Friday, July 9, 2010

Introducing the 'Friday Five': Incorporating New Media in the English Classroom

Since I am currently teaching Freshman English as a summer school course, finding ways to use new media in English classes naturally is weighing on my mind. So, the first 'Friday Five' is dedicated to those who teach English courses. That said, the top 5 list given here could conceivably be used in both the high school and tertiary English classroom.

In the past few years, the use of blogs in the English classroom has received quite a bit of positive press and I have to agree with it. Blogs offer English teachers a way to reach students 'where they live'. Since they are heavily connected to the internet, we might has well take advantage of that. There are a variety of reasons to consider using blogs as part of the English curriculum: they are affordable (often free), encourage expression, encourage dialogue and lend themselves to multi-modal expression.

The fact that webpages made the list should come as no surprise to anyone working in English education. For many years our standard 'new media' assignments included webpages and PowerPoint presentations. Although we are still using them, we are now using them in different (and in some cases more sophisticated ways). Thanks to inbuilt web design software that is included on most computers, as well as the free web page editors and serves available on the internet (google, Yahoo!, etc...) specialized training is no longer needed to create a basic webpage. As such, webpages are affordable and accessible. The trick for instructors is to continue developing new and innovative ways to incorporate webpages into the classroom.

Okay, some of you will think I'm crazy for suggesting it, and while I think we as lecturers over-rely on PowerPoint (something that will be discussed in detail in an upcoming post) I think PowerPoint is actually a useful technology for students in English. For one thing, as part of the Microsoft Office Suite, Powerpoint is readily available on most PCs -- even Macs offer PowerPoint or a PowerPoint-type program as part of their basic set up. Even students who have access to older computers at home are likely to have access to PowerPoint (or something similar). Additionally, PowerPoint (when used effectively) can help students focus in on the 'main point' since they must be mindful of the amount of textual information they can put on a slide.

YouTube Videos
YouTube may seem to be a 'questionable' technology for use in the English classroom, but it can be used by both instructors and students to enhance their classroom experience. Students like viewing videos on YouTube because it allows them to comment on videos, rank them, share them and generally interact with the videos and video contributors. Additionally, students have always enjoyed watching videos (movies...remember 'filmstrips'?) in class, and YouTube videos offer instructors short 'snippets' on a range of topics that can be used to spark discussion in the classroom. YouTube videos can also be incorporated into classes by letting students create videos related to course topics. 

Like YouTube videos, podcasts are useful for both instructors and students, despite being under-utilized. Many instructors think that creating podcasts is 'too technical' or 'requires specialist training and equipment', when the fact is that creating podcasts is not overly difficult and most of us already have the software we need on our current computers. Not only do lecturers have access to the software needed, but most students have at least one podcast-capable gadget with which to listen to a podcast-- cell phone, MP3 player or computer. 

Over the next 5 weeks we will explore these media in depth, looking at specific ways they can be incorporated into the classroom.

Introducing the 'Friday-Five' is a weekly 'Top 5' list related to technology in education. If you have ideas for expanding our list, please feel free to post them in the comments. Additionally, if you have ideas for 'Friday-Five' topics, I'd love to hear from you!

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