Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How much have students really changed?

I went today to our university's Center for Teaching Excellence for a book group meeting. Part of the conversation turned to the Kindle. The group leader said she had talked to her undergraduate students last night about the Kindle and asked how many had one. None of them owned a Kindle, and a few asked what one was. She was amazed. She said, "Don't you like to read online?" They told her they really liked to hold books! She said, "What gets in the way of learning when we read?" They answered, "When we don't know the meaning of a word." She told them that when you click on a word in the Kindle, it automatically calls up the definition in an online dictionary. They were interested, but not sold. They still preferred to read in books. They said they liked the "feel and touch of books." Our leader said she thought it was resistance to change. I am not sure she is right. I think maybe the Kindle is just not ready for prime time, and the students are too savvy to be stampeded by glitz.

I wonder. The article in the Boston Globe about the school that emptied its library of books, and bought a handful of Kindles, a flat screen T.V. and an expensive coffee machine garnered 490 comments on the Globe website, boston.com (the link above to the article takes you there). By far the majority of the comments decry the Cushing Academy's decision to remove books entirely from the library. A group of school library associations had their presidents compose a letter strongly opposing the Cushing Academy model, posted here, at OOTJ. (I can't help but note a comment saying that the Globe article overstates what happened at Cushing -- that they did not actually get rid of all their books, just supplemented them with electronics... hmm it would not be the first time a journalist overstated something to get a more spectacular story). The Globe ran a first person essay just yesterday that keyed off the Cushing story to reflect on the Kindle versus book controversy.

This is by way of introducing my latest quandary. I am experimenting with a Sony Recorder that can upload the recording to a computer for editing and processing. I am using it to comment on student papers rather than writing notes in the margins. I write a number in the margin, instead, and say the number, and then make my comments on the recording. I will load each commentary on a thumbdrive and give it to the student with the paper. Each paper has a short set of final comments and a grade, but the lengthy comments in the text are replaced with numbers and a recorded commentary.

My arthritic hands feel much better. My froggy throat is worn out. But, I am wondering whether the students will be happy with the comments they get. I would be driven to distraction by the set-up. But I am not the same generation. I was happy to believe my colleagues in the 1-L writing program who have been doing this for several years and claim their students love this feed-back. But when I mentioned what I was doing this Sunday to my 19 year old daughter and 24 year old son, they both thought it would make them crazy to get feedback like that. I will have to ask the students after they have time to mull the experience.

Some of the recent experiences that have come my way make me question all the things I have been told about the differences between me and younger folks. Maybe, on some things, our preferences are not so far apart. It probably depends on the issue.

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