at their disposal.

With this introduction out of the way, I am forced to tell you what I am arguing for in the field of composition. I am arguing for the increased use of technology in our composition classrooms. IC technology is not merely a spectral phenomenon glinting in the starry night sky, appearing for a short time before disappearing entirely. In other words, like the airplane, the automobile, and other forms of groundbreaking, innovative technologies before it, ICT is here to stay and its role in society will grow and evolve with time. Therefore, we need to embrace the use of technology in our classrooms, and we need to incorporate ICT products into our pedagogies. IC technologies include a mixture of software and hardware packages. Software envelopes innovative and interactive Web 2.0 websites and packages such as Google, MySpace, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Grammarly, and WordPress. Hardware encompasses products like laptops, smart boards, smartphones, popular e-readers, music players, tablets, notebooks, and smartpens. The combination of ICT software and hardware with our current pedagogies is quite simple to implement, and these technologies will reap great educational rewards for our students and educational institutions.

With the adoption of new technologies, there seems to be a fear of technology or rather an apprehension concerning technology, as ICT products are always changing, never slowing down for slow adopters. David Georgina and Myrna Olson (“Integration of technology in education”) mention that professors are often apprehensive of or resistant to technology because technology trainers do not consider the pedagogical side of technology, as they simply want technology adopted in the classroom (2). This presents a very real problem for higher education institutions. Therefore, ICT trainers need to approach technology from a pedagogical standpoint, assuaging the fears of departments and professors alike. Georgina and Olson conclude that a range of impediments to technology adoption may include everything from lack of motivation or interest to a disproportionate number of older faculty members (7). Nevertheless, there is a fundamental need for a technology outreach program on college and university campuses. This outreach program could approach reluctant or disinterested departments and older faculty members, discussing, arguing for, and pushing new, innovative IC technologies. For those old curmudgeons, this outreach program could place student assistants or technicians in technology-driven classrooms, easing the pain of technology adoption. Lastly, older professors and reluctant departments need to be informed on the role technology will play in all academic fields in the future.

Chris Dede notes that in the 21st century, young people will face an economy and a working environment not seen in the 20th century (2-3). Charles Stross warns that Generation Z (those born in the late-90s and early 2000s) will live in a world where the labor market is extremely fluid, loyalty toward employees will be non-existent, and full-time, life-long careers will be a thing of the past (“Spy Kids”). Chris Dede adds that future “workers will change jobs seven or eight times during their work life. The worker of the 21st century must have science and mathematics skills, creativity, fluency in information and communication technologies, and the ability to solve complex problems” (2-3). Thus, the very nature of composition must change. We must address the economy, the twenty-first-century work environment, the use of technology (in and out of the classroom), and skills outside of the realm of science and mathematics. If we do not do this, our students will have a hard time acclimatizing to a world and an economy that will not slow down for those who find it hard to adapt. Composition can utilize ICT in its curriculum and the skills needed for the 21st century, allowing the field to stay ahead of the curve, up to date, and making students competitive players outside of the composition classroom.

Integrating technology into the classroom is the toughest challenge for composition, among other fields. ICT is always changing and rarely is technology static or in a state of stasis. Much of this has to do with the very laws that organize, incentivize, and operate the ICT industry. To stay ahead, ICT companies must constantly innovate, undercut the competition, and hold onto vital, lucrative markets. For example, Apple once held a considerable chunk of the mobile device industry with their iPhones and iPads. However, Apple’s lack of innovations and higher prices afforded companies like Samsung, HTC, Google, and Microsoft the opportunities to make considerable inroads into the mobile devices sector, cutting away Apple’s large market share little by little. Consequently, we observe a mobile device industry that is highly diverse, very confusing, and ever-changing. We find similar situations in other ICT sectors. We have seen major changes in terms of classroom management software (WebCT to Blackboard) and ITV software-hardware packages usurping one another, forcing everyone to adapt or be left in the dust.

