Paper 4: Methodologies and Basic Writing

In researching Basic Writing and issues related to access to technology, I’ve run into a couple of methodologies. Most fall under a similar category. They stipulate the issue with a literature review and then further discuss the issue with classroom anecdotes. The anecdotal evidence may take the form of a case study wherein a few students are provided as objects of study. It may also draw from the experience of one course with student work called upon as evidence. The anecdotes or descriptions are narrative in nature. Other pieces are less pragmatic and more thought-pieces that cover a literature review, stipulate the problem, and then call for change or action.

The Journal of Basic Writing is the main publication for Basic Writing scholarship. Submission guidelines do not mention preference for methodology: Then again, other journals in Composition Studies (CCC   and Computers and Composition) do not forbid any methodologies, though they do at least list empirical research as an option, unlike JBW. The preponderance of narrative articles does not appear to be a goal of the journal’s but rather something that happens. I wonder if the bulk of submissions are in this style. The articles I have located about technology in JBW seem to rely heavily on those methods with little quantitative research used.

When I interviewed Dr. Kevin DePew about methods used in BW research, he indicated he was not surprised by a reliance on narrative. He speculated that this may be a result of how the people hired to teach BW often come from a variety of disciplines that may value narrative. Furthermore, their own teaching experience may be “trial by fire” which then also lends itself to a narrative tradition in the articles (DePew).

In regard to credibility, I do wonder that BW scholarship is not often cited by other subdisciplines, in much the way that education scholarship is rarely cited by composition studies. Some of the blame for this, though, may be because the journals live in different databases than the journals in use by comp studies scholars. While JSTOR is the go-to database for my fellow students, I have to troll through ERIC for JBW articles. An additional concern I have is that there are plenty of online journals but they are not housed in the academic databases even though they too are peer-reviewed. There is a plethora of work being done; one wonders if it is less referenced because one has to know to look for it.

At this point, my only benchmark for how authoritative or accepted the BW methods are comes from how they are cited within BW because these articles do not appear to be cross-referenced in fields outside of BW. Again, I am unsure of whether this is because of the database issue or a lack of respect for methodologies used.

As referred to in some of my earlier papers, DeGenaro and White argue: “Instead of moving toward a consensus, our researchers too often talk past each other, positions are reiterated rather than reconsidered, and we move in circles” (23). It feels like BW scholars would rather redefine an issue or reframe it in the context of their own institution or classroom context and then draw their own conclusion based on teaching experience rather than use the work that has been done in other contexts to extrapolate to their own. I see this happening at conferences too where someone’s idea will be invalidated by a comment: “Well, that won’t work for my students.”

It may feel as though I have drifted from the main questions for this paper, but for me, all of this is part of the question of methodology. If I am not 100% comfortable with the methodological choices of my discipline, must I hold rigidly to them? I distrust the trend of hypothesizing significant change based on the anecdotal evidence of one person’s classroom experience.

In previous think-pieces, scholars have observed that socioeconomic status affects access to and comfort using technology. They’ve also observed that students in Basic Writing are often the most disenfranchised. To my knowledge, no one has studied the extent to which this disadvantage exists and to what extent it impacts their writing ability. In my own classroom, I vacillate between not wanting to contribute to additional barriers to student learning and also not creating a new barrier to their success in FYC by perpetuating the digital divide in BW too.

In 2013 and 2014, I surveyed the writing classes at my institution in order to ascertain student access to technology outside of the classroom and their comfort using it. Classes were scientifically sampled for representation from all four of our campuses, as well as all four levels of our writing classes (two BW levels and two FYC levels), and the times of day for the classes. We eventually surveyed our online courses as well. The survey was given in the first four weeks of the semester and again in the last four weeks of the semester. The same questions were asked in both the pre and post surveys with the addition of a question in the post survey: Did their access to technology change during the semester and, if so, did it improve or worsen.

My preliminary findings are many. The short version is that our students who do not have easy access to the internet when off campus often find ways to achieve better access during the semester when it is a requirement of the course or there is a felt need. We still have a small percentage of students who do not have any access to the internet at all when not at school. The previous assumption was that students who did not have easy access to the internet for their assignments would get too frustrated finding time to complete their assignments on campus and would withdraw from their courses. We still have students who withdraw from all levels of writing classes, but access to technology does not seem to be a major contributing factor to their persistence. The meeting time for the course did not have a significant impact on their answers. Which campus they attended did. The three campuses that are around the same socioeconomic level ($60,000-$80,000 for average annual income) all reported easier access to the internet and computers than our lowest socioeconomic level campus, where results were dismal.

Data from all four levels of writing classes at SWIC, representative sampling.
Data from all four levels of writing classes at SWIC, representative sampling.


