Utilize Online Tools for a Better Teaching Environment

Throughout my post-secondary career, only one professor has used any kind of online media within their classes. Sure, the others used Blackboard or Desire to Learn, or some other form of Learning Management Systems (LMS), but most in a not so effective way. Most LMS are used to simply drop course documents (slides, syllabus, essay topics etc.) and not create an online collaborative classroom. In my case, I want an accessible online classroom where I can log in from anywhere in the world (learning should know no bounds) to: check in to what the weekly plan for the class is, visit some discussion boards to have a meaningful and interesting discussion with fellow classmates and my professor, check my grades and see my work marked online and maybe, if the professor is really advanced, to check out a blog or some element of gamification incorporated into the class. I enjoy my in-class sessions (mostly), but for many of my classes, there is nothing about the in-class experience that could not be replicated to an online classroom, except the personal face-to-face element. For some, that is very important, it just isn’t for me. I enjoy lectures (when the professor is passionate and interested), but I enjoy lectures a lot more when they are recorded online and I can pause, rewind (do we still say rewind?) and go back and re-listen to them as I need to understand the point being made. I want accessible learning.individualized learning

Learning for me is an on-going venture; one I never plan to stop, and it does not make any sense why the way in  which we learn seems to have taken a stand still approach. The world has changed leaps and bounds from when I first stepped into a post-secondary classroom ten years ago. We have watches that can send text messages, TVs that bring 3-D graphics into the home, and social networks that allow you to instantly share information with someone across the world. With these advancements, why can’t instructors still not utilize online systems to allow a more universal learning environment? Not only will it allow the typical student to access the information anywhere and participate at a time and location convenient for them, but it also allows alternative learners (those who don’t learn via lecture and tests) to learn in a way that fosters their learning style. Having content online allows anyone to alter it to suit their needs in a way that makes sense to them. We have an understanding that each of us is different, and each of us learns in a different way- so why do we not utilize great tools that can help each person learn their way?

We students pay a lot of money to attend post-secondary education in Canada and yet we do not get a lot of say in how we learn. It’s time we get to make an impact on our own learning experience, use tools we find helpful and have professors who have a knowledge of these tools. I want to see a more universal online approach to learning, with the same caliber of education I can get during an in-class experience.

 

 

 

Gaming, digital futures and Curtis Bonk! | Day 2 at #DEANZ14 Conference

Sara Humphreys:

Wonderful overview of a conference I am sure we all wish we could have attended!

Originally posted on Disrupt & Transform:

Last week, I managed to attend a day of the DEANZ conference, a great opportunity to catch up with those involved in research and practice related to e-learning and distance education in the schooling and tertiary sectors.

While one day couldn’t really capture the conference as a whole, there were a few takeaways for me that made me wish I’d managed all three days!

2014-05-01 09.18.58Keynote:  David Gibson – Games and Simulations

Associate Professor at Curtin University, David’s focus is in supporting university departments to further e-learning design as part of their programmes.

His keynote made some exciting (and mentally stretching!) points about the way gaming structures can enhance learning pathways. For example:

  • He…

View original 354 more words

The #CSUN13 Experience: Social Media and Accessibility

Each year the worlds of disability & technology collide at the International Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference hosted by California State Northridge University Centre on Disabilities (@CSUNCOD) at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego, California.  This year, I found myself fortunate enough to attend.

Image of my conference name tag lanyard on my Macbook keyboard as I planned out my sessions

Photo: My #CSUN13 badge of honour

I’ve been working in the ‘Accessibility field’ for almost 4 years. Much of my job as as the Adaptive Technologist with Accessibility Services involves the direct technical support of the various assistive and adaptive technologies used by the students registered with our office. Assistive / Adaptive Technologies, or ‘AT’ as it’s commonly known as, can be anything from an ‘off-the-shelf’ device that has been modified or ‘adapted’ for use by someone with a disability, to a device that has been designed specifically with disability in mind to enhance or maintain that person’s abilities.

I became aware of the conference affectionately known as CSUN about a year and a half ago while following a couple of the regular conference-goers on Twitter. After a week of following the hashtag #CSUN12 on Twitter during the conference last year, it was obvious that this was the place where technical ‘accessiblistas’ gather. The conference has developed quite a reputation for showcasing the the latest and greatest improvements, developments and research in web, technical and educational accessibility. I had to go.

