Rethinking The Academy:

An Efficient Use of Time

Without a doubt, critics of electronic scholarship are right when they question proponents of computer use in both scholarship and teaching about the amount of time it takes to learn even as relatively simple a task as word processing. (As one literary critic of my acquaintance put it, when asked why he didn't want to learn how to use his own computer, "I have books to read.")

The fact is that we must train ourselves, and that until - and sometimes even after - we become successful users of these new technologies, the academy will not reward our efforts.

In a real sense we must strive to make technology a part of our professional lives before we can really experience its rewards. That is, until we are old hands at the use of the new tools, it will take longer to use a word processor - or to put our first syllabus on the World Wide web or use the on-line version of the MLA Bibliography - than it does to type out the memo we need for the faculty meeting in just a few short hours or to distribute a hard copy of a syllabus that has been duplicated or to use the various paper volumes of the bibliography.

The old ways are alluring for a number of reasons; they offer, at first, both comfort and speed. It is only until we become comfortable with new ways that we can begin to see the time-savings made possible by technology, and that may not happen until we've learned a number of new tools, and discarded some.

This piece, for instance, would not be possible - or would be at best improbable - without the use of Microsoft's Internet Assistant, an add-on to Word that allows me to use Word to create hypertext. Other tools would have been too cumbersome for such a major project. (Though they have their place: when I want to work with code itself, I do not want to work with a HTML translator like Internet Assistant, but will instead work with a product like HTML Assistant or WebEdit.)

However, it is important to note the assumptions that lurk behind the drive to learn new technology - that in the long run, after the investment of time and money in software and hardware, we will be able to do what we need to do faster, or better.

The desire to do the job better needs further exploration, but the desire to do the job faster is itself double-edged and dangerous.

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Last Modified: August 2, 1996

Copyright 1996 by Keith Dorwick