Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Learning from the Best? (Part 2)

After I posted yesterday, I remembered another reading machine that my mother had used in her classroom--and that had also been there in the Aurora Middle School lab in 1966: a device called a tachistoscope, another device that projected reading passages for specified amounts of time.  It supposedly helped improve speed and comprehension.  For me, the only thing that increased was rage.

Now--back to online learning, the topic I raised at the end of my post yesterday.  Near the end of my career, I was using the Internet ever more heavily each year.  Western Reserve Academy used a web application called Moodle, and there I was able to store all sorts of goodies for my students--from vocabulary lists (lose yours? go to Moodle!) to syllabi (lose yours? go to Moodle!) to worksheets of all sorts (lose yours? go to Moodle!).  I used to tell them: With Moodle even the most voracious of dogs cannot eat all this homework.  And it was an enormous convenience.  Students could access it from any Internet-capable device, so the ancient and even revered student excuse (I didn't know about it) was Gone with the Wind.

I also stored all sorts of links on Moodle.  Things related to allusions in our readings.  Video of writers we were studying.  Stuff I mentioned in class.  Articles from the New York Times and other periodicals.  MP3 or video files of poets reading (my students liked to watch Billy Collins reading his poem "The Lanyard": Link).  And on and on and on.  It was just stunning, really.  In one story (I'm too lazy to go look it up right now) Hemingway mentions a specific moment in a specific boxing match with Jack Johnson.  It's on YouTube.  A link posted on Moodle!  Smugly, I would also post links to my book reviews from the Cleveland Plain Dealer (See?  The teacher has homework, too!)

I'd store examples of student essays on Moodle, suggestions for this and that, pictures of things we'd done in class ...

Oh, and one student a few years ago read Adventures of Huckleberry Finn on his iPhone--not some old edition of the novel but the very one we were using in class (the Univ of Calif Press).  Same illustrations, same pages.  He didn't miss a thing--except the touch of the paper and the heft of the volume.  (Huck Finn)

In my classroom in the twilight of my career I had access to things unthinkable at its dawn.  Internet.  A digital projector.  Who needs a blackboard anymore?  Chalk?  An overhead projector (my favorite tool earlier on)?

I also used email to keep in touch with students.  Somebody miss an assignment?  ZAP! goes an email to Somebody.  Students routinely emailed me, too, with questions about this and that.  Oddly, I at first found it annoying ... then liberating.  When the question seemed relevant to the entire class, I'd forward it to all of them.  I would also routinely send them links to things I'd read or seen or heard--especially from NPR's Writer's Almanac--birthdays of our authors, publication anniversaries, etc.

Students would submit their papers to me electronically, and I would use Word's "Review" feature to edit and comment on them, then zap them back for revision.  Later, when I had to write college recommendations for students, I could look at the digital file of essays I kept on each one for a refresher about their strengths and weaknesses as writers.  Later, they would send to me drafts of their college application essays for my thoughts.

But this--Moodle, email, electronic grading of essays--was about the extent of my online teaching.  I, the human being, the teacher, was ever a factor.  I did not make the next step: working with students I never saw, students living elsewhere, students who never met me, never met with other students.

And that is what I want to write about tomorrow

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