HJC professor adds high-tech flair to writing

February 27, 1997


Staff Writer

Four years ago, Hagerstown Junior College English Professor Michael Harsh was making fun of computers. Now, because of his work with the machines, Harsh has won an award.

Harsh, 45, won the David Pierce Work Force Development Award for Learner Focused Teaching Leadership.

Hired by HJC 10 years ago as a drama and speech teacher, Harsh has been using computers for the past three years to create a course that combines high-tech equipment with old-fashioned English composition.

He has taught both traditional students and has helped train employees of First Data Merchant Services and other companies.

"What I am most excited about is that it is a learner-centered award," Harsh said.

Harsh said he used resources in the college's advanced technology center to teach non-technical students.

Students in the course write on the computers, and the text is available to Harsh and the rest of the class.


Harsh said the students, using the computers, have done about 80 percent more writing than in the past.

"Students are writing all the time and they're also writing for a real audience - not just a pretend audience in English composition," he said. "It really helps them with brainstorming ideas and revision and editing."

Harsh said the course injects a sense of accountability that is lacking in a traditional English class.

Dean of Instruction Michael Parsons, who nominated Harsh for the award, said Harsh has adroitly used technology to improve learning in the classroom. Noting Harsh's initial reluctance to use computers, Parsons said it is "very unusual" how quickly he developed skills.

Parsons said today's students - 70 percent of whom work - often need to see a connection between academics and the real world. Harsh's teaching provides that, he said.

"You give them a lot of theory, and they'll go to sleep," Parsons said.

Creating real-world relevance is something Harsh has attempted with another project. He teamed with math Professor Robert Carson to create a CD-ROM program with a grant from the National Science Foundation. HJC and four other community colleges are developing the programs in five subjects.

In the HJC project, Harsh and Carson have designed a problem that challenges teams of students to pick the most efficient design for an electric car.

Carson said the project has given him a chance to work with a professor from a discipline with which he usually has little contact.

"This thing has a tendency to break down walls," he said. "The whole big thing in education is working with teams and cooperative learning."

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