I also have data for students’ comfort levels with a variety of tasks from remembering multiple usernames and passwords to typing their papers to creating and uploading video files. These can all be cross-referenced with the different campuses and different course levels.

Essentially, I would like to do something with this information that I have, even running the surveys again in a year or two to see how the numbers have changed as students rely more heavily on their mobile devices. I would also love to run the survey at other local schools to see how the numbers change when at a public university with a strong commuter population compared to a private university with a larger percentage of residential students.

The dilemma I am having is: will this type of research be accepted and welcomed in the BW or composition journals? Or is this type of research merely rarely done in our fields because we are not generally numbers people?

Works Cited

DeGenaro, William and Edward M. White. “Going around in Circles: Methodological Issues in Basic Writing Research” Journal of Basic Writing 19.1 (2000): 22-34. ERIC. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.

DePew, Kevin. Personal interview. Skype. 2 Oct. 2015.

Hancock, Nicole. “SWIC Student Access to Technology and Comfort Using It in Class: Survey Results” Outcomes Assessment Breakfast, Southwestern Illinois College, Belleville, IL. 19 Aug. 2015. Keynote Address.

PAB #4: Methodology

Entry 1

DeGenaro, William and Edward M. White. “Going around in Circles: Methodological Issues in Basic Writing Research” Journal of Basic Writing 19.1 (2000): 22-34. ERIC. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.

Keywords: methodology, basic writing, practitioner results, data, consensus

The premise of this article is that Basic Writing practitioners need to be more cohesive with their methodologies and present more of a united front as a subdiscipline. The one issue that BW scholars have been able to agree upon in recent decades is that formal grammar instruction does not work as a method of teaching Basic Writing. In the history of the discipline, much scholarship was written about this using a variety of methods. “But it is hard to come up with other examples of professional consensus on matters in Basic Writing, since the researchers in the field do not seem to listen much to each other or build on each others’ findings”(23). In fact, the situation is worse than a lack of consensus, which might suggest open debate. The debate occurs, but who is listening? DeGenaro and White argue: “Instead of moving toward a consensus, our researchers too often talk past each other, positions are reiterated rather than reconsidered, and we move in circles” (23).


DeGenaro and White use the more recent mainstreaming debate as the subject through which to study BW methodology. The difference between BW as a subdiscipline compared to others is how we must face our battles publically as we have to argue for or against certain measures that other entities propose (26). Basic Writing often needs to fight against outside forces to rally for continuance as a discipline within a school, so sometimes scholarship is focused on an immediate exigency with a non-BW audience. Other times, the writing is directed to other BW scholars, but again, who is listening?


The authors use the Crowley New Abolitionists debate to show that although someone will call for data, when data is presented, it is largely ignored. “To ignore data that contradicts one’s doctrines seems short-sighted. But we can only say this if we trust and value evidence provided by an experimental methodology” (26). This happens when one values philosophical inquiry over data (26-27). White refers to his own experimental research (survey results) that was used during this debate only to be openly and overtly ignored by Crowley.


Another method that is used more frequently in BW is practitioner results. Scholars include their own direct experiences and classroom anecdotes as evidence (28). The authors recognize that this methodology is rooted in passion for our students; however, it is not unproblematic. “We work in a knowledge-building community that consciously seeks to acknowledge the classroom as a meaningful and scholarly domain, but we risk sacrificing rigor and validity when we fail to interrogate what we mean by ‘evidence’” (28).


Two other types of research personae are the philosopher and the historian. Howard Tinberg is presented as an example of  a philosopher for writing a think-piece that treats student voices as equal with scholars (31). Ira Shor is used as an example of a historian for providing an overview of the issue. Because he ends his piece with a specific call to change in particular ways (rather than a general call to action), he is also labeled a progressive reformer (31-32).



This piece summarizes some of what I have noticed about methodology in the Journal of Basic Writing. There is a dearth of quantitative research for sure. It is disappointing that one of the authors of this piece provided quantitative experimental research only to have it ignored in the mainstreaming debate. I have noticed the same “talking past” in issues related to technology use in the Basic Writing classroom. We’re so far from consensus that we’re almost tackling the issues from such disparate classroom locales that each writer must reiterate his or her position before getting to the issue. By that point, one wonders if readers write off the position as too dissimilar from their own to pay close attention to the issue.


The issue of practitioner research reminds me of experiences I had when working as an instructional aide in a special education program. This was during a time when ADHD was being over-diagnosed. Parents of students with ADHD would often exclaim to the special ed teachers that although they were teaching many students with ADHD, “You don’t know my student with ADHD!” The authors make it clear that practitioners may mean well when they do this, but the end result is that we value our students and our situations over the situations shared in the research. Anecdotes in research are only perceived as significant when it is our students or students who seem similar to ours, but when the anecdote is foreign to our experience, what then?


