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“Critical Thinking about Word and .doc”

Kairosnews, an education blog, posts a critique of the use of the .doc format in education.

To summarize, forcing students to use a closed format and an expensive software program they don’t strictly need, is poor educational practice. Even more importantly, use of any word processor, regardless of the brand, is frequently unnecessary and restricts the creativity and future problem-solving (lateral thinking) ability of the students who are taught this unquestioning attitude.

“Many of us teach cultural analysis and critical thinking in our writing classes. Our first year readers are full of cultural commentary, and we use these texts to teach our students to question the status quo and understand more deeply the implications of the choices they make in this consumer culture.

“Do writing teachers do the same when they tell students to submit their documents as .doc files or tell them they need to buy Word from the campus store? Have teachers questioned the assumptions behind their personal use of MS Word?

“Writing teachers have an obligation to explore the assumptions regarding the one tool we can’t do without in the teaching of writing, the word processor. The following will explore some of the common reasons I believe people continue to use and promote MS Office and its file formats, and I will challenge some of the assumptions behind those reasons and the consequences.”

The author discusses and counters the two primary arguments used by educators who continue to rely on Microsoft Word. The “lemming”-like perception that you must use it because “everyone else does,” and their familiarity with its featureset and user interface are dispelled as weaker arguments against its disadvantages of high cost, forced upgrades, barriers to competitors, and the lack of innovation inherent to monopolies.

His conclusion:

“Weigh the pedagogical benefits of using Word now against how you taught writing then [ten years ago] and the problems with using Word outlined here and others you can think of. Make an informed decision. Be willing to inform your students about the implications of using Word and .doc.

“If you decide to continue using Word, understand that people may choose not to use .doc for very good reasons. Be willing to install the ODF to MS Word file translator when working with friends and colleagues.

“At the very least, don’t tell students who have WordPerfect or MS Works on their computer that they need Word to create good .doc files in first year writing classes. Suggest that they download and install OpenOffice for free. Ask your institutions to offer OpenOffice in the labs so students can experiment with it and see that it is a viable alternative to Word.”

One Response to ““Critical Thinking about Word and .doc””

  1. Don Watkins Says:
    May 9th, 2007 at 11:27 pm

    Thank you for your insightful article about OpenOffice vs. Microsoft Office. I have thought for sometime that OpenOffice was/is a viable alternative and have wondered about OO’s acceptance in higher ed. I use OpenOffice for most of my writing assignments and actually prefer using it most of the time because it’s simpler to use than the its competition.