Gail E., Cynthia L. Selfe, Paul LeBlanc, and Charles Moran. Computers and the Teaching of Writing
in American Higher Education, 1979-1994: A History. New Directions
in Computers and Composition Ser. Norwoord, N.J.: Ablex, 1996.
Computers and the Teaching of Writing is a layered history, pulling
together selected pieces of composition studies, changes in software
and hardware, narratives by people involved in early computers and
composition work, considerations of policy, politics, and
access, and the formation of computers and composition as a legitimate
academic subfield consisting of its own specialized knowledge, its
own research agenda, its own journals and book-length works,
and its own conferences and related professional gatherings. CTW
presents a chronology of the formation of computers and composition,
organizing detail-heavy accounts of what was happening at the time into
particular periods or eras rather than celebrating scenes or
Hugh Burns and Ellen Nold are particular celebrated in this volume. Burns’s
1979 dissertation, "Stimulating Invention in English Composition through
Computer-Assisted Instruction" and Nold’s 1975 article, "Fear and Trembling: The
Humanist Approaches the Computer" figure centrally, according to the authors, in
the early formation of computers and composition. Annual awards, one for a
dissertation and one for an article, were later established to honor each of
these landmark works (198).
The