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Ok. If I don't say something, this'll just fester. I'll lie in bed tonight, and think of all the things I could say, get no sleep, and be grumpy tomorrow.

I won't pretend, however, that ranting wasn't cathartic.
And I won't apologize for adopting a consciously polemic tone last week.

But I do feel obligated by both Sharon's and Mike's posts to say a couple of things.

In the comments over at Composition Southeast, John writes:

Steve Krashen at USC argues that at whatever level we encounter students, the work we provide should be L + 1. By that notation he means we should present work one increment greater than the student's current language competency. That's easier said than done, but it's a useful formulation.

I think as faculty we might consider T + 1. Whatever our current level of technology literacy, we should be working one increment beyond it. Obviously, we are limited by the current state of our hardware and network, but most of my colleagues don't come close to using the resources we have, even though we could certainly use more resources.

As my students can probably tell you, this is a lot closer to my default position than the word "behind" suggests. For instance, this is from the course I'm teaching now, under expectations:

I do have one more thing, an assumption that I carry into every technologically-inflected course I teach. I expect you to be frank and unapologetic about your level of tech expertise, and I expect you to push yourself in that regard during this course. I will help as best as I can, but you are responsible for being able to say at the end of the semester that you know more about this stuff than you did when you started. Don't be afraid to try something new or different, and don't be afraid to ask for help when you get stuck.

In my courses, nobody is behind. Everyone is simply where they're at, and in a course focused specifically on technology, I expect each of my students to push themselves a little further, to T+1.

I hold myself to a higher standard--I fully expect of myself that I'm able to say, at the end of every semester--that I know more about technology than I did when it began. It's not a race. And it's not a search for a final "answer." Mostly, for me, it's simply an ongoing process of raising questions, and in some cases new questions about writing, communication, knowledge, thought, culture, various professions, et al. In some cases, too, they're old questions--I'm a writing teacher, after all, and I don't believe that we've "answered" or "fixed" the fundamental questions and problems that lurk at the core of our field.

And ultimately, I don't feel an ounce of guilt over the implication that other computers and writing specialists should feel similarly obligated. Nor do I believe that the obligations to ask hard questions of these technologies, to innovate, to theorize, and to experiment are incompatible with the obligation that Mike raises at the end of his post, where he asks what we should make of Charlie Moran's (in some ways equally) polemic essay on access.

It's a question that both he and Sharon raise, in different ways. My first answer is that the question of material access should be no less of an issue for anthropologists, microbiologists, and historians than it is for us. Material access to information technologies should be no less a public good than transportation, health care, etc. There is no reason to single out writing teachers as particularly responsible for this problem--we are all obligated in this fashion.

My second answer is that, in computers and writing, we have behaved as though access is our particular cross, and there's a weird sort of arrogance lurking there. A couple of weeks ago, on WPA-L, there was a post by a writing teacher who described himself as "misinformed" and "elitist" because he expected his students to turn in word-processed papers?!?!?! And this is where I take issue with Moran--the notion that "access is the issue that drives all others before it" has been taken up as a trump card, to be slapped down indiscriminately in discussions of technology. I am most emphatically not suggesting that Sharon or Mike is doing this, but I see and hear this move happening regularly--the logical extension of this position is that, until everyone has access to the same technologies, any kind of innovation is elitist. I reject this position categorically.

Let me say this again. I don't believe that Mike or Sharon is saying this. I don't believe Moran is saying this. What I do believe is that the will-to-access is used on a regular basis to forestall discussions of technology and it is used just as frequently as an excuse not to engage with technology, in the guise of an ethical objection, invoked by people who otherwise don't give access a single thought or a moment of their time.

