Does it have to be a battle? The novel is the basis of my English class. I also like to have the students use laptops 2-3 times a week. I don't see a contradiction. I see a new marriage, trying to get its sea legs.
Others see an enemy. The antithesis of literature and learning. A monster made of zeros and ones. And they see no need to let this monster have a seat at the table.
After all, the novel is the original portable device. Handheld. Easy interface. No glare in sunlight. It has been in the spotlight for centuries. But, lest we forget, when books came on the scene people saw it as the enemy. Plato decried that people would cease remembering things on their own, because they would be able to "find it in a book." Communication media like the phone, the radio, and the television, all faced similar pessimism.
The Internet-enabled laptop is not as elegant as a novel. It's cumbersome to carry. The interface (with due deference to Apple) is not always seamless. And there is the glare and the resistance to nature. Sand, for example, is no friend to the laptop.
So what do they have to offer each other? Everything.
The novel is the springboard for all manner of lessons in the English class: we analyze characters, we reflect about their plight, and we inhabit them and their point of view to increase empathy. Along the way we garner vocabulary, examine sentence structure and variety, and speculate about themes. If a laptop is nearby, here is a very very short list of the many many things it offers in support these endeavors:
- grammar quizzes
- websites devoted to great literature
- blogs on which to write our reflections and insights about literature
- multimedia applications like Glogster and iMovie and VoiceThread and Animoto and a hundred others that can be used to create presentations, role play, and expound
- social media sites on which to co-construct meaning, share meaningful links, and build community
- advice on: essay writing, sentence composing, reading to learn, learning to read, building background knowledge, improving communication skills, etc. etc. etc.
- practical and free applications by the dozens to help all types of skill building (My students regularly access a BBC typing practice website that features a cow with a Scottish accent).
The laptop is a super charged notebook filled with millions of libraries worth of information to reference, analyze, accept, reject, and investigate.
Like most relationships, this one is going to get complicated. We've been through the infatuation (Web 1.0) and now the hard work begins (Web 2.0).
Let us be done with the question Does technology mean the death of the novel? All signs indicate the novel is alive and well and whether it continues to exist in all of its current forms or not, it isn't going away. Nor is technology. Nor is technology in the classroom. The questions are:
What do we do now?
How can we do it well?
Why are we doing it?
In other words, marriage. Speak now or forever hold your peace might be a bit strong. Web 2.0 ain't about holding peace. But it is about union. There will be no divorce. And to extend a tortured metaphor a bit further, please, please, let's not wind up sleeping in separate beds.