2(1), November 1984, page 10

[conclusion of Papinchak article at top of this page]

Introducing the Word Processor
in Composition Classes

Lorie Roth
Department of Languages and Literature
Armstrong State College
Savannah, Georgia 31419

Since the college at which I teach has only a few microcomputers available for a large number of students, it is impossible at present to integrate the computer into the composition program as fully as one might wish. Nevertheless, being a dedicated word processor myself, wishing at least to introduce students to its power and potential as a writing tool, and sensing the students' own curiosity and interest in the microcomputer, I devote at least two class periods in my freshman composition courses to word-processing workshops in the college's microcomputer center. The following is a description of my two-day workshop, including strategies and suggestions for instructors like me who are faced with limited access to computers but who nevertheless wish to introduce their students to this writing aid.

1. At the beginning of the term, I reserve the microcomputer laboratory for two consecutive class meetings.

2. In the class meeting before the computer workshop, I assign a writing project for which the students can begin prewriting at the word processor. Although first-time computer users are frequently enjoined to "play with the machine," I've found that freshman writers are paralyzed by a blank screen even more than they are by a blank sheet of paper. Without prompting, they feel that they have nothing to say. Thus, having an assignment in mind and a mission to accomplish impels them more purposefully to the keyboard.

3. On the first day of the workshop, I try to start up the word-processing software before the students arrive. Whereas most software is easy to boot, starting up twelve computers (the number in our small micro lab) takes up too much valuable time. Furthermore, if the computer center includes some micros that aren't self-booting (as ours does), the start-up commands seem bewildering and exasperatingly complex to a novice. Students are more willing to learn the commands AFTER they see what a word processor can do for them, and explaining start-up procedures is a good way to begin the second day of the workshop.

4. The session begins with a brief presentation in which I identify the components of the system, note a few unusual features of the keyboard (especially the cursor keys), and define some basic terms. It's important to explain, for example, to first-time users that as text is entered, lines will SCROLL off the screen, but they haven't disappeared for good.

5. As the students begin their prewriting at the terminals, I circulate among them and offer lots of individual help. When students hit the wrong keys (as they inevitably will) and something unexpected happens, they distrust the computer and they doubt their own ability. An instructor who is immediately available can provide reassurance and can show that almost nothing is irrevocable in word processing, that an error--which, if committed on a typewriter, might necessitate bottles of white-out or even complete retyping of a page--which, if committed on a typewriter, might necessitate bottles of white-out or even complete retyping of a page--is easily remedied with one or two keystrokes on a word processor.

6. Students working at the keyboard are encouraged to think of "entering text" and "editing" as two distinct stages. They quickly discover that the composing process is easier and faster if they will enter text as rapidly as possible and edit later, instead of writing and correcting as they go along. One of the most attractive features of the word processor is that it, more than any other writing tool, induces students to think of writing as a process. They can record their ideas as rapidly as their fingers will allow them, heedless of typos or mechanical correctness, knowing all the while that the word processor can easily accommodate them if they make a mistake--or more importantly, if they change their mind about the arrangement of their ideas, the shape of their sentences, or the words they want to

COMPUTERS and COMPOSITION 2(1), November 1984, page 11

use. It gives them the freedom to experiment, to consider alternatives, to play with possibilities.

7. Students are also encouraged to take full advantage of the capabilities of the word processor. I've watched many first-time users press the delete key one hundred times to erase a sentence rather than try one of the short-cuts offered by a powerful software package. Furthermore, good typists sometimes have more trouble using a word processor for the first time than nontypists do. Because they have to unlearn the habits of years (such as using the space bar and return key to move the cursor), they can easily get discouraged and think that the "old way" is easier. To combat this reluctance to depart from standard typewriter functions, I frequently ask the users to move a sentence from the beginning to the end of a paragraph, to change the order of paragraphs, or to otherwise rearrange their text. Along with demonstrating the power of the word processor, this exercise also helps the students to see the way it facilitates large-scale revision as well as local editing.

8. By the end of the first session, the students have entered text, edited it, and saved this prewriting on a disk (which I provide). During the second day of the workshop, they start up the computers, load their prewriting from the disk into the computer's memory, continue to revise or add to their material, and finally print a hard copy of the prewriting.

In only two sessions at the keyboard, it's not possible to demonstrate the full range of the word processor's capabilities, but these workshops nevertheless accomplish several goals: the students learn where the microcomputer lab is, they learn that the computer is not an intimidating ogre, and they learn that the word processor can be a powerful ally in the writing process. Several students do return to the lab for extra sessions, and they can get the additional help they need from the software manual, from the director of the computer center, from me or other faculty members who are working at the terminals, or most significantly, from their fellow students who have already mastered the word processor. It seems that most confirmed word processors are eager to proselytize.