My third answer is that part of the gap between haves and have-nots is unquestionably economic, but there is also a part of it that is simply volitional. No, I am not blaming the people who can't afford access for not having access. But I would echo John's claim that there are plenty of places with resources where there is no desire for, interest in, or curiosity about these things. The cost of a computer with an internet connection is not an insignificant one, I know, but the cost of a lot of the things I named is minimal. The sound program I used to podcast my CCCC paper? Free. Blogger? Free. Bloglines? Free. It costs nothing but a little time to learn that John Holbo is one of the bigwigs at the single most popular academic blog out there. Learning about Grokster? Please. Heck, even Lawrence Lessig's Free Culture is available at no cost in pdf format. I know not everyone out there is a Mac person, but iMovie can help you put together a slide show, set to music, with voice overs, and save the whole caboodle as a QT movie, and it's a pretty simple program (and came pre-installed).

Every single one of those "behinds" I mentioned, and plenty that I didn't, can be managed with relative ease by someone with an internet connection and a copy of iLife (an $80 software suite from Apple) or an assortment of shareware apps. But more important is the fact that these and other technologies are shifting the way that large segments of our population are thinking about culture, about property, about politics, about journalism, and yes, about writing. It costs us nothing but a little time and attention to get access to these ideas, and to work with them when and where we can. When a whole species of public writing receives more column inches in Time and Newsweek than it does in the pages of our journals, then yes, I do think we are behind. When our incoming students are held to higher standards of technological literacy than we ourselves are, then yes, I think we're behind. When the best we can do to explain online research is to point students to the help pages at Google, we're behind.

I say none of this out of a desire to leave "them" behind--I say it out of a desire to catch "us" up. This is an obligation which is both intellectual and collective, and it is neither pre-empted by nor mutually exclusive with the broader social obligation towards material access.

Yeah, so, three hours later, that is all. Sigh.


Note that Moran still uses computers, teaches with computers, and writes about computers. He's not, to borrow his term, "Svenning" or saying that access is the only issue we should talk about: rather, he's asking (as am I), why are we so embarassed that we can't talk about it?

I hear you reacting against one rhetorical move -- "Access is so problematic that we mustn't think about anything else" -- and I agree with your reaction. But I also see a similar reaction on the other side of the issue -- "We can't do anything about access so let's just innovate and not worry about those who can't" -- which I see as equally problematic.

But my larger point was about who "we" are and the weird wiggle in your term "our field" and in the comments to your original post. Somewhere in those comments, there was an unacknowledged back-and-forth between "our field" as writing teachers and "our field" as computers and writing specialists. Obviously, here in this post, you're writing to computers and writing specialists -- but that's (equally obviously) not the audience to whom Hochman and Dean were writing. My larger points (which I'm not sure you agree with) were that print literacy isn't going away, and that innovation with technology doesn't equal innovation in teaching practices or improvement in writing. I'm thinking that where we may differ is that I'm a writing teacher first and a technologist second, rather than the other way around -- which is what I hear you saying in your points about technology-focused courses. So it seems like we're coming at this issue from different perspectives about what to privilege.

Re that second rhetorical move: looking at your duplicated post, I see that Jeff already made it.

Mike: "I'm thinking that where we may differ is that I'm a writing teacher first and a technologist second"

Uh...what am I? Chopped liver? Last I looked I teach writing.

I think your response is similiar to the kinds of responses when technology is brought up:
a. No one says print is going away. orality does not go away. print does not go away. But we know all this already from Ong/McLuhan/the Toronto School etc. Not a new point to make.
b. There is no difference b/w writing and technology. But we know this too already. Again, not a new point to make.
c. Who is talking about being a computer and writing "specialist"? This is a response similiar to access. "But I don't want to be a specialist! I'm not a geek!" Uh...yeah. I know. You shouldn't be. Knowledge and specialization are different things.

We can debate access all we want. Ok. Then what? We don't all have cars. We don't all have phones. We don't all have cable. So? I don't get the point. We wait for everyone to have access? Then you will wait forever. Besides, why is access an expectation? 12 years of the Web and we expect everyone to have complete access everywhere? High expectations.

I am troubled by what I quoted here from your response. The minute you draw a line b/w technology and writing, you are outside of writing completely. You seem to be very concerned with the students you work with. That division is not a service to your students, no?
Then there are the larger issues of the apparatus, a point briefly raised here and on the other blog on composition I reponsed to the other day.

