Monthly Archives: November 2017

Technology Bans: Some Thoughts

I don’t have a blanket ban on technology in the classroom.

It would not make sense since I have my syllabus and calendar online—and that can be problematic because of access reasons. Also, I’d send a conflicting and confusing message to students with an outright ban. It would be confusing to students to have a ban when I tell students about the things I find online that have a connection to our class. I’d send a contradictory message every time I encourage them to seek out quality voices and resources online.

I also don’t ban technology in the classroom because of disability issues. In my decade of classroom experience I’ve come to realize that many students that should receive accommodations for technology in the classroom don’t follow through on receiving those accommodations. In the waning weeks of the semester I’ve frequently had conversations with struggling students that reveal they should have had some form of accommodation. In many cases those students didn’t know they should receive an accommodation—or they didn’t know the office responsible for providing those accommodations.

I don’t ban technology in my classroom because I don’t want to set policing students as the tone for the classroom. Students are navigating the transition between the rigidness of high school and the freedom of the college classroom. Students might be afraid to speak or to share what they really think. Students might be afraid to have a snack or to go to the bathroom. Policing the use of technology sends the wrong message when I’m trying to inspire students to act and think on their own.

The reasons I don’t ban technology in the classroom jives with why others don’t ban technology in the classroom. However, it takes a lot of work to create a meaningful integration of technology in the classroom. Still, I haven’t had a meaningful approach to technology in the classroom since I taught my Civil War themed composition class at the University of Missouri. Doing technology takes a lot of work. Doing it right takes planning and significant amount of classroom time. I have not had that luxury of time since I was a graduate student with two classes each semester.

Not to toss out everything I’ve written above, but I have to be blunt: maybe the biggest reason I don’t ban technology is for selfish reasons. I don’t have the energy (mentally or emotionally) to monitor students and their use of technology. It takes a lot of energy to address the use of students’ technology use in 3 or 4 sections of students totally 60+ to 80+ students. All of this isn’t to say that I run a class without any rules or structure. I try to direct my energy to meaningful interactions with students. Making sure students are not shopping online doesn’t seem meaningful to me.

In the end, my policy is really about me. It is meant to help me get through my teaching load.

The meaningful integration of technology in the classroom takes hard work. Using technology isn’t only about a policy. It isn’t only about making effective assignments that draw on and use technology. Teaching with technology isn’t only about scaffolding assignments and making technology an important part of learning and instruction in the physical classroom. It is about all of those things. It takes work, effort, planning, and mental energy—prior to and throughout the entire semester.

This semester I’ve found myself asking where the time goes? I go to campus and work diligently in and outside of the classroom. A lot of time is eaten up by bookkeeping, creating handouts, printing materials for the classroom. There is a great deal of non-classroom work just to make the classroom run. This isn’t new, but I’m conscious of it this semester because I’ve committed to keeping track of my time and not working more than 40 hours a week. A successful use of technology in the classroom would create even more work. Inside of the classroom it would mean taking time away from all of the other outcomes I need to meet. Again- these are all problems that could be addressed with successful course designing—thought the assignments and through the implementation of day-to-day activities in the classroom.

Jeffrey McClurken has a recent blog post on the laptop debate. You can read it here. One small part sticks out to me. McClurken writes “Incorporating devices into teaching will require faculty training and support.” I think it is useful to think broadly about what “support” means, especially in an institutional and structural sense. A meaningful approach to technology needs support—support in the form of workload that allows for creativity and the creation of a sound approach to technology.

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What Links a School to Slavery?

Colleges and universities across the United States are taking a hard look at their connections to the institution of slavery. What does it mean for a school or university to have ties to slavery? What are the catalysts for a school to engage in examining their own connections to slavery? What counts as a tie to slavery?

There seems to be several categories of what fits as a school’s connection to slavery—and many schools fit one or more of the following:

  • The source of a school’s initial funding.
  • The source of a school’s endowment.
  • The connection of a school’s founders or leadership to slavery.
  • The ownership and/or sale of enslaved peoples.
  • Serving a student body derived from families that economically benefited from slavery (directly and indirectly).
  • The presence of slaves owned by students.
  • The land on which a college or university is situated.

I’m sure that additional categories could be added to the above list.

My continued work on the Bethlehem Boarding School has prompted me to think about what it means for a school to have connections to the institution of slavery. Previously I’ve written about how Moravian College has embraced a mythologized Revolutionary past that harkens back to the Bethlehem Boarding School. I’ve touched on how this mythology does a disservice to the history of women’s education in the early United States.

The conventional wisdom regarding the Bethlehem Boarding School is that after the Revolution the elite families of early America began sending their daughters to the school. It is assumed that these families were elite, but no one really asks how these families were part of the economic elite were in the first place. In researching the families that sent their daughters to the Bethlehem Boarding School I’ve seen the commonality of the institution of slavery linking them together.

Here are a few of those links:

  • An enslaved person accompanied Peggy Vriehuis to Bethlehem.
  • Archibald Currie, a New York merchant, participated in the slave trade.
  • Adriana Van Beverhoudt was an early student at the Boarding School. This is the same Beverhoudt family that you might have read about in Rebecca’s Revival.
  • Nathaniel Greene’s daughters attended the Boarding School.
  • Merchants: Various families came from the merchant class of the Northeast. Their goods, like many other merchants, came from the labor of the enslaved.
  • Various leaders in business and commerce from New York.
  • I’ve seen newspaper ads for the runaways and the sale of slaves.
  • The school set up by the Moravians was initially created to serve the children of missionaries. The initial founding of the school can also be problematic given the relationship of the Moravians’ missionaries to slavery.

I wonder about the question of what constitutes a tie to slavery in the context of Moravian College and their embrace of an early American past. Are the following questions enough to prompt introspection regarding slavery?

  • Is it enough that students that come from areas were slavery was practiced?
  • Is it a connection to a merchant and business class that benefited from a trade in commodities touched by slavery?
  • Does it mean a student bringing an enslaved person to the school?

I can point to students that fit each of those criteria- and I left out ones from slave holding families. If Moravian College invokes a revolutionary past- shouldn’t they be asking these questions? My research so far has only focused on the period between 1786 to 1815, and mostly the early 1790s. During this time the majority of the student population came from New England, New York, and Pennsylvania. The demographic of the student body begins to turn southwards after around 1812; I’ve not looked far into those families.

A lot of my ideas are in an early phase. I have more questions than answers. I want to continue exploring these topics. I felt, at this stage, I needed to write something. I’d appreciate hearing your thoughts.

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