Conrad Rauscher
Conrad Rauscher Photo Credit: Brenda Ahearn

Teacher sees technology as ‘important part of our story’

By RYAN MURRAY/Daily Inter Lake, Monday, April 13, 2015

Photo credit: Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake

In Conrad Rauscher’s estimation, technology will be the lasting impact of the early 21st century. That’s why the assistant professor of English at Flathead Valley Community College has incorporated technology into his classes.

Rauscher, 35, has made it mandatory for his students in Writing 101 to have a computer while taking the course.

“Students are very comfortable with technology,” he said. “But they are not good at leveraging it for a professional purpose.”

Rauscher teaches his writing course in a computer lab, which is not conducive to a discussion/lecture-type class. Thus, he applied for an enhancement grant from the Flathead Valley Community College Foundation to purchase some rentable Chromebooks.

“We wanted a one-to-one program where every student had a computer to interact with the material,” he said. “It turned out I only needed to rent two or three of the 20 Chromebooks a course to the students. They all had their own computers.”

The Chromebooks are still being put to good use by being rented out for $40 a semester to other students (with the money going into an account to accrue more money for more Chromebooks). The biggest task for Rauscher with laptops in the classroom is keeping them used for good purposes.

“Students sometimes need help distinguishing between screen time and professional time,” he said. “When is it an appropriate time to have a computer out or not? I think technology is going to be the most important part of our story. How we make decisions about technology is going to define how we are seen in the future.”

If that sounds like something out of a science fiction novel, that might be because Rauscher teaches a science fiction writing course and is quite aware of the sometimes-bleak prognostications of sci-fi writers.

One of the most fascinating contemporary writers today, Rauscher said, is Paolo Bacigalupi, an American science fiction writer who asks questions about the ethical and moral quandaries of biotechnology, genetic alteration and rampant overpopulation. These are all issues that society will need to deal with sooner rather than later, Rauscher said.

“Good science fiction needs to be critically engaged with the issues of the time,” he said. “And it needs to be speculatively successful. But good science fiction and escapism don’t necessarily have to be mutually exclusive. It should take us out of our world and provide a look back into it.”

Rauscher has taken other steps to become progressive in his classes technologically, working with the English Department to collaboratively produce an open-source textbook for writing classes.

The book is available for free in PDF form, or is printed at cost (approximately $18) from the library. It’s the English department’s way at fighting against high-priced textbooks. Rauscher said open-source textbooks like the one he worked on could portend a change for the way colleges operate.

“Textbooks publishing companies are sort of scrambling,” he said. “Many are bundling books with software, which can totally break the bank for students. The publishing companies are quickly becoming software development companies.”

A voracious reader, Rauscher is nearly stymied when asked about his favorite author.

“I think I’ve got to go with [John] Steinbeck,” he said. “I’d read so many author’s works voraciously all at once that I decided not to do that with him. I read one of his books once every five years. ‘Travels with Charley’ and ‘Cannery Row’ are both on my short list, maybe for this summer.”

Rauscher, who graduated from Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida, and earned his master’s degree from the University of Nevada-Reno, almost didn’t attend college in the first place.

“I was really apprehensive about going to college. I’ve always been very hands on. I liked the practical application of experience,” he said. “But then a small, private school in Vermont offered me almost a full ride. I lasted a semester before going to a community college in Florida.”

He bounced around from school to school, amassing 11 different college transcripts and enough English credits to graduate more than two times over.

“Once I found out I could go to college for mostly free and read books all day, I was pretty sold,” Rauscher said.

He got married (his wife is Flathead Valley Community College professor Dawn Rauscher) and moved to the Flathead a decade ago. He got a chance to use his hands while working as a housing framer and building his own home near Kila. Rauscher learned building almost entirely from reading books on the subject.

“I built a house for the in-laws on our property and it took me four summers,” he said. “I did it while listening to books on tape, so I’ll be walking around in the house and these little ghosts of books, these echoes of stories are all around me.”

Rauscher has been teaching since he was 21. He took a job at the Summit Preparatory School and began teaching full-time at the college two years ago.

With three children and as a newly elected member of the Kila School Board, he still finds time to read 40 to 50 books a year. The sheer volume of literature produced can be daunting, but Rauscher said it was at least part of his duty to keep up as best he could.

“Right now there is more literature being written today than ever before,” he said. “I think people are reading a lot. Screen time doesn’t mean they aren’t reading. Fiction gives us a really good lens to look at our world and people realize that.”

Rauscher said he believes Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” is a book that will become part of the literary canon and might serve as a bookend to the post-modernism literary movement, as well as a juxtaposition to Jack Kerouac’s 1957 novel, “On The Road.”

“I think that one could stand the test of time,” he said. “But who knows? I’ll probably change my answer tomorrow. The seminal work of the early 21st Century could be some rambling book no one has heard of. That’s kind of how it works.”