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Writing Empires I:
Composition and the Expansion of English

2007 MLA Convention
27-30 December 2008
Chicago, Illinois


Cheryl Smith
Baruch College, CUNY

Powered by WAC:
New Technologies and the Expanding Reach of English


Do not cite without permission of the author.

New technologies are changing how people write and challenging our methods for teaching.  Today’s students—raised in a world of chat rooms, instant messaging, and Facebook—choose to write and write more often, and in different ways, than students only a decade ago.  Self-proclaimed blog evangelist, Will Richardson, urges educators to keep in mind how quickly technology can transform communication: “We are in the midst of a period of profound change of historic proportions—thanks in large measure to the opportunities that computers and technology in general and the Web specifically have created.” (150).  Just last month, The Council Chronicle dedicated its November 2007 cover story to “the shift to 21st-century literacies,” or what William Kist, director of the National Council of Teachers of English Commission on Media, calls “a drastic change in literacy” (Collier 5).  These kinds of statements about change, opportunity, and shift have become commonplace, particularly in discussions about computer mediated instruction and the explosion of Web 2.0.  Also known as the Read/Write Web, Web 2.0 refers to the perceived “second generation” of web-based communities, allowing for more public participation and interaction and transforming the Internet from a place to retrieve information to a network for creating and exchanging it.  The refrain about Web 2.0 intones the message: times and literacy practices are changing.  What are we doing to keep up? 

I want to explore this question by looking at one particular nexus for writing in higher education forming around English departments, writing across the curriculum (WAC) programs, and blogs.  Blogs are open access web pages comprised of usually short, chronologically-ordered posts that can be commented on and categorized by theme.  Students are using them, along with other electronic forums for reading and writing, to astonishing degrees.  Once schools notice the impact a new technology has, they often provide resources for faculty to design and employ innovative pedagogies that take advantage of students’ developing interests.  We have reached this point; blogs are being used by college and pre-college educators alike, especially those who teach (or teach with) writing, making English departments and WAC programs natural sites for promoting blog use.  Both English studies and WAC are thus poised to make enormous contributions, not only to literacy education but also to cultural perceptions of textual creation and reception.  To make the most of this opportunity, we need to evaluate our departments, programs, courses, and assignments in light of changing literacy practices and think creatively about the potential alignments between English and WAC.  We cannot possibly predict the full impact electronic media will have on our institutions and professional lives, but we can thoughtfully shape the spaces for fostering creative pedagogy around the new skills sets that students will develop—with or without our guidance.

Networks and the Spaces of Writing

In her 2004 chair’s address to the Conference on College Composition and Communication, Kathleen Blake Yancey wondered if our methods for teaching writing had “become anachronistic” (302) because of the extent to which technology had altered the terms of literacy.  She speculated further by calling into question the fate of traditional English departments: would they, or had they already become, obsolete?  According to Yancey, we in English commit a potentially fatal error in failing to keep up with the new writing public that has evolved in tandem with technology:
Never before has the proliferation of writings outside the academy so counterpointed the composition inside.  Never before have the technologies of writing contributed so quickly to the creation of new genres.  The consequence of these two factors is the creation of a writing public that, in development and in linkage to technology, parallels the development of a reading public in the 19th century.  And these parallels, they raise good questions, suggest ways that literacy is created across spaces, across time.  (298)

The idea of spacesacross which “literacy is created” strikes me as particularly interesting.A lot of the discussion about technologies of writing is optimistic, even utopian, regarding the potential they have to transform literacy learning.  New technology creates new spaces, literally and figuratively, for writing to evolve, and they accommodate writers who may have been excluded from more traditional spaces.  But there is a useful analogy to be made between the online spaces ushering in profound changes in writing practice and the classroom space, not always utopian, that John Trimbur studies in his influential article, “Composition and the Circulation of Writing.”  I turn in particular to Trimbur’s notions of the classroom space because his solution—to focus on writing as an act of circulation—resonates so meaningfully with where writing instruction is headed as it moves further into the networks of cyberspace.

