Introductory computer literacy skills for students and faculty through word processing

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  • Introductory Computer Literacy Skills for Students and Faculty through Word Processing By Jan Koppelman

    v iterbo College of La Crosse, Wiscon- sin, a small (1,000 students) four year Catholic college, has taken on the challenge of promoting computer liter- acy and teaching fundamental comput-

    er skills; and the Media Center (also known as The Word Processing Lab) plays an important role. The idea of promoting computer skills and literacy was brought before the college's curricu- lum committee several years ago. Since that time courses have been identified and implemented, some course requirements have been changed, and the content of many courses outside the usual realm of the Math/Computer Science Department has evolved to include a variety of computer relat- ed competencies and skills.

    Computers and computing are perceived by many to be closely associated with numerical computation and statistics. This perception is of- ten reinforced by the fact that many computer sci- ence faculty are retooled math facultymnot a very reassuring fact for those who may be math-pho- bic. Because of this perception some people tend to shy away from computers and the traditional computer lab, not recognizing that probably the most useful application of computers in the daily life of a non-math-oriented person has nothing to do with numerical computations, but rather with language--writing.

    Traditional students entering college today have had experience with computers; most have had at least an introductory course and a few even have some background in programming. The older stu- dentmthe non-traditional student frequently lacks that background. Those are the students who are most important to reach and teach basic computer skills. They are often the ones who are most wary and most intimidated by the traditional "Computer Lab" situation.

    The Media Center has become a significant par- ticipant in promoting the cause of computer litera- cy for traditional and non-traditional students as well as faculty at Viterbo College. The Media Center's primary contribution toward realizing that commitment has been through teaching word processing competencies to students and faculty.

    In the Fall of 1985 a section of the Media Cen- ter became The Word Processing Lab. Eight Ap- ple//c computers and two printers were set up in existing carrels in the Media Center. Because the college already had a computer lab for students in programming courses and where faculty could place software on reserve for classes, the comput- ers placed in the Media Center were dedicated to word processing.

    Jan Koppelman is the media director at Viterbo College in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

    The Applewriter word processing program was selected for the lab. In the beginning only the Ap- plewriter program was available, but soon Bank Street Writer and Appleworks were added to our collection. Students were also permitted to bring in their own word processing programs for use in the lab.

    The Media Center is staffed by work/study stu- dents and they were given responsibility for moni- toring the Word Processing Lab portion of the op- eration as part of their duties. The work/study stu- dents are required to learn the Applewriter program so they can answer questions and assist people working in the lab. They are encouraged to become familiar with the other word processing programs as well. The work/study staff has be- come proficient with the Applewriter program through workshops we have offered, required drills (for example: they are asked to reproduce a complicated document exactly by using various commands), and practice.

    In order to launch the Word Processing Lab with faculty support, workshops were offered to interested faculty and students. The workshops were taught by the two full-time Media Center staff. The workshops are scheduled as two one- hour sessions and offer the basic information and concepts necessary to prepare a standard college paper using the word processor; however, through that process the participants are introduced to such concepts as computer memory, files, disk storage, and so on, giving them a look at "the big picture."

    These workshops have been very well received and have helped many people take the first step in the direction of computer literacy. "Advanced" workshops have also been added. The positive reputation of the workshops spread, causing the more cautious or fearful potential users to creep out of the shadows and venture into the Word Processing Lab. We are now in the third year of operation and our records show that over 300 stu- dents and approximately 35% of our faculty and administration have participated in our work- shops. Lab usage has doubled over the first year and appears to continue to be increasing signifi- cantly again this year.

    Through evaluations and feedback from work- shop participants we have been able to identify several things that have contributed to the success of these workshops and the Word Processing Lab:

    1. Since the Word Processing Lab is a physical- ly separate facility from the Computer Lab, those potential users who feel intimidated by computers and the computer "whiz kids" who frequent the Computer Lab feel more comfortable in the Media Center setting.

    2. The workshops are taught by Media Center

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  • personnel rather than computer science fac- ulty. Faculty and students have indicated that they feel less intimidated about asking "stupid questions" when they are not deal- ing with people they perceive to be "ex- perts". Also, computer science people tend to be so familiar with concepts and terms that they are more likely to lapse into "com- puterese". As relative neophytes to the world of computers, our Media Center per- sonnel tend to express concepts and answer questions in "lay terms."

    3. Using the Apple//c's to introduce word proc- essing has been helpful because the keyboard has fewer "strange" keys; it is more familiar to potential users since it more closely re- sembles a conventional typewriter keyboard.

