Student Access to Digital Tools

I had an interesting conversation today with a colleague observing my Comp II, Research Writing, class. She noted that my students began class by taking out their laptops or their phones to blog responses to the class prompt. This colleague asked me if all of my students brought some type of technology to write digitally in class. I explained that, yes, I developed the course around the idea of writing for a real-world audience outside of the classroom. Although this Comp II course is a required class that is not designated as digital writing, I have not had any problems with students not being able to bring their own technology to class. This surprised my colleague, perhaps because there are those in our field who don’t realize how widespread individual access to technology is among our students. We recognize the ubiquitousness of cell phones when students are looking at them during lecture, but we seem not to realize that we can turn a potential distraction into a powerful means of composing during the class.

Even those of us who are old enough to remember typewriters find ourselves using digital tools to compose in both our work and our social lives. We recognize our daily use of email to communicate in the workplace, social media to connect with friends, and texting to message  family throughout the day, but what about the to-do lists we write in Notes or the brainstorming/planning that we also compose on our phones. I have often begun my own research writing on my phone because it’s handy and available whenever the inspiration strikes.

Research suggests that our current students are writing more than previous generations have, but oftentimes the writing they do outside of class is very different than the writing we do in the classroom. What if we appropriate some of those writing styles in order to help students examine and improve their own use of technologies they write in already? It seems to me that we should constantly consider adjusting and updating our methods to reflect composition that is done outside of the academy. Perhaps we become complacent in our belief that the methods of composition we have always used in the academy are best. Perhaps we cannot imagine the benefits of extending our expectations of molding our pedagogy into something that is more relevant to our students’ lives. Rather than allowing ourselves to be entrenched in traditional composition practices, we could look at the composition that happens in our personal lives and help our students examine their own practices of writing.


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