Saturday, April 4, 2015

Technology, handwriting, art, and Star Trek

The visitors who walked into my office this past Thursday were expected, but not for me.  My instructional tech support-person (ITS), who is housed in the office space next to mine in the library, told me on Wednesday that her "big boss" was coming for a visit.  I joked about being on my best behavior so I wouldn't embarrass her.

The three gentlemen made a beeline for my office first.  I only recognized one of them--an assistant director for tech support who was housed at my previous campus, and with whom I had spoken frequently while working on my MLS.  The other two turned out to be another assistant director ITS, and the ITS "big boss".  They stopped by to see me because I'll be participating in the Next Gen pilot program next school year, with new tech devices in the library.  

I am really excited (and a bit anxious) about participating in this program.  Hoping that I'll get tablets of some sort, I'm already making a mental list of ways we can use them in the library.  I want to find ways that students can do more than just consume information--I want them to be producers, too.  But production takes time, both in the learning how and the process of creating, and in a school of 1000 elementary students with the same hours as those with 500...well, that's where the anxiety comes in.  Luckily, I have a few months to sort that out, and a large community which includes librarians to help with the questions.

So what does this have to do with handwriting, art, and Star Trek?

While I was thinking about students as producers, I noticed how products are changing in schools.  Handwritten essays are now submitted in .doc format electronically.  Dioramas often give way to Powerpoint and Prezi slides.  I just taught a small group a mini-lesson on Windows Moviemaker this week, so they could make a PSA for their PBL

This stream-of-consciousness continued with the memory of a father who spoke at the school board meeting I attended a few weeks ago.  He was against kindergarteners and first graders having access to technology, and had already pulled his oldest children out of a district middle school due to worries about students using their own digital devices without supervision during transition times.  He stated concerns about social-emotional development before his three minutes were up.

My first reaction to his speech was to think his stance anachronistic.  Students need to have tech skills if we are to prepare them for participation in society after graduation.  And I think we do a pretty good job of teaching social skills at school, too.  Our students don't sit in front of monitors all day, watching videos and answering multiple choice questions.  They read "real" books, write, work collaboratively, and access fine arts and physical education weekly.
But I can understand a bit of what that father may be worried about, too.  Access to the interwebs can be a scary thing.  Methods of getting and producing information are rapidly changing.  My own teen son can't really write in cursive--and even has difficulty reading it--because it wasn't emphasized in elementary school. Batteries fail, broadband is sometimes overloaded, servers go down--and then what?  The low-tech pencil and paper can't just go away.  When we use technology in the classroom, there always seems to have to be a Plan B (another one of my tech anxieties).

Are we, as a society, going to continue valuing the handwritten word, the strokes of a paintbrush, the binding of a book?  I think of Star Trek:  The Next Generation, with Captain Luc Picard's unusual book collection.  I can't remember if there were paintings on the walls of the U.S.S. Enterprise.  "Crude" writing methods were shown when depicting worlds which were not as technologically advanced.  Is this where we're headed?  

Can a personality come through a Word document as fully as it does in the loops and swirls and slant of the handwritten page?  Does art produced digitally evoke the same feelings as thick swirls of paint on a canvas?  Can technological and manual products continue to co-exist, or will the latter be thrown out?  Will future generations value the same products we "old folks" do... and if not, does it really matter?

Lots of points to debate.  I know my personal preferences of writing out my grocery shopping lists and painting with a real wood-and-bristle paintbrush.  My daughter straddles the divide with her acrylics and brushes and digital drawing slate.  Who knows what her children will prefer?

In the library, we will continue to have books.  And coming soon, handheld devices.  The current student art displays are handmade, and there is a can of pencils on the circulation desk.  There will be lessons on Dewey, book care, genres, Smores and blogging and internet safety, while the art and music teachers paint and sing and create Powtoons and Animoto projects with their classes.  We will bridge the divide, for now. 

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