I love words. I love books. I love talking.
So as I drive the long windy road from Mayo to Cork my brain tosses and turns, trying to assimilate the idea that there might be something more powerful than words, something that could bring learning to life in splendid technicolour in a way that just isn’t happening for so many students today.
But my love of books fights back bravely. I think of my groaning bookshelves wrapping around the walls of our study; of my years spent working in the greatest second-hand bookshop in Ireland and possibly in the world (make the pilgrimage to Charlie Byrne’s if you haven’t been there already); of studying English in NUIG; of the smell and feel of my battered copies of Hamlet and Macbeth and King Lear and Wuthering Heights and of the layers of meaning that emerge with each new reading of Kavanagh’s epic poem The Great Hunger. And I think what a shame it would be to ‘fix’ the meaning of a poem by turning it into a 3 minute video montage. I think about how every time I see a film adaptation I invariably prefer the book (the Lord of the Rings being the only exception) and the battle rages on as I near my destination, full of excitement and trepidation.
Day 1 of bootcamp is utterly exhausting and absolutely fabulous. We spend the day learning and creating, the stuff of great classrooms all over the world, and my mind begins to open to the possibilities. What if it weren’t about a choice between books and technology, but rather a marriage of the two? What if technology were the portal to lead the lost sheep back to the fold of language? As our little group of three creates a short film about two talking chairs I realise the potential this has to revolutionise my students appreciation of personification. When we start recording the voice over track I can almost touch a new dawn in my students’ creation of dialogue. We’re supposed to finish at 4.15 but we cannot, will not, leave our silly rough masterpiece unfinished. So we keep going. And the ‘teachers’, our ADE’s (Apple Distinguished Educators) wait with us.
That evening, brain utterly melted, I return to my BnB and have a long chat with the owner, whose daughter has just finished the leaving cert. He describes how one evening she appeared in the doorway, face awash with tears, arms laden down with schoolbooks, and hysterically f*cked them out onto the back lawn. She is a clever girl. And a hard worker. But the pressure is too intense. Now I find myself questioning my devotion to the written word, wondering if there isn’t a better way, as her father goes on to describe the morning the exams began, visiting the doctor to get a prescription for his daughter, forced to medicate her just to get her through it.
Day 2 the whirlwind continues with workshops on animation and I discover that you can learn to create something (albiet not very good!) in half an hour.
Then it’s podcasting and apps and all day we are creating, using the iMacs and iPads supplied by Eanna @ Apple for the course to happen not just sitting in a room listening to someone talk. The day ends with ePubs and I am blown away, immediately seeing that they are far far superior to regular books, at least from a learning perspective. You can imbed photos, videos, diagrams with moving parts, annotate the text, click on any word you don’t understand and a definition pops up. So I’m really disappointed that they only work on iPads (so far) because I began this course DETERMINED NOT TO BE MARKETED TO but at lunch both days we all talk about wanting an iPad and I’m not so sure now that I’ve succeeded. I can only hope that the PC / android world catches up and fast because god knows our schools cannot afford all this new technology but as a country we cannot afford to be left behind either so I try to think of ways to use what we already have at school and for a moment I am overwhelmed by the task at hand and I begin to fear that I may have to be the one who creates all of this interactive video content for learning and my blood runs cold because I know I cannot possibly do it. As the day ends, my brain is bleeding, my body weary. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. I talk to my dear husband John who is sick and who has had a terrible day minding our almost three year old who is too young to understand the cruelty of saying, repeatedly and hysterically ‘I don’t want you daddy, I want mama” and the temptation to get into my car and just drive home to help them out is strong. I don’t have to be here tomorrow. But I want to be. So I stay.
And I am glad. Day 3 is a play day, we learn a little Chinese from Mark Pentleton (radio lingua), the art of planning and storyboarding from Ciaran Mc Cormack (FIS), the far-reaching possibilities of using this technology in the classroom from Cormac Cahill (a humble teacher like ourselves who took part in bootcamp last year and now teaches on it!) and then we spend the rest of the day putting into action all we have learned and I begin to realise the most important thing I’ve gained from bootcamp is not a hunger for apple products (that’s there too but I’m resisting the urge to spend money I don’t have) but an understanding of what needs to change in my classroom. It is in the act of creating that the learning occurs. I know this. But cutting and sticking magazines to create posters is NOT exciting in a digital age. Come September the best thing I can do for my students is to stand back and let them make the meaning for themselves. Using pc’s and mac’s and flip cameras and mobile phones and mp3 players and iPads or android tablets: using whatever devices we can get our hands on in these cash-strapped times. And if we get stuck, there’s always Ciaran’s website www.tme.ie to pull us out of trouble. And my long suffering husband of course!
In the meantime, school’s out for summer! So I practice my new skills creating a montage that my daughter Hazel will not appreciate when it’s wheeled out on her 21st birthday!