Losh, Elizabeth. The War on Learning. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2014. Print.
This discussion will focus on Chapter 2 of The War on Learning also called “The war on learning.”
In this chapter, Losh discusses the integration of technology in learning environments, where technology worked, where technology failed (in a couple cases epically failed), and where learning happened. What I find most informative, as a teacher, is the section on Twitter in the classroom. I think many students feel disempowered while in the classroom setting. The professor designs the curriculum, the syllabus, the assignments, then the students arrive, read, and test to complete the requirements. To meet overall degree requirements students have some choice in content topic, choice in major, but there are always required courses that must be completed, sometimes with content the student doesn’t care about, and sometimes delivered in lecture format where student input – student attendance – doesn’t seem to matter. While grades matter for a number of reasons (credentialing and money primarily), grades don’t provide a space of empowerment for students.
Coming from these ideas, Losh’s discussion of Twitter in the classroom is especially important. In her classroom, Losh used Twitter as a feedback loop and conversation location for students. Pedagogically, this provides tools for students to continue conversation, raise questions, and actively participate in lecture and classroom discussion. In Losh’s class, students used this space to stage a ‘cough in’ (42-44). When asked to discuss the cough event later Losh found that many students saw their non-classroom use (‘subversive’ use 43) of Twitter in the classroom as an act of political power. Empowerment – while not ‘on task’ in a traditional sense, students used their learning from the course to find empowerment in the course, to possibly find empowerment as students. Losh finds that “once one particular aspect of unequal power relations was revealed, those undergraduates still needed theoretical apparatuses and practical guidelines for more meaningful ethical, rhetorical, and historical reflection” (44-45), but I think the idea that students found a way to use the technology to meet their particular needs is an important finding.
Losh continues this chapter with excellent analysis and discussion of student empowerment, the use of technology that further disempowers, and the way technology can empower learning. But I’ll continue to focus on this Twitter example. Fall 2015 I had a face-to-face capstone course use Twitter in and outside the classroom. In a gameful grade fashion, I awarded points for tweets as completion of the assignment not awarding points for quality of tweets. Based on my assignment student could have tweeted ‘rhetoric #coursehashtag’ and met the requirements of the assignment. Students did not. Instead, students dutifully posted their tweets, responded to peers, and complained to me about lack of engagement with peers in Twitter. After a couple weeks of struggling to foster connections between peers when giving brief lectures and fostering class discussion, I began integrating Twitter ‘assignments’ into the daily practice of the course. I would begin by addressing questions from the reading, focusing notes on the areas I wanted to ensure students understood, and asking questions to foster discussion. Then I would pose a tweet based question – MRW (my reaction when) tweets. As students sifted the internet looking for perfect memes to react to my question they began to converse with each other across the room – excitedly posting tweets to be showcased as I projected the course feed. They began to see Twitter as a way to engage with theory and the class, but also to engage with each other – looking for tweets that would be meaningful to the other students of the course, memes recognizable to their generation of student while meeting the requirements of the question. Students critically engaged with the rhetorical situation (text, context, audience, purpose, culture), while using tech devices in class, and talking with their peers.
What I learned from using Twitter:
- students complain a lot in the beginning, love it in the end
- some of my students have asked to use Twitter in one class I haven’t assigned Twitter
- some of my students live tweeted during graduation using our old course hashtag
- students stress over the ‘correctness’ of their tweets
- several of my graduate students have emailed and Direct Messaged me about their posted tweets to ensure they are right
- students need assistance with moving toward critical reflection on their technology use
- this means creating space in the classroom to use Twitter, and then engaging students with how they choose to use it
- this could mean redesigning classroom use each semester to meet the interaction of the course
Similar to Losh, no technology by itself won’t revolutionize and empower students, teachers are necessary to assist students in determining how technology is and can be used, and for fostering good uses of that technology. All technology requires experimentation, tell students that, then experiment as a group!