Caveat: Venter

Think about all of the things that make your brain itch. These are mine.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The Un-Tech Way

I love much of what the internet has done for education. We can communicate more easily, which means more frequent (if no more creative) excuses, among other things. We can research more easily, which means both locating resources more quickly and, in the less stellar cases, plagiarizing more efficiently; then again, it also means catching plagiarism with minimal work. We can put together more and more sophisticated mixed-media presentations. Still, sometimes we just have to junk the tech.

I recently had a discussion with a student who performed extensive research on the effects of the bombing of Hiroshima, but she was concerned that she had surrendered control to her sources. It's become, for many, too easy to get information, but the process has multiplied the difficulty associated with filtering it. How, when a student is faced with a deadline and a half dozen resources (for a short paper), can she possibly retain control of the writing process while avoiding unintentional plagiarism?

The answer is simple, and it often means turning the computer off: index cards. Now, some students may roll their eyes at the suggestion that index cards have value, but perhaps they should look again. All of the little tidbits of information get boiled down to isolated nuggets, one to a card. Those cards contain all of the information for the works cited, a slug (usually top right), and a quick reference title. Take all of those cards (computer off), arrange them on the bed or on the floor, stack them, and stick those silly Roman numerals and letters and Arabic numerals and such on them. Suddenly, it's an outline, and the paper practically writes itself, complete with the works cited page.

As I shared this technology with my students recently, I drew a series of incredulous looks from the faces arrayed throughout the room. Have we gone so far in our use of technology that we have ceased teaching even the basics? I must confess that I do most of my work on a computer. Still, when I do sit down to draft early versions of poems (horrid things when I create them) and short stories (probably a little less horrid), I usually begin with a pad and pen. It's amazing what happens when the iBook is closed and on a shelf. Try it sometime.