First, some background on spaces.  We often think of writing and literacy education as occurring in actual physical locations: the page, the text, the essay, the classroom, the school, and increasingly, the computer and Internet.  Many of us might say, for instance, that we do not experience writing and reading the same way on the screen as we do on the page.  They are different spaces.  Thus, in the process of composing on the computer, we may occasionally print out drafts.  We feel the need to hold the hard copy in our hands in order to see beyond the individual sections captured by one screen shot and get a better grasp on the whole.  The two spaces, page and screen, feel quite different, reveal different aspects of the writing process, and deliver our message differently.  Sensitive to such distinctions, we may encourage students to print out and proofread their own drafts and even read their work aloud, an exercise that extends the act of writing from the screen or page to yet another space: the aural space.1

These spaces of writing, however, are complicated: at once vexed and full of opportunity.  Trimbur argues that the main space of literacy instruction, the classroom, can be the most vexed because of the way it reinstates the attitudes and rituals of middle class family life.  Therefore, he seeks “to transcend the domestic space of the writing classroom” (191), where teachers act in loco parentis to regulate and monitor the products of students’ composition.  In this “domestic space,” the student assumes the role of a child called to account for his or her knowledge and the teacher assumes the role of a powerful parent figure poised, however benevolently, to judge.  To begin to replace this model, Trimbur promotes an instruction that focuses less on the end product and more on the “complex delivery systems through which writing circulates” (190).  He thus resists the static aspect of space, where a writer realizes a final composition in one particular moment, and instead prioritizes the movement of circulation, where meaning transmits and changes hands, evading identification with any one space or time.  He frames his theory as “a democratic aspiration” that he hopes will help teachers, “devise delivery systems that circulate ideas, information, opinions, and knowledge and thereby expand the public forums in which people can deliberate on the issues of the day” (190).  Trimbur wants writing classrooms to tap into the channels through which writing circulates in order to expand students’ sense of how they might use such channels to gain a voice in civic life.  In this way, Trimbur and Yancey intersect; both encourage faculty to see students as part of a developing writing public.  The challenge is for teachers to create or make use of platforms for writing that take into account different and emerging possibilities for making meaning in the public sphere—possibilities such as the web networks that have literally exploded in the seven years since Trimbur published his essay.  In this short time, Web 2.0 has radically altered the terrain of reading and writing and has potential to democratize literacy learning.

As literacy practices and instruction evolve in the electronic networks, we continue to develop more ways to figure them as spaces: websites, discussion boards, forums, even “a place for friends” (Myspace).  The writing landscape offers different approaches and creates various access points to enter into the work of knowledge (or relationship) making.  These spaces transition into instruction, where we begin to see change, including new programs, courses, or assignments that usefully capitalize on the spaces where students write and the skills they develop there.  Nonetheless, the spaces of computer-mediated instruction, like the space of the classroom itself, can be vexed by considerable limits.  Students may not share equal access or exposure to Internet forums, creating serious complications for making blogs central to a class.  Meanwhile, teachers may frame blogs in limited ways: as one type of writing representing one type of intellectual, or more likely social, act that accomplishes one type of learning goal, which ultimately remains peripheral to the primary writing of a course.  Or, blogs get associated with one course, first-year composition, perhaps because they fit so easily with composition’s longstanding practice of informal writing or because they are not regarded as serious enough for most upper division courses.  As we confront the first wave of historic changes to writing and begin to shape the spaces for new media and literacy instruction, we should remain aware of how and where we are fixing and entering into them. 
For Yancey, we are not currently entering into them very well, if at all.  “How is it,” she asks, “that what we teach and what we test can be so different from what our students know as writing?” (298).  What they know, according to Yancey, is a remarkably communal kind of writing mediated by computers so that unprecedented scales, time frames, and forums for communicating are continually opening up.  A great deal of writing today happens in networked electronic spaces.  Blogs have emerged as particularly popular, credited with being highly democratic forums for writing (Nelson and Fernheimer 3; Bloch and Crosby) that highlight rather than elide the importance of the author (Bloch 129) and encourage interactive communication (Ferdig and Trammel 16).2   Due to these qualities, many composition instructors readily embrace blogs, touting their potential to inspire student writing by meeting it where it “lives,” in the new social networks of the Internet. 

