CyberBrief: Technology and Teaching
by Donna Reiss, Tidewater Community College, and Art Young, Clemson University
for the National Council of Teachers of English, August 1999

Most teachers are comfortable with the technology of chalk and blackboard, but as the use of technology in classroom teaching has increased in recent years from overhead projectors to television screens, many teachers have expressed misgivings. Such resistance centers on a concern that technology comes between teacher and student, replacing the hunger of active minds with the seduction of passive learning so that the technology is a barrier rather than an aid to teaching. And now, as they are encouraged to integrate computer technology into their courses, teachers are again wary.

In spite of their apprehension, however, most teachers know it is not the technology itself but the pedagogical use of the technology that renders it either a help or a hindrance to learning. After all, some use of blackboards comes between teacher and student, and the frequent showing of videos can be an unhappy alternative to engaged teaching. And so it is with computers when they are just surrogates for "drill and kill" workbooks (or teachers) or for prepackaged sequential learning programs or spelling and grammar checkers.

On the other hand, because computer technology combined with the process pedagogy of contemporary composition instruction enables teachers and students to actively collaborate in the development of knowledge in ways that prepare students for the global information society of the twenty-first century, we are optimistic about integrating electronic technology in courses that involve reading, writing, and research. In such courses, teachers advocate for interactive teaching, active student learning, and reasonable access to the technology for all.

When we think of designing such courses across the school or university, we draw on resources developed in the past twenty-years by teachers in the writing-across-the-curriculum (WAC) movement and more recently in the electronic-communication-across-the-curriculum (ECAC) movement. For English courses in particular, we draw on resources developed in the past thirty years by teachers in composition studies and more recently in the computers-and-composition movement. In these pedagogies, teachers and students construct an active learning environment and learn together through their research and explorations. Because knowledgeable and pedagogically astute teachers are central to these instructional models, there is little reason to fear that computers will replace teachers.

How do teachers incorporate active and interactive computer-supported learning in English classes? Some students may have access to computers in their homes, dorm rooms, or campus computer centers. A class may regularly or occasionally meet in a classroom with one computer for 20 students or a lab where each of 20 computers stands alone or a classroom where all computers are networked with each other. Elsewhere, a computer classroom may have 30 computers networked with much of the world through the Internet. In another class, each student may bring a laptop computer to class. And some classes will not meet in a room at all but will participate in an online class where cognitive and language abilities are developed and knowledge generated collaboratively and communicated to audiences near and far through publication on the World Wide Web. In each scenario, students can write both informally and formally for purposes academic and personal, creative and analytical, individual and collaborative--and write to real audiences, both local and global, from whom response can be instant or intermittent but always generative--to encourage more reading, research, and writing.

Cyberbrief by Donna Reiss and Art Young, August 1999
Web site by Donna Reiss modified 26 August 1999