on demand composition instruction

Chronicle post on a new online, on-demand course service, StraigtherLine. Of course they offer Composition. Here’s the syllabus. The question isn’t whether you can offer something better. The question is whether your institution can offer something better programmatically. The course is your typical rhet/comp crap, the worst imaginable, and hence just what you’d generally find in a random FYC course. StraighterLine didn’t lick it off the grass ya know!

In a way it’s an old story. Plenty of first-years come in with credit for FYC achieved somehow. It’s so common now, I wouldn’t be surprised if a black market for these credits didn’t start developing. But the academic marketplace is such that colleges can’t afford to not recognize the credit (much like the guy checking IDs at the college dive bar downtown).The difference here is that the course is On Demand! You can start today if you like. That means there is no instructor per se, and there are no classmates. You follow the course, and if you need help there are tutors (i.e. customer service reps) to assist you. I think you get 10 hours free when you sign up. I’m guessing they’ve got another department that just grades the writing.

It’s sweet! It’s just what rhet/comp has earned. Our field has very smart people and very sophisticated ideas about writing and composition, but they generally cannot be found in the FYC classroom. The FYC classroom remains a place that

  • focuses on mechanics and correctness
  • views "the" writing process as a lock-step assembly line
  • creates private writing tasks between student and teacher

None of these things are supportable in rhet/comp research, and yet we continue to produce textbooks that engender these activities, and we continue to oversee faculty in programs that engage in these practices. The result is a curriculum that is mechanized. We mechanized it so that we could deliver it 50-100 times a semester on our campuses. But now it will be mechanized on demand, online thousands of times each day.

Congratulations on that one.

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