The Past is Prologue

Ever since I was a child I’ve loved two things: a good story and technology. Science fiction was a combination of the two, and I took to it ravenously. My toys were always more imaginative than those of others. While my friends had Lincoln Logs I had Legos; while they had Star Wars figures I had Micronauts ; while they got stereos I got a computer. The reason for these choices in part was the influence of my brother. He liked these things as well, so with the exception of the computer he influenced my parents to get them. What they spawned in me was a desire to tinker, to put things together in new combinations and make them better. This desire continued into my teaching style.

My love of stories too was different from my friends. When I began to read traditional literature I found I loved it, not for the act of reading itself, but for the amazing stories and characters they introduced me to. That is why the works of William Shakespeare are so dear to me: nobody brought characters to life like he did. In a script there is nothing but the character’s words and (occasionally) actions. It was up to the actor, or in the case of a high school English class, the reader to decide what was happening on stage at any particular moment. The reader got to play with these ideas like I played with technology, an act which I have continued into my career.

I have always sought to use technology in my teaching, at first because I liked it. Technology is a part of my life, so it is only natural for my teaching to include it. In my research for the educational technology program I have discovered that young people are using technology much more, and in more unique ways, than anyone of my generation ever did. I feel now that it is not just my desire but my responsibility to use technology in a class with students for whom it is an everyday part of their lives.
But like all things in class, technology must be used wisely, with a clear understanding of its affordances and limitations. Teachers must understand how their students use technology and adjust their curriculum accordingly. This idea has guided my research up to this point, and provided one direction for future study:

  • How should we adapt the classroom to 21st century students?

But it is not just technology itself that is influencing students. The world is awash in media, from music, movies and TV programs, to the ubiquitous commercials that are a part of them all. Media permeates the lives of young people, and cannot be ignored in the classroom. The key then is to ensure that when it is used it is for the purpose of bettering student life. As I feel that one of the most important things to teach in school is critical thinking skills, this led to my second question:

  • How can media literacy become a development tool for critical thinking in the English classroom?

Currently I have no classroom of my own, so I will follow Isaac Newton’s advice and “stand on the shoulders of giants”, researching the work of theorists of the past and present to plan my future curriculum. The end result will be the beginning of a year-long curriculum which begins in the relevant student interest of media literacy and then connects those skills with other studies in class, culminating in a Shakespearean project which uses the very wiki-technology you are using now to create an authentic audience for student work. The lessons I learn here will be applicable to many other areas of the curriculum, and usable by most other teachers. This curriculum will be written by a teacher, with their needs and interests in mind, and with the goal of in-class use.

This kind of curriculum is vital to maintaining the relevance of the classroom. Technology is not the future, it is the present – it is a fact that teachers ignore at the risk of alienating the students of the 21st Century.

Teaching Artifacts

Introductory Poem

Shakespearean Wiki Prototype

Timeline for Completion of Thesis

Research Proposal: March 10
Outline of Lit Review: March 16
GS01 Meeting: April 6, 4pm
Lit Review Final: May 18
Preliminary Chapters 1-3: May 25
Will include “Introduction”, “Lit Review” and “Development of Curriculum”
Chapter 4 – Curriculum Plan: June
Chapter 5 – Next Steps: July
GS02 Meeting – August