“It’s Not About the Technology…” (Usually)

So, a few things have happened in the last week that have me thinking about my belief that “it’s not about the technology, it’s about the literacy practices the technology enables.” As much as I do believe that, there is a certain point at which the technology has to be functional in order for the literacy practice to take its place front and center. Three cases from the past week…

First, Lansing Schools are (as they should) celebrating a new school opening this week. The interesting move that I think all of the school officials and board members are making is framing this as a move to “compete” for schools of choice students that have left the district. The articles and news reports have been celebrating many things about the school, especially the fact that it has four computer labs (as compared to the previous school’s one) and LCD projectors in each room. Again, something to celebrate.

However, what I am concerned about are the other schools in Lansing — many of which my RCWP colleagues teach in — that do not have the technology that the new Pattengill has. Here is a case where we now have disparity not only between districts, but within a district, too. As we think about digital literacy, and the quality and quantity of access that students get at school, I think that we can’t underestimate how important this part of the discussion is as an equity issue. What happens when middle school students from different locations converge in the district’s high school, some working in highly networked environments and others not? This is certainly something that we need to consider, let alone the disparities between school districts.

The second case was from when Aram and I delivered a workshop on digital storytelling, the first one that either he or I participated in as a facilitator. While I want to say that digital storytelling is about the story, not the technology, I do have to say that we had a heck of a time trying to get Photostory and Windows Movie Maker to do what we know iMovie can do on its own (adding narration to a full time line in Photostory, for instance). Then, there was Jumpcut (and, I am sure a number of other online video editors that I haven’t even found yet), and we considered jumping to it mid-day, but decided to ride the storm out.

Again, this is another issue that we need to consider as we try to integrate digital literacies into schools. We had some resilient teachers and two facilitators working to make this all happen, and we did have twelve success stories by the end of the day. However, I can see–and would likely agree with–a teacher who felt that there were too many hoops to jump through in order to bring a digital story to fruition using these two programs, programs that I am sure most schools are dealing with since they are Windows-based (and, Photostory still needs to be installed separately, assuming you even have XP). Once the technical issues outweigh the benefits of the literacy learning, then it seems as though the project could turn into a “how to” lesson and not a writing one.

Finally, and this is my last gripe for tonight, I joined in the ACE Second Life meet-up the other day. Again, nothing really new there, as people like Rob, Sarah, and others have been writing about Second Life and the implications for English instruction for months and I am just getting on board with it. However, what I found interesting was the fact that of all the things to do in SL, the one thing that you can’t really do is compose and share text beyond simply chatting.

Now, you would expect the digital literacy guy to think that it was cool that you could take screen shots and videos and create multimodal compositions. And, I do. That’s cool that people are composing in a multimodal manner.
Yet, I still wanted to see something in SL where people could actually share their writing with one another in a quick and easy way. Sarah talked about this on EdTechLive a month ago: the idea that people could look at an internet browser live in SL. Perhaps they could look at a Google Doc or wiki page and work on it together, in SL. Who knows? Perhaps now that SL has gone open source, something like that might happen. (Also, I won’t even go into the equipment and bandwidth requirements that SL needs in relation to digital writing…)
Well, enough said for tonight. I guess that I needed to just think through my “it’s not the technology” argument a little bit more. Thanks for listening…

2 thoughts on ““It’s Not About the Technology…” (Usually)”

  1. Troy,

    Well, there are at least a few educators talking/thinking about writing in SL. I know that Sarah Robbins (ACE) is doing her dissertation on using SL as a collaborative writing space, not because SL facilitates the easy sharing/editing of documents (it doesn’t yet), but because it provides a social space where collaboration can readily occur.

    All of the synchronous spaces I’ve used have had similar issues with asynchronous writing tasks . . . maybe SL will eventually develop an in-world wiki or something similar.

    You might also be interested in attending this meeting–http://www.nmc.org/sl/2007/01/17/educause/

  2. Hi Rob,

    I agree that the social aspects of SL make it a compelling place to be and do research. I like the idea of an in-world writing space.

    That said, I wonder if there is really anything keeping anyone from meeting up in SL while also collaborating with his/her friends on a wiki, Google Doc, or some other web-based writing. You could be having your chat in SL, perhaps even touring someplace that you are writing about, and then just flip over to your web browser and begin typing things into this other document.

    Perhaps we can try that on an ACE tour of SL to gather our impressions?


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