My plans came into fruition (a big thank you Trent University) and a simple tweet mid-January of this year announcing that “#CSUN13 was a go”, with #CSUN13 being the hashtag used on Twitter to aggregate all CSUN 2013 related information, immediately connected me to others who were heading to the same event and the networking began. It turns out, there was quite a Canadian contingent represented at the conference, notably many from the GTA who travelled upon the ‘CSUN Express’ on Air Canada Flight 777 direct to San Diego the day before the official start of the conference.

So there I was, sitting at a patio table by the bay in late February less than two hours after my flight landed in sunny San Diego. I was surrounded by a dozen or so individuals, all of whom I had just met in person for the first time. Web developers, project managers in the financial sector, private accessibility consultants and even a federal government employee with authoring expertise on Section 508 (America’s Rehabilitation Act, specifically, how federal agencies make their electronic & information technology accessible to those with disabilities). Companies like Wells Fargo, RBC, Scotia Bank, Paypal, Nuance, CGI, oh, and myself from Trent University, all represented at this table. It was shortly after this photo was taken that things really started to sink in: this whole ‘accessibility thing’ is far bigger and further reaching than I had ever imagined. #CSUN13 was off to a great start.

Photo of CSUN conference attendees on the Patio at Sally's in San Diego.

Photo: Patio in February? Done. via George Zamfir (@good_wally)

The A11Y Community makes this an exciting time to be working in the accessibility field. ‘A11Y’ is the abbreviated numeronym for computer accessibility with the ’11’ in ‘a11y’ representing the number of characters missing in the full word ‘Accessibility’. It should come as no surprise that social media is at the heart of flourishing communities, and the a11y community is no exception. I’d make the argument that if you’re not actively plugged-into or following the current discussions and trends in your profession (be it social networks like Twitter, discussion forums or blogs) you are missing out on some of the best professional development opportunities available. On the social media front, I should mention, searching Twitter for posts tagged with #a11y is a great way to find current trends and hot-topics related to technical & web accessibility for ALL users, regardless of disability or level of impairment.

I was able to attend two separate tweet-up’s while at the conference. The general conference tweet-up that brought together all ‘socially-minded’ conference goers for an informal face-to-face networking opportunity, and a tweet-up hosted by the Make WordPress Accessible community that brought together developers & users aiming to improve the accessibility of Themes used in WordPress. WordPress is a popular content-management system that powers many websites and blogs, such as the Digital Communitas site here. Themes change the ‘look and feel’ of a particular site, much like a design template in Microsoft Office. Most WordPress themes are created by freelance developers, and quite often lack the accessibility features that are required for users of screen reading & assistive technology. The Make WordPress Accessible community was created to promote the awareness of the need for accessible WordPress Themes, and equipping the developers of Themes with the resources needed to create themes with accessibility in mind.

 Picture, shot from the hallway at the WordPress Accessibility tweet-up

Photo: A shot from the back of the room at the WordPress Accessibility Tweet-up at #CSUN13

The reality is, that while the web seeks to be a collaborative and unifying place for all, it still remains inaccessible to many. It’s the tireless and relentless force of a11y community that aims to change this by increasing awareness of the issues and changing the habits of those involved in the creation process. I heard a great deal of discussion during sessions and informally around the topic of ‘Responsible Design’ and holding yourself accountable for not only the quality, but accessibility the end result. Everyone at every level (R&D, developers, project managers, user experience & interface designers, etc.) is a stakeholder in the accessibility of a product, application or website. An excellent analogy I heard was that of baking chocolate chip cookies and thinking of accessibility as the chocolate chips. Adding the chocolate chips in after the cookies have baked is not the same as adding them in during the appropriate mixing step. Accessibility as an afterthought or ‘add-on’ should not (and can not) continue to exist for the betterment and advancement of an inclusive web experience for all.

