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Kevin Brock University of South Carolina @brockoleur Against NCTECCCC's OWI Effective Principle 2 on Technology as Not-Writing. A moment in Online Writing Instruction.

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Kevin Brock

University of South Carolina


Against NCTECCCC's OWI Effective Principle 2 on Technology as Not-Writing
a moment in online writing instruction
A moment in Online Writing Instruction
  • Technologies—familiar and unfamiliar—increasingly common in writing and related compositional activities
  • Writing occurs in environments we don't/can't control, in genres that don't often reflecting class-related writing
  • Recent CCCC adoption of “A Position Statement of Principles and Example Effective Practices for Online Writing Instruction” (CCCC Committee on Best Practices for Online Writing Instruction)
online writing instruction principle 2
Online Writing Instruction Principle 2

“An online writing course should focus on writing and not on technology orientation or teaching students how to use learning and other technologies.”

this is a problem
This is a problem!

So how to deal with it?

First: a brief discussion of “functional literacy” (Selber)

Second: an examination of how platform/medium is integral to understanding writing (online and otherwise)

Third: a consideration of relevant public models (OSS development) for comparison

In each case, the argument centers on recognizing how writing and technology are connected rather than distinct or separate from one another

functional literacy
Functional literacy

Basic definition, paraphrasing Selber (2004): the capability of a given writer to employ a technology (e.g., a computer) for a particular end in relation to a specific activity

However, this doesn't describe only instrumental knowledge:

“If technology is indifferent to its own ends, and if public policy encourages the marketplace to determine those ends, then it follows that technical experts and other elites will continue to control the shape of technology and to benefit from the effects of the tool metaphor” (p. 39)

media platform knowledge writing
Media, platform knowledge, & writing

From the rationale for OWI Principle 2:

“Unlike a digital rhetoric course an OWC [Online Writing Course] is not considered to be a place for stretching technological skills as much as for becoming stronger writers in various selected genres […] Students should use the provided technology to support their writing and not the other way around. It must be clear that OWI teachers and students alike do not need to be technology experts, computer programmers, or Web designers to accomplish the instructional purposes of an OWC.”

media platform knowledge writing1
Media, platform knowledge, & writing
  • “Digital rhetoric” courses can be “writing” courses too, just focused on digital genres/media/etc.
  • Attention to technologies used for writing does not take attention away from writing.
  • Technical knowledge exists on a spectrum and not as a binary (of “experts” and “novices”).
collaboration open source software
Collaboration & open source software

To facilitate a warmer embrace of technology related to writing, why not turn to real-world examples of collaboration taking place in/around online writing?

Open source software (OSS) might be a helpful model to explore, with relevant projects like:

  • Wikipedia (wiki)
  • Mozilla Firefox (Internet browser)
  • LibreOffice (office software suite)

Examining these to understand how collaboration occurs does not require technical expertise!

another problem access
Another problem: access

Institutions have different resources and serve different populations of students (with varying forms of access)—we can't assume a particular level of preexisting knowledge or ability.

However, as an effective example practice for OWI Principle 2 notes, “To maintain the appropriate focus on writing, OWI teachers should be provided professional development in the institution’s technologies sufficiently in advance of a scheduled online course.”

acknowledging access
Acknowledging access

From the 2005 NCTE Position Statement on Multimodal Literacies:

“Digital technologies have increasing capacity for individuals to adapt the tools for their own information and communication purposes […] Students and teachers will need assistance in the skills of multitasking, accessing 'just in time' information, problem solving, and prioritizing tasks and resources to accomplish the goals of their assignments,” since “the quality of the ideas and the effectiveness of the communication media will become more important and more relevant to students”

i m thinking of a master plan
I'm Thinking of a Master Plan...

Overall, the Position Statement is well-crafted and insightful, but Principle 2 specifically fails to provide students, instructors, programs, and institutions with a clear articulation of technology as it relates to writing.

Ideas for revision and improvement:

  • Explicit advocacy of improving functional literacy (for instructors and students)
  • Pedagogical incorporation of technology as integral component for writing activities
  • Acknowledgment of real-world models with which to compare collaborative class-related online writing practices