There are many reasons why instructors of writing may be naturally predisposed to experiment with blogs.  Composition pedagogies are in line with the qualities, outlined above, that users attribute to blogs: democratic expression, promotion of the author, and interactive engagement with an audience.  Because anyone can post and claim a public voice in blogs, they fulfill Trimbur’s “democratic aspirations,” shared by many in the field of composition and rhetoric.  Quite different from online course management systems like Blackboard or WebCT, which are restrictive, blogs are expansive: open to broad audiences and responsive to writers’ creative impulses.  They lend power to the author and may especially empower inexperienced writers, who often feel uncomfortable with academic discourse but more at home with Internet writing, having done it by choice in Myspace or online discussion boards.  Finally, blogs encourage interactivity because participants can read and comment on one another’s posts, thereby fostering community and facilitating the peer review process that is a hallmark of many composition classes. 

Peter Elbow claims this kind of accessible, public community of writers is especially effective at fostering one particularly ineffable quality of writing: voice.  He asserts: “Voice is alive on the Internet” and “What a huge change the Internet has brought to the experience of writing: so many more writers; so much more writing in the world; so much writing to strangers!” (171, italics in the original).  Students likely come to college already adept at a certain kind of writing and voice with writing that they use to profile, shape, and construct online identities.  The aptitudes that students have developed may lend themselves well to college writing.  We have to understand and appreciate students’ facilities with language, however, before we can work with them.  Are we willing to miss out on “so much…writing in the world”?  If not, we need to figure out how we can engage the voices, audiences, and practices—the writing public and public writing—that students commonly experience (and enjoy) in the electronic spaces they frequent as both writers and readers. 

One way to tap into all this writing in the world is to evolve pedagogical innovations for connecting what students know with the distinctive ways of knowing that we value in the academy.  Aligning the familiar world with the public world of school is not a new idea, but technology suggests new ways and reasons for doing it.3   What more powerful new forum for writers exists than the World Wide Web?  And what more democratic tool than the blog?  Students are using these forums and tools in their personal lives; they often understand the dynamics of Internet writing spaces better than academic ones, where confused students can feel alienated by the new discourses and simply disengage.  Again, incorporating new media into college writing especially empowers those students who struggle most and therefore benefit most from alternative approaches.  In this way, blogs help equalize access to success.  Why not use students’ familiar territory to lead them into the unfamiliar terrain of higher education?  They will not only transition to academic literacies more easily but also make better sense of the Internet’s potential if they experience it in academic spaces that newly contextualize what they already know. 

Contextualizing both school and familiar spaces further improves students’ learning because it helps them gain new insight into the disciplinary structures of higher education.  Writing happens in a variety of particularized spaces that change depending on disciplinary conventions, audience, personal preferences, and institutional demands.  Students reared in Web 2.0 may have honed a special kind of sensitivity to shifting contexts that could help them navigate higher education’s disciplinary differences, which Gerald Graff reminds us are often baffling to undergraduates.  Hyper-text, live chat, instant messaging—all challenge the notion of enclosed space, permanence, stasis.  In this age of Internet authorship, where writers regularly talk to strangers in the guise of whatever voice they wish to project, students are developing complicated writing histories that they bring with them to our classes and—regardless of what our instruction may choose to prioritize—that they bring out of school and into the spaces of home and work.  These writing histories are marked by movement, links, and unprecedented (and often largely unexamined) connections.  Young people learn to shuttle between ever-changing contexts.4   We may assume that the kinds of movements students make with ease in the context of Internet authorship would automatically prepare their minds for the connections we ask them to make.  If they can scan a web page and navigate its many links, then they should be prepared to make the leap from, say, finding evidence in a reading to arguing the implications of their thesis.  Or, they should see the links between their biology class and intro to anthropology.  Yet, these are doomed assumptions, especially if we do not bring a more conscious focus on the evolving channels for communication into our classrooms.  Students do not easily make the moves from reading to evidence to analysis to claims without explicit and logical tools for doing so—along with a lot of practice.  They often fail to see the connections between their courses until years later (if ever).  Likewise, students require direct and repeated exposure to new media in classroom settings in order to make thoughtful connections between Internet and academic prose.  They can not deeply understand how spaces for authorship—from disciplines to electronic forums—work if they do not explicitly interrogate them as networks with multiple functions.  Students need to learn about Trimbur’s “complex delivery systems through which writing circulates” (190) by experiencing them firsthand.

This is not to say, however, that the traditional sites of our instruction are drained of all meaning.  Our familiar academic disciplines and discourses are still relevant; they just need to expand to accommodate the developing knowledge and experiences that students bring to college.  Profound change often faces resistances that challenge the creation of effective pedagogies.  As we open up the spaces of literacy education to new networks for writing, our pedagogical innovation will inevitably bump up against established practices and classroom rituals.  Our task is to test our rituals and confront our own resistances.