Technology continues to change and enrich the lives of its users. While this is true regardless of ability, it is especially true for those who as a result of their disability, rely on it for routine activities. Have you ever witnessed, first hand, someone without vision navigate a computer interface using only a keyboard, shortcut commands and screen-reading software? How about using an iPhone with the screen off and utilizing gesture based accessibility navigational shortcuts and using the dictation & text-to-speech abilities of Apple’s digital assistant ‘Siri’ to read and reply to messages and navigate the web? It’s extraordinarily impressive, encouraging, and a testament to the efforts of those in the accessibility industry to create products useful for everyone.

Photo of the vendor trade show (Microsoft booth) at the 2013 CSUN conference.

Photo: The Microsoft booth, one of many vendors represented at the showcase during the CSUN conference.

The CSUN conference also plays host to vendor exhibits in a ‘trade-show’ style setup where companies showcased their latest and greatest assistive technologies and services. It was an impressive setup with many, many vendors and cutting edge assistive technologies, but I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by not only the vast number of products that seemed similar, but the exorbitant cost associated with many of these technologies. Take, for example, one of the magnification systems commonly used by those with low vision. They can, at best, be described as a ‘digital camera on a stick that attach to an external LCD monitor’ yet some have price-tags upwards of $2500 (!) attached to them. It’s unfortunate that costly AT equipment often adds another layer of ‘inaccessibility’ to many.

When the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) was drafted back in 2005, it created the framework for an inclusive province where no matter what a person’s ability, they could fully participate in life within the province of Ontario. Such legislation does not (yet) exist elsewhere in Canada, nor does it exist in the US. While much can be said about our government’s dedication to and  efficacy (or lack thereof) in enforcing the AODA, the spirit of an inclusive province remains. As an Ontarian attending this conference, it was encouraging to hear the AODA brought up on a number of occasions as an example in positive light. Way to go Ontario.

I made a conscious effort when planning my schedule to attend sessions across the multiple conference streams to make sure I got an excellent variety of technical, theoretical and practical take-aways. The hardest part of choosing the sessions was knowing there were other sessions running simultaneously that were just as interesting.  I heard of blind instructors controlling classroom technology via gesture-based commands on touch panels with audio output at NC State University, and saw employees from Google demonstrate latest developments in accessibility across the Google suite of applications including Apps for Education, YouTube captioning and Android. I saw Mozilla demonstrate their brand new mobile operating system, and showcase the accessibility in their Firefox browser. I listened in on expert panels discuss breeding accessibility into the corporate culture, explain some of the fundamentals of accessible rich-internet applications, and how to develop accessibility in IT policies, procedures and practices. What a wealth of information, and in all honesty, complete information overload.

When the sessions came to a close on Friday evening, and things started to wrap up, I found myself struggling to comprehend what all had just transpired those last 3 days. A month later, it’s still somewhat hazy, and I’m still processing the events of #CSUN13. What is clear, is that I departed Toronto not entirely sure what I was heading into, my wildest expectations were completely shattered and I returned home with a new-found appreciation, awareness and desire for promoting the for the world of technical accessibility. Overwhelmingly positive conference experience? I’d say so.

Public Feeling and Iconic Images: Mass Cultural Exhibitionism?

Co-authored by Sara Humphreys

 

“Kent State Murder”

Type it into Google and a number of images, websites, and blogs will come up, along with the Neil Young song above.   The historical moment is repeated, consistently, through images and through the circulation of these images on the internet and through other mediums.  Digital culture has canonized this moment of grief and loss.  It has canonized the moment of turmoil and fear that shook America when the Kent State tragedy was publicized in newspapers and broadcast on the news days after former President Nixon announced that American troops would be invading Cambodia, as a side mission to help “success” in Vietnam.  When students protested Nixon’s decision to invade Cambodia, Nixon ordered the National Guard to restore order on Kent State campus and the result was that four student were shot and killed and many more were injured (Hariman and Lucaites in No Caption Needed:Iconic Photographs, Public Culture, and Liberal Democracy).  The iconic image of a young woman wailing over the dead body of her friend, who lies flat on the sidewalk, has become one of the most circulated images of the 1960s and is symbolic of this historical period.

