Teaching in a Digital World

I teach non-credit basic writing courses at the college level. The courses are developmental, meaning that the students in my class are required to pass in order to advance into Freshman Composition. By nature, my course is filled with students who do not want to be there, so it is my job to make class engaging enough for the students stay awake at 8am and get involved enough with the material to actually complete the assignments.

I attack this problem with a two-fold solution that involves digital technology. My college doesn’t allow me to require the students in a developmental course to purchase additional texts, so any supplementary material has to be either free or provided by me. My department’s restriction allows me to utilize the internet in unique ways which suit my teaching style.

I love to use sites like Hulu.com to allow my students to watch television shows online for class rather than read sample essays or stale short stories. I have them watch shows like Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” or “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer” or, starting in the fall, “Heroes.” These are contemporary shows which allow a student to see there is more to the English writing classroom than Shakespeare and lifeless essays over politics. They are covering the same issues the traditional works use, but in a medium more familiar and adapted to the 21st century classroom.

I also use Google Books and simple search engine queries to find online full-text editions of stories my students might not have been introduced to during their tenure in public education or with professors more traditional than I am. I feel that the canon of the English language omits many wonderful texts, and the internet is a fantastic resource to help remedy this omission when used correctly. I have students find online copies of works by such writers as H.P. Lovecraft (I generally use his “Herbert West: Reanimator” series to introduce my students to pulp horror as literature) and print out the stories to bring in and discuss.

There is no way I could require students to purchase entire DVD seasons for studying television as literature in a developmental course, nor is it likely for me to convince my department head the value Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” or H.P. Lovecraft’s pulp horror has for a developmental writing class. With the internet, none of this matters. I am given free rein to use whatever supplemental materials I deem appropriate; Hulu, Google Books, and other such sites allow me to bring non-traditional material that could make the difference with reluctant students into my classroom (for free!).


Forgive this one for being terse and lacking in what I consider to my “personality.” I wrote it for a Helium.com Marketplace ad that wasn’t accepted, so I was under a 450 word limit. I figure that the areas which need to be fleshed out can easily be worked into a separate article/post in the near future, and thanks to Jenn for the idea: Why I teach non-traditional material, and how it can affect student motivation.


This article was also posted on AssociatedContent.com: http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/1427565/free_online_resources_for_english_teachers.html

By B.J. Keeton

B.J. KEETON is a writer, teacher, and runner. When he isn't trying to think of a way to trick Fox into putting Firefly back on the air, he is either writing science fiction, watching an obscene amount of genre television, or looking for new ways to integrate fitness into his geektastic lifestyle. He is also the author of BIRTHRIGHT and co-author of NIMBUS. Both books are available for Amazon Kindle.