Along with being the Technology Coordinator for the UMass Amherst Writing Program, guest blogger Shastri Akella teaches first-year writing. He has most recently received his MFA degree and is currently a PhD candidate in Comparative Literature.
As technology coordinator, I worked with teachers to expand the meaning of what a text means—it is an essay in Other Words or Student Anthology, and it is also a song, a movie clip, a blog post, a videogame, or a list of curated tweets, as long they’re each read in the context of an audience and unit goal. Together we expanded the possibilities for portfolio collection: all student writing for a given unit can live in a single Google Doc, making it easy for the instructor to check off activities as they’re grading, and more importantly, to see, with a single doc, how a student’s writing has grown over the course of the unit. We spoke about Moodle and conference scheduling, Unit IV activities and final portfolios.
This process of knowledge-expansion took place in one-on-one conversations and also in classrooms; teachers invited me to their classes and together we had conversations with students on the forms of technology they would be using in the class and why it was helpful—why it made sense, for instance, to do peer review on a shared Google Doc. We spoke about hurdles students might face in facilitating a technology-driven, paperless classroom, and some possible solutions. I will be collating and sharing these solutions with teachers during the Spring symposium.
As a teacher I found that technology, by channeling the external into the classroom, facilitated the opposite: it placed the skills learned in 112 classrooms in the context of the social reality students interact with. In reframing a Facebook post for a non-native speaker of English, or for a high school teacher, students understood the meaning of audience. In watching a foreign language film without subtitles and “guessing” what was happening in the scene, and then seeing what was actually happening, they appreciated the meaning of context. And in setting a section of a videogame in dialogue with a film, they understood what it meant to get resources to interact. It was a pleasure sharing these ideas with fellow-teachers and hearing their perspectives.
I enjoy talking about technology in the context of teaching writing, and I hope, in the upcoming semester, to have conversations with more teachers on how they can bring in technology that works well with their teaching personality, and in the process help more students learn that the skills they learn in our classes have contextual applications in spaces beyond our classrooms.