Friday, February 4, 2011

Doing Real Stuff

I was recently chatting with another English professor from a different university who is also reading Kelly’s book, and he said, “The idea of technology and people as an almost symbiotic evolutionary force is quite engaging, and I wonder what the implications of that argument are for us in education... what do you think?”

He presented a very curious question, but I only saw a few references in the text that approach the subject. Ultimately, I think Kelly’s overall message is that we shouldn’t shun technology because of its potential risks, but rather we should embrace new technologies in order to learn about them, and assess harmful possibilities—in order to make solid evaluations of their use and effectiveness. Perhaps this concept could impact education by demonstrating the value of at least testing new technologies, while negating the holistic approach of rejection. 

On page 230, Kelly does speak about education in a brief reference to his interactions with Leon, the Amish man, where he asked about the goodness of Amish life. He mentions the fact that Amish schooling only goes up until 8th grade, as he inquires about the value in such limited education. Leon replies, “hormones kick in around the ninth grade, and boys, and even some girls, don’t just want to sit at desks and do paperwork. They need to use their hands as well as their heads, and they ache to be useful. Kids learn more doing real things at that age.” Kelly goes on to note that, “When I was a teen I wish I had been ‘doing real stuff’ instead of being holed up in a stuffy high school classroom.”

I sort of liken that to the notion of online and multimedia composition in learning. The educational process is taken into the students’ hands, and we, as teachers, need to be allowing and teaching them how to “do real stuff”. For me that includes utilizing multiple modalities with every opportunity possible, in order to appeal to multiple senses, and therefore engage multiple types of learners. In reference to digital literacies,  we as English teachers can and should encourage our students to "do real stuff" in order to optimize the experience of the writing process.

1 comment:

  1. A couple of quick thoughts, Grace:

    Depending upon how broadly we are willing to define technology, teaching can become thoroughly and unavoidably technological. Techne- (as craft) -logic (knowledge or schema) is what makes teaching possible, or so goes one line of reasoning here. A couple of years ago I was doing some reading on style (i.e., prose style), and I found a passage where Ross Winterowd said something like "style is a technology for teaching writing." I think he meant that noticing and studying features of texts and their effects is, in effect, craft-like or technological. That idea has lasted with me in fairly productive, generative ways.

    While I agree with the professor you cite that Kelly's ideas are engaging, I find myself pushing back against the book for how little he brings to bear on the issue of human-technology co-evolution. Given that he is developing a theory of human-machine symbiosis, I find it odd that he doesn't turn to cybernetics, distributed cognition, or the idea of cyborgs (or hybrids), for that matter. There has been quite a bit written about these views of human-computer entanglement, but Kelly seems to me to sidestep much of it. Yet he does mention in the book how much he read. He says something similar in the opening minute of his Bookotron interview about how he wanted to "reword and popularize" existing technology theories, but "it turned out that there was no theory of technology." This strikes me as such a problematic assertion that I had to listen to it more than once to make sure it is in fact what he said.

    We'll continue this semester to turn from the broad and speculative theoretical framework posed by Kelly toward more focused pedagogical considerations. In that sense, this question you ask is well timed. We'll begin to see responses taking shape already in Selber's book.