I’m a journalist by trade, and I cut my teeth in the newspaper industry — an industry that is struggling to survive as technology makes breaking news and information (whether factual or not) available in real time and at your fingertips through social media and other forms of online communication.
Luckily, my professors at Oakland University realized the industry was on the precipice of significant change and created courses that reflected that, including a course on multimedia reporting that covered basic video reporting, social media, blogging, podcasts, and more. Still, these courses were met with resistance from some students, and and even a few J-school professors who were skeptical of the need for such courses. When I graduated, these courses were not yet a requirement for graduation, so a student could, in 2010, get a journalism degree without knowing anything about social media or multimedia reporting. But, they recognized the need for students to have access to this knowledge and realized that, just because one grows up surrounded by this technology, it does not mean he or she knows how to apply it.
The resistance to technology I’ve witnessed in journalism school is certainly not unique to the field of study. In fact, I would argue that journalism is one area of study where technology is employed earlier and more often than many other fields within the humanities. But after reading some posts on www.digitalpedagogylab.com, it’s clear there are many out there who are working to integrate many different technologies into the humanities classroom.
I found two posts particularly intriguing. The first addressed the digital divide between those with free access to technology and those without, and the second explored the Twitter essay, an assignment that requires students to research and use Twitter to “condense an argument with evidentiary support into 140 characters, which they unleash upon a hashtag (or trending topic) in the Twitter-verse.”
In Lee Skallerup Bessette’s post, “It’s About Class: Interrogating the Digital Divide,” she writes about her students at a school in Appalachia. These students are part of a larger generation that is generally tech-savvy, but many of her students are poorer and have had limited access to technology throughout their lives; they haven’t been able to “write, speak, publish, create, hack, and play” with technology, which Bessette sees as something necessary. For many of Bessette’s students,
“Twitter is a waste of time, blogging is just an essay in another form, tech is a tool they have been taught to fear. This is not to say that they don’t know how to play, to create, to experiment. One of the reasons they disdain the technology is because many of them don’t see how it will help them get a job in their low-tech worlds; better to know how to hunt, grow gardens, slaughter cows, sew quilts, fish, forage, weld, etc.”
Bessette laments the growing digital divide, which is only exacerbated by her school’s unwillingness to provide computers and other technologies for students to “play” with, and realizes she is fighting an uphill battle. “Both students and teachers,” she writes, “need the support and encouragement to play, to have the time and fearlessness to use and ‘misuse’ tech.”
In Jesse Stomel’s post, “The Twitter Essay,” he assumes his students have the access to technology that Bessette’s students often do not, and he uses this technology to teach his students how to not only research a topic, but also write succinctly — in precisely 140 characters. And while many others in the industry are bemoaning the “tangible violence technology has wrought upon grammar,” Stomel is seizing the opportunity to use a medium that is familiar to many students to teach them something new. While I personally wouldn’t include more than one Twitter essay in my own composition syllabus, it is a very interesting concept that I think has great potential to help bridge the gap between technology and the traditionally stuffy composition classroom.