E501 Posting: Computers and Classrooms

What is the composition teacher’s responsibility regarding students and technology use? Is the classroom now the place to embrace and advance the use of computers? This is a multilayered debate. On one hand, we are in the age of electronic communication, but on the other, as composition teachers, we like to think of communication as human to human, not human to an LED screen.

In Cynthia Selfe’s 1999 article, “Technology and Literacy: A Story about the Perils of Not Paying Attention”, computer technology is likened to a “kind of cultural strangeness that is off-putting” to many teachers (413). One of the “strangest” aspects of computer technology reminds me of issues surrounding the new transportation technology in the 1800s.  The invention of trains and automobiles was viewed with skepticism and alarm. One day wagons and horses were the mode, then seemingly the next day humans were zipping around at “unnatural” speeds in noisy, metal contraptions! How would the body withstand the pressure? Terror withstanding, the combustion engine prevailed and we all adjusted to the new technology. So now, in my opinion, the bane and boon of computer technology is the speed of which it morphs and changes our idea of communication. While composition pedagogies slowly negotiate each debated turn, computer literacies sprint past at an alarming speed.

So we have new technology, and it is meant to be put to good use, like the automobile. And the classroom is “good use.” At the beginning of the semester, in E501, we discussed the future of the composition classroom. What will it look like? Like Selfe, I think it will be a computer lab. Selfe urges us to “pay attention to how technology is now inextricably linked to literacy and literacy education” in the American classroom (414). Think on how learning has changed since computer processors auto-correct spelling, grammar, and even the placement of punctuation in students’ papers. Think on the durability of information now, how it’s safely stored on memory chips and flash drives. Think on how computers use the internet as a ready made librarian’s desk. Students have the world literally at their fingertips. They need new methodologies to help them sort, sift, and discern useful research material. We must be ready to teach critical research skills in the computer age.

In our earlier discussions of the future composition classroom we discussed the teaching of job skills that would prepare the student for what lies ahead. Regardless of how science fiction it all sounds-people talking to machines instead of each other, meetings conducted via laptop cameras and sound cards, this is the future for us all. Our students will need to understand these technologies to stay viable in the job market.

What should be the composition teacher’s responsibility to students and the use of technology? As far as it concerns learning, we cannot ignore the realization that it is a good thing in many ways. And staying relevant earns the trust of students, and keeps them engaged. It is a challenge to us to use computers as the tools to learning that they can truly be.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Jennifer
    Oct 27, 2011 @ 09:34:15


    I enjoyed reading your post. I thought that you presented an interesting historical perspective for us to consider — specifically, when something new becomes something “unnatural.” I also liked that you brought up the points of how “learning has changed” to include our reliance on spellcheckers, memory and access to information. I agree with your claim of earning “the trust of students” as a way to help them become engaged, and that we should keep in mind what our students may need to “stay viable in the job market.” These are important points for us to consider as we develop curriculum. I do agree with you that we should consider ways we can “prepare the students for what lies ahead”, but for my own part, I wonder how realistic is it for us to keep up with the job market and the quick changes in technology that occur? Is there any way to know if what we are teaching will be applicable in the future? What will replace blogs, Twitter and Facebook? Focusing on the theme of the “Internet and Social Media” while teaching CO150 this semester has certainly kept me “paying attention” to the topic of technology, as Selfe warns that we should. Thanks again for generating more thoughts and questions on this subject with your post.


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