Ernest Hemingway Meets “This American Life”: the New English Lit Class

| February 10, 2012 | 14 Comments
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College professors are finding creative ways to use tablets in classes.

By Stephen Chupaska

What will e-readers do to the time-honored tradition of scribbling notes in the margins and underlining passages in print books?

Remains to be seen how quickly college students will adopt e-books on a mass scale. Thorny issues over who can use the books when students rent digital versions, how the growing movement of free, online textbooks will be incorporated into college curriculum, and figuring out how to share notes online are just a few important unknowns that are still being hammered out as college students think about using ebooks.

And though students still complain about using iPads (slow, cumbersome typing, for one thing), some English literature college professors are finding creative ways of using its multi-media uses.

Scott Cohen, an English professor at Stonehill Colllege, located about 30 miles southwest of Boston, is in his second year of implementing the iPad into his lessons.

“The iPad really helps move between different kinds of texts and material, visual, cinematic, written, audio, etcetera,” Cohen said. “Students love them, beyond just being a new shiny device.”

Last year, Cohen received a grant from the college’s Center for Teacher and Learning to purchase three iPads as part of a pilot program in his Storytelling in the Age of Information class.

“The iPad really helps move between different kinds of texts and material, visual, cinematic, written, audio.”

Cohen incorporates the popular NPR public radio show This American Life in his classes, and using the iPad allows the class to move between audio clips and an annotated transcript of the story that can be projected on a screen.

Cohen said students can initiate these sequences and bookmark them, efficiently saving them for future reference or emailing them to each other.

The iPad allows Cohen and his students to capitalize on the “improvisational” nature of class, as they can call up passages more quickly or even play a clip from the radio show to counter a point made by a classmate.

“The iPad works like a community slate, passed around the room, collecting and collating students’ thoughts about a given topic, a line of text, or quotation under investigation,” Cohen said.

And students prefer the iPad to laptops, he said, because the latter tends to isolate them.

What’s more, one of the big criticisms of the iPad — that it’s mostly a single application device — is an advantage for Cohen, as it forces students to focus on a particular task, instead of say, chatting on Gmail or scrolling through Facebook posts.

Elsewhere, the University of Virginia English Department recently completed a three-semester pilot program using iPads in the classroom along with a wiki-syllabus and blog.

In addition to commenting on the coursework, some students posted about the experience of swiping pages instead of leafing through them. One student wrote: “Maybe it’s just my own somewhat utopian view of myself sitting outside on a beautiful day with the breeze blowing reading these great works on… an iPad?…. I do not wish to bash the very existence of the iPad. I do think its invention is a great thing, but for English classes I’ve been so conditioned to read from a book.”

WAITING FOR “THE REVOLUTION”

Cohen’s use of the This American Life program is still an exception in the college landscape. Though companies like Inkling are completely changing the experience of “reading”by adding interactive experiences like note-sharing, social media, and high-definition, manipulable images and videos, for the most part e-readers and tablets are still just replacements for print books.

Philip Ray, who has taught at Connecticut College for 36 years, said he’s seeing more students using  iPads and Kindles for the required reading.

Ray said for the most part, it doesn’t make any difference to him if students prefer to use e-books, especially if they are available for free or at reduced prices.

“It works well for books that are in the public domain,” he said.

Ray is, however, a bit more fastidious though when he teaches poetry, as he wants to make sure that a digital version of a poem looks the way the author intended.

“Some poems have strict left-hand margins or there are lines that begin with capital letters,” Ray said. “Sometimes when they are digitized things can be a bit off.”

Ray said the increased popularity of tablets is a hot topic of conversation among his colleagues and the education community at large — particularly since many of his peers own iPads or Kindles.

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  • http://twitter.com/kat_toth Katie Toth

    “The iPad allows Cohen and his students to capitalize on the “improvisational” nature of class, as they can call up passages more quickly or even play a clip from the radio show to counter a pointmade by a classmate.” Also known as, the iPad turns an interesting conversation into a wikipedia contest full of pretentious jerks who don’t really know what they’re talking about.

    • http://www.jennifercanquilt.blogspot.com Jennifer

      English classes were already contests full of pretentious jerks who don’t really know what they’re talking about.  The iPad hasn’t change them much.

  • Oobah

    as of now they are poor replacements for books, in fact. when will they make one that you can use for effective not taking? i will buy that.

    • Steven James Beto

      I understand that there is an ap for the iPad that allows the recording of the lecture. One might then run it through something like Dragonfly to digitize the recording so that edits and notes can be made. This is a bit cumbersome, but no doubt can be improved upon. 

      • Drordahl

        I convert all my power point lectures from class into a PDF, import them to an application on my iPad that lets me take notes directly on the PDF using a stylus.  No typing.  Pretty cool.  

