Discussing “Computers and Composition 20/20″

Here’s where we’ll talk about  “Computers and Composition 20/20: A Conversation Piece, or What Some Very Smart People Have to Say about the Future.”  I’m not going to say too much about it because– spoiler alert!— I’ve decided that it is going to figure into one of the questions on the final. So it would probably be a good idea for everyone to read this, chat about it, ask questions, etc.

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10 Responses to Discussing “Computers and Composition 20/20″

  1. Danielle says:

    I thought this was a fun read; it was interesting seeing what others think will come of computers and composition in the future. I also did not know that the 2011 Computers and Writing conference was held in Ann Arbor.

    One of the sections that stood out to me the most was the one by Fred Kemp from Texas Tech. He was discussing the problem of “information overload” and how he believes this is going to affect the teaching of writing. He believes that, since there is so much information available out there, teachers will no longer have as much of a role in telling students what to read but in teaching them how to find credible and legitimate information on subjects they are interested in. In this sense, teachers will have less of a role in essentially delivering reading materials to students–a role that many have gotten used to. Instead, Kemp argues that “the point for teachers is not to push that round peg into our square hole, but to make the Internet a productive technology for what people inherently want to do, make sense with each other.” (331)

    I liked this idea; I don’t think students are taught enough how to use the Web to their advantage, especially when it comes to finding credible sources for research. I’ve worked with plenty of students in the University Writing Center, for example, who have never used the library databases or even know where to begin. I think this kind of instruction should be focused on more, with less of a focus on the topics students have to read about. This actually got me thinking about the book I did my review on for this class (Net Smart: How to Thrive Online)…it had an entire section on how to use the Web to find credible information and lots of strategies (such as triangulating sources) that I think could be useful in a writing classroom.

  2. Sarah K. says:

    I agree with Danielle. I feel that teachers will have to take on the role of helping students find credible sources on the internet instead of just telling them what to read all of the time. I wonder what’s going to happen to the way writing instructors teach when computers become even more popular in classrooms. From this article, it seems like it’s going to go though quite a bit of change.

  3. Jackie K. says:

    Like Danielle and Sarah, I got a lot out of Kemp’s section, and I agree with Danielle: students are not always taught how to use the Internet effectively or critically for finding reliable information or doing research. One of the benefits of technology that I feel has cropped up in discussion several times in this class is that anyone can post their opinions on the Internet. Yet one of the negatives of technology is… well, that anyone can post their opinions on the Internet! At least, that’s a negative when trying to coax inexperienced writers through finding sources. As much as there’s an understanding among people that things posted online can come from almost ANYONE, I’ve noticed this semester that many of my students still seemed to enter in to the process of finding web sources with the mindset that, “It’s in writing (of some kind), so it must be right/appropriate/reliable/useful.” I had to make a point of reminding them, several times, that anyone could post anything to the Internet, and they needed to pay attention to the source to determine how helpful it might be for their research. And since students are definitely going to continue turning to the web for research, it would certainly be worthwhile to give them the analytical tools they need to find strong sources on the Internet.

    I also liked Sorapure’s section, especially this idea: “we may instead increasingly be asked to perform a first step of selecting from a range of possible applications, matching the tool closely to the context of its use” (338). Therefore, it is important to help our students develop a general technological proficiency. What I took this to mean was less a “SHOW THEM AS MANY PROGRAMS AS YOU POSSIBLY CAN” and more a “help them learn strategies for understanding programs themselves and becoming reasonably proficient in them.” Again, like Kemp is advocating, it’s more like a set of tools that a student can use in a variety of situations. Rather than teaching a student how to cite a source, for example, you teach them strategies for finding out how to cite a source on their own. Rather than teaching a student every intricacy of every computer/web program, you teach strategies for exploring and experimenting with unfamiliar technology. Then students are able to approach problems more critically and, when encountering a new problem or challenge, are less likely to freeze and more likely to dive in and find a solution.

  4. Bryan A says:

    Oh my God! Where to begin? There were so many topics of discussion and such a disparity between how many provided new and useful information, versus which just went off on a random tangent.

    I liked Eyman’s argument that radical changes depend on the systems in place to support them and that while technology is moving forward at a fast rate, he believes that the perception of such is more so driven by the social uses of specific technologies. Accordingly, he says that the literacy practices people are developing are what is changing most rapidly.

    I also like that he questions, “What is ‘writing’? How do we define it and … what should we consider outside the purview of writing instruction as writing itself takes advantage of multimedia and multimodal semiotic resources?” These questions position the argument for a shift in the old writing pedagogical paradigm, to bring it into the 21st century.

    Kemp kind of lost me, when he says, “The idea of knowledge itself becomes less a pouring forth from some initial generative portal and more a kind of cloud of understanding that emerges from communities (330). This makes me wonder how Kemp is using/defining the term “communities,” in that with the removal of the physicality of the information/text, how is this community bound up? Where does the cloud of understanding begin and end, to define a particular community?

