Chaos in the Classroom, Magic on the Blog

My class must look pretty nuts to many people who stroll by our door– we speed through the history of arts reviewing in fifteen minutes and then spend twenty playing with a few words. We talk a lot and laugh a lot. We argue a bit too–about what makes good reviewing and bad, about how Dave Hickeymanages to travel from the most conversational digressions to absolute stylistic virtuosity within a matter of a couple of sentences, and about what Nabokov is up to in his story “Music” and how his hapless Victor may well be the best reviewer of music imaginable through his visceral, deeply felt experience of a piece he cannot even name by a composer he doesn’t know. The details of the syllabus emerge as we go in response to the direction taken by the class writing and discussion. The group agreed to let me put togeher the readings and writing assignments only a week ahead of them, so I can capitalize on where they are in their development right then at that point in the semester. It’s a lot of work, yes, but already I see this improvisational method of teaching paying off (and I do take to heart something I learned from the dance performance I blogged a few weeks ago–that the improv artists are the most well-prepared of them all).

Five classes into the semester and the artswriting blog is not only up and running —THANKS to the fabulous skill and effort (and creativity and patience) of my colleagues, Héctor Vila and Paul Amsbary— already, even though I need to do some tweaking and posting of many of the web resources for the class to explore, it is inspiring my students to work beyond what they thought they could do in this genre. They are writing thoughtfully and artfully about themselves, searching for their subject matter, their voice, their form, and their media. They are not at all afraid of the five-blogs-embedded within the sixth phenomenon, and seem pretty excited about putting their work out into the world.

Perhaps I am seeing the first group of students to take my artswriting course who are true native speakers of computer media–many more seem to find mixing media a natural means of expression than, say, two years ago. They don’t mind responding to one another on the blog, and they are embracing the community-collaborative aspect of the course design. And they’re delighted to be stretching their creative as well as critical faculties, playing around with simple movies, with oranges and text, with poems mixing with prose. Now I see the trouble I’ve landed myself in–keeping up with them!

Next week we have Janet Murray visiting Middlebury for the Clifford Symposium, and our class to talk about the future of narrative. We will explore with her the ways in which our use of the computer changes stories, and changes the classroom narrative altogether. I am interested in how introducing this new means of expression into our midst also necessitates a repositioning of the teacher within the class, which means that the classroom story is no longer hers–or at least primarily hers.

The following evening Siva Vaidhyanathan will talk about copyright and copywrong–a topic that comes up daily in my classes because of our desire to respond to art by “entering” the art–using it in our responses, or cobbling together a response to an artwork from a collage of our own original work and that of others (duly cited, of course).

These are fascinating and essential arenas for our students to enter, to think about and discuss–as they try out new ways of “writing,” they need to ask what effects these changes are having on the old systems still in place. What, for instance, is the effect of using images as well as words–what do images do to the words surrounding them? I see my students and the remarkable crew inHéctor’s seminartaking on the challenge of working within a collaborative to explore the thorny questions of community, responsibility, activism and the complexities of this networked world. His fourteen students have forged such a powerful bond as a group, first online, then in an intensive one-week residential workshop (PIE) and now in the seminar that they are, in my book, working well beyond any group of first-years I’ve ever seen. Héctor works his magic, absolutely, and is reaping the rewards–they need no pushing to get on the blog and to respond carefully, respectfully, and fully–they call themselves on missing opportunities within their posts, even. I am floored and find it hard to believe that anyone looking on at this classroom hasn’t seen the effectiveness of such an educational experience. As Matt Jennings, editor of Middlebury Magazine, said to me after observing the class a few days ago, “I want to go back to school–to this class!”

More to watch on those course blogs — in fact, they’re proving much more interesting than this wee blog–because there are many voices being heard, they are taking on fascinating issues in the arts and communities, and they are experimenting with media. Stay tuned…

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Cellphones & Moblogging: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

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The Good

…Knowing that my daughter, off to Barnard College a few weeks ago, has her cell in the city. Every kid from rural Vermont should have one in NY, yes?

…Planning some moblogging adventures for my Arts writing class, ideas about which I posted here, and which promise to give us more opportunites to explore hypermedia along the lines of Jon Udell’s concept of the genre.