**Note: in working on this paper, I am developing more questions than answers.



How to pursue meaningful data when the teacher/researchers are sometimes the most over-worked and disenfranchised?

How to do longitudinal studies at the community college level?

What data is effective data?

How to break past the narrative tradition?

(This wasn’t in this reading, but…) How do BW practitioners define a case study? Is that just a way of putting a positive spin on anecdotal experience?

Basic Writing research meme
First world problems Basic Writing meme (self-created on Memegenerator)

Entry 2

Haswell, Richard H. “Quantitative Methods in Composition Studies: An Introduction to Their Functionality” Writing Studies Research in Practice: Methods and Methodologies Ed. Lee Nickoson and Mary P. Sheridan. SIUP: Carbondale, IL, 2012: 185-196. Print.

keywords: methodology, quantitative research, data, research methods

I looked. I tried. I wanted to find something about quantitative data in Basic Writing research. While data exists for programmatic changes like the Stretch Program or Accelerated Learning Program, my searches for anything else recent and quantitative were a bust. In the book chapter I have selected, Richard Haswell explains that on the WPA listserv, there are frequent calls for data but a “paucity of replies” to such pleas: “It seems the need for quantitative research in the composition field is a crisis in itself” (186).


“My argument is simply that quantitative data gathering and data analysis are an everyday way that humans perceive and act; that in research procedures, they involve straightforward and useful functions; and that in outcome, they have benefits that uniquely serve practitioners and researchers” (186-187). It makes me a little bit sad that Haswell has to justify the need for quantitative methods, but he does so because he says some in composition studies are skeptical of data because numbers are the tools of the statistician, not the rhetorician. Not so, says Haswell.


Quantitative data has four functions, as defined by Haswell: insight, transgression, challengeability, persuasion. In insight, data mining can “see” information that cannot be easily gleaned from large amounts of data. Transgression changes “the way teachers and administrators conceive of their field, sometimes debunking myths that have prevailed for decades” (188). Challengeability is presenting enough of the methodology that the information can be confirmed or denied; quantifiable data can be challenged or replicated, unlike other types of evidence. Persuasion is the intentional use of the data to convince the audience of a need for change, etc.; how data (and even what data) is shared influences the perception of that data.


Inherent in this chapter is the call for more scholars to include quantitative data in their research. Haswell includes a list of practical advice for the willing.

–Take courses in statistics and research methods.

–Read quantitative studies with an eye on method.

–Hook up with a savvy researcher.

–Start your own investigation with what you want to know.

–Start small.

–Embrace rigor.



I like numbers. I like facts. I know numbers can be manipulated, but I concur with Haswell that the presence of numbers, tables, and methodologies means the reader has the chance to observe the process of analysis and draw additional conclusions both about the accuracy of the information and its application. The lack of quantitative research in composition studies, and particularly Basic Writing, is frustrating. At some point, I want to move beyond assumption and assertion and get down to what is (praxis). One major concern that I have about including quantitative research in my own work in the future is that so little has been published. Does that mean that quantitative research is less likely to be accepted by journals or that too little of it is submitted for publication? As a field, we seem to recognize the value of it when appealing to administration but not as much when writing to one another. Is that because the numbers and charts are outside of our usual comfort zones?


I’d like to take up the call to do this sort of research, but I need to do Haswell’s first step before I can begin: take courses in statistics and research methods.


Multiple layers of the word "access"

Paper #3: Object of Study– Variables of Access for Basic Writers Using Technology Inside and Outside of the Classroom

My proposed object of study is basic writing students’ access to technology outside of the classroom and how that level of access impacts their writing progress and/or retention in the program. When I first began teaching Basic Writing, I had several types of classroom environments. Three of my classes were at the college I still teach for, but they were each in a different type of classroom: daytime traditional classroom, daytime modular building (polite term for a trailer), and evening computer lab. In 2002, students who walked into the computer lab classroom were sometimes tempted to walk back out again and never return. I still have some students who would prefer not to work on the computers in our classrooms, but these students are fewer and farther between. This may be in part because all of our writing courses now meet in computer labs.

