Saturday, October 23, 2004

"I Hear Typing"

Yesterday at a meeting of the college-wide composition steering committee, our dean teased me about my softspoken manner in class, of my saying "I hear typing" rather than pouncing on the offending soul. The truth is that duing any evaluation , I turn into a Bob Newhart character, slightly amazed and intellectually confused about other people's behavior.

But that's not what this posting is about. Her comment reminded me about how so much has changed in the five years that I've been teaching writing in a networked environment. I have had to get used to the sound of typing because so many of my students now take notes on the computer. In the past, they were either finishing papers or surfing the net. Yes, that still happens, but I move around the room a lot, so it's hard to hide what you have on screen.

More importantly, though, my students, whether at the Basic Writing or Freshman Comp level, bring much more computer experience to class. Almost to a person, they have email accounts, know how to type and save things online and on disks, can use a search engine, and understand terms like "nav bar," server" and so forth.

Since all of their course materials are on the faculty server so that they can download or print out what they need, it was inevitable that they would type notes and save them to disk. (We have a student server, but because it isn't protected, it is far too easy for someone to delete other people's folders). By midterm, about half the class was more comfortable taking notes on the computer than in their notebooks.

Moreover, we use computers from the first day of classes, and their first writing assignment is to send me an email to introduce themselves to me. Using the computer for drafting is optional, but all final drafts must be typed. Having discussion groups online and using emails to contact each other is no longer a problem to be overcome--they take to it naturally, as they do to reading or creating powerpoints.

What this boils down to for me is that it makes possible moving to other levels of technology in the classroom--I don't have to spend a great deal of time teaching computer use, as I would have years ago. And it has become easier for me to assess how technology supports traditional writing and encourages new forms of it, so I am no longer debating how some new-fangled technological innovation will fit in a writing classroom--instead, I'm able to move on to thinking about what the implications of said implementation.

While I've not polled my students about why this is so, I suspect that computer games, online shopping, and online communicating among other real world applications are what have driven their skills aquisition, along with having access to computers at school or at home.

I hear typing.

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