Electronic editing and other related topics

Miguel has a great post where he asks for input on the question of electronic editing vs. hard copy editing. I couldn’t resist commenting there, and I decided to carry the conversation over here, as well.

Let me reface this by saying that I am 55 for two more months. I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a member of the net generation. Heck, my children aren’t even! What I am going to say may sound odd for someone my age, but that’s the way it is.

Ten years ago I was in grad school. I hadn’t written papers on anything but an old manual typewriter until that time. I always hand wrote everything, edited profusely and then typed it up and turned it in. That is how I started grad school. Before the first semester was out, I discovered that I wasn’t going to be able to do it that way if I wanted to get everything done. I struggled until I learned to compose and edit electronically, bypassing paper until it was time to print and turn it in. Once I learned, though, it was just as easy to be ruthless with my writing on the computer as on a piece of paper. I have been extremely grateful for that training ever since then.

As an educator, I write papers, reports, proposal, memos, and many other types of documents. As a person, I blog and write letters and emails. I do all of those things exclusively on the computer. I have even pretty much stopped journaling on paper, moving the reflective parts of that to my blog and most of the rest to the recycle bin. Do I feel bad about this? No. Do I think I have compromised my standards somehow? No. Is my writing any worse because I am not editing ruthlessly? No; it is actually better because I am writing so much more.

But how can I work with students on their papers without hard copies? I almost always “mark up” their papers electronically. It is easier for me than hanging on to a zillion pieces of paper. If the students email the paper to me, I make comments and email the paper back. Last semester, I did not receive a single hard copy paper from my writing students. It was all turned in on Moodle.

What I like to do with my students is use one of the collaborative writing sites like Writely to actually sit down and have a conference with the student while we are each looking at the paper on our own computer screens. I can indicate where I think there is a problem and the student can attempt a change and I can give him instant feedback. Some of our best classes have been a group of us sitting at computers, with me going from paper to paper marking things up and them trying to fix the errors before I get back to them. It makes editing and revision much less boring.

I think teachers need to give serious thought to who their students are. It is the teachers who are hung up on hard copies, not the students. We have to give up trying to teach the students we were and, instead, teach the students we have.

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