Shades of Use and Resistance

Somewhere in between 2002 and now, colleagues (not all colleagues, mind you) suggested that our students who do not have access to technology outside of the classroom would withdraw from our courses if they were pushed too hard into too much technology too quickly. By too much technology, they usually meant anything more than mere word processing. In her JBW article about computing and BW, Leigh Jonaitis defines the three categories of computer use in BW classrooms: “computer-assisted composition (word processing); computer-aided instruction, which is often self-paced, such as grammar drills that are assessed by a computer program; and computer-mediated communication, which includes online programs and discussions” (38). The self-paced computer-aided instruction via drills will not be addressed here as there is much scholarship in BW about how isolated practice does not transfer to writing ability. I’d like to argue for a fourth category of computerized composing that is beyond word processing but involves composing instead of activities like grammar drills or communication between students and the instructor or students and the class. In short, I think the definition of computer-assisted composing needs to widen beyond word processing to incorporate multimodal activities and revision strategies. Jonaitis observes, “Much of the research initially done on the use of technology with basic writers was on computer-assisted composition” (38), but this research focuses purely on the word processing definition of computer-assisted composition.

In 2004, Catherine Matthews Pavia wrote about her experience with students who had a variety of access to and comfort using computers for her writing class. In her case study of four students, she found that for two students, the use of computers in the classroom was prohibitive to their writing in some ways and determined that she should only require computer use as an option for her basic writers rather than a requirement (18): “Basic writing computer classrooms can be viewed as makers of opportunities– the basic writing classroom becomes a place to give all students the opportunity to write with technology, an opportunity students like Matt and Maria do not readily have. Yet, even as computers in the classroom create opportunities, they may accentuate differences in opportunity” (Matthews Pavia 15).

In a field like Basic Writing, there is certainly reluctance to further divide the have from the have nots. On the other hand, there is also a responsibility to train students for projects they will need to be able to complete in FYC. This dichotomy is often complicated by the professor’s own experience with and comfort using classroom technologies (Selfe 21). Additionally, professors who view BW students via a deficit model often view the students’ technology skills with that model as well: “This reluctance is based on the assumption that so-called ‘remedial’ students will be challenged by learning more ‘advanced’ technologies in addition to the writing tasks they have been assigned” (Jonaitis 42).

Use Without Acknowledgement of Access Issues

Of course, not all BW instructors resist use of technology in the classroom. Early published works about basic writers using technology in the 1980s and 1990s focus on skill and drill types of instruction or the benefit of word processing. More recent uses of classroom technology pedagogy are more difficult to find, but they cover everything from the benefits of WebCT for community building in a course (Megeehon 24), the use of ePortfolios for classroom communication and assessment (Klages and Clark), multimodal composition (Reid), to completely online courses. According to Lynn Reid in “The Politics of ReMEDIAtion: Multimodal Composing in Basic Writing, “Despite the paucity of published scholarship that directly addresses multimodal composing in basic writing, online forums, email lists, conference presentations, and corridor conversations with colleagues make clear to me that basic writing faculty are, without question, employing a wide range of digital pedagogies in their courses” (Reid). However, in many of the publications, no mention is made of issues of access to the technology outside of the classroom while the hallway and conference conversations tend to be ripe with concerns about access.

In a piece warning the field of Computers and Writing to pay attention to the issues of inequality with computer use in any composition classroom, Charles Moran admonishes, “Yet in our scholarship we either ignore/accept what Jonathan Kozol has termed the ‘savage inequalities’ of the systems in which we work, or we give an obligatory nod in their direction and quickly turn to something else. For us, the relationship between wealth and access seems to be one of those issues that ‘goes without saying’” (206).  But it cannot and should not go without saying or being questioned. In her essay about WebCT use in a BW classroom, Megeehon says nothing about students’ ability to access the platform outside of the classroom; this may have something to do with teaching at a public university (New Mexico State University at Alamogordo). Klages and Clark, both of LaGuardia Community College, address the issue of access briefly in their article about ePortfolios: “The digital divide is no longer about access to technology, but rather a more complex divide of those who have had the educational access, training, and critical engagement to use technology well as literate cyber-citizens” (48). I’d argue it is still about both. We cannot presume that all students have easy access to technology outside of the classroom, nor can we presume those who have access are comfortable using it fluently.

Students must be able to access devices (computers, phones, etc.) as a conduit or portal to the applications and programs they need for composition, but access is greater than a physical ability to get online. Selfe defines this other type of access, one that is more of knowledge and confidence, as technological literacy:

Rather, technological literacy refers to a complex set of socially and culturally situated values, practices, and skills involved in operating linguistically within the context of electronic environments, including reading, writing, and communicating. The term further refers to the linking of technology and literacy at fundamental levels of both conception and social practice. In this context, technological literacy refers to social and cultural contexts for discourse and communication and the ways in which electronic communication environments have become essential parts of our cultural understanding of what it means to be literate. (11)

The Call to Research

While some debate continues about whether or not our basic writing students have less physical access to technology, most recognize that at least some percentage of basic writing students has less technological literacy when compared to their FYC peers. What that differential actually is would be an interesting area of study. To what extent do basic writers need direct instruction in technological matters? Are they able to transfer knowledge of one tool (Microsoft Word, for example) to a similar but different tool (Google Drive)? In what ways do their experiences with social media impact their writing abilities?

