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From Addiction to Connection: Questioning the Rhetoric of Drugs in Relation to Student Technology-Use

Abstract

When describing students’ relation to digital technology, for the most part, educators employ the rhetorics of drugs and addiction without much hesitation. Students are considered hopelessly “hooked,” and in response to this state of affairs, many teachers adopt harsh in-class device use policies, along with attitudes of derision, anger, and fear, concomitant with the belief that technology is ruining young minds or even “deep” thinking as such. In response to such concerns, the following essay explores how one group of students—those in my upper-division Digital Writing course—described themselves and their relation to various media platforms. Students began by collecting a series of brief autoethnographic observations, which they then synthesized into blog posts which addressed the question “Am I Addicted to Technology?” Students were primed prior to writing by discussing an academic essay and watching a TED Talk that challenge employing the rhetoric of addiction/drugs, and when provided this alternative framework, many began to adopt it. In-line with Hari’s supposition that “[t]he opposite of addiction is not sobriety[;] the opposite of addiction is connection,” students continually highlighted the importance of connection in their lives, without automatically stigmatizing this need by couching it in pathological terms. Some continued to describe themselves as addicts, but those who began to explore alternative vocabularies suggest analyzing student/teacher behavior in relation to technology in a variety of new ways.

“For 100 years now, we’ve been singing war songs about addicts. I think all along we should have been singing love songs to them. Because the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.”

– Johann Hari, “Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong”

“Instead of thinking about addiction, it makes more sense to explore how we are vulnerable to certain things that technology offers. The path forward is to learn more about our vulnerabilities and design around them. To do that, we have to clarify our purpose.”

– Sherry Turkle, “How to Teach in an Age of Distraction”

Introduction

The more digital studies/digital humanities has increasingly become the focus of my teaching and research over the past few years, the more I am convinced there is something deeply problematic about deploying the figures of addiction and drugs in relation to technology. In a recent article published in the journal Enculturation, “This Fragile Machine: Technology, Vulnerability, and the Rhetoric(s) of Addiction,” I outlined my concerns in some detail, but this analysis was based primarily in rhetorical theory with little discussion of the pedagogical ramifications of the argument. What follows here, then, is an attempt to articulate how my previous contentions might affect classroom attitudes and practices, so as to prevent teachers and students from unwittingly importing the draconian logic of the War on Drugs into the classroom, in particular, with regard to digital device usage.

A young woman with dark hair snorting a powdered drug that spells out ‘Facebook.’

Figure 1: Woman Snorting a “Line” of Facebook

My outline for investigating the above questions and concerns is as follows: I begin by briefly considering the prevailing attitude toward classroom technologies, wherein they are viewed as addictive substances, brain-damaging “drugs” upon which students (and certain teachers) are irrepressibly “hooked.” I then articulate my reservations with rhetorically framing technology in this way, while looking at how students in my upper-division Digital Writing course responded in academic blog-form to the question “Am I addicted to technology?” They were primed for this assignment by reading and discussing my Enculturation essay, along with watching a TED Talk by Johann Hari titled “Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong.” As I share these materials along with my own arguments, from the outset I will strive to articulate what pedagogical implications may be at stake if one were persuaded by them.

At the same time students were considering the question of technology addiction, they were tasked with collecting autoethnographic observations on their social/digital media behaviors (something Margaret “Peg” Syverson inspired me to do after introducing me to the qualitative assessment tool Learning Record Online). Throughout, I share some of the students’ most interesting field-notes in the form of textual interjections, and suggest how one might evaluate them according to different rhetorical frameworks. Sharing this quasi-anthropological data, information which attempts to be as “neutral” as possible, is especially valuable because it evinces how students can be legitimate co-producers of knowledge, and are not bound by the reductive characterizations of their media practices many foist upon them. Indeed, through this assignment many students came to see how “drugs” and “addiction,” when applied to technology, are bound to specific rhetoric and not obvious clinical or psychological facts.

Finally, I share some insightful remarks from students’ blog-posts on technology addiction, and speculate on how they might lead educators to transform their attitudes/positions and pedagogical practices. I hope that sharing these findings serves as a launching pad for further discussion and debate.

What’s Wrong with the Rhetoric of Addiction?

At the risk of over-generalizing, it strikes me that most people, professors and students included, apply the rhetoric(s) of drugs and addiction to technology with little hesitation, assuming the parallel is obvious, unaware of the problematic consequences of doing so. Oftentimes, such analogies are perhaps simply “slips,” like when Sherry Turkle describes student-users as “drinking the [presumably cyanide-laced cult] Kool-Aide” (Digital Nation). But others are far less subtle. For instance, Gary Small states:

“When we think of addiction, most of us think of alcoholism or drug abuse. But the easy access, anonymity, and constant availability of the Internet … has led to a new form of compulsive and dependent behavior – techno-addicts. The same neural pathways in the brain that reinforce dependence on substances can reinforce compulsive technology behaviors that are just as addictive and potentially destructive.”

Following Small’s line of thought, scores of materials have been produced in recent years decrying a new cultural epidemic, where digitization is framed as outright dangerous, even capable of, in Nicholas Carr’s words, “threathen[ing] the depth and distinctiveness of the self … [along with] the depth and distinctiveness of the culture we all share” (196). Works like Carr’s The Shallows, and others in its genre like Mark Bauerlein’s The Dumbest Generation, Nicholas Kardaras’ Glow Kids, and Damon Zaharides’ Digital Detox (the latter two of which have the term “addiction” in their subtitles), however alarmist they may be, have struck a chord and met with incredible commercial success. A quick Google search for “technology addiction” and “cell phone addiction” collectively result in nearly one hundred forty million hits, with hundreds of articles from sources ranging across the entire political news spectrum.

The medical community has gotten increasingly involved in the discussion as well, for instance, via debates over whether “Internet Addiction” is a medical disorder worthy of inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (Pies). And countries like South Korea have already declared “a public health crisis,” instituting programs to develop healthier tech-use habits for students of all ages (Digital Nation). By no means am I outright naively rejecting the claims of those concerned with digitization’s problematic affects/effects, but I do want to rigorously interrogate how such worries are troped or figured.

“The hospital lost my phone when I was admitted to the ER. During my hospital stay I kept reaching for it to check things. But I couldn’t look at it because it was lost. I felt very uncomfortable and disconnected.”

– Student Autoethnographic Observation (emphasis mine)

I imagine most people, scholars included, because they have no alternative rhetoric for framing this example, would think it obvious that a student worried about checking their phone while in the Emergency Room is an “addict,” with all the troubling conceptual baggage attached to the term. As will become increasingly clear, however, what if one were to focus here instead on the irrepressible need for connection or bonding, especially in a frightening or painful situation?

Given the possibility for alternative interpretations, it’s surprising one still finds even someone like champion of technology Clay Shirky making the following observation in a recent post: “Multi-taskers often think they are like gym rats, bulking up their ability to juggle tasks, when in fact they are like alcoholics, degrading their abilities through over-consumption” (emphasis mine). So why should statements like this give one pause? In response, permit me to briefly summarize the claims contained in my essay “This Fragile Machine,” while extending them into pedagogical territory:

(1) “The Addict” has solidified into an identity that contains numerous problematic assumptions: identities are largely fixed and unchanging; the addict uses drugs to escape reality; the addict suffers from a deficiency of “will”; the addict’s life is in inescapable decline; the addict’s habits can be overcome only through resolute abstinence; hence, addiction/drugs, including digital technologies, must be harshly regulated and punishment can serve as an effective deterrent. [1]

When one refers to students or anyone else as addicts, without realizing it, one not only ascribes them an essentializing identity, but one with a serious stigma attached to it. And since identities are viewed as largely intractable, I heartily agree with Turkle that “discussing the power of technology in those terms makes people feel powerless. It is as though they are facing something that is by definition more powerful than they could ever be.” Ascribing someone an identity can make it seem as though there is no way to change or modify it, say, through an ethics of “hygienic” self-care, and so the only way to discipline/control the techno-addicted, supposedly weak-willed student is to force them to abstain from “using.”