…Phone cam art as seen on BBC

…The way people are beginning to use Flickr

…What Dave Winer is doing with his cell and iPOD.

Eric Paulos and Elizabeth Goodman’s Familiar Strangers Project

The Bad
…The inability of school districts to distinguish between the educational potential of cell phones, listed above under Good and proposed in Korea (as pointed out byBryan Alexander), and the abuse of the phone during classtime as our local Burlington FreePress noted in today’s editorial. (Do we need to ban cellphones outright? Can’t we teach our students–and, apparently, teachers– a little etiquette? I thought we were trying to foster critical thinking skills and the ability to exercise sound judgement. What kind of message are we sending if we say that ALL uses of a particular technology, that is not inherently harmful–the way firearms are, for example– are banned?)

The Ugly (A Personal Account)

…Flying back from Milwaukee this past weekend:
The plane lands, and as it taxis up to the gate, voices pop like corks being released about the cabin: “Hello?” “Hey” “Hi. Yeah it’s me…” “Honey? I’m here!” where just the minute before, the only sound was the insistent roar of the engines. Of the fifty-some people aboard the small jet, it seems as though a good twenty of them have flipped open their cellphones the second the wheels touch earth.

Meanwhile they have yet to utter a word to the people sitting next to them–strangers–and as they chatter on to loved ones, colleagues and friends, it’s as though they’ve encased themselves in a protective bubble, as though no one sits in the seat next to them. They chatter on — loudly–about whatever: the weather, the landing, the trip, private matters, business as though they were alone.

Do they do it to sheath themselves within a safe cocoon of the familiar when they’re on the road?

…On a class fieldtrip:
I am at the wheel; four sleepy college students are draped over the seats. A phone rings in the back, and a student starts talking to her mother. Another student pulls her phone from a pocket and dials, starts talking with her boyfriend; the girl in the front seat falls asleep. The four in the car have barely exchanged words.
Do they not want to speak to one another?

…At the top of the Statue of Liberty, a woman is speaking–yes, loudly–into a cellphone to someone in California: “Yes, I’m here, at the top, I made it, can you believe it?!” and she has her back to the view.

…On an escalator in the airport, I am traveling down, and a young man alone on the up-side is talking–loudly–to himself. But no, he has on a headset, and is carrying on a conversation about business, right here, out into the air as he looks right at me.

Yeah, I can’t stand it when I’m talking with someone and their cellphone starts chirping and they dive for the phone. Yeah it concerns me that perhaps we’re using the cellphone to isolate ourselves within our safe worlds. But you know, I think these tensions between ways of using technology and what our use of technology means to us and does to us are quite fascinating and useful. We’re just working it all out, and it will be a bumpy ride for sure, but that’s as it should be. When we’re experiencing moments of disequilibrium and uncertainty, that’s just when we have a chance to see things, really see them in a way that stirs our imagination out of its paralysis, yes?

Day after day as I try to keep up with developments in integrating new technologies into classrooms, (thanks to such tireless edubloggers as Will Richardson and Anne Davis as well as Roland Tanglao and Cyprien Lomas who roam the world, it seems, in search of the best tools and applications thereof) I see how conferences, periodicals and edublogs are being flooded with presentations, articles and notices about the impact of new technologies on classrooms, and about how writing is a major player in the technology-rich educational setting. What concerns me is that all too many of the reports (especially high profile ones that reach mainstream media outlets) are NOT considering how blogging and other emerging forms of computer-mediated expression as continuous, collaborative, multi-media authoring are not the equivalent of writing with a new tool that for all intents and purposes is pretty much the same as quill, pen or typewriter, just faster and networked.