Technological literacy is one object of study, but the issue of physical access is still of great concern to me. Moran, Selfe, Reid, and Jonaitis all acknowledge that basic writers are a group of sundry marginalized students, and our marginalized students are often without the means to have the same types of computers non-marginalized students frequently enter freshman year with. Of course, these days we’re used to seeing almost all of our students with phones in hand. While many complain of their students’ phone use, I see this as a great opportunity. As Stacey Pigg writes, “When we move and carry networked mobile writing technologies with us, coffee shops can become office spaces, seats on the bus can become sites of academic learning, and classrooms can become domains of personal communication” (252-253). I also concur with Pigg’s observation about mobile device research: “In general, writing research has paid relatively little attention to the places and materials students choose when making a place for completing academic writing projects” (267). How should we define access in light of mobile device use? How many students are currently using them for their writing assignments? How can we integrate that use into basic writing pedagogy? And will that be enough to close the technology gap?

Many of the pieces I read for this paper all have a call for more research. In 1999, Charles Moran wrote, “…we as a field [compositionists] all seem to agree that computers are unequally distributed to teachers and learners in our educational system, and that we agree, too, that access to emerging technologies is a function of wealth and social class. [….] we’ve not, as a field, paid sufficient attention to the fact that our students have differential access to computers” (215). In 2012, Jonaitis added, “The field [of Basic Writing] would benefit from future research that considers basic writers’ use of computer-mediated technologies in light of the discursive practices presented here, as well as research that further explores the technological hierarchies both inside and out of schools, and how they shape basic writers’ literacy practices” (53).

I have done some survey research at my institution to determine our students’ access to devices outside of the classroom, as well as what they intend to use for their major writing assignments and their comfort using certain classroom technologies because a few years ago, I was tired of hearing from multitudes of places (colleagues, national publications, etc) that it was presumed basic writing students do not have access to technology and will be reluctant users of technology in the classroom. I feel that some of this presumption is due to socioeconomic realities but some of it is in need of correction or at least exploration. In Basic Writing, we’ve finally mostly eradicated the deficit model from instruction. I believe if it is time to rid it from our understanding of student use of classroom technology with some provisions for socioeconomic realities.

Works Cited

Jonaitis, Leigh. “Troubling Discourse: Basic Writing and Computer-Mediated Technologies.” Journal of Basic Writing 31.1 (2012): 36-58. ERIC 13 Oct. 2015. Web.

Matthews Pavia, Catherine. “Issues of Attitude and Access: A Case Study of Basic Writers in a Computer Classroom.” Journal of Basic Writing 23.2 (2004): 4-22. Print

Megeehon, Alexandria. “Using Technology to Build a Community of Writers in Developmental Writing.” NADE Digest 4.1 (2008): 19-27. Print.

Moran, Charles. “Access: The A-Word in Technology Studies.” Passions, Pedagogies and 21st Century Technologies. Ed. Gail E. Hawisher and Cynthia L. Selfe. NCTE: Urbana, IL, 1999. 205-220. Print.

Pigg, Stacey. “Embracing Mobile Composing Habits: A Study of Academic Writing in Networked Social Spaces” CCC 66.2 (2014): 250-275. Print.

Reid, Lynn. “The Politics of ReMEDIAtion.” Strategic Discourse: The Politics of (New) Literacy Crises. Ed. Lynn Lewis. Logan, UT: Computers and Composition Digital Press/Utah State University Press, 2015. Web. 14 Oct. 2015.

Selfe, Cynthia. “Literacy and Technology Linked: The National Project to Expand Technological Literacy.” Technology and Literacy in the Twenty-First Century: The Importance of Paying Attention. SIUP: Carbondale, IL, 1999. 3-24. Print.

Image credit: Nicole Hancock via Google Draw

PAB #3, Articles 1 and 2

Matthews Pavia, Catherine. “Issues of Attitude and Access: A Case Study of Basic Writers in a Computer Classroom.” Journal of Basic Writing 23.2 (2004): 4-22. Print.

This article is a case study of computer use in a Basic Writing classroom. The impetus for the study: “I could discuss many positive aspects of teaching in a computer classroom, among which are pedagogical variety, student interest, expanded audiences, a broader definition of ‘writing,’ and so forth. But I also need to consider individually the students in my classes who struggle with the computers. I feel that there is personal and pedagogical value in doing so and harmful repercussions for these students in failing to do so” (6).

