This semester I’m teaching a class with a strong technology component. So far my students have used flickr, wordpress, SIMILE timelines, Wordle, Wikipedia, GDocs, Blackboard, and Prezi. On my midterm evaluations several of them commented that they had technology-fatigue after learning so many different tools. As a result, I decided it was high time to get old-school.
So, last week I brought in my Royal typewriter to class for the students to use for a short in-class assignment, where they would write a twitter-length summary of the day’s reading. I learned that not one of them had used a manual typewriter before–most of them couldn’t even figure out how to load in a sheet of paper and no idea what the ding of a carriage return meant (much less how to pull on the lever to move the carriage back to the other side of the page). Only one of them had the finger strength to consistently hit the keys hard enough to make an ink impression on the paper. Afterwards I wondered if perhaps they were scared of breaking the machine–despite my encouraging them to pound on the keys.
Bringing a typewriter was a bit of a stunt, but I think it also underscored how useful technology can be in the classroom. In their reflective writing after the exercise, most praised academic technology (although they still have a strong distaste for Prezi). None of them want to have to type out an assignment manually again, although one of them said that if she could “choose” to use a typewriter on a school assignment that it might be fun.
As an instructor I’m doing all I can to not only teach the students the ins-and-outs of technology, but to foster an environment where the students are constantly working at the edge of their knowledge–to keep them actively involved in what we’re learning together. Because of that, I expect them to feel frustrated with and even tired of technology. I expect them to fail sometimes when they try something new (or in this case, when they try to use a tool so old that they might not have ever encountered one in real life before). More than showing off mastery of a technological tools, I expect the students to be curious and experimental. I want them to play with and explore the use of tools in ways that are unique to them and aren’t a carbon copy of the way that I use them.