It has been beautiful and sunny this week here at WWU, making it hard to stay inside to do homework. Days like this make me realize how much our academic lives, both in and out of the Writing Center, are tied to these darn computers! After all, I can take my book outside with me to read if I like, but when it comes time to write that five page paper I wind up back at my desk staring at my little screen. Even this blog requires me to be in front of the computer in order to read or contribute to this community.
So why then, with all this emphasis on computers and technology, do Writing Centers still struggle with our computers? It seems as though we tolerate them as a necessary evil - a tool for creating legible drafts and a requirement for quality final drafts - rather than embracing the opportunities they give us both as tutors and as writers ourselves.
It seems that by far the most common discussion related to technology in Writing Centers surrounds the issue of Online Writing Labs (OWLs) and whether or not a face-to-face pedagogy is translatable to the online setting. I'm not sure this is the right question to ask, because like it or not, the computers are not going anywhere. Online drafts are the wave of the future and being prepared to meet that demand (as well as the challenges that go along with it) seems vital to the continued success of Writing Centers.
Unfortunately, Writing Centers' dislike of computers does not stop at OWLing. The majority of training for tutors in my Writing Center focuses on hands-on, verbal, or otherwise very low tech strategies for working with writers. Personally, I am thrilled by this practice because it means I don't have to think of my writing as being tied to a keyboard and desk! And yet, we have all these beautiful computers in our Center, all equipped with software that could take some of the pencil and paper strategies and give them a whole new dimension of usefulness, that are just sitting idle for most of the day.
Perhaps one motive behind our discomfort is that maybe we don't all know how to use the computers as well as we think we should. I have discovered that many of the questions related to footnoting that come into our Writing Center also require an explanation of how to physically create a footnote in a document, but when I asked other tutors if they know how to do it themselves the majority had to admit that they do not. And I know that I don't make use of some of the editing and brainstorming software in our Center because I don't know how to use it well enough to teach someone else. Is it possible that even growing up with technology has not prepared us to use it effectively in this setting? How much work would it take to make the computers as useful a tool as the highlighters and scratch paper we have all come to know and love?