Blog Post

Technology in the Community College Writing Classroom

After commenting on a blog post about using technology in the classroom, I realize that I have more questions than answers. I'm looking for ways to incorporate skills of digital literacy and writing into my community college composition classroom. Last semester, I taught the same course and, because it was my first semester at the college, kept it traditional: paper peer reviews, paper copies of essays, paper handouts, minimal time in front of screens. It worked and it didn't work: What worked: students knew what to expect. What didn't work: all that paper!

We read Richard Miller's "Dark Night of the Soul" and watched "This is How We Dream." We talked digital literacy, but we didn't practice it. This was due to time (so much to accomplish in one short semester) but also due to access: some students had smart phones and lap tops, others had limited internet access during the times we were not meeting.

Other constraints: our class met (and will meet this coming semester) once a week for a 3-hour block. Students could only access a printer some of the time, and more than half of the class had difficultly emailing drafts during the week, which put all of us behind schedule. Like I mentioned, we talked digital literacy, and many were not interested in using it, even (especially!) digital natives.

This is something I want to work on next semester, in addition to our usual essays and readings and the required research paper. It may mean booking more time in the computer lab, putting a note on the syllabus about bringing to class a USB drive with their current draft on it, or explaining (and practicing) useful digital skills, like note-taking in Twitter-like fashion, audience-awareness, and showcasing their academic selves online with e-portfolios.

The college is, happily, encouraging instructors to use e-portfolios, and is increasing their curricula of First Year Experience courses. I've proposed a course dedicated solely to digital literacy, as I think its possibilities extend far outside the composition classroom. But in the meantime, I'd love to hear how other instructors have navigated technology usage and digital literacy skills while being sensitive to issues of access and learning curves.



I feel like "digital natives" is a marketing concept, and not a reflection of reality. When I'm working with community college students, I make sure that there is no required technology use that puts students in a place where they need to buy anything, or sign up/use a service that melds their personal and academic lives in ways they don't want them to be. 

I know that's not a progressive thing to say, but not all students want the two to mix. Even professionally, there are only select fields where that happens, and they are populated mostly by people who are inclined to do so. I feel like requiring such things of students, even with significant discussion, leverages the authoriy of the teacher to make students participate in the digital world in ways they might not want to.

dana boyd and Alice Marwick noted that the up-and-coming generation has very nuanced understandings of privacy and of performative selves online, and forcing the issue in a classrom can be problematic.

Digital literacy is important, but I feel like we as educators can sometimes overreach.


Working as TAs in computer science department, we are often drawn by the lure of all kinds of "next generation education technologies", which include websites, social media and other applications supporting tasks from submitting homework, communication and learning in and out of classroom. However, I've found that it sometimes works better seeking to integrate into students' current digital practice rather than imposing new ones. For example,  to encourage students to initiate discussions on relevant topics interested them out of classroom, we've tried a few different services like school hosted wiki, What we found working best, however, is to just create a class facebook page. It is obvious that facebook doesn't have the ideal setup for class online discussion. It doesn't offer the freedom of formatting the content as wiki does. However students loved it because it is something easily accessible out of their daily digital activities.