Kairos News and Edutopia both have September issues focusing on media literacy in light of a workworld that increasingly demands its inhabitants to be skilled users of the new technologies. (Of course, one question this brings up has to do with the disorientation of older workers who must adapt to a world speaking a language not their native tongue, but one they must learn as adults—think about how difficult it is for adult immigrants to learn the language of their new homeland, for example—but that’s another story for another post for another day.) And yet, the focus is still on writing as separate from graphics, from web design principles, from color theory–from sound principles. Students need more writing instruction, concludes one national report. (What else is new– reports state what teachers already know…)

If we consider writing in isolation, though, we miss the point of new technologies as well as the realities of the world we live in. James Duderstadt, Howard Rheingold, and Héctor Vila, among others, have been articulating the need for a new-media literacy curriculum for years, something George Lucas has recently expressed in Edutopia, arguing for us to understand that an entirely new means of writing—of expression—is emerging around us, and that we, as teachers, need to help our students “to understand [this] new language of expression…We must teach communication comprehensively, in all its forms…We live and work in a visually sophisticated world, so we must be sophisticated in using all forms of communication, not just the written word…If students aren’t taught the language of sound and images, shouldn’t they be considered as illiterate as if they left college without being able to read or write? …We must accept the fact that learning how to communicate with graphics, with music, with cinema, is just as important as communicating with words. Understanding these rules is as important as learning how to make a sentence work,” AND— “we need to take art and music out of “the arts class” and put it into the English class.”

Yes, indeed. Now we’re cooking. And it’s just what some of us are trying to do– what Héctor was scolding me about back a few posts until I broke through to some interesting realizations in my own blogging, and what he is up to right now with his first-year seminar as they move into digital stories—it’s clear that the kids intuitively feel the power of the image and sound, but haven’t looked closely at the grammar, at the impact of sounds, image amd text influencing and intersecting with one another. And there’s even more to be gained from multi-media authoring in our classrooms. The process itself, at least as we’re developing it in our Middlebury classrooms, requires collaboration—and therefore the very making of the digital stories fosters the creation of a strong, effective community of learners while teaching valuable skills in this new language and deepening critical thinking. All three elements are crucial to becoming an engaged, effective citizen of a complex society.

Our students, on their own are naturally moving towards multi-media authoring — my students are about to take up their first multi-media piece in artswriting, and yet ahead of schedule, four students this week opted to bring in tangible image-based elements as part of their second writing assignment (Bold work to be handed in on the third day of class, even without having our darn blog up and running—see the previous post for my classroom blogging woes)—they are feeling the urge to break through the “tyranny” of the flat page and play with object and image (not sound, yet, interestingly enough, perhaps because it is more time-consuming to capture and store?). The assignment asked them to write about a color or a musical note from multiple perspectives, using multiple forms. Katie brought in an actual orange on which she wrote her riff about the color orange. That’s a first step. Alex, writing about the color blue, handed in an envelope of photos and a plastic bag filled with blue-hair clippings. She, too, feels the need to move beyond language to explore the color and yet she has the tangibles outside the writing, in envelopes, not yet fully presented. John handed in a children’s book, written by him and illustrated by a friend as part of his exploration of the color blue. He not only has pushed past language but has moved into collaboration, all on his own. Julina colored her paper with tints of green to write about green. So, if four out of thirteen students venture out into a multi-media exploration in the second week of class, without any instruction as to how how such a step might help them achieve the emotional impact they are seeking, imagine what the group will come up with once they have examined the potential outcomes of the interaction of sound, image and word.

The kids are halfway there. Now they need us to provide the opportunity, the setting and the questions to learn how to speak this new language effectively and elegantly. And we need to figure out how to integrate this work into our already overloaded courses. This work takes time in the class and out–other things have to be jettisoned or recrafted to fit in with the multi-media work.

I’ll be looking to my blogging colleagues and cohorts to keep pointing to promising developments in their own classrooms and the wider world as we travel further into the language of new media. What is working for others–how might we collaborate?

Frustrations…(when you see what should be possible…)

We’re into the second week of classes at Middlebury and my bold group of arts writers (those I have managed not to scare out of the class!) has embarked on the semester’s adventure with enthusiasm and some trepidation, I am certain. Frustrations rule at the moment–for me–because even with my intrepid crew of colleagues willing to help me move beyond my technology skill set, I cannot yet get the artswriting blog to do what it must do for the course: have five columns/categories running simultaneously on the homepage, much as columns on a newspaper would do, each listing excerpts from the previous ten postings from each category. Each category would actually be a separate blog with its own categories. And so, irony of ironies, the blogging teacher is teaching sans blog at the moment. Strange feeling indeed.

