This morning my daughter announces that her class is going on a field trip to the University Astronomy Lab.
Her personal favorite planet is Jupiter.
All day, I’ve been thinking about the wonder she’ll feel. These planetarium shows, according to the website, “feature spectacular astronomical images from the surface of Mars, to dusty nebulae, to dazzling galaxies, rendered in three dimensions with the aid of special eyeglasses and projection screens.”
This kind of technology might just provide a sublime experience for these children. They might go on to study astrophysics, probing deeper into the mysteries of the universe.
I wish I were there with her.
But I had my own experience with technology and education today. I received my classroom assignment for next semester, so on my way back to the parking lot, I casually pop into my future classrooms. One of them hides deep within an ancient campus building. The tiny room has 25 chairs and desks and a long table up front (for me). I’m not sure I even have a chalkboard to use in that room. These are the rooms instructors beg to get switched. They shed tears over these assignments and bribe administrative assistants to send them to any other classroom.
But I love rooms like that. I request the simplest classroom.
The second classroom resides in a building I haven’t visited yet–the Business School. I walk in, and I’m immediately transported to another universe. A ticker on the wall brags out the stock market numbers. Flat screen TV’s broadcast major network news. Coffee shops send out an aroma that, in this environment, makes me feel rushed and nervous. Everybody’s in suits, and the click of high heels on the floor breeds a strange insecurity in me.
I find my classroom.
It’s spectacular, dazzling. Each wall has a projection screen, and I count no less than 7 white boards that light up for my notes. My podium up front features more buttons than I could ever figure out what to do with. It has a microphone. If I touch this one button, the lights dim and a huge screen descends behind me.
Maybe another button ushers in my avatar who teaches for me while I go get a latte.
The students’ seats swivel, and I’m not sure, but I wonder if each desk has its own laptop built in.
I turn a circle in this future classroom, and then I immediately think: “This is so . . . distracting!”
What will I do with so much technology? What could it inspire in folks trying to learn to use strong verbs and varied sentence structure? Am I now putting on a show with lights and sounds? At what point does the technology distract rather than enrich?
I’ve posed the question to my technology-inundated students. Shall I change my course? One man leaned back (in his old desk) and said, “Don’t do it. Don’t use the technology. People want to talk about their ideas together in class. That’s what they really want.”
But is there something I’m missing?
Living with flair means I figure out how to use technology in ways that enrich and offer sublime experiences. Because it can. I just don’t know how–as a writing teacher–it will.
Do you know?
My mom does not know how to use technology at all.
I don't know either. Keep in mind how your students responded when they came to your home and simply shared, listened and most likely, learned tons. Use the technology if it will benefit your students – you don't need to use it all. I love the old classroom, too – but then, I am on the downside of middle age :).
For my writing projects, I use my old computer that isn't connected to the Internet because it helps me focus on my own thoughts, and not on what I can find surfing on the net. It's important to create quiet spaces for deep thought. Don't worry about all the technology — just talk, and think.
Thank you for that reminder, Roberta! And E.M.B makes me feel better, above, that other moms aren't good with technology either. I never thought of disconnecting the internet while I write to avoid the temptation of surfing! Nice advice there, too!
As a teenager I experienced a planetarium show, and it was, indeed, spectacular. You should go yourself someday!
As for technology and teaching writing – I am not an expert at all, but the only use I know for technology is to look up words, phrases and quotations quickly, and to connect with others who love to read and write. But I would do what others said, and disconnect it while you are teaching, because it has too much potential for distraction.
I am reminded of art history class, with it's images projected for students to critique (or listen to the professor critique). I can imagine a writing class where that kind of thing is done – students writing about an image, or reacting to someone else's written work that they can all see, larger than life, before them.
e.e. cummings' poetry is visual.
Lots of people are visual learners (not me, but some are!) so maybe all the bells and whistles help them out.
The good news: I bet anything there will be a student in each of your classes that will be ale to help you figure out what to do with all those podium buttons. Those 20-year-olds handle that with ease, and are usually helpful (if bemused) when they see a floundering professor.
Cool, I have some friends (fellow grad students) in the astronomy department who regularly do the planetarium lecture. Maybe it will be one of them!