Beginning with the assumption that computers perform based on language(s) and that languages are ideologically infused, the speakers in this panel will interrogate how computers act as agents in the writing process. As computers become increasingly integral to composition classes, writing teachers are challenged to think critically about how the agency of the technology impacts teaching and writing. Together, these speakers will invite the audience to explore positive and negative aspects of using technology to compose ourselves and (and through) our texts.
Chair: Art Young, Clemson University
Michael Day, Northern Illinois University, will raise questions about ways in which computer software programs (such as grammar checkers) and online discussions might be influencing students not to take risks with creating and developing an individual prose style. Further, this presenter will investigate how the use of templates in popular programs such as PowerPoint, Netscape, and word processors might seductively trap student writers into structures and formats that short circuit the more elaborated processes of invention and disposition in the writing process. The presenter will provide a few examples, then discuss pros and cons and possible teaching strategies to address the issues with the audience
Donna Reiss, Tidewater Community College-Virginia, suggests that the ease with which computers allow teachers and students to integrate visual images with verbal communication is transforming our definitions of composition and communication and altering the ways we teach "writing" and "writing-intensive" classes. The computer itself becomes an agent in the instructional process, inviting teachers to reconfigure their teaching: allowing, encouraging, and sometimes requiring pictures, sound, and animation in compositions. Grounded in theories of visual communication, rhetoric, and new media from Mitchell, Drucker, Bolter, Landow, and Lanham, this presentation analyzes assignments and compositions that demonstrate the interrelated agency of teacher, student, and computer.
Annie Olson, LeTourneau University, uses MOO technology to teach writing and will argue, based on Bakhtinian discourse theories, that MOO actively facilitates a social process of rhetorical invention. Through programmed responses (both deliberate and random), questions, descriptive text, and graphics, the MOO creates an interactive rhetorical environment in which the computer dialogically contributes to emerging content and form. The presenter will compare examples of MOO logs and final drafts of student writing along with the students' own evaluations of how using the MOO influenced their composing processes. The presenter will then discuss how recognizing the computer as an agent in the writing process challenges us to rethink our traditional rhetorical models.
Rodney F. Dick, University of Louisville, will argue that students' sense of agency is formed, in part, through their interface with technology as they engage in computer composing practices (Selfe 1999). The technology interfaces help construct students' identities that are a reflection of the software systems (Johnson 1998; Carroll 1990, 1998). Using specific composing practices in one composition course, the presenter argues that the interface is, in many cases, "dumbed-down," relegating the user to a subservient role, constructing a notion of the user as "novice" or "knowledgeless." These interfaces, while providing students with the means for forging identities on the Web, can enhance, limit and complicate how, through writing, students compose those identities.