Monday, April 03, 2006

March 30, 2006

As I write this, I'm in an airplane on my way to Lubbock, Texas, to check out their Ph.D. program in Technical Communication and Rhetoric. One might assume from this statement that I'm writing on a laptop. I'm not. I'm doing this the old-fashioned way: with pen and paper.

I will, of course, have to transfer this to a computer before putting it on my blog. When I do so, I will not edit the text. Whatever flaws may stem from this primitive method will be transferred to the Internet for all to see. (This approach also explains why there are no links in this blog entry.)

Writing with a pen is leading me to consider how important technology in writing really is. More specifically, it's leading me to consider the importance of technology in writing classes. (That faulty parallelism--"consider how important" in one sentence, followed by "consider the importance" in the next--is the sort of thing I'd correct on a computer, but ignore on paper.)

Let's start by comparing my first two semesters of teaching, in 1991 and 1992, when I was a graduate student at Southern Illinois University. In my first semester, I taught two sections of Composition 101, which met in a traditional classroom three times a week. In my second semester, I taught two sections of computer-assisted Composition 101. We met in a traditional classroom twice a week, and in a computer classroom once a week.

Back in those days, instructors couldn't assume basic computer skills. Some of my students had never used a mouse before. Few were familiar with WordPerfect 5.1. So our one day in the computer classroom was usually spent on computer skills.

I don't mean to imply that these computer skills were unrelated to the writing skills I covered. For example, I'd combine a lesson on copying and pasting with a lesson on organization. Still, the fact remains that I covered a lot of material in my first semester that I didn't have time for in my second. The reverse is true, too, of course--I covered material in my second semester that I didn't cover in my first. But much of it would have been covered in a word processing course. All things considered, I think my students learned more about writing in my first semester of teaching, without the computers, than in my second, with them.

That was fourteen years ago. It's been a while since I've had a student who didn't know how to use a mouse. Not only has my students' knowledge of technology improved, the technology itself has improved. How has that changed the things we learn and the way we learn it?

Almost every serious writer today uses computer-based technology in almost every step of the writing process. Writing processes differ, of course, as they always have. That element, however, seems remarkably consistent. Research, prewriting, editing, revising, publishing--all of it requires extensive use of technology. Or, if the technology is not actually required, it's so advantageous that no sane writer voluntarily avoids it.

Written products have changed, as well. A blog entry is not structured in the same way as a conventional journal entry. Hyperlinks require a whole new way of thinking--and therefore a whole new way of writing.

Can one learn to write well with just a pen and paper? Of course. But one cannot learn to write the way--or even the things--that today's writers write.


Post a Comment

<< Home