Iconic images are felt individually, but often have a social function as well.  I was wondering how images circulated through digital media affect users differently, since digital media users are exposed to a plethora of images on the internet.  Whether advertisements (which often plague the internet), video, film, memes, GIFs, etc, images are everywhere.  I am using Kent State as an example.  In education, especially in history and historical research, photos are primary evidence that can be used to better understand a particular time.  Historical moments like Kent State resound through historical, literary, and sociological research.  Kent State is the epitome of student subjugation and the image is still circulated widely in universities.  What is more, the image also serves as an excellent example of cultural exhibitionism – something that the digital generation is very practiced at.  Since it is so circulated, does it affect us anymore?  Rather, should it affect us anymore?  ?  Sometimes the line between the real and the digital gets blurred.

The technology we use surrounds us like a fishbowl, surrounding us with a false sense of agency and knowledge.  The internet is another world, one of which, according to Geoffrey Nunberg in his article “Farewell to the Information Age,” “promises to disrupt this process [between sender and receiver]“.  It is a mediation ground that sharply increases the proportion of writers to readers.  There is far more content being produced than actually read, since it has become so easy to produce content on blogs, youtube, and elsewhere (518).  Images like “Kent State” become memes and, through this hyper-reproductive process, I wonder if they lose their meaning.  I weave Nunberg’s article in here because he talks about how the internet affects how readers use information:

“On the Web, that is, you can never have the kind of experience that you can have with the informational genres of print, the experience of interpreting a text simply as a newspaper or encyclopedia article without attending to its author, it publisher, or the reliability of its recommender.  We read Web documents [including images] not as information but as intelligence, which requires an explicit warrant of one form or another” (519-520).

So, we read the Kent State murder differently on the net than we read it in another medium (such as in the book I am reading now).  Since information on the net comes from a dynamic set of sources (some good, some bad) readers have to pry through information to find good sources.  The internet makes information casual, including something as iconic as Kent State.  I use Nunberg’s article in this post because Nunberg’s article disagrees that the internet will overtake print as the key source of information.  Although he acknowledges that we are in the digital age, he states that the information age still holds a strong influence on how we gather, share, and learn information through a variety of mediums.  In fact, without the groundwork that this age, the digital age would simply not be.  It is clear that humans cannot exist without sharing information using all sorts of language.  Digital technology simply presents a new means of sharing, one that interweaves a multitude of languages and mediums.  Digital technology shows the evolution of language technologies.   Kent State becomes a narrative that is accessible through a variety of these technologies.  We can access it through video, music, scholarly articles, and journalistic accounts.  The single event becomes accessible through the medium of choice and the reader can see how social this event actually was.

This brings me to a key point in this post.  I noticed that in No Caption Needed, Hariman and Lucaites write about iconic photographs from the early-to-middle twentieth century.  What makes a photo “iconic” seems to be linked to this age, when photos were circulated only through certain networks.  The general public was at the whim of journalists and news corporations, who presented certain images that would attract readers to a story.  In the introduction of their book, Hariman and Lucaites provide an extensive definition of what they mean by “iconic.”  I include part of this definition below:

Iconic photographs provide an accessible and centrally positioned set of images for exploring how political action (and inaction) can be constituted and controlled though visual media . . . . These images were obviously highly specific objects of memory and admiration, yet also somehow abstract representations whose value was far more symbolic than referential, and more a public art form than objects for connoisseurship (5-6).

Photojournalism played a major role in chronicling the twentieth century, the age of information.  However, we are now in the digital age.  Information is no longer as sacred, or rare, as it used to be.  We no longer share only through specific ways (i.e. phone; photograph) or through specific cultural practices (i.e. story-telling; conversation).  We now share through all these ways in a very abstract fashion.  Information is everywhere and the internet has made society a network (or networks) of information.  We are on a constant, continuous search for it.

How does this effect what it means to be “iconic”?  Is anything “iconic” anymore?  9/11 puts the concept of “iconic” into question, since 9/11 was a recent moment in history that transformed the world in countless ways.  While reading No Caption Needed, I kept thinking of the “Falling Man” image (below).  I have always had a difficult time looking at the image.  In fact, the immediate emotional response is that of nausea and vertigo.  The image captures a moment of complete loss.  An inescapable fall into nothingness.  No Hollywood ending.  The jumper could not escape the fire in the tower and was forced to make a terrible decision.  The “Falling Man”  invokes terror and pathos in those who view it or perhaps macabre glee, but in any case, affect is generated and will do so because this photo is digitally rendered – available for all to view at will.  Perhaps authenticity comes into question when something is seen so many times that the viewer is desensitized to its effect.

