English 808: Technology & Literacy – TechTool: Building a Time Machine

Dr. Gian Pagnucci

Time Travel Technology

We started this class with an exploration of the ultimate technological invention: a time machine. By comparing 2 versions of The Time Machine film we were able to see how technology changes us, but also how we change our view of technology over time. So, in a sense, the film versions of H. G. Wells’ classic novel really do make a form of time travel possible.

To end our course, I’m going to now use a different technology to make time travel actually possible. I know it’s hard to believe, but I am going to actually help you travel 10 years into the future.

For our final work together, I’m going to ask you to synthesize some of your thinking about how technology shapes literacy and the teaching of literacy. I’m going to ask you to do this thinking through one last application of technology with a closing exercise I use in most of my classes, especially the online-only ones I teach. I’m hopeful that this exercise will give you one more method for teaching with technology while at the same time helping to crystallize some of your most important reflections on technology-based literacy pedagogy.

How does the Time Machine work?

Now unfortunately we don’t have the technology yet to to take your physical body into the future. We’ll have to wait a bit longer for that. But, we do have the technology to take your mind there (and, hopefully, to bring it back again!). What I want you to do is create an electronic time capsule which will carry your thoughts and ideas from today to your future self living 10 years in the future. Here’s how it works.

The idea of a time capsule is to preserve a record of today for people to look at years from now. You might have read about some time capsules that were created when we reached the year 2000. Time capsules often contain pictures and artifacts, such as clothing, jewelry, coins, and music. They also tend to include letters and written statements

Sample Time Capsule

One good example of a time capsule is the one the New York Times Magazine created to celebrate the 2000 millennium. This time capsule contains information on the most important historical events from the last 1000 years as well as sounds and pictures. You can read about this time capsule by going to:


How does a time machine work for our class?

We’re going to create your own electronic time capsule for class. You get to decide what to write, though I’m going to direct you in some specific ways as well. Your basic goal, though is to write enough significant content to make it worth opening your time capsule in the future.

You get to decide what to place into your time machine: you can write anything you like (but since it’s a pretty small time machine, we can’t fit anything in there except words, though words are actually quite big, if you think about it). The only real requirement is that you write enough to make it worth receiving your time machine back 10 years from now. If you don’t write much or don’t say anything interesting, you future self is going to be very ticked off with your present self. So don’t let yourself down!

I will not read your time capsule in any detail, so you can include some personal information if you like. I want to respect your privacy. I will check to be sure you have put some effort into this assignment. A full page of writing gets credit while 2 lines won’t. If you make a reasonable effort at all to do the assignment, I will give you full credit.

You will send your time capsule to me via email. I will store your email for 10 years (luckily, email messages don’t take up a lot of space). I will then send your time capsule message back to you by email. If that email comes back to me as undeliverable, I’ll try to send your time capsule to you by regular mail. This process isn’t perfect, but it has worked for most students I have had, and I have been doing  this time capsule activity for many years now (I have lots of emails waiting to be delivered at specific dates). If all else fails, send me an email in 10 years and ask to get your time capsule back. I will keep all the time capsules on file until each one is successfully delivered, so write me back when you receive yours. You can always get my current email address from my web page (which will probably be at IUP or search for me on the web).

Because you have to write quite a bit for this task, I suggest that you work in Microsoft Word. Save your file temporarily onto the h: drive using this filename: YourlastnameTimeMachine (In my case I would save the file as PagnucciTimeMachine). When you finish the work, copy all of your writinig into an email and send it to me. Do NOT send me the Microsoft Word file because we can pretty much guarantee that you won’t be able to open that file in 10 years time (knowing Microsoft, it probably won’t even be something we can open next year). Once you email me your time machine, delete it from your email and from your h: drive. Don’t save a version of the file anywhere. (This is a vital step).

If you like this assignment, it will take some time and effort to create a good time machine. I hope I’ve saved enough class time for you to do this project to your satisfaction. For most people, it is best to just work on completing your Time Machine now while you have plenty of time (yes, I realize if you had a time machine you would always have plenty of time). But if you run out of time, that’s ok. Should you need extra time, simply email your work to yourself. Finish up the Time Machine when you get a bit of free time. Then email it to Dr. Pagnucci. You MUST email your Time Machine by the last day of this semester’s final exams to receive credit for doing this assignment (and, more importantly, to make sure I remember to file your Time Machine away in a safe place for future delivery).

