Monday, September 27, 2010

Paper Thin

Between lesson plans, handouts, and multiple drafts of assignments, the reams of paper can really pile up. Not only is that bad for Mama Earth, but it's ergonomically unwise for professors and students to be carrying so much weight. So, trying to do my part to save the world (and to seem cool and up-to-date), I've been experimenting with ways to go paperless.

For those of us who use PDF files, I really don't think I can say enough good things about Barnes and Noble's NOOKstudy software-- not to be confused with the NOOK eReader. It's a FREE download that only requires the student to make an account with NOOKstudy allows students to read eTextbooks, ePub files, and PDFs on their computers. Unlike reading the file in Adobe Reader, however, NOOKstudy allows you to:

  • take notes and even add tags to those notes 
  • highlight passages in multiple colors
  • easily flip from page to page
  • enlarge the size of the page so that it can be easily read
  • look up words instantly

As a teacher, NOOKstudy helps me prepare my lesson plans. I can look at what I've highlighted and the notes I've taken and propose discussion questions. I can immediately see all of the marked passages without having to flip through pages. Plus, I can categorize all of the readings, so that all of the class files are easily accessible. It also lightens my load. I can refer back to past readings without having to carry all of them. Finally, I can take new notes every semester, without taking over the page, and I can easily keep track of my notes and hang on to them for the following years.

As a student, the benefits are fairly similar. It mostly comes down to organization. Being able to label my notes saves me an immense amount of time when it comes time for me to use them in papers. I can copy and paste the text right into my papers, as well, saving me from having to look back and forth between files until I get the wording of the passage right.

A Screenshot of my NOOKstudy reading, highlighting, and tagged notes. Double-click for an up-close view.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Seeing Red... Pen

Though I don't claim to be an expert in the field of composition, my experiences as a writing center tutor, as a student, and now as a professor have lead me to see trends in education, not all of which are good. One trend I find particularly unsettling is a seemingly new-found student obsession with grammar.

Working as a tutor, I see students come to sessions all the time claiming that they need to work on their grammar. Even worse, sometimes they demand that I ignore their content and only address their grammar. This doesn't just happen in writing centers, though. After asking my Composition course students what they thought made good writing and what they thought were their writing weaknesses, I found that grammar was reiterated over and over again. When I asked them to define revision, there was almost no mention of anything idea-related or content-based. Nearly every revision step they suggested was related to editing and proofreading, in other words, looking for grammar error. My own brother, who is now a college freshman, repeated these sentiments when he would talk about writing during his senior year of high school. He had good ideas, but when he talked about the papers he was writing, he almost never discussed his ideas. Instead, he talked about page limits, formats, and how to fit his list of examples into a prescribed structure for essay writing.

Perhaps, I'm naive, or I experienced school much differently than my peers, but I don't remember being obsessed with grammar when I transitioned from high school to college. My high school years, however, took place before there was any attention paid to the SAT Writing Section. Today's traditional freshman students are part of this next generation. Their high school writing experiences include very little creative writing or writing done at home that is later brought back to be workshopped. High school writing assignments consist mainly of 30 minute topic-based timed essays with a focus on test-prep, if I'm understanding correctly.

But is there something more to it? I can't help but think there must be. The way I hear students talk about language and think about grammar tell me that something else is happening, something cultural, something deeply tied to our democratic, multi-faced society. comPOSITION, I hope, will present a social space for the continued exploration and inquiry of this trend.