Classroom Technology and the Changing Role of the Teacher - Part II

How much knowledge can your hard drive store?

 

A lot of this is already happening in our humanities classrooms today. It starts even before one enters the classroom, as students are informed about a day’s lecture well in advance. They are given a lesson plan and readings through a mailing list which ensures that everyone is on the same page regarding a particular lecture. This gives you ample time to come prepared for what is actually about to happen in the class and not just what one hopes will happen in the class.

Thus streamlined, the student acquires greater control over the learning process and is no longer a passive recipient in the classroom. What is interesting is that this approach does not render the lecture formulaic or predestined, especially in a humanities scenario. As one has foreknowledge of the lesson plan, one can read around it before the class and thus add valuable, individuated inputs to the discussion. These unplanned interventions do inspire the class to take stock of fresh ideas, indulge in thinking on one’s feet and keep the class environment fresh and vibrant. This is also beneficial for the teacher, who does not have to repeat the same things from the same set of notes over and over again, year after year, to the point of indifference. This spontaneity is further enhanced by the presence of multimedia projection devices and an internet connection in the classroom.

No longer does the teacher have to tell the students to look something up after the class, as the said resource can be pulled up instantaneously for all to see. This makes learning more comprehensive and broad-based as the topic under consideration is placed in its context – not a carefully manicured one, but as a pregnant, organic space buzzing with activity. Demonstration, which until now was only reserved for science classrooms and laboratories or field work in the case of social sciences, can now be fully integrated in the humanities paradigm. This is a positive development for the study of literature and culture as a whole, as the very definition of “text” – the raw material for study and analysis has expanded manifold to include virtually everything. This experience has been shared by classrooms in schools in different parts of the world as well. Talking about her experience of incorporation artwork in a literature class through the SMART board, Laura Rochette writes in the essay “What Classroom Technology has Taught Me about Curriculum, Teaching and Infinite Possibilities” :

I began to draw and annotate on the image itself, demonstrating the analysis and adding to the discussion, giving the students more to think about as they saw the visual representation of collaborative discussion appear. We were ‘close reading’ the painting, looking at the ‘story’ but also the painting’s perspective, light, shadow, color, line, and composition, and the students-even the quiet ones-were engaged with the visual in a way that was palpably different than if we had had just a poem or the photocopy of the art in front of us on our desks.
— Laura Rochette(p. 45)

Another development worth taking a look at is the digital availability of the written word. Not only does this considerably lessen the financial burden upon the students to buy course books and other reference material but it also allows for a much greater number of texts or excerpts from texts to be seamlessly integrated into the curriculum. This democratises access to knowledge to a very high degree and therefore scholarly works can now step out of the academic bubble, go out into the real world and have a realistic chance of being utilised. This possible impact of academic work goes far beyond the cherished impact factor of journals which pride themselves on their exclusivity and limited circulation. Free access is a great example of throwing off the stasis that engulfs academia and can be seen comparable to the crossing of thresholds made possible by the advent of the printing press. It is not surprising that one of the biggest projects aimed at making the printed word freely accessible to one and all over the internet is named after Gutenberg. The possibility of highlighting on-the-go and adding notes to the digital version of the text further dents the conventional pedagogy of the seismic note-making.

Another example of how digitisation of the text is changing the paradigms of humanities education can be seen in the Digital Variants Project which makes available on its website a number of drafts of an author’s work. This is accompanied by the variants in the text, highlighted and linked by hypertext, as well as sound recordings of interviews with the authors; the text transcriptions can also be compared to the manuscripts in digital format. Not only does this approach allow the reader to have a look at materials hitherto inaccessible and impossible to provide in a print edition, it also enables the user to get under the skin of the author by looking at the decisions made by the author during the writing process. This invaluable insight enables learning on multiple levels. More importantly, the IT resources become an integral part of the learning process and not just tools by the wayside. By assimilating a whole set of data that would normally only be available to the most determined researcher, this approach is taking scholarship to a far wider community.

Moving on, technology has also helped to clamp down on the scourge of plagiarism (yes, my views regarding this issue have changed over time) with the advent of tools such as Turnitin which create a percentage rating for academic papers by scanning through them. This percentage rating leaves a margin for quotes and writing idiosyncrasies, use of cliches etc. to assist the evaluator in a way in which they can concentrate on the content of the paper and not its authenticity.

