Ball State University
Muncie, Indiana

10:00 — 11:30 Session G.1
Computers & Writing in the New Millennium:
Will the Odyssey Continue ‘til 2010?
RB 125

"Resolved:  In the near future, the field/interest/sub-discipline of "computers
and writing" will cease to be different from the field/interest/larger discipline
"composition and rhetoric" since all composition specialists shall be expected to
understand the importance of using computers and other technologies to teach

It already is incorporating other technologies: hypertext, color, art, graphics,
video clips, sound.  To my way of thinking composition got sidetracked from the
original form of communication of orality, drama, and visual arts to just the
alphabet and text. Books made the slow transition from words to include
illustrations and the like, just look at the growth of multimedia in textbooks in
the last couple of decades. Writing became too refined a discipline with spelling,
grammar, and form. With the growth of technologies in the classroom, teachers of
all disciplines were able to better utilize word processing and incorporate the
rigors of English conventions in them as the English teacher was able to
incorporate other forms of communication in their classes. Storyboarding,
hypercard, hypertext, Flash and Director. 

I attended an interesting conference in NYC for art teachers and it opened my eyes
to how middle school art teachers are teaching writing skills through the high end
technologies and getting the reluctant student who wouldn't write to write, to
caption hir art and thus move into a higher level of rhetoric and composition. 
The technologies expand the horizons of composition and rhetoric. Afterall what is
the function of composition and rhetoric but to communicate. The new technologies
are allowing us to widen these options for our students and thereby allow for a
more inclusive and expanded field of composition and rhetoric.

I'm thinking of those cave dwellers who used blood, mud, and other medias to draw
their bison and families on the walls of caves. Around the community fire, elders
wove tales of the village and of life using available technologies. The alphabet
redirected this, expanded it in some people's minds, but I think it actually
restricted it and lessened it by its sheer fact of exclusivity to those who knew
it and followed its rules. Consider how people dismiss writers who use different
spelling or grammar. Writing has become an exclusivity tool. The church used this
power many years ago, slave owners didn't allow it of their slaves, and schools
use it to direct and control the young by narrowing them into a single track of
conventions and standards.  We speak of thinking outside the box and yet we
continue to build those walls, even when the technologies continually provide ways
to get out of the box, we insist on finding ways to box it all up. 

Our word writing connotes letters and words, whereas the Greeks and Romans had
"gram" and "graph" which roughly translate into writing and drawing. They were
interchangeable for them, but not for us.  Composition and Rhetoric became the
tools of scholars and as such became a restricted area at the end of one's
academic career and only if chosen. I am speaking of the PhD, of course. The only
pure form of scholarship currently in education and this is a shame because not
all partake and as I said it comes at the end. I contend if we bring the practices
of scholarship: make it public, peer review, and pass it on; back into the schools
at let us say the kindergarten class and continue it, then we will be opening up
composition and rhetoric to the technologies and to higher order thinking and
communicating. That we have restricted it to the alphabet and words is too bad and
has limited us. Now we have the opportunity to open things up and be more
inclusive. The technologies provide us a means to expand and instead we tie our
own hands.  Consider a simple thing like keyboarding. I took penmanship in my
early days in the classroom, failed it miserably and poor penmanship stymied any
further growth for me in composition until I found the typewriter.  And in turn
just using word processing on the new technologies, students are stymied because
they would prefer to write outside the box and we keep pulling them back in.
Reading and writing has to go beyond the alphabet and the technologies allows us
to do that. I agree with Bill's discussion of the "written sign" and its power. 
I'm not sure that computers do complicate things in a bad, way, Nick. You speak
from the teacher and tenured teacher point of view, the current seat of power and
it is the very technology that frees us from that point of view. The technologies
today are interactive and change that role of teacher to peer, learned peer, but
peer nonetheless and that power change is crucial. Yes the word processor worked
and still does as it provides the digital means to communicate better and to
interact better via email, publishing, and Track Changes…Writing has become more
public and less private.  I liked Steve's three pieces of evidence and would
expand on his third one with the obvious invention of moveable type and the
printing press and what it did to us. I agree we have won and now must go on, way
beyond this victory and more inventive and creative uses of the technology by the
users and not be limited by those of us who need our TA's and students to help us
see better.  If it is the ned of one thing then it must be the beginning of
another, sorta reminds me of commencement.  I don't necessarily see the new
technologies returning us to the golden age of cave dwellers, but I do see it
leading us to a golden age of more diverse forms of composition and rhetoric and
thus more inclusive. 

tednellen 051301