(Originally published in The Daily Iowan, February 13 2013)
One day when I was five years old, my teacher led my class across the playground to look at our school's latest acquisition: a computer. It was the first time I'd seen a computer, and it was strictly a look-don't-touch scenario. In the late 1980s, computers in the classroom were a vanishing rarity and I can't recall them ever being used as part of a lesson. Jump forward a couple of decades, and computers are no longer an educational curiosity; the phone sitting beside me on my desk undoubtedly has many times the computing power of that long defunct machine.
Yet for all the ubiquity of computers in our day-to-day life or in the classroom, it often doesn't seem as if we've gotten much better at incorporating technology into our teaching. A block of text on a PowerPoint slide is no better than a block of text on the printed page, left static and lacking in the context which provides meaning; proficiency in Twitter doesn't mean that a student has learned how to formulate a search to find that one key article online.
Discussions about the digital humanities and teaching are everywhere you turn, sprawling across blogs and newspaper columns—if you've got a couple of hours to kill and the intestinal fortitude, try searching online for 'MOOCs' or 'the gamification of education'. Yet as passionate as these discussions are, they often leave one with the impression that well-intentioned educators are either talking past one another, or not asking the right questions. Attitudes towards technology in the classroom are often shaped by preconceptions about its social, ethical or political connotations, or apprehensions about the future of higher education. Often, people forget to start with the most basic question: how can specific tools best be put to practical use in education?
The University of Iowa has made a great commitment in recent years to supporting the digital humanities, with the foundation of the Digital Studio for the Public Humanities and the hiring of several new faculty members who are tasked with exploring how digital practices can help to create new, innovative scholarship in the humanities.
On February 23rd, the University will take that commitment a step further by hosting 'Rewiring the Classroom', a symposium on practical, hands-on ways to use digital technologies in the undergraduate classroom. Through a mixture of workshops and discussions, participants will consider the myriad ways in which technology can invite more voices into the college classroom: how to create a new scenario that's all about look-touch-learn.
This conference is intended for anyone interested in creative and critical applications of technology to undergraduate education – professors, graduate instructors, librarians, information technologists, and other curious folks. Register for free by February 18th at rewiringtheclassroom.wordpress.com.