The Digital Coursepack

The Digital Coursepack

In a new series of blog posts, brothers Ian O’Byrne, a researcher at the New Literacies Research Lab, and Scott Myers, English teacher and Department Head at a high school in the Philadelphia metropolitan area, share their thoughts on issues of the thoughtful integration of the Internet and other communication technologies into classrooms. Ian and Scott examine the viability and potential features they would like to see in digital coursepacks for public school systems.

 

In two recent posts on the Inside Higher Ed blog, Joshua Kim discussed requirements for the digital coursepack, and then the evolution of the digital coursepack. In short, a digital coursepack is a device intended to disperse content to educators and students, and primarily directs information to the receiver. You can picture this as a laptop, tablet, or e-reader in which the student would be provided content on which they can consume and respond. The learning management system (LMS) on the other hand would consist of a much more social environment in which educator and student could interact and “discuss”. The LMS could be best understood by examples like Blackboard, Manhattan, Moodle, or the late, great NING. So, in looking to the future and what digital coursepacks could offer us, we ask what would you like to see in a digital coursepack that was offered to K-12 students? Additionally, what changes to traditional pedagogy and instruction would the digital coursepack bring about?

As a researcher concerned with the literacy practices of students as they read and write in online and offline spaces, I would like to see a digital coursepack that offers a wealth of information quite like the variety found on the Internet. I would prefer to offer students multimodal information sources in which they can choose what format they “read” the information they find. They can chose a traditional print version, a video, an MP3 clip, or even a compilation of these if available. I would like to additional content provided that may have been created by others that can serve as an addition to, or response for the original source. I also would argue for sources of varying credibility, sincerity, and relevance. I would want to provide students with varying levels of value to their purpose and see if they can navigate these subtleties and achieve their goals.

In terms of affecting classroom practice, I think a teacher should use the information source that the digital coursepack would provide in much the same way he or she would use a textbook, newspaper, video, lecture, poster, diorama, etc. I think that the role of the teacher has changed as affected by ICTs and the digital coursepack should provide educators with an opportunity to work through the needed skills and strategies brought on by these changes as a result of literacy and technology. To assist in instructional practice, I would suggest that the digital coursepack allow the classroom instructor to modify the informational space as needed for individual lessons…and individual students. For example, the teacher could only include videos, or primary source documents, or audio interviews….or whatever would help focus students on the intended skills of the lesson. In effect, this would create a digital sandbox, a closed environment in which teachers could tweak the variables included in what information they present during and throughout classroom instruction.

As a high school English teacher, I feel that the digital coursepack in the classroom would be invaluable. Textbooks, especially for English teachers, are often short-sighted and superficial when it comes to writing instruction and longer works of fiction. In fact, many English teachers I’ve interacted with throughout the years treat their textbooks more like anthologies than actual lesson roadmaps. I believe that digital coursepacks could change this, allowing teachers to create more complex and insightful lessons with the resources they present in a seamless and logical fashion.

Still, there is a part of me that shudders a bit when I consider the possibility of what these coursepacks could constitute: a boilerplate approach to teaching. Perhaps it’s because I teach English literature, which is inherently individualistic, but the fact is that I’m glad to hear that teachers only use their textbooks as anthologies, for this tells me that those specific teachers are not relying on a book publisher to create curriculum models; rather, they are rather assessing students needs in a more fluid and customized fashion.

Granted, coursepacks that I’ve seen are vastly better than textbooks, so “textbook teachers,” who rely on their heavy old relics to get them from September to June would ultimately improve by this better resource, not to mention that the money wasted on textbooks that aren’t utilized as intended would be better spent on more comprehensive digital resources. Students, moreover, seem more apt to embrace anything that glows, so I would embrace the coursepacks in the end, as long as they were used as a resource for the teacher as opposed to a replacement for him or her.

As far as content is concerned, I think the more the better. This is key. Teachers should need to sift through all the options that an iPad coursepack would present. For students in varied geographical or socioeconomic districts generally present varied instructional considerations, which is precisely why textbooks fail – they proffer relatively limited ancillary exercises… not to mention they aren’t compatible with iTunes.

So dear reader, we ask you…what features would you like to see in a proposed digital coursepack? What effects would this have on the traditional classroom environment?

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