Technology is clearly an integral part of our daily lives. The Internet has given us immediate access to incredible amounts of information and numerous services. E-mail has given us a new and convenient way to communicate. Online chat and list-servs provide a connection to others who share our interests, or a forum for discussion and debate. With these few examples it isn't hard to see why technology in the classroom is an important topic for those of us in education. After all, where would we be without word processors? Probably sitting at home for hours on end, trying to decipher the handwriting of numerous students. But technology's place in the classroom goes beyond word processors; the Internet, e-mail, online chat and forums, and numerous other applications can be effectively integrated into your classroom teaching. Ideally, bringing technology into the classroom will benefit both students and teachers alike.
In this teaching guide are several suggestions for how to effectively use technology in your own class to help students reach the various goals of CO150 and other writing courses.
When trying to bring technology into your own classroom it is important to keep in mind that use of these tools in the classroom should support, not replace or interfere with, your overall class goals and objectives. Thus there are two main reasons for using technology:
Effective use of technology in the composition classroom means meeting your existing goals more effectively. In other words, we don't use technology in composition classes because it's neat, we use it to more effectively teach writing.
While technology is an excellent supplement to traditional writing pedagogy, we should, at the same time, take note of how technological advances may open new possibilities for teaching goals. The very tools you may employ in the classroom have already affected our conception of the rhetorical situation, and oftentimes changed the way we teach communication.
The following are units that explain several options for integrating technology into the writing classroom. In each, you'll find a rationale that includes the possible benefits, a list of considerations and potential drawbacks, set-up instructions, and tips on how to actually use the technology in class.
This guide describes how and why you might use the Web Forum to create a "Writing Community."
We often describe to our students the idea of a "writing community." Many times it is difficult to confront and challenge students' notions of writing as an entirely individual and isolated process. Using the Web Forum to create a more concrete and easily visible community within your classroom can be an effective way to introduce students to the idea of how writing is affected by the community in which it is published. Ask students to "publish" their essays by posting them to the Web Forum. This way, every student will have an essay on the forum and can read other students' essays. In addition, online publishing of essays can affect the role a teacher plays in the writing community. Rather than "handing in" their papers to the teacher, the teacher takes on a less powerful role as an additional reader (albeit one who still has the power of grades) of the online writing community. Teacher's comments blend in more with those of classmates. In any case, online publishing and response to essays can alter to some degree the power dynamics of a classroom, thus encouraging students to take on a more active role in the revision of their own and their classmates' work.
Once students have posted their messages to the Forum you can assign them as reading material for the class. You can also ask students to respond to their classmates' work online, potentially providing more feedback than possible in a regular class situation. Finally, you can use this online community of writers as a topic for a discussion on how audience affects your writing by asking students questions such as: How did the public nature of these writing assignments affect your choice of topic? How did it affect how you wrote about the topic? How would you have written differently about the topic in your journal? In a letter to a friend? This discussion could help students see how the context within which their writing (i.e. the audience they are writing for) affects their choices as a writer.
TThis section describes how and why to use the Web Forum or e-mail in running online workshops of student writing.
Workshops are an important part of a writing course. Using the Web Forum and/or E-mail for workshops affords students more time and flexibility. Rather than trying to finish an entire workshop during a single class period students would have more time and can do the workshop as homework. In addition to having more time, Web Forum workshops allow many students to have access to a single essay, and remove the sometimes amazingly difficult task of bringing multiple copies to class. Teachers can be assured that students are accomplishing their assigned responses by asking for copies of e-mails to be sent to them, or by checking the responses posted on the forum.
Web Forum Workshops:
Online workshops provide excellent support for in-class workshops. Do not replace your in-class workshops entirely with online workshops. Instead, use the online portion to provide students with more time to critique their classmates' work and prepare for in-class workshop time. Also, discussing workshop questions and constructive types of response increases both the effectiveness of online and face-to-face workshops. Make sure students have a sense of what to respond to, and how to offer a constructive response.
This section describes how and why to use the Web Forum or online chatrooms for additional class discussions.
Typically, use Web Forum and chatroom discussions to supplement in class conversations or for discussions that can help the class but are not crucial enough to spend class time on. As I said above, make sure you have clear ideas about what you want a discussion to accomplish and what expectations you'll have of students. One effective use of the Forum and chatrooms could ask students to "pre-discuss" an article or assigned reading, thus allowing the teacher to get a sense of where students are at (and potentially how many students have read the article) prior to the in-class discussion. Once a discussion is started, make sure to monitor posts to not only record who is participating, but also so you can perhaps guide a discussion a bit more, prevent inappropriate online comments (flaming), keep the discussion focused, or move the discussion in the direction you want it to go. In short, you should probably still serve as a moderator of sorts, though the control you exercise can vary based on your goals for the discussion. No matter what role you choose, don't just leave the discussion to happen on its own.
This section describes how and why to use other technology based activities as the basis for a discussion about how the rhetorical context and audience issues influence our production of texts.
