Thursday, May 29, 2003

Teaching Writing is Hard Enough

Steve Krause (see link to his Blog on the left), kicked off a discussion on TechRhet, an email discussion list for teachers and others interested in the intersection of technology and rhetoric, about whether instructors of writing in first year college writing courses will really be able to have students create compositions using richer multimedia. His wondering was sparked by attending the 2003 Computers and Writing conference, where numerous sessions described how instructors had students creating Flash projects or doing work in iMovies.

What strikes me most profoundly, even more so than the merits of teaching iMovie in a writing class (and I think one can make a case for including an iMovie in the course), or the issue of technology and access, or even the issue of how long it might take a teacher to get up to speed on the technology and to understand it deeply enough to teach it, is simply this: it's hard enough teaching students simply how to write everyday prose well.

It's hard writing even a few good paragraphs for a Blog, or an email message, or an essay. Organizing one's thoughts along the relatively uncluttered interface of a blank page, whether the page is paper or pixel, is hard to teach, and hard to do, without adding the complicating factors of different interfaces and modes of composing (audio, visual, moving image). Again, it's not that these things can't be used, nor that students might not benefit from using them or learning them.

But it's much more work to write with more than words. Even doing a simple, text only, linking to nodes hypertext is more work than writing a standard linear essay, if only because of what goes into learning and doing the protocols and mechanics of linking.