“During my Physics [class], the teacher began talking about things that did not seem relevant. … About 2/3 of the class seemed to be using cell phones or laptops to do other things. Some were on both laptops and cell phones. I myself was scrolling through Twitter, Instagram, and imessage simultaneously.”

– Student Autoethnographic Observation (emphasis mine)

Provided observations like the above, it would be folly to ignore that sometimes classroom technology produces undesirable effects like distraction and detrimental cognitive modification, but ascribing identities can rob students of the opportunity to learn classroom-appropriate practices and to take responsibility for employing them. This is likely what Shelley Rodrigo has in mind when she contends: “[s]tarting with what the students already do works not only because we are going with the flow; … it is because it is going with their flow.” And it is not only a matter of going “with” the flow, but guiding that flow in an effective, insightful manner, versus, say, the above physics classroom, where it seems the problem is not addiction, but boredom, disengagement, disconnection, and ineffective pedagogy.

(2) Even if one views addiction as the cyclical or algorithmic repetition at the heart of all behavior, the rhetoric of drugs is saturated with innumerable “moral” norms and prohibitions; hence one will likely feel ashamed or guilty if one cannot abstain.

Scholars influenced by deconstruction such as Avital Ronell have suggested the stigma surrounding addiction might be lifted by seeing it as tied not to specific habits but rather all behavior. (More precisely, addiction is viewed here as an existential structure.) However, since the rhetoric of drugs/addiction is so tropologically loaded, I have difficulty accepting this approach will alleviate the “bad conscience” of students, absolving them of the guilt or shame they feel for “using.” After all, this approach still suggests tech-users are addicts, even if it moves away from viewing addiction as something attributable to the weak-willed. In fact, the universalization of addiction might even exacerbate the problem at issue.

(3) In contrast to specific technologically-oriented behaviors, vulnerability/“openness” to affection by technology is inescapable. A posthuman approach highlights this exposedness, and thus challenges assumptions regarding identity, will, abstinence, guilt, and more.

A liberal humanist view of subjectivity suggests rationality grants human beings untrammeled freedom to act (“will”) without regard for contextual material conditions—including everything from race, class, and gender, to technologies available within one’s environment. This approach not only doggedly continues to influence the whole of contemporary society, from politics to law to economics, but provides the assumptions necessary to brand students as addicts who can be seduced by the allure of technology and “morally” fail to resist. By contrast, in the words of Shirky, “I’ve stopped thinking of students as people who simply make choices about whether to pay attention [or compulsively use technology,] and started thinking of them as people trying to pay attention but having to compete with various influences.” In short, if students are non-declinably open to affection by technology, not only is it unfair to stigmatize their compulsive digital inclinations, but as Shirky notes, the greater responsibility lies with capitalist technologies purposely “designed to distract” as opposed to some flaw in students themselves. Such an approach urges one to not make students feel ashamed for technology-use, and that punishing them for partaking will ultimately fail as a deterrent (just as it has abjectly failed to end the War on Drugs), as well as precluding critical discussions of how certain media platforms or specific facets of them are built to be “addictive.”

Three colorful syringes labeled Facebook, Youtube, and tumblr. respectively.

Figure 2: Syringes Labeled as Social Media Platforms

Although students seemed intrigued by my own claims regarding the rhetoric of technology addiction, it was clear from their blog-posts they were persuaded most deeply by Johann Hari’s TED Talk on addiction writ large. For one, Hari challenges whether the rhetoric of addiction is viable at all, suggesting “maybe we shouldn’t even call it addiction. Maybe we should call it bonding. Human beings have a natural and innate need to bond, and when we’re happy and healthy, we’ll bond and connect with each other, but if you can’t do that … you will bond with something that will give you some sense of relief.” The language of “bonding” that evokes the psychoanalytic concept of libidinal ties, not only helps diminish the stigma attached to addiction, it suggests students are driven to use technology—social media platforms in particular—not because they’re trying to evade reality or are looking for a dopamine fix, but because they’re simply doing what human beings are built to do: Connect.

In contrast to his progressive insights, however, one move Hari makes that gives me pause is he avers digital connections are “like a kind of parody of human connection. [Since if] you have a crisis in your life, you’ll notice … it won’t be your Twitter followers who come to sit with you. It won’t be your Facebook friends who help you turn it around.” Rather than considering digital connections unfulfilling “parodies,” I think it far less problematic to highlight the various affordances in connection across different mediums. For example, face-to-face connection provides the affordances of physical touch, eye-contact, smell, “chemistry,” and so on, whereas online connection provides the affordances of multimodal interaction that surpasses speech/graphical writing along with extending connection beyond one’s geographic and temporal proximity. In other words, one can posit the importance of face-to-face connections without suggesting said connections are somehow more “authentic” than digital ones. As twenty-first century educators, helping students to navigate and balance relationship-types and their specific affordances is key, and it’s far more troublesome than helpful to suggest certain forms of desire for connection are addiction-oriented whereas others are not.

Perhaps the most pedagogically-potent observations Hari makes, though, regard Bruce Alexander’s psychological experiments with “Rat Park.” The basic outline is as follows: in earlier twentieth-century tests, researchers placed rats alone in a cage with two bottles of water, one of which laced with either heroin or cocaine. In these experiments where rats were imprisoned and in isolation, they would nearly always become “bonded” to the drugged water and eventually die. Later, researchers like Alexander questioned this initial approach, and reproduced the experiments with a critical modification: the rats still had access to heroin/cocaine but they were no longer alone. Instead, Rat Park was a community wherein they could form social bonds, mate, play, and more. In these tests, the rats almost never drank the drugged water, nor became addicted and died in miserable fashion. Hari therefore asks: “What if addiction is about your cage? What if addiction is an adaptation to your environment?”

The chilling insight, then, that I had with regard to Rat Park was: What if technology “addiction” is about adapting to the “cage” of your classroom? What if it is about feeling trapped and alone, “not being able to bear to be present in your [educational] life?” For example, if students are expected to sit silently during lecture, work on assignments in isolation, or being “talked at” by the educator, that is, when they’re dis-connected, when forming social ties is not encouraged, is it surprising they would opt for the “bonds” of the Internet? Indeed, what if certain classroom spaces are even more tortuous than those of rats in isolation because students are in proximity to one other yet often explicitly forbidden to interact? Hence, I take responsibility upon myself if I notice a student checking Facebook during lecture/discussion, etc., because it signals to me said student feels disconnected from what’s happening around them. Furthermore, such occurrences highlight the need for new types of learning spaces that facilitate both analog and digital connection, dynamic environments like those Katherine Hayles has in-mind when she contends “[t]he classroom is no longer sufficient for the needs of web pedagogy; needed are flexible laboratory spaces in which teams can work collaboratively” (5). [2]

“The teacher split my Accounting class into groups to collaborate on a case study. Instead of collaborating, everyone looked for answers on the internet.”

