Crash, chaos and connectivism (updated)

Last night I rented the movie CRASH. It is not often that after seeing a movie that I immediately want to see it again, much less want to buy it and keep it and make sure others see it too.

CRASH is about race in America, particularly in Los Angeles, but it could be anywhere in the US. What its terrific about the film is that it makes you comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time. And at the end of the film you have more questions than answers: questions about yourself and what you do and why you do it and how you act as a result of what you think is right and wrong. The movie, as well as the questions it provokes, are both unsettling and educating at the same time.

So how does a movie about racism and anger in the streets of LA connect with what I am doing, what we are all doing with technology? Well, first there is the realization that language learning technologies, like racial tensions, are here and cannot be avoided because they are affecting our children, our students, our communities. And they need to be discussed. No more staring at our feet and hoping it passes. Even the most technophobic of teachers need, at the very least, to acknowledge that these tools are often in the hands of their students, even if the teacher chooses not to use them. But it’s more than that: these tools are already changing how people access information, manipulate it, incorporate it into their learning…and there is no turning back. It is not about teachers being replaced by technology…I think the F2F element will always be a crucial part of teaching. But it is not acceptable anymore to pretend it is not there, because whether you use it or not it is still changing the world around you, and it affects the way you see the world. Just like racism, bigotry and anger.

It is also, I believe, a necesaary part of teaching (and confronting racism for that matter) to be, every now and again, completely and totally uncomfortable and uncertain and unnerved. “Tteaching” is no longer just in teacher’s hands… it’s now, more than ever, in the students’ hands too.

These past few weeks have been a series of chaotic crashes for me: using technology to connect different countries and peoples has led to the following confrontations with reality:

=watching a faculty member who used to think “burning a CD” meant reducing it ashes now understand how incredible a tool like Skype could be for his language students (and himself),

=watching Palestinian students who speak Arabic worry about words that Buth used in the skype call and come to the realization that what was inappropriate for them was actually appropriate elsewhere,

=watching American Muslim students recite the Koran outloud with Buthaina, and yet only Buthaina knew what it actually meant,

=watching lots of prejudgments dissolve and melt, but only after the students smashed into their ignorance… I walked away from that class amazed, addled, confused and wanting to know more.

Just like I did last night after the movie.

May there be more crashes like these in the weeks to come.

Barbara is a Lecturer in Hispanic Studies at a small liberal arts college in Maine. Rumor has it this was also her alma mater. She used to work for a small liberal arts college in the cornfields of Ohio for almost 20 years as a teacher and language center director. Prior to these adventures in higher ed she taught high school Spanish and loved it. She wishes she had more time in her life to play with her dogs, write, read, swim, do yoga things and making stuff out of clay. To see her online portfolio please click here!

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