Monday, February 2, 2015

New Semester, New Challenges or The Time I Tried to Compete with Cat Videos

Every semester, I try to do something a little new, but this semester I'm taking a bigger leap because I have been given the opportunity to teach two sections of English 115 as hybrid classes. Back in the early 2000s I took some online classes as part of my teaching credential coursework and I wasn't that impressed. In fact, it was down right annoying at times.Maybe there was a little bit of a Luddite in me, but for some reason the idea of education through a computer seemed so impersonal, and while I'm no super touchy-feely kind of teacher I do appreciate the human element of teaching and learning. Ironically, the elementary school I worked at used a lot of technology for the times and I was able to actually use Ed Tech to my advantage. Fast-forward a few more years and I am standing in front of classrooms full of digital natives who consistently marked me down for not using enough technology in class. Grrrr! I thought. What to they know?
Fortunately, those students know a lot about who they are and what engages them, so when they said that I needed to use more tech I started to give it a try, and it wasn't so bad. Actually, I'm finding that it is really cool, except that everything takes so much time, and that is something that I don't have enough of. The zero-sum game of the ticking clock (I still use analog terminology sometimes) is what hits me the most. After being at school all day, I also need to carve out time to be a husband and father, and the computer, or the iPad, or my phone is always within arms length. That means that work is omnipresent. That means that I run the risk of being the husband and father I swore that I would never be. I decided a long time ago that my family would take precedence over my work. No "Cat's in the Cradle" for me. At least that is what I told myself, but here I am typing away about work (in a very round-about way) because I honestly love what we do as teachers, and I have noticed that none of us can afford to be stagnant within our profession. So I turned on, tuned in, and Dropboxed.
I really wish that I could teach one less class and dedicate that time to really learning to be a super kick ass teacher through the computer, but it looks like a little slow transformation will be my path for a while. One of the first things I have learned going into this adventure is that the Internet is this vast digital space that I often refer to as The Rabbit Hole. That makes my students laugh for some reason. As much as I try to show them the academic use of the Internet, social media and cat videos stop my students dead in their tracks every time they tune in, which brings me to one of my biggest challenges: How to make an academic connection between the science and technology my 115 sections focus on and cat videos. I mean, kittens. How am I supposed to compete with kittens? They are fuzzy and cute. They do cute things. They are easy to Photoshop. They are easy to loop to make music videos. They dance for goodness sake. How can I ever get them to do a critical analysis of Ray Kurzweil's ideas about the possible coming of the Singularity and how the potential rise of sentient sillicon-based intelligence will ultimately change the world? I mean, the second coming of Christ has nothing on the rise of the machines, but all of those freakin' cat videos... All of those freakin' cat videos.  I sigh.
I sigh, and then turn to You Tube to play "Supernaut" by 10,000 Homo DJs. When it ends, it shows me versions by Black Sabbath and Ministry. I love it. It reminds me of my youth. Black Sabbath reminds about the first time I got drunk and high at my friend Isaac's house in the sixth grade. I learn more about music. I learn more about myself. I listen to five different versions of the song and hear, "Put acid in your veins," as my head bobs to the beautiful sounds of industrial music coming out of my phone. Supernaut! "I've seen the future and I left it all behind, Supernaut!" I feel the angst that led me to drugs, books, graffiti, and eventually to college. I feel the power of electrical pulses creating music that is fleeting and intangible in the sense that it touches us as emotion, and as soundwave, but as Moby once said on Star Talk Radio, "No one owns the notes. No one can put them in their pocket like marbles." My goodness, the intelligence of our thinkers. The music that we can access. The philosophers of cyberspace that create a digital transcendence that is becoming the cornerstone of our industrialized societies. I want to bring the sublime other-worldliness of ourselves to those students who used to sit in the back of class, stoned with some soundtrack flowing through their brains, while the teacher rambled on and on. I want to bring it to them so they can see that there is life in academia. There are great things to teach and learn if they just take the time, so I decide to meet them halfway on the Internet through hybrid classes.
And what do you know, there's another cat video. Too bad there's not one of kittens doing stage dives into their furry brethren while Ozzy Osbourne sings, "I want to reach out and touch the sky/ I want to touch the sun but I don't need to fly/ I'm going to climb up every mountain to the moon/ And find the dish that ran away with the spoon." I'm sure there's one here somewhere if I just look hard enough. I'm sure of it. I'll get back to work in just a minute. Right after this song. I promise.
Oh look, there's a cat playing with a bunny rabbit.  A white rabbit.  


  1. Great post, Profe. Adding (infusing?) the digital layer to our teaching takes times.A lot. It's hot just about learning how to use software or programs. It's about figuring out how that tech enhances student learning. We're learning a new literacy, which is time consuming. At the same time, our students the larger society expects us to make sure our grads come out ready for the world. A colleague reminded me that like tech, pencils and glasses are tools. Students (and I!) doodle for distraction.I use my glasses to glance outside the classroom to day dream. Distractions will always exist. I admit that technology ups the "distraction factor" ante. Yet the same struggle applies - how to make what we do inside and outside the classroom compelling enough that LOL cats, doodling, and daydreaming don't win out over learning. Good luck with the hybrid experiments. I want to read more as the semester progresses.