The next big development in classroom technology has been that of online courses offered by both real and virtual universities to millions of people around the world. All you need to take theses Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) is a device with a half-decent internet connection. Web platforms such as Coursera, Khan Academy, MIT OpenCourseware, Udemy etc. are making quality education accessible to everyone around the world and free of cost. My first experience with taking one of these MOOCs was in 2012 when I enrolled in a course titled, “An Introduction to Philosophy” offered by the University of Edinburgh on Coursera. I thought I had stumbled upon something niche at first, but soon I was shocked out of my wits to discover that I had 72,000 classmates. They had also put up an interactive world map on which people could pin their location and I was pleasantly surprised to see that people living in far corners such as Greenland were enrolled. Each week we would get a few recorded lecture videos followed by a quiz. The final assignment was peer-reviewed, which was a first for me. There are discussion forms working alongside to create a sense of classroom community and threads were you could raise questions, which could then be uprooted by other users and the course instructors answering those questions regularly which had a high number of upvotes! In another course on the political history of the 20th century, I was pleasantly surprised when the instructor from the University of Virginia, while talking about the end of the Cold War, shared with us a picture of himself as a part of the US delegation to Moscow. How else was I ever to have an opportunity to learn about the Cold War from someone who had had access to behind-the-scenes negotiations and an insight into the political and ideological mindset of that era? Moving on, the course structure at Delhi University was such that Literary Theory was an optional paper (much to my dismay) and opting against it was one of the toughest choices I had to make. Instead, I went for Modern European Drama, which included stalwarts such as Ibsen, Brecht, Ionesco, Genet and Strindberg. Not that I regret making that choice, but I knew how important a foundation in literary theory was going to be if I wanted to further pursue English literature. What came to my rescue was a twenty-four part lecture series by Dr Paul Fry which was freely available on Open Yale Courses.

It’s clear that we are slowly moving towards the advent of the cloud-based university, which is an idea that came out of the award winning TED Talk by Sugata Mitra, following which he was invited by Microsoft to work on turning his idea into reality. He emphasises his opinion that schools as we know them are obsolete – they are not broken, just outmoded for the current job needs. This vision is turning into reality at a rate much faster than we can imagine. One of these platforms is a website called sharemylesson.com, created by the American Federation of Teachers, which is a crowdsourcing platform to collate lesson plans. Available for free to anyone in the United States (for now), the website has over five million weekly downloads. So I decided to have a look. I couldn't access the lesson plans because I couldn't verify that I live in the US. From the unending array of lesson plans, I’ll look at one to see this concept at play. This is from the lesson description page of the lesson plans which is called, “Student Confusion in the Classroom Lesson.” Among the 626 lesson plans uploaded by this English teacher from the Bronx who goes by the screen name of GROOVINGUP, this lesson: helps students articulate what it means to be confused in class, how we can fix our confusion, and then has them read an article by a teacher about how he deals with student confusion. They finally write a response to the article about what teachers should know about student confusion to help students learn best.

To break it down, this exercise begins with students articulating their confusion (notice how the onus is on the students) in general, and not particular doubts. Then they read a piece written by the teacher, where the teacher discloses his methods for dealing with confused students. Their teacher’s individual approach is then commented upon by the students who suggest pedagogical improvements which the teacher might employ to alleviate their confusion. It is interesting that confused students are expected to know about the ways in which their confusion can be removed! Thus they help the teacher help them out or, in other words, the teacher becomes a medium through which students help themselves. Following this, the teacher then uploads this strategy on the website where it’s viewed around 900 times. Now these teachers use the same exercise in their classrooms to let their students solve their confusion through them. In all of this we see how the teacher evolves into a facilitator, a nodal point through which learning happens, confusions identified and problems solved – at a massive scale involving thousands of students and yet the individualised nature of responses is preserved.


READING LIST

PORTER, SARAH - TECHNOLOGY IN TEACHING LITERATURE AND CULTURE: SOME REFLECTIONS.

COMPUTERS AND THE HUMANITIES, VOL. 34, NO. 3, COMPUTERS IN HUMANITIES TEACHING AND RESEARCH: DISPATCHES FROM THE DISCIPLINES (AUG., 2000), PP. 311-324

KILFOYE, CHARLES - A VOICE FROM THE PAST CALLS FOR CLASSROOM TECHNOLOGY. THE PHI DELTA KAPPAN, VOL. 94, NO. 7 (APRIL 2013), PP. 53-56

ROCHETTE, LAURA - WHAT CLASSROOM TECHNOLOGY HAS TAUGHT ME ABOUT CURRICULUM, TEACHING, AND INFINITE POSSIBILITIES. THE ENGLISH JOURNAL, VOL. 97, NO. 2 (NOV., 2007), PP. 43-48

HAHENDAHL, PETER - THE FUTURE OF THE RESEARCH UNIVERSITY AND THE FATE OF THE HUMANITIES. CULTURAL CRITIQUE, NO. 61 (AUTUMN, 2005), PP. 1-21


 
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ANUNAYA RAJHANS

Finished a Master's degree in English Literature and now teaches Critical Writing to an exceptionally eccentric bunch. Research interests include memes, cyber subculture and internet humour - so as to make sure to not be taken seriously. Loves trivia quizzes.