Technical and Conceptual Learning as a Vehicle for Change

With more than half a semester’s worth of learning and work behind me, it is safe to say that I have a great deal more knowledge now than when I began English 340 in January. The scope of skills and concepts I learned about and learned from is extremely wide. Indeed, from learning the basics of the open-source code editor application, Atom, to using the command line on my virtual machine to generate a program that creates journal entries in Atom, I have made great strides in my knowledge of computers, computing, and coding. However, I believe that the most interesting, most life-altering thing I have learned in English 340 is how to understand, write, and utilize HTML.

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What I’ve Learned in ENGL 340

Looking back on the course of this semester, I honestly think that I have learned more new and interesting things in this class than I have in any other class I am taking. Taking this class definitely required me to work outside of my comfort zone in a way I have yet to within the English major, and in doing so, I have gained a lot of new knowledge and skills that I am very thankful for. Three new things I have learned that I would like to speak specifically about are how to use Atom and Virtual Box, specifics about the topic of copyright, and the relationship between technology and the humanities.

Firstly, as I mentioned in my first blog post, I never knew much about computers prior to this class, other than my use of social media apps like Facebook, Twitter, etc. Now, I know how to work both Virtual Box and Atom to an extent I never thought that I would. Specifically, I learned how to work in WordPress in Virtual Box. I learned how to edit an earlier text post I made by going to plug ins, then install, then activate. Next, I went back to my timeline spreadsheet in google docs, and then I grabbed the code from “Embedded” in the timeline website and pasted it in word press. Finally, when I clicked publish my timeline that I previously created appeared on my WordPress page. Here, I learned how to combine four different web applications or softwares (google drive, timeline, virtual box, word press), and then I used atom to update my journal documenting my experience. This is just one of the many things I learned about Virtual Box, including the many commands in the terminal window.

However, not only did I learn a great deal about technology and certain software applications, I also learned about a topic I previously knew little about, which is the topic of copyright and copyright laws. Prior to this class, I did not know about the law that an artist’s copyright on their work lasts until seventy years after they have passed. I also think the class discussion we had about the topic was very interesting and raised many points I had not thought of before, like the fact that even Shakespeare’s most famous works borrowed ideas and plot points from earlier stories. This conversation taught me very much about literature and its legacy and how copyright deals with that relationship, and that information will stay with me for a while.

Lastly, I have learned a lot about the relationship between technology and the humanities in this class. I have learned much more about this since my first blog post through our reading of Walden and our use of The Reader’s Thoreau website. Thoreau’s writing and experience at Walden pond emphasized for me that technology and the humanities are not mutually exclusive, as although he went to the pond to experience freedom and solitude and to write and read freely, he also used many tools to build the small home that he lived in, highlighting that technology exists in almost everything that we do. Also, a private website like The Reader’s Thoreau is really helpful and interesting for a reader, because it brings people together by letting one share their thoughts on what they are reading, while also being able to read what others from all around the world have to say. Here, technology is allowing for a book that was published over 160 years ago live on in a digital form, and I think that is really important.

In short, this class has made me much more open and eager to explore the countless activities, sites, tools, etc., my computer has to offer, as I was previously very shut off to computing and technology. All in all, I learned a wide variety of information in this class that has changed me for the better, and will stay with me for the rest of my years at Geneseo and beyond.

Gradual Growth

Looking back on how nervous I was walking into class during syllabus week not knowing what to expect, now makes me laugh. I find it amazing how over the course of a few months, how much I have learned and how my perspective on technology has changed overall. Although all of this new information can be overwhelming at times, it has given me the courage to apply to jobs on campus such as SA Tech and the CIT desk so that even after this class comes to an end, I will continue to learn and broaden my knowledge.

