Recently, a Chicago teacher published a lesson on a popular teach networking website that turned a few heads. For a world literature class, the teacher integrated lessons that incorporated students creating and maintain Google Earth journals. As the class progressed through each reading and author covered in the curriculum, students participated in assignments that both integrated and relied on Google Earth and related Google programs to produce assessments. Students interacted with each other via Talk and Hangout, collaborated and helped each plan and design their respective journals, and shared our findings and interesting connections in a group setting. Essentially, the class gave students not only a literary grounding in the world literature community, but also a visual one. The incredibly important job of providing meaningful context in an English class is made incredibly easier for teachers by projects like these. With cloud services like Google bringing in reference points and making it easier and easier for students and teachers to gain useful information immediately at need in the classroom, there is no doubt the cloud has re-shaped the way English teachers approach their instruction.
While this project and curriculum was certainly an effective and innovative idea, perhaps more useful for English teachers has become the growing number of texts available via the cloud for free, as well as through providers like Amazon, Google Books, and Barnes and Noble. Quickly the days when dusty and torn paperbacks were used again and again by classes until they literally fell apart. Instead, teachers can assign readings and homework without worrying about providing student access to the text outside of the classroom. PDFs of English texts are useful for many other reasons as well. Most notably, students deft with programs like Adobe Reader can annotate, navigate, and print from PDFs, giving them constant engagement with the text without needing to be concerned about maintaining the condition of the book itself.
English classes have long been thought of as the musty antique rooms of the modern middle and high school. Whereas subjects like science and math, responding to changes in the economy and the workforce, have leaped ahead in integrating new technologies and cloud services into instruction, English classes continue to rely on hard copy books, written assessments, and traditional instruction. However, this is no longer true for the majority of teachers, and indeed is rapidly becoming ancient history in many school districts. As both teachers and students continue to grasp the excitement and opportunity afforded for both instruction and collaboration through the cloud in secondary classrooms, ideas continue to spring up that may revolutionize the future of English education to the same extent math and science instruction has been changed. While lessons like the Google Earth journal and new resources like digital texts offer numerous potential limitations as well, some of which are still unidentified, the massive crowd of teachers experimenting with these technologies across the country seems to indicate that innovation will continue to respond to the new needs of the 21st century English classroom.
By Adam Hausman