Jeff, if you read Collin's post closely, he's talking about "computers and writing specialists." I'm grateful for your insights on specialization and drawing lines, but please direct them to him, not me.

I didn't draw any line between writing and technology, and I'm glad you acknowledge that it's not saying anything new to argue that writing is a technology. I did, however, imply that composition as a discipline studies things other than the digital technologies associated with computers. Studying the digital technologies associated with computers does not render the other things compositionists study obsolete, nor is studying the digital technologies associated with computers implicitly "better" than, say, thinking about genre, or the intersection of reading and writing, or community literacy projects. This was the point of my comment about print literacy not going away: digital technologies do not supercede print technologies. This is not a teleological progression. If I may be permitted the metaphor of having conferences stand in for fields, Computers & Writing will not replace CCCC. And I don't think you or Collin are in any way arguing that it should. But the rhetoric of "behind" implies that the issues surrounding these digital technologies -- the issues that are a central focus for those of us who read Computers and Composition and attend Computers & Writing -- should be preeminent in the minds of all of those who teach writing. It implies that those who teach writing in non-wired classrooms (which, as Sharon points out at Comp Southeast, constitute the vast majority of composition classrooms) and the pedagogies they employ are somehow deficient. Which is what the majority of my post was arguing against.

The argument you make here and in your response to the other copy of this post about the concerns people in computers and writing have expressed about access is that the issue will never go away, and is therefore not worth addressing. You write that access "will never be universal. No technology has ever gained universal access. So we might as well leave that issue to the side."

Let me try out this logic on some other issues:
"No matter how much we try to eradicate racism, our culture will never be entirely free of bigots. So we might as well leave that issue to the side."
"No matter how much we try to reduce poverty in the world, there will always be people who are poor. So we might as well not worry about trying to reduce poverty."
Or maybe something a little closer to home: "No matter how much we try to stay up-to-date with technology, there will always be new innovations we haven't experimented with. So we might as well not worry about keeping up with technology."

As I made clear in my first comment, I'm not in any way arguing that we must discuss issues of economic access to digital technologies prior to or instead of other issues. What I am arguing is that -- since these cool things that digital technologies can do rely on the very substitution of capital-intensive processes for labor-intensive processes that creates problems of access -- it would be a good idea to think about how we can use those digital technologies to help remedy problems of access (as Charles Moran does in his article with Patricia Hunter) while we're exploring their potential, rather than simply dismissing the issue of access as not worth the trouble.

Oh, I see -- you were "troubled" by my being "a writing teacher first and a technologist second." Hey, that's no division -- I'm both. All I was saying was that I look at my bookshelf and there's lots more books there relating to teaching writing than there are books relating to digital technologies. It's a question of concentration of interest.

Mike, you wrote:
"It implies that those who teach writing in non-wired classrooms (which, as Sharon points out at Comp Southeast, constitute the vast majority of composition classrooms) and the pedagogies they employ are somehow deficient."

But see, I'm coming from another view entirely. The tools are not the issue. The wired classroom is not the issue. The logic of media is.
This is where I come from:
Print generates a specific way of structuring thought, society, culture, and communication.
It does so whether the individual writes or not.
The same for digital media.
So access is not an issue. Recognizing apparatus shifts is.
Access serves as an excuse to not recognize a shift (and the campus purchasing of specific platforms or writing classrooms can also serve as an excuse to not recognize the shift; i.e., it becomes a superficial gesture to replicate what we already do). This is not a question of being deficient. This is a question of recognition. We can pretend that a shift does not existent, but we see that shift in a number of ways occuring. The example of mixing and remixing - it is about more than music.

My feeling about the cc blog and the comp southeast blog is that they are folks interested in working with more than just tools. So I found that to be more in line with my thoughts. Was I mistaken?

I'm going to leave aside the computers and writing designation - I'm not so sure I situate myself in that area for all kinds of reasons.