– Student Autoethnographic Observation (emphasis mine)

Provided this example, again the rhetoric of drugs/addiction threatens to return. But what if one asked instead: Why does the student not view doing online research as itself collaborative? Is it because they’ve internalized the view that only face-to-face interaction counts as authentic engagement with others? And if the choice is between working with “strangers” in the classroom as opposed to “strangers” online–since most college classrooms don’t emphasize forming neighborly communities among peers–isn’t it less scary to engage with an “other” whose gaze one can escape?

Put another way, it seems that because collaborative practices break with individualist, humanist models of education, one cannot assume students know how to work together collectively; hence one task of contemporary education is to help develop this indispensable skill. As I often joke with students: “It’s okay—we’re all still learning how to Internet.” And I mean that in relation to face-to-face networking as well as writing online, especially since robust team-oriented projects/evaluation are still an outlier in the humanities and learning to excel at and balance various types of connections with different affordances is something that is rarely, if ever, taught.

Provided the above observations, then, there is great pedagogical significance in Hari’s concluding observation: “[I say] to the addicts in my life that I want to deepen the connection with them, to say to them, I love you whether you’re using or not. I love you, whatever state you’re in, and if you need me, I’ll come sit with you because I love you and I don’t want you to be alone or to feel alone.” As educators concerned with effective/affective bonding, isn’t this a vastly healthier message to provide students than to chastise or punish them for their so-called “addictive,” “weak-willed” behaviors? To sympathize with them for feeling caged?

“I heard my phone vibrate in my backpack while in class and resisted the urge to check the notification to avoid losing points in the class where phones are not allowed.”

– Student Autoethnographic Observation (emphasis mine)[3]

To make the analogy more explicit, if you’re a student “using” technology problematically in the classroom, I still love you; it’s apparent you’re not feeling loved or connected, so I’ll go out of my way to form a bond with you or encourage activities that lead you to bond with others, especially in contrast to the above punishment-oriented approach. In this regard, I think it’s obvious many classrooms are not emotionally sensitive spaces. To the contrary, they’re ultra-logocentric, implicitly presupposing education has nothing to do with pathos. As burgeoning pedagogues, we are rarely taught how to form healthy, meaningful connections with students, but in a society where people are lonelier and more isolated/alienated than ever, developing such connections seems increasingly exigent. Perhaps this is to suggest that concomitant with helping students/teachers became increasingly digitally literate, is a call to help them become more emotively reflexive and considerate of which types of connections are most fulfilling in which contexts and for what reasons.

“Am I Addicted to Technology?”

After being primed to question the rhetoric of drugs in relation to technology-use, what did students themselves have to say about digital “addiction,” and what might educators gain from these observations? For one, I hope it’s apparent that by valuing what students have to say about themselves, this highlights the importance of student/teacher co-invention of knowledge (and feeling!). Or as Kimberly Mair puts it, I see encouraging students to define their own relations to technology as “acknowledg[ing] the emergent shift from the expert paradigm of one-directional knowledge transfer to a collaborative model of knowledge production known as distributed expertise.” To cite and discuss the findings of students is not some mere research curiosity, but indicates a genuine desire to cultivate new frameworks for “seeing” technology in tandem with students themselves, especially since they often aren’t bogged down by traditional assumptions or vocabularies. When one is a non-millennial educated in a print-centric, humanist environment, it’s disrespectful and intellectually myopic to simply dismiss contemporary student attitudes and media practices with disdainful finger-wagging as though one Knows Better.

In fact, I contend valuing students’ experiences is one way of beginning to form the sort of emotive bonds and connections mentioned previously—especially since students were not given incentive for reaching any particular conclusion(s) and/or parroting back to me what they thought I wanted to hear. Some even explicitly disagreed with me, and I encouraged them to do so, such as Nick Konstantinidis, who remarked:

“[‘Addict’] is a vulgar word nobody likes admitting themselves to being. However, my social media usage along with the studies we’ve done in class makes me believe I am quite addicted to social media sites. When I say I’m addicted I’m not comparing myself to some of the people we’ve seen in videos such as those in [South Korea] who accumulate days’ worth of consumption at a time, wearing diapers to prevent time away from [a video] game while using the restroom. But I do find myself reaching for my phone extremely frequently checking my social media accounts, text messages, or surfing the web.”

Although the student is mostly reinforcing the view of those like Carr and Bauerline, what interests me more is the sentiment attached to this position, namely, that “addiction is vulgar,” and/or no one wants to “admit” they’re addicted to something. Hence one is provided a taste of the guilt, shame, and embarrassment unwittingly produced when one defines students as addicts: they feel dirty, unsophisticated, and so very “common.”

A young woman with blue-tinted skin smoking a smartphone as though it were a crack-pipe.

Figure 3: Woman Smoking Smartphone Crack-Pipe

Contrasting a more traditional, “bad conscience”-wracked response were students who tried to carve out a middle path, wherein they retained the rhetoric of addiction while questioning its accuracy, effects, and so on. One student, Cole Sanderson, posited “I think we are addicted to using social media and cell phones for communication but it’s not in a bad way. It just makes things get done more efficiently when communicating. … I don’t think addiction in this sense should be looked down upon because it [is] truly helping people communicate in a faster way” (emphases mine). This observation not only evinces having rejected the guilt/shame associated with technology-use, but suggests this sentiment is justified since such an “addiction” doesn’t involve breaking social norms. The question remains, however—in-line with concerns regarding addiction as a universal existential structure—can one truly deploy the rhetoric of addiction without it remaining contaminated, saturated by normativity? For as Jacques Derrida avers, “[a]s soon as one utters the word ‘drugs,’ even before any ‘addiction’[,] a prescriptive or normative ‘diction’ is already at work, performatively, whether one likes it or not” (229).

In other words, perhaps the *only* way out here, ironically, is to abstain from the rhetoric of technology-as-drug(s) altogether, a move one student, Rachel McCown, seemed to be shifting toward. As she explains, “[s]ome people claim that you can be addicted to technology … I think I fall somewhere in the middle of these two arguments. I don’t know that I would call it an addiction because most everyday tasks require the internet or technology to some degree, but I do know that people experience an impulsive need to check their social media, blogging sites, and emails” (emphasis mine). I appreciate the distinction made here, as no one would deny people feel “vulnerable to” and compulsively drawn toward certain technologies; it’s simply a question of how one figures that impulse. Moreover, McCown’s[4] observation about “everydayness” suggests asking one to imagine a historical classroom where print books had recently become available, and the instructor has become incensed at the student who loves text and can’t keep “his” nose out from between the pages, looking for information (rather than drawing on so-called “personal” memory). A behavior once chastised and stigmatized as breaking pedagogical norms, as proto-“addictive” (especially when someone like Madame Bovary, i.e., a woman), dared do it, is now looked upon by many with nostalgic longing.

Let’s wrap up, then, by looking at some contentions by students who explicitly challenged the rhetoric of tech-addiction. To this end, Camille Mountjoy writes: “Now, is my social media an addiction? I truly believe it is not. I can stop using social media in situations where an addict may not be able to stop using” (emphasis mine); hence, she draws a critical qualitative distinction with regard to dependency I agree is legitimate. She doesn’t stop here, though, but goes on to share an anecdote I think reveals her position as more informed than many in academia and the greater population. In her own words, “I find it a little insulting that social media usage can be viewed as addicted behavior because I knew people close to me with different addiction problems and it is vastly different. The only thing I could see that has similarities is the idea [that “addicts”] do not have that many strong connections so they escape by numbing themselves” (emphasis mine). Perhaps I am assuming too much here, but anyone who has struggled with “addiction” themselves, or loved and cared for someone who has, is likely going to be (or should be) more hesitant to employ the rhetoric of addiction/drugs in relation to technology.[5] The student has experienced first-hand the significant differences at issue, yet one of the only scholarly examples I have found along these lines is when Turkle states “[t]he analogy between screens and drugs breaks down … There is only one thing you should do if you are on heroin: Get off it. Your life is at stake. But laptops and smartphones don’t need to be removed. They are part of our creative lives. The goal is to use them with greater intention, to live with them in greater harmony.”

