Probiotics for Composition-Health?
Building an Ecology of Memoir Writing and Blended Learning
Julie Daoud, Ph.D., Thomas More College, Department of English

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The myriad of contrasts between the Information Age classroom and the Industrial Age classroom offer woefully inadequate and overly-simplified explanations for the apparent “disconnect” between teachers and students.  The theory about generational differences is, of course, plausible.  While today’s students pack slender Kindles, I-pads and X-Boxes into their cross-chest satchels, I recall the days when I trekked across the campus of my own alma mater. My gait was that of a tipped-hump camel as I lugged cumbersome English anthologies, a stainless-steel thermos of coffee, and a pouch of multi-sided die and ample graph paper to provide entry into the medieval adventure supplied by the first edition of Dungeons and Dragons.  Needless to say, I could never have imagined the transformation of the requisite school supplies (or, more aptly, personal academic “luxury-items”) that mark the shift from the era of education presided over by the likes of Terrel Bell and William Bennett to the era administered by Arne Duncan.

Into my forties, now, I find myself actively resisting the observation that there are inherent learning differences unique to what many have appointed the “millenials.”   (Admittedly, students today seem more likely to be sipping on venti, five-pump, iced-chai lattes while toting virtual bazookas against the pixilated backdrop of Grand Theft Auto than students of yore.) But rather than pay heed to the pedagogical treatises that admonish veteran faculty to “mind the gap” between digital natives (them) and the digital immigrants (us), I find that there are innovations in teaching first-year composition that have less to do with refitting our teaching for “smart” classrooms or long-distance learning courses than with identifying and implementing course readings that yield discussions and debate about contemporary “hot-button” issues: sustainability, systemic poverty, border control, neocolonial practices of multinational corporations, genetic modification, and 21st century genocide, to name a few.  I have long believed that what matters most is what we teach--not how technologically we teach—in our attempts to find common ground with our students and to invigorate their interest in learning.

But this valuation is not to suggest that I am an all-out proponent of “teaching naked.”  I recognize that technologies can and do play a role in the construction of knowledge.  But I am wary of the integration of technology “for its own sake.” A hybrid composition classroom—one that blends relevant emerging technology with conventional teaching practices (e.g. emphasis on the rhetorical triangle, the modes of discourse, or socratic questioning) may prove effective—yet only if the course readings resonate with students.  The study of literature and writing, as Marjorie Garber contends in The Use and Abuse of Literature, is to galvanize students to ask questions.  She writes, “Poems and novels do not have answers that are immutably true; they do not themselves constitute a realm of knowledge production.  Instead, they raise questions, they provoke thought, they produce ideas and generate arguments, they give rise to more poems and more novels” (28).  Like Garber then, I believe, that good texts are those with the potential to solicit engagement and/or provocation in order to help facilitate qualitative reflection that may lead to critical thinking and writing.

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