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Technology Tools

FAQ: What are recommended tools and applications for encouraging writer improvement and managing your class.

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This page was created by the following members of Karen Uehling’s graduate class Teaching Basic Writing in the Fall of 2012:

Andrea Oyarzabal and Rob Shaffer

Introduction

Technology is changing higher education. Whether or not you believe that to be a good thing may be dependent on your experience within these two arenas. Some traditionalists believe that technology has no place in the classroom and that it actually impedes learning. Others believe that students learn best with multimodal learning tools. Whichever side you fall on, the truth is, technology isn’t going away. However, a concern that arose during our researching for this Wiki was the lack of recent scholarship tying Basic Writing and Technology together. This is not to say that there exists no scholarship but we believe that further exploration is warranted into this topic. There are countless resources about the use of technology in the composition classroom with more being published everyday; however, very few, if any, are specifically addressing these tools in the realm of Basic Writing.

As technology continues to become increasingly prevalent in higher education, it brings with it a host of new issues. It is of growing importance that these issues be addressed in order to best serve our Basic Writing students. Prominent among them is the widening techno-literacy gap of and between students and instructors, the level of access to technology tools and applications, as well as the selection and implementation of resources. Effective use of technology when teaching Basic Writers means knowing what technologies are available, how Basic Writers use technology, and how to create a pedagogy that fuses these two together.

Techno-Literacy of Students

Many of our Basic Writing students come to us with poor to no reading or writing skills. Likewise, research shows that this new generation of freshmen, the so-called “net generation,” is not as techno-savvy as we might expect. Their skills using Twitter, text messaging, pop culture websites, and social networking platforms seem to be strong; however, their knowledge of the software and tools necessary for composing academic work is severely lacking. In other words, these students may be well-versed in following their favorite celebrities or even taking amateur video and uploading it to YouTube or Facebook, but their ability to properly compose it on Word using the features to alter the font, margins, spacing, or any of the vast array of other features, seems to be severely lacking. One issue at hand is that our younger students tend not to see technology as a tool or resource but rather as a part of them; often, not distinguishing much difference between their online and offline realities.

Teaching Basic Writers to use alternate technologies for composing and collaboration can help build comfort and confidence in their writing abilities. For example, using podcasting software for students to compose audio essays can help them learn voice and rhetorical choice. File sharing applications, mobile devices, and applications that foster reading and commenting for peer feedback promote collaboration as wells get students talking about language and writing.

Techno-Literacy of Instructors

Students have their own expectations that instructors should be relevant; and in this day and age that means being connected. In this growing “just-in-time” era, students seek immediate feedback on assignments and demand anytime access of instructors for questions and assistance. While some aspects of education delivery have indeed changed with the growth and proliferation of technology, course content and objectives have remained relatively quiescent. In 2006, 81% of students expected technology-enhanced classroom presentations at least occasionally, 52% expected computer based projects, and 54% expected Internet access during class (Jackson). Failing to meet these expectations paints a picture of an instructor being less relevant in the eyes of students.

If we as instructors can learn to use technology to our teaching advantage we may be able to reach Basic Writing students on a level they are familiar with and show them how the skills they already have can be used to improve their writing. Applications such as Blackboard can mimic the activities and communication features of Facebook. Likewise, backchannelling applications mimic text or instant messaging. In theory, Basic Writing students should be able to easily adapt their social-networking skills to best utilize tools like Blackboard outside the classroom and backchannelling within the classroom.

Technology Access

Another primary concern is that of access to technologies. In many instances, especially for some of our Basic Writing students, access to computers or iPads or even just to software can be limited or non-existent. For some it is a socio-economic matter, for others it might be location (living in rural areas with little to no internet penetration), or even a population issue given the ratio of students to technology resources on campuses – especially for those who cannot bring the technology from home. While we, the authors of this Wiki, do not offer recommendations for solving this issue, we recognize it as an important argument to the technology implementation debate and encourage instructors of FYC, especially of Basic Writing, to do all they can to find new and creative (if not cost effective) ways to employ technology in the classroom.

Recommendations

The issue of what to choose and how to implement it can be a daunting task. This Wiki is designed to introduce some simple technologies to not only Basic Writing Instructors but any composition instructors that wish to use more technology in their classes to encourage and improve student writing. What follows are our over-arching recommendations for promoting techno-literacy in Basic Writing (as well as FYC) classes.

  1. Instructors and their respective colleges and universities should continue to adopt and integrate technologies such as the necessary hardware like computers, projectors, and AV systems; deploy WiFi and internet connection portals on campus, as well as adopt and institute email and Learning Management Software such as Blackboard to facilitate communication and learning.
  2. Instructors should continue to develop their own understanding of available technologies. Instructors should be offered introductory workshops for the various technologies offered by their respective schools and encouraged to attend further training on the latest tools and resources available to them to facilitate their teaching. This includes any hardware or software deployed in the classrooms around their respective campuses as well as on the computers supplied in their offices.
  3. Instructors should continuously seek out and learn what tools their students utilize and prefer and attempt to integrate those in to their pedagogies. Learning to communicate and interact with students on their level and in their space does not cheapen instructor pedagogy nor does it force instructors to make the most concessions; rather, it brings the instructor and the student each halfway and facilitates mutual learning.
  4. In an effort to support both instructor and student literacy, instructors should adopt and integrate into their pedagogies lessons that reinforce basic understanding and usage of the common technology resources used across the campus. This will help foster student success and confidence and can help improve and encourage student writing.

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Page last modified on April 23, 2015, at 12:35 PM