Just as my students should be connecting with each other both in and out of class–frequently–whenever each of them wishes to find others in the class through their writing– to create the essential webbing of our learning community, we are only coming together in class, twice a week. They have no access to one another’s work (other than through paper copies) and so are not able to connect slowly through sampling and reflecting and commenting and posting and then returning again and again to prior postings to see the movement, the growth. I want them to know each other as writers and thinkers in as sustained and deep a fashion as is possible in a twelve-week semester (during which they have many other demands on their time and interest), and to do that I have found the blog invaluable.

In a way this set-back forces me to look at classroom blogging in the face once again, to question my direction and the pedagogical underpinnings of the work, to re-evaluate why I need to go this far with the blog, for instance, by essentially running five blogs within one. It sends me back to my Blogtalk paper, testing my conclusions.

Already, several times outside of class, I have wanted to point to websites or to discussions about arts writing, something that I can certainly do using email, a flat, unsatisfactory means of connecting simultaneously to the students and to their work. Via email I can ensure that they will not miss out on observing some of the most interesting developments on the web, some of which I’ve written about in previous postings about Archinect’s blogging experiment and about the art collective, dispatx, coming out of Barcelona, for example (one of the organizers of which left me a thought-provoking comment a couple of weeks back questioning how far blogging should go–if we had hit the threshhold and were suffering from an overindulgence of blogging, a blogging surfeit, a glut, overkill) and others, such as Paul Klein’s new venture in Chicago, Artletter.com. Yes, I can point to those sites via email. What we lose without the blog is the ability to respond and reflect in an ongoing, fluid and connected manner through links and archives and multiple new postings. The conversation isn’t preserved as effectively and doesn’t enter the larger hypertext document of the blog as a whole.

And so, my missing the blog isn’t about an addict finding withdrawal a torture. it’s about being denied a powerful tool in my teaching set, and if I don’t get it back by the end of the week, I don’t know what I’m gonna do…

BLOGTALK Paper (an excerpt and in full): Blogging as a Dynamic, Transformative Medium in an American Liberal Arts Classroom

In case anyone is interested in reading my thoughts on blogging in the liberal arts classroom, here’s the BLOGTALK paper.

Blogging as a Dynamic, Transformative Medium in an American Liberal Arts Classroom

Abstract:
Undergraduate students in a group-blogging literature seminar epitomize the writings of Pierre Lévy on collective intelligence (1997) and Stephen Johnson on emergence (2001) through the formation of a strong, resilient learning collaborative in which multi-media work naturally blends into research, personal reflection deepens scholarly insights, and the students see themselves as crucial participants in their education. This paper will demonstrate how students become the course, using the interface as a way to “take over” as their own teachers, creating an “Other” of the teacher in a unique synthesis of online and face-to-face work; they narrate a different course than expected and, if as Roland Barthes notes that “narrative is a hierarchy of instances,” the students’ narratives in this course suggest that they are indeed evacuating—challenging—even these post-modern categories.

Download the full paper

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An Experiment in Blogging

Archinect–Making Architecture More Connected–(Ah, now there’s a novel idea) has launched an ambitious project in cross-architecture-schools blogging with their school blog project. Their description:

The Archinect School Blog Project – We have recruited representatives from a collection of architecture programs around the world to maintain blogs documenting their experiences and discoveries from each institution during the fall 2004 semester. The goal of this unprecedented endeavor is to provide a voyeuristic view into the environments of some of the most intriguing academic institutions for architecture.

It looks as though they have 34 schools from North America, Europe and the Middle East participating–I will read along with interest especially to see if the students read one another’s blogs and comment or trackback, truly creating connections or if it will remain up to the viewer of the Archinect home site to read across the blogs. The voyeuristic relationship of reader to writer makes me think that connectivity isn’t the point at all.

But I can’t help wanting more: what if the site homepage could itself run as a blog with the participants taking turns at synthesizing commentary on some of the blogs or pointing to particularly interesting posts?

