Phones, Cameras & Games in the Classroom

Héctor speaks quite convincingly about how this new generation of adolescents is not truly the Net-Generation, but rather an in-between generation, neither here nor there, because they have heard as much about the time before computers as they have experienced life with computers. Until recently, I didn’t completely agree with him, but following some new-media moments with my students and my children, I’m coming around to his way of thinking.

Some observations about these kids:

Their parents are immigrants to cyberspace–they are, then, first generation inhabitants of this world. And as such, they move between the old and the new, largely being schooled in the old traditions (the old country, if you will, of a classical education) while living with their peers in the new world where they move with an uncanny (but oh-so-privileged) ease with their cellphones in their pockets, their iPODS in their backbacks, their laptops underarm. Of course, these plugged-in students swarm to the open spaces of our new library to work in close quarters with one another at the college computers (where are those laptops now?), watching movies or writing papers or conducting research or IM-ing–all of the above, probably, simultaneously– back-to-back, side-by-side tapping away, lost within their own little worlds but touching one another, together, as much as possible. (I’ll have to post a photo of this phenomenon sometime soon.) Accordingly,there’s an electric atmosphere tinged with tension–feeling the excitement of the new land while carrying the expectations of the old.

I watch in wonder as they roam so fluidly, integrating the various media seemingly seamlessly into their lives. My daughter at Barnard will call me from the streets of New York as she exits the Metropolitan Museum with a clutch of friends, to tell me that she saw her favorite Degas again; I can hear in the background her friends talking; she breaks away from me briefly to say something to them; a taxi horn blares. “Bye, Mom–gotta go catch some dinner now,” she says and hangs up. Calling someone is a much more deliberate act for me–I isolate myself from everything else to hold the receiver in my hand and focus on whomever I am calling, at least for that brief moment. Not so this generation. (More on cellphones here)

And my younger daughter sits in the back seat of the car, as we drive home, text messaging and chuckling to herself, and once we’re home, races to the computer to IM while she hooks into some music station, plays a few rounds of some online game or other as she does her homework. I am often aghast. And in awe. My brain just can’t cope with so much simultaneous stimulation.

We, old-country denizens, fret, “It’s a fractured, fragmented, shallow way of living.” And yet, the bolder among us, those with some vision, see that perhaps we can learn a thing or two by bringing computer games, interactive television, texting and the like into our classrooms. It’s not exactly a “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” mentality, but a realistic and open-minded inquiry into the possible benefits of the characteristics of this new world.

I, for one, would love to get my hands on one of the new iPODPhotos to try out in my classes–podcasting and the like.

I’d like to think about how FLICKR might work in my arts writing class, especially when we’re on the road and have camera phones handy.

What if my students wanted to create something truly interactive, a game for a final arts project? Several of them have already moved past me in their projects, composing music, taping phone conversations (with permission) to post, conducting online interviews for their artist profiles. Of course, they also get very very frustrated when the computer freezes or crashes, when they lose files or something seizes up somewhere. They’re incensed and swear they’d rather do without technology altogether. Ha–I’d like to see ’em try!

Will these kids get out there and vote tomorrow? That will be my first question in class in the morning–before “What’s new on the blog?“–did they (or will they) vote? Will these first-generation cyberspace inhabitants see voting as old-country or new?

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Sites related to texting and gaming I plan to spend more time checking out in the coming weeks, to think about how and if some of these approaches make sense in my classroom include:

The Shifted Librarian’s thoughts on text messaging in educational contexts (thanks to Will Richardson)

Work being done in the UK on computer games in the classroom, Here and here (thanks to Stephen Downes

And Flashstories from


4 Responses

  1. Several posts ago, you wondered whether or not anyone read your blog. I do. It is one of the few blogs that actually discusses using blogs in the classroom. (There are many more that talk about using or imagine using blogs. As we say in the West, “All hat and no cattle.”)

    I, too, use blogs, but I suspect that I use them in a much different fashion. My emphasis is on learning to think as a historian and the improvement of student writing. And there’s nothing like a sustained program of writing to get the job done. To that end, I’m requiring comments and “blog-adapted” academic writing–what you term “forced” writing. The students write every week (individual posts, group project posts, or comments), and I grade every week. Blogging does make providing feedback for the students easier, but I must confess that I had to set up a rather crude Excel spreadsheet/WebMerge Rube Goldberg process to organize the feedback system and provide the necessary level of security. If I knew PHP, I could probably get the job done much more efficiently, but there’s no more time in the day. I actually have the rather bizarre idea that technology should make the logistical elements of teaching, including marking and feedback, easier.

    I also use a commercial blog service: TypePad. One of the advantages of TypePad is its Photo Album. It’s a dandy device for photo essays and story boards for the digital history documentary class. If you’re interested you can see some examples by following the links off my home page to the classes and thence to the students:

    As you so aptly point out in your blog, some student posts are better than others, but for my group, the consistent requirement to write is beginning to pay off in small but significant ways. Anyway, am interested in your explorations and thinking about the other ways in which tech can integrated into teaching. I’m almost thinking of turning in my intro lectures into web-based QuickTime movies and reserving class time for more work on the projects.

  2. Barbara, first I want to thank you for your persistent inquiries into the intesections of the blogging and academic worlds. Your reflections and experiences have been very, very helpful to me.

    I am responsible for instructional development at FIT in NYC. Recently, we have looked at ways of incorporating FLICKR into some of our courses. We have many ideas, yet to be implemented, and one quite impressive utilization. It is for an Art History survey course – History of Western Art and Civilization: Renaissance to the Modern Era – and uses student comments and notes extensively to accompany the images. Take a look and let me know what you think.

  3. Paula and Eric,

    Thanks for sharing your work with blogs and flickr in the classroom at George Mason and FIT–I’m delighted to see how you are using rich media in your history classes, Paula, and how flickr is being used in art history classes, Eric. These are rich resources for the rest of us to consider and I am lokkgin forward not only to spending time looking closely at your sites, but on showing them to colleagues at Middlebury who are a little reluctant to incorporate social software into humanities classrooms.

    I’m also devoting my next post to you two. Cheers!


  4. As i backtrack through archives, i was sent here… and coincidentally i recently posted a comment on my blog (personal blog site) about Trinh Minh-ha’s warning for the technological age and my own reconciling efforts… it’s related. I’d like to see the conversation that might emerge

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