        • Drordahl

          I can also link recordings from the lecture and add hyperlinks, photos, and add additional pages.  

          • Brimstone

            I have a nubby pencil and a notebook. Works great.  I write the topic of the day’s lecture at the top of a notebook page, that lets me coordinate my lecture notes with the Powerpoint slides/ professor’s supplements/ textbook.

            But what I want to know is WHY are professors still GIVING lectures???  If the professor has something to say that’s not in the text can’t he make clear, concise, understandable electronic ‘handouts’?  I think they do it to justify their jobs.

  • Brimstone

    Sounds a little like Cohen is so in iLove he’s making his class fit the iPad rather than using the iPad to improve his class.

    Still, I suppose it’s progress.  Of course the entire premise of college is that the student demonstrates his/her initiative and followthru by learning the stuff and completing the assignments on their own, by pulling the information to them rather than having it pushed a spoonful at a time. The professor simply presents.  So many college professors have no doubt realized that they can increasingly  be replaced by computers, which can present info more cheaply and much more effectively…the professors must be scared a bit.

    • Rockethound

      Show me a computer that can generate, select, organize, and contextualize information, and can both present it in a manner individualized for the specific audience and improvise as new tangents and ideas are introduced into the conversation.  Then I’ll be scared.  A bit.

      • Brimstone

        ‘generate, select, organize, and contextualize information’ is exactly what textbooks do now.  Most college ‘teaching’ goes like this: “Read chapters XYZ by Friday.  Then I’ll stand here and pontificate on what you already know if you read it, or baffle you if you didn’t. In either case you’ll be bored silly. Maybe we’ll have a little group discussion to see who read it and who didn’t to liven things up and make me feel special.”

        College classes aren’t ‘individualized for the specific audience’. They’re generic one-size-fits all classes; students are expected to adapt to the eccentricities of teachers, not he other way around.

        Textbooks change as ‘new tangents and ideas are introduced’.  It’s big business and very expensive for students to buy a new edition every year for the minimal changes authors make. It’s a scam. Computers and e-books can change much faster and cheaper.

  • Sherilyne

    I was between college classes for twenty years……when I returned I was impressed by how the internet and word processing had improved my effeciency as a student.  Not only could I do most of my research from home just by linking to the library, but I could write 30 page research papers with tremendous ease.  I still preferred taking notes with an actual pen, but the process of transcribing them electronically reinforced learning.  I studied English Literature with a concentration in Elizabethan drama.  Perhaps that is shy I think Hemingway deserves an ereader. 

    I have a Kindle.  It is convenient and portable, and Amazon loves that I will shop without ever getting off my big old butt instead of waltzing into the library or an old fashioned book store. 

    • Brimstone

      ” I was impressed by how the internet and word processing had improved my effeciency as a student.”

      Agreed.  The punks don’t know how easy they have it now.  Most of’em probably couldn’t find the lady’s room in the library, much less all the references needed to write a paper.

      Yeah you remember- it was it was a five mile slog through the snow to that library, up hill.  Both ways.

  • Science Teacher

    As a 40-something, I think it’s hilarious to read that a student would write, “…utopian view of myself sitting outside on a beautiful day with the breeze
    blowing reading these great works on… an iPad?…. I do not wish to bash
    the very existence of the iPad. I do think its invention is a great
    thing, but for English classes I’ve been so conditioned to read from a
    book.”  If students aren’t on board, they need to get on board and fast.  People do not realize that to stay competitive and profitable in the very near future, there will no longer be printed books — period. Those who doubt need to call up Kodak and find out what happened to printed pictures and their entire company along with it.  Not only will digital publishing create huge windfalls for publishers, it will earn the authors far more of their deserved royalties.  Right now, for example, my mother belongs to a book sharing group.  They each buy one book and then they ship them in rotation to each person in the group.  In 12 weeks they’ve each read 12 books for the cost of one and shipping.  The authors and publishers, subsequently, have made 1/12th the income.  Digital publishing makes that a thing of the past — unless people start sharing their ereaders which is certainly a possibility.  In any case, digital publishing is the next revolution in information sharing.  The iPad and Kindle make the size and weight convenient.  New apps and ideas will revolutionize the interactivity as well as the visualizations of what it means to be a book in the future.  Get over it!

    Next, I wanted to write a little about several of the supposed complaints of college kids when it comes to iPads. 

    Cumbersome typing?  Get a keyboard dock or bluetooth version build into the cover.  Such a silly and mind-numbing complaint.  Three quarters of the time you don’t use it for typing anyway.

    One application device?  Huh?  Really, that’s a completely mind-numbing complaint.  Are we too lazy to click an icon to instantly bring up the other apps running on the device?  Really, that is so ridiculour

  • Kahvigirl

    *Sigh* Yet another NPR commercial for Apple. C’mon guys, how much are they paying you for all of these ‘news features?’