7.0035 Dissertation: Computers and Lit Teaching (1/78)
Elaine Brennan (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Tue, 1 Jun 1993 19:43:02 EDT
Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 7, No. 0035. Tuesday, 1 Jun 1993.
Date: Mon, 31 May 93 14:25:38 EST
Subject: Computers & Lit. classes
Dear Humanist members:
I recently completed a dissertation in the English department at
Indiana University on the use of computers in the teaching of
literature at the college level. Thanks to all those Humanist
members who helped me with the research for this project.
Since my topic may be of interest to some of you, I am attaching an
abstract of the dissertation. If you would like to read any part
of the study (including the appendix listing relevant applications,
databases, lists, e-journals, associations and centers), please
contact me by e-mail at "KSBALL@ucs.Indiana.Edu" (internet) or
"KSBALL@IUBACS" (bitnet), and I will be happy to send you an ascii
copy of the requested text.
LITERARY LOGIC: THE UNIVERSITY LITERATURE CLASS
IN THE AGE OF THE COMPUTER
In the first chapter of the dissertation, I examine the many
reasons why the computer has not been more extensively employed in
the teaching of English, including the traditional hostility of
humanists toward science and technology and the struggle between
hostility toward science and attraction to "scientific method" in
the English department. I raise the issue of electronic text and
its consequences for the distinction between literature and non-
literature and for the role of the author. Finally, I observe that
we, the academics who study literature and teach it to
undergraduates, need to analyze the technology which is being used
and to make informed decisions about it, whether we decide to use
it in our own classrooms and departments or not.
In chapter two, I discuss the present state of affairs in U.S.
English departments, both in terms of literary theory and
pedagogical approach, focusing on the current issues in the
teaching of literature raised by Scholes, Graff, and Ohmann. I
then consider attempts to apply current literary theory to the
teaching of literature classes and conclude that few of these
attempts at reform have effected real change either in terms of
practice or in the power structure of the classroom. All of the
approaches studied leave students in the passive role traditionally
reserved for them in the literature classroom.
In chapter three, I address the difficulty of evaluating
educational software applications, review the available research
into the effectiveness of computer-assisted learning and teaching,
and conclude with a consideration of the import of active,
authentic learning. This chapter sets the stage for the detailed
investigations of how specific software packages are being used in
the teaching of literature that comprise chapters four and five.
In chapter four, I first describe what hypertext is, then I
continue, in more detail, the discussion from chapter two on
literary theory and from chapter three on pedagogical theory, now
focusing specifically on hypertext. I then examine in chapter five
the claims made for hypertext through case studies of hypertext
applications in literature classes at Brown University, the College
of Wooster, and the University of Texas at Austin.
Chapter six follows the pattern established in chapter five
but is devoted to investigating non-hypertext applications,
including those being used in literature classes at the College of
Wooster and at Stanford University.
In the conclusion, I maintain that the most effective
applications of computer technology in the English literature class
allow students to actively engage in the academic conversation.
Students in these classes are not just absorbing information; they
are also helping decide what information is relevant, what the
parameters of the literary discussion are to be. The dynamics of
these classrooms are changing; students self-consciously employ
intertextual approaches to learning, the role of the teacher
changes from that of authoritative arbiter of meaning to that of
facilitator, students accept increased responsibility for meaning-
making, and the classroom becomes a community of active learners
Such changes, whether facilitated by the use of computers or
otherwise, are necessary if the teaching of English literature is
going to remain relevant to a changing student population in a
world where, for many people, reading is no longer a primary mode
of information gathering.