Thursday, April 14, 2005

Being Ahead vs. Getting Ahead

Some things that Mike said have had me wondering how much of the trying to keep up with the techno-nerds is really worth it. How much will using the technology that we do have available pay off, and will the pay off be greater than the losses in terms of time and distractions from teaching what I'm really here to teach?

On the other hand, Jeff's comment, "It's not a question of the tools.
It's a question of how the tools shape the ways we communicate, whether or not we use those tools," has had me thinking that to at least a degree the technology is what I'm here to teach. Computer skills have become inseparable from writing skills in that the students have to know how to deliver the writing in order to make real use of it.

Yesterday, when my friend talked to her student about his grades, she said, "You keep charging around on white stallions, but what I told you to do was plow the mule." I feel like I've landed in a place with this blog where everyone is charging around on stallions, but I'm just here to plow the mule. Sometimes the posturing, theorizing, hoof-scratching, and snorting around stuff is useful to me. Sometimes it's not.

At any rate, Mike and Jeff are both right. We can no more afford to overwhelm our freshman writing classes with technology than we can to dismiss technology altogether.

I've been reading about community writing projects, and in the past few days I've been telling my colleagues about fifth grade classes doing PowerPoint presentations. I've been completely aghast at my own lack of ability to envision how to accomplish this in a college class. I kept repeating this to people on my campus, always ending with "There's no way I could do this here. Where would I get the equipment?" I told probably six or seven people who all agreed that it couldn't be done. The eighth person said, "I know where you can get a projector to borrow for a week or two on campus."

So sometimes it is our own defeatism that holds us back and nothing more. But we're still left with the question of how much it's worth it. That I simply don't know.


jocalo said...

Sharon, I think you articulate the dilemma for what I once called "the lunch bucket community college professor with 4 comps and a lit."

But I find it helpful to remind myself that the consideration is between old technology and new technology--technology I have mastered and technology I'm still learning.

The classroom is a technology. The chairs move or they don't. There's a blackboard with chalk or a white board with dry erase markers (that often go dry in mid-lecture). There are overhead projectors. We use textbooks and xeroxed handouts. In all of this we are orchestrating "mind encounters": student with us, student with student, student with texts (in their myriad forms). From all that, we want the student to express her mind clearly and to real effect.

So here's the way I approach the new technologies: how might this allow me to do better, or easier, what I think is most important for my students in this course? I'll experiment to see if using cablecast videos with responses posted to a threaded discussion webboard. When I found that worked better than anything I could do in my face-to-face classroom, I made it a regular part of my course.

But I'm not trying new tools just because they're new. If they don't help me and my students better than what I've already had some success with, then I don't use them. But I've found I can only make that judgement after experimenting and tinkering a bit.

Rosa G. said...

As a pack mule (happy little mule, too), let me add that computer tech is always going to be overwhelming me, some way, some how, especially now that is becoming part of the theoretical framework of our field. In the olden days, just being able to word process was enough. I've made peace with being overwhelmed and am slowing down so that I don't leap on every new idea that comes up. I'm also selective about which kind of technology to use in which class. I'm blogging in my reading class because it's a non-techno class that meets two hours a week. In my writing classes, they are doing enough online that they won't suffer not to have blogs. And yet, who knows, maybe next year. . .

You've mentioned in other posts about your college's lack of funds and that's what I want to focus on here--are there grants or endowments that your college could apply for in order to upgrade the computers and labs?
Getting funding and upgrading is only half of it. I was struck by a comment you made about how using updated programs was futile if your students have old computers that don't recognize new software. Is there any way to get money to replace student computers. I am going far, far out on a limb here, as I realize that replacing personal computers is a huge project--I just wonder if shaking a corporation's money tree to provide laptops to even one section of writing might not help lead the way to more funding for more computer labs or student computer upgrades at discounted prices.

clc said...

I'm not sure PowerPoint in 5th grade (or college even) is something we should aspire to. I think our students already tend to think in bullet-points too often, and technologies that encourage this (even blogs, perhaps?) may not serve them well.

I realize that sounds rather Ludditish, and yet I'm a bit of a technophile myself. But I've been turned off by the technology for technology's sake movement.

Sharon Gerald said...

No, I don't think technology needs to be brought into the classroom just "because we can." However, I do agree that, as instructors, we should be keeping ourselves apprised of the lasted technologies. How else are we going to know when something comes along that could be very useful to the classroom?

Joanna, I'm sure there are grants out there. The computers we have now were purchased with grant money back in 97 and 98. I'm not sure how to go about getting that kind of grant, though. The people who handled it before are no longer here.

A bigger problem than outdated computers is overcrowded labs. We really need to expand, but we don't have the building space to do it even if we did have money for new computers. We will slowly manage to get new buildings and new computers, I'm sure, but not fast enough to keep up with the need.

Scott Rogers said...

If it makes you feel any better, for a while now I have been threatening to teach a comp class where students are required to turn in all essays in pen with no errors.

As an aside: at SCMLA a few years ago, I got invited at the last minute to take part in a roundtable discussion about tech with a bunch of fairly serious distance-learning people. I was the sole curmudgeon at the in the room, and so when it came my time to talk, I basically compared all of this technology stuff to the TV/VCR in the classroom promises from the 80s. I pointed out that there is little advantage to deploying technology in the classrooms unless it can do something BETTER than the current technology (and I agree with's all some tech or other).

One of the people on the panel, a fairly well-known figure in all of this from a certain Texas university, looked at me across the table, pointed at me, and said in this marvelous Texas drawl, "But technology is a tooool! It's a tool!"

And I had to bite my tongue to keep from saying the following: "But is it the right tool? Are we using a combine to mow our yards? And, in the end, the thing to keep in mind is that if your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."

Sharon Gerald said...

Hey, Scott! You're from Mississippi. I refuse to believe you've never bush hogged the yard before. :)

I agree completely, though, that there is a point where we've become so distracted with picking the right tractor that we've forgotten to ever plow the field.

From time to time, I do have my students turn in hand-written drafts. And I make them use an actual physical dictionary to figure out how to spell. Ha!

The students do need to know how to use technology. We do need to know how to use and teach technology. But in the end we're here to teach them how to write. If we only had a roll of parchment and a quill pen, we could still do that.