Saturday, September 10, 2005

In-house Digital Technology Advocacy

While my department's got a two great computer classrooms (Kathleen Welch wrote about us in TCQ 14.3, we have little support or training in computer-assisted instruction. For most instructors in my department, teaching with computer technology means using WebCT to deliver course materials and post grades, accessing online databases and other sources for research, and word processing. There's no systematic training/. Few professors integrate computers into their teaching beyond WebCT, so few graduate students see how computers are and can be used in both composition and literature. We've never had a computers and English or computers and composition course taught at the graduate level in recent memory (back in the late 1960 or early 1970s, we offered programming for literary studies for a few years until that professor left for another institution). Even the teaching composition course is often taught with little or no attention to computer-assisted instruction (to be fair, one of three professors who teaches it has used MOO and online portfolios in the course).

From time to time, I've offered workshops and tried prodding here and there, but to little avail. I know a large number of the graduate students would like to learn more, but as most of the faculty don't see it as their job to actively support or encourage such training, most don't learn much. They realize it's important, but they also quickly realize that their professors aren't interested in helping them develop this knowledge. Likewise, while the faculty knows that these students ought to know about digital technologies and computer-assisted instruction, they don't see it as their job and assume it will be done by someone else. That someone else is the faculty member who oversees the computer lab. Unfortunately, while there has always been discussion about getting a full-time staff member to oversee the day-to-day running of the lab, it's never happened, so all the energies she can devote to that aspect of her job is in running the lab (though, I think teaching a dedicated graduate course on computer pedagogy/digital English/computers and composition now and then should be part of her job). Finally, most of the graduate assistants she's given to help staff the lab rarely have the knowledge and skills necessary to make them more than warm bodies keeping the lab open, and for those who are interested, by the time they've learned, their gig is up and someone else is in the lab to start the whole process over again.

I've tried the subtle approach by pointing to Purdue's "English 106 Technology Goals for Instructors" (available as .pdf from http://www.cla.purdue.edu/academic/engl/ICaP/instructor_resources/english106_resources/technology_resources/index.html), but that didn't go far. So, this year, I'm changing my tactic.

Our English Graduate Organization has been effective in changing department policy before, and as a former multi-term president, and an officer of some sort all but my first year here, I've been active in many of those changes. Last spring I started talking up the idea of having EGO formally request that the faculty incorporate more computer-assisted instruction and computer-assisted instruction training into graduate courses, and we've got it on the agenda for our first meeting. I think it'll pass. While I don't think we'll see a bunch of graduate courses using CAI next semester, I know that a formal request will be taken seriously. Some of our newer hires, people I know who have some training in CAI from their graduate student days, may be encouraged to bring some of those strategies and technologies they used when teaching FYC into graduate classes, and I bet we'll see a computers and English/computers and composition course offered in the next year or two. I'll be gone by then, but I'm one of the only graduate students in the program who doesn't need it.

I want to make this a two-pronged approach, however. I also want to see us implement something like Purdue's guidelines so that our instructors have a real sense of what it means to be proficient, and so that when they go on the job market, they can speak specifically to what they mean when they say that they have experience teaching with computer technologies.

Does anyone know of other systems like Purdue's that we might be able to use as a model?

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