Way back in my first post “Confessions of a Phobic (or Better Yet, a Realist),” I mentioned that I teach composition, a subject wholly unrelated to the major I started out with in college. Like so many New Adjuncts, I had a change of heart partway through my program of study and jumped ship. My educational background is a pastiche of disciplines: I started in as a non-traditional student, an initial declaration of Computer Science as my first major, which was eventually dumped in order to declare a German major (my BA), and then I moved on to take an MA in English. In fact, the graduate coordinator told me during the application process that my diversity of experience could help make up for the non-English-related deficiency of my undergraduate degree.
What I learned is that diversity = good, and anyone who has spent a significant amount of time on a college campus has almost certainly heard the diversity buzzword tossed about at some point. As I near the completion of my first full semester of teaching (whew), I’m becoming aware of the negative aspect of diversity which has been a thorn in my side from day one: good old technological know-how.
Aside from the obvious need to construct a grammatically sound, cohesive paper (this is curriculum-wide—English departments do not have a monopoly on literacy expectations), a large part of the divine final draft is also presentation. My first handful of eight-week courses taught me that proactively writing a step-by-step walk-through on how to format a manuscript would save countless class periods wasted on scurrying from computer-to- computer, from raised-hand-to-raised-hand, helping students figure out formatting problems as simple as placing a running number header in their document.
This is college composition, after all, and our goal is to enhance research methods, to read critically, to think critically, and to present strong arguments—not to pick nits over margin settings and fonts. I wonder if I’ll look back on these early years of my career and laugh warmly as I recount the naiveté of my inexperience to colleagues. Maybe. Maybe not.
And so it goes, despite my carefully crafted three-page instructional handout, I still find myself running from computer-to-computer, from raised-hand-to-raised-hand, reminding students that the answers to their questions can be found (should already have been found) in that handout I gave them. The spectrum of responses depends on the students, and the younger students are typically the ones who reply with, “Oh, really?” This is particularly aggravating, considering I’ve reminded some of them many times over. The other response typically comes from the resident digital immigrants, and they present an altogether different, and much more difficult challenge, when it comes to leveling the tech. playing field.
Most of this post has been spent on the build-up to this point, and for good reason; I don’t know how to teach—if you’ll forgive the expression—old dogs new tricks.
For example, I spent almost an entire class period teaching and re-teaching a non-traditional student how to do a variety of simple computer formatting/usage tasks (i.e.: copying/pasting and dragging/dropping) well below the level of expertise required to format their paper. It stands to reason that formatting a hanging indent for someone with so few basic skills presents a mountainous learning curve. The situation also presents itself as a learning curve for me, because these students—young or old—are going to need to learn how to tackle that curve on their own, and I’m not always going to be there to push, pull, or drag them over it.
I teach composition, yet for some reason I feel like it’s my responsibility to help my students tackle these problems, as well. After all, I have the expertise thanks to my diverse educational background. Shouldn’t I share it?
About the Adjunct: Erik Hanson completed his MA in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing from the University of Northern Iowa, where he also earned his BA in German, during which time he spent one year studying abroad in Austria. Thus far, his teaching portfolio consists of developmental writing and composition courses. In those rare moments when he is not in class or tutoring English students, he can usually be found hunched over his keyboard with a cup of coffee, working on short fiction or developing his novel.