Monday, April 27, 2009

Teaching Literature Unbound

Teachers' Lounge Series, part 2 of 4

Mike and I have been close English Department and personal friends for over thirty years. I also teach social studies, and recently was sharing one of my new tech adventures in American Government class. Mike remarked that tech suited social studies as a discipline better than English. I automatically agreed. After all, one of the reasons that I chose to redesign gov' as a bookless course was because information was so readily available on the Web. Not that I have kept my English classes tech-free. In January, I presented an in-service to the department on the wonders of using hyperlinks in study guides and suggested uses for Google Docs/Sites with English classes. Since then Fran has launched a very cool collaborative project for her Women in Lit class.

But a recent experience has caused me to reconsider my agreement with Mike. While I was sitting in an airport over spring break, I noticed that I had a new Twitter "follower." When I checked the profile I discovered Jim Burke's treasure trove of Web 2.0 resources, not the least being his English Companion Ning (Join!). Days later, I read a simple tweet by Jim: "Is this the future of book?" By clicking the link he provided, I came upon a vision that could provide succor to our department, chronically troubled by book availability, and now vexed by curriculum corseting. Jim's Weekly Reader-- A Digital Anthology points the way for English lit teachers to more freely choose literature and free themselves from a dying medium (see Book End). What if our freshmen or sophomore team teachers collaborated on digital anthologies? The collections would grow, stay fresh, and become wonderfully diverse. Too much "work?" Not for the voracious readers in my department!


Diigo is a little more futuristic as a classroom application, but it signals the end of research as most of us learned it. It will knock your socks off. In addition to allowing collaboration on bookmarks in a wild variety of ways, Diigo allows its users to share highlighting and annotations. This has tremendous possibilities for student research.

As Phil Butler points out,

Diigo allows users to add, gather or extract from pages of information and then share or work with others to further refine knowledge. . . . At Diigo . . . the atmosphere is a “thinking” one rather than a reactive one. Diigo takes all the standard Web 2.0 user tools and focuses them on connecting people with knowledge and then community.

I have already started highlighting and annotating electronic documents with Diigo. I wonder how long it will be before our students will begin building and sharing their own research databases of documents and annotations for their "papers." A video overview is posted at Diigo's site, but I prefer the one created by Liz B Davis. Checking out the demonstration of Diigo which she created with Jing will provide the bonus of allowing you to see the instructional potential of screencasting.

I know that my resourceful colleague, Lynn, hopes to explore Jing soon. The idea that one of my colleagues might soon create a Jing tutorial for students on how to to use Diigo with digital Readers puts me in Web 2.0 nirvana.

Part 3 of this series will be posted Wednesday-- Transcending Words (and copyright!)

"The Teacher's Desk" Flick Creative Commons Photo courtesy of bitzcelt

1 comment:

Sean Nash said...

Nice set of links embedded within this one. In the first paragraph, I immediately hit pause on the idea that new technologies better suit social studies. "English" perhaps... I'll have to think more about that one. But if your course is more along the lines of "Communication Arts," then I cannot imagine a better time to electrify the classroom.

It may indeed look like we are in the midst of a technological revolution. However, I think it makes more sense when viewed as a communications revolution. In ten to twenty years we will look back at this time and marvel. It may just seem bigger than the telephone (likely even).

Heck, blogging (real blogging) might just be the best tool for a constructivist approach to communication arts. It almost makes me want to switch my one class from DC Biology to something where readers/writers workshop prevails.

I DO look forward to embedding Diigo more into what I do. And Jing? Amazing tool. When away on baby leave, my wife created really diverse screencasts for her biology students that incorporated slide shows, scaffolded notetaking, voice, etc. When combined with a course network on the Ning platform, Jing is yet another amazing tool to embed into the framework of what you can offer for your students.

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