September 1996

Root Page of Article: Scenarios for Computers in Composition , by Maureen Burgess and Lori Mathis

Scenario One

Susan enters the room where she teaches her first-year writing course--a tight, narrow room with 20 Macintoshes along its tiled walls and square tables lined up in the center. Susan has never taught writing in a computer-supported classroom before, but she has ideas about how she'd like to incorporate computers into it. She'll use e-mail to respond to her students' writing, and she will use word processing to help her students write and revise. But she's not sure about the Web. She's nervous about the computers distracting her and the students from their main task--teaching and learning writing. And she's especially afraid that if she introduces the Web, its associative links will take her class into too many different directions. And then there's the question of what her students will expect from her and the class?.

"Welcome. Are you all here for English 110C? My name is Susan. I'll be your instructor. Today we're going to talk about the course." She hands stacks of papers to her students to pass down the tables.

Twenty students in Susan's class sit, at the computers, at the tables, feet resting on chair castors, books on the floor and table. Cindy and Tom chat at back table-- reaching over and taking a syllabus when they come by. 'This class'll be just like other English class, but with computers' they think. Tamara sits next to them crouched over a notebook. She wrote her high school home page for a computer class--'Maybe I'll get to write Web pages in here,' she thinks. Tracey looks worried when she gets the syllabus: email? the Web? She only used her email account in her "introduction to college" course, and it never worked for her. Ugh.

Scenario Two

In a writing course on American culture, taught in a computer-supported classroom, a computer information science major named Antonio begins the quarter by telling his teacher that, frankly, he didn't think much of the Web. "All junk and little substance" was his bottom-line evaluation. Throughout the quarter he continued to be skeptical of the Web and virtual reality.

Another CIS major, Jacob, expressed different attitudes toward virtual worlds. He regularly played a MUD role-playing game that involved vampires. When he described to the class how he had designed his own virtual apartment, the other students gawked at him--turning eagerly from their regular perches at the PCs-and asked him if he sat in front of his virtual TV and plugged in a virtual movie and pretended to watch TV. He laughed and said, "It's not like that at all."

Their instructor then suggested to the class that they were assuming that Jacob's virtual world, and his relationship to computer technology, are passive experiences, rather than interactive and imaginative. "After all," she said, "Couldn't an interactive, virtual community develop entirely different patterns of behavior and activities from those in everyday, "real-time" life?" Many of the students dismissed this possibility, preferring to embrace their own normalized relations to the fantasy worlds of television and video games and dismiss the "larger-than-life" world of participant defined MUD worlds. ^

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