    Kemp made a huge point that sunk in for me anyway, when he says, “Most any individual in society now has a new agency of access to almost everything anybody has ever thought or written.” While I would argue that “most” and “everything” are very subjective terms in this context, Kemp’s assessment of agency is rather insightful.

    I also like Kemp’s argument that the “Internet is the most appealing and expressive technology that humanity has ever encountered; the point for teachers is not to push that round peg into our square hole, but to make the Internet a productive technology for what people inherently want to do, make sense with each other.”

    I actually enjoyed Purdy’s argument that as enhancements in portability and mobility continue people’s expectations about accessibility to texts, information, and each other will change as well. He says that being online will be an ever-present state and not a locationally dependent action, and that “writing, reading, and researching activities will happen from anywhere.” However, Purdy warns that the “frequency and freeness of these writing, reading, and researching activities will heighten students’ sense that the best texts are those that are quickly accessible and always available.” He says as this persists “students will develop less patience for ‘gatekept’ information. The idea of restricted access may come to seem not only curmudgeonly, but also unproductive for knowledge work.”

  5. Bryan A says:


    It’s funny we both honed in on the same passage by Kemp. I too found the shift from teachers telling student what they should know, to how to negotiate and evaluate the information available.

  6. Bryan A says:

    I think many teachers do touch upon research methods for students, but they usually involve a crash course with little to no hands-on practical experience. Most of my experiences have been something like, “There’s the library. Log into a computer using your student ID. Go to the library’s website and select a journal to search through. All set? Good. Now go to work.”

  7. chelsea says:

    I love that Kemp included the heart in explaining blogs vs. academic essays. This is something that hits home for me, as I find it so much easier to spill my thoughts into a blog post than a blank word processing document, because I can’t figure out how to reconcile my heart with what I perceive as the expectations of more “academic” writing.

    I also really appreciated this: “Making sense of, in a productive and responsible way, the fire hose of knowledge coming out of the Internet is what society needs.The first job of all writing instructors is to inculcate a recognition of the need for managing responsibly and critically the vast knowledge resources of the Internet. Students need to make sense of what they are being swamped by. And, given the right instruction, they can.” Though, I’m not sure I agree that this is the *first* job of all writing instructors, I do think it is valuable advice.

    I’m also interested in how Kemp’s idea of heart, and knowledge available on the Internet, fits in with Purdy’s idea of access, portability, and mobility. I was especially struck by his statement that it isn’t that students are lazy, but rather that they (we) are used to open access and have little patience for gate-kept information. I think this points to Kemp’s management, and think that Purdy’s explanation might be a necessary piece of Kemp’s management, in terms of including it as part of writing instruction.

  8. For some of the same reasons already noted, I too liked Kemp’s bit about letting students find their own information and teaching them how to identify and use credible sources, but the quote I highlighted was: “The idea of knowledge itself becomes less a pouring forth from some initial generative portal and more a kind of cloud of understanding that emerges from communities”. This quote really brings home the interactive nature of the Internet, which is really what sets it apart from technologies that came before it, where in the blink of an eye you’ve multiplied by a nearly-infinite amount your knowledge bases…provided you know what to do with them. It also sounds like Kemp is a media ecologist.

    So, was anyone else intrigued by the robots? According to Bill Hart-Davidson, “[t]hey will spend most of their time
    simply listening, gathering up what humans are doing and saying to one another across a variety of media, and applying some analytics meant to make this or that commonly repeated human action visible, understandable, sharable, easier, more reliable, or more efficient.” I mean, I like the idea of generic forms being efficiently filled out for me as much as the next guy…but what if you need to answer a question differently? And why do I feel like this would lead to a lot of stale, homogeneous writing that would bore us all to tears? How can I laugh on the internet if there aren’t anymore more hilariously misspelled grocery signs? As he goes on to point out, “Writing is where the action is but isn’t what the action is about”. But will the writing be about us if not written by us?

  9. Steve K. says:

    Of course, one of the challenges in that is that teachers themselves have to familiar with the changing ways in doing research and using things like search engines. In my way of thinking about it, that’s one of the key issues with a class like this: I’m trying to teach all of you to be one of those teachers who work with students on negotiating new tools and technologies and evaluating information not based simply on where the researcher found it.

  10. Melissa S says:

    While I agree with everyone that teaching students how to find credible sources and navigate the proliferation of information out there, I don’t like the Kemp puts it as a major priority. I feel like that should only be one aspect or it should be a class separate from writing. Just because teaching may change doesn’t mean we don’t have a need for teachers – if you ask students to just do what interests them then they never get pushed outside their comfort zone and I think that’s a huge part of any good education. I also wonder how easy it will be for teachers to keep pace. Students that have grown up with the technology, as opposed to just learning it, are much more adept and using tools (even new one). I run into this all the time – I just understand computers better than a lot of the older generation because I grew up with it. I feel like teachers will run into the problem of covering things that some, or many, students will already know.

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