- Introduction: Shaped or Shaping? The Role for Radical Teachers in Teaching with Technology
We sat down to write this introduction just as the controversy over WikiLeaks broke and the Federal Communications Commission issued its controversial ruling on Net Neutrality. Siva Vaidhyanathan and the Institute for the Future of the Book are collaborating on a new project that questions what publishing, writing, and copyright in the future might mean. The Googlization of Everything, an “open book” experiment, is being written on-line and released in real time as Vaidhyanathan writes it. Digital technology, it seems, is everywhere. New technologies are redefining how we teach, how we work, how we write, how we live, and how we define ourselves as activists. In putting together this issue of Radical Teacher, we never met face-to-face as an editorial team or with our authors or the larger Radical Teacher board. All of our work happened synchronously and asynchronously, aided by technology.
But, just as academics have, for years, sought to critically interrogate texts as part of the classroom, working with students to deconstruct and decode articles, poems, plays, novels, non-fiction books, films, games, and more, we would argue that technology also has become a text, one which plays a central role in our lives and that of our students. What is the relationship between a critically engaged activism, pedagogy, and technology? What does radical teaching with technology look like? How do we, as radical teachers, ensure that we and our students are shaping the content and meaning of technology rather than just being shaped by it?
Teaching today, from K-12 through graduate school, is ubiquitously tied to digital technology, and the call to make it more so grows. Institutional resources are increasingly directed toward classroom digital initiatives. The “digital divide” discourse, abandoned for a while, reemerges as access to technology—whether it is the number of computers in a classroom, the kinds of on-line resources a school can provide, how students and faculty access on-line resources, or students’ access to mobile technologies—continues to be an economic issue. Moreover, students arrive in our classrooms overconfident that they have the technology skills they need. Teaching with technology becomes a process of reteaching basic technology before introducing a critical lens.
K-12 teachers struggle depending on [End Page 3] the budgetary constraints of their districts. New core standards for K-12 teachers demand “21st century skills,” yet, often, meaningful content is blocked by school boards and administrators and cutting-edge technology is prohibitively expensive.
In the university, libraries are merged with academic computing departments, and the instructional technologist has begun to occupy a central role on many campuses. The on-line course management system is a de facto part of the educational interface and textbook companies market interactive, on-line “course packs” that deliver pre-packaged material to students to supplement the curriculum. Completely on-line courses and virtual environments define the faculty-student dynamic and the workload required to manage it in new ways. New degree programs are popping up, and digital humanities is a newly, yet nebulously, defined discipline.
Yet this shift occurred quickly, as, over the course of the past ten years, we have moved from a paper-based, print culture to an on-line digital culture. For many in academia, these shifts have taken place without the opportunity to interrogate what they mean, how these changing work conditions alter our labor, and how these forces shape the landscape of education.
As the economic crisis continues to hold the country in its grip for a third year (at least), teachers and students are subjected to additional pressure to make themselves “competitive” as workers in a narrowly defined marketplace that demands technological skills as an end rather than a means to education. Much has already been published about the uses of technology in the classroom, including a 2002 cluster of articles in Radical Teacher. And yet, in the onslaught of new Web 2.0 technologies, new software, and new applications, many teachers struggle to keep up with learning new technologies let alone critically interrogating them or imagining...