Yet, the “Falling Man” seems to still have an effect.   The image also functions as a symbol of national loss; therefore, it functions for nationalistic purposes.  This, according to Hariman and Lucaites, is crucial in the definition of “iconic”: its function for political gain (18).

So, is it “iconic”?  Somewhat.  The digital age, especially the advances in digital technology that were to follow 9/11, has allowed for mass circulation of images and video.  The “Falling Man” has become an iconic image, perhaps the first and last one, of the digital age.  Yet, it also remains among the company of many digitally circulated images and video which have been diluted of their meaning.  They are viewed by so many that it eventually becomes difficult to tell where and when this photo was taken.   Perhaps the image represents the subversion of political meaning.  The photo/video of the “Falling Man” transcends beyond a political purpose nowadays.  It cannot function to support a particular party, nation, or ideology.  The image transcends its iconic potential, since it deals with complete loss.  It deals with death.  In this way it is similar to the Kent State image.  Both situations show tragedy.  In the Kent State photograph, this tragedy functioned to ignite opposition to the Nixon government, the war in Vietnam, and the invasion of Cambodia.  The “Falling Man” was used to justify the invasion of Iraq in 2001; however, in 2012, the image is reluctant to show the support of any violence.  It is a still frame of potential devastation.  What happened to the “Falling Man” is not known.  The “Falling Man” does not bestow a nationalistic identity, even though it brings together a nation in trauma.  Due to its mass circulation – a symptom alone of how fascinating, yet ubiquitous, the image is – the “Falling Man” is an image of an uncertain fate, which America faced at the time and still faces.  Perhaps an uncertain identity is the new identity of the digital age.

Don Tapscott on Post-Secondary Possibilities and the Net Gen

Co-authored by Sara Humphreys

When we began the this site and the project, our group was uncertain where to really begin.  There were so many questions.  How do we define what we are doing?  What are we doing?  The research my colleagues and I have done has provided as many questions as answers.  Work by author, consultant, and technology expert, Don Tapscott’s has influenced my contributions to this site, in particular his focus on the Net Generation (NetGen) and digital (digitized?) education.  Therefore, the decision to ask Don to contribute to the site was as necessary as it was easy. Don very kindly provided insightful comments on how education is evolving to better instruct and teach the Net Gen and why this evolution must happen. Feel free to check out Don’s full answers in a prezi located on the main page or check out the highlights in this post (or do both!):

To start, here is an insightful and perhaps incendiary comment from Don:

“One of the biggest reasons student abandon classrooms in secondary and post-secondary education is that they’re bored”

Whoa. I can hear feathers ruffling…or perhaps sabers rattling? It’s an easy equation: students +classroom = boredom.  Students yawning, drooling, chatting, texting are all common images and the student is often cast as the bad guy in this scenario.  However, Tapscott makes a crucial point in the above quotation.  Students are bored – not because they dislike the material, but because the classroom environment does not suit the way they learn.  The Net Gen grows up surrounded by technology of a variety of mediums.  What is more, students are attracted to using new technology that offers knowledge at a rapid rate and in exciting forms. Students sit with their tablets, laptops, and superphones watching video, listening to music, reading text, and performing their networked selves. All of this multimodality opens up a whole new world of learning for these students. How can a classroom with a teacher lecturing at the front of the classroom with slides and maybe one or two videos measure up?

Tapscott’s main argument is that students grow up in a multi-networked environment, where background noise from technology is normal.  The Net Gen is cognitively different from previous generations.  They are used to distraction, but are not always distracted from the task at hand – they just process it differently.  Tapscott argues that it is the criteria of what is considered distraction that needs to change, not so much the student.  The student is a product of an environment enriched by digital media and once they enter into a classroom, which often functions using the traditional “Industrial Model,” they are at a loss (for a short video on the deficiencies of the Industrial model of education by Sir Ken Robinson, click here).

