I know a few teachers who utilize Google Docs in their classrooms. After last weeks discussion I started thinking about how such technology could contribute to a learner centered classroom. I thought that it would be interesting to use Google Docs to create a collaborative syllabus with my students. That is, I would like to start with my basic syllabus and then spend the first day of class adding the students as editors and allowing them to contribute their own thoughts to the syllabus. Not only would this allow the students to gain more authority over their learning experience, it also creates a stronger contract between teacher and student. Of course, I still think that the final decision would have to fall on the teacher in order for a syllabus to function in outlining the logistics of a course, but I think it would be a step in the right direction. Utilizing technology at the same time is an added bonus.
Let’s face it. There is a lot of talk in English and elsewhere about professors being hindered by staying in their comfort zones. Professors repeating the same tired syllabus and power point lectures. Notes that haven’t changed in years. Fearful of adopting new technology- or any technology. Of course it is easier to keep doing what you know, but we all know that change is necessary.
In the short time that I have been teaching I’ve been encouraged to do less. Spend less time on teaching. Give fewer notes. Its antithetical. One of the biggest surprises that I faced this semester is how students are willing to work with you when you aren’t an expert on something. Recently I conducted anonymous midterm evaluations. My students told me that even though I was far from expert in using the technologies necessary for their assignments, they appreciated that I was making the course more relevant for students who may never take another English class. What could be more gratifying that than? Then I look at what I learned- I know how to use several more programs that I couldn’t even have encountered otherwise. I know more about the downtown area than I learned in my entire undergraduate experience (though I am an admitted hermit). And finally, learning these technologies together created a point of communication and bond between students and with me.
In the face of these results I can’t imagine not continuing to push myself to explore new possibilities. What else could lead pedagogy to new and better places?
Today Shanti Bruce spoke to members of the English department about working with English Language Learners, specifically in a writing center environment. Eventually we began to talk about the barriers that exist between ELL students and writing centers- why are some students reluctant to utilize those tools? One answer among many was the issue of privacy. Many people do not wish to publicly seek help because they find it embarrassing. Personally, I remember that feeling well. I didn’t want my fellow classmates to know that I was having trouble where they were not. Though I have moved past that discomfort in my own life, I believe that it is an issue that we should try to address for our students.
The first solution that came to my mind involved the utilization of technology. During the talk Bruce mentioned reluctance to isolate a tutor and student- which I would completely agree with. I would not want to be put in a private space with a stranger. But why don’t we use online conferencing technology in our writing centers? We could maintain a face to face conversation while allowing the student to keep something close to anonymity. With the prevalence of technology in our world it seems as though such a simple solution must have been considered before. Perhaps I will pursue this line of thought further.