SCAILAB - Student Computer Aided Instruction Lab
Welcome to the SCAILAB Lore page. The goal of this page is to provide UIC instructors with narratives that will serve as a heuristic method for incorporating technology in composition and other writing courses. Rather than removing the activities from context as both part of a syllabus and as enacted by the class (as a concept and realization), we thought it best to present instructors with ideas that they could then adapt or modify to fit the format of whatever course they have developed. It is our hope that these narratives will encourage those instructors who are as yet undecided about how technology and SCAILAB can be an effective and positive tool in the teaching of writing.
To find out more about lore and its role in composition, or if you'd like an exact definition, visit the Lore journal at the San Diego State University Rhetoric and Writing Program's Lore Journal. You'll also find more Lore-related links at the bottom of this page.
When I was teaching English 161 during Spring, 1999, it was imperative that my students learn to analyze websites. Often, the web is the only place to find key statistics and sources, but students need to know how to learn what information will work for them and what will not. My course was titled "The Cultural Effects of AIDS," and students were going to need up-to-date information. As they worked on the web, I wanted my students to think beyond binaries, not to label sites generally as "good" or "bad" but to examine how and when certain sites would be useful for their research. To make my point, we spent a day in SCAILAB where I asked my students to examine two websites that both approached the same general theme of religion and AIDS. The first site was God Hates Fags (http://www.godhatesfags.com/), a shocking but popular site that uses quotations from the Bible as justification for the persecution of gays and other "deviants." One of their most popular beliefs is that "AIDS Kills Fags." We compared that site to Computerized AIDS Ministries (http://gbgm-umc.org/cam/), a database of information about church programs that work to enhance the lives of people with HIV/AIDS. Obviously, the sites provide a nice contrast.
Two things went on in class on this particular day. First, we continued a content discussion that had begun earlier. Students had already encountered a few texts that mentioned religion including the film Heart of the Matter that features an interview with an African-American woman who is both a pediatric AIDS nurse and a minister involved with various churches. Furthermore, in addition to discussing content, we focused on writing issues. I asked them to peruse each site and answer several questions such as:
by Sarah Livingston
When I was teaching an English 161 class themed on technology and community, I would regularly bring my students to SCAILAB for virtual discussion of the readings. We would do in-class, face-to-face discussions as well, of course, but 4-5 times over the course of the semester we would log onto a MOO (Multi-User Domain, Object-Oriented). I experimented a lot with group size--while it was easier to keep everyone on task when we were in a big group (one class had 17 students and the other had 21), it got to be a bit unwieldy, especially in the larger class. Ultimately, we settled on groups of 3-4, and I would drift in and out of each room at various points during the class time.
By the third session, the students really had the hang of using Pueblo (a handy MOOing client, useful in the absence of newer, Web-based interfaces), and they knew to get right to work when we'd log on. You read a lot about how virtual discussions often make shy people more outspoken, but that proved to be a lot more obvious than I expected in my classes. The students really noticed it too as the dynamic in the physical classroom shifted--they'd get into heated debates with people they just knew by name, and they'd sometimes have to ask when class ended who they'd been talking to. This excitement would often carry over into the physical classroom, too.
Sessions went better when I planned for the students to answer specific questions in their discussions, and there's always possibility (or maybe "likelihood") of drifting off-topic. And virtual discussions never seem to cover the amount of material that face-to-face discussions do, partly because it's much more time-consuming to type, and partly because groups tend to cover the topics in greater depth, and they have the chance to stick with particular points that interest them, rather than getting swept along with the larger group's discussion. For those students who don't have much experience with virtual identities or discussions, this activity maybe gave them an idea of how actual virtual communities operate, and why people find them so fascinating and so much fun.
Role Playing and the Problem of Voice
I taught an English 161 class on science fiction my first semester as an instructor. The students responded well to the subject, but often had problems engaging the material in a way that would allow them to write about it. One of the things I wanted them to discuss was the way in which certain pieces of science fiction call into question common notions of gender and race identity. Along with my co-teacher, Rebecca de Wind Mattingly, I developed an assignment that would allow them, through role-playing, to conceptualize the complexities of identities in a postmodern world. Running parallel to this discussion of identity, the assignment required them to consider the problem of government regulation of the Internet in an attempt to have them see that it is not always such a black and white thing. Finally, the assignment's overall goal was to get them thinking about voice and what shapes the voice we have when we write. Does gender and race and signifiers become transparent in our writing? Can you tell the gender of a person based on their discursive, textual practices if you have no other markers by which to identify them (such as appearance, body language, tone and inflection, etc.)?
For the assignment, I created a number of rooms on UIC's educational MOO, SKYMOOn, and assigned each of my students an identity as well as a room where they would meet three other classmates, each portraying a specific role. Students were given roles such as a 35-year-old male cop trying to bust a pedophile by pretending to be a 15-year-old girl, a 15-year-old girl, a pedophile pretending to be a 15-year-old-boy, a mom trying to discover what her child was doing on the Internet, and so on. All of the characters had complicated identities which made it very difficult for students. The majority of my students were male and found it practically impossible to play a woman, either afraid of transgressing the boundaries of political correctness, or just incapable of putting themselves in the place of a woman. Other students seem to respond very well to the activity. Overall, however, it worked very well and we were able to have a great discussion about identity and voice in the written word, something that they needed to think of when negotiating problems with voice in an academic essay.
The key to doing this assignment well was being prepared. Not only were students prepped ahead of time for what they should be thinking of but the rooms and roles were established before the class met. As a class, we had that framework for how the activity would be used as part of lesson on context and voice.
Writing and Web Publishing
During the 1998 Fall Semester I conducted the Class of English 152 exclusively at SCAILAB. The syllabus required attention to email, DIWE interaction and the final project was tailored to being published online. My assumption was that the presence of a networked environment would allow the students to contemplate an audience broader than the traditional audience of the freshman courseónamely myself. I urged the students to consider the audience of the world in developing their final project.
The class was not an unequivocal success and never became the community that I aspired to generate. The complexities of computer interaction were, at that point in time, intimidating to the students who were freshmen struggling with their sense of failure, at being placed in English 152. Although I kept toggling face-to-face communication with computer chat, I have come to believe that the presence of computers daunted a sense of college camaraderie that the students may have been hoping for. I believe the class would have worked better with English 160, or even now, with students more acclimated to keyboard and mouse. Three years ago, the combination of computer and campus shock adversely affected my studentsí classroom participation, though unexpectedly, their final projects were colorful and communicative.
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