As technology has claimed a more excepted role in composition classrooms, it has also gained ground in basic writing pedagogy, as many writing programs have adapted basic writing courses that utilize computer labs, hybrid, and online courses. Catherine Matthews Pavia provides a solid pedagogical outline for how to approach teaching basic writing in a computer lab, highlighting the importance to take into account students existing attitudes towards computers and their personal backgrounds with technology and writing. Although computer labs provide technology access to students with limited means, it is the role of basic writing teachers to remember to use technology practically and contextually.
Existing student attitudes toward and experiences with computers
Outlining a case study she conducted, Pavia details the stories of two students, Matt and Maria, in her computer lab based basic writing course. In examining these student’s attitudes towards technology, “both students seem to feel empowered and positive about the presence of computers in the classroom,” however both students still disliked writing with the computer, referring to it as “typing” rather than writing (13). This relates to Klages and Clark’s idea that students “online presence is a means of everyday, survival communication that happens on the go, in short bursts as they connect with others in their community” (39). This contrast brings home an important point, as first year students (especially basic writing students) understand the economic ramifications for using a computer, but not always the impact technology has on their writing processes.
Gauging students’ previous experiences with technology
B. Williams wrote that ““today’s online technologies have young people reading and writing far more than they were 20 years or even a decade ago” (1). Although this is true on many levels (after all, technology is a huge part of the daily infrastructure of life), it is important to consider students past experiences with technology, as many basic writing students are not capable of “producing digital information, nor are they able to code-switch between informal cyber-situations and the more formal academic and professional expectations of cyber-literacy” (Klages & Clark 2). The fact that many basic writing students do not understand the difference between technology as a tool and technology as a literacy and means of communicating/knowing information demonstrates the need to reassess how to teach basic writing in a computer lab setting.
Meaningful access and classroom pedagogy
Porter defines meaningful technology access as a three step process: “access includes (1) infrastructure (money and machines), (2) literacy (education and training), and (3) community acceptance (freedom to speak online)” (99). Computer labs provide basic writing classes with the technological infrastructure; however, it is the role of the teacher and/or institution to aid students in gaining technological literacy and provide a classroom/online environment that exudes community acceptance. In providing meaningful opportunities for technology based writing, basic writing teachers will need to provide students opportunities to produce using multiple modes of technology, while shifting their role in the classroom to that of the facilitator.
Additional tips and advice
Pavia suggests adopting “Moran’s and Duffelmeyer’s suggestions to have students write technology narratives at the beginning of the semester,” as this approach would help students become aware of their different writing and technology usages, and help them begin to reflect critically on their relations with technology and writing (18). Also, it provides instructors with written backgrounds regarding their students thoughts and experiences with technology and writing. Klages and Clark suggest using an ePortfolio consisting of three factors: “(1) asking students to demonstrate revision in essays, (2) asking students to reflect on their development as writers, and (3) encouraging students to explore the full possibilities of the digital platform the ePortfolio provides” (41). The ePortfolio would foster multimodal writing and rhetorical awareness that transcends simple access.