As opposed to “harmony,” however, many academics have developed and propagated an adversarial attitude toward technology, along with putative disciplinary measures, and have thereby unwittingly imported the logic of the War on Drugs into the classroom. Another student, Brianna Coggins, seems to sense as much when she writes “labeling urges to use a phone or computer as an addiction takes the situation out of context and blows it out of proportion to push an ‘anti-digital age’ propaganda caused by personal hesitation – fear of the effects the digital world has on humanity” (emphasis mine). Here, not only does the student’s observation resonate alongside previous ones with regard to eliding key differences between types of compulsive dependency, she spotlights how many over-generalize and transmute personal fears into apocalyptic universalizations about the degeneracy of contemporary culture.[6] Yet, despite this mass panic regarding technology-use among certain populations, one bright student dared arrive at an almost diametrically-opposed position, namely, that “[p]eople think that social media is taking away human interaction and physical contact[, but] in fact, social media is just giving us a new way to define what it means to be a human. It isn’t the end of humanity, it’s a new beginning” (emphasis mine). Here Mountjoy recognizes—even if she doesn’t employ the exact vocabulary—what is at issue is the question of affordance. Digital media technologies produce opportunities for new forms of human interaction and bonding, such that what it means to be human is expanding rather than disintegrating.

Such is the vision promoted by a posthumanist pedagogy and its accompanying classroom or lab: a space wherein the desire for connection and exploring/“balancing” affordances in bonding, whether via analog and/or digital modes, is not only encouraged and guided in emotionally-attuned fashion, it is viewed as an inescapable part of existing in relation to and through others—where it is recognized no “desiring-machine” functions on its own, independently of a network. Or to pose it as a question: what transformation takes place when one affirms that being irrepressibly drawn toward technology (or any “other”) is not indicative of failure to resist through resolute will, that is, to destructive “addiction,” but to the vulnerability of bodies affected by that which non-declinably grasps them?

Although technology-use may derail one’s initial educational aims, as teachers and students, it is within our capacity to redefine and reframe the rhetoric involved, not only putting into question our aims themselves, but cleansing our teaching and learning more generally from derisive moral judgment and retributive discipline, thereby vitally, “mercifully,” modifying our pedagogical attitudes and practices. For questioning is the blasphemy which drives the motor of invention.

Notes

[1] In reference to my initial reservations regarding the rhetoric of addiction, I cannot encourage strongly enough that readers check out Eve K. Sedgwick’s challenging and incisive essay “Epidemics of the Will” in Tendencies.

[2] I really appreciate Turkle’s insight that “[c]ollaboration is a kind of intimacy. You don’t just get more information. You get different information. … The most powerful learning takes place in relationship.”

[3] Question: What if one were to “legalize” all digital devices in classrooms, then take the substantial energy and resources spent on policing device (mis-)use and channel it into helping students form substantive connections? What might this look like, to respond to students not with punishment but by further facilitating connection?

[4] Near the end of her post, McCown adds “maybe calling it an addiction is wrong because it’s really people trying to stay active when life around them has become dull. There are always new things to read and do on the internet when you’re sitting in a boring lecture that you can’t listen to even if you try. In lectures and classrooms your attention is being forced to focus on things you’re not necessarily interested in” (emphasis mine).

[5] In Occupying Memory, I make a similar claim in relation to the rhetoric of trauma and “the traumatic,” namely, that even (and especially) scholars have a bad habit of throwing around the term, especially when it’s fairly clear they have never undergone being traumatized themselves.

[6] As an exemplar of this type of argument, I point the reader toward Nicholas Carr’s best-selling work The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.

Bibliography

Carr, Nicholas. 2011. The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Derrida, Jacques. 1995. “The Rhetoric of Drugs.” Points… Interviews, 1974-1994. Translated by Peggy Kamuf and others. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Dretzin, Rachel. 2010. “Digital Nation.” PBS Frontline. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/digitalnation/

Hari, Johann. “Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong.” TED Talk, 14:43. June 2015. https://www.ted.com/talks/johann_hari_everything_you_think_you_know_about_addiction_is_wrong

Hayles, N. Katherine. 2012. How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Hoag, Trevor. 2017. “This Fragile Machine: Technology, Vulnerability, and the Rhetoric(s) of Addiction.” Enculturation: A Journal of Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture (24). http://enculturation.net/this_fragile_machine

Mair, Kimberly. 2016. “Participatory Culture and Distributed Expertise: Breaking Down Pedagogical Norms or Regulating Neoliberal Subjectivities?” The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy (9). https://jitp.commons.gc.cuny.edu/participatory-culture-and-distributed-expertise-breaking-down-pedagogical-norms-or-regulating-neoliberal-subjectivities/

Pies, Ronald. 2009. “Should DSM-V Designate ‘Internet Addiction’ a Mental Disorder?” Psychiatry. Vol 6 (2): 31-37. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2719452/

Rodrigo, Shelley. 2013. “Can You Digg it? Using Web Applications in Teaching the Research Process.” The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy (4). https://jitp.commons.gc.cuny.edu/can-you-digg-it-using-web-applications-in-teaching-the-research-process/

Ronell, Avital. 2004. Crack Wars: Literature, Addiction, Mania. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Sedgwick, Eve K. 1993. “Epidemics of the Will.” Tendencies. Durham, Duke University Press.

Shirky, Clay. 2014. “Why I Just Asked My Students To Put Their Laptops Away.” Medium (Blog). https://medium.com/@cshirky/why-i-just-asked-my-students-to-put-their-laptops-away-7f5f7c50f368

Small, Gary. 2009. “Techno-Addicts: Dopamine is responsible for the euphoria that addicts chase.” Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brain-bootcamp/200907/techno-addicts

Turkle, Sherry. 2015. “How to Teach in an Age of Distraction.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. http://www.chronicle.com/article/How-to-Teach-in-an-Age-of/233515

Student Bloggers

Coggins, Brianna. October 2017. “This is Not a Hit for Pleasure but for Connection.” Maelstrom: Writing Digital Humanities (Blog). https://maelstromdigitalactivismblog.wordpress.com/2017/10/18/this-is-not-a-hit-for-pleasure-but-for-connection/

Konstantinidis, Nicolas. October 2017. “Am I Addicted?” Maelstrom: Writing Digital Humanities (Blog). https://maelstromdigitalactivismblog.wordpress.com/2017/10/18/am-i-addicted-2/

McCown, Rachel. October 2017. “Auto-Ethnography: Are We Addicted?” Maelstrom: Writing Digital Humanities (Blog). https://maelstromdigitalactivismblog.wordpress.com/2017/10/18/auto-ethnography-are-we-addicted/

Mountjoy, Camille. October 2017. “Should We Be Throwing the Word ‘Addiction’ Around?” Maelstrom: Writing Digital Humanities (Blog). https://maelstromdigitalactivismblog.wordpress.com/2017/10/18/should-we-be-throwing-the-word-addiction-around/

Sanderson, Cole. October 2017. “Is Being Addicted to Your Phone a Bad Thing?” Maelstrom: Writing Digital Humanities (Blog). https://maelstromdigitalactivismblog.wordpress.com/2017/10/24/is-being-addicted-to-your-phone-a-bad-thing/

