When reading Julie Coiro's (2009) piece on digital literacy, one quote from McGrail stays with me:" Pedagogy before technology, rather than technology before pedagogy." It sounds simple and direct, but is often ignored by instructors in classroom. Coiro stated that technology is a double-edged sword, benefiting as well as hurting teaching practice. When managed properly, technology brings life to knowledge and make learning interesting and impressive. However, no one should assume that everybody has the skill to handle technology in education and will automatically and unconditionally take advantage of it. According to her, digital literacy should be taught to ensure that students are ready to incorporate technology in the learning and meaning-construction process.
Reading her makes me reflect on my attitude towards technology in education and other kinds of interpersonal communication. Although things are getting better, I have to admit that I am a huge fan of technology and highly vulnerable to excessive use of technology in classroom.
One example is the first English course I taught in an English language training school. My students were 40 middle school students who were beginners in English, so that what I taught was very basic, such as the word “take” and its phrases “take on”, “take off”, “take in” and “take out”. Honesty, I could have written the key words on the whiteboard by hand and explain them orally. But I always ended up making a “deck” for the kids. The worst part was, it took me as much time to decorate the “deck” and set the animations as to prepare the content of it. Now, when looking back, I doubt how the “decks” contributed to students’ learning experience. Surely it brought some fun to our class with the colorful pictures and dazzling animations. However, I am not sure if it was a promotion of learning, or a distraction. Also, when I kept trying to make fancier “decks”, it might send students a message that they should expect impressive visual effects. Therefore, they might pay more attention to the presentation of knowledge and be increasingly hard to impress. In long term, it won’t do any good to boost students’ genuine interest in learning.
Another problem with technology in classroom is the interruption of direct interpersonal communication between learners and the instructor. When technologies are overused, they dominate the classroom and change the dynamic. Instead of interacting with each other, the instructor and learners tend to interact with the center of the class, the technologies, which does no necessarily help learning take place. I was a victim of this situation in the FI class I taught two weeks ago. It was a class of discussion, and what I was supposed to do was to ask questions and involve students to think about the reading and conduct a discussion of the topic. Feeling insecure about my English proficiency, I decided to write down all the questions I would ask on a slide and presente it on the screen. I thought that they would better understand the questions and generate brilliant ideas without suffering from my accent. However, it turned out to be the opposite. The class was deadly quiet, and the students were staring at the questions for a long time, but not thinking about them. At the moment, I felt that I was losing the control of the classroom. They were interacting with the screen, but not each other or me. I could not engage them with eye contact. The second time, when I decided not to show the slide and simply ask them questions, there was a lively human discussion. The focus went back from the technology to the students and their ideas.
Although technologies can be tricky in classroom, I still believe there are efficient ways to incorporate them in education, one of which is to assign them to students. It seems to be a tradition that the professor prepares a big thick glamorous deck and read it to students. In this case, the professor devotes a decent amount of time and energy to the presentation, while students just enjoy the visual effects. If we reverse the role and ask students to construct high-tech presentation to demonstrate their understanding of the knowledge, the dynamic will be dramatically different. For example, in UNIV 200, students need to write a research paper and present it in different media. Most students choose digital media, and their products are far beyond the imagination of many faculty members. During the process, they do not merely write a paper, but also analyze what kinds of media help present their arguments best, and how to translate written papers into the digital language. This is an effective way to use technology in education because it guarantees the central position of learners and ensure students’ involvement and achievement in the learning experience.
Coiro, J. (2009). Coiro, J. (2009). The near future for literacy in an age of rapid, technological change. Paper presented at the National Reading Conference, Albuquerque, NM. December, 2009.