Matthews Pavia interviewed students in her BW class who had varying levels of expertise with using the computers in the classroom and examined their major writing assignments, writing habits, and informal writing assignments. While she studied four students, her case study is only about two of them: Matt and Maria. Matt is a Caucasian freshman. He regularly arrives in class early to work on the computers. The first computer in his home happened when he was in high school and he did not know how to use it. The computers in his high school were old; he not only had little practice with them but did not have much experience with writing in high school at all.

In class, he generated much shorter responses than the other students because they had more typing experience than Matt. Writing on the computer was more difficult for him than writing on paper but he expressed a desire to improve because “you’re going to need to learn how to use them, to use them good when you get a job and stuff, so that’s why. . . I like to use them” (qtd. in Matthews Pavia 9-10). Though he could work on computers in his dorm room or the library, he prefers the classroom because he says there are fewer distractions (10).

Maria was the only student to routinely submit hand-written drafts. She grew up in the Dominican Republic. In high school, she immigrated to the U.S. to join family but would return to the Dominican Republic for summers. Her parents traveled in order to find work. She was raised by an aunt and then cared for by her brothers when she went to the U.S. Despite the family’s poverty, Maria had a computer at home that her brothers provided for her when she was 16. The same old computer (pre-owned when it was purchased two years ago) is what she uses in college. She writes her essays on paper because the speed is so prohibitive. She also says the cost of printing prevents her from typing and printing early drafts. Only her final draft gets typed and printed. She dislikes writing, feels uncomfortable typing, and only values the computer for non-academic use.

Student Attitudes and Access

Matthews Pavia notes that both students have generally positive attitudes about computer use, particularly their place in the classroom, but both “feel hesitant or inferior when it comes down to their abilities to use and write with the machines” (13). Both mention their shortcomings. These shortcomings are caused at least in part by their limited access: Matt was late to learn how to use computers and can only use them in his dorm or the library, where he is distracted. Maria has a computer of her own, but it is too slow to function at the same level as her classmates. “Basic writing computer classrooms can be viewed as makers of opportunities– the basic writing classroom becomes a place to give all students the opportunity to write with technology, an opportunity students like Matt and Maria do not readily have. Yet, even as computers in the classroom create opportunities, they may accentuate differences in opportunity” (15).

The conclusion Matthews Pavia reaches is that computer use is a great option for basic writing students to have but enforced use of them may further disadvantage some students who need first and foremost to build their confidence in writing (18). She now assigns technology narratives as the first paper of the semester, so she can determine what the needs of the class. The computers in the classroom then are one option for students but not a requirement. “I have decided to avoid assignments in basic writing classes that might subsume writing by involving technology in the writing process in even more complicated ways than word processing does” (19).


I selected this piece because it is representative of my experience talking to many basic writing instructors. First of all, I firmly believe that the type of computing being done here is what I call “the glorified typewriter.” This is typing a paper and utilizing spellcheck and grammar check. I don’t want to be too hard on the article, though, because instructors using the glorified typewriter model for BW in 2004 were and are ahead of some BW instructors today.

I also selected this article because it is representative of another struggle: how much do we allow the experiences of a few students to shape our pedagogy for all? We know for sure that Matthews Pavia had four students who struggled in some capacity with computer use in her classroom. Four out of how many? There were also students who were generating pages of text in the time that Matt eked out mere short paragraphs. I have found this sort of extrapolation from the few to be somewhat typical of BW. I think this is in part because of the social justice epistemology; if not all students have access, then it would be a detriment to the few to continue for all. We must provide an equal education for all.

I’d like to say more about this in my OoS paper, but as a short short version to remind myself what I want to write in a few days: universal design promotes creating learning opportunities for all, not through identical options but through the options that work for students, and, above all, it is done to empower, not to step backward. Considering the number of students who need accommodation in BW, it is shocking to me to backwards accommodate students– to remove a hindrance to their education in Basic Writing is not to remove the hindrance from FYC. It only delays the discomfort they have with technology to another course, a course they will be taking for credit and with a grade that will impact their GPA. (Clearly, I feel strongly about this)

Selfe, Cynthia. “Literacy and Technology Linked: The National Project to Expand Technological Literacy.” Technology and Literacy in the Twenty-First Century: The Importance of Paying Attention. SIUP: Carbondale, IL, 1999. 3-24. Print.