About the Author

Trevor Hoag, Ph.D. (@DrHoagCNU), is Assistant Professor of English and Director of the minor in Digital Humanities at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia. His forthcoming book, Occupying Memory: Rhetoric, Trauma, Mourning, explores how memorialization, testimony, grief, and more serve as grounds for political/clinical struggle. His work appears in the journals Hybrid Pedagogy, Enculturation, and Liminalities. You can visit his website here: http://trevorhoagphd.org/

Figure 2: An image of a student sitting in front of a camera with hands clasped together in front of her face.
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Reflecting on Reflections: Using Video in Learning Reflection to Enhance Authenticity

Emma J. Rose, University of Washington Tacoma
Jarek Sierschynski, University of Washington Tacoma
Elin A. Björling, University of Washington Tacoma

Abstract

Reflection is commonly used in the classroom to encourage students to think about and articulate what they have learned. However, when students produce reflections they typically create a written text for the instructor, outside of the classroom and as a summative retrospective account of learning. In this paper, we present the details of how we implemented Ecological Momentary Reflection (EMR), a video enabled reflection within the classroom environment to help students assess their perceptions of self and learning across time. In this paper, we recount how we implemented EMR in an informal learning environment and provide our own assessment of its effectiveness. We argue that using video makes the reflection experience more authentic and meaningful for both student and teacher.

Introduction

Reflection is commonly used in the classroom to encourage students to articulate what they have learned and to aid them in thinking about how they have learned. Traditionally, students reflect on their learning process through the act of writing. According to Yancey, written reflections benefit students by helping them remember details of how they completed an assignment, as a generative process to create meaning for future writing, and as a way to develop authority and expertise (Yancey 1998). While written reflection has its strengths, it also has some inherent limitations. Written reflection is typically geared toward oneself and is often produced as a text for the audience of the instructor — perhaps limiting the student’s authenticity.

Moreover, writing is a form of culturally constructed expression with its own peculiarities (see, Chafe 1991; Chafe & Tannen 1987) that simultaneously differentiate and distance written texts from more direct or immediate forms of communication such as speech, sign or gesture. Even though texts are a profound means of representing human thought and introspection, the process of writing a text can become an impediment to self expression. For example, when writing skills are underdeveloped, not available, or stymied by other factors, writing can be limiting rather than productive. Additionally, much of the writing process relies on drafting and revising, a reiterative process aimed at clarifying expression and distancing the writer from the initially captured “raw” and momentary expression. At the same time, it can be argued that the strength of writing as a reflective tool lies precisely in a symbolic and temporal chasm between the individual and experience that nurtures reflection.

Given the benefits of the reflection process, and the inherent downsides of written expression, we wanted to explore a mode of reflection that could be incorporated authentically into the context of science learning in an informal setting, in this case during a summer STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) camp for teens. We ground our use of the term, authenticity, in Buxton’s (2006) framework for authenticity in science education. He conceptualizes a youth-centered model that focused on the lives and learning of underserved and marginalized youth and thus on equity and social justice (see Medin & Bang 2014; Barron, Mertl & Martin 2014; Barton 1998; Barton & Young 2000; Nasir & Cooks 2009). These youth-centered models view authentic science learning and knowledge as a sociocultural process situated in lived experiences, such as cultures, identities, communities, homes, and the wide range of informal environments where learning occurs. Implementing a reflection method that leverages the experience of the community and captures reflection in context was synergistic to the authentic, youth-centered model of learning at the heart of the summer STEM summer camp experience we were investigating.

To create an integrated and authentic notion of reflection in the learning environment, we introduced an exercise that asked students to record a series of videos. Adding video to the reflection process helped students see that their thoughts about themselves and the STEM subjects have changed. This activity also layered an additional element of a shared and community based reflection to the learning experience. Furthermore, the video reflections provided instructors and program directors with an authentic representation of the students’ struggles and triumphs throughout the duration of the camp. These factors helped students see their own learning and helped instructors in getting feedback on the course to inform future improvements of the camp.

In this article, we provide our own reflection on the process of introducing a new method of reflection into a learning environment. The aim of this article is to introduce the concept of Ecological Momentary Reflection (EMR) and to recount its effective use in an informal STEM learning environment. We propose that the addition of momentary, that is in the moment, video to capture real-time student reflections in the classroom provides an authentic reflective practice leading to valuable insights for both learner and instructor. First, we articulate the context of the learning environment where we implemented EMR. Second, we define reflection as a pedagogical practice and how it is used in writing and how video can support reflection on practice. Third, we provide details of how we implemented video reflection in the summer camp, a method we are calling Ecological Momentary Reflection (EMR), and invite educators and researchers to consider this method of reflection in their own teaching environments.

Context: Informal Learning in a STEM Summer Camp

Every summer at a Pacific Northwest University, middle and high school students come together for a summer camp that is focused on learning about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). The STEM camp mission is to encourage and increase diversity in STEM fields by providing informal learning experiences for students (grades 7-12) that remain underrepresented in the sciences. Underrepresented groups included low-income, minority, female and potential first-generation college students, among others. The campers who attend the STEM Camp tell us they are drawn to it year after year because it is fun, and ‘you get to do things’. Participants build robots, design video games, wade out into the muddy banks of our local waterways to collect water samples, and more. It is a break from school and existing social pressures; it is a safe place. Students make new friends and deepen existing relationships as they interact with their peers, some who return each year.

Informal learning is a broad concept that refers to any learning that occurs outside of the formal realm of school (Dierking et al. 2003). Informal learning includes people engaging with their environment in a variety of contexts and settings. Learning experiences that are designed for broad audiences (i.e., museums, summer camps, etc.) are considered types of informal learning both inside and outside of the STEM disciplines. In these settings, informal learning tends to be momentary, unplanned, problem-based, learner-centered, driven by individual interests (National Research Council 2009). Many STEM summer camps can be categorized as informal learning environments in that they promote experiential learning and exist outside of the realm of formal schooling. The camp instructors include current college students or professionals such as educators or scientists from the local community. The authors of this article were involved with the STEM camp in the roles of faculty mentors to the instructors.

It is within this informal learning setting that we implemented EMR as both a pedagogical tool and a research method aimed to enable students to reflect on their changing identities as well as their relationship to STEM subjects. In the Summer of 2015, we conducted an IRB approved research study where we used EMR with 9th grade participants in the STEM camp. The students spent three weeks designing a video game using Kodu, a visual programming language. In this paper, we focus on the promise of EMR for use as a pedagogical tool in the classroom.

Reflection as a Pedagogical Practice

Reflection is a common pedagogical practice where students are asked to think about and articulate what they have learned. Reflection has long been viewed as synonymous with thinking and learning (Dewey 1933). Moreover, reflection is considered a core element of metacognition. Metacognition, a multifaceted term connected with reflection, refers to knowledge about, and the regulation of, cognitive processes such as self-regulated learning (Brown, Bransford, Ferrara, and Campione 1983; Flavell 1979; Zimmerman 2002). In other words, metacognition is a student’s awareness of how to learn and also an awareness of herself as a learner. Metacognition is also connected to students’ ability to transfer their learning across contexts (Bransford, Brown & Cocking 2000). In K-12 settings, both elements of metacognition, knowledge of strategies associated with specific academic tasks (such as reading, writing or math) and self-regulatory strategies (such as self-monitoring or self-evaluation) are commonly used in teaching and learning tasks. There is a rich variety of established pedagogical approaches that apply metacognitive strategies for learning. For instance, in writing, students use think-aloud and self-questioning strategies (Scardamalia, Bereiter & Steinbach 1984). In reading, students self-monitor to check for comprehension through questioning, summarizing or making predictions about a text (Palincsar & Brown 1984). In math, students can use self-assessment to evaluate their own mathematical capabilities (Schunk 1996). These strategies have been associated with increased achievement and also with higher self-efficacy (see Schunk 1996). Furthermore, reflection often occurs as an important process in the development of expertise. Looking at how expert practitioners engage in their work, Schön observes: “Reflection tends to focus interactively on the outcomes of action, the action itself, and the intuitive knowing implicit in the action.” (Schön 1982, 56).

