By Lynn Zimmerman
Editor, Teacher Education
During this Spring 2009 semester, I am teaching at a major university in a large city in Poland. My students are 3rd, 4th , and 5th year students , most of whom plan to be English teachers. Technology is playing a role in this experience in some expected and unexpected ways.
First of all, I have easy access to the folks back home. I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Poland from 1992-1994 and, during that time, the communications infrastructure was rudimentary. Many people did not have telephones, myself included. The couple of times I called my mother in the U.S. I had to go to the post office and order the call. Then I had to wait until the overseas operator was able to connect to me. When I returned to Poland in 2000 the cell phone boom had occurred, and Internet service was on its heels. Now with Skype and IM and all the other communication devices at our fingertips, it is almost as though I never left home. This easy accessibility is actually a mixed blessing. The chair of my department has been able to give me tasks to do, even though I am several thousands of miles away.
Although I travel quite a bit and try to journal, I am rarely successful keeping up the journaling process. This time, I decided to set up a “private” social network on Ning (www.ning.com) for my friends. I recorded a video about my impending trip. I put up links to my Polish university and other interesting places. I have been posting pictures of my adventures and have written blogs to keep my friends informed. I think that having an audience other than myself is helping me keep up the process.
On the downside has been the lack of technology available to my students here. The building where I teach has one lecture room, reserved only for large lecture classes, that has a computer and projector, but no Internet access. The technology guy here did show me how to download some clips that I was planning to use from YouTube (using mediaconverter.org), so I was able to work around the no Internet access issue. I have one class of about 40 students and that is the only one allowed to use that room. Unfortunately this week when I was planning to show a DVD and a YouTube clip, the system was not functioning. For my other classes, I have had to re-think how I teach them, taking into account that I would not be able to use the videos and PowerPoints that I usually use with my classes.
Another issue that arose is that none of my students have ever done an online discussion. I use online discussions once or twice a semester when I have to go to a conference. The university here does not have a built-in classroom management system like WebCT or Blackboard, so I set up a discussion on Ning. Because I did not have Internet access in the classroom, I had to take “snapshots” of the screens to show the students what to do. (The computer system was functioning that day.) Then I had to deal with the students’ anxiety about doing this activity. Most of the students participated, and I must say that the ones who did participate did a really good job, better than many of my students in the US. However, another professor has referred several times to the week I “missed” class. She obviously has no idea of how time-intensive setting up and conducting an online discussion is for the teacher or the students.
On the other hand, I was recently at a symposium in another part of Poland and technology, including Internet access, was available in many classrooms. This particular university also specializes in providing services for students with vision and hearing disabilities. They have special adaptive equipment in several classrooms to aid these students’ learning.
So far I have experienced the advantages of technology for staying in touch as well as the challenges it poses when there is little or no access in the classroom. I feel a little bit like I have fallen into Dean McLaughlin’s short novel, Hawk Among the Sparrows (http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/m/dean-mclaughlin/hawk-among-sparrows.htm), which is about a pilot in a modern fighter jet with nuclear missiles and technological guidance systems who goes through a time warp to World War I. None of his highly sophisticated weaponry will work in this low-tech time period so that, in the end, the only way he can be effective is to use his jet as a projectile and crash into the enemy’s installation. I certainly hope that is not my fate!
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tagged: A Digital, Blackboard, Communications, Dean McLaughlin, DVD, Educator, Hawk Among the Sparrows, IM, infrastructure, Internet, mediaconverter.org, Ning, Peace Corps, Poland, short novel, Skype, WebCT, YouTube |