In Creating a Computer-Supported Writing Facility: A Blueprint for Action, Cynthia Selfe sets forth a challenge for new and existing computers and writing programs. Selfe's challenge is also her premise: computer-based facilities and programs must be designed and developed by placing the needs of writers and the teaching of writing first and the deployment of technology second. In three sections covering planning, operating, and improving a computer-supported writing facility, Selfe consistently argues that current theory and pedagogy of writing should inform every decision concerning the integration of technology in composition programs.
Selfe establishes this argument most thoroughly in her section on planning a computer facility, reviewing the theoretical assumptions and pedagogical practices of a process-centered approach to the teaching of writing. As a practical means for establishing a link between theory, pedagogy, and computer support, Selfe suggests that faculty meet in workshops, identify their students' needs, articulate their understanding of the writing process, and review their methods of teaching writing. Theoretical assumptions about writing as a complex, recursive process and pedagogical practices of creating different rhetorical situations for student writers with opportunities for them to collaborate with peers and teachers can then translate into operational goals for the design of a computer facility and the development of a computer-supported writing program. These operational goals include purchasing writing hardware and software that allow process-type writing, designing a lab that encourages collaboration among writers, providing lab access so that writers have ample time to learn software and to experiment with writing on computers, and staffing the lab with assistants who are familiar with writing as well as computers. Programs that do not establish a strong link between their underlying theory, their ongoing pedagogy, and their use of technology, Selfe claims, are ones whose computer facilities sit empty, usually because their design reflects a technology-first orientation that separates writers into individual slots without the possibility of consultation and collaboration with other writers.
In her section on the ongoing operation of a computer-based writing facility, Selfe continues to argue that successful computer support depends upon its grounding in writing theory and pedagogy. Selfe maintains that the faculty, administrators, and consultants/assistants who supervise and staff computer-supported writing labs must be knowledgeable about writing as well as technology. Her practical suggestions for using personnel to establish a solid link between writing programs and writing labs then follow two directions. She provides a sample training program for student consultants who bear the responsibility of day-to-day assistance for faculty teaching in the lab and writers working in the lab; this training focuses upon the aspects of computer use that are most important for writers learning word-processing programs and writing-network software. She suggests developing workshops for faculty who might be interested in teaching within a computer-supported writing program; again this training focuses on the specific ways in which computers can assist faculty in their writing and their teaching. Selfe acknowledges the added complexities of teaching writing in a computer-supported facility, noting that planning, conducting, and evaluating such classes often bring extra work to instructors; she argues, however, that faculty find this effort worthwhile when they consider the positive ways in which computers contribute to the use of a draft-and-revision writing process in a collaborative composition class.
In her final section, Selfe discusses the improvement of computer-supported facilities and programs, paying particular attention to what she sees as the problems for computer-supported writing programs. Three problems associated with computers and writing programs are the lack of professional recognition and reward for personnel doing work and research in this area, the issue of unequal access for less privileged programs and students, and the continued need for allocation of tight resources in the development of computer-supported writing programs. In response to these problems, Selfe argues for a unified solution: The field of computers and writing must continue to educate faculty, departments, and universities about the important connections between writing theory, pedagogy, and technology; only an understanding of this crucial connection will provide the justification for enhanced professional stasis, improved access, and increased resources. This solution is directly related to what Selfe sees as the major possibilities for the future of computer-supported writing programs: increased collaboration, increased research, and increased recognition that the integration of technology can improve the abilities of writing teachers and programs to offer students a theoretically sound pedagogy of writing.
Selfe has written an optimistic book, focusing on the positive
results arising from an active connection between theory, pedagogy,
and technology in writing programs. Her enthusiasm in making this
argument may well encourage faculty and administrators to keep
working towards the establishment and development of computer-supported
writing programs. The weakness in such optimism, however, is that
it minimizes the serious problems of exactly who is doing this
work in computers and writing and with what consequences. When
Selfe discusses personnel, she ultimately relies on volunteerism,
pointing out that faculty establishing and developing programs
often do so out of a feeling of excitement about the field and
a sense of responsibility towards improved pedagogy. This work,
however, often proceeds without professional recognition or reward
in the form of tenure, promotion, and salary increases. While
this situation pays tribute to the dedication of composition faculty,
it also reflects the ongoing problems of the subfield of computers
and composition as well as the field of composition as a whole:
All too often, work in these areas is undervalued, seen as service
or pedagogy only and therefore not as research that leads to professional
success. Selfe's optimism, though, may be exactly the approach
that is needed: Perhaps it is only by strengthening the connections
between theory, pedagogy, and technology that the field will accomplish
its goal of developing programs which illustrate the value of
the integration of computers and writing.
Ellen Barton teaches in the English department
at Wayne State University in Detroit, MI.