Electronic Communication Across the Curriculum
Excerpt from the Introduction: The Promise of ECAC
by Donna Reiss, Dickie Selfe, and Art Young

This book began with a heat wave. Sitting under a tree to escape a sweltering July afternoon in Houghton, where Michigan Tech had twenty years before nurtured some of the earliest initiatives in Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) and a decade before had published the first issues of Computers and Composition (C&C), a group of summer scholars chatted about ways to extend to our colleagues across the curriculum what we were learning about computer-supported writing. Among us were WAC and writing center program directors and staff as well as writing teachers. This place, these people, and the time were right for Electronic Communication Across the Curriculum. . . . 

Fortunate coincidence had brought to Michigan Technological University that summer of 1995 three teachers from dissimilar institutions whose ideas about the future of WAC and C&C were remarkably alike and whose enthusiasm for that conjunction would become Electronic Communication Across the Curriculum: Art Young of Clemson University, one of the founders and principal theorists and practitioners of the Writing-Across-the-Curriculum movement; Dickie Selfe of Michigan Technological University, manager of one of the nation’s early computer-supported writing facilities and an instructor/rhetorician interested in the practical aspects of teaching with technology as well as issues of access and authority in electronic environments; and Donna Reiss of Tidewater Community College, a Virginia writer-editor and composition-literature teacher who also conducts faculty workshops in computer-supported communication in English and across the curriculum.


The three of us conceived Electronic Communication Across the Curriculum as a response to a transformation in our culture that has significant implications for teaching and learning in higher education. As our communities and our schools at every level move on line, educators are looking for ways that new technologies can help students learn biology, history, management, math, accounting, art, engineering, philosophy, and English, some of the disciplines represented in this volume. At the same time, educators are looking for applications that encourage students to communicate, think critically, and collaborate—to become literate, lifelong learners. Recognizing that resources in education vary widely, this collection emphasizes ways to use and to share both the most widely available, most accessible, and most affordable electronic tools and also presents some of the technically complex, expensive forms of information technology that support instruction in any discipline and across disciplinary boundaries. Included are word processors; electronic mail; newsgroups; MOOs, MUDs, and other synchronous conferencing systems; multimedia development systems; and World Wide Web (WWW)-related applications. Classroom teachers; teachers in training; program directors for writing, technical communication, professional development, and communication across the curriculum; deans; librarians; and directors and support staff for instructional technology will find in these chapters practical models for institutional and departmental programs and for assignments within and across disciplines. Some initial observations about WAC history and recent explorations of electronic communication systems help illustrate how we have reached this educational moment. . . . 

The conceptual bases for WAC, CAC, and ECAC have common origins: the use of written, oral, and visual language in ways that support learning as well as communication and the use of interactive pedagogy that promotes active learning. Most early WAC programs follow the pioneering work in England of James Britton and Nancy Martin, who sought to establish programs on two of the primary functions of written language: (1) writing to learn, in which the main goal of the writing is to help writers learn what they are studying, and (2) writing to communicate, sometimes referred to as "learning to write," in which the main goal of the writing is to help students learn to communicate to others what they are learning and what they have learned. In theory and in practice, of course, these two functions often overlap in important ways depending upon the purpose, audience, and context for writing, especially with electronic writing, as you will discover in reading about specific practices in this volume. 

Electronic Communication Across the Curriculum