As a (now contentedly former) English professor at a large public university in the American South, and, obviously, a longtime student myself before that, I have seen firsthand how technology transformed the classroom...and then transformed it again. This is a big mistake we make when thinking about technological change: thinking that the world can be divided into “before” and “after” a given technology, and that once the latest thing is ubiquitous, we’ll get to stay still. Unfortunately this is not the case, for it’s not one shift that makes the difference but multiple simultaneous, overlapping, and qualitatively different revolutions that may soon be made obsolete themselves.
When I was a child, we still watched filmstrips in class. Yes, actual strips of actual film. I remember watching the first President Bush’s inauguration on TV in a classroom, though I can’t remember if it was cable yet or simply broadcast. Then video infiltrated classrooms, with the beloved clunky TV cart that heralded a day off from book-based study (Marshall McLuhan once warned that introducing television into education would blow the classroom apart -- I’m not so sure he wasn’t right).
Thanks to the famed visionary forward-looking genius of Apple (and/or their self-serving canniness), green screen and then full-color Macs proliferated in my schools. I was in college when cell phones became popular, but few people had laptops.
By the time I started teaching, nearly every student had a laptop, though as those years went on, fewer and fewer bothered to bring it to class. Why? I wish I could say it was because of their desire to put away anything that might distract from my words of wisdom.
In truth, the cellphone and laptop had merged, and their iPhones were now a one-stop shop for research, socializing, and pure time-wasting. We now have the iPad and, interestingly, tablets seem to be trending smaller and iPhones bigger. Will the two products merge? Where does our future lie, and what does it mean for education?
My most recent classrooms featured computer podiums hooked up to a projector. This was moderately useful in my Introduction to Fiction class, where I mainly used it to call up YouTube videos so that authors like James Baldwin, Ray Bradbury, and Vladimir Nabokov could explain their work in person. I also found biographical documentaries of writers such as Edgar Allan Poe and James Joyce, who did not live to see the television era, let alone get grandfathered into YouTube.
But it was the other literature class I was teaching, Introduction to Drama, where technology really brought the subject alive. Unlike prose fiction, after all, drama is not in its essential form a “text,” but is meant as a blueprint to be interpreted and brought to life. So after reading, say, Euripides in our anthology of plays, I could show my students a slideshow on the development of tragedy, a documentary clip demonstrating the spatial quality and remarkable acoustics of the Theater of Dionysus in Athens, and four or five different interpretations of the same scene from Medea taken from live and cinematic versions in English, Greek, and Japanese. This truly showcased the mind-blowing potential of the wired classroom, and all that was missing was an interactive element to make it more hands-on for my students.
Stephanie Brooks is a freelance writer and blogger who mostly enjoys covering all things education, including at top10onlineuniversities.org, but also regarding traditional brick-and-mortar institutions. When she's not writing, she can be found at the gym working out to Zumba and cooking healthy recipes at home. She welcomes your feedback.
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