Teaching the Tech of…Typing?

Knitting needles and pink yarn. Looks like the start of something fun!

If composition teachers strive to help students write, be it for their college career, their specific major, or their intended career field, we should probably help introduce them to the tools typically used to do that writing. Yesterday, I wrote a post about the tools I use for my writing and research process, but I’m pretty sure that’s a fairly unique workflow. Others use different programs to do their work, and that necessarily affects the way they interact with their information. Should I teach my students to use my workflow? That seems deterministic and arrogant; my workflow came about as a reaction to, and accommodation of, the way I want to do things. My devices and preferences dictated the requirements of that workflow. I don’t think many of my students need to use similar processes for their coursework.

On the other hand, teaching students to use Word seems just as wrong (if not worse, given the proprietary constraints). Should we perpetuate a corporate near-monopoly in the name of familiarity if it means omitting a discussion of applicability, access, and utility?

Last semester, I had my students do their work in Google Docs. I started by asking whether anyone objected to creating a Google account, and showed students which other accounts were under the same umbrella (YouTube, Blogger, and GMail come to mind first). I was expecting someone to object on the grounds of privacy concerns. But it didn’t happen. Each of my students shrugged and connected their existing or new accounts to our LMS. The process contained a few technical hiccups, but it was pretty streamlined. Everyone used the same tool, and the consensus was that Google Docs allowed for collaboration in ways they weren’t used to.

This semester, one of my students told me he doesn’t want to sign up for a Google account because he doesn’t want to make an account for just one class. While I appreciate that reservation, I’m now struck by a perceptual dissonance that had gone unnoticed: what tools are essential for writers to have access to? I’m using Google Scholar to find resources, Google Hangouts to meet with students, and Google Docs to comment on student work. It’s an indispensable account, and I’m not sure whether I should suggest a Google account is part of how academic writers generally work. For that matter, when I work with Hybrid Pedagogy on writing or editing an article or even the content of their latest MOOC, the work goes in a Google Doc, and we talk about it in a Hangout. My next job interview will be via Hangout, rather than Skype, which I thought was the standard last year. I would struggle to do my work without a Google account. Now a student plans to do his work without one, and I need to figure out how to accommodate.

I’m left with two debates. The first questions what tools are standard for writers. Is there such a thing? (Is there a standard toolkit for chemists? For musicians?) Rather than looking at how computer technologies can enhance our writing classrooms, should we ask how our classrooms can introduce students to our common writing tools?

The second debate follows. How fully should we expect our students to join in on our tools, especially when they involve third parties, outside products, or accounts with questionable privacy practices? Can we make certain systems a requirement for students? Last semester, my campus made the switch from Blackboard, hosted on our own servers, to Canvas, hosted by Instructure. All our students’ grades exist on a machine owned by a company somewhere else. Yet our students don’t complain about privacy concerns there. Should they?

Some people introduce their students to coding and expect all work to be saved as plain-text files. In FYC at a large research institution with diverse student majors, I’m not sure how practical such an expectation would be. Where do we draw the line? How do we teach the technology of typing?