Is understanding the basics really all it takes?

In Transitions: Teaching Writing in Computer-Supported and Traditional Classrooms, Mike Palmquist, et al assure writing teachers who are interested in using technology that they don’t need to be an expert, “although you need to be familiar with the basic functions of a particular program to use it effectively, you don’t need to know all (or even most) of the functions of the program to be an effective writing teacher” (185). This attitude flies directly in the face of the kind of complicating work that I described Bradley Dilger doing in his work.

“In a writing class where producing text is more important than ‘presenting’ it, teachers are extremely successful with only a basic understanding of a particular word processing program” (186). The basic idea here is that presentation — color of font, specific layout features, etc. — aren’t important to writing. I’m not sure that this was ever the case, but certainly in terms of the new media practices found in a writing classroom ten years after this book was written we know that this is not accurate. Writing with technology, creating and producing a text *are* about presentation, the message gets told in part by the presentation.

Palmquist, et. al also address the issue of time/labor involved with learning a particular program well enough to teach (with) it. They suggest creating the “class plans far enough in advance” so that “you can learn the program before you assign it to the class” (186); however this recommendation is met with resistance from a teacher named “Caitlin” who comments: “When you have 75 students and you’re working to keep your head above water, the last thing that you think about doing is using some sort of new technology that would take, maybe two or three hours for you to sit down and figure out how you’re actually really going to make it work in the classroom. It’s something that just doesn’t happen” (186). And while these sentiments are nearly ten years old, they still abound in English departments and writing classrooms. This frustration, lack of time, unwillingness to invest, etc. is what I see time and again in my survey responses and results.

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