1987, that’s when I took composition. I failed the final paper and got a C+ as I recall. I remember that final paper was about some novel I didn’t read. One pointless literary based writing assignment in what would be a long string of researchless, "new critical-esque" writing assignments on books I didn’t read as an English major. Obviously I got better at pulling off such writing tasks. Meanwhile I was out in the "real world" making a living writing technical documentation, business proposals, designing brochures and catalogs, building databases–you know, learning how to write.
Anyway, in 1987 you could go through my dorm. I don’t remember anyone having a computer on my floor. CD players were the "new" technology; most people still had the majority of their music collections on cassette or LP. No cell phones of course but plenty of Sony Walkmans. You had to use a typewriter to write your papers. I had an electronic typewrite with a tiny LCD screen where you could see about half of a sentence at a time. There was enough memory that you could probably write your whole paper into storage. Amazing.
Yeah, a lot of things have changed since then… No kidding. But one thing has remained largely the same…
Yes, it’s first-year composition. (Well, maybe the average English curriculum too, but that’s for another day.) But I’m thinking that things have got to change, and change quickly. The last time I taught comp was in 2002 I believe. There were things that seemed outdated to me then. I felt our composition program was outdated in terms of scholarship, but that’s a different matter. It still felt to me like teaching students to produce print documents was the right course of action. At that point I didn’t even have a lab where I could teach web design. But that was four years ago.
Just think about YouTube. 18 months ago YouTube was little more than an idea. The site didn’t go active until November 2005. Ten months later its a billion dollar property. The world of video is just exploding. Combine it with all the other Web 2.0 developments and suddenly teaching students to write inside one inch margins feels a little like teaching them how to shoe on a horse.
The only saving grace is faith in the notion that print literacy is somehow foundational to other literacy practices, but that seems harder and harder to believe. I mean, if that’s the case, then how come all these super-literate folks in English departments struggle so mightily with new media?
But then I start thinking about the logistics of this, even just on my campus. Already we can start to see the creep of media production into the curriculum. Courses across the disciplines are starting to do it. At some point we will say our students need to learn to compose video much like we teach them to compose text now–video as a staple in first-year composition. How far out is this turning point? Five years? Look how quickly the YouTube phenomenon took off.
So on our campus we have around 30 video cameras that circulate from the library. What happens when 1200 composition students need to make videos every semester? Plus you have to take into account demand from other courses. We probably need at least 300 video cameras to circulate. It means we better be buying 50 video cameras (plus other equipment) every year and plan to do that as a minimum for the foreseeable future (b/c these cameras are going to need to be replaced). That probably works out to $40-50K/yr. Then you need to hire staff to service them and staff to support faculty and students using them.
We also need to think about training faculty.
Or do we think that the day when video and audio production are an integral part of workplace communication, of learning, of cultural-social interaction will never come?
It can’t stay 1987 forever.