Get with the Program, English Departments

Get with the program, English Departments

In “Writing Re-Launched: Teaching with Digital Tools,” published earlier this month in EdWeek.org, Liana Heitin accurately reports that “[t]he nature of writing has shifted in recent years. There are very few—if any—jobs these days for which employees produce lengthy handwritten reports. News stories are an integration of words, images, audio, and website links. College applications are all online, and some schools are beginning to accept videos in place of essays. A friendly letter is more likely composed on a smartphone than on stationary.”

Hello-o-o! This does not mean “use 1980s tools like %&*$# Blackboard” with antiquated, awkward, and unfriendly user interfaces.” What this trend says is that if academia wants to keep pace with the “real world,” if we want to remain relevant to the students we serve and their (hopefully) employers, then we need to move MUCH faster in the technology arena.

“But how can we do this in these woe-is-me financial times? There’s no money, we’re losing teachers, yada yada yada.” What many of us can do first is to shed ourdinosaur skins and embrace–as well as we can–the contrivances and habits of the upcoming generation. Buy a smart phone, sign up for Facebook, and Twitter, and get an 11-year-old niece or grandson to show you how it works. And then we need to use these new things to gain at least an inkling of today’s “everyday life.” Without such experiences, much of what we try to communicate will be lost. While the latest fashions might not be critical, the backbone of communication IS changing. Literature–and in the immediate future, textbooks–is all being delivered on Smartphones,  Android tablet computers, and iPads.

Initiatives like One Laptop Per Child, that aims “to create educational opportunities for the world’s poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop,” and the recent UCF Help Haiti Cell Phone Drive collecting phones to create “mobile training centers, able to teach Haitian students in the classroom and in the field,” are indicators of the tsunami that is washing over us even now. Somehow, we need to get moving and maximize what’s available while planning and seeking funding for the immediate future. Maybe a bake sale?

Adapt or go extinct, Universitarius Rex.

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