Rituals in the Spaces of Writing

Trimbur figures the writing classroom as a space marked by middle class rituals; similarly, WAC has its own rituals.  In a recent meeting of faculty and administrators interested in general education, one of my colleagues, a professor of Russian language and literature with years of experience in faculty development, referred to the “WAC rituals” that can be off-putting to some people.  When I asked him what he meant, he specified free writing.  He recalled an interdisciplinary faculty development workshop that he had co-led with a WAC director.  One participating professor, upon being asked to write for five minutes in response to a short prompt, stormed out of the room.  My colleague was surprised by the hostile reaction evoked by free writing, which in his experience had become second nature.  “Aren’t such WAC rituals second nature to us all by now?” he asked.  Apparently not.  Only a few days later, a new biology professor and a seasoned language professor both bristled at the idea of having to free write in a faculty development workshop that we attended together (I am happy to report that neither stormed out of the room).  Young or old, professor of a physical science or humanities discipline: we all hold tight to particular rituals and resist others.
Before becoming a WAC ritual, free writing was a common pedagogy in composition classrooms, promoted in the 1960s by figures such as Peter Elbow and Donald Murray and widely used ever since, including by WAC advocates.  David R. Russell traces the launch of American WAC programs in the 1970s; they quickly became agents for pedagogical change, largely through faculty development workshops and retreats.  Not surprisingly, early workshop leaders asked participants to free write in order to model writing-to-learn pedagogies.  Russell explains the goal of the early faculty development efforts—and hints at the conflicts they would face:

At the deepest level, reconceiving writing as a serious intellectual activity, worthy of study and consideration by academia, was a means of breaking down the century-old academic notion of writing as an elementary mechanical skill or a romantic inspiration and replacing it with transactional theories and student-centered pedagogies in the Deweyan progressive tradition....The workshops gave many faculty their first opportunity to discuss writing and teaching in an environment of communal scholarship, without the “educationist” stigma or the belletristic assumptions of the English department determining the ground.  In a collegial, interdisciplinary atmosphere, a faculty member could explore the relationships between the structure of the discipline, as revealed in its discourse, and the ways in which students learn that structure and discourse. (285)

WAC drew much of its initial energy from being faculty driven.  More often than not, early faculty leaders were from English, where they directed writing programs or held other administrative posts.  These leaders brought English pedagogies to interdisciplinary faculty work and made them subjects of serious inquiry.  Practices common to many English classes, such as free writing, close reading, scaffolded assignments, and peer review, became the center of serious discussion and assumed significance in faculty thinking and teaching across the curriculum. 

Still, as Russell’s comments suggest, the role of English in WAC’s growth was not uncomplicated; resistances quickly emerged, often pulling on English studies’ own internal fractures.  English was seen as possessing a very specific kind of bias toward texts, one driven by “belletristic assumptions” that other faculty might not relate to.  Along the way, WAC has had to contend with this and other biases implicit in its various institutional contexts.  Further, while most WAC programs began through and may still be sustained by the efforts of writing-focused faculty and composition directors, and while WAC leaders often call English departments home, “some of the most entrenched opposition to WAC has come from English departments, who see programs challenging liberal culture’s view of writing as an unteachable gift or infringing on the department’s century-old institutional prerogatives” (Russell 293).  Such moments of opposition sound all too familiar to compositionists.  The longstanding tension between composition and literature afflicts the relationship between WAC and English as well.  Teaching writing still belongs to English departments in many cases, but it gets cast as lower-level, skills work; teaching literature represents higher-level, intellectual duty and the real work of the department.  Replace “teaching writing” with “WAC” and replace “literature” with the name of any discipline and it becomes clear how WAC can get nudged into the same limited space as composition, dismissed as unimportant and remedial or seen as infringing on the delivery of content knowledge, which faculty generally prioritize. 

