College of Mount Saint Vincent (UNITED STATES)
About this paper:
Appears in: EDULEARN10 Proceedings
Publication year: 2010
Pages: 4692-4698
ISBN: 978-84-613-9386-2
ISSN: 2340-1117
Conference name: 2nd International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 5-7 July, 2010
Location: Barcelona, Spain
For years, at our small college, old fashioned journaling---or maintaining a written log---in response to literature was a staple of both Freshman and Junior literature courses. When electronic logs (or discussion threads) became possible (about 13 years ago), I was an early adopter. The old fashioned hand-written log had several drawbacks: student could wait until the last minute and fill in a months' worth of responses, for instance. This way, they could avoid both the reading and the confronting the log until it was literally too late for learning. Their responses could be vague and impressionistic to the point of non-engagement. The electronic logs---posted daily in response to questions keyed to the text and called "discussion boards" --on the other hand, can confirm in real-time that students have done the reading. The questions force specificity. Their understanding can be measured class-by-class and responded to either in class or on-line. The current software the college uses is "Blackboard" and it is by far the best we've tried and as opposed to old software, the actual responses can be put up on the screen in class and spark class discussion. The best students are excited by it and respond early, eagerly and at length. The poor students respond sporadically, briefly and then give up altogether---so it serves the function of winnowing the wheat from the chaff. So, it's perfect? No. The old fashioned journals were not public, and for the very reasons that this encouraged the worst in the worst students, they could provoke the best, and most intimate responses from the best students. That, seems to be lost in what is essentially a public forum. There is, as well, a kind of "herding" towards what seems to be the most "mainstream" early response. There is too something about the brevity and speed that can produce glib, unengaged responses. But because these can be highlighted and responded to in a way that can short-circuit that habit, that is not a reason to abandon the electronic logs. But the one, more essential danger, I fear is that by subjecting the literature to the "Facebook" treatment of instant posts, somehow we send the message that immediacy is all. Sustained response may suffer, but more importantly, it may send the unintended message that literature can be treated with the same nonchalance as their "Facebook" updates, responded to in the manner of an instant poll, and forgotten about. I still think that a balance can be struck, but I think it will be a harder road than I initially imagined. This paper will explore at greater length the benefits and costs of electronic engagement with literary texts. If it is fast, can it be deep? If it is brief, can it be wide? Does the use of electronic logs in someway weaken the sustained, inter-connectedness of liberal learning? Are real discussions possible on "discussion boards" and if so, are they the kind of discussions we want to be having in class?
Electonic Logs, literature.