According to Yauncey (1998), reflection is both a process and product and the product that is created is available to the world and is therefore a social act. She states, “because it works both inside and outside, reflection-in-presentation is personal, but it’s social as well” (Yancey 1998, 94). However, in the writing classroom, a reflection tends to be a written text, constructed by a student for the instructor and often disregards this social aspect referred to by Yauncey. When produced for the sole audience of the teacher, written reflections can pressure students to attempt to perform the type of writing expected by the teacher: demonstrating what they should have learned rather than reporting on what they actually learned (Jenson 2010).

Ecological Momentary Reflection

Our goal in implementing video enabled reflection in the classroom was twofold. We wanted to see how students’ ideas about and in relation to STEM were impacted by their experience in the STEM camp. But we also wanted students to see how their perceptions and attitudes may have changed over time. We wanted the reflections to be as natural, immediate and embedded as possible within the practices of the camp. We wanted the reflections to be as close to the learning experience as possible, both in terms of the timing of the reflections and where the reflection would take place. In other words, we wanted them to be momentary (i.e. quick and timely) and also ecologically valid (i.e. within the environment where learning is taking place). This rationale for this embedded aspect of the reflections was driven both by our research focus but also by past experience.

The design of our reflection method is drawn from an approach used in behavioral health, medicine and psychology known as Ecological Momentary Assessment or EMA (LaCaille et al. 2013). In EMA, research participants provide feedback on symptoms, feelings, or other measures in real time and these assessments are often repeated over time. This real time reporting is enabled by a variety of technologies, such as mobile phones. As proponents of EMA report, its strength is in the authentic context where the research takes place and the ability to capture data as it happens (Shiffman, Stone, and Hufford 2008). Additionally, EMA has been proven an effective method to capture change within individuals and avoids the “pitfalls and limitations of reliance on autobiographical memory” (Shiffman, et al. 2008, 7).

Based on our previous experience in the STEM camp, we had limited success with interview methods with students. Although we had seen the students’ progress in a variety of ways, their own assessment of their experience did not include an expression of awareness of these changes. We also felt that the interview environment seemed superficial and separate from the classroom activities, likely influencing the authenticity of the students’ responses.

As a result, we designed our methodology to be informed by the concept of reflection and also containing the ecological and momentary characteristics of EMA. Because of our use of video to capture student reflections in the moment we named this method Ecological Momentary Reflection (EMR).

Implementing EMR in the Classroom

In the summer of 2015, we worked closely with the 9th grade cohort of the STEM camp program and their instructors to implement the EMR method. We explained to students that they were creating the videos for themselves but also for each other as a way to reflect on their learning and to capture their experiences at summer camp. Therefore, students were aware there was a larger audience for the reflections. Students were also told that highlights of the reflections would be compiled and they would watch this highlight compilation together on the last day of the camp. They were given digital copies of their personal reflections, their group videos and a copy of the final edited compilation to take home with them as a keepsake from their camp experience.

Students created three video reflections during the three-week summer camp: an introduction, mid-point, and final reflection. For the first reflection, students created an introductory video. They were asked to introduce themselves, talked about their hobbies or interests, and reflect on how they felt about STEM and about themselves. In the second video reflection, students were given two photographs of themselves from previous days at camp that captured them engaging in one of the main STEM camp practices, in this case coding a video game on a computer. Students were asked to reflect upon what they were doing in the photo, how they felt looking at themself and what the photographs reflected about them as individuals. In their final reflection, which took place at the beginning of the third week of the camp, the procedure was slightly different. Students watched the previous two reflection videos and were then asked to respond via video to the experience of watching themselves and how they changed over the course of the summer camp. The specific wording of the prompts is shown in Table 1 below.

Topic and timing Prompts
Video reflection 1: Introduction (Day 1)

 

Introduction reflection

1.     Who are you:
What do you like to do? What makes you special?

2.     You and technology:
Do you think of yourself as a technical or computer person? Why or why not?
Do you think other people in your life (friends or family) see you as a technical or computer person? Why or why not?

3.     Complete this sentence: By the end of STEM camp this summer I expect….

Video reflection 2: Photo reflection
(Day 8)
Photo reflection

During one of the early days when students start coding they will photographed while they are working. The photograph will serve as part of the prompt:

1.     How would you describe what you are doing in the photographs? How does this fit into the rest of your life?

2.     Can you talk a little about what you feel and think when you look at these photographs?

3.     What do these photos reflect about who you are?

4.     What can somebody looking at these photos learn about you?

5.     CHALLENGE—Come up with your own prompt (question for self) related to the photos and try to answer it.

3. Video reflection 3: Wrap up (Day 14_) Final reflection:

After watching the video of yourself from the start of the program, answer these questions:

1.     What do you think after watching that video?

2.     Do you see yourself any differently from when you started STEM camp?

3.     Have you learned anything new about yourself?

4.     What was the best and worst parts of STEM camp?

5.     What surprised you about this experience?

6.     Please complete the following sentence. “After participating in STEM camp this year, I feel that I… “

To create an appropriate space for the video reflections, we used a small, quiet, private room just outside of the main classroom where students were spending their days. The room was equipped with a GoPro Hero 4 camera and students could move or adjust the camera based on their comfort level (Figure 1 shows the room set up).

Figure 1: An image of a small room with two empty chairs and a table. On the table is a video camera on a tripod, and a list of questions that contain the prompts for the video.

Figure 1: Video reflection room set up with camera and prompts.

 

Our motivation for creating a private space adjacent to the classroom was to give students a place to be able to quietly reflect while still being close to the camp setting. Giving the students a private space, but one that is still connected in time and space to the learning environment maintained the ecological soundness of this method. Figure 2 shows a still photo from a student’s video reflection showing the setting where students made their recordings.

Figure 2: An image of a student sitting in front of a camera with hands clasped together in front of her face.

Figure 2: A still from a student’s video reflection.

 

In addition, we had anticipated, and hoped, that this mode of reflecting: speaking to a video camera, might emulate current, culturally appropriate and familiar practices. We took our inspiration from the many examples of young people posting reflections or product reviews on YouTube from their bedrooms. We often referred to the small room where the videos were being made as our “reality show confession booth.” This idea seemed to resonate with the students and they seemed very comfortable expressing themselves in front of the camera.

Assessing EMR

In order to retrospectively assess how EMR worked within this setting, our team applied thematic analysis (Guest et al. 2011) of the following qualitative data: (1) student video reflections (2) field notes, memos and reflections from the research team, and (3) data from personal interviews with the two instructors of the camp. The qualitative data was reviewed, coded and discussed by the research team to uncover common themes throughout the data. These data were discussed in relation to the researchers’ experiences of using standard textual reflections.

