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Electronic English class encourages discussion

Nov. 6, 1997

By Jennifer Jones

Reporter for The Baylor Lariat

The Baylor English department has slowly introduced the concept of the 'electronic classroom' to writing classes over the past three years, and now literature classes are using the computer network to improve their discussion format.

'The classes use a software package called Daedalus Integrated Writing Environment that allows students to converse electronically during class,' Dr. Gordon Grant, assistant professor of English, said.

The network system has been used effectively for writing classes, but can also benefit discussions of literature by allowing the students to lead instead of listening to lecture, Grant said.

'The main benefit of working in an electronic classroom is the students are able to work together collaboratively,' Mary Massirer, full-time lecturer in the English department, said.

Massirer currently teaches a technical writing course in the electronic classroom. She said she spends more one-on-one time with students in these classes than in a lecture setting.

'The classes taught using Daedalus are more workshops than lecture classes,' Massirer said. 'I help students while they are working.'

Grant taught a literature class last spring using the electronic-classroom format for the first time. He said there are advantages to writing in different formats.

'The students can discuss literary works in writing all at the same time, Grant said. 'This format further benefits the discussion and critical thinking about the literature.'

Although Daedalus is used mostly in writing classes, students benefit more from discussing works among themselves than listening to a lecture, Grant said. Massirer agreed the class time used for discussions is enhanced by the synchronized communication software.

'The students carry on on-line discussions to critique one another's work,' Massirer said. 'They like to use class time to do some of their work and receive immediate feedback.'

In oral discussions, only one student can speak at a time and some students never contribute because of the intimidating atmosphere, Massirer said. Shy students feel more comfortable participating in discussions on the computer, and in that environment they get feedback on their input, also.

One student in Massirer's class agrees the electronic class setting enhances discussions but sees limitations as well.

'I think the format is unique,' Kelly Maher, a Plano junior, said. 'The system enhances learning, but I don't think it should substitute for oral discussions altogether.'

Maher said she feels the computer skills are an important part of her preparation for later life. The experience will be valuable in searching for a job, she said.

'Communicating with computers teaches you skills you need for a job and employers expect you to have previous computer experience,' Maher said.

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