Teaching and Learning in a Networked Composition Classroom
In her essay “Technology and Literacy: A Story about the Perils of Not Paying Attention,” Cynthia L. Selfe notes that “technology is either boring or frightening to most humanists; many teachers of English composition feel it antithetical to their primary concerns and many believe it should not be allowed to take up valuable scholarly time or the attention that could be best put to use in teaching or the study of literacy” (Self 412). Looking around campus it takes little time to verify Selfe’s caution about indifference to computers: except in its uses as “a simple tool that individual faculty members can use or ignore in their classrooms as they choose” (Self 414), computer use has been, and for the most part still is, nascent within the humanities. As computers increasingly become an irreplaceable part of daily life in modern culture, however, more and more instructors attempt to carry out the task of incorporating technology into the pedagogical techniques of their disciplines. Over the past four months I’ve had the invaluable opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at one particular attempt to integrate computers and writing instruction. In Dr. Will Hochman’s English 101-43 (SP 2003) classroom I’ve learned much about both the process and underlying philosophies involved in making computers a productive classroom tool.
In particular, I’ve learned the basic truth that, despite the potential boost offered by technology, simply having computers in the room with students is not enough to produce a positive impact on the educational experience. One of the most significant reasons why this is the case, I'd argue, is that Selfe’s observation about faculty might just as easily be applied to students—anyone can be either “bored or frightened by technology” and, one might add, distracted by it as well. This suggests a very real problem: how do instructors equip such students with the technology-specific literacy skills they will need to thrive in an increasingly digital world, and at the same time justify to the public the significant investment necessary to create computerized classroom space? The intent of this essay is not to offer universal solutions to this problem, but rather to bring the experiences of one particular computerized classroom, both positive and negative, into dialogue with the numerous voices already speaking out about the role of computers in education. By doing so, I hope to demonstrate how the human component of the technology-education equation—the creative and adaptive abilities of the instructor, or “humanware1” —becomes an increasingly vital aspect of computerized pedagogy, especially as the power of hardware and software becomes more pervasive and perhaps threatening.
Reams of books and articles published during the last two decades2 testify forcefully of the controversy raging over the impact, both positive and negative, that the infusion of...