Theme 1: Initial Reticence, Overall Enthusiasm

During the creation of the first video reflection in week one, some students mentioned that they felt a little awkward creating the video diaries. In contrast, in the last video reflection, students commented that they looked awkward in the first video or remembered feeling awkward at the time. Although there was this initial reticence regarding the first video recording, students also described how much more comfortable they were recording their last reflection. Most students were overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the experience of having done the videos in retrospect. They mentioned how they enjoyed using the cameras, interviewing one another, and taking the cameras on their field trips. This enthusiasm was palpable when the students were showed the highlight compilation of their summer experience.

“Anyway, I really liked that video. I’m feeling good because it’s kinda like the whole three weeks packed into one little video and it kinda shows my progress, like what I thought before and what I think now. And it’s kinda different to think that like in the beginning, I didn’t think I could do it, and I know how to get it done.” – P6

As one instructor noted, “we even asked them if they liked [it]… and they all responded with an overwhelming “YESSSS!!” (Solis-Bruno 2015).

The instructors in the program while supportive of EMR, had a variety of questions concerning the feasibility of this technology. However, they helped to creatively embed the videos reflections into the environment and the curriculum. They were also helpful in communicating the purpose of the videos in a student-centered way by referring to it as “the documentary.” Similar to the students’ experiences, instructors grew to value this novel method. By the end of the program, they reflected that the felt EMR was highly valuable for the students and both instructors said they would incorporate video reflection in this way in future classes (Solis-Bruno 2015; Jordan 2015).

Theme 2: Seeing Themselves

In the previous year of the STEM summer camp, we had asked students to think about how they had changed over the three-week experience in a series of semi-structured interviews. Overall, students in previous years did not express seeing much change in themselves over the short experience in the camp. However, students who used EMR were able to visibly see themselves in retrospect and comment on the changes in their learning. They compared their feelings about technology, coding, and engineering over the three-week period and were able to see for themselves how their thoughts had changed. These “a-ha” moments were the most visible during the second and third video reflections when students were looking at pictures of themselves or looking back at their previous videos.

During the second video reflection, we gave students photographs of themselves at work during the camp. Figure 3 shows an example of a photograph that was used as a prompt. In this video reflection in particular, students expressed surprise and amazement at seeing themselves from this outside perspective.

Figure 3: An image of a student sitting in front of a computer, designing a video game.

Figure 3: A photograph of a student that was used as a prompt in the second video reflection.

 

Many said they had never seen themselves in this way before. They described seeing themselves as focused or that they looked like someone who was programming. Many mentioned that their families would be surprised to see the person they saw in this picture: someone who was focused and working hard.

“I think that I look determined. I feel- I feel pretty good with um the fact that I can do this … like knowing that I can do this kind of stuff, that’s cool.” – P2

This reflection in particular points out the strength of the Ecological Momentary Reflection (EMR) method, and when combined with photographs, gives students an external or third person view of themselves.

In the third and last video reflection, many students had revelations and moments of surprise as they looked back on their previous videos. Several of them provided very clear and impassioned reflections on how this experience had fundamentally changed the way they saw themselves in relations to STEM topics. One student said that before the camp, she had seen herself as an “artsy” person and now she saw she was equally strong in things like engineering. Given the goals of this STEM summer camp learning experience, this student’s shift is encouraging.

“After watching the video that I made felt really confident in myself and I felt like …[I’m] doing what I’m supposed to in MSL.” – P3

“I see myself as more of a techy person I guess I… I realized that I really like technology and I really enjoy programming these games that we’ve been doing.” – P1

Several students had noted during their reflections that they had been struggling with some aspects of the coding tasks they were doing in the camp. These struggles were temporary frustrations and only moments in time. All of the students successfully completed a working, playable video game during their time in the camp. Watching themselves talk about these struggles in the video reflections allowed them to see how they had been able to overcome them. Therefore, they were able to talk about their resilience in terms of overcoming these challenges. Being able to see how they overcame challenges and that they could overcome these challenges, enables students to see that with hard work and by asking for help they can succeed, which enables the development of a growth mindset (Dweck 2006) and grit (Duckworth et al. 2007).

Theme 3: Broadening the Notion of Audience

In contrast to the other types of reflection done in classroom settings, that tend to be solely focused on writing, we saw how the addition of the videos helps to broaden the notion of audience. The expectation and the format of the videos implied an external and broader audience than just the student and instructor. This expectation had been communicated as part of the video project and it was clear that students were thinking broadly about audience. Students had mentioned their family members in the reflections and also used the pronoun, “you”, in their reflections to invoke the audience of ‘us’ (the faculty advisors, instructors, and their peers in the course). One student’s final reflection seemed like a dedication to his peers, as he proclaimed “how cool you guys are.” According to the instructors, some students wanted an even broader audience, and were disappointed that the compilation video was not played at the end of camp celebration for their family and friends (Jordan 2015). Evidently, they were proud of not just the accomplishments of the products of the summer camp, but also the process in which they discussed their learning through the video diaries.

Theme 4: Logistics, Implementation and Technical Challenges

When introducing any new pedagogical method that incorporates technology in the classroom, there is much to learn for future iterations. We learned a great deal about implementing EMR and areas for improvement in the future, both for the STEM summer camp learning context and beyond. One of our concerns at the beginning of the study was that students entering and exiting the main classroom to record the video diaries would be disruptive to the learning environment. However, the instructors stated that they did not feel that the activity was disruptive. They stated that from their perspective, the process of making and viewing the videos was highly valuable for the students (Jordan 2015; Solis-Bruno 2015). The lack of disruption could be attributed to the nature of the informal learning environment, which can be less structured than a formal school-based learning situations. However, we assert that the EMR method would complement a learning environment that is project or inquiry based.

One technical challenge we encountered in the study was audio quality. We were using GoPro Hero 4 cameras and while the video is of very high quality, the audio was not. With that video camera in particular, an external microphone would greatly increase audio quality. In addition, the battery life and size of the video recordings were limiting factors. An additional technical challenge is the storing of video files. It is important to set up an appropriate technical infrastructure for the video files to be securely stored but still accessible to the students and instructors.

The Promise of EMR

As we reflect on our experience with EMR, we turn to its strengths and promise for use as an authentic reflection tool to augment and make visible learning that occurs in informal and formal settings. We assumed that EMR would be congruent with teens’ “selfie” culture. While students at first were reticent to film themselves on camera, they did grow more comfortable over time especially in the impromptu videos, like the ones on the field trips. Given its basis in Ecological Momentary Assessment, EMR creates a fitting and even attractive tool for student engagement. It helps to capture learning both in the environment it is taking place and also the moment it is happening. In this way, EMR captures a fleeting moment of the student’s experience and enables reflection on that otherwise inaccessible moment, allowing students to witness their thinking across time.

EMR appears to be an effective tool for student reflection. The strong theme of Seeing Themselves supports the use of EMR as an effective reflecting process in a learning environment as it allows students to see themselves from as an outside observer. EMR also overcomes some of the limitations of written reflection that can influence students to perform in an academic manner and conceptualize the teacher as the sole audience for the reflection.

One of EMR’s strengths is broadening the audience of reflection and going beyond the idea of the reflection being produced by one student for one teacher. Requiring students to produce reflections for themselves but also their peers strengthens the learning environment. The majority of students were interested in keeping their videos and also their photographs from the prompts as keepsakes. Consequently, using student-centered technology, methods, and artifacts as tools for thinking not only provides students with more meaningful learning experiences, but also promotes recurring and persistent practices of reflection.

The benefits of EMR as a technology far outweigh the drawbacks. It leverages a technology that is familiar, yet novel or unexpected in a classroom setting. The video camera engages students in a way that is low risk yet high reward. While there may be challenges to videos, there are too with written reflection, such as the varying literacy skills available to a student. We conclude that the technology is congruent with tools and technologies that many adolescents are already familiar and comfortable with.

