Paper #6: Becoming a Scholar of Basic Writing

INTRODUCTION TO BECOMING A SCHOLAR OF BASIC WRITING: THE WHY

When I started this semester, I thought I would dabble in learning about the major debates of basic writing. I didn’t think I would be exploring a potential dissertation topic. You see, I was convinced that I would not be studying basic writing much during my degree. In fact, I saw a bit of myself when we read Yagelski: “Many English professors did not want their professional identities to be defined by what was widely considered a skills-based course whose purpose was to enable students to write well enough to do the ‘real’ work of college study” (282). My worry wasn’t about having my identity defined by a discipline that is considered less than; I was and am concerned about aligning with a discipline that could be potentially phased out in the future.

Then again, basic writing has been on the chopping block for decades. It is always changing, adapting, fighting for space and respect. If everyone veers away from it as a potential research focus, then how can it be expected to flourish? I began my studies, hoping to join the ranks of community college professors who research because they want to. In writing Paper #5 and standing up for #actualCCprofs, I realized I probably need a secondary hashtag: #actualBWprof. There are others out there doing this work, but if I don’t join them in a visible way, I’d be a hypocrite. So, here I am, beginning the research I said I would do someday but not now. My whole career seems to have worked this way: I pursued coursework in rhet/comp while earning my master’s in literature because I knew I’d probably teach writing too, only to end up predominantly teaching basic writing and first year composition with a side of literature. I’m not alone in stumbling into a career of teaching basic writing. I’m a little surprised it has taken me this long to realize I am fighting myself about something I should probably give into.

Most of my professional and faculty development has come from conference attendance and passive participation in community list-servs. When I think of the major debates in basic writing, I think of the current issue of placement, and what the discipline will do now that Compass is being discontinued as a placement test. Alongside that is the issue of direct placement and whether it is a viable option for community colleges. I think, too, of the debates about acceleration models like ASU’s Stretch and CCBC’s Accelerated Learning Program and how these models attempt to move students more quickly through their preparatory classes and more directly into their credit-bearing courses. These are the hot topics on the Council of Basic Writing list-serv and the topics of many recent conference presentations. Then, there is the old standby of pedagogical concerns like which genres are appropriate for basic writers and which lexile difficulty level they should be reading for the course. These discussions seem to be never-ending, with scholars cycling through different ideas about what is most appropriate.

The issue that is of most interest to me is not a major debate at all but rather a secondary or tertiary debate. Many schools have worked to advocate for better technology in the classrooms, but I see less attention paid to precisely what should be accomplished with the classroom technology when it pertains to basic writers. It seems that the first year composition world is moving full-steam ahead into multimodality while much less is being written about basic writing and composing with technology.

PREPARING FOR THE RESEARCH: WHOM TO STUDY

There is much that I need to read. To truly become a scholar of basic writing, I will need to immerse myself in classic works that are frequently referenced: Shaughessy, Bartholomae, Rose, Bizzell, Horner and Lu, and Soliday. At the top of my reading pile for the break in between classes is Time to Know Them: A Longitudinal Study of Writing and Learning at the College Level by Marilyn Sternglass. Because of my research interests, the same pile includes: Race, Rhetoric, and Technology by Adam Banks, The Way Literacy Lives by Shannon Carter, Going Wireless: A Critical Exploration of Wireless and Mobile Technologies for Composition Teachers and Researchers by Amy C. Kimme Hea. Only Sternglass and Carter are texts about basic writers, but I hope to extrapolate from the other two to apply what is said about technology to my subfield.

In 2011, Mike Rose noted the problem of both disciplinary and methodological silos in research about basic writers. Higher education journals are not drawing from the work done in Journal of Basic Writing, nor is JBW drawing from more scientific research methodologies:“But if we hope to really do something transformational with remediation, we’ll need to use all the wisdom we can garner, from multiple disciplines and multiple methodologies, from multiple lines of sight” (Rose 29). I will need to leave my silo to visit other silos; in particular, I will need to go beyond the Council of Basic Writing at CCCCs to also attend the National Association of Developmental Educators conferences and take advantage of the research coming out of that realm. I already consider myself part of the TYCA Midwest community as well as on the fringes of Computers & Writing.  I intend to draw from these “multiple lines of sight” in my work. I hope to do the same in what I read as well.

