The Session-Long Project builds from your Case assignment. Here you want to extend and expand your Case assignment by including more history of your literacy practices and prior uses to communication technologies. Read Dennis Baron’s piece: “From Pencils to Pixels.” Pay attention to how he describes the history of the pencil and telephone. Consider how technologies you have learned to use were once thought to be cumbersome or would never work and/or how they were received by the general public at their first inception. Think carefully about how you came to learn to read and write and how you came to use communication technology over the years. This essay should be different from the Case assignment in the sense that it should focus more on your history rather than on what communication technologies or literacy practices you are using today. This essay should focus on how those practices were shaped by your family, experiences, education, peers, etc. What was the culture in your home concerning literacy, reading, writing, and technology use? At some schools, students are making videos or creating visual presentations to represent their technological literacy narratives. Be sure to view the optional reading material (there are two videos to watch). Here you will write a four-five page technological literacy narrative.
Right about the time an anti-technology movement named for an individual, Ned Ludd, who had famously, or infamously, destroyed technological innovations that radically changed manufacturing processes and consequently threatened to displace human labor, Henry David Thoreau was born into this world. As Dennis Baron points out in his essay “From Pencils to Pixels: The Stages of Literacy Technology, the legendary naturalist Thoreau was, in reality, less pristine in his protestations against technology than he pretended. In his essay, Baron notes that Thoreau was, in fact, an engineer who labored to perfect the writing implement known as the pencil. More significantly, Thoreau, consciously or not, was entirely dependent on the technological innovation represented by the pencil. As Baron writes:
“Thoreau did not write much of pencils. He even omitted the pencil in his list of items to take into the Maine woods, though like naturalists before him, he certainly carried one on his twelve-day excursion in order to record his thoughts. Despite this silence, Thoreau devoted ten years of his life to improving pencil technology at his family’s pencil factory. It was this pencil technology, not inherited wealth or publication royalties, that provided the income for one of the greatest writers of the American renaissance.”
Baron’s purpose in referencing Thoreau’s role in advancing the technology used in recording thoughts was not so much to illuminate the naturalist’s hypocrisy, but rather to emphasize the inevitability of technological revolutions and to minimize the extent to which such revolutions fundamentally degrade the ways we live and learn. Not only has the pencil not detracted from our ability to learn, even at early stages of education, it actually facilitated the process by which children learned to read and write by allowing them to more easily write and draw. Today, children from kindergarten on up are routinely using SMART Boards to learn, and do not appear to be suffering socially, academically, or physiologically from doing so, although the last of those is, in fairness, yet to be determined.
The introduction of new technologies geared toward studying and entertainment – and the two have become increasingly intertwined with the advent of educational learning games – have consistently been initially met with skepticism by opponents of the incorporation of technologies into the classroom and home. The introduction of the IPad was received with derision from some who saw in it nothing more than an oversized IPhone minus the phone. Tablets are now staples of the modern classroom and are present in many homes. In addition to Baron’s article from which the above quote was taken, he also penned a similar essay, also titled “From Pencils to Pixels,” available at www.english.illinois.edu/-people-/faculty/debaron/482/482readings/12%20pencils%20to%20pixels.pdf that discusses Google’s plan to digitize every book ever written, only run into the proverbial buzz saw from authors and publishers demanding financial compensation and, in the case of some, notably John Updike, decrying the negative ramifications such a project would have on the willingness of authors to continue to write. Baron rebuts this concern by pointing out the continued, and continuously profitable, publishing industry and propensity for writers to write.
In preparing a project on the role of technology in education and in culture, history would seem to side with technology. A student thinking about this subject need only examine his or her own experiences in the classroom and at home.