“[T]he evidence shows that giving students laptops, for example, can free the teacher to introduce a new way of learning that’s more natural for kids who have grown up digital at home”

Laptops in the class give the student freedom to explore and record (through typing and actual recording) the information provided..  Social media use is another thing: students will often flip from facebook to twitter and then look up what an instructor is discussing – all in a matter of seconds. Are students learning or are they distracted? Don says students are learning, but in a new way: students are taking the information they receive in class and expanding on it, which brings into question the efficiency and efficacy of traditional teaching methods. What if students can learn to teach themselves?  The role of the teacher/instructor/professor could change since they no longer would be the centre of all knowledge, but a distributor of knowledge that can be explored further using technology.  Educators have to become guides to a network of information rather than gatekeepers to one way of knowing.  Don states that the educator is similar to TV (a legacy medium – how about that folks?): both are forms of one-way communication.

“Youth today are abandoning one-way TV for the higher stimulus of interactive communication they find on the Internet. Sitting mutely in front of a TV set–or a professor –doesn’t appeal to or work for this generation. They learn best through non-sequential, interactive, asynchronous, multi-tasked and collaborative activities. Digital immersion at a formative stage of life has affected their brain development and consequently the way they think and learn.”

It is simple: we teach how we learn.  Therefore, the student and educator divide will be present until the educator is capable of learning the way their students do. This divide is also apparent in the private sector:

“If companies don’t respond appropriately, Net Geners will start their own corporations”

Don further states that this generation is a “Global Generation,” which have five main qualities: “norms for freedom, customization, collaboration, integrity and innovation.” Further, the “Global Generation” (or Net Gen) is a generation who wants to know why, not just how.  The knowledge of why is the power that they harness when they are creating the next world for both past and future generations.  Net Gen is a generation that will bring profound change, but it will be in bytes.  Gradually, the world will look back to the world these digital natives have created and realize that enormity of change that has occurred in several decades, not several centuries.

And digital technologies are the tools for this change. It’s clear that if academia wants to “train” youth for the future, then academia needs to respond appropriately or NetGeners may bypass university entirely or, more likely, educate themselves.

Thank you to Don Tapscott and Kejina Robinson of the Tapscott Group.  Both provided us with truly useful information.

Twitter Me Impressed or Why We Are Not the “Dumbest Generation”

One of the most intriguing faculties in the realm of the Digital Humanities I’ve discovered is that this loose and baggy discipline seems to span an innumerable number of disciplines. Today in Toronto’s Public Reference Library, I sat in a cubby with a stack of no less than ten books, spanning New Media Studies, Literature, Philosophy, and even pithy dentist-office-sensational-titled nonfiction studies like The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Why you shouldn’t trust anyone under 30), by Mark Baurlain. But I’ll get to that piece of…”writing” later.

Coalescing between these multiple disciplines is the differentiation between the cultures of reading & critiquing (consuming) more situated in the 20th century, and the building & making (producing) of the 21st. It is not my attempt to set up a dichotomy, rather acknowledge a difference social participation congruent throughout many texts and theorists speaking to the Digital Age.

In his introduction to a digital humanities reader, Debates in the Digital Humanities, Matthew K. Gold references three-minute plenary speech by Stephen Ramsay at the Modern Languages Association Conference in 2011, that would go on to spur controversy.

Ramsay stated that those who are truly involved in the Digital Humanities (DH) needed to construct and therefore had to know some sort of coding or programming language. I am not sure how in-depth he meant (how about rudimentary HTML, Steve?), but the point was that digital literacy in the humanities means more than knowing how to use MS Office. But Ramsay’s speech (what is it with people named “Ramsay” and controversy?) brings up an interesting questions for the directions DH research needs to take.

Gold goes on to provide an introduction with plenty of probing questions for DH scholarship. Has what was formerly New Media Studies become the Digital Humanities? Does the Digital Humanities need theory? Does the Digital Humanities have politics? Is it accessible to all members of the profession? Do social media platforms like Twitter trivialize the Digital Humanities professional discourse?

I’m going to pause and address this one, because I have seen it surface again and again, as a quipping newspaper headline quivering in its ad revenue boots from the threat that ‘print is over’, to thinly veiled patronizing head pat-ernalism from a clumsy radio commentator, to all varieties of dress up dress down entry points to discussion ‘this young generation’.

