Higher Education Rhetoric/Composition

the untapped audience of writing instruction

So as I was saying in my previous post, you’ve got somewhere between 4-5000 two-year and four-year colleges and universities in the U.S.. Some 14M students. That’s some 4,000+ WPA’s, chairs, and other administrators of writing programs. And what I’m guessing are some 50,000 regular instructors of FYC, plus other faculty who are occasional FYC teachers, plus (at least hypothetically) faculty across the campus involved in WAC and/or WID programs.

I think it would be more than generous to say that 20% of these folks have the knowledge, training, or experience to teach networked and/or convergent media composition. That would include (roughly in order of familiarity)

  • teaching primarily in a CMS or other networked environment
  • teaching "multimedia" or "multimodal" composition
  • teaching online, collaborative composition (e.g., on a wiki)
  • using emerging "Web 2.0" applications,
  • producing audio or video podcast for instructional purposes (let along having students compose such)
  • using mobile technologies
  • teaching in virtual worlds (e.g. Second Life)

Put most optimistically, I think you could say that most faculty, particularly among younger faculty, have the technical knowledge to teach a "web-enhanced" course where the enhancements come through a campus CMS where they might post course documents, receive and grade assignments, and hold some online discussions.

While I hesitate to make predictions, I will say that 10 years from now, we will be consuming mobile, networked, convergent media as a regular variety of information. That’s not a daring prediction as it basically is already true, but it will be so pervasive as to become an integral feature of college communication. That means that students will need to learn to compose intelligent, scholarly productions for this context, AND that someone (a lot of someones) will have to teach them how.

So that’s how I get to my point about this untapped audience…

There have got to be 50K+ college faculty out there who will need to learn how to compose mobile, networked convergent media. No, they don’t need to become professional multimedia designers any more than they’ve become professional writers to teach writing. They will need to know what the millions of people who have blogs and podcasts, upload videos to YouTube, share photos or slideshows, and contribute to Wikipedia already know: they will need to understand how to compose in these participatory, prosumer environments.

Of course, all these campuses have instructional designers and technology trainers who can assist faculty with their professional development and support them in regard to the specific applications used at their institutions. But, you can’t really expect these support staff to understand the teaching of composition in these contexts. That’s our job.

And that’s where I see this potentially massive untapped audience: serving a scholarly/professional development purpose in helping the writing instructor "in the trenches" adopt emerging technologies for the writing classroom.

Now, I suppose you could say that that’s what all our journals and conferences are for, but I would disagree. Again, as I’ve been arguing over the past few weeks here, I think there is significant and valid disconnection between research and pedagogy. (Basically, the value of research cannot be measured strictly by its applicability to the FYC classroom.) By the same token, information that might be extremely valuable for practical purposes might not meet the intellectual expectations of traditional research or scholarship. For example, this summer I was working on an article that was a kind of ANT-inspired examination of mobile, convergent media networks and their impact on composition. I’d like to think that it’s an interesting article and worthy of scholarly attention. While it contains some discussion of teaching practices, however, it’s not the place I would go if I were trying to figure out how to use podcasts in my writing course for the first time.

Put differently, if I had written the article for that purpose, it would have been quite different, and I’m not sure that if I had written such an article that it would have resulted in a product that would have met scholarly standards.

Still that doesn’t mean that the more "practical" article isn’t worth writing. Indeed, in a larger perspective, while the "practical" article may not "advance" disciplinary knowledge or contribute anything particular "original," it would likely be read, understood, and used by a far larger audience.

So I think it would be a great idea to develop a web journal that focused on this large audience poised to enter (or be dragged into) the burgeoning world of technology with the purpose of providing discipline-specific, professional development for technology and writing. I’ve some specific ideas on this but the family is waiting for me in the car. More later.

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