I sing: about what a transparent educational technology should be. Could be. I’m not talking about new PowerPoint templates here. I’m talking about a Jedi-training, multimedia, transparent technological tool that helps students learn. It doesn’t exist right now, as far as I know, but I thought if I put it out there, maybe one of you wonderful people of the world could make it happen.
…about teaching English classes about the Great Vowel Shift by discussing the invasion of 1066. When we mention the key words (tags?), the lights will dim briefly, and shouts of Saxon warriors will fill the room. Flashes from broadswords on all four walls. Projections in the center of the room and all all four walls allow the class to sit in the round. A spinning globe will stop, focus hovering over England, then zoom in on the thread of a channel that runs between England and France. Sounds of Old, then Middle English fill the room, combined with French. The words change – kah-nite (knight) becomes nite (knight). The words are spelled out on the walls, in the air, as they students hear them changing. The map becomes interactive, and students are able to move words over the map with their hands (Xbox Kinect-style) to hear differences in geographical pronunciation. They can also move a chronological slider, to hear the differences time makes.
… of a discussion of a text like Jane Eyre. The universe of British literature appears like a constellation in the classroom (picture Yoda’s Jedi academy, without the small green guy). Each text is a bright spot of colored light, poised in relation to other texts in terms of chronology and geography. Students (or the teacher) can highlight bands of theoretical movements, influence, authorship, translation… We could zoom in on the point of light almost infinitely, seeing images of the adaptations, viewing the biographical information about the author, linking to other texts via the Gothic, or queer studies, or women’s studies, or fanfiction, or any of the myriad ways that Jane Eyre can be read. These links would show a band of light of, say, the Gothic, lit up and highlighted as a belt of influence and relationship. Each choice would bring up a new constellation of knowledge (or a new view of the whole). The constellation would be a database accessible by all, but customizable by the user for their own classroom so that tags or ideas could be referenced easily or made age-appropriate (for example, a ninth-grade classroom will approach Jane Eyre in different ways than a graduate-level seminar).
…of a discussion of James Joyce’s “The Dead” will bring up not only links to critical studies, books, and Huston’s wonderful movie adaptation, but musical adaptations of the songs in the story, as well as the poems, geography, images of Dublin, and—of course—an image of galoshes.
Let me be clear: I’m not seeking virtual reality, but a virtual construction of knowledge that allows students (and teachers, who should still be learning) to see and make connections between texts in a way that two dimensional diagrams (and even static three-dimensional diagrams) do not allow.
As you can guess, I’m not a new critic and don’t experience texts in a vacuum. I am not an especially kinesthetically oriented person, but I believe that sitting motionlessly and passively is not the best way to learn. I believe texts exist within contexts. I have learned (thanks to a wonderful professor, Dr. Pat Michaelson) that if students have a context in which to place new knowledge, they are much more likely to retain it. By creating knowledge structures, constellations which students can manipulate and explore, we could demonstrate and experience context in a visual and kinesthetic way.
This song (I sing!) has been inspired by my attempt to create a field of knowledge for my qualifying exams. As I create and explore texts in contexts, I keep trying to place them into visual spaces and relationships. I’ve been using Scrivener (see one example of my Scrivener “boards” here), which even has a timeline feature, but I want more.
I sing it. I’ve dreamed it. Who can do it?