Academic journal article English Journal

Lessons from History: Teaching with Technology in 100 Years of English Journal

Academic journal article English Journal

Lessons from History: Teaching with Technology in 100 Years of English Journal

Article excerpt

If you've been reading the pages of English Journal recently, you've seen many calls for teachers to move beyond print literacy to engage students in composing and analyzing the emerging media of our time: digital videos (Ranker; Staples), podcasts (Goodson and Skillen), video games (Adams; Jolley), and Facebook (Kitsis), to name but a few. Faced with these steady calls to keep up with new media developments, we English teachers often find ourselves longing for a simpler time when books reigned supreme and "English was English." Yet, if we look back at the past 100 years of English Journal, we can remind ourselves that English teachers have long been adapting their curricula and methods to incorporate the visual and auditory media of their time. As is often the case, the past we romanticize doesn't always look the way we imagine it.

In 1931, for example, Ruth Batten recounted her struggle with a group of seemingly "stupid and lazy" students who refused to write conventional essays until she hit upon the idea of asking them to collaboratively produce a radio program for broadcast to a real audience; once the students were composing in a new media form that was personally meaningful to them, Batten noted with delight that they took agency for their learning and drafted high-quality scripts (160). In 1937, Louise G. Whitehead reported that students in her class greatly enjoyed making a film adaptation of David Copperfield, finding that they developed a richer, more engaged appreciation of the book as a result. Based on this experience, Whitehead argued that English teachers are now living "in a visual age" and must adapt their methods to keep up with the times (317). Although many English Journal authors in the 1930s were enthusiastic about teaching film and radio in the English class, numerous authors warily emphasized the need for English teachers to carefully guide students' media use. Indeed, one author, Joseph Mersand, highlighted the importance of judicious selection of radio programs by recounting the case of a Toledo junior high student who "shot his principal under the inspiration of radio programs to which he was listening" (469). One imagines that if Mr. Mersand were writing today, he might be decrying the pernicious effects of violent video games, while Ms. Whitehead might be engaging students in using iMovie to create video versions of books on the Common Core reading list. As English teachers confront the challenges of the contemporary digital moment, we contend that there are many lessons to be learned from both the inspiring innovations and the limiting pitfalls of past English teachers' approaches to teaching "new" media.

Recently, the two of us set out to explore issues of English Journal from 1912 to 2012, specifically looking for articles that involved the introduction of "new" technologies of communication in the English classroom. We eventually discovered and systematically coded 787 articles about new communication media in English Journal. We located articles about new media in all but two years of the journal's history (it appears that authors in 1920 and 1921 were uniquely traditionalist). Through this research, we've come to realize that the oft-heralded golden age when English was just limited to print books never really existed-or if it did, it was very long ago.

Methods, or, How We Found These Articles and Made Sense of Them

Although some scholars have drawn on the English Journal archive to write histories of technological approaches to teaching English (Hicks et al.; Jones; Palmeri; White), these histories rely on close readings of a small number of articles. By contrast, our approach uses a method called "distant reading" (Moretti; Mueller) that can enable us to gain a more expansive understanding of how English teachers have engaged with technology over time. More directly, our research approach has been inspired by Mark Faust and Mark Dressman's insightful analytic coding of 93 years of English Journal articles about poetry. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.