Sunday, August 23, 2009

We begin again

Here we are at the start of another college term. More than ever before, I'm realizing that the new freshmen (that's you) are pretty clueless and frightened about the whole process, and that I need to give you grace and help. That's part of the point behind this blog.

The basic Blogger software has one problem that gets in our way: the most recent posts are on top. You really should read this blog from oldest to newest, so you should click on the links at the right to move back a couple of years and begin there. I began with the most basic material, and some of the more recent comments are (frankly) irritable and scary, especially if I'd had a run-in with a student and was feeling grumpy.

Anyhow, I hope this material is helpful and that this alien planet (college campus) becomes a pleasant home for you fairly soon. Do remember that there are LOTS of resources to help you survive here. You just need to ask.

Computer Abuse

Most English teachers really hate teaching in a computer lab. The school administrators who put these things in seem to think that a writer spends almost the whole day hammering away at a keyboard. Maybe that's true, but a writing class doesn't.

The class enters the room. We've just read a chapter on, say, finding a topic, and I want to give them some more information. The students immediately fire up the computers and log on. I try to do the class, while two or three, sitting in the back corners where I won't see them, are hammering away furiously on the keyboard. One is doing homework for another class. Another is doing instant messages. Yet another has a furiously typing a paper that's due in our class today. None of them is really in the room. All think they are fooling me.

Classes that don't meet in computer labs almost always have at least one or two keyboard jockeys who assume I won't see that they are totally engrossed in their laptops, hammering away on the keyboards, staring with fixed expressions at the screens.

I assume, by students' behavior, that when you were in high school, only your physical presence was required in a room. If you spent the time sleeping or staring out the window or text messaging, the teacher didn't care because at least your body was there. College isn't that way.

Many of my students feel offended that I want to interrupt their 24/7 keyboarding to friends. One hour! Imagine all the important stuff they could miss in an hour! All the gossip!

Well that's fine. If you really need the uninterrupted electronic contact, simply don't come to class. See if you can pass without hearing any of the material we go over (you won't hear it anyhow if you're focused on text messaging). We'll be happier without you.

For the record (and I know it's a surprise to many students) here's the basic stuff about electronics in college classrooms. Almost all teachers would agree with my rules:

  • Do not use cell phones within the classroom. Do not make or receive calls. Do not text message (even below the desk where you think you won't be seen).
  • Shut off the ringer on the phone. Better still, shut off the phone itself. Your incredibly important caller can leave a voice mail message.
  • Sometimes computers are useful within the classroom, but only as tools for the current class. Do not:
    • Send email during class
    • Use Facebook or other social networking sites
    • Buy things on eBay
    • Look at porn
    • Play Solitaire
    • Do homework for other classes
    • Finish the paper for this class

Do you really want to lose participation points for the class? Do you really want to convince the person who is grading your paper that you're an immature pain?

By the way, turn off your iPod and take out the earbuds too.

Beginning this fall, I will be marking my attendance to deal with computer abuse. Every day that you show up on time, you get 100% of the attendance credit for that day. (Excused absences also get 100%.) Late students (and students who leave early or wander in and out of the classroom) get 50%. Students who are sleeping, studying for other courses or messing around with the computer on unrelated material get 25%.