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Accessibility issues and book orders

On one level, this post is all about wanting to use Comic Life with my classes for an analysis project when I know full well that most students will not have it. In fact, most will have PCs and will not be able to use this software outside of a Mac lab. I’m going to make it a book order and will even throw in a PC equivalent software for those who don’t have Macs and won’t go to the labs. I am officially over the idea that asking my students to have specific software is unreasonable. Jiminy Crickets–I don’t feel that way about books, so why the guilt about any software preferences at all on my part?

Well, like most things, it’s complicated and always about local needs. As a university with a sizable first-generation college student population, most students have not thought about what computer to buy in terms of what is a good fit for their scholarly or future work needs. Which computer first-generation college students bring tends to be what the family gives them as a symbol of their impending college student status. The student is seldom consulted in this; it is a gesture, a surprise. Cost is a big factor, and rightly so. When all computers are seen as roughly the same–storage devices that have a keyboard,  AKA a fancy typewriter, the bare-bones PCs that flood the market make a lot of sense. However, most of these PCs do not even have an Office suite, Microsoft or otherwise, and they certainly do not have new media production software. Thus, the common comparisons between the “expensive” Apple computers and the low cost PCs are truly comparing Apples to, well, some other kind of fruit in every sense.

Apple computers, whether desktop or laptop, come with new media production software as part of the deal. Bare bones PCs do not. They have an operating system (yea, but so does Mac) and maybe some trial software with a time limit. Standard configuation Macs have iMovie, GarageBand, iPhoto, Preview (like having Acrobat that is more than just Acrobat Reader), and iTunes standard. They also have Mail, iCal , Stickies and Notes, plus cute little utilities that may not be apparent at first like Grab. Both the PC and the Mac assume you are going to buy a word processing suite. The Mac will use both Microsoft Office or Apple’s productivity software–Pages, Keynote, and Numbers. That cross-compatibility does not work both ways. Sadly, if you want Keynote  or iMovie, a PC will not accept the software or the files, while a Mac will use Word and accept doc and docx files. Open source software can help bridge these gaps in access.  For example, Macs, PCs and Linux machines can all use LibreOffice, a free and open source software option that I recommend to students who want a word processor and can’t buy any software above what came with the computer their family gave them.

Here is the point I want to examine beyond the cost of software and how we need to see software as educational tools like books. Besides that, we need to look at the paradigm behind the PC and Mac platforms. How PCs assume that an Office suite (or no Office suite!) is enough fancy software to get by with cuts off any possibility of true 21st century literacies, the kinds of literacies that must happen in college if they didn’t happen before. Macs build those literacies into their computers. Ideally, for those students with starter PCs, lab time will fill the gaps, and some take the time to go to a lab. However, even in the labs, cost can be a factor, along with perceived use. The dedicated composition labs at Missouri State have the unspoken assumption that writing is text-only. Those of us who had input into the planning of these labs, and that includes me, knew better, but we wanted the labs very badly, and felt that having the space and the computers were a starting ground. Two labs with Microsoft Office were better than no labs. The two additional labs dedicated to technical writing have Adobe Creative Suite, but are still PCs. There is a Mac lab on the same floor that is priority-use for Media/Journalism, and it usually has a few time slots open for courses and generous open lab time. I grab it whenever I can.

Matching our classroom practices to twenty-first century literacy practices must happen regardless of local conditions. If our students who see YouTube, Vine, Twitter, Facebook, and Soundcloud as composing and persuasion fields (or need us to show them that they are) then composition course need to break out of text-only courses. I do this by relying on what students bring with them, and that includes equipment such as laptops, iPads, and smartphones.

So, I am going to add to my book order for my English Ed students and it won’t be a book. I’m also going to schedule time, if I can, in the Mac Media lab to allow them mentored time in class for iMovie. If students choose to bring their own computer and use Moviemaker instead that’s fine. However, I want them to try iMovie first, at least for a little while before moving back to their own comfort zone. As teachers, they will need flexibility and options, even when it is uncomfortable. Composition students need options too, and I will do my best to point them towards options that work for them.

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