Rethinking The Academy:

Electronic Ways of Teaching

There are many different levels and means of teaching in electronic environment. Teachers may, for instance, just require that students use e-mail to communicate with other students; conversely, they may schedule the entire course in a computer lab: Claudine Keenan has discussed the three main models of teaching possible in these environments.

However, regardless of what mode a teacher may require of her students, the fact is that she must make the effort to learn the technology on her own in order to bring it into her classroom. The first requirement for the successful use of these new technologies is the comfort level of the teacher as the main and first guide for the student.

At the present moment, and in many cases, teachers who do wish to explore these technologies find themselves with very little in the way of support - colleagues, rather than helping the teacher to learn the technology, may question the teacher's wisdom in even attempting to use computers.

The use of computers may be seen as conflicting with the very heart of the English department's place in the humanities. Even teachers who use technology may argue against assigning it a prominent place in the liberal arts and instead would regulate it to the computer science department or the electrical engineering school, or anywhere, in fact, other than the English department.

However, in the case of the composition classroom, the line will be increasingly hard to draw, and, in fact, one of the purposes of this current work is to propose that our profession be in the forefront of resisting the urge to make such demarcations desirable or even feasible.

Thus, so-called English students should be trained in writing for the web; in fact, where inclined, they should be encouraged to learn programming, and to treat software as simply another writing task. Admitted, the writing of software or of documentation is one that occurs within extremely fixed boundaries and stylistic requirement, but then so does the sonnet. However, the stakes may be higher in writing code: forgetting, say, to place the <frameset> tag outside the <body> is not at all analogous to placing a comma outside a quotation in American usage.

Putting the comma in the wrong place might, at worst, open the author to a charge of carelessness, or even of stupidity. Putting the <frameset> tag in the wrong location in the HTML file will cause the text of that page to fail to show. It would be the equivalent of writing with an unsharpened pencil - nothing will happen.

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Last Modified: August 2, 1996

Copyright 1996 by Keith Dorwick