In other words, blogging seems to work here on the individual level, but is it being used to create any sort of virtual community among these blogging students? Will they find one another naturally, build off one another’s experiences and ideas to grow some sort of living resource, collective intelligence that will evolve into something greater than the sum of its parts? That is, I believe, the true potential of blogging–the opportunity for one blogger to reflect openly on her discoveries in the world and then to relate them directly to the thinking of others around her. Of course, that’s also the tough part–

Hats off, though, to Archinect for venturing into student blogging across institutions; it’s an important first step.

Journey to Classroom Blogging

I’ve been away from the blog for almost two weeks (directing a program, teaching in another, having one’s father land in the hospital, and struggling to meet a publication deadline all make it very difficult to get to the blog–though taking a break is a good thing–letting the field lie fallow, as it were, makes it more fertile) and have in that short time accumulated a list of topics on which I’d like to blog over the next few weeks/months, topics ranging from what teaching Dave Hickey Air Guitar in particular– will bring my students (what will they say about his take on art and the Academy?) to responses I’ve been getting from artists about blog overkill. But those will have to wait for another post.

Héctor Vila keeps exhorting me to talk about my journey to blogging, because to paraphrase him speaking to me: “That’s what’s interesting, that’s what’s important about what you’re doing and needs to be put out there,” and it’s bothering me enough now–I’m seeing it now, or admitting it–that I’m going to explore that journey a bit here, as a start to a longer essay, perhaps, on the non-techie classroom teacher’s adventures in technology. And since I never got around to writing an “About” page, this will serve as one, just as it will also, I hope, serve to point to some ways we might consider our relationship with technology as we unleash it in our classrooms.

The part of the story that everyone loves to hear because they can indentify with it has to do with my humble beginnings as an out-there classroom technology user: Three years ago practically to the day, I went from zero to “a bit of technology” in the classroom. I wasn’t looking for technology, I wasn’t looking at it–it wasn’t even on the radar screen until I had what turned out to be a fateful dinner-party conversation with one Héctor Vila, who was checking out classroom blogging as one of the tools that might enable creative teachers to do more of the things they were trying to do while acknowledging, facing, the time and place we live in: a world saturated with technology.

I get into it a little in my BLOGTALK paper–here’s the excerpt:

2. The Reluctant Evangelist: A Teacher Comes to Blogging

A lecturer in the Writing Program and English Department at Middlebury College, I have degrees in art history and literature; I have no formal background in rhetoric and composition, in education theory, in communications, in media studies, in cyber studies or in technology. I teach such courses as Contemporary Ireland Through Fiction and Film, Introduction to Creative Writing, Writing Across the Arts, and The Writing Process. I am a successful, competent classroom teacher of many years, comfortable in her liberal arts setting and confident in her course content. Until I brought weblogs into my classrooms, I was also a reluctant user of technology. I was under the impression that technology would serve as a distracter, a shiny and compelling tool that seduced students into mistaking superficial research and handsome-looking essays for deep, sustained inquiry.

What could possibly possess me to consider incorporating weblogs into classrooms that are already productive? In a word: students. Described elsewhere in some detail (Ganley et al, 2002, 9), I have observed a growing cultural divide within my students who, on the surface, appear unchanged in profile over the years: Middlebury students are almost without exception affable, hardworking, and highly accomplished. They are eager to please and eager to succeed. They come to class prepared to perform: to listen, absorb, discuss, produce what they have learned. In many ways, they are ideal students.

However, I have noticed an unsettling trend: just as the world outside our doors is becoming increasingly volatile, the work of my students is becoming more predictable—not less accomplished, just comfortably, dutifully competent, as if they sit in boxes to think in boxes, boxes equipped with a set of clear instructions to follow and with direct lifelines to the teacher. They rarely make an unchoreographed move. Yet outside the classroom, these same young people are engaging in the “dynamic staccato dance” of Instant Messenger interaction and its playful, emergent vocabulary and grammar; they are experimenting with images and video and sound files within their own personal computing spaces (Ganley et al, 2002, 9). On the one hand, they crave clear parameters and easy-to follow rules on the road to the all-important academic success; on the other hand, they are cobbling together inventive pastiches made-as-they-go with cell phones, digital cameras, mp3 players. They are connecting with the world and one another; indeed, if “the aspiration of our time for wholeness, empathy and depth of awareness is a natural adjunct of electric technology,” (McLuhan, 1964, 5), they are seeking it online and out of class.