WAC has thus devolved in some cases into composition’s misunderstood stepchild, its agenda misread as promoting the study of language over the study of content.  WAC works to reveal how a discipline’s materials gets written and communicated so that students can become better readers of and contributors to academic discourse.  Put another way: WAC promotes the cultivation of both knowledge consumers and knowledge creators.  Some would say it leans more toward the latter, but an emphasis on creation, or writing, does not challenge the importance of the disciplinary knowledge itself; it does, however, repurpose the knowledge, seeking to illuminate the delivery systems by which it reaches an audience in the hope that students will learn strategies for entering into the systems and gaining voice.  Not unlike composition programs, WAC can be poorly received, resisted, or marginalized because its central tenet, that writing empowers learning, is misconstrued as a threat to traditional practices and hierarchies in the academy.

Barbara Walvoord forwards one response to WAC’s status and reception: she urges directors to find institutional spaces other than the English departments where WAC may be established yet isolated from important centers of power.  “WAC cannot survive as Switzerland” (69), she remarks, but it can survive by defining new “collaborative roles” and, in particular, by “becoming a network through which other movements [ethical reasoning, critical thinking, assessment, oral communication] form” (70).  The warning that underlies Walvoord’s vision for WAC’s collaborative future is clear: limiting WAC to an affiliation with an English department risks its survival.  Walvoord’s solution: stake out new territory—significantly, through “becoming a network”—or face diminishing influence.  The “become a network” solution is particularly interesting in the context of WAC and blogging because both emphasize networking; both advance a notion of writing that seeks new means for generating and transmitting ideas.  Blogs foreground the act of writing as rhetorical engagement, positioning the writer as part of an interactive community rather than an isolated voice relating to isolated texts.  WAC crosses institutional borders to underscore writing’s power for understanding and sharing knowledge.  In WAC, writing becomes a tool for entering a disciplinary community.  I believe WAC’s move away from English departments or even composition programs, where such a move has occurred, can be attributed at least in part to an academy that resists seeing writing as communal and instead sees it as an individualized act on the part of an author, reader, or learner generating a product that remains isolated from or contingent to the processes of learning content.  Over the years, WAC may well increasingly distance itself from limiting, conflicted views of writing and affiliate itself with other likeminded movements promoting innovative pedagogy.

What does this history and its conflicts mean for our English studies-WAC-blog network?  First, it helps explain how the three belong together at all.  If both composition and WAC are invested in delivery systems for making meaning, then of course they would be equally drawn to the blog, one of the most powerfully networked systems available for public writing.  Second, our institutional history, marked as it is by certain resistances, helps us anticipate potential stumbling blocks to developing means for blogs to be purposefully integrated into the curriculum.  Blogs, as forums that connect and challenge writers beyond the space of the page, can subvert text, especially insofar as we characterize the textual experience as a largely individual one.  Blogs elevate the author in ways that other Internet writing—often anonymous—does not.  At first glance, the central significance of the blog author seems to suggest that blogging plays into the idea of textual creation as a primarily individual act but, in fact, it takes important steps away from this idea.  The blogger writes into a new space that radically redefines audience: full of strangers ready and able to write back.  The interaction between blogger and audience plays a big role in shaping the tone and content of the site.  Blogging thus challenges our accepted wisdom about authorship and authority in many of the spaces—from classroom to page—where we traditionally deliver and assess academic literacies.
Regardless of the concerns and resistances we may have, the shift toward electronic literacies is underway.  Reading and writing environments are changing and the changes will impact our institutions.  Many are taking note of the shift and suggesting ways to respond.  Jeff Rice believes networks and new media are so significant that college English should actively refocus itself around them.  He offers a compelling explanation of how networking refigures our relationship to text that helps illuminate why English departments might resist restructuring their work to embrace new media:

In [the] process of making networks, writers, through their work, see themselves connected to information in ways the space on the page does not allow.  The space on the page keeps bodies of information (and, thus, bodies) separate.  In contrast, networks alter current understandings regarding how learning functions in social spaces.  By social, I do not mean “people,” or “friendliness,” or “mingling.”  Instead, I mean the ways bodies of information socialize, the ways they interact, or…associate. (130-131, underlining for italics in the original)

