In her post, “Is the WWW useful without a negotiation between databases?”, cstelman reflects on the ways in which the searchability of the internet is intrinsically linked to its usefulness. She posits Google as a sort of database of the internet, through which we can search and locate what we need. Furthermore, she highlights how websites such as wikisource, with their annotated, hyperlinked editions, create their own form of database to create an edition of a text that is both internal and external. These ideas, along with her nostalgic, parenthetical remark recalling Alta Vista, has sparked some thoughts about the past of the WWW, and its future.
My generation is the first generation to have the internet at our fingertips throughout our entire post-secondary education (although in my residence room at Brock University in 2008 there was no wifi – which shows just how quickly things change). I cannot imagine attending university without the internet, yet it often seems like professors are nostalgic for the days when student’s did not have technology so readily available. The constant pedagogical debates about technology in the classroom, coupled with harshly worded undergraduate policies on “appropriate” use of technology in the classroom, shows that there needs to be a conversation about the role of the digital in the humanities classroom. Having been both an educator and a student, I realize that professors and instructors are up against a host of distractions that come with the technology their faculty suggest they use. Instead of constantly blaming the students for being distracted (on Facebook, Instagram, etc..), I think technology in the classroom simply places the onus back on instructors. Student engagement is a large part of teaching, and the more engaged students are, the more likely they are to remain undistractable. Furthermore, if a student can get away with being on Facebook through every lecture of the course and still pass, perhaps instructors need to increase the level of difficulty. If, across the board of academe, students realized they could not pass their courses while surfing the WWW, I imagine they would taper their use of the internet in class.
Furthermore, using technology in the classroom is not simply posting readings online. Shifting the medium from paper to screen, does not mean you are teaching with technology. Symtext is a company founded to “make it easy for universities, colleges, and businesses to offer learners the ideal of mix of instructional materials”. Their company essentially creates a blended media, digital course pack of not only textual articles and chapters, but also multi-media (i.e. video, podcasts, prezi’s, etc…). They also take this digital space further, by creating a section for “self-authored and student-generated content”. This opportunity shows that symtext has realized the fluidity of the digital coursepack, as student work can be added anytime – the coursepack can be consistently changed to suit course needs. In addition, this section puts some responsibility on the students to use and embrace the aspects that the digital medium offers, which physical textbooks cannot. For example, students are able to annotate readings in a way that either allows others in the class to view their notes, or not. This would be extremely helpful when doing a course reading for a presentation, as all students could read the presenters notes along with the article to direct their attention to the points the discussion would be covering. This seems to me, like it would lead to lucrative and generative classroom discussion.
Do you think Symtext would work in practice? Should we focusing more attention on finding the positive effects of technology in the post-secondary classroom?
For more on this topic, see Symtext’s “The New Learning: Digital Technologies and Post-Secondary Education”