Tag Archives: computer

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If I took typewriting as a class in high school, it didn’t stick. I remember spending hours in front of my Commodore 64 at home, waiting for the blinking cursor to appear, indicating it was time to start typing what appeared on the screen. It was a fun game, but I lost interest quickly. I guess learning to type is kind of like learning a language–if you don’t use it, you lose it. Since I had little cause to type outside of final papers for English class in high school, I  still used the hunt-and-peck method on my mother’s typewriter until I got to college, at which point it was clear that learning how to type would be a necessity. Computers–not Commodores–seemed to appear everywhere I looked on campus, and I refused to be that girl in the computer lab. Everyone seemed to have learned how to type in high school, so I just stopped looking at the keyboard. It took a few months, but I eventually learned how to type. What did other people do? What do people do today? Are skills taught for typing on cell phones? Will there be instruction for iPads and other touch-screen devices?

When I started teaching elementary school in 2001, there was a lot of talk about handwriting and how it wasn’t being taught anymore. Indeed, I remember spending hours carefully tracing the cursive alphabet over and over again in the first grade. But we didn’t have enough time in the day to teach something that was clearly becoming obsolete with the surge in digital communication that began with the start of the internet. At the time, the authorization of No Child Left Behind ignited a nationwide panic about test scores, and every extra minute in the day was devoted to test-taking. Neither keyboard skills nor handwriting were taught as part of the curriculum in our school. Now that computers are part of everyday life for so many people, I wonder if keyboard/typing skills are taught, and if so, at what grade level. Are there national standards attached to these skills?

I recently purchased a typewriter (made by Packard, before they were joined by Hewlett), and took it out this morning in an attempt to figure out what to get from Staples to make it work again (I was told, hopefully accurately, that there are really only a few types of typewriter ribbons). I was struck by how beautiful it is, and how odd, set on the table next to a MacBook. There’s a story to be told about these machines that isn’t finished yet, and I wonder how touch screens will continue to catalyze whatever iteration of the keyboard comes next.

Digital Humanities in the Classroom

As I get my feet wet with this public-blogging thing (intentionally public, anyway–this isn’t the first time I’ve blogged publicly, but it’s the first time I’ve done so while trying to capture the attention of a specific audience and string a common thread through my posts), there is a growing pile (digital and otherwise) of things to think and write about. I find that I am accumulating post topics at a much higher frequency than I have time to write about them! This forces me to be judicious with words and space (believe it or not), to critically think through how I might thread several disparate concepts together, and to consider how I’ll use various media to convey the heart of my message.  As informal as blogging can be, the project of maintaining a blog for a specific professional purpose becomes a formalized act that follows a distinct process, much like that of writing a research paper or article manuscript. Which brings me to what inspired this post: last night’s CUNY Digital Humanities Initiative talk with Shannon Mattern and Mark Sample.

Shannon’s presentation in particular, “Beyond the Seminar Paper: Setting New Standards for New Forms of Student Work,” gave me things to think about when it comes to my research.  While I (and many other K-12 public school teachers in NYC) have a knee-jerk reaction against the word “standards,” it was refreshing to hear someone discuss evaluation and assessment in the context of why.  It’s not that I haven’t heard other academics speak about assessment in productive, logical ways; it’s just that so much of my time as a 5th grade teacher was spent producing pretty, neatly formatted assessments because I was forced to, not because it made sense.  One year, using an informal system of notes on a post-it was the accepted form of evaluation; another year, the focus was on rubrics; our heads spun with the rapid changes that seemed episodic and disconnected to the goals of our lessons, and in the interim, the whole purpose of evaluating was lost on many of us. While Shannon has developed a series of evaluative tools along with each project she has developed with her students, it was clear from her presentation that her evaluations were not seemingly random rubrics or checklists like the ones I once compulsorily produced–her evaluations have a specific purpose, and are connected to the larger learning goals of her students’ projects.  I appreciated being a part of this conversation at the higher-ed level–particularly the part that took up questions around support for practitioners.  (And I’d like to see more spaces for conversations like this at the K-12 level.)

