Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Wonderful Witchy One From Wichita Wonders About Web 2.0, Tweeting, The Online World, How it Impacts Education, And An Undo Button For Our Classroom.

I just tweeted in my pants!
Having been a GarageBand junkie for a while, I find it hard now to hit a real stage without a play/pause button on a infinitely rewritable track, so I sort of get why proffies might prefer not only to incorporate technology galore into their curricula but also teach online courses based around podcasts and carefully crafted blogs. In fact, I attended a lively talk the other day promoting the use of Web 2.0 in and outside the classroom; it made me seriously reconsider using not only blogs, which still impose a certain hierarchy due to the post/comment structure, but also the more egalitarian 140-character tweets, individual posts which float in an amorphous cybersphere. Both, the presenter insisted, provide the kind of connectedness interdisciplinary requires in addition to being relevant, that is, setting up a bridge between different courses as well as between abstract academia and the concrete demands of "the real world." Students who are too shy to talk in class often become vocal in such settings, a community emerges, posts become increasingly more sophisticated, and everyone generally wins out. Our main goal as educators is to teach our little ones how to filter through all that information.

Selectivity, I get it; we already do it when we teach our students how to conduct research by scrolling through database-generated search results, by reading abstracts, and by skimming articles. But part of me wants to scream bloody murder!! I don't give a shit that students who would normally not even sit next to each other in class can hit it off once they realize, in a chatroom devoted to, say, Dante's Inferno that they're both hooked on the eponymous video game and can immediately strike up a friendship. They're connected in a different way now. Who the fuck cares?! First of all, that's bullshit. Second, that's performativity 101. I've read all about simulacra and other postmodern conceits; most of my students wouldn't know how to spell the word, but they've donned the mask. And it's not like I haven't either: I have a made-up name on Facebook to match my made-up personality; but the people who leave 17 comments each time I post that I just coughed, know me in real life and meet me for coffee to discuss Kirkegaard's Expectorations and not just my own. We talk nonsense because we're taking a break from intellectual shit, not because we're incapable of producing it.

The presenter also pointed out that the net is a great way to network (Duh!) and that, through tweets etc., he has scored invites to talks and other legit gigs. Hypothetically, that's pretty cool; our little ones could network not only with students in their classes but with others who happen to be on the same page, literally. I've done my share of social networking with friends of friends or folks with similar interests in the virtual classroom that is the Internet. But I've also discovered that, unlike my "real" friends, those people have forged their identities so thoroughly that they have completely lost their (yeah, I know, already fictional Cartesian) selves. They are charming, witty, sexy, entertaining, incredibly seductive, and terrifyingly fake, and when I suggest that they unplug themselves and meet me at the nearby coffee shop, they suddenly go offline. (You know the kind: they are more than willing to have chatsex with you every night, but are too afraid to ask you out.) I am not sure I would want to engage in job negotiations over 140 characters; I'm not even that comfortable texting about it. Am I just a traditional gal? a hopeless romantic? But also, am I hypocrite for accusing my students of the same posing I do as soon as I finish teaching and open my bookmarked FB page, where I get most of my news, my gossip, my weather update, my everything...? Then again, when I read that my buddy Bill is pissed about another rainstorm, I go to the Weather Channel; when my amica Amanda rants about a new senate bill, I hit me some authentic news pages many of which, though written in blog form, are also reliable because written by experts; when my pal Polly raves about a new book, I don't go to the user reviews on Amazon. I'd like to think I use these tools as a fun launching pad, but I am afraid those promising little ones in my classroom see them as an end rather than a means, and settle for less.

Bear with me; there is a question hidden somewhere in this messy post.

How do you feel about the interactive knowledge base that is created for and by the students themselves, who feel empowered as "authors of discourse" even though when asked about the term, they would probably turn to Wikipedia where other "authors" of a similar kind have left their concocted half-assed entries? Am I stuck in the 20th century, and have I read Frankenstein too many times to appreciate the knowledge-power of technology? Can there be some compromise? Can we use blogs and tweets in such a way that would help our students stay connected with each other in "the real world," and that would draw them deeply into a given discipline prior to throwing a flimsy rope bridge over into all other possible domains of which they would otherwise have equally superficial knowledge? Finally, with the advent and dominance of Facebook-MySpace-LifeJournal-Twitter-Everyone- And-Their-Mom-I-s-A-Professional-Blogger Now culture, has the real-time classroom--with its occasional goofs and "I don't knows," with its awkward silences and laughs instead of smiley faces, with its demand to be on one's toes because there is no "Go Offline" or "Undo" button--become obsolete? Sure, I can record a bang-up solo, with enhanced tempo and pitch, but I'd rather hear a fucked-up duet or, better yet, a completely cacophonous orchestra. Is this still possible or has "live" class interaction given way to overproduced studio projects? How can we keep up with but not fall victim to these postmodern times?