Thursday, January 12, 2012

You're an Analog Player in a Digital World

"Pen Collection." Aztura82, 5/26/2008. 

Like the rest of the e-world, I get many emails plugging and extolling the virtues of the next greatest thing - usually a technology or a gee-whiz gizmo. Like the rest of the e-world, I will pick and choose what I read and what I ignore. (Spam can be irritating, but it can also be entertaining as well.) Today, I received an email with the following subject line:

"Important News from Paper Mate!"

My first reaction was "oh, this will be good." My curiosity was handsomely rewarded: there is a "new kind" of pen and ink delivery system out there. At the risk of appearing like a shill for PaperMate, they are touting that this "revolutionary new ink delivery system" will cause pen thefts to skyrocket (assuming normally honest people will be so envious of this marvel they will turn to a life of petty larceny to acquire their class- or officemate's pen.) If you think I'm making this up, see for yourself here.

Then my giggly snarkiness turned a bit melancholy. It was like watching the guy who invented the DittoMaster standing in the middle of an empty, cavernous warehouse, waving his arms and screaming "Wait! It reproduces stuff in black ink, too! And kids won't get high anymore sniffing the fresh ink!" Here is a pen company trying to sound like they are just as high tech as Apple or Google. Ink is still a very analog medium, no matter how revolutionary it is. And they aren't alone. The Eastman Kodak Company, who brought us many decades of memories in KodaChrome fashion, is on the brink of collapse because of the advent of digital imagery. And in case you need a healthy mouthful of irony, they are putting their over 1,100 patents for digital imagery up for sale. This is the company that practically invented digital photography. 

The Boston KS Model 1031. 
I confess, I know as much about "ink delivery systems" as I do about microcircuitry, so I won't rule out that there may be something very exciting going on at PaperMate. But we are at a kind of turning point here. Our classrooms now use a significant amount of digital input devices. More students in my classroom then ever before are using computers, email, PDA, tablets, electronic notebooks and Web 2.0 tools for completing assignments. However, I still do the analog thing: paper worksheets, journals, "jot this down in your notes," etc. Some students just get their personal computing device out and tap in there responses and reflections, and I don't discourage that in the least. The rest dig a pen out of their backpack, or come up to the pencil sharpener. (Ah, my good ol' trusty Boston KS Model 1031. Has there ever been a more effective workhorse in the classroom?) 

I've been in the classroom fulltime for 22 years now - and I am the quintessential analog teacher in the digital age. I still love the feel of a good, heavy pen in my hand, but most of my writing is done via a digital input device. In my classroom, I use chalk on my blackboard, dry erase markers on my whiteboard, project documents on my SmartBoard, and connect to the Internet seamlessly. My dictionaries sit on a shelf not far from the wireless router. A 21" cathode ray tube TV casts a shadow on my 15" LCD flat screen computer monitor. The classroom clock has three hands and twelve numbers; the phone is connected to a LAN. Somewhere, some time, something's gonna give. 

Tomorrow, my World Humanities class will construct character sociograms using a Web 2.0 tool like Webspiration or MindNode, and I know someone is going to ask if they can do it by hand because they "are just better at that." It always happens. Perhaps it's fear of trying something new, or perhaps it's the limitations of the tool itself. And in the interest of constructivist learning theories, I will let them. But I will have them try the tool during class. I still don't think it's futile for an analog player to teach the digital natives. If I did, I wouldn't be writing this today. We just need to remember that there is room for the analog tools, and that they still help learner achieve in ways their digital counterparts can't.