When I was a kid, and it rolled around to back to school time, I used to love stocking up on stationery and getting my new textbooks. The trip to the newsagent (stationery supplier) in January was like Christmas all over again. I remember sniffing the new pages … exercise books provided an entirely different olfactory experience than did text books. I’d marvel over the contents … would all of this unfamiliar knowledge be all mine before the year was up? Then it came to the writing implement of choice for this new academic year … the colour of ink and the heft in the hand had to be right. I remember when those new fangled yellow Biro pens came in, but I loved the smell of Quink ink and the feel of a fountain-pen nib on paper, and still do. A whiff of Clag paste still jolts me back to days of grade school innocence. When I got to university, I experienced the same thrill browsing the shelves in the bookstore. By then it was agonising over the right folder or ‘student portfolio’ to capture lecture notes and to store class handouts in. Now I am all grown up, I still enjoy trawling the shelves at the local office supplies warehouse. But my, how they have grown too; is there no limit to the number and kind of pens these days? I walked the aisles of my local Officeworks a couple of days ago, checking out the latest in the office supplies department. There is more choice than ever, but what you only get a hint of … the tip of the iceberg as it were … is the relentless incursion of the digital world into the quiet backwaters of the task known as prepping for class.
The contemporary teacher now has other tools at her disposal, which are hinted at in a wall of different brands of printer cartridges, laptop computers and spools of disposable media. The here and now of paper and ink has given way to the somewhere-out-there digital world. Must-have class handouts have been replaced by wikis, websites and other online repositories. There are various organisational CMSs (course management systems … shudder!), a slowly developing line of course-related podcasts and any number of relevant YouTube videos. No need to print out an assignment any more; drop your digital document into the digital assignment box, and I’ll get back to by email. The implications of all of this digital richness are daunting, and it’s hardly surprising when colleagues are wary of embracing the intangible new for the tried and the true.
So many teaching and learning resources are online now, and I for one can’t help but feel a little sad at the loss of the sensory richness as a result … touch and smell especially. There’s nothing quite like the tactile immediacy of a book you can flip through, spill coffee on, annotate in the margin of, and snuggle up in bed with … or the feel of the right pen for the job between the fingers, and the simple pleasure of sharpening a favourite brand of 2B pencil … it has to be 2B!
And of course all this digital online stuff and the potential and challenge of the e-learning tools out there has to be wildly exciting … don’t get me wrong. I’m a sucker for them as you may have guessed if you are a regular reader. This is all by way of an introduction to my February project. For the first, and somewhat shocking time, I find I do not need to put anything on paper. The course handouts which I used to update each semester and then print out into syllabus and class handouts can go straight into an online and updatable Moodle database … with nearly 10 years of course materials to play with, I’m faced with the best way to organise and deliver to optimise learning. It’s not quite as simple as it used to be; there’s a whole new way of thinking and responding involved. My discoveries will be the subject of a series of posts I’m planning over the next couple of weeks, and throughout the semester.
I’d be delighted if you’d join in.