It seems it was about a year or so ago when a draft of the Writing Program Admin Council's technology plank was drifting around and being discussed on listservs and blogs. Now a revised version has appeared. A couple of things to note about it. As the rationale behind the proposed plank explains, the composers of the draft considered "whether to include goals and strategies that would appeal to some of the more technologically sophisticated programs and teachers." They also kept in mind
the many colleges and universities where neither students nor teachers have ready access to digital technologies or the Internet. Indeed, we know of some schools in which teachers do not feel they can require typed copy, let alone electronic submissions. Keeping these schools in mind, we have drafted a statement that we hope will give them reasonable objectives without outdistancing their possibilities altogether, leaving them alienated from our shared purposes in teaching required writing courses.
I suppose that's fair enough... maybe. Well, what is meant by "ready access"? Do "many colleges and universities" not have general labs open to students in libraries, student centers, and such? Do they not have dorms where students have high-speed internet access? Do they not have wireless access on campus?
Here's a recent survey, commisioned by Circuit City, that indicates more than 98% of college students use a computer everyday. Even this 2004 Harris Poll indicates that 90% of full-time college students own computers, and one would think this has gone up in three years. I don't mean to suggest that a digital divide doesn't exist, particularly in terms of high-speed access, but I am high skeptical of developing national policy based upon presumptions about access.
In fact, I am quite certain that decisions about the integration of technology into composition have very little to do with access and far more to do with faculty attitudes and experience with technology.
On the other hand, these concerns do make sense, I believe, if we are talking about multimedia production. As I've written here before, I find it difficult to imagine an FYC curriculum where all the students are involved in video and audio production. We don't have the cameras; we don't have the microphones; we don't have enough licenses of the necessary software; we don't have the storage space or network. And we certainly don't have faculty trained to teach such a curriculum.
In short, there's no way one could institute a national fyc goal of providing students with an education in multimedia composition, even if we wanted to, at least not in 2007 and probably not by 2010, but maybe by 2015.
And that, in my mind, is what we should be thinking about. Clearly we can't predict what 2015 will look like or anticipate the technologies we'll have to deal with then. Similarly we shouldn't necessarily plan specifically for the technologies of today. The specifics will be supplanted, but we do need to grab ahold of the general shift here, which means thinking about networked composition, convergent media, mobile technologies, and virtual worlds. The main concern is that we don't want the FYC instructors of 2015 to be as unprepared to deal with the changing world as the FYC instructors of 2007.
All that said, the goals are not bad, as far as they go. They just don't go far enough, and if the defense for not going farther is simply the nebulous, unsubstantiated concerns about access, I don't think that's valid.
- The plank only mentions "text." In our discipline, text can sometimes mean any media. If that's what is intended here, I think that should be made clear. If text is meant to suggest the more common meaning of simply words, then that doesn't make sense. How would one explore the "rhetorical strategies available in electronic texts" without considering other media, networks, interactivity, mobile connectivity and so on? Unless of course electronic text means a PDF file or RTF version of a Word document attached to an e-mail message.
- My suggestion other suggestion is that the plank should make a statement about addressing emerging technologies. Generally speaking, our students are already using these emerging technologies (so the access question seems strange here), but they are doing so with little rhetorical understanding, technical facility, or critical perspective. Rhetorical and critical knowledge, along with some improved technical facility, are what FYC can provide. More importantly, a criteria like this might help to push the discipline forward toward where it needs to be going.