You can also use online publications as a topic for discussion by asking students how the fact that their essay was going to be "published" and publicly available for anyone in the class affects such features of their writing as: the topic they chose to write about, the manner in which they wrote about their topic, the language they used, what they used as evidence or detail, and how much personal experience or opinion they put into the essay. In this way, we can help students see that this context may have limited their options for writing, for example in the types of language they used (i.e. maybe they swear in their journal or in letters to friends, but chose not to within the academic and public context of this class). The goal here is to offer a concrete example of how context influences our decisions and options as writers, while also emphasizing that writers have choices within any given context (they could have chosen to swear on the forum).
Since this is more of an actual discussion about using technology in the classroom, plan for it just as you would other class discussions. However, there is still one important point to keep in mind. Try to fit the discussion into a logical place in your syllabus. It might work best if this is done early in the semester, perhaps after they've published their first papers or you've had a chance to assign the first online discussion. That way they might also be better able to think of ways the technology helped, hindered, or otherwise changed their approach to writing. You could also have this discussion later in the semester, perhaps to re-emphasize the importance of context in the production of texts.
This section describes how and why to use e-mail to increase the frequency and effectiveness of student-teacher interactions.
Communication between teacher and student is essential in any class, but can be particularly important in a writing class. Students need to receive and understand feedback from a writing instructor in order to improve their writing skills. E-mail can help increase both the frequency and effectiveness of student-teacher interactions. The advantages are rather obvious. Students can e-mail their questions or drafts at any time, day or night, without having to directly contact you. You, in turn, can respond at your convenience. E-mail allows for more thoughtful responses than a phone conversation or voice-mail, or even sometimes a person to person meeting. A student who might hesitate to see you and ask a question in person has another option for contacting you.
You can use e-mail to respond to day-to-day questions and concerns students may have. If they missed class, they can e-mail you or a classmate for an update and the next day's assignment. If they're working on an assignment and have a question they can e-mail you for a response. If you're looking for a feedback about the class, they can e-mail a midterm evaluation and suggestions for improvement. If they're drafting and are looking for some initial feedback they can e-mail their draft to you with their concern. This last suggestion is often quite useful. Students can ask you questions while they're drafting, rather that only after the final draft has been completed. It can help teachers get more involved in the actual writing process, rather than just the final product. But again, temper all of these possibilities with logistical concerns to make sure you're using e-mail effectively and efficiently. If you don't want students e-mailing you a draft accompanied by, "Can you look this over and tell me what to do to get an 'A'", set clear guidelines for what type of feedback you'll provide and what students role will be. Should they send specific questions along with the draft?
This section describes how and why to use the Web Forum as an online syllabus.
A syllabus is an important part of a class because it provides a schedule for and description of what students should be working on over the semester. The Web Forum is a perfect tool to create an online version of your syllabus that you can update and students can access at their convenience. While it shouldn't necessarily replace handouts, posting on the forum allows students to access these materials if they lose the handouts, and let's you update and change the materials as needed. In addition to schedules of daily assignments and topics, you can post assignment sheets, changes in due dates for assignment, and important class updates. With this information available online, students can see what's coming down the road, can plan for important due dates, and won't be able to say "I couldn't get the assignment."
Once you've set-up the forum as your online syllabus, make sure to give students a clear idea of how often you'll use that syllabus and how much they should depend on it. Let them know if it will be kept up-to-date, if it will only be used for important and long-term messages, and what information they'll be able to access. You might only publish assignments for the next class period, or perhaps a tentative 2-week schedule. Emphasize that this won't totally replace handouts, so they should still keep track of the print copies; you can never be entirely sure if access to the forum will be available. As the semester progresses, announce to students that you've posted something they can then access on the forum.
This section describes how and why to use the Internet to help students generate possible research topics.
With the incredible amount of information now easily accessible on the Web, what better resource is there for one searching out possible topics for a research project? Using the Web provides students with easy access to numerous topics and debates online. The Internet can also be a more interactive and intriguing search tool than reading print sources.
While the easy access and the amount of available information are clear advantages to online research, careful attention should be paid to issues such as source evaluation and effectively focusing research. The goal of academic research is to find and use credible sources, and this process can be made difficult without guidance. To help students stay focused on research, you might give them specific instructions and/or a specific goal to reach. Perhaps have them get 4 sources total, or 1 from each of several databases you suggest, or 2 from online databases and two from the Internet. Again, be sure to encourage traditional research as well. Students should still be able to find sources in the library.
This section describes how and why to use the Internet and online library databases to help students research topics and locate sources.
Again, the main reason for teaching online research is the amount of information students have access to on the Internet. CSU students can find sources from any computer using the online resources available at the CSU Libraries homepage. Not surprisingly, the idea of sitting in one place, often at home, and conducting research can be more appealing to students than actually visiting the library and finding print sources. Online research is also a great way to introduce students to the resources available in the library that they might not be aware of otherwise.