In conclusion, the common themes that emerged from our data highlight how using EMR in the classroom can support authentic reflection that enhances students’ learning experience and educators’ assessment of student learning and the learning environment. EMR departs from static written reflections and instead provides students a way to see and reflect on their own thinking and learning as it is happening.

Thus, EMR is a promising method for reflection in any complex learning environment by capturing real-time learning, maintaining ecological validity, and allowing for authentic and powerful reflection. We highly encourage others to explore this technology in their classrooms.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to express our deep gratitude to Amanda Figueroa and DJ Crisostomo in the Student Transition Programs at the University of Washington Tacoma for their leadership and making the MSL program such a transformative learning experience for the students of our community. We also wish to thank Luis Solis-Bruno and Stephanie Jordan the instructors of the 9th grade cohort of MSL in 2015 who were so welcoming to us and embraced the idea of using videos. In addition, this work would not be possible without the amazing teens in the MSL program who shared their experience with us through their video reflections. Finally, we would like to thank special issue editors Tyler Fox & Carlos Hernandez for bringing this special issue to fruition.

About the Authors

Emma J. Rose, Ph.D. is an assistant professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences at University of Washington Tacoma. Her research is motivated by a commitment to social justice and a belief that the way technologies are designed ultimately shapes our world. Her research interests include the practice of user experience, how people use expertise to overcome resource constraints, and the development of technical identity. She tweets @emmarosephd.

Jarek Sierschynski, Ph.D. is a learning scientist and assistant professor in Education at University of Washington Tacoma. His work examines definitions of STEM, scientific practices and technology integration by focusing on complexities inherent in cultural tools used by historically marginalized communities. Recently, he has been investigating how students think about their identities in relation to science and technology. His current project involves the design of an informal learning environment in which technology serves youths as an identity, cultural and scientific resource.

Elin A. Björling, Ph.D. holds both a professional research scientist position for the Office of Research and a clinical faculty position in the school of Nursing and Healthcare Leadership at University of Washington Tacoma. Over the past two decades, Elin has studied adolescent health utilizing mixed-methods in community based project designs. Her recent research has focused primarily on using an Ecological Momentary Assessment approach to study stress in adolescents. She tweets @elinbjorling.

Featured Image "Nucleus cochlear implant Graeme Clark" courtesy of Flickr user adrigu.
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This Week: Issue 9 Submissions: Calling All Cyborgs!

Each week, a member of the JITP Editorial Collective assembles and shares the news items, ongoing discussions, and upcoming events of interest to us (and hopefully you). This week’s installment is edited by Carlos Hernandez and Tyler Fox.

 

Michael Chorost’s memoir Rebuilt: How Becoming Part Computer Made Me More Human is no cyborg valentine to technology. Chorost describes how, after he lost his hearing completely in 2001, he decided to undergo a radical surgery that would install a computer interface in his head that would interact with a computer he clipped onto his belt. With these, he would be able to hear again.

Well, “hear.” The interface between hardware and wetware took a long period of learning and adjustment. At the beginning of the process, the world Chorost heard made different sounds altogether: “In my experience,” writes Chorost, “paper made sounds like blap, snip,and vrrrrr, and if rudely treated, szzzzz. It didn’t go bingggg” (73). Different software for his computer-alternative hearing offered varying affordances; in a way, he was able to choose how he heard, which on the surface might sound like a cyber-blessing. But when every sound is a simulacrum, an ersatz version of the Platonic ideal of what you think sounds should sound like, you too might say, as Chorost does, “the implant [was] a tool that would enable me to do something which resembled hearing. It would not be hearing…. How bizarre” (79).

Chorost’s hearing never returned to what it had been prior to its loss. But his computer-assisted audition gave him a kind sound detection, one that proved useful, emotionally satisfying, and in the words of the book’s subtitle, humanizing. His vision for what humanity’s future could be–it’s a hard-one dream, arrived at only after a long katabasis–imagines a Haraway-esque incorporation (quite literally) of technology into our lives:

“When I think of the future of human potential in a hypertechnological age, I imagine a generation of people who have been educated to focus intensely on the world of matter and spirit, while also using powerful tools for mediating their perception of reality. They will bond with machines, but they will not be addicted to them. They will analyze while looking at art, and laugh while reading computer code. They will make exquisite use of floods of information, while not allowing themselves to be stunned into passivity” (181).

But such a thoughtful, critical, considered and salubrious relationship to technology will not happen by itself. Quite the contrary: we can expect Facebook to continue experimenting on its users (and issuing apologies after the fact); governments to continue tracking us through backdoors they pay corporations to create for them; and untold numbers of companies to continue collecting, in ways ranging from ignorant to willfully irresponsible, massive amounts of information from its users, only to have it stolen by hackers–to draw only three examples from the inexorable flood of news reports emerging about how increasingly, and how thoughtlessly, we lead our cyber lives.

As educators, our greatest ethical mandate is to create an informed and thinking citizenry. JITP exists to help us meet that obligation. We focus specifically on the interaction between technology and education, drawing from the educational traditions of critical pedagogy, constructivism, and the digital humanities. We are devoted leveraging both theory (writ large) and experimentation to serve as the twin foundations for best practices in the class. You can read more about our mission here.

We invite you to join us. We have a number of different formats to which you may submit your work to JITP, ranging in length and levels of formality. Full-length articles are peer-reviewed, but we don’t stop there; putting our own theories into practice, we work closely with authors in a pre-publication conversation about their work that our authors have found enriching and beneficial to their intellectual work (and you can see here and here [for the latter, jump to around 22:20 for soundbite!]).

Issue 9 has no theme; we welcome papers from all disciplines and all theoretical/experimental approaches. We promise you a thorough review process, and we seek not only to produce the best possible scholarship but to benefit you personally as a writer and researcher.

At one point in Rebuilt, Chorost reminds us that even chalk is technology. If we don’t believe him, he challenges us to try making our own. To my mind, that moment serves as not only a piece of wit, but a call to action: we are always already awash in technology. As educators, our job is to think critically about the technologies we employ, and to help our students understand our technology-inundated world. That’s why JITP exists, and why you should write with us.

P.S. Here’s an interview Michael Chorost conducted with NPR about Rebuilt.

 

Stark & Subtle Divisions
Graduate students from UMass Boston curate an Omeka site on desegregation in Boston.
http://bosdesca.omeka.net

Gender Equality in Science
A recent study indicates that poor nations are leading the way in gender equality in science.
http://www.scidev.net/global/gender/news/poor-nations-gender-equality-research.html

ECDS: 2016 Digital Scholarship Residency
ECDS is now accepting proposals for a 3-day digital scholarship residency at Emory University during the Spring semester 2016. Scholars from any discipline who use and promote digital scholarship methods in research and teaching are encouraged to apply.
https://scholarblogs.emory.edu/ecds/2015/09/09/ecds-2016-digital-scholarship-residency/

Editorial Violence…
http://www.theonion.com/article/4-copy-editors-killed-in-ongoing-ap-style-chicago–30806

Lastly, HASTAC/Futures Initiative is offering an online forum and live-streamed workshop on “Peer Mentoring and Student-Centered Learning,” part of The University Worth Fighting For #fight4edu series. http://bit.ly/peer-mentoring The forum will be open all month, and our live-streamed workshop will be this Thursday @ 1 pm EST.

 

Featured Image “Nucleus cochlear implant Graeme Clark” courtesy of Flickr user adrigu.

 

Images are for demo purposes only and are properties of their respective owners. ROMA by ThunderThemes.net

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