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Faculty Experiences - Lisa Gerrard

Lisa Gerrard - photoLISA GERRARD

Writing Programs

Interview Topics
What matters most to you in your teaching?

How are you using technology as a tool to achieve your teaching goals?

How have your students responded to your use of technology?

What new goals do you have for using technology in teaching?
Create closer community
Group projects
Immediate feedback
Student presentations

Blogs (weblogs)
Chat sessions
Class web site
Discussion board
MOO virtual reality environment
Network Assistant (software)
Virtual environments

Building Community in the Classroom

I teach writing, and one of my goals is to teach students to shape their work in a lot of different ways. I also try to create a community in the classroom. I like students to feel comfortable and relaxed where they can make friends and not be afraid to express themselves. They should not feel as if they will be judged every time they open their mouths. I also think it's important that the class is hands-on and that I don't do a lot of lecturing.

I use the online  discussions boards and  chat rooms on our web site to create a community. I have students work in small face-to-face groups first, so that they can get to know each other in real life. Then the groups make informal presentations in the chat room, or initiate a discussion with the class. Students are very comfortable talking in the chat rooms; they are much more willing to participate there than in face-to-face discussions of twenty people. The chat room makes it easier for everyone to join the conversation.
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I also use a  MOO, a  virtual reality environment where students can take on characters and give them descriptions. They can also interact by typing commands that show their characters performing actions, e.g., "Joe waves at Carole." The MOO is also used by people outside of the class, so students interact with complete strangers as well as with their classmates. This feature gives students practice writing for audiences other than the teacher and their peers. Students can also see how effective their rhetorical skills are because their writing usually elicits an immediate reaction from others. Writing in a MOO also gives students practice writing descriptively; they can create places-e.g., rooms or gardens--and furnish them with items such as benches visitors can sit on, books they can read, and people and animals they can interact with. That is, they can program the objects they create, using only words, to respond to commands a visitor to their room might type in (e.g., pet the dog).
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I also use a piece of software called  Network Assistant in the computer lab which allows me to project images from students' computers. For example, I may give them a passage from one of their papers to revise. Afterwords, I can project what they wrote onto a large screen at the front of the room, so that the class can discuss it and make suggestions for revision.
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I use the  class web site in several ways. In addition to the chat room, I include links to sources they can use for their papers. In some of my classes, we do rhetorical analysis of web sites and talk about who the audience is, and what the different rhetorical elements of the site are. Also, students can e-mail each other through the web site and meet in small groups in the chat room to work on collaborative projects.
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The students seem comfortable with the technology. When I first started teaching my classes with computers (in 1980), I had to teach my students everything from scratch. Now I show them what to do, and most of them have no problems. The students who are most comfortable with the computer help me help the ones with less experience, so that we spend little class time on the technology itself and can focus on writing.
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Technology makes it much easier for a writer to revise; and it also helps break students of the notion that they have to write a paper in a single block. They can begin anywhere they want. They can experiment; computers give them flexibility as stylists. I don't know if students are learning more than they did without computers, but much of the writing process is easier for them and a lot more fun.
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One of the newest tools for writing instruction is  weblogs.  Students can keep online journals in which other students comment on their writing and link to sources that might be relevant to their topic. What's happening now with weblogs is a good example of the kind of experimenting that goes on routinely in computers and writing: whenever a new technology comes along, instructors try to see how it might work in the classroom.
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Oral Interview, May 1, 2003
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