“I will be teaching a Freshman English class at a medium sized public university, in a computer classroom for next semester. Every student has their own machine with an internet connection. I am thinking about using a weblog for them to post their work and critique each other. Do you guys have any other cool ideas on what to do and what NOT to do?” flard —Innovative Uses for a Computer Classroom (SlashDot)
Replies to this post on Slashdot range from flame-bait to rather interesting. I didn’t see any brilliant new suggestions in the comments I read, but it is interesting to see how these Slashdotters construct the “computers in the writing classroom” issue.
At UWEC, my fresh comp students were in the computer room three hours a week, and in the regular classroom two hours. But the room was a public lab that we had to reserve for teaching. Students who weren’t in the class had a habit of marching in and taking a seat. A few students who sat in the back this year said they were distracted by the interlopers, and certainly whenever for a few moments I wanted to stop the keyboard clicking in order to have a brief discussion, or asked a student to read from his or her paper, the presence of strangers in the room was really disruptive.
Another huge problem with teaching in the UWEC labs is that the students were completely isolated from everyone except the people to their right and left. They couldn’t see around their monitors (and reguarly tried to hide behind them in order to avoid being called on), and they couldn’t hear each other over the whirring fans.
The classroom where I did my teaching demonstration at Seton Hill has recessed computer monitors, and I found it much, much easier to interact.
Because students are human, they will occasionally zone out and goof off. They will IM each other, check their mail, and play games. I really didn’t mind that — I learned to be generally tolerant of a certain amount of background noise (since some students used their computer during lectures to keep notes or to review the assigned readings). And the absence of clicking was generally a good sign that I had their attention… when the material was not riveting, even the most dedicated students started clicking just a little bit… and that would be a good sign that we needed a change of pace.
There were some weeks when I didn’t really require three hours in the lab, so the presence of computers was distracting; and some weeks when the students wanted more lab time.