ENG 5310 Readings, Week 6

For some reason the factual titles seem to work better than the more creative ones.  Not sure why that is… maybe kooky three-word titles are way too common?  Anyway, I’ll try going back to the old one and see how that affects readership.

This week’s readings were all about using computers in the classroom.  While we’re supposed to review the works themselves, this is an issue that I’ve had a bit more personal experience with, and I’d like to deal with that first.

I’ve mentioned in class before, and most of my friends already know, but the college I went to had a program where all students were issued a laptop computer upon admission to the college.  They would keep this laptop–which technically belonged to the school until their graduation–for all four years.  It was possible to tell what year a student was simply by what model of laptop he was using.  Of course, students were free to purchase and use their own laptops, but few bothered with it.

I’m not a fan of throwing money at a problem–in this case technical literacy–and honestly I’m still skeptical of government programs that seek to provide laptops for grade-school children or disadvantaged homes.  But I can’t deny that there were some excellent reasons behind the school’s program.  Teachers never had to worry about whether students had the resources for a particular project.  Class networking was made much easier by everyone having the same model–no Mac/PC compatibility issues.  

But of course there were pitfalls.  Many students used the laptops in class for exactly what you’d expect–playing games and surfing Facebook.  I did, most of the time, until I sobered up somewhere in my third year and started taking notes in a notebook again.  (Of course, then I distracted myself by doodling, but that was a separate issue entirely).

Teachers dealt with this in different ways.  Some just took the attitude that the kids were paying good money to sit in the class, and if they wanted to waste that on surfing the internet, that was their affair. Others agreed with this, but pointed out that the miscreants were still distracting students sitting on either side and those behind them.  These professors would often request the laptops be in tablet mode, so that any games you played could not be as easily viewed by your neighbors.  And of course, plenty of other professors felt reasonably insulted that students were ignoring them in favor of blinking screens.  This video, submitted for the college’s yearly comedy routine, hints at some of the frustrations (and fantasies) of teachers having to deal with computers in the classroom.

It was in my third year when some teachers began to actually ban computers in the classroom.  I was working on-and-off at the college newspaper at the time, and endeavored to write an article about the issue.  We were not a free paper, though, and campus administration felt that the issue was a very delicate one.  We had to run the article past all sides of the debate, who would have inevitably have updated their position from the last rewrite.  The article finally died. 

I’m presenting my college as somewhat Luddite, but they were actually fairly forward-thinking, or at least so I felt at the time.  We didn’t really have a class solely devoted to composition, and most of my English classes didn’t use computers much–though there was one teacher who gave some AWESOME slideshows. But a few of my more science-y courses tried using the class network learning system DyKnow, and of course in my programming classes, you HAD to follow along on the computer.  During the debate I just mentioned, the college was actually arranging a meeting of different departmental professors to discuss how computers could effectively be used in the classroom.

So I’m no stranger to this sort of issue.  I never learned how the meeting of the teachers went, though I believe that computers are no longer banned in any classrooms.  Still, I don’t know that I’ve ever come up against a situation, apart from the programming ones, where the use of computers dramatically contributed to the classroom experience.  I suppose taking notes continually on one was neater, saved more trees, and did teach me the basics of Microsoft Word, but that was it.  Only rarely did a teacher ask us to connect to something on the internet while in class, and the sole time I used the computer applications in class was when I pulled up a Henry Mancini song on Napster to annoy a particular teacher (I was a horrible child).

The consensus I remember hearing among students in college, particularly my more technically-minded ones, was that it was the student’s decision how to use their time, and other student’s responsibility to pay attention over the distraction.  There was also a general feeling that though the teachers were trying, computers hadn’t really been effectively integrated into the classroom–though most conceded this was a matter of experience and familiarity more than anything else.  Or available technology–DyKnow had more than its share of flaws.

I’m running out of words, and honestly I don’t know where I fall on this issue.  Computers are crucial to our day-to-day life in the modern world, but still I can’t say that they greatly enhanced my note-taking abilities, and I can definitely say that they definitely hurt my attention span at times.  But then, those demands on our attention are always waiting in the modern world, even at business.  Perhaps learning to avoid those, and focus on the task at hand, should be as much a part of the college education as anything else.

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