Change is something that I have never been comfortable with and I felt like taking this class was something way out of my comfort zone and a huge risk. I was not sure if I was capable of doing well in it and considering how little of an understanding I had with computers, worried me. With technology constantly advancing I knew I had to become more knowledgable and familiar with the gadgets surrounding me. I have wanted to be a teacher practically my whole life, so what kind of disservice would I be doing to my students by not having them engage with technology? Implementing the use of technology is so important in the classroom because it is an effective approach to connect with students who may learn differently. In high school, I had a teacher who insisted on using one of those old projectors, even though there was a smart board in the classroom. I found it extremely difficult to stay focused and engaged in any lesson and easily got distracted. After that, I promised to myself that when I become a teacher one day, I will create my lesson according to the needs and wants of my students.

Nowadays, there is such a negative stigma surrounding technology and all of the harmful impacts it has on us. Although I am not disagreeing with this statement as social media has been proven to be detrimental to one’s mental health, I feel that because we dwell on the negative, we do not appreciate the benefits that technology has brought us. We do not give enough credit to the cures and treatments that new technology has provided for those with diseases and illnesses. We are too busy focusing on what we do wrong, rather than what we do right. Like anything else, I believe it is essential to find a good balance. I do not think we should rid ourselves completely of technology but instead monitor how much time we spend on social media.

After doing some more research on technology and its impact on mental health, I decided to go on a social media cleanse for a week. I have to say, I felt so out of the loop. Social media is my prime form of communication which made it even tougher to get rid of. I also do not watch the news and get all of my news updates from apps such as Twitter or Instagram. One of the organizations I am apart here at Geneseo, uses the apps Facebook and Groupme to inform us about events as well which made it that much harder to keep up with what was going on. I have to say I am definitely addicted to my phone and giving up social media was not easy. Once the week came to an end, I became more okay with it and actually felt kind of free from it. I believe that a social media cleanse should be something that everyone should do once in a while.

One thing that I know now that I did not know in the beginning of the semeste,r is what XML is. XML is a rigid structure that gives us language to mark up textual data on ways that are specific so that computers can read them. This rigid structure is important because computers do not handle loose data well.  XML enables us to add rigorous structure to textual data. I liked how Professor Schacht compared XML’s structure to the structure of a book. Books are loosely structured data. Although this may seem like such a little takeaway, it is something that I would have never been able to comprehend before. This is a milestone for me since I came into this class knowing nothing.

I am glad that our Walden projects give us the opportunity to explore other websites and applications. This class is not set up like a traditional english class since it includes a lot of hands on learning that is enjoyable and interesting and keeps me engaged during class. I believe all english classes should incorporate some kind of technology aspect to it.


The Dream: My computer and a toaster

As I approach the end of my final year at Geneseo, I am slowly trying to hold onto any and all knowledge I can get my hands on. It feels like the past 3 years were wasted in some ways and now I have to consume and devourer any information that comes my way. The years and classes have somewhat blurred together and honestly I’m glad some of the information was lost along the way.

The classes this semester are just as challenging as ever. I may walk away with horrid memories of this semester with a final senior paper to write for my history major. But one class I hope I hold onto is this class, Digital Humanities. And I’m not just saying that to try and boast my grade. Rather, the information I am learning in this class is so relevant to the world I am about to enter and to not use it in my future would be a mistake.

In the past few months I have enjoyed working with Atom and learning how I can use it for many tasks. I am actually writing this in Atom as we speak and knowing how to italicize and bold an item is helpful and I can do it with ease thanks to the practice I have had in class. I have to say that I struggle with a lot of functions within Vbox. I find it runs very slow for me and while I can follow along with the steps provided, it feels way over my head. I can understand how Atom works and how to best use certain command inputs in Vbox but as soon as it gets slightly more complicated I find myself confused and afraid to mess up. In a way this fear drives me to keep trying and keep at the task until I have it figured out.

I have enjoyed trying to learn command input in Vbox’s terminal. The specifics of how to move to more specific information within the terminal (Desktop -> Folder -> Item) is one of the things I have actually been able to do successfully and I’m a bit proud of that. I know it’s very basic but I can do it confidently within the terminal and its something I actually understand.

One thing I would love to try and do within my Mac’s terminal would actually be .

While this is a very funny concept to me, I think it is possible to understand through the steps I have learned in this class. This is also a great way to understand how the Terminal can be used to modify any computer. And while I may struggle with this in Vbox, maybe I would really learn it if I could mod a toaster to perform a task for me.

