1(4), August 1984, page 2

[conclusion of Neuwirth et al. article at top of this page]

Selling the Skeptic: Computers in the Humanities

Carmen Cramer
English Department, University of Southwestern Louisiana

Teachers in the humanities often resist the use of computer assisted instruction; in fact, the entire notion of computers puts them off a bit. Although I

COMPUTERS and COMPOSITION 1(4), August 1984, page 3

am now in the process of helping to program the English Department's CAI at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, I too was a skeptic at one point, so I understand the reasons for teachers' resistance. Four primary concerns--loss of jobs, lack of expertise, weakening humanitarianism, and loss of the student and teacher relationship--are fears that keep us from institutionalizing the computer.

Of course, there still remains the practical side of eliminating the fear of computers, of enlightening teachers in the humanities about modern technology. How to teach them that jobs will not be lost, that CAI need not be more than their intellects can handle, that all of this futurism is worth it? The obvious method would be for a computer scientist to arrange a required faculty meeting to lecture upon the subject of CAI. Of course, just as obvious, no faculty member would listen at such a meeting.

U.S.L.'s English Department lucked into some alternate methods of enlightenment. Various games can be played on a terminal to reduce the mystery of computers. In our department, we have just realized that the U.S.L. computer is programmed to chart bio-rhythms--a fascinating and fearless process for the person behind the controls. Another lighthearted introduction to technology: the letter writing capacity of computers. With all the imaginative possibilities of code names, colleagues can send secret messages to each other.

There are also more practical approaches for exposing people to computers. I was first "sold" when a colleague showed me an article he had written in which the footnotes had been automatically collated into the text by the computer. What a dream: no more hassles with mismatched numbers because of an inserted footnote. One English teacher had the computer print up MWF and TT "forms" that could be filled in with information for a syllabus. His colleagues begged for copies of this time saver, and he showed them what buttons to punch. One thing we in the U.S.L English Department dream of--and talk up--is the computer taking over the duty of scheduling classes, of deciding who teaches what, when. Surely this would be an instance where faculty might appreciate a bit less "personality" in the decision-making process.

These examples of practical, non-frightening exposure to computers for teachers in fields such as English have one thing in common they involve intimacy, no required seminars, no big, embarrassing groups. One programmer drinking coffee with one English instructor, talking in "real" English instead of jargon, will go further than all the lectures put together. A possible exposure to computer teaching methods is one instructor volunteering to take a colleague's class for a period to show them all, including the teacher, how CAI works. Better still is spreading the word that one or two teachers in a department will demonstrate CAI in private to a colleague if asked.

Teachers' egos react better if they are involved in the process of incorporating a system into a department; they can assist in programming, or in decisions as complex as what prepared programs to use or as simple as where to place terminals. Involvement breeds trust. Important too is that a terminal be available in a fairly secluded, but convenient place, so that a faculty member can experiment without being too closely observed. With enough exposure, with enough practice, all those fears about computer will begin to seem childish. At that point, teachers will realize that CAI may be as good as--maybe even better than--the blackboard.