    4. Since everybody writes, word processing is seen to be a fairly universal application of the computer and meets an immediate need---often too immediate. How many times have we heard, "I have a paper due in two hours. Can you show me how to do it on the computer?". Word processing as an intro- duction to "computer literacy" offers the op- portunity to introduce potential users to cer- tain key computer concepts in a non-threat- ening way. Since students can readily see immediate applications of word processing, they are more easily motivated.

    5. Because of the way the Word Processing Lab is set up, we do not have any way of monitoring or pointing things out on the com- puter screen to the group during workshops. Until recently the only solution to this prob- lem was to continuously move among the group looking over shoulders and pointing things out individually. This provided an ex- cellent aerobics workout for the instructor, but was a rather inefficient method of in- struction. Recently we purchased a PC View- er that uses an overhead projector to project to a large screen what is on the monitor. Now things can be pointed out on the large screen and workshop participants can simul- taneously see what we're talking about.

    6. We have learned to offer the workshops for students at the beginning of the semester. The workshops that are offered after the first six to eight weeks are poorly attended. Inter- est is much higher and time is more plentiful at the beginning of the semester.

    7. Our workshops are strictly hands-on, which means one student per computer. Of course this means that workshops must be offered more frequently, but we have found that when the students have direct experience on the computer working independently, they have much better comprehension and reten- tion. Workshop participants are also asked to complete an assignment between the first and second session. The assignment gets the par- ticipants back in the Lab and gives them practice and some independent experience with such things as creating a new file, load-

    ing and saving files, and correcting mistakes. These are the skills and concepts that are covered in the first session. Some very inter- esting problems can arise and be solved as the students work through the assignment. When participants report for the second ses- sion, the text of the assignment is used to demonstrate such things as how to move and find text as well as how to print the text in various forms.

    8. Special workshops exclusively for faculty members are often scheduled during holiday recesses when classes are not in session or at the end of the semester. This allows faculty members more privacy in their pursuit of word processing competency. Once faculty members have become skilled at using the word processor, they often encourage their students to learn those skills, and some even require it.

    There are other factors that contribute to the success of the Word Processing Lab and the workshops that are less easily defined or de- scribed. Those are the use of humor and an ani- mated and enthusiastic presentation style. Comic relief has long been used by playwrights, but it is also useful in educational applications. By main- taining an atmosphere of lightheartedness and fun we have had great success in breaking down any apprehension the students bring with them to the workshop as first-time computer users.

    Similarly the interjection of some vaudevillian theatrics provides an animated interaction with students that not only creates an enthusiastic workshop presentation, but also gets the students laughing at their own fears and mistakes. A typical scenario might go something like this:

    (Scene: Students have just saved a file and are about to clear the memory to prepare to load another file)

    Instructor: Now that this file has been saved, we need to get a new clear screen. To do this hold down the CONTROL key while you strike the letter "N" for NEW. Do that now. The next display asks you if you wish to ERASE THE MEMORY. Is that okay? Should you answer yes or no? (Some of the students shake their heads em- phatically "NO!! !")

    Instructor: (reassuringly) It's okay to erase the memory, isn't i t ? . . . Because you have a copy of the file where? (arms outstretched be- seechingly)

    Students: (they venture cautiously) On the disk? Instructor: (Arms raised in a triumphant ges-

    ture) That's right! Now type "Y" for YES and press return.

    (Panicked expressions quickly pass over the faces of some of the students as all of the text disappears from the screen).

    (Instructor mimics the panic by audibly sucking in her breath and putting her hands to her face in mock terror.) OH, NO! It's gone! What happened! (Pauses and seems to collect herse l f ) . . . But wait! (quietly and slowly)

    OCTOBER 1988 35

  • 9 . . There's a copy of the text, (whisper) . . . isn't there?

    Students: YES! Instructor: Where? Students: ON MY DISK! Instructor: (with jubilation) THAT'S RIGHT!!!

    (Flings arms high in another triumphant ges- tu re . . , then calmly) Now, just to be sure, let's look at the cata logue. . .

    All of these factors combine to produce a highly successful program and have had a remarkably positive impact on generating interest in word processing and producing more competent com- puter users. Our proteges have developed excel- lent word processing skills and most have become "regulars" in the Word Processing Lab. Some of our students now frequent the Computer Lab, and others have made a total commitment by purchas- ing their own computer system9 There are still a few students and faculty on campus who want to use typewriters for their papers, but because of the excellent reputation of our workshops, the fa- cility, and the faculty support we have received, they are sure to share the fate of the dodo bird and the passenger pigeon. 9

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