English 808: Technology & Literacy – Course Philosophy: Tech Pedagogy

Dr. Gian Pagnucci

Course Overview

        “What was it?” Hiro says. “I just glimpsed some snow at the very end.”
         “You saw the whole thing,” Da5id says. “A fixed-pattern of black-and-white pixels, fairly high-resolution. Just a few hundred thousand ones and zeroes for me to look at.”
         “So in other words, someone just exposed your optic nerve to, what, maybe a hundred thousand bytes of information,” Hiro says.
         “Noise, is more like it.”
         “Well, all information looks like noise until you break the code,” Hiro says.
          (–from Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, pp. 73-74).

Bytes. Snow. Noise. TechSpeak. Technology is changing how we speak, how we think, and how we learn. In this course we’ll explore, together, the ways technology impacts our literacy. We’ll study the history of literacy technologies, from the the pencil to the Internet. We’ll work in the classroom and in cyberspace. Students in this course will have the opportunity to explore not only how technology impacts the ways we speak, read, and write, but also how technology shapes our races, classes, and genders. We’ll discuss the value and the cost of technology for promoting world wide literacy. And we will work to develop some theoretical understandings about the role technology plays in our society.

Guiding Questions for Course

I’ve designed this course around 4 major questions I’d like us to investigate. We will discuss these questions multiple times throughout the semester:

  • What is literacy?
  • How does technology change literacy?
  • How can we research the impact of technology on literacy?
  • How can we best teach literacy using technology?

Tech Pedagogy

This course is built on a teaching philosophy that I call Tech Pedagogy. This is a philosophy I have developed over some 3 decades of working and teaching with technology. As the course progresses, I’ll enact Tech Pedaogogy in our classroom and also model the pedagogy in the hopes it will impact your own thinking about how best to teach. A key aspect of Tech Pedagogy is immersion in technological environments. So, as the course progresses, we’ll be working with technology in every class meeting. To learn how technology can enhance pedagogy, a person has to work with technology, not just read about it. So our work with technological tools throughout this course is meant to help you learn to grapple with new technologies, reflect on your current use of technologies, and open your mind to the new technologies that will come down the road.

Now you might have some reservations about technology, and, in fact, you should. Technology is not a panacea for the world’s problems. Only people can solve our problems, not things. Technology does create as many problems as it solves. But, as you work and research technology for this course, you should try to follow the example of the famed scholar Peter Elbow, who said to learn we must play the believing game and the doubting game (here’s a reference to Elbow’s 2008 article “The Believing Game–Methodological Believing”). To learn something, you have be willing both to believe in its value but also to doubt its value. That is, you have to both open yourself to the idea but also look at that idea critically. That’s what I hope you’ll do with technology for this course, look at it both for its possibilities and its perplexities.

Finally, I want you to understand that for teacher-scholars like me, Tech Pedagogy is a way of life. Tech Pedagogues are always trying new technologies, doing beta testing, rebooting their courses, and buying the latest gadgets. If you really embrace Tech Pedagogy, you’ll find that technology will take over your teaching in more and more ways. I hope I’ll be able to convince you in this course that such a change could make you a better teacher than you ever realized was possible.

Digital Workshop

Tech Pedagogy requires active learning. So in this course, we are going to do a lot more than just read articles and discuss them. In fact, reading and discussion will be secondary learning methods for this course. Instead, prepare to be in a course that is an ongoing, hands-on digital workshop. In this course, we’ll follow the example of famed scholar John Dewey who encouraged teachers to ask students to learn by doing real world activities and reflecting on that learning. In this course we are going to be doing all kinds of things, experimenting, writing, creating, building, testing, and interacting.

Much of this course will also be project based. Each student will be working on a variety of projects to help them master important literacy and technology concepts.

As we explore the intersections of technology and literacy, we’ll be working in a computer classroom and spending time working with current technological literacy tools such as:

  • blogs
  • digital recorders and podcasts
  • email
  • films
  • the Internet
  • web page composers
  • wikis
  • virtual environments/MOOs (multi-user domain object oriented environments) like Second Life

Don’t worry if you don’t know how to use most of these technologies. That’s ok, its common, and I expect it. We’ll use lots of class time to learn about these technologies and try them out. If you need help, either your teacher or one of your classmates will give you the help you need because this will be a collaborative learning environment.

Collaborative Learning

It’s really hard to learn technology by yourself. So instead of going it alone, we’ll work together to figure out how to best use all of these new technologies for teaching. We will also reflect and talk together about what using these technologies means for teaching and learning. Tech Pedagogy is based on current theories in composition, educational, and technology as well as my own personal beliefs about and experiences with teaching. In particular, all of my years of teaching have taught me the great value of collaborative learning. And its no surprise to me that our most important technologies, like smart phones and email, are all based on interactive communication. People learn and work best together, that’s why collaboration needs to be an important part of every classroom.

The writing of eminent scholars like Mikhail Bakhtin and Lev Vygotsky have taught us that most learning takes place through social interaction. For this reason, active in-class discussion is essential by every class member. To facilitate this socially-based learning, students in this class will read and share their writings with each other. The work of other people in this course are just as valuable as works published by professional authors, and so we will treat all voices as important. For this reason, much time will be allocated to read and discuss the writing and thoughts of other people in the class. As the teacher of this course, I will strive to make sure that all voices are heard and that no one voice is privileged, not even my own voice. Following the work of Kenneth Bruffee, Lisa Ede, and Andrea Lunsford, I’ll ask students in this course to work collaboratively on some projects to increase opportunities for dialogic thought.