Your Time Machine’s Contents

The interesting part of creating a time machine/time capsule is deciding what should go into it. The fun part is opening that time capsule back up many years from now and seeing what you put in. Often, you might not even remember that you created the time capsule until the day to open it arrives. I’m going to give you a few guidelines for how to make your Electronic Time Capsule. Follow these guidelines as best you can (it’s ok to deviate from them a bit just so long as you fill up your time capsule’s vaults with lots of writing). These guidelines are designed to help you create an interesting time capsule that you’ll enjoy receiving 10 years from now. As you write, you might find it useful to include section headings for each part. Most time capsules are a several pages long by the time they are finished.

Your time capsule will have two parts (we’ll call them vaults). One part will be your Academic Vault and the other part will be your Personal Vault. I will give you credit for doing this assignment, but I will not be reading either part. The writing you will do is for your own benefit, not mine. I am merely acting as a storage facility for your work. Below you’ll find more details about what you should write for the two vaults.

Time Machine Contents 1: Academic Vault

Most courses pass quickly. Lots of reading and writing, lots of stimulating conversations, lots of hours. Then it’s all gone in a flash. And, if we aren’t careful, so are a lot of the things we’ve learned. To resist this slow erosion, I’d like you to crystallize some of your thinking about technology and its links to literacy. I want you to preserve this thinking for the future.

Directions A

You should aim to spend about 15-30 minutes writing your Academic Vault.

This is what we’ll be using your Academic Vault to save:

Technology’s Place in Your Pedagogy

One of the great benefits of technology is that it encourages one’s pedagogy to evolve. Discuss one concrete way you plan to make the use of technology a new or expanded part of your teaching. Cite one or two scholars who’ve helped guide you in this direction and discuss how they’ve influenced your thinking. (If you are rejecting technology completely, something I have to say I’d find disappointing, then cite several people to justify taking such a stance. Hopefully your views will evolve with time.)

Technology Learning Goals

Technology changes rapidly as we all know. What aspects of technology would you most like to learn about in the coming years and why?

Dissertation Plan

A graduate student’s Academic Vault just wouldn’t be complete without a dusty doctoral tome. Discuss your best current idea for a dissertation. Then write up a short time line for carrying that dissertation through to completion. It’s my sincerest hope that in 10 years time, your dissertation really will be sitting proudly on your bookshelf.

Time Machine Contents 2: Personal Vault

Let me stress, again, that I will NOT read the contents of your Personal Vault. (You have to trust me on this, but most of you probably know how busy I am anyway, too busy to snoop. I have too much stuff to read as it is!) This means you can feel free to include personal information in your Personal Vault. Don’t reveal anything top secret, but put in information that matters to you. It is your personal information that will be of the most interest to you when you receive your time capsule in 10 years. So don’t short change yourself. If you don’t put enough personally valuable information into your time capsule, your future self will be highly disappointed when you receive it, believe me!

On the Issue of Trust

Again, let me stress that as your teacher I will respect your privacy and guard your time capsule carefully. This is a valuable assignment, I believe, one that has a lot of future value for people. But the entire assignment only works if you can trust me. Since I realize that, and what this assignment to be a success for your class and for future classes, I view your trust in the assignment as sacred and will do everything I can to honor that trust.

Directions B

The first few items below are critical and everyone should include them. Make sure you write up these parts so that your Time Machine will be functional!

You should aim to spend about 10 minutes writing this initial part of your Personal Vault.

The Date
Record the date you finish writing up your time capsule.

Contact Information
This part is really important. I’ll start with your email address, so if that changes, you might want to let me know. I’m going to send your time capsule back to you in 10 years time, hopefully by email. If that doesn’t work, I’ll try to use your mailing address, so please give me an address that is not likely to change (perhaps your parents’ address). I’ll do the best I can to get your time capsule back to you.

  • Your full name
  • All the email addresses you use
  • A permanent mailing address

Self Description
Write a paragraph or two describing yourself at this point in time. Include things like:

  • your weight and height
  • the type of clothing you wear
  • the type of job you have
  • etc.

Also say something about your personality: are you a nice person, cheerful, outgoing, quiet, or what? How would your friends describe you?

Directions C

The rest of the items below are interesting to include in your Time Machine. There are lots of items to give you plenty of options, but there are probably more items than you will have time to write. So, skim over the list, then pick a few that interest you the most and have fun writing! Remember, the more detailed writing you do now, the more interesting reading you’ll have to do 10 years from now.

You should aim to spend about 15-45 minutes writing this last part of your Personal Vault.

