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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.


A few things:
"Access" is too often used as a way to shut down conversation. "But what about access?" What about it indeed. It will never be universal. No technology has ever gained universal access. So we might as well leave that issue to the side.
"But how can you do that? Our students don't have the right, updated computers! We can't think of any of this until we have the right computers!" That statement, too, is a way to avoid or not address the larger issues regarding the ways communicative practices are shaped by/shape technology.
The problem is that composition remains hostile to new learning, and technology poses the most relevant new learning of all. No offense to Charles Moran, but the essay Mike quotes in A Guide to Composition Pedagogies is awful. It is written without any recognition of new media writings, brings up the same old same old, and devotes too much space to the very basics of email, usenet, etc. In other words, you read that essay (and I've taught that book several times to teachers-to-be) and you see that Moran is not up to date with his own learning.
Does that mean I'm a snob for saying that? No. It means it's due time our field get up and get to work. Too much effort and energy is spent on things which have no payoff in the end: the SAT, computerized grading, assessment, etc. The field has a long history of ignoring communicative changes brought on by technology. The Web has put these change more in the foreground and the field is going to be in serious trouble if it continues to make excuses as to why it can't get involved. As you noted in the Hochman debate, students already are exposed to communicative changes explicitly (and I add implicitly - the implicit is important in the history of literacy too).

"It's too hard," "we don't have equal access," "I don't have to stay updated because I'm a pioneer in computers and writing," etc. Lame excuses.

Sorry for using your space for a brief rant...I'll stop here.

I'll chime in to grouse about the access claim, too.

Three years ago, we surveyed all the ESL and developmental writing and reading students at De Anza, mostly for sociolinguistic data. We had over 2000 responses (about half ESL and half developmental). One finding: 2/3 of our developmental students are bilingual.

A finding on this point: Fewer than 2% of these students indicated either no computer use or less than an hour per week. I took that to mean that at our campus, access is now essentially a non-issue. When I've reported this in conversations at CCCC and similar venues, the common responses are: well, you're in Silicon Valley; or California has all this money; or, more generally, you are an exception. In short, even when the access issue doesn't exist, many of our colleagues want to insist on its importance.

One very specific anecdote: Last term, an African-American male (about 30) started college for the first time, enrolling in one of my classes. I came to learn he lived in a shelter for the homeless. I had to lend him a copy of the textbook. His motorcycle was totalled during the term and he had lots of issues with transportation. But he came to class everyday with his laptop for taking notes and emailed me more than any other student in that class.

So let's all learn the tools and focus on teaching writing, not on imagining we will change the social order with college composition classes.

As the person responsible for getting the faculty up to speed technologically, I hear the access issue occasionally. Since we are a residential campus it's not as much of an issue. We have plenty of computer labs with plenty of software including a new media lab with video editing, web design etc. I am also available to help students and faculty. What I hear most often is not that students don't have access but that it's inconvenient. They can only come to the lab between 8 am. and 2 am. Please. The composition field is way ahead of a lot of others. Most fields--in my experience--don't think about how technology will transform what they do at all. At least you're thinking about it, even if not everyone is on board yet.