So what do we do if we want to use a technological tool we don’t know how to use?  What are the resources available to professionally develop your own skills as instructors–at all educational levels?  And how can the growth of our society’s do-it-yourself (DIY) culture support those endeavors?

Shannon’s talk last night touched briefly on what I hear mentioned often in professional talks lately: getting an academic job is no longer a guarantee once you get your PhD.  I feel like I’ve witnessed the development of this phenomenon first-hand over the last decade, and have to wonder at how it has paralleled the development of technology.  At age 26 (eight years ago), with but two years of teaching 5th grade under my belt, I was hired as an adjunct to teach a course called “Assessment and Evaluation” at a local university.  Not only were the students in my course teaching in grades K-12 (I’d only taught elementary school at that point), the course text (which was dictated by the department) was unbelievably dry and disconnected from most of my students’ daily work, and my students were rightfully frustrated by the course content and my teaching of it.  I had not yet developed the wisdom (which would come several years later and is still evolving) to logically develop a purposeful assessment tool that was accessible to my students and made sense for the larger goals of the project or assignment.  At the time, there were few impressive lines on my CV that related to teaching at the Masters level, and other than being an ambitious, personable young woman with lots of energy and a brightly decorated classroom, I didn’t seem qualified.  So why was I hired?  Surely it couldn’t just be because I was cheap at $2,250 per class (or thereabouts), or that I was referred by an advisor through the New York City Teaching Fellows–I still went through an interview! Was something else happening at the time?  Was it the start of what we are witnessing now, with the disappearance of full-time, tenure-track positions? What does it all have to do with the advances of technology?  I realize I’m tangenting, and again, raising threads that I will want to return to, but all of these thoughts were descending upon my brain last night as I sat and listened to Shannon and Mark talk about their work at their respective institutions. (You can read more about my K-12 teaching experience in my previous post if you’re interested.)

Toward the end of the discussion, someone asked a question about the boundary between teaching tech and teaching content–for instance, at what point does teaching how to use a blog platform detract from the content-specific point of the activity?  I appreciated that both speakers had already intimated in their respective talks that the boundary is blurry and increasingly so–that as pedagogues, we will often be required to move our technological knowledge along independently, and make use of the advances available to us whether there is a PD session to support it or not.  I admit I’m out of the loop when it comes to debating the identifiers of “digital humanities.”  It seems that technology and teaching are so inextricably linked at this point that you cannot teach without bumping into technology somewhere along the way, and vice versa.

If I had more hours in the day, I would spend time looking at how developments in letter-writing and the postal service, television, telephones, automobiles, radio, and other technologies have impacted policies and practices around teaching and learning–this tension surely existed before computers, right?  I can’t imagine the development of automobiles having had the same impact on classroom learning as computers and the internet, but I’m curious about how the education system catches up to advances that move quickly around it.

I’m looking forward to continuing this discussion with you and other friends and colleagues involved in the project of education.

Using Blogs as Data Collectors

When I started graduate school, web-based reference tools were only just being developed. At the time, I was using Endnote to keep track of my citations.  That is, until I clumsily tripped over the cord attached to my iBook. This was before the cord was magnetic, and I watched in stop-action as all of my work came crashing down. Little screws and bits of plastic spewed out from the sides. I hadn’t backed up in a while, and have not made that mistake since.

Today, it seems like everyone I talk to is using Zotero.  I was, too, until I realized about halfway through last year that someone else was using my Zotero library (and adding to and reorganizing it), too, in the adjunct office where I spent the bulk of my time last year. I hadn’t completely understood how Zotero works, and although I managed to get through defending my dissertation proposal by using it, I gave up and have been wavering ever since on where to take my library of citations next. And it dawned on me: why not just use a blog?

Has anyone had experience doing this? If I set up categories for authors and subjects, would it be easy enough for me to aggregate the appropriate data when necessary? I wonder if it would be possible to develop a WordPress plug-in (or if there already is one) to export bibliographic information as Zotero does. In the meantime, I am considering using a blog to organize my data by using categories and tags as codes. Obviously, the blog would need to be private; however, I wonder what other institutional requirements might be necessary for such a project. If my data is housed in a private site on the internet, is that as good as a locked file cabinet in an office?