Walden in the Real World

Ever since we started reading Walden, I’ve begun to make connections to today’s society. Even though Walden was published in 1854, it has more similarities to the present day than we may recognize. Thoreau states that “We discourse freely without shame of one form of sensuality, and are silent about another,” which reminds me of social media today (Walden, Higher Laws). On social media, many individuals openly post whatever they deem necessary whether it be a photo or a comment. There is rarely filtration on social media, and Thoreau states that during this time there were not many restrictions on debate or speech. Additionally, Thoreau says that “I had more than ever come within the influence of those books which circulate round the world, whose sentences were first written on bark and are now merely copied from time to time,” and this quote can be compared to the evolution of literature in society. It is interesting to think about all the literature that has changed from the creation of society until now. Books used to be handwritten on stone, and now you can even speak into a microphone that will type on your laptop for you. Books used to be very scarce, due to their cost, but now they are widespread and it is rare to not have access to literature. Thoreau’s ideas in Walden, while unique to the novel, coincide with many elements of the world today.

Teaching Technology

As a future teacher, I think that Dr. Schacht’s English 340 class is very eye-opening for me. This class has helped me learn about my computer and all the different things I can do with it. Due to technology rising in this day in age I think it’s important that teachers know about the technology they are teaching and how to work it in many ways. By taking this class I feel that I have gained a better sense of computer devices. I have also learned some tools that I think can be useful in a classroom. I feel that the timeline website would be a great attribute for me to assign as a class project for a history class. I can ask my class to do a timeline of the presidents of the United States, or maybe put the wars that we have fought in chronological order. I think that they could also use simple text to take notes on the topics that the students will research. These programs can teach the students about how everything you do on your computer has a command, but we just don’t think of that when we’re on our computers. I can also use other programs like Atom or virtual box in my class for writing notes or making worksheets. Technology is an important part of a child’s day and it’s not going to go away. That’s why I believe that teachers should learn about how the new technology works. This way the teachers can teach their students. But also, teachers and students can use both these skills in and out of the classroom.

Another aspect I think is beneficial about taking this class is that everything is being broken down for me, so I understand why we have to type in https:// on a website, or how we can make things italicized on a simple text program like Atom. If I know more about this, I believe that it would be a great lesson to teach children. They should know the simplistic commands that makes your computer do the things you want it to do. You don’t have to start his at kindergarten, but I think if you do little pieces over time starting at the younger ages. For example, around 3 or 4th grade when children start to use computers every day in class then it can improve their knowledge of their computers overall.

Communication Differs

In the beginning weeks of this course we read the novel, The Information by James Gleick. I’d like to express how absolutely interesting the book was to me as it opened my eyes to aspects of information, communication and information theory that I have never thought that in depth about before. For the purpose of this blog post, I want to focus on the communication aspect of the book. The book states, “as communication evolves, messages in language can be broken down and composed and transmitted in much small sets of symbols” (Gleick 74). Specifically, my focus here is on symbols and language. When reading this book for class, I immediately related it to another course I am taking, American Sign Language (ASL). ASL is essentially replicating the English language visually, by the use of symbols. And, these sets of symbols are essentially the way deaf people communicate. So, my question, how has it evolved? Well, we have learned how much language and different forms of language or ways of communicating has transposed and changed in the book. For instance, the African drum, the language of telegraph signs (oh wow, signs…American sign language), etc. These were all ways of getting information, or communicating that information, from one point to another.