To put students into networks for writing requires relinquishing some of our notions about what it means to generate and receive text.  Writing becomes less an individual, isolated act of composition and more a connected, even shared and communally experienced, act.  The changes redefine the spaces where writing and literacy education occur and force us to wrestle with some of our most deeply held assumptions about writing.  We in English studies are deeply committed to “the space on the page.”  We relish it, slow down and unpack it, appreciate its layers, assign it to be closely read and carefully composed, and evaluate it.  Our particular brand of appreciation and valuation, however, has a troubling effect.  It can lead to teaching that, as Trimbur argues, “foreshortens the delivery system, the circuits of production, distribution, exchange, and consumption through which writing circulates as it takes on cultural value and worldly force” (194).  Now more than ever, with Web 2.0 shifting the ground beneath our students’ feet (and potentially our own feet), we should guard against the danger of foreshortening the systems and circuits through which people make meaning.  Due to the rapid nature of technological advances, students are becoming active writers well before they sit in our classes and tackle our assignments.  What effect does their Web 2.0 writing practice have on them, their thinking, style, and approaches to college writing?  In this time of profound change, it may be especially useful to relinquish a little of what Russell labels our belletristic assumptions about text and see the acts of reading and writing the way WAC practitioners have long seen them—through eyes trained on the spaces in between.  How does learning to write look when it highlights processes and delivery systems as much as results and delivered products?  By retraining our vision, we will more easily identify the varied rhetorical natures that inform the contexts for literacy instruction today.  

Despite our challenges, I am not particularly pessimistic about the fate of English departments.  Our traditional practices and aims are resilient, but they do need to keep flexible.  Student literacy remains a universal concern in higher education and we in English and WAC are often called to define, defend, develop, and assess it.  According to popular lore, we still have a literacy crisis, Johnny still can’t write (Shiels 58), and all of us—whether we specialize in literature, linguistics, journalism, composition, or WAC—share the blame or responsibility or concern (depending on the tenor of the discussions at our particular institutions).  The ubiquitous nature of the literacy discussion in both culture at large and within institutions of higher education suggests that “writing empire” is a useful formulation, though thinking of this empire as existing in an English department, composition program, or WAC misses the mark.  The empire is “out there,” in the hands of amateur bloggers and capitalist designers creating blogs, ezines, games, and other interactive arenas and determining how and what people today read and write.  The value of these spaces to teaching and learning will almost certainly increase.  We should claim and shape them, despite an impulse to distance ourselves from anything amateurish or capitalist.  If we do not build our own creative bridges to Internet writing, we risk isolating ourselves from some powerful forces that may just imprint themselves on our practices anyway.  Our internal differences—the hierarchies of literary studies and composition, higher-order content knowledge and lower-order discourse knowledge—only increase our isolation.  In the spaces of writing now evolving, will we stake a claim in the Web 2.0 empire or further fracture our departments into programs, centers, requirements, and initiatives that are poorly integrated, defensively designed, and not in touch with the literacy realities of our profoundly changed world?  If we can defend against divisiveness while overcoming some of our outdated resistances to writing innovation, we have the opportunity to forge new alignments, refresh old ones, and realize unique and meaningful transformations to literacy education. 

Works Cited

Bloch, Joel.  “Abdullah’s Blogging: A Generation 1.5 Student Enters the Blogosphere.”
Language Learning and Technology 11.2 (June 2007): 128-141.

Bloch, Joel and Cathryn Crosby.  “Creating a Space for Virtual Democracy.” Essential
Teacher 3.3 (Sep. 2006): 38-41.

Canagarajah, Suresh.  “Toward a Writing Pedagogy of Shuttling between Languages:
Learning from Multilingual Writers.” College English 68.1 (July 2006): 689-604.

Collier, Laura.  “The Shift to 21st-Century Literacies.” The Council Chronicle 17.2 (Nov.
2007): 4-8.

Elbow, Peter.  “Voice in Writing Again: Embracing Contraries.” College English 70.2
(Nov. 2007): 168-188.

Ferdig, Richard E. and Kaye D. Trammell.  “Content Delivery in the ‘Blogosphere’.”
T.H.E. Journal 31.7 (Feb. 2004): 12-20.

Gee, James Paul.  “New People in New Worlds: Networks, the new capitalism and
schools” Multiliteracies: Literacy Learning and the Design of Social Futures.  Eds. Bill Cope and Mary Kalantis.  London and New York: Routledge, 2000: 43-68.

Graff, Gerald.  Clueless in Academe: How Schooling Obscures the Life of the Mind.  New
Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.

Krause, Steven D.  “Blogs as a tool for Teaching.” The Chronicle of Higher Education
Supplement: Information Technology, (24 June 2005): B33-B35.