This selection is from 1999. The field of rhet/comp has evolved tremendously in its use of technology since then, but I find the reading highly relevant still to a discussion of technology and literacy in BW. The National Project to Expand Technological Literacy was the impetus for this writing. Selfe argues that the field must pay attention to this:

On the specific project to expand technological literacy, we must bring to bear the collective strength of our profession and the broad range of the intellectual skills we can muster as a diverse set of individuals. The price we pay for ignoring this situation is the clear and shameful recognition that we have failed students, failed as humanists, and failed to establish an ethical foundation for future educational efforts in this country. (5)

The reason we will have failed as a discipline is because we cannot ignore the inequities of technology use. In several pages, Selfe shows how the groups in America who most need to benefit from technology are the least likely to. To increase technological literacy for some but not all is to widen the gap. “In other words, the poorer and the less educated Americans are in this country– both of which conditions continue to be closely correlated with race– the less likely they are to have access to computers and to high-paying high-tech jobs” (7). The people most interested in issues of literacy cannot afford to ignore technoliteracy or its affect on society. “In a formulation that literacy educators will feel most keenly, the project to expand technological literacy implicates literacy and illiteracy– in their officially defined forms– in the continued reproduction of poverty and racism” (7).

Selfe says the project is interested in a functional literacy– a computer literacy– that has at its core a focus on student ability to recognize and use a computer and all of its parts. More important, though is technological literacy:

Rather, technological literacy refers to a complex set of socially and culturally situated values, practices, and skills involved in operating linguistically within the context of electronic environments, including reading, writing, and communicating. The term further refers to the linking of technology and literacy at fundamental levels of both conception and social practice. In this context, technological literacy refers to social and cultural contexts for discourse and communication and the ways in which electronic communication environments have become essential parts of our cultural understanding of what it means to be literate. (11)

The cultural practices are shaped by national and governmental programs, but they could also be shaped by teachers who are aware of the issues.

At this point, Selfe rallies for us as a profession to pay more attention: “Unfortunately, anyone familiar with the traditional values of humanism knows that, as a group, English studies, composition, and language arts teachers prefer that technology remain quiet and well-behaved in the background of our lives, where we can use it when we choose– but pay very little attention to it most of the time” (21). Again, this was written in 1999. Having graduated from high school in 1995 and college in 1999, I can confirm that my English teachers frequently had the reputation of needing assistance with working a VCR or Elmo projection unit. Anyone young reading this needs to remember that this was a time when the internet existed but Google did not.

This selection is the first chapter of a book on technology and literacy. It can be summed up in the following quote: “We are teaching students who must know how to communicate in an increasingly technological world. Further, these students need not only have the capability of using computers. They must also have the ability to understand, from a critical perspective, the social and cultural contexts for on-line discourse and communication environments have become essential parts of our cultural understanding of what it means to be literate” (24).


I realize in hindsight that I was unable to resist quoting Selfe repeatedly. I am not alone in this.

1999 seems like ages ago for me now, particularly when writing of technology. The New London Group had already written A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies in 1996. In 2015, we have not reached the levels of awareness and ease of classroom use referred to in these works in 2015 for BW as a whole. There are pockets of instructors who use technology in their BW classes and use it well, but there is resistance too. This piece helps reveal why: there are serious socioeconomic boundaries in place for access to technology for some of our students. Selfe writes specifically of the impact on African-Americans and students in poorer school districts. People with a lack of easy access to technology will not learn to use it at the same pace as their associates. The same groups of people Selfe identifies as having the least ease with access to technology are today the students most likely to need developmental education. In the Midwest, the student population in BW is decidedly different in demographics than in FYC, and BW instructors do not want to further disenfranchise students who are already on the margins.

Classroom whiteboard with terms brainstormed by Basic Writing instructors at TYCA 2015: distinguishing characteristics of basic writers
Classroom whiteboard with terms brainstormed by Basic Writing instructors at TYCA 2015: distinguishing characteristics of basic writers. Photo credit: Nicole Hancock

Paper #2 ENGL 810: Basic Writing Pedagogy and Content

Key terms: basic writing, pedagogy, skills/error, confidence, metacognition, literacy

Basic Writing helps students to improve their current writing skills to the point where the students should be able to earn a C or above when taking FYC the first time. Placement tests determine their writing level. In some institutions, students also have to pass an exit exam in order to be eligible to take FYC. The goal is to prepare students who were previously deemed unable to succeed at college work to be ready in 8-32 weeks, depending on the Basic Writing course set-up.

For additional information about placement, visit this site: National Survey of Basic Writing Programs: placement

Initially, BW courses focused almost entirely on basic skills. Although this method of instruction fell out of favor at least 40 years ago, it is still possible to find lower level BW courses that focus on sentences and then sentences to paragraphs and so forth. While the textbooks for the courses are not quite that reductive, the electronic course supplements that are promoted by publishers still have that tendency.