As a literature major, and someone not quite 30, it irked me to hear a CBC program discussing the nomination of the graphic novel Essex County in Canada Reads 2011, wherein a participant in the broadcast chuckling reflected on the genre of the graphic novel as something of the ‘Tweet of literature.’ Turning two emergent genres and platforms for narrative and theorizing against each other in such a belittling, unintelligible fashion, is an increasingly common grating of gears meddling with the media presented to our younger generations.

But where exactly is all this coming from? In a body of worked entitled “Technoromanticism‘, (a term coined by Stephen Barron) Richard Coyne explores the pragmatics of cyberspace by discussing the ways in which narratives derived from the Enlightenment and Romantic periods speak situationally; how “every attempt is being made to consign the Enlightenment to the realms of the other, to render it strange and unfamiliar” (180).

In Bauerlein’s sensationalizing study, he balks at a hypothetical ‘Susie’ and her proud parents, beaming with her ability to navigate a multiplicity of media concurrently, but failure to exact the knowledge of what the Soviet Union was. He examines with a quick brush and silver hair ‘the minds of youth’ as negatively influenced by the fleet of digital media that clutter our bedrooms, with the presence of books themselves merely being bookends. Our intellects (assuming we have any) and our physical spaces are a set up of distraction. He attempts to explain in his interview with reason.tv, his distrust of the younger generation as something of a failure on our part, to utilize ‘technology,’ to return to these ideas of mastery, connected in former assemblies of knowledge. However, in his explanation, he demonstrates in himself instead a lack of understanding of the technological objects he (at times improperly) names. At 1:05 seconds he begins to explain that these tools are not used to ‘progress’ ourselves, to go to museums, to learn, to engage. He explains Facebook as something of a Lyceum, where we’d all rather smoke pot and compare hairstyles. But what about our education in school – are we directed to the Smithsonian Institution website? Or has he actually been to Buzzfeed? There’s smart stuff on there, Mark, mixed in with news about “catz.” In other words, maybe this is a failure of the classroom and not so much the user?

Through my apparently feeble-minded Facebooking fingertips, I  turn your attention to the Twitter account of Kim Kierkegaardashian, and reflect on what we’ve already introduced here on the work of Don Tapscott.

There is a fear that is permeating, not strictly located in older generations, but among common publics discouraged by technology and digital media, and that is a fissure, or “trauma” as Coyne posits, from this shift in the comfort of understanding time through a past and future. A ‘networked self’, Papacharissi explains, is always all the time negotiating sites of production and construction of self, and the suggestion of Facebook as a ‘distraction’ is a myth.

Digital Media and Transformation of the Essay

Digital Technology and Hybrid Essay Format

One of the purposes of this site is to show that there are other ways of learning over and above standardized methods (like an instructor reading from slides or, worse, a textbook. if you do this: stop – stop it now).  The essay format has been a stand-by in the humanities and social sciences.  Professors swear by it and it has been institutionalized as a trustworthy way of accessing writing skills and critical thinking.  From high school on, students write essays every year and continue these habits as they enter into post-secondary school, regardless of the discipline they enter.  This post will focus on how and why the essay format is changing to accommodate the different modes of presenting a thesis and the arguments that support it. Digital communication is changing the way we interpret and argue, not just the way we learn.

The Law of Identity: Challenging Strict Structure

Active Vs. Passive Voice: There is an emoticon for that.

A thesis is a thesis is a thesis.  A thesis argues a point, like this “essay” is currently attempting.  Students are encouraged to support these points with arguments and conclude them very neatly our essays.  Essays are not simple, but they have a simplified format that instructs students to present information in a structured, logical way: topic, thesis, body, conclusion.  The essay structure has been institutionalized – or shall I say, burned into students’ minds – since high school.  It does have many benefits, including the following:

  •  the essay teaches students to make an interpretation of the texts studied
  •  the essay teaches students how to research and present research in a logical manner
  •  by making a solid claim, the student is learning to have a voice and opinion on what they study.
  • grammar and literacy improves