Practitioners of basic writing are generally an inclusive group; it’s part of what we do. We take everyone into our classes. We take all instructors in the field into our fold too. I would like to be inclusive in my citations, particularly ensuring I recognize the scholarship of fellow community college professors in my work. If I, as an #actualCCprof, do not recognize them in my work, then how can I expect others to? This reminds me of something Cheryl Ball said in her Computers & Writing keynote presentation in 2015 when announcing Vega:

How does a field share its knowledge internally AND externally so that socialization of its scholarly values transcends its own disciplinary boundaries? C&W is a multitudinous discipline of computers and composition, multimodal comp, digital rhetoric, digital media composition, networked writing, code studies scholars, digital pedagogy, etc. Whatever you want to call yourself, if you’re here, you’re part of this community. Even if you’re not here, and you cite the long history from this community, you’re part of this community.

I’ve been in the basic writing community in one way or another ever since I began teaching basic writing what feels like a lifetime ago (in 2002!). I would like to more visibly join the community via participation in scholarship. The first step is to be a consumer of it. The next step is to join the conversation. I feel like I have been a rather casual consumer of it so far but will now rely on the accountability of being in a research program to buckle down and read more judiciously. Likewise, I will attempt to be a less passive and more visible participant in the basic writing research community. I have one collaborative project in the pipeline with Lynn Reid. I also have data that I presented at Computers & Writing in May that I could use for an article in JBW or the Basic Writing e-Journal.

JOINING THE DISCUSSION: THE WHAT AND HOW

During conference attendance over the past nine years or so, I have run into several basic writing colleagues who share my overlapping interest in basic writing and computers and writing. One of these colleagues, Lynn Reid, writes, “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.”

Like Reid, I am convinced that many more basic writing instructors are using computers in their classes and, one would hope, using them as more than a glorified typewriter. And yet, I am also convinced that there is a disparity between the functional and technological literacy as well as access to technology for some basic writing students. What I would like to know is what this disparity looks like and to what extent it is widening an already extant gap between the students who are the furthest behind and the students who entered college already prepared.

I also see many assumptions being published about what basic writers are likely (or unlikely) to be able to do on a computer, with the information about the students conveniently suiting the pedagogical slant of the authors (Moran 212). In 1991, Hawisher and Selfe noted, “What many in our profession have yet to realize is that electronic technology, unless it is considered carefully and used critically, can and will support any one of a number of negative pedagogical approaches that also grow out of our cultural values and our theories of writing” (56).  I would hope that almost 25 years later, we now appreciate the ways that technology can both hurt and harm our pedagogy, but I also question some of the practices that continue to be used in spite of research against them.

I think it is fairly safe to say that in the field of basic writing, we also realize,“The focus of postmodern theory on the contingency of knowledge making, the instability of the subject, and the connections between power and discourse has in a sense forced English educators to confront their complicity in the process by which schools, as social institutions, can contribute to injustice and marginalization” (Yagelski 304). In some ways, some of the resistance to using technology in the classroom comes from very kind motives not to leave any student behind:“Access to the Web is difficult at some institutions and for some students. Moreover, students enter our classes with different degrees of facility and experience with computers and with the Web, and we are rightly hesitant to penalize inadvertently those students already part of the ‘technological underclass’” (Sorapure, Inglesby, Yatchisin 335). At the same time, we as a field are inadequately preparing writing students for their first year composition classes if we ignore technology use or only use it in superficial ways if students will be expected to magically change into technologically-adept writers the moment they step into a first year composition classroom. There has to be a comfortable middle ground between technological use that is so advanced that it fatally discourages or discludes the student without access and use of a computer that is little more than typing a paper.

In an article about basic writing methodologies, DeGenaro and White noted the one and only 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. And yet, publishers continue to shill products that contain skill and drill activities for basic writers to complete in order to improve their overall writing aptitude. I cannot say for sure how many teachers use these products as part of their coursework, but the practice exists. Likewise, some instructors delay exposure to methods and strategies beyond use of Microsoft Word for revision because they conflate basic writers’ ability to use technology with their ability to write fluently with ease.