We know from the book, “the language spoken in one valley differs from the language spoken in the next” (Gleick 73). Meaning, the language spoken in one area, is not the same in another area. Let me first compare this in a simple way. Coming to college you meet people from different areas of the state, country, world etc. One difference, although seemingly small, is very representative of the differences in communication, or language, from “valley” to valley”. A friend of mine referring to soda as pop. I had no idea was pop was, a lollipop? Well, where she is from, pop is what they refer to what I refer to soda as. In comparison, in sign language, different areas have different means and ways of communicating. One sign may not be the same sign in another area. The broader sense of this would be the difference in American sign language verse French sign language. There are many different variations of signs. However, amongst those broad categories or country signs, are individual forms of actual sign language that differs. Kind of like how amongst our language of English, as individual ways of the world evolve so do certain aspects of the language and communicating. What does lit mean? One may think you lit a fire at one point in time, however, it has evolved as a word to mean something else, the word lit now holds an additional connotation and means awesome or fun. (kind of weird right?!). Sign language has that as well. Different areas and people have various means of their way of communicating. You can communicate in American Sign language, Pidgin Signed English, and Signed Exact English. Three forms of sign language that are used across the US. Even then it can be broken down further, there’s something called the Rochester Method of sign, which is finger-spelling every single word (even though in other forms there may be a simpler way to say that word (an actually symbolic sign)). Just like the Rochester method has evolved over time, so has our language and communication! Texting, and blogging and tweeting and messaging. The finger-spelling method of sign language transitioning to the more symbolic simpler sense of it relates to our English language evolving to some of the slang we use. So, in thinking of that, what do you notice about other people’s language? Does it differ than yours mostly or just in small areas? Let’s think of locally, then state wide, then the northern part of America verse the southern part of America, then even broader to different countries. It is so interesting to actually think about. So, to end this blog, I’d like to leave you with another quote from James Gleick “everyones sense of language differs and no one’s can be called standard” (Gleick 72). Enjoy!

Free Culture (Extra Post)

Consider the information that is all around us. Whether it is from the internet, on the App Store or even on a music site such as Spotify. Have we ever taken into account how much of the content that is accessible online is free? Ever since Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture discussion, I have thought deeply about the content in my life. Sure, I have paid for my Spotify membership and a few apps here and there, but the majority of information that I have accessed has been free. I feel now that I owe something to the artists whose works have been readily available on the internet. Think about working so hard on a piece or a project, and barely being reimbursed for all your time and effort.You would want to be paid in a teaching or law profession, right? So why not as an artist or a musician? As someone who has always written short stories and novels, I would be upset if someone utilized my work for free that I intended to make money off of. I have never thought about the excess of information that is floating around the internet that does not technically belong to us. I have a newfound respect for all of the content creators whose information is readliy available online

Blogging as an Unconventional Assessment

As an education major, I feel as though I’ve been trained to detect the significance of assessment format in all of my classes. Similarly to a professor subconsciously thinking every small movement in their crowd of students is a raised hand, I’m conditioned to notice how my classes are being assessed. Do we have quizzes every week, an oral presentation, a group project, and a final? Do we just have a midterm and a final? Do we have weekly discussion posts with the opportunity to miss three?

While some may look at a course syllabus, shrug, and save it to the deep dark abyss of their Downloads folder, the standard education major likely gets out their magnifying glass instead. We consider how we are being assessed and if these assessments adequately test knowledge and understanding across the board for all students. Everyone has different strengths in the classroom. The quiet kid could tank a solo oral presentation, but they could earn the highest grade on a cumulative paper test. “Smart” does not have one profile. Therefore, it’s important to consider the ways in which students are being asked to demonstrate their skills.

Okay, so now that I’ve used my soapbox for preaching, allow me to step down and actually get to my point. I really enjoy the opportunity to blog in our class. We get to blog…for a grade! Blogging is a way of writing without feeling like you’re getting an unwelcome flashback to your English Regents: you know, the one where you’re sitting in that sweaty classroom writing so fast you think your fingers will shrivel up. Blogging is accessible because it’s on WordPress: an online platform available anywhere; a fact that, in my opinion, masks the daunting feeling of writing an essay. We’re writing to a similar word count, and we’re still expected to maintain the standard conventions of English grammar, yet we’re invited to write colloquially. Like we’re having a conversation. With as many. Paragraph breaks. As we want. This doesn’t sound like a standard “assessment” to me…gee, I think I even forgot what that word means.

A list of benefits of classroom blogging could extend as long as the line in Cricket’s on a Sunday morning. It exercises student creativity, promotes self expression, promotes interaction, keeps uptake task of regular writing, improves communication skills…

On that note, a bagel and cream cheese sounds pretty good right about now.