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Progress (slower than hoped) Report
The Program in Composition
209 Lind Hall
207 Church St., S.E.
University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, MN 55455
ACCESS is a group of integrated programs which lets the writing teacher design, develop, and modify a computer-based writing environment. The general outline of the programs was announced at a conference held in Minneapolis last spring. Since then both the computer programming and lesson design have moved along and are only a month behind schedule. Thus our first handful of students will have worked on exercises by the middle of March. We expect to have more extensive trials during our spring quarter (April to June).
The exercises that are ready for trials have been developed by people with no knowledge of programming or programming languages. The ACCESS system has a few commands, expressed in English, and the teacher does have to keep track of the individual screens and files that make up an exercise. A significant advantage in the environment is that the help messages for our text editor and on-line tutorials can be edited and modified without changing the programs.
The exercises are presented as series of screens of information, examples, or instructions. We can build menus to present choices on how to get a task done, or other options, e.g., whether the writer wants to see an example or not.
If all goes well, we should be able to send out some of our most refined exercises for comments by people at other universities by the end of the spring. It still looks promising for beta site testing by the end of the summer.
In addition to developing the programs and exercises, people on the project are writing guidelines on lesson and menu design based on human factors research, and are exploring the nature of the dialogue between the teacher's lesson end the writing student, based on ideas from discourse linguistics and artificial intelligence.
Some of the prototype lessons will be demonstrated at the International Conference on Computers and the Humanities (Provo, Utah, June 26-28), NCTE, and on other occasions next year.