Whereas their out-of-class actions are efficacious, having an impact on their immediate environment, their actions inside the classroom remain performances for the teacher, for evaluation, cheerfully undertaken because that is, after all, what one does in a classroom: listen to the teachers. But what do they really take from these classes? What do they retain months and years after the experience? In focusing their gaze on the teacher, they often do not know one another’s names: the word community to describe the grouping of individuals within the classroom is becoming a misnomer. But is it not too easy to blame the students and their machines? After all, has not school taught them to train their eyes on us, the experts, the authorities, more than on themselves and one another and what they are trying to learn? They are behaving themselves impeccably, as directed. And year by year, with each successive class, the chasm within them widens. They inhabit discreet, parallel worlds kept quite separate from one another. Am I unwittingly encouraging my students to adopt split personae a la Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Am I contributing to a new kind of digital, cultural divide? (Thorne, 2003, 2; Lankshear and Knobel, 2003, 1) How can I get them to bring that inventiveness, that energy into the classroom, and how can my demand for deep, sustained inquiry aid their personal growth?

To return some of that liveliness to the classroom and at the same time to foster clear, critical thinking means more than pulling into the classroom their own media: the internet, the chat, the phone and the digital camera. Equipment, gadgets, technology on their own are mere distractions if there is no clear and necessary relationship established between them and the situation into which they are introduced. Incorporating these platforms and tools as a means of working towards a fully integrated educational experience requires re-envisioning the entire classroom experience. The work has to have relevance to their lives; it has to matter. To matter, the work must have an impact on the world the students inhabit; each student must feel essential to our endeavor. It means efficacious learning achieved through turning the classroom over to the students and demanding growth in return. To steal from the architects, we dare explore how form follows function, how our methods and structures grow out of our inquiry to suit it. To do so necessitates building a bridge between the classroom and the real world, through authentic activities, “which are usually project-based, and the complexity of the activity represents the kinds of tasks that are often undertaken outside the classroom” (Halvarais, 2004, 2-3). It means infiltrating the students’ natural habitat—communication technologies—to accomplish these goals in the liberal arts classroom.

To introduce social software in the classroom, the students and their teacher must work as a social entity, as a collaborative linked to and communicating among themselves with the world. Such transformations take time, and indeed over the course of three years my students have experienced an evolving, gradual integration of weblogs into my courses, from an initial first use of the medium as a simple course management system to individual student weblogs linked to a course weblog, and finally to a single collaborative public MOTHERBLOG, to which we all contribute, and for which we are all responsible. The weblog is at once backgrounded as invisible mechanism for course activities as it is foregrounded as locus, as space for collaboration and connectivity. The weblog itself becomes Lévy’s knowledge space (Levy, 1997, 5); blogging becomes a new form of communication that facilitates efficacy and emergent behavior within the classroom.

The technologically-challenged teacher learns to adapt as she adapts the weblog to suit the needs of the course; after all, “weblogs are not special because of their technology, but because of the practices and authorship they shape. And it is a practice that will require a weblog author to be ‘connected’ to process, discourses and communities” (Wrede, 2003, 2), which in turn forces the teacher to listen ever harder for correspondences as she learns to conduct this unruly, unfinished, evolving learning experience.

I thought the section pretty much covered it until today when HV told me that I had touched upon only the coming to technology, not the full effect of integrating it, what it entailed outside the classroom in order to make it work inside the classroom. Yes, I was a creative, daring teacher who had always been willing to try out just about anything in my classroom if it had a chance to engage my students effectively with their learning. That is one of the characteristics possessed by all those who truly integrate technology into their classrooms because it might just help make the classroom a better place for the students and then for the world. That’s a necessary given. But it isn’t enough; it ain’t the whole story, and that’s the very part of the story I need to consider.

