Reinventing Civilization:


Provisional Statements of Teaching Philosophy


    Last year I wrote on the question of "reinventing civilization," focusing on the way  that we as teachers, day in and day out, engage ourselves theoretically  and practically in the task, whether we wish that responsibility or not.   I addressed the question of newer technologies in the classroom, emphasizing the value of classroom/personal contact time over 'machine time,' and emphasizing that students still need to find themselves connected to their studies:  electronic gadgetry of itself will not bring students to a love of Beowulf and all his heorthgeneatas. 

      The past year has not changed my mind, though I have made particular efforts to implement technology in my courses.  A portion of the British Literature Survey  in Fall 1998 was devoted to Web-based projects on particular poems.  I scheduled both of my composition courses in Winter 1999 for two days a week in our new computer classroom.  My other courses promote Web-based projects as important options for student work.  Following up on the fascinating possibilities offered by newer  technologies, but  keeping in mind my continuing reservations, I've tried to use these projects to enhance rather than alienate student engagement with the course material; to increase rather than decrease personal contact; to deepen rather than  render still more superficial student understanding.

     Results were fairly good, I think.  All students recognized the potential usefulness of the technology, though many had considerable anxieties about using it, and some had concerns about the technology's effect on other aspects of the course. In the literature course, due to student anxieties (and my own inexperience), the Web-project threatened to swallow up a good deal of class time.  With the composition course there were several who felt that computers were already used too much, who didn't want to send or read e-mail, much less write or rewrite on the computer; there were even more students who seemed to feel  that "regular" class time was now far less useful.  All, however, learned some useful skills; all were forced to interact with each other to a large extent, andóto a lesser extent, I fearówith the material.

     For the teacher, the learning curve was steep.  E-mailed responses piled up at a great rate (55 a week for my composition courses) and there was no way to give them even a check-mark in response.  With my long training on a better operating system (the Mac) and limited experience with word-processing programs other than Word, working with my students' DOS, Windows, Lotus, and Works questions was a headache. The Web-project was with a much smaller group of students, using Netscape Composer rather than HTML.  While the students did well enough on their projects, and worked well in their partnerships, the results for the most part are highly superficial  and, as so often the case on the Web, highly fragmented. 

     In truth, I'm not sure how one can get very far around either of these difficulties, given the visual, interactive nature of the medium.  Gilles Deleuze might say that this is schizophrenic civilization, the nomadic self under capitalism at its best; rhizomatic or not, to me it still seems to need some additional reinventing. 

Reinventing Civilization I
This page was last updated on May 15th, 1999.
Text copyright ©1998, 1999, 2002 Jeremy M. Downes.
Images courtesy of Ian M. Downes, copyright ©1998.