Simultaneously holding down the control, alt and delete buttons is commonly known as the three finger salute. Doing this can interrupt or reboot your computer in order to start again. I tell my students to embrace this idea of starting fresh, especially when thinking about the writing process. Students often tell me that they are harried when they write. Why are they impatient? Is it because they compose mostly on their smart phones using acronyms and “text talk” that can create a narrow context? How does their social media writing transfer to their academic writing? Are they thinking critically while composing? Can they make connections?
I am interested in how students compose online. How do they brainstorm, write and revise? Writing with modern technology rather than a traditional pen and paper involves certain rhetorical decision-making strategies. How can I adjust my online teaching to account for students’ flexible use of technology? How can I encourage students to examine their word choice, seek connections and think critically during the composing process?
With computers, it is often faster to revise, more efficient. You can save your work, edit, adjust, hyperlink and add graphics seamlessly. However, is this convenience getting in the way of creating deeper meaning and concentrated composing? My students perceive their writing as high quality because by using digital tools it looks polished and published. Technology enhances the look of their writing and because it looks good, it must be good.
We talk about using digital composition tools in assisting writing but not replacing the foundation of unity, expression, grammar and mechanics. For example, the built in spell check feature in Microsoft Word won’t identify some errors — students need to proofread with their own eyes and share their work with others in order to get a real sense of the text. It takes students awhile to realize that just because they are composing digitally doesn’t mean their words, paragraphs and essays will be automated too.
When students are frustrated with the pace of writing an essay, I encourage them to hit the control, alt, delete buttons. Give yourself time, step back and start over. Clean the screen. I let students know that it is totally acceptable to change topics, throw away drafts (or save them in a “first draft idea” folder) and sit with a word or phrase for awhile before it makes sense. The friction occurs when fast paced technology provides instant gratification which doesn’t match the slower paced recursive process of writing.