Blog Post

High on Red Bull in the Paperless Classroom

As a scholar, Im interested in everything digital: new media art, video games, the shift from analog to digital film, electronic literature, as well as how these changes are influencing questions of culture, identity and aesthetic practices.  I'm extremely interested in studying how our reading and writing practices are changing in the information age.  But another concern I have is how we use these digital things outside of our research and in the classroom.  I began thinking about this after watching a Simpsons episode that ran last Sunday.  In it, a new, hip teacher replaced Ms. Krabappel.  This teacher, a freshly minted MA in education, texted and tweeted his students, ran a paperless classroom, and later in the episode, sent them an instructional math youtube video featuring himself progressively weighed down under hockey jerseys, each of them featuring a new factor of seven.  The episode was poking fun at both the cool aspect of these new digital pedagogies (the cool attitude an appropriate channel through which his digitally literate students could be reached), as well as their total lack of depth.  By the end of the episode, this cool attitude is reduced to an affect produced by the teachers drink of choice: Blue Bronco (Red Bull) energy drink.  This suggests that, just as the teachers cool attitude is as depthless as a Red Bull energy high, digital pedagogies, paperless classrooms, tweets, blogs, and Moodles have all the depth of a passing fad, and to boot, a fad designed in desperation to reach the inattentive generation raised on PDAs, Nintendo DSs, and Facebook. 

I wonder whether you subscribe to this critique.  This past summer, I used a Wordpress blog in an Intro to Literary Study class (for reading journals, mostly) and found it quite helpful, for a couple reasons.  First, the students can read what other students had written.  If anything, this allows them to learn by mimesis.  I had many students who had no idea how to go about close reading a text.  Of course we want to imagine theyll learn based on our own readings, in a class lecture, of texts.  Yet in their own practice, they often find this hard to do.  Or maybe they consider their teachers out of their league, specially trained for these kinds of tasks.  As soon as they see their fellow students doing it however, maybe they think the task becomes possible.  Second, the students are also able to see all of my comments, and then make changes based on these different evaluations.  Maybe the student just cant quite crack how to interpret a text, write in a specific discursive style, or appropriately structure an argument.  If they read in my comments on another students paper that I recognize these features in an assignment, perhaps they can adopt some of those features in their own papers, especially where they're deficient.  Again, this has to do with mimesis, as well as a kind of transparency.  In this kind of environment, the student who wonders, "what is the A student doing that I'm not," can actually answer that question.  Perhaps there are problems with this pedagogical approach, maybe more so with mimesis as a learning strategy than transparency in student evaluation.  What do you think?

In a Writing class this quarter I'm using, for the first time, UCSB's Gauchospace, which is based on Moodle designs.  I'm starting simply, as I dont want to overwhelm my students with all the features and affordances the website offers.  I myself am attempting a paperless classroom.  Is this an attempt to be cool in order to better reach, or remain relevant to my students?  Or does this pedagogical approach have all the substance of a Red Bull high? What have you used that has been helpful?  Have any of your own practices revolutionized the way you teach?  Did you get through to your students better?  Worse? 



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