Nelson, Thomas and Jan Fernheimer.  “Welcome to the Blogosphere: Using Weblogs to
Create Classroom Community.” Computer Writing and Research Lab (CWRL), Department of Rhetoric and Writing, University of Texas at Austin. White Papers Series. PDF 0030822-1 (22 Aug. 2003): 15 pages.

Reiss, Donna and Art Young.  “WAC Wired: Electronic Communication Across the
Curriculum.” WAC for the New Millennium: Strategies for Continuing Writing-Across the-Curriculum Programs. Eds. Susan H. McLeod, Eric Miraglia, Margot Soven, and Christopher Thaiss.  Urbana: NCTE, 2001: 52-85.

Rice, Jeff.  “Networks and New Media.” College English 69.2 (Nov. 2006): 127-133.

Richardson, Will.  “Teaching in a Web 2.0 World.” Kappa Delta Pi Record  43.4
(Summer 2007): 150-151.

Russell, David R.  Writing in the Academic Disciplines: A Curricular History. 2nd Ed.
Carbondale, Il: Southern Illinois University Press, 2002.

Sheils, Merrill.  "Why Johnny Can't Write."  Newsweek, (8 Dec.1975): 58-63.

Trimbur, John.  “Composition and the Circulation of Writing.” CCC 52.2 (Dec. 2000):

Walvoord, Barbara E.  “The Future of WAC.” College English 58.1 (Jan. 1996): 58-79.

Yancey, Kathleen Blake.  “Made Not Only in Words: Composition in a New Key.” CCC
56.2 (Dec. 2004): 297-328.


1 I want to thank my colleague, Jason Tougaw, for commenting on an early draft of this paper.

. Though we may think about actual physical spaces like these when we talk about the spaces of writing, we also activate a host of metaphorical meanings, which the idea of an “aural space” points to.  Other examples: the page becomes a space where thinking occurs, gets transformed, and finds expression; the Internet evolves into a space where people create personal histories and interact.  In these ways, the page or the Internet is more a vehicle that enables communication than an actual space where it occurs, but we still find it useful to plot the contours of literacy instruction and read its meaning in terms of physical space.  So when Yancey asks how literacy is created, and whenever any critic asks how writing circulates and means, we conjure a composition landscape planted, both literally and metaphorically, with the work of writing and its instruction.

.  2. Not surprisingly, users do not unilaterally attribute all these positive qualities to blogs.  Steven D. Krause, for instance, used blogs in a graduate class, “Cyberspace Rhetoric and Culture,” and found that for his purposes, “Blogs don’t do a good job of supporting interactive discussion” (B34).  He prefers email lists, which allow replies to go automatically to all participants, and online bulletin boards included in course management sites like WebCT and Blackboard, which “thread” discussions based on individual posts.  Depending on how the tool is used—how, for instance, a blog is regulated and integrated into the course—instructors define its usefulness differently.

.3.In the introduction to “New People in New Worlds: Networks, the new capitalism and schools,” James Paul Gee adds to the chorus of voices on how technology is transforming literacy: “We are living amidst major changes,” Gee insists, “changes creating new ways with words, new literacies, and new forms of learning.  These changes are creating, as well, new relationships and alignments within, between, and among the spheres of family, school, business, and science” (43).  Gee wants to think about how these changes and new alignments affect literacy education.  Once we figure that out, we can not only improve delivery of knowledge but also provide fair access to knowledge making, especially for working-class students whose voices are likely to be compromised by limited exposure to more powerful and closely guarded forms of public discourse. 

.4. In urging teachers to allow multilingual students to “shuttle[e] between languages,” Suresh Canagarajah reminds us of the complex interplay between different contexts and our students’ developing communication skills.  He insists: “Texts are not simply context-bound or context-sensitive.  They are context-transforming.  It is for this reason that students should not treat rules and conventions as given or pre-defined for specific texts and contexts.  They should think of texts and discourses as changing and changeable.  Students can engage critically in the act of changing rules and conventions to suit their interests, values, and identities” (603).  Multilingual writers, Canagarajah argues, should bring their different languages to the different sites where communication occurs.  In picking and choosing how to employ both their familiar and developing languages, they make powerful and empowering choices about how language can mean.  Similarly, all writers today (even those who are not multi-lingual but are nonetheless multi-voiced) should be permitted—even encouraged—to bring their varied experiences with language to bear on their writing. 



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