An Interview with Paul Barnwell: Technology or Not to Technology – That is the Question!

Jun 12, 2012 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

  1. Paul, first of all, what do you teach and where and what grade level?

I teach Sophomore English, in addition to a digital media course titled Unleashing Digital Storytelling at Fern Creek Traditional High School in Louisville, KY.

2)      Now how long have you been teaching? And what is your favorite subject?

I’ve just completed my 8th year teaching, and my favorite subject is the digital storytelling because of the innovative nature of the course, in addition to the opportunities students and I have to be problem-solvers and creative thinkers/producers. For all of us—not just students—it’s easy to become passive consumers and mindless producers of digital media, and it’s exciting to be on a quest to help teach students to be more discerning and creative in these areas.

3)      Tell us a little bit about your “ journey with technology “. When did it start and what were your initial feelings?

After taking a course in emerging literacies at Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English in 2009, I was gung-ho about integrating technology into my middle school language arts classroom. We had a class blog, experimented with web 2.0 applications like Wordle and Extranomal, and I even bucked the school’s draconian cell-phone policy to experiment with Poll Everywhere in the classroom. I felt like a pioneer of sorts—at least within my school district—and felt like I was successfully engaging students with tools relevant to them.

4)      What was the student response?

Students were thoroughly engaged with these experiments. But with the blog, struggling students had a hard time keeping up because not only did I expect them to write and post meaningful responses to literature and other tasks, but they had to master the technology skills required to navigate the Edublogs platform.

5)      What are your feelings now?

I’ve changed my course with technology in the classroom. I’m not interested in exploring every new application and gadget that appears. Within the Unleashing Digital Storytelling course, I’m attempting to employ technology as just one piece of a larger creation process.

I feel like if I don’t curtail my own social media use and “screen time” then my life is dominated too much by technology. I see so many students swallowed up by social media and screen time, without much to show for it by way of critical thinking and or authentic work creation. Although there are positive ways educators can use Twitter, Facebook, and other social media applications, I think they are inherently distracting tools that rely too much on instant gratification and shallow thinking.

6)      Did you get any pressure from the administration to adopt technology?

Luckily, I didn’t, but since technology integration is a part of just about every school’s improvement plan, administrators are generally happy to see teachers attempt to use various levels of technology in the classroom. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough discussion about the pedagogical advantage or disadvantage of using various tools.

7)      How much actual training did you get in terms of integrating technology into your teaching?

As stated above, the course titled Emerging New Literacies at Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English provided a huge impetus for me to begin the exploration and implementation of technology in a regular English classroom. I didn’t receive any training from my school district that I’ve found to be beneficial. Forming a partnership with a local media production company in Louisville, Kertis Creative, has helped shaped my curriculum and approach to digital storytelling.

8)      Tell us about your web site or blog or whatever you want to call it.

My blog Mindful Stew represents an attempt to reflect on the effects of digital technology on culture and education, in addition to writing about hands-on projects like gardening and hunting, where I can get a respite from the screen time that can consume us if we’re not vigilant about how we choose to spend our time. I’ve written a lot about teaching and learning over the past five years, so it’s nice to branch out and write on some different topics. I have found myself needing to curtail the blogging a bit, as it’s easy to get drawn in and spend hours upon hours working on posts and responding to other writers—being cognizant of how I balance screen time in the classroom and also my personal life is important to me.

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