1998, the College of Arts and Sciences at George Mason University began
a program to promote the use of Information Technology in the College
curriculum. The purpose of the initiative was to identify IT skills
that would "enhance the learning objectives" of existing courses and
to develop teaching strategies that would complement, rather than replace,
traditional classroom activities. Associate Dean Holisky's account of
the principles that guide the program, Information
Technology Goals for Liberal Arts Students, specifically warns against
teaching technology or software as an end in itself.
response to this initiative, a committee from the English Department
started meeting in the Fall of 1998 to design a course that would enhance
the Department's existing offerings and integrate technology into the
curriculum. After a year of research and planning, our group--Steven
Weinberger, Winnie Keaney, Ken Thompson, Dean Taciuch, and Lisa Koch--developed
a pilot course for a technology intensive plug-in that can be linked
to other courses in the Department. In the Fall of 1999, Steven Weinberger
taught two sections of CAS
101 linked to sections of ENGL 201 (Reading Texts) taught by Ken
Thompson and Dean Taciuch. Winnie Keaney taught an unlinked section
of 201 for purposes of comparison.
evaluations of CAS 101 were quite positive. Particularly noteworthy
was the fact that 83% of the students thought the skills they learned
in the plug-in helped them better understand the readings in ENGL 201.
When we compared papers from linked and unlinked sections of the course,
we found that the plug-in had indeed fostered a greater appreciation
and understanding of literature. Student writing in the special sections
was less general and demonstrated greater engagement with textual details
like word meaning, imagery, and point of view. Although preliminary,
these results indicate that information technology can make a significant
contribution to the teaching of literature and promote the Department's
goals for ENGL 201. Consequently, we see CAS 101 as a model for a new
course in the English Department called EDiT (Enhanced Digital Text)
linked to 201.
201 introduces students to the reading and analysis of literary texts.
Course requirements are designed to promote careful reading and clear
writing in addition to the acquisition of specialized literary knowledge.
Because 201 is part of the College's General
Education requirement, as well as a prerequisite for other 200 level
courses in the English Department, all undergraduates, with the exception
of those who transfer in with 200-level credits, must take the course.
Departmental guidelines require that students in the course learn to
"read for comprehension, detail and nuance, do a close reading of a
text, analyze the ways specific literary devices contribute to the meaning
of a text, and write critical papers that use these skills to support
a claim about a text." Although individual 201 instructors assign different
texts and structure their courses around varying themes, all 201 students
must read, analyze and create text.
EDiT plug-in (CAS 101 in its current form) extends the meaning of text
from the conventional to the digital. Based on our belief that technological
literacy complements and enhances more traditional forms of literacy,
we have taught our students the skills
necessary to read, interpret and produce enhanced digital text. The
English Department isalready committed to teaching its students the
skills necessary to engage in thoughtful web-based research and many
of our classes already include a technological component. But as technology
advances, new skills are required of our students just as the faculty
has to develop new teaching strategies. Equally important, as our student
body becomes more diverse as well as more media centered, we need to
supplement traditional pedagogy with new tools. That is why we want
our students--as well as our faculty--to have the skills they need to
find, evaluate, use, and exchange enhanced digital texts.
skills necessary for creating and exchanging enhanced digital texts
are not trivial. In addition to the IT skills necessary to produce and
exchange such texts, students need to develop the critical knowledge
necessary to treat links, images and other multimedia add-ins as literary
devices. Because we cannot expect or require instructors in 201 to have
the full set of technical
skills nor the class time to teach them, we have developed a one-credit
course that can be linked to 201. The EDiT plug-in will equip 201 students
with the skills necessary to create and exchange enhanced digital texts.
They will learn not only the technical skills--digitizing and editing
images, sounds, and video--but also begin to develop the rhetorical
and aesthetic judgment necessary for creating effective digital texts.
Teaching these skills will foster technological as well as traditional
literacy and enhance the work of the Department. Because their mastery
is not dependent on the subject matter of any particular class, however,
there is no need to include a IT plug-in in every course we offer. We
therefore propose meeting the technological needs of our students in
one centralized class linked to ENGL 201.