Meanwhile, I have a Google Scholar alert set up for “teachers and blogging,” and have for almost a year now, and I’m fascinated by what comes up every time I receive a new digest. This morning, there was a paper about students “phlogging,” the practice of blogging from your phone, to complete assignments. And something else dawned on me: I have witnessed a 180-degree turn when it comes to technology and gadgets in the classroom.

I have probably already mentioned how when I started teaching at an elementary school, if we had to look something up on Google, we felt guilty; like somehow we weren’t good teachers if we didn’t have all the knowledge we were trying to impart to our students stored away in neat little virtual folders in our brains.  The fact of the matter is, I don’t remember all the capitals to all fifty states anymore (and probably haven’t since I memorized them for an in-class quiz about twenty-five years ago now), not to mention all of the conversion rules for ounces/cups/quarts, etc.  It’s not that I had to sit there with my laptop open, Googling things every moment of every day in order to teach; however, I admit that there were times when students asked questions that stumped me, and my colleagues and I made good use of the technological tools within reach. (A note on laptop use as a teacher: when our school was initially wired, teachers were not permitted to use the wireless network.  This is another example of the policy-practice gap I’m examining in my research.)

I’m getting a little off-topic here, but it’s hard not to think about how things have changed, while trying to figure out how to make technology work for a project right here, right now.  I have a feeling that in ten years, blogs will be even more sophisticated, and there will in fact be a more universally available option for keeping reference information and research data in blogs.  In the meantime, I’ll be developing my own system and will keep you updated on that project in future blog posts.

In other news, I went down to the Occupy Wall Street protests again yesterday with a group of colleagues, and was overwhelmed (in an inspiring way!) by how huge the crowd had gotten by the time we got there.  Thousands of people came from all over, and union representation was enormous.  At one point, we stretched all the way from Foley Square to Wall Street.  You can see photos here if you’re interested:

Occupy Wall Street 10/5/11

Lastly, RIP Steve Jobs.  Apple technology = awesome.

Memory Module

The word “memory” has many meanings these days–13 definitions to be exact, according to dictionary.com.  When I was a child, it meant one of two things: 1) the special place in my brain where I collected mental versions of good (and bad) life moments, and 2) that Milton Brothers card game that I would play for hours on end.  As an adult, I still think of memory as being that thing that I carry around inside of my brain, with all sorts of images and sensations and experiences sloshing around from over the years, but another definition has taken on new and important meaning–that of the contents of my second brain, the one I carry around in my laptop case.

I was desperately searching for my camera charger this morning, and though I haven’t found it yet, I came across a little box labeled “memory module” in my search.  I remember taking this 256 megabyte (MB) module out of an old iBook and replacing it with a 512MB module to max out the memory.  I also remember considering my first iPod purchase shortly thereafter, and quickly realizing that the memory of an iPod could exceed that of my laptop.  At the time, I couldn’t wrap my head around how that was possible.

A few weeks ago, I decided I needed to get a new external hard drive, as I’ve been using the same one for about five years now, it hums loudly, and it has very little space left.  I found myself astonished yet again–five years ago, I couldn’t decide between something like 80 gigabytes (GB) and 130GB, and now I was choosing between 500GB and 1 terabyte (TB).  I opted for the 500GB on my meager grad school budget (though I already have a feeling I’ll be replacing it sooner than I’d like).

At first, trying to imagine filling a TB of space was like trying to imagine a million dollars sitting on a table: it wasn’t easy.  But then I started to think about how many files we’re sharing all the time, and how complex those files are becoming, and with every day that passes, it makes even more sense that our memory–especially the one that exists in our computer–is going to continue to grow in capacity and function as long as we travel at a similar (or faster) rate of technological innovation.  Maybe it’s just me, but thinking about the “memory” trajectory we’ve been on completely boggles my mind sometimes.