By Jim Shimabukuro
Nick Carbone‘s “#worthassigning: Five Online Essays by Charles Moran,”1 a touching and enlightening tribute to a pioneering leader in writing and ed tech, is #worthreading. Here are a few excerpts from the article:
Moran: “How the teacher uses a given teaching environment depends upon the character of that environment, of course, but it also depends upon who that teacher is.”
This is a timeless reminder that a teacher-proof, one-size-fits-all model for teaching with technology runs against the grain of what we know about successful teaching.
Moran: “I begin to resent, too, the amount of new work I seem to have to do. For instance, I’ve had to go all the way to my office to get to my computer to put together a writing exercise for the class, print multiple copies on blue paper, and cut the pages in half to distribute to the class. I wrote, ‘All this cutting and copying is time- and resource-consuming!'”
Moran wrote this in the context of technology at the time, and it underscores the importance of perspective in using technology in teaching. When the effort leads to less efficiency by increasing tedium and cost, then we need to step back and re-examine our priorities. This caveat, however, needs to be weighed against perceived long-term benefits. Is the current inefficiency a trial-and-error penalty for greater efficiency in the future?
Moran: “Technology seems to be leading us forward to new forms of writing, but, as used by standardized testing programs, backward to the five-paragraph theme.”
Moran has a way of hooking into the big issues in ed tech, and this is an example. Standardized testing serves a useful purpose, but that purpose can be a huge obstacle to critical reform. If we, educators, allow it to lead our practice, then we lose sight of other purposes that are equally and, arguably, far more important.
Moran: “Among our goals as writing teachers are these: help students discover and use their voices; help them take risks with their writing; help them master the grammar, usage, mechanics, and styles of written English.”
As teachers, we’re consumed by learning objectives, and in our quest for the kinds of objective data that computers are so good at gathering and crunching, we forget that measurability is a primitive gauge and that we really don’t know how to measure the higher order variables in writing such as the importance of one’s genuine voice in developing writing skills and the value of courage in exploring new forms of expression. Overreliance on competencies that can be easily measured ignores the critical importance of competencies that we can’t even begin to identify let alone measure.
Carbone: “It focuses on what is lost when one goes back to not using the technology after coming to rely on it, and so it reverses the anxiety many faculty feel when they start to use technology. Charlie does a great job of making a simple brick and mortar classroom feel strange.”
Carbone, in commenting on one of Moran’s essays, reminds us that the cat’s out of the bag. Once we’ve stepped into a new medium, returning to the old is out of the question. Our world of teaching is forever changing, and we have no choice but to keep moving with the flow.