Look, Ma, no paper

8 Jun 2010

This is the third of seven posts written by Dr. Tibby Lynch. This post was written in late November or early December 2009. I have included it as part of my 21st century pygmalion series of posts.

The first startling result of this enterprise was the virtual disappearance of paper from my pedagogical environment.  The initial sensation was vaguely disquieting.  Something was missing.  Bulky spiral notebooks had been transformed into a collection of daily NING postings– reflective and analytical writings due each day that were visible not only to the teacher, but to all of the students in the three sections of the course.  Class Notes and impromptu writing were being entered in personal folders kept by each student.  Formal writing assignments – including multiple drafts – were stored for ready access during in-class writing workshops.  While I have, of course, posted schedules and assignments online for some time, the all laptop scheme allows for all materials and links to be posted and modified on a continuing basis and via the collective will of the classroom community.  The most challenging paradigm shift in this area, for me, has concerned the replacement of textbooks with online resources.  The complete texts of all three of our major works for the first semester, including Beowulf (The J.R.R. Tolkien translation), Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and Hamlet, were read and studied online. [Project Gutenberg] I have mixed emotions about this.  On the one hand, I am an inveterate lover of books; I like the way they smell, and look, and feel in my hands.  I even find pleasure in distributing old books, the ones with marginalia of days and students past scrawled on the edges of the text.  There is, undoubtedly, a fundamental psychological disconnect that even the most tech oriented among us must feel when looking at an electronic text.  Indeed, staring at the familiar lines of cherished works of literature on a screen, even as I try to communicate a love of reading for its own sake to my students, takes an extra measure of negative capability.  The other problem is the quality of many electronic texts.  The version of Hamlet we are using, for example, while complete, contains a number of inexplicable mistakes (the text suddenly being presented in italics, for instance; using continuous line numbers, rather than beginning, as is the standard convention, with each act or scene).  Better editions can be, of course, ordered and paid for. (Beware, though; books I have ordered on my personal Kindle are often filled with mistakes.) On the plus side, if an institution is strapped for cash, free, minimally flawed editions of books in public domain can save a great deal of money.