Your Family
Our families drive a lot of us crazy. But still, there are few people as important to us. Write a little about your spouse, children, parents, grandparents, or any other relatives who matter to you. Record:

  • what your relations look like
  • things they often say
  • things they often do
  • things that annoy you about them
  • things you love about them

You might even write about some of the relatives you do not like—maybe things will have improved in 10 year’s time!

Your Friends
Spend a little time talking about the people who matter to you. Do you have a significant other? Who are you friends? Record their full names, what they look like, and perhaps their addresses. What do you like about these people? Why are they important to you? Some friends will stay with you forever, but sadly in 10 years time you might not even remember some of these people. So make a record of them now.

Your Interests
Write about the things you really like and try to explain why you like them so much:

  • What do you like to do in your free time?
  • What are your favorite television shows?
  • What are your favorite movies?
  • What kind of music do you listen to and on what radio stations?
  • What hobbies do you have?
  • Do you exercise?
  • What are your favorite foods and restaurants?
  • What are your favorite books?
  • What are your favorite sports teams?

Record what you like now, so you can see how your tastes change over time.

The Era You Live in Now
Record some information about the year you are living in now. This will help remind you about the historical time period when you created this time capsule. Include any information you think is important such as:

  • the current president or leader of your country
  • the state of your country’s economy as well as the state of the world economy
  • major events happening in the news
  • major issues and problems effecting the world
  • the names of famous athletes and celebrities of the current time period

Your View of the World
Include some of personal views about this time in history, such as:

  • What political party do side with and why?
  • What problems in the world most worry you?
  • What are you doing to make the world a better place?
  • What is your opinion of some of the famous people (business and political leaders, rock and movie stars, athletes) in the world today?

Your Hopes and Dreams
Think a bit about your future and then record some of your goals and aspirations:

  • What kind of job do you hope to have in the future?
  • How much money do you hope to be earning?
  • Do you plan to be married or have children in the future? Is there someone special in your life now that you hope to still have in 10 year’s time?
  • What do you hope the world will be like in 10 year’s time?

I hope lots of your dreams work out for you.

Things to Treasure
Include a couple of items in your time capsule that really matter to you. These might include:

  • a quote or saying you want to always remember
  • a description of one or two of your possessions which are most important to you
  • the one thing that makes life worth living
  • your favorite place to visit
  • anything else that is extremely important to you

Seal Up Your Time Machine and Email It Off

Directions D

Send your time machine on email to Dr. Pagnucci:

To: pagnucci@iup.edu

Subject: Time Machine-Launch in December 2026

Body: Paste your time capsule message into the body of your email. Do NOT send your time capsule as an attachment since that will be harder to keep track of and access over 10 year’s time.

Delete Your Time Machine

Once I receive your time machine, I will send you a quick email confirming that I received it from you and that I have safely stored the time capsule away. This confirmation will be your verification that you successfully completed the assignment.

Once you get your confirmation, delete your own copy of the time machine. I know that will be hard since you will have poured a lot of your thoughts and feelings into your time machine. But, the key to any time capsule is that it cannot be opened ahead of time. If you keep your time machine on your computer, it will only be a temptation. More importantly, time capsules are valuable because there is always a chance that you might not get them back. You are putting things away for the future, and we are never sure what the future will hold—it’s part of the fun.

The Power of Technology

So why do this activity as your final exam for English 808: Technology & Literacy? It’s a chance for you to think about what is important to you and about how literacy and technology can preserve those things for you. It’s also a way to communicate those values to yourself in 10 years time. We don’t get a lot of chances to teach ourselves things, but a time capsule can do this. And, in the future, it will be a way to research who you were in the past. This time capsule will become an artifact 10 years from now that will help you look back to this time in your life.

Besides all that, most of my students over the years have said this is a fun assignment to do. That’s probably reason enough.

You should know that when you open your time capsule in 10 year’s time, it might make you a little sad as well as happy. Some of the things you recorded that mattered to you will be gone. Others you will suddenly remember and wonder how you could ever have forgotten them. If you write this assignment correctly, this time machine will really matter to you, and you will want to get it back in 10 years.

Without the technology of email, your time capsule would probably never reach you. But electronic storage and delivery makes the chances good that you will get your time capsule in 10 years time (though I won’t guarantee that 100%!). I hope this last assignment reinforces, then, that technology can transcend time, can preserve our stories, and can connect to us in intimately human ways. Literacy and technology truly are inextricably linked, and now, thanks to both, you present day self is linked to your future self.


Gian Pagnucci