“A mind that is stretched to a new idea, never returns to its original dimension”
Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894)
Katherine Hayles writes in her article How We Read:Close,Hyper,Machine, about how college students, who vote with their feet, are marching in the digital direction (Hayles 65).This is with particular reference to literary studies and its growing interaction with digital representations of literature. Children now are living in the most intensely stimulating period in the history of the earth and as a result are besieged with information from every platform such as computers, iPhones, iPads and hundreds of television channels (Robinson). Information is available at warp speed and there is instant gratification of this information via search engines on iPhones and tablets. For example, what person these days wonders who wrote Tess of the D’Urbervilles for longer than the time it takes to Google it? Or rushes out to their local library to search the bookshelves? Moreover, the fact that “Google” has assimilated so seamlessly into popular culture and can be conjugated is a sign of the incredible power we are dealing with.
“For the first time we are preparing students for a future we cannot clearly describe”-David Warlick.
Is it any wonder, considering these technological stimuli that students struggle to stay focused within the rigid constraints of the classroom, and then they are penalised for getting distracted? Robinson states that the problem is that education is trying to meet the future by doing what was done in the past, and in the process, alienating children who, by virtue of their background or intellectual ability, do not fit into the rigid standardisation of the school ‘system’. If we consider Wheeler’s notion that there are as many learning styles as there are people, there needs to be a change in approach. Therefore, from a pedagogical point of view, what can the educational system do to appeal to this divergence in learning ability? It is vitally important to harness digital learning and interpretation of the arts. This is the direction towards which literary studies is moving therefore educators need to engage students with challenging texts they would otherwise find ‘boring’ or not worth the trouble. Hayles discusses how students read constantly in digital media, and write in it also, but very rarely are they encouraged to do so in literature classes (Hayles 63).
With this in mind, Wheeler discusses the creative use of I.C.T. in the learning environment, for example, with creativity in texting, social media spaces such as Facebook; and encouraging creative writing via blogs. In fact, Hayles writes about Alan Liu’s Literature+ programme which adopts the traditional literary methods of analysis by close reading but through the use of digital media. The project was entitled “Romeo and Juliet:A Facebook Tragedy.” Cleverly, it adapted Shakespeare to the Facebook model, filling out profiles for the characters. Others have copied this innovative idea, allowing students to gain extra marks for example, if they use Elizabethan English mixed with, for example text-speak. Indeed, it is mobile phone use in the classroom which is a constant headache for teachers, so to use architectural parlance, if you can’t hide it, then make a feature of it. According to statistics half of teenagers send fifty or more text messages per day, and one in three send more than one hundred texts per day (Wheeler) so why not harness the power of this technology and use it as a learning tool, thus eliminating the ‘prohibitive’ nature of it?
Another example would be the use of Wordle as a revision for grammar rules or vocabulary in language learning; or for revising a short story such as Joyce’s Dubliners. A very effective process of creation within the digital environment, placed alongside an engagement with the key words or phrases of a literary text. Here digital and print literacies are both mutually reinforcing and extending each other for a common objective. Class websites are also a very effective and interactive way of teaching, allowing students to ‘web chat’ with a teacher or their peers via an environment in which many students are more comfortable.
So, what is happening to implement change from a pedagogical perspective? The NDLR (or National Digital Learning Resources) is a collaborative community of Higher Education academics in Ireland who are interested in developing and sharing digital teaching resources and promoting a new teaching and learning culture. A key impact of the NDLR service is to support greater collaboration in developing and sharing of digital teaching resources and associated teaching experience across all subject disciplines and communities of academics and to promote good practice use and re-use of existing resources. By being empowered by the support of communities of academics, staff from different disciplines can share effort and expertise as they raise the bar collectively for how they support their students learning, embed research in their teaching and potentially embracing partnerships with research and industry, both in Ireland and Internationally (http://www.ndlr.ie)
“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” W.B Yeats.
Divergent thinking is the ability to see lots of possible answers to a question; lots of possible ways of interpreting a question; to think laterally to see multiple answers, not just one (Robinson). Just as a minority language needs to adapt and integrate new vocabulary in order to stay alive, so do the methods of teaching literature. Thus, by harnessing the power of digital pedagogy, teachers can change the approach to texts such as Shakespeare, to re-engage students and re-energise literary studies for the digital age.
Hayles, Katherine N. “How We Read: Close,Hyper,Machine.” ADE Bulletin (2010): 62-79.
http://www.ndlr.ie. n.d. 25 March 2013.
Robinson, Ken. “Changing Education Paradigms.” December 2010. http://www.TED.com. 14 January 2013.
Wheeler, Steve. “Lifelong Learning in a Digital Age.Innovation and Inspiration Through Social Media.” Joint Learning and Teaching Conference. University of Plymouth., 2010. 25 March 2013.