It's Wednesday afternoon and I've just finished eating lunch in my office, but I'm not feeling very good. I know that it's my DIGI 230 class that's causing my yucky feeling today. This is a new course for me and this means that I have to start from scratch with every class to create the curriculum. Right now there is only two hours until my class starts and, today, I have no freakin' idea what I am going to do with my students. Normally it's not a problem for me to come up with ideas about how I will have the students take up the weekly topic, but today it seems that everything has come together to create a wasteland of instructional ideas. So, I do what I often do when I need a little mental kickstart. I flip over to my Facebook tab to play a little Bejeweled Blitz to see if I can find some inspiration in creating matching sets of glittering gems.
As the gems begin to fall I half-consciously reflect on why I am so stumped. It doesn’t help that today is November 18th and, like everyone else around here, I am pretty much done in at this point in the semester. The truth is that what I really want to do is to go home and curl up in front of the fireplace with a good book. But the students aren’t paying for me to read in the comfort of my home. They are paying for an education and ultimately it falls on me to provide the structure for them to receive it.
I take my role as educator pretty seriously and most days I even relish it. I am passionate about learning and I agree whole-heartedly with Ted Nelson’s belief that education “ought to teach and reward initiative, curiosity, the habit of self-motivation, intellectual involvement.” When I step into a classroom I have the approach that becoming excited about learning is more important that what they are learning.
It’s because of this that I try to emphasize fun and action in my classroom. I create activities that encourage students to engage with a topic, either with their minds and in groups, or with the technology itself and by themselves. I think part of the reason I’m struggling with what to do in today’s class is that by this point in a semester I have run out of unique ways to engage the students. I worry that maybe I peaked too early by having them play those games back at the end of October. It’s pretty hard to top playing games in class, and now I’m worried that I’m becoming repetitive and (heaven forbid) even boring!
Partway through my Bejeweled game my best friend hits me up in chat.
Michelle: Are you there?
I decide to leave my game and chat with Michelle because she has taught at several universities and can be a good resource when I’m struggling with a teaching issue. Maybe she can give me some inspiration and help me come up with something to do in class. Besides, I haven’t been able to score over 50,000 today so clearly there’s no point in playing any longer.
Alanna: I’m here!
Alanna: But I need to teach in 2 hours and I am completely unprepared for class.
Michelle: Oh no! Do you want me to let you go?
Alanna: No, actually I could use your help.
Michelle: Sure, what’s up?
Alanna: Well, the reading for my class today is really bad, and I am finding that I just don’t care about the topic that he’s writing about. And, I structure my classes around the readings, so I’m at a loss with what to do today…
Alanna: because I don’t give a f*^#* about it.
Michelle: that’s a tough one.
Michelle: you should just go in there and tell the students how you feel. Be honest with them – they’d like that.
Alanna: I can’t do that! They’re counting on me to find a way to engage with the topic. I can’t tell them that I don’t care about it.
Michelle: I should let you go then so you can come up with something.
Alanna: Yeah, I should go, but thanks for the chat. I’ll ttyl.
Well, Michelle was no help for me with this particular problem, and now I have even less time to come up with a plan. I’m beginning to feel a wee bit panicky, but I’ve been in this situation before and I know I can come up with something. But, can I come up with something that will inspire and engage?
I turn back to my copy of the reading to see if anything jumps out at me from my highlighting, underlining and comments I’ve made in the margins. Today’s reading is The New Smartness, by Andrew Ross, and the first half of it is actually rather interesting. Unfortunately that was all I read when I selected my readings last spring, and it turned out that in the later half of the reading Mr. Ross gets a little off course and into what appears to be random-ranting territory. There’s not a lot in this reading that inspires me, and here in lies the problem.
For this course DIGI 230, aka Interactive Communications, I’ve tried to choose readings that will stimulate the students’ curiosity about digital media. Our lives are so immersed in media that many people today don’t question it; further, its taken-for-grantedness seems to discourage inquiry. I see DIGI 230 as an opportunity to open my students’ eyes so they can explore the digital landscape from a critical perspective. I believe that in order to be good media producers, first one needs to be a critical media consumer.
Oh no, it’s 1:00. There are only 1½ hours to go, and I’m still stuck in complaining mode. I look at the page again, and I re-read some questions that I had jotted down when I first read the piece last May. “What does it mean to be smart?” “Does it mean the same thing to everyone, in all situations?” “What does it mean to be smart if you’re a machine? Is it the same as human smartness?” I know I have smart students in my class who have demonstrated that they like the idea of having an educational experience that is centered on the asking and answering of questions. And, while they may not know exactly what this class is about, they seem willing to take risks and to move forward towards a place that offers an opportunity for personal learning.
It helps that I feel that the students and I have built a good learning relationship so far in this class and that they will forgive me if my class isn’t always full of games and interesting activities. I trust that these students will engage in an interesting discussion and in the end we will all understand a bit more about digital media. With some resignation I tab to Moodle and start creating the structure of the class based around these questions that seem interesting to me.
At 2:25 I close my laptop and prepare to head downstairs. I still don’t feel very inspired by the topic but at least it has to be better than me sitting at the front of the class and saying, “Actually, there won’t be a class today because I don’t give a flying (BEEEEEP) about this reading.”
Most of the students are in their seats as I enter the room. I place my backpack on the seat, pull out my laptop and begin my preparations for the start of class. I plug my laptop into the projector, glance at the clock and see that it is 2:27. I smile at the students whose eyes I catch, exchange a few words with others and wait for the clock to hit 2:30. Finally I take in a deep breath.
“Okay, let’s get going. In today’s class we’re going to take up the reading…”