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
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.
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.
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.