While Tumblr and instagram might be the “it” social media of the moment, a course blog’s suitability for exchanging ideas, presenting research, and engaging in an open, distributed conversation is hard to beat.
– Amy Nelson, “Your Motherblog…”
Technologies in the classroom have been forever present. From candles to illuminate books to pens as instruments for inscribing thoughts, to ubiquitous PowerPoint and tablets for
distracting presenting information to students.
I suppose I’m being transparent here; technology is often used for the sake of using something new. Why use candles to provide light when you can just read during the day? And why not memorize everything? (Okay, that last one is a bit ridiculous, though I don’t suppose Homer would think so.) But new digital technologies often distract from learning, being disruptive to their stated objective.
What if faculty started looking backward, just a bit–instead of looking to the newest technologies to inject new life into their courses, use something that’s been tested in other domains. This, I think, is what Amy Nelson is getting at in her most recent blog post for her New Media Seminar. Her Fall 2013 course on Soviet History, among the most popular in the History department, refashioned into a digital history project, using student (and instructor) blogs to have conversations about the subject, as blogs have done for over a decade. So successful was the project that Newman Library worked with Nelson and her digital content to create an exhibit showcasing student work, but more importantly, showcasing the potential success of a course blog. (The experiment received a nice write-up in Virginia Tech News this week.)
New technologies can be disruptive, but they always run the risk of being distracting. Thoughtful consideration of the practicality and practicability of classroom technologies is a requirement for their incorporated success, which ought not be assumed.
Aside: Today marks the twentieth anniversary of internet at National Public Radio (NPR). The full memo contains a caveat that is useful to anyone about to embrace a new technology: “The internet is a collection of computer networks that is connected around the world…A code of ‘netiquette’ exists among users and within user groups, but otherwise, you pay your money, find your niche and take your chances” (emphasis mine).