Digital practices that are promising for my own teaching? Not everything? No, not everything. I can see educational applications for these skills, but I still feel it’s too early to know where and how far I can develop them. Besides that, without a class of my own to experiment and get them to help create the learning, there is no way I can guess. I need students for all of this to matter, to expand my learning in context with theirs.
However, the skills I’m most excited about and will practice on my own are the web page building and editing and the blog. I will keep working on who I am as a student and as an educator, and the web site is a great way to give myself a creative and reflective forum. The blog should be similar. I have some creative writing/feedback ideas to try with my cohort. We are also progressing toward Candidacy exams and are trying to stay in touch and support each other as we study. With a blog and the community/no walls feeling it creates we can work at our own paces and answer each other’s questions or whatever as we move forward.
The challenges of learning how to create digitally have been some of the most exhausting and rewarding days of my career. At no other time have I been able to focus only on what I can do, what I can imagine, and what product I show the world. The next step is visible, too, because I feel empowered to continue creating and trying new things. I also feel there are resources out there, or with my fellow students, to foster whatever creative vein I follow.
My experience with writing for a digital format is regrettably limited. When I worked for a public school, each teacher had a web page on the school’s main site. Each teacher was tasked with writing a short description to describe ourselves. After that, we were permitted to add features that suited our needs. I followed the general writing format for my description – several paragraphs of prose and an academic picture for introduction. I was able to add links to a homework page, a calendar, and even third party sites with resources for my students. When I wrote something for the homework page it was sort of like a blog because each entry was dated and I had a description of each assignment. I could link those entries to the calendar where I simply gave each assignment a title and a due date. Over time, I got pretty good at making those components work for me because of the positive feedback from students, but time constraints and dropping-off levels of technical support impeded either my exploration or (even more regrettably) my curiosity.
When the teacher pages were implemented there was a special inservice to introduce the site and how to use it. Each of us was given a handout with screenshot-type graphics and explanations so we could refer to it as needed, and in future. The “tech guy” said he was available to help any time. I wish he had visited on a regular basis, or that at the next several inservices there could have been follow up. I would have like to see what other teachers were up to, the great things they were using and problems along the way. I wish there had been a framework for us to talk with each other in a constructive way, and with the tech guy, to make the best use of the tool. Essentially, once something was up and running the administration seemed to forget the websites were there, to check on their status, or offer feedback unless something went wrong and the teacher inadvertently put the school in a precarious position.
Genre-specific instruction and practice would not only have helped us all become better, more effective, educators, but the problems that stemmed from lack of guidance could have been totally avoided. Good teachers know how to make mistakes and learn from them, but like anyone they/we need support and a “safe” environment in which to make them. As far as good writing goes, people naturally use different modes of language for different purposes, and we need to know that in a digital world all of them have their place. There is no one way to communicate because our purposes differ depending on task and goals. Students also need us to show them that example in order to value the varied uses of language. I realize I’m currently writing in standard English using educational conventions, which is OK, and if I wanted to write this in a poem or as a conversation that would be awesome, too. The point is to be open to experimentation.
Digital teaching tools seem to offer both efficiency and transformative potential for students. I think they are like most innovations and tools – all are meant to help get a job done more easily and will less effort. When students don’t have to think so much about the behind-the-scenes technology that goes into making the tool as it is, then students can focus on getting work accomplished. the tools we’ve used in class allow us more avenues for creativity and open up communication to communities that had been previously cut off. Sure, we might have been doing fine all along, but we weren’t exploring where our potential could take us. These tools allow and encourage personal exploration and a pushing, if not crossing, of boundaries. It’s exciting!
On the flip side, some people do need to know how to make the tool in order to do the job that is required or desired. How awful would it be if no one could recreate a screwdriver or wrench, such simple mechanical tools, and the technology died out? The same goes for digital and electronic technologies – they need to be understood at a basic level to ensure their continuation; they need to be understood so that improvements can be made for future uses.