Wednesday, August 28, 2013

teaching in a digital age

This was an entry post for the Internet Initiative Scholarship! Can't remember too well, but I believe the question asked how the internet would be important in my future career plans.

Post-college is a foggy and, frankly, terrifying span of time to ponder. Most of us would rather not project our thoughts into the future. Sayings like “live for today,” “yolo,” and “these are the best years of your life” justify our present-mindedness. All that is just fine. But as I start my second year of college, I actually enjoy thinking about the different paths I might wander down. College is, after all, just four years of my life. Why treat it like the journey when it’s really the launching pad?

I’m not one of those souls who entered college thoroughly decided on a major. Last semester, I told my advisor that I was framing my vocational search in terms of one question:

“How can I best contribute to the world?”

I’ve yet to fully answer that question, but it’s a good question, and it's helped me sharpen my priorities. Although I can’t commit to any one plan for after graduation, I have two ideas: teaching literature or theater.

My love affair with literature began in sixth grade, when I moved from St. Joseph’s Regional School to Belhaven Middle School and discovered the richness of a public school library. Books became a vehicle; if ever I felt the loneliness common to new students, I simply cracked open a book and escaped. Within those pages I found characters to model myself after and characters I swore never to become. I even befriended the librarian, Mrs. Ojserkis. She offered reading recommendations, showed me the newest books before stacking them, and bought me a Christmas present from the book fair (Little Women by Louisa May-Alcott, and yes, I still have it).

By high school, my love for great storytelling spilled over into my passion for theater. Losing myself in a character is the same as losing myself in a book. And, just as I used to identify with the characters I met in books, the audience identifies with the action on stage; in various characters they see their friends, their coworkers, even themselves. That last idea fascinates me. In any given performance, I’m holding a mirror to the audience: “Here’s human nature for better or for worse.” Actors and authors share this task. That, perhaps, is what I love most about stories: their ability to make you think, to make you realize even more about yourself, and to inspire you to become better.

I’m interested in becoming an English or theater teacher because stories have been my life. So where does the internet come in?

All sorts of media have become most easily accessed through computers or other Wi-Fi-enabled devices. Kids are spending more time online than buried in books or playing with action figures. Even my little cousins, when I visited them in the Philippines this past summer, spent almost the whole time playing games on their iPad and their dad’s iPhone. 

I can only imagine the childhoods of those ahead of them.

As a teacher, I would use the internet as a primary tool for assignments and for teaching. In addition to reading books, for example, I would assign videos on the author and the context of the story. We could use streaming sites such as Netflix to watch filmed adaptations of novels and plays. Using the internet in these ways might help kids realize that the Web is an excitingly bottomless source of information, not just entertainment.

I also want to experiment with video-taping lessons and posting them on a blog dedicated to my class. Students would watch these for homework, then come to class ready to discuss the concepts I covered in the video. In person, I could better help them take their skills to the next level: applying these concepts to a new piece of reading. Creating a blog or website for the class would also be a useful and efficient way to assign work, as well as update students who are already spending a lot of time online.

As a theater teacher, the internet would be even more indispensable. Not only would I be able to stream examples of fine acting from theater, film, and TV, but I could also show videos of seasoned professionals discussing their craft. We could even initiate e-mail exchanges between students and willing professionals in order to help kids learn more about what it takes to do theater in the real world. I once e-mailed a working Asian actress asking for advice, and I was surprised by how generous she was with her reply. Why not encourage students to seek out information from the source?

The internet is a prime way for educators to borrow from the wealth of information and experience that floats on the Web. We have information at our literal fingertips. As an educator, I would harness the internet for all its worth. It’s no longer enough to show students the power of stories; we must also show them that the internet is no replacement for stories, but rather a supplement and a tool.




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