• Cindy Zampa

PORTAL 52 Week 31: Book of Magic

PORTAL 52 Week 31 - Book of Magic

(A la the Art Sherpa)

I love books, and the magic they hold between their pages. Books are portals, transporting us to other worlds, dimensions, universes. One of my most cherished memories is when my children were young, and we’d read the Harry Potter series out loud to each other. It started out as bed-time reading, but as we got deeper into the story, it no longer mattered what time of day it was -if they asked for it, we’d all sit down together and read the next chapter, and the next….

In this age of rampant technology, some might think that books are unnecessary or out of style. Not me. While it is true that reference books such as atlases, encyclopedias, dictionaries and instruction manuals are easily replaced by Google searches and apps, nothing can replace the feeling of opening a brand new book and hearing the crack of the spine. I love the smell, texture and sight of books too - it is a very sensory experience to hold a book in my hands and flip through the pages.

The provincial diploma exams began during this week. I took a contract to supervise the exams at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology this exam session. Some students showed up to the exams without identification, writing tools, breakfast, a clue.....😯 I wonder how they did? I’ve also been pondering the impact that technology has had in stunting the development of certain practical skills, problem-solving and capacity for recall in the next generation.

I've witnessed the decline of the reliance on all sorts of tools over the years I've spent in the classrooms of various schools. Computers, cell phones, watches and tablets have crept into the classroom, sometimes invited eagerly by teachers who are tech-savvy and on the cutting edge of educational methodologies. I get it. They want to be relevant to this generation of learners and provide alternative means of investigating, studying and challenging their brains.

However, I was struck by the irony of this reliance on computers as I walked the aisles of the exam gym and computer labs. The English and Social exams can either be completed on the computer or by hand, while all other exams are completed by hand only as they are multiple choice, requiring students to simply fill in bubbles on the answer sheet.

For security purposes, all browsers are locked down on the computers when students are completing the English and Social exams by computer, however, students are allowed to bring two books with them into the exam rooms - a dictionary and a thesaurus. So, here we have the need for actual books, and the knowledge of how to use them. That's the first bit of irony.

As an exam proctor, one of my duties is to act as a third set of eyes to check each student's answer sheet as they finish. The student had presumably checked, the clerks re-checked, and I re-checked - not just their demographic information, but also for stray marks of the pencil. The computer that is used to score the answer sheets marks an answer wrong if it detects more than one area touched by the pencil near an answer. So, as far as tools go, it's also important to know how to properly use an eraser. Now, maybe you're thinking, like I did at first, that by the time the answer sheets got to me I'd have very little to correct? You'd be wrong. I lost track of how many answer sheets had to be cleaned up or filled in differently, so that the computer would give them the scores they deserved. That is the second bit of irony.

To be clear, it is not my intention to turn this blog post into a rant against the evils of computers. No, in fact, I must confess that I rely on technology a bit more than even I am comfortable admitting at times. I can no longer recall a seven-digit phone number on my own. Once I put it into my phone I immediately forget it. Using technology is just so easy and convenient. It's also habit-forming.

But one habit my computer hasn't usurped, at least in my life, is the time spent reading a book before bed. A real book - not an e-book or tablet. Nothing can replace the feeling of turning real pages, feeling the weight of the book in my hand. I love it when I glimpse a book out of the corner of my eye, and know that other worlds await me. All I have to do is sit down and open up the book. Magical!

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