How can composition professors and instructors successfully adopt ICT products in their classrooms? James J. Brown, Andrew Engel, et al. (“Interfaces and Infrastructures”) suggest using new media technologies as texts in classrooms. These authors believe integrating the study of technology into the classroom will create a laboratory environment, where experimentation, exploration, scrutiny, and familiarization are key objectives of course assignments. Peter Cookson (“Is $600 Billion Enough?), a professional sociologist, proposes a mixed classroom, where face-to-face teaching and technology meld together in effective and innovative ways. Cookson offers that we utilize specialized software and training to tailor lessons, assignments, and activities for students, especially for those who might be considered at-risk or on the cusp of this categorization. Bridget Dalton and Dana Grisham (“eVoc Strategies”) push ICT use in helping students with their vocabulary issues, with software like just-in-time vocabulary assistance and text-to-speech tools. Today’s students have access to technologies like smartpens, advanced grammar checkers, and special word processing software, all of which can help students with writing problems. Beverly Koopman (“From Socrates to Wikis”) believes wikis and online forums help enable discussions about required texts. In addition, Koopman noticed that at-risk, marginalized, or shy students were better able to voice their opinions and engage with the required readings. Koopman could assess student progress by utilizing statistical information provided by wikis and online forum software. Christopher Lawrence and Michelle Dion (“Blogging in Political Science”) recommend that political science professors can utilize blogging software, as it can help with political engagement, essay writing, research, and critical thinking. Such an approach can be easily adapted to the literature and composition courses, where students use blogs to write essays, voice responses to readings, and react toward or scrutinize different interpretations of a text. Monica Martinez (“Undeveloped World Taps Technology for Education”) points out that the Undeveloped World utilizes technology in education, covering major gaps in educational systems in Brazil and India. Technologies used in the Undeveloped World include educational computer games, videos, and open access to computers. Loui Nelson, Elizabeth Arthur, et al. (“Trading Textbooks for Technology”) argue for the retirement of textbooks, replacing them with electronic alternatives. The authors argue that electronic alternatives are often up to date, more accurate, interactive, and vastly cheaper. Sheelah Sweeny (“Writing for the Instant Messaging and Text Messaging Generation”) discusses how professors can incorporate mobile devices into the classroom setting. Instead of prohibiting such devices, assignments and course objectives can be communicated through messages sent to these devices.

Stepping back from this information, we find there are several ICT applications in classrooms, inside and outside of composition. Additionally, I would argue that these products are quite easy to adopt, especially with a bit of help. Many of these products are relatively inexpensive or even free for professors to adopt in their composition classrooms. I believe after examining the discussions on this matter, that ICT products will provide great benefits to teachers, students, and higher education institutions. In an era of austerity, remedial courses have become lepers of modern education, and universities and colleges can utilize ICT to cover educational gaps caused by educational policies or agendas directed toward remedial education. In examining the work of Sean Murray, I find that technology, an integral part of modern life, can act as a point of interest, where students will hold a stake in assigned objectives and projects. Students who have a stake in assigned projects, especially projects concerning technology, will retain knowledge, frequently attend classes, and these students will most definitely produce superior quality prose as a consequence. However, the adoption of IC technology should not subjugate the teacher and students to inanimate objects. Putting ICT products ahead of everything else will create what Neil Postman calls the technopoly, where technology supplants current roles, cultures, and modes of education. Such a solution would have disastrous consequences inside and outside of the classroom. For that reason, we must find a middle ground in which face-to-face teaching and IC technology use come together in the spirit of learning, engagement, and exploration.

In conclusion, I believe that composition must speed up and adapt to technology driven times. Our field needs to recognize the importance of technology, and our field must realize how IC technologies adversely or auspiciously affect our students. If we do not adapt to current technologies, our field will remain in the proverbial dark ages, futilely searching for a solution to our students’ needs. However, I must note that we do not want to replace teaching with technology, but we need a healthy mixture of the two. Even so, IC technologies are not difficult to adopt for our pedagogies and classrooms, while helping students adapt to these technologies. Many IC technologies discussed in this presentation are inexpensive or even free to use, sweetening the adoption of ICT products in the classroom. Nonetheless, IC technology is here to stay and its impacts and importance will only become more pronounced as we advance into the twenty-first-century. The field of composition needs to be on the right side of history, or it will end up in the dustbin of history, replaced by more relevant fields.


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G. Michael Rapp

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