Invasion of the Technology Snatchers

Kathryn Wymer, who teaches English at UNC, has some interesting things to say in this week’s Chronicle about adapting new technologies to teaching and learning, an issue we’ve dicussed here many times. She heard from students that e-mail is just so yesterday and decided she should join them in IM-space – and found that students weren’t altogether happy to meet her there.

Do I, as an instructor, have the right to appropriate students’ technologies for the classroom? Most people would probably say, of course.

Consider, though, what it means to invade that technological space. Students use new technologies as a way to express themselves and their individuality. They develop identities related to those technologies, and those identities are not always the ones they would like to bring into the classroom.

She plans to continue to use her IM identity, though she knows it will take some adjustment on both sides. Libraries, of course, are adapting IM to reference work, and have found other ways to join in the social networks students use, and while that can be positive, it also has a potential downside.

For another take on IM and the classroom, see Cynthia Lewis and Bettina Fabos’s article, “Instant Messaging, Literacies, and Social Identities” in Reading Research Quarterly. They think it’s more important to understand how students use IM and what kinds of literacy practices they engage in (and to help them understand that scholarly discourse is another literacy practice that they, too, can be part of) than to rush out and adopt the technology assuming it will become a channel to reach students. That may be seen as invasive – like deciding that if students want to hang out at a local bar, that’s where you should teach your philosophy course. You certainly could teach philosophy there, perhaps with more relevance to real life than in a traditional classroom. But students might prefer to have the place to themselves.

Author: Barbara Fister

I'm an academic librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. Like all librarians at our small, liberal arts institution I am involved in reference, collection development, and shared management of the library. My area of specialization is instruction, with research interests also in media literacy, popular literacy, publishing, and assessment.

2 thoughts on “Invasion of the Technology Snatchers”

  1. I find that things like IM and Facebook are great ways to connect with students, as long as they do the initiating. I always send an email over an instant message unless I know that the recipient prefers instant messages from me. Having a Facebook account and an IM presence lets me be available in a way that is comfortable for the students, and since I only use these accounts with students if they initiate the conversation it it’s not too pushy or invasive. It’s a balance.

    Of course, that’s just my experience with the students I interact with. I’d be interested to hear what works well with others.

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