Ten Things You Can Do in a Composition Computer Classroom

The subtitle to the title, ”Ten things you can do in a composition computer classroom,” is “that you can’t do in a traditional, deskchairs classroom.” The task for me today as blogger and seminar-leader for the new 1st-year graduate teaching assistants is to talk about things one can do in a computer classroom. So simple, yet not. I recently taught a semester-long course on just that and barely began to investigate the possibilities. GIven the time constraints, I decided to go with a list of ten things that make the space unique.

  1. Immediacy. If you want to suddenly have the class do a research exercise on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the female heroine in film, you can.
  2. Real-world writing, the way students really do it. As each new teaching year begins, I find I have fewer and fewer pen and paper drafters. This is now your students’ natural drafting environment. Take advantage of it with in-class writing every time you meet. Blogs are perfect for that.
  3. Require backups, and make it stick (USB stick, that is). Sure, you ask for your students to back up files in the regular classroom and you sincerely hope they do, but since all you really see is paper, they could be living dangerously and only have the original file on their laptop, which just experienced the Pepsi Syndrome. Oh No! In the computer classroom, they either keep the files in their Maroon server space or on a USB drive. Caution them to once again, not let that be their only copy. USB drives get lost or damaged, so they still need to update files daily to their home computer. Make sure they know that “I lost my USB drive with the only copies of my files,” this generation’s version of the dog ate my homework, is no excuse. Encourage using server space also, especially for those without their own computer.
  4. Encourage peer-to-peer technology mentoring. One of the most difficult formatting tasks for English 110 students is how to properly place the header in MLA style. Luckily, there are always one or two students who DO know how and can be persuaded to show others step by step how to do it on the big screen. If you have at least five, they can go from station to station and mentor one-on-one while the mentee physically goes through the steps, which is the very best way since body-memory is involved.
  5. Play musical chairs. On peer review day, have students switch seats and type holistic feedback at the end of the draft for at least two peers. Be sure to give them feedback prompts on the big screen.
  6. Peer Review, blog-style. This works great if you set up your course using the Composition DrupalEd site. Have your students turn in their drafts as attachments to a post that asks for specific feedback about the draft. Use class time for feedback in the form of comments to the posts. Tell them they need to comment on al least two drafts (aiming for those without feedback first), but that they can do more if they wish. I like this method for the Composition at Missouri State site because it is password protected for each course. No one outside the class will be able to access the drafts.
  7. Focus on talk by switching off monitors. Sometimes you just need to talk, such as when a new assignment is introduced. To avoid Facebook/email surfing, have then temporarily turn off their monitors. It’s easy to turn them back on when it’s time to start writing again.
  8. Use Google Docs. Collaborative writing is a huge trend in many disciplines. Exposing your students to Google Docs as a collaborative space tot write will greatly help them later for all those group writing projects.
  9. In more complex writing projects (like researched essays), have students do a PowerPoint/Impress presentation BEFORE they are done with the paper. This allows them to see what is missing from their draft in time to add it.
  10. Move beyond text. A computer classroom makes  adding a multimodal component easier. Consider using Moviemaker, Google Sites, or other visual/aural components. Even a movie needs storyboarding, so multimodal does not mean without text. At the very least, use the links and other media you find to augment your teaching.

Posted by

Author of the poetry collection The Tethered Ground and Professor of English at Missouri State University. Contact me for readings or for workshops on writing/publishing and on teaching writing online.

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