In any discussion of basic writers, we must remember that they are not a homogenous group. One school’s set of basic writers can have very different demographics than another’s. In some schools, ESL students make up a majority of the students in a basic writing program while that same population can be almost invisible at another school. Many journal articles focus on the unique contexts of their school’s program to narrowly discuss results of an experiment or focus group. What I would like to do is examine the same issue closely in several different learning environments. Charles Moran writes, “…for if we are to do fully-useful scholarship, we need to include in our field of study the material context in which students and teachers work with new technologies” (207). It is my supposition that many who consume basic writing scholarship often discount it if the context does not resemble their own. In exploring an issue from multiple contexts, I would hope to better represent the many variables in play across the nation in basic writing programs. To say that basic writers are universally able or unable to access particular technology isn’t possible, but to explore the impact of the variables on the types of access has fascinating potential.

Hawisher and Selfe warn, “Along with becoming acquainted with current composition theory, instructors, for example, must learn to recognize that the use of technology can exacerbate problems characteristic of American classrooms and must continue to seek ways of using technology that equitably support all students in writing classes” (55). The current definition of all students has since expanded to not only include students of all ethnicities, socioeconomic levels, and linguistic capabilities, but now all levels of ability. The percentage of students who require accommodations is higher in a developmental course than in a traditional first year composition class. When we as a field introduce new technological strategies into the classroom, we will not only need to think of functional access and technoliteracy but also universal access for students of all (dis)abilities. This is yet another variable I would like to study but one I am less confident about exploring. As a teacher of basic writing, I have been disappointed each time an outsider has written about my context based on narrow anecdotal evidence. Given the wide spectrum of accommodations needed by students in our classes, I don’t know how I could address every potential situation, and yet I do not want to pick and choose which are convenient or observable for me and hypothesize based on similar anecdotal experience. I don’t want for this population to be ignored in my research about access, though.

One of the factors I will need to consider is which methodologies I will utilize. As I said in Paper #4, I have noticed that narrative evidence is in favor in the articles in JBW. I fully recognize that the stories of our classes are the reasons we research and write, and I believe they have a place within the research. But I want more than narrative. As McComiskey said, “No single methodology from linguistics or discourse analysis or creative writing or rhetoric or composition or literature or literary criticism or critical theory or cultural studies or English education– no single methodology (or set of specialized methodologies) can solve a complex social problem” (32). The culture of my subdiscipline will not require acquisition of new research skills, but the problem I am trying to address demands it. Supposition and theory will not cut it, nor will small focus groups or narrative about individual students. I need data too. In order to put the data to use, though, I will need to draw from my professional knowledge to apply the data properly. As Rose said,

Most higher education policy research on remediation does not include historical analysis of the beliefs about cognition and instruction that inform curriculums. In fact, there’s not a lot of close analysis of what goes on in classrooms, the cognitive give-and-take of instruction and what students make of it. And I’m not aware of any policy research crafted with the aid of people who actually teach those classes. Finally, we don’t get much of a sense of the texture of students’ lives, the terrible economic instability of some of them, but even less of a sense of the power of learning new things and, through that learning, redefining who you are. Profiles of students in remedial classes, when we do get them, are too often profiles of failure rather than of people with dynamic mental lives. (29)

This is a significant part of why I advocate for #actualCCprof status in research writing. If the research is going to be about community college basic writing students, then the context of the classroom and the students’ lives needs to be interpreted by the professors on the front lines. Progressively, basic writing classes are being discontinued at universities, so this research would/could/should fall to the community college professors to perform and analyze. I cannot guarantee that the profiles will all be of successes rather than failures, but the dynamics of students’ lives should be an anchoring part of the research about access. As the students are redefining who they are and what they believe about writing, I think the story about their access should also be reshaped and redefined with information collected specifically about basic writers and their contexts. Too often, I have seen the Pew Research Center data about college students’ technology use and comfort applied to the basic writing classroom, a classroom that is not usually the same demographical constitution as the typical entering freshman class.

