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Gadgetry and Pedagogy

My own use of the laptop/projector/screen has been primarily for student presentations or to access an online discussion board or demonstrate how to use one in front of the class. My use of gadgets in the classroom is thus primarily for presentation purposes, and it is structured to, ideally, demand attention to one part of the room. While I do allow laptops in the classroom for notetaking, in other words, I am still not entirely sure how I would structure lessons to make use of decentralized gadgets (like a smart phone or iPad) in a way that would encourage engagement over distraction, particularly in courses with more than 25 students. I am thus curious as to whether and how others allow students to use their own handheld gadgets throughout the classroom to a collective end.

This article in The Chronicle of Higher Education,iPads Could Hinder Teaching,” for example, not only cites the disadvantages of the iPad as a classroom distraction, but also suggests how this particular gadget might be used by individual students to increase interactivity in larger courses. This article also raises the issue of how much the structure of a gadget determines its pedagogical value. For example, because iPads make it harder to hide “web browsing,” as the article suggests,  they are potentially a more useful tool than a laptop. What is/would be the ideal “gadget” for your courses?

Beyond these pragmatic student distraction/engagement questions, the use of “gadgets” raises fundamental questions about how we define literacy and how such “gadgets” might influence (to gesture just a little bit toward Marshall McLuhan’s technodeterminism) how we process ideas in reading and writing. The question of whether students might read more (or better?) with e-readers, for example, is one driving inquiry in a recent CUNY grant project. How much does the “medium” determine the “message” with a text, for example? Returning to Chris Stein’s incredibly helpful post on the “Digital Media Lifecycle,” furthermore, how does the movement from sensory input to sensory output through the digital influence student involvement with course material (if at all)? The technological alienation from the “human” has been a question haunting this course, and I wonder how others perceive the influence of digital “gadgets” here? Furthermore, how might the discipline influence the extent to which there is a deviation between the “live” and the digital? For example, I would imagine that Chad would certainly acknowledge a big difference between a live performance and an mp3 file. However, as a composition and lit. instructor, I actually cannot say that I would find nearly as immense a qualitative difference between any analog edition of text and the same e-text. How does discipline, in other words, determine the role gadgets play in your classroom?

Posted in Motivation.

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