Rhet/comp moved from a current traditionalist focus on product in the 1960s and 1970s to a “linear and reductive conception of the composing process” (Lauer 113). It then got stuck in the modes, particularly EDNA: exposition, description, narration, and argumentation (Crowley qtd. in Lauer 115). Even though Janice Lauer writes of rhet/comp studies, what she says is particularly true of Basic Writing as well:

The reasons for this intransigence are multiple. A huge percentage of composition teachers are unfamiliar with the above work on modes and genres because they have not been educated in the field of rhetoric and composition. Others wish to remain comfortable with a modal and form-based approach to teaching writing with which they are familiar. Textbook companies are also loath to go against this profitable grain. (116)

Although more rhet/comp professors have training in their field today, the same cannot be said of basic writing instruction. Considering basic writing students are an amalgam of unprepared students, teachers frequently retreat to safe assignment designs so there will be enough time to address all levels of error (organization, purpose, mechanics, etc).

Assignments are often course-driven classroom exercises that lack the authenticity of “real college work.” Basic Writing is proverbially stuck in between that rock and a hard place; while not wanting to focus entirely on error, it does have to be addressed for students to function in FYC. Teachers who adopt more complicated writing assignments than the modes often draw time away from mechanics to help students revise what could be messy ideas and complex organizational schemes. “If postmodern thought helped English educators understand the complex dynamics of language, knowledge, discourse, and power, it also helped reveal their vexed role in the normative process that is formal schooling” (Yagelski 304).

If Basic Writing is not supposed to be a skills course and is not to focus on the modes or aims, what should be the content and pedagogy?

Most concur that practice with literacy is needed. In 1996, the New London Group wrote, “The new fast capitalist literature stresses adaptation to constant change through thinking and speaking for oneself, critique and empowerment, innovation and creativity, technical and systems thinking, and learning how to learn” (New London Group 67). In The Way Literacy Lives, Shannon Carter argues that we must give basic writers “the tools they need to experience literacy differently– to look again at the ways in which literacy functions in the multiple and intellectually viable lifeworlds in which they are already full-fledged members” (163). Susan Naomi Bernstein agrees: “a curriculum which foregrounds students’ prior and developing knowledge presents exciting possibilities for basic writing pedagogy” (67).

The core writing assignments should build from worlds familiar to students and gradually introduce them to the discourse of the academy. Pedagogy should also focus on students’ identities as writers and helping them to grow in confidence as student writers. This should be done through a combination of pedagogies: situated practice, overt instruction, critical framing, transformed practice (New London Group 88). In particular, students in BW benefit from the metacognitive work of transformed practice.

Shannon Carter discusses a way in which to show students where they are and where they could be through her pedagogy of rhetorical dexterity: “Rhetorical dexterity treats learning new literacies as a situated activity” (162). Students examine the literacies around them in an effort to become more aware of their multiliteracies and their relationship to them. Students who were previously agitated at the ways in which the rules seemed to change from one course to another could now see the system that creates the different rules and be able to adapt to the change without as much frustration. In a pedagogy like this, students are transformed not only as writers but as students.

A similar conversion occurred when Klages and Clark used ePortfolios with BW students; the students “began to transform their relationship to writing, emerging as confident writers with a new sense of how they can translate their authority onto the page” (47). Klages and Clark’s emphasis on reflective practice, at both the individual level and by commenting on the work created by their peers, enabled students to grow as both readers and writers.

At the heart of this type of pedagogy is concern about social inequality. Students in BW often feel as though others have been given a rule book while they are navigating the world without one of their own or that the rules were created intentionally to benefit a group of people other than them. Through pedagogy, Basic Writing instructors seek to level the playing field and reveal not only the rules but the systems that have created the rules.

Works Cited

Bernstein, Susan Naomi. “Basic Writing: In Search of a New Map.” Modern Language Studies 40.2 (2011): 60-75. JSTOR 24 Sept. 2015. Web.

Carter, Shannon. “The Way Literacy Lives.” Teaching Developmental Writing: Background Readings. Ed. Susan Naomi Bernstein. 4th ed. Bedford: Boston, 2013. 161-183. Print.

Klages, Marisa A. and J. Elizabeth Clark. “New Worlds of Errors and Expectations: Basic Writers and Digital Assumptions.” Journal of Basic Writing 28.1 (2009): 32-49. ERIC Web. 21 Sept. 2016.

Lauer, Janice M. “Rhetoric and Composition.” English Studies: An Introduction to the Discipline. Ed. Bruce McComiskey. NCTE: Urbana, IL, 2006. 106-152. Print.

New London Group. “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures.” Harvard Educational Review. 66.1 (1996): 60-92. Print.

Yagelski, Robert P. “English Education.” English Studies: An Introduction to the Discipline. Ed. Bruce McComiskey.NCTE: Urbana, IL, 2006. 275-319. Print.