Teaching in a 2.0 World: Why Tech Matters, but not as much as some would make us believe.


I am currently taking an online class offered by k12learning20 based on the 23 things program to introduce teachers to different Web 2.0 resources. Although I am already fairly fluent in many of these tools, I am very much looking forward to expanding my skill base. Our Thing 3 assignment requires us to complete a blog post on the meaning of teaching in a Web 2.0 world which is fortuitous because the questions presented have been bouncing around in my brain for a while now. This post is just the first part of what I am thinking of as a series examining my experience teaching in a web 2.0 world and the continuing relevance of the traditional tools of teachers.

First of all, I believe in technology and I believe that every teacher has not only the opportunity, but more the obligation to become fluent in the latest tools of the trade. My teaching has improved as a result of the resources and ideas I have gotten from twitter chats, my experience at edcamprva, and other professional development opportunities. Our American Studies class is very techie, and so is pretty much every class I teach. We use a variety of web 2.0 tools and our students have benefited from our increased knowledge.

All that said, I have to say that I think we are overestimating the impact of web 2.0 tools. Sure they are great and readily available, many for free even, but a good tool will never replace a good teacher and too much of the language bouncing around the educational world seems to suggest otherwise. I also worry about how quickly the standby tools of the trade i.e. lecture or even the idea of the teacher as the expert are so quickly dismissed as  20th or 19th century ideas that are some how no longer relevant in today’s 21st century world.  I disagree. I think that every teacher has a toolbox of things they do well some are cutting edge and some are older than any of us. The goal of education especially in the humanities classroom is to teach students to think critically, develop a level of cultural literacy, and frankly be able to retell the stories/histories that make up our curriculum and give each story their own slant. Web 2.0 tools definitely can help with that process, but so can great lectures, in depth reading, and other tools that have been around centuries. Furthermore, I refuse to believe that we live in a world where knowledge no longer matters.

I also believe that we have an obligation to our students to be fluent in their world and their world is certainly increasingly a web 2.0 world full of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr to just name a few. We, as teachers and really as people sharing the world with the generation of digital natives, should also understand and be able to participate in this world.

So what is the meaning of web 2.0 in the world of education? My answer: The tools available to us in the Web 2.0 world are what we make of them. It is  a world we need to own and share with our students, but not rely on to the exclusivity of all the other tools in the box. I’ll be writing on much of this in more detail in the coming weeks.

Textbooks: The Value of Paper in an Increasingly Digital World


Right now in American Studies we use both traditional books like The Norton Anthology of American Literature Volumes A-E, American Spirit Vol. 2,
Masur’s 1831 and Gordon Wood’s American Revolutiona mash up of historical texts that we post in unit folders on livebinder (Here is our first unit folder).

We are about 60/40 paper to digital right now and next year we are ditching the document book and will be more at a ratio of 50/50.  Yet, while we are teaching in a digital world and moving more towards digital texts, I thought it worthwhile to provide a synopsis of why paper books still hold value in an interdisciplinary American Studies classroom, even a tech based one like ours.

Because we teach a course that combines both history and culture, I have found that basically we have evolved to a philosophy where short assignments, traditional text book readings and documents are posted online while our lengthy assignments i.e. 20 pages or more are handled via paper. This is what has worked for us, and here are a few reasons why paper books have retained their value in our classroom:

1.Books are still better teaching when students how to read closely and discuss literature.   We mainly read the literature of the course i.e. As I Lay Dying, A Streetcar Named Desire,White Noise, the poetry of Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, and Claude McKay to name a few, in anthologies.  We very much like using the anthologies as it is important to us that our students learn how to mark up texts and turn many pages. Yes, students can highlight, take notes, and underline on many digital platforms, but I have yet to see students  consistently do so when reading digitally as they do when reading lengthier assignments on paper. Their digital annotations are just not as meaningful or well done. For now, the technology is just not seamless enough, and it takes to much sustained effort.

2.For literature discussions it is quite helpful to actually be able to turn to the same page, and it has been problematic for our students who do read digitally to follow along and locate passages on the electronic versions.  Our students bring their own devices and so are reading many different versions of texts which can be confusing and pull energy away from our discussions. Furthermore, there is  evidence that students have a harder time recalling and placing information especially when reading longer assignments.

3. Many of our students and some of us teachers find it easier to read lengthy assignments on paper both in terms of our eyes and our ability to focus only on the text. Books do not have pop up chat windows or internet. Furthermore, books don’t run out of power. I think it is a valuable skill that we impart to kids when we ask them to focus on something that doesn’t run off of electricity.

4. Finally,  we enjoy seeing how much pride our students take in the vast amounts they have read. I know they would be reading the same amount on a device, but there is something about holding a 2000 page anthology and realizing that you’ve read over half of it that is incredibly gratifying and  lost by our digital readers.

So while we will become even more digital in the next year, and there are certainly many benefits to digital texts, for now at least, paper still holds value for us and our students.