So here’s my confession though it might well turn many teachers away from technology altogether:

Incorporating technology into the classroom is not a kinda, sorta, maybe thing–as Hemingway said about prose, it’s “architecture not interior decoration.” For the teacher it means sitting inside the process of being and becoming and acknowledging that the building is unlike anything we’ve ever been in. Everyone knows that reading or writing (or whatever it is that we do) on a screen is not the same as on paper–but we teachers don’t spend enough time thinking about what impact that has on our teaching. We are so cavalier in our desire for ease and speed–

Using technology in our classrooms thrusts the teacher, whether she likes it or not, into an ongoing, at times mystifying learning process: there’s a learning curve involved here, for thoughtful integration of the computer into our classrooms demands a willingness to understand the relationship of cyberstudies to critical pedagogical and social theory; it takes a teacher who is willing to invest a considerable amount of time and effort into getting to know a world heretofore unknown to her. She has to play around; she has to ask questions; she has to fumble in the dark. It isn’t about asking the technologists to do it for her so she can get to the teaching. She’s gotta venture down the road herself. Otherwise she might unwittingly do what was done unto her a bit earlier this evening: a Powerpoint presentation delivered by the Driver’s Ed teacher at her daughter’s high school. Slide after slide saying things such as #10 Say goodnight; # 7 Question and Answer Session; #3 Thanks for Coming!– Why did he need technology at all? To give us something to look at? To have something to do with himself while he spoke? Because it is expected of us now? It was thoroughly depressing. If we depend on technology as a means of teaching and learning–if we use blogs in our classrooms, for example–we have to think about what exactly they are and what they mean if we are to have any chance of steering the course of technology integration into higher ed classrooms.

Right now, if truth be told, I’ve virtually embarked on my own graduate program of study into art and technology, cybertheory, hypertext theory, not to mention understanding research on communities. This isn’t Kansas anymore, Toto. Where’s my Heaney and Toibin, my McGahern and Boylan, I ask myself at times. Things were a lot easier, certainly, before I mucked about with computers in my work, things were simpler. I’m feeling like Brendan the Navigator, if I stick to my Irish imagery, and thanking my lucky cyberstars that I’ve spent some time puzzling out those celestial bodies for the ways they let me read them as a kind of map across the ocean.

And honestly, I can’t pull out a nice, neat proof to support my contention that my students are better off using technology than not, but I do know that it’s helping me to challenge them to examine any smug certainty they might be harboring about how the world is and how we might express our sense of it. I sure do know that it is testing me, forcing me to reflect, to put my beliefs and gifts as a teacher on the line day after day, and I know that my students are excited about having an opportunity to do something a bit different from what they do in other classes, to do something that seems to mean something out there in the world, at least for a moment.

So, here I am, on the brink of starting a new semester, once again scratching my head and saying how did I ever get here, in this place where I’m as likely to check out a new art website as I am to read a new Irish story, knowing that I have to keep up with developments in cyberspace just as I have to keep up with new novels coming out of Ireland. You don’t just pull a chapter of Ulysses in to the classroom without trying to understand what the heck’s going on in it yourself, after all.

And so I read Lévy and Lessig, Johnson and Murray, Ascott and Rheingold; I pore over Bernstein and Landow, Bolter and Weinberger. I present at blogging conferences, and at digital storytelling workshops; I mess around with multi-media tools and mapping applications; I think about mo-blogging and streaming video into collaborative web projects. I talk with colleagues; I blog my as-they-form thoughts. That’s excessive, probably, but it gives me a firm ground on which to stand as I, a non-techie teacher, experiment with the frontiers of teaching with technology.

And yes, it means that in the class we discuss how technology is mediating our work, and so, yes, we read fewer Iirsh novels in the bargain. But I am a big believer in less is more if what we’re engaging our students in is an integrated, powerful learning experience–and to do that we have to grow, we have to be challenged: learning is not learning if it is static, yes?. I haven’t seen anything that makes my classroom as rich as does the interaction of blogging, digital multi-media work, asynchronous discussions, face-to-face classroom meetings, reading, writing, thinking, playing with the computer in that mix. And so, I’ll keep educating myself, puzzling it out as I go. Pretty obvious, yes?