What else?  Actually, the criteria of essays is pretty straightforward.  It can also be very narrow.  The essay does not always encourage students to explore a topic fully because of the strictures placed by format and structure.  Also, due dates force students to adhere to a structure and essay plan.  After completing essay after essay, the structure is bound to weaken.  However, digital media is changing this.  First, let’s brain-storm how:

  •  the essay format is adapting to incorporate digital media into its structure.  For example, online scholarly databases and journals provide excellent sources of information that is both factual and theoretical.
  • the essay format is being presented on different mediums other than print: online essays, including those on blogs, are providing an innovative new way of presenting information
  • the essay format is changing its traditional structure to include different ways of expressing a central argument (example: images, hyperlinks, podcasts, etc)

The essay format is becoming a product of the digital culture.  With more research online nowadays, students are encouraged to include multimedia in their essays.  This allows for a hybrid presentation of knowledge with the addition of web content for extra information and a more in-depth analysis of a particular topic.  The pros of this are many, one of which is that the transformation of the essay has resulted in a far more interesting product.  Scholarly sources become conversations, not merely one-way, or one-dimensional, presentations.  The essay format is becoming multi-mediated from so many sources – the sources of which most people, whether in higher education or not, are familiar with.

So, am I suggesting that the scholarly essay may be available to the many individuals – a widespread allowance into the information of scholarly institutions?  Although the internet enables students access to previously inaccessible content, copyright laws maintain a stronghold over the rights of academic material.  In “An Empirically Grounded Framework To Guide Blogging In Higher Education,” G. Conole, et al. includes an earnest assessment of some of the drawbacks of blogging, such as the difficulty in getting students completing them.  The article looks at how blogs are often stereotyped as a leisure activity. Conole specifically notes that students are more concerned about the purpose of doing a blog: “the ideals of educators can be difficult to put into practice.  From the student’s perspective there are two fundamental questions they ask themselves about blogs: “why would I want one?” . . . “what’s in it for me?” . . students need to develop a purpose for blogging that is clear to benefit them” (Conole An Empirically Grounded Framework To Guide Blogging In Higher Education).  So, unlike essays, which carry an academic authority due to a long-standing tradition within academia, blogs still struggle with legitimacy.  Conole makes an interesting point, when he states that the blog presents a blurring of the private and public.  The blogger is autonomous over their blog and can network with who they wish; however, it also puts them on a public platform.  The student interacts with a more public stage during their assignment, including their peers.  Blogging allows them to construct knowledge for themselves and not just adhere to a format and strict set of requirements.  Conole does recognize that when students do complete blogs, they find that they have gained many skills that writing an essay does not allow them to gain.  The study also admits to some negatives with blogging, including the finding that 7 out of 9 bloggers eventually use a routine format after blogging.

So is a blog just a blog just a blog?  Or is there uniqueness to each one?  Simply put, blogs allow for the exploration of content that does not exclude other forms of communication, including other types of media.

PhD candidate Melonie Fullick of York University states her article, entitled “Becoming Prof 2.0“:

meritocracy, the notion that achievements are determined by individual merit rather than by a complex of factors (some of which are beyond our personal control), is a concept that is crucial to academic culture and the operational logic of academe itself.  Because students internalize the idea that their success is dependent on this narrow notion of merit, they often blame themselves if they “fail” to perform adequately during the PhD.  They might be reluctant to speak out about problems, since usually no one else is doing so, and they might feel they are revealing personal inadequacies, rather than bringing to light systemic flaw.

Fullick upgrades this essay’s argument.  What about graduate-level education and the transformation of the essay format and the use of digital media as a means to transform of the curriculum?  Fullick admits that narrow definitions of success are plaguing the university curriculum and giving students at all levels a false estimation of success.  Estimating success based on merit, which itself is dependent on arbitrary factors determined by individuals or a committee, can often cost students a great deal, not only in terms of the financial implications, but also affect them in more personal ways.  Faculty who wish to change how they learn and how their students learn often hit a brick wall that has been constructed by those outside of the classroom.  So, challenging curriculum and methodology can be dangerous to some extent.

However, how does an institution evolve?  How does anything evolve, really.

The issue of digital media in the classroom cannot be ignored.  Digital media is changing the way we learn and why we learn.  Its implications on the basic learning styles, including the academic essay, are open to interpretation and opinion, but cannot be ignored.