In her 2004 article about basic writing students in online courses, Linda Stine writes, “Basic writing students, typically older, poorer, less apt to come from stable, highly educated families, and more apt to have learning disabilities, are still less likely than the average student to have easy access to the kind of technology that distance learning requires, both in and out of the classroom” (390). I would like to explore what types of access they generally have now and the extent to which mobile devices could bridge that gap. It is my theory that basic writing pedagogy needs to adapt to the access students have and can use comfortably. It is also my hypothesis that our students are largely more comfortable using mobile phone tech than traditional college classroom PCs, although this will not be true of all of our returning adult students. This thread of study may also require information collection about teaching demographics.

I hesitate to make generalizations here, so I will focus on what I have observed from my time as my department’s Computer-Aided Instruction Coordinator. When I would order replacement machines for the computer lab, I had to use approved vendors and choose software that was adopted by the entire institution. My school happens to be a Dell and Microsoft school. While some faculty members utilize laptops and tablets for their course preparation, the vast majority of them use PCs or Macs for their writing, grading, etc. I propose that many of our anecdotes about student ability are stories of contact zones where students who are more accustomed to laptops and mobile devices are experiencing moments of discomfort (or lack of transfer) when using unfamiliar operating systems or programs on the PC. The student population in basic writing is usually placed in basic writing because of these issues of transfer with their writing skills. Is it too far of a leap to suggest that they have technology skills but need to be explicitly shown and probably even reshown how to do some specific skills on the computer rather than have the ability to use the technology completely discounted and delayed? I have watched as the same instructors who complain about how their students cannot use the computer try to use a Dell all-in-one computer. The moment of “Where’s the CPU? Where is the on button?” in those instructors is quite similar to when a student who is used to OpenOffice is asked to go to Microsoft Word; the question makes the user look like they have never seen a computer before when the user hasn’t seen a computer exactly like this before.

When I gave a report about my data to our Outcomes Assessment group on campus, I included information that suggested that students were not particularly computer-inept, but they were not necessarily familiar with Microsoft products as many more shifted to low-cost laptops as their devices of choice. The Outcomes Assessment Coordinator later told me that this was an “aha moment” for the math department, as they had recently given a Microsoft-based assessment to be completed off-campus and received very poor returns when the same assessment worked well on-campus just a few years ago. They could not understand why students would be unable to do it now, until I showed them that not all students have equal access to costly Microsoft programs at home. Admittedly, this is a very local and specific example of the type of result that could come from exploratory research about students and their technoliteracy contexts, but the impact for pedagogy is great. These issues of functional access and technoliteracy have real pedagogical consequences. This praxis is what interests me most. Fortunately, I think the basic writing audience is interested in matters of praxis as well.

As I continue in this thread of research, it is my hope that the data can cross over to all of first year composition as well, since basic writers are being prepped for the work in first year composition, and the technology use should overlap. I cannot say for sure where the research will lead until I collect and analyze data. It is my hope that I can expand my project with the assistance of many others across the nation to implement data collection that is representative of many types of basic writing programs.

Works Cited

Ball, Cheryl E. “The Future of Scholarly Publishing, or How C&W Rules the World!” Keynote presentation at Computers & Writing, University of Wisconsin-Stout, WI. 2015, May 28.

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.

Hawisher, Gail E. and Cynthia L. Selfe. “The Rhetoric of Technology and the Electronic Writing Class” College Composition and Communication 42.1 (1991): 55-65. Print.

McComiskey, Bruce. Introduction. English Studies: An Introduction to the Discipline(s). Urbana, IL:NCTE, 2006. 1-65. Print.

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

Rose, Mike. “Remediation at a Crossroads.” Teaching Developmental Writing. 4th ed. Ed. Susan Naomi Bernstein. Boston: Bedford, 2013. 27-30. Print.

Sorapure, Madeleine, Pamela Inglesby, George Yatchisin. “Web Literacy: Challenges and Opportunities for Research in a New Medium.” Computers in the Composition Classroom: A Critical Sourcebook. Ed. Michelle Sidler, Richard Morris, Elizabeth Overman Smith. Boston: Bedford, 2008. 333-349. Print.

Stine, Linda. “The Best of Both Worlds: Teaching Basic Writers in Class and Online.” Computers in the Composition Classroom: A Critical Sourcebook. Ed. Michelle Sidler, Richard Morris, Elizabeth Overman Smith. Boston: Bedford, 2008. 389-403. Print.

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

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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).

Reflection

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).

Reflection

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