A few years after leaving graduate school, I was faced with my first serious quandary regarding classroom resources. I had recently moved to a large, northeastern city and was hoping to pick up a class or two to supplement my online teaching load. Unfortunately it was rather late into the summer, so with little optimism I submitted my CV to a wide variety of local colleges and universities, hoping for a call from an interested party.
That call came in late August from a department chair at a medium-sized, two-year college. Our phone call was surprisingly brief. At first I thought it was simply a phone screen, but after a very short discussion of my previous teaching experience and pedagogy, she offered me two sections of freshman composition to start the following week.
Overloaded with pure excitement, I accepted without asking basically any questions; in hindsight this was a crucial mistake.
There are so many things that I should have asked: Do the classrooms have access to wifi? Do they have Smart Boards and/or LCD projectors? Is there an open computer lab on campus that I can bring my students to?
The answers would have warned me about how my pedagogy would clash with the available resources. But at the time, I did not ask much of anything. I was simply happy to be obtaining sections so late in the season.
Six months prior to this, I had been teaching fully online composition courses exclusively. I desperately wanted to get back into a face-to-face classroom where I could apply much of what I had experimented with online in a synchronous environment.
I had already had some success with blogs in my online courses and planned to expand their use (incuding RSS feeds, podcasts and wikis) to encourage collaborative writing and audience in the classroom.
In preparation for my class the following week, I decided to head down to the campus and check out the institution and my classroom. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, but I had—what I thought—was a "safe" assumption as to what the minimum resources available to me would be: some form of digital project project and an active internet connection. Additionally, I expected an available computer lab on campus (of at least twenty-five computers) that could be reserved ahead of time.
Even at this point in my teaching career, I had seen several different classrooms at a few institutions. Mistakenly, I thought I had seen both extremely high-tech and low-tech classrooms. My faulty assumptions would teach me an important lesson about what an instructor’s expectations could (and should) be for available technology at a new institution.
Whatever I truly expected, I was not prepared for reality. The classroom was large and spacious. That was the good news. The bad news: there were no Smart Boards, computers, or digital projectors.
My two classroom tools would be an old chalkboard and an ancient overhead projecter, the kind built for transparencies. As for internet access, there was supposedly wifi in the building, but it would always remain spotty in this particularly classroom. There was a wired LAN connection at the rear of the room, inconveniently tucked away from where I would be facing.
At the time, I could not have imagined a worse classroom and this one would now be my home for the entire Fall semester.
Later on that day, I met with the department chair and made my concerns known. In desperation, I asked if there was an open lab on campus where my class might sometimes be able to meet. The chair phoned down to the library—the location of the only “open” lab on campus that wasn’t already committed to other courses—and then informed me that the lab wasn’t available during the times I would need it.
I insisted on some form of digital projector, at a minimum. She remained indifferent and politely informed me that she would “see what she could do.” A true solution would be offered almost two months later; by that time it would no longer be needed.
Even after explaining my course goals, the department chair never seemed particularly sensitive to my issues. In her defense, it may not have been from true luddite tendencies or any resistance to technology, rather from institutional problems that were beyond her control.
Either way, I left the campus feeling utterly defeated.
I wondered whether I should scrap my course and rebuild based upon an earlier composition course I had taught at a previous institution. My visions of liveblogging to This American Life episodes seemed to be fading.
But something happened over the next two days: I endeavored to make my pedagogy work anyway.
The next section of this webtext describes my class goals, before moving on to the specific solutions that I adopted for the challenges presented by a low-tech classroom.