Dr. Diane P. Thompson, Professor of English

Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC), Woodbridge Campus

My Computer and Technology Interests

My interest in computers began in 1981, the year I completed my dissertation, which I typed on an electric typewriter. I had heard about the Wang wordprocessors, so I went to see how they worked. What most impressed me was the ability to delete and change text without having to retype the entire page. When NVCC purchased Osborne computers in 1982, I borrowed one for two weeks. I was so afraid of someone breaking it that I kept it locked in a trunk when I was not using it. After two weeks, I had to return the computer, so I went out and bought my first personal computer--an Osborne with 64K and a tiny green screen. I loved it. I wanted to use wordprocessing to teach composition, but the Wordstar program was rather unfriendly for beginning students. I worked with my son, a computer wizard, to develop a simplified ten command wordprocessor instruction set which I tested on various neighborhood kids. It worked like a charm.

There was a room on my campus that had six Osbornes in it. I put a class of eighteen remedial English students into the room, and because there was not enough equipment, started them working in small groups of three to a computer. The students did invention exercises, composed, edited, cooperated, supported one another's writing, and generally had a great good time while doing lots of productive writing. I was hooked.

In the mid '80s, I learned about the use of networked computers in a classroom, the ENFI system, which allowed students to write messages back and forth, while everyone could read the messages on their own screens. The ENFI system had been developed at Gallaudet by Dr. Trent Batson and others, so deaf students could communicate in writing. I persuaded my campus to purchase one of these networked systems and started teaching remedial English in a networked classroom.

Cathy Simpson, an English instructor at the Manassas Campus of NVCC, also had such a networked system, and we developed plans to link our two networked computer classrooms together. Our connection was supported by a grant from the Annenberg/CPB. Our first day of linking together was in October 19, 1987, the day the stock market crashed and every phone line in America was busy. Needless to say, we had problems. The technical glitches were numerous, often because of poor phone lines, but when the connections worked it was exciting for the classroom students and for us as teachers. Nonetheless, after three years of team teaching across distance, I decided that too much class time was being used by computer technology instead of actual teaching and writing activities. I wanted to use computers for communication, but not in a real time situation such as a classroom.

My decision took me to the Extended Learning Institute of NVCC in the late '80s. I worked with Bob Loser, an Instructional Technologist, who developed a computer bulletin board system to use in conjunction with my Technical Writing Course. It's been a pleasure to teach on the conference, which I also use for World Literature courses. Many students have told me that they have greatly enjoyed being able to interact with their instructor and classmates at a distance, avoiding the terrible Northern Virginia traffic and fitting their coursework into their very busy schedules.

Now, the Web! It's an exciting way to continue developing my interests in technology, teaching and learning. I took a course in html to learn how to generate Web pages. I must admit I find the process tedious, and the design elements extremely demanding, but the connections---are wonderful!  I am now teaching five different courses on the Web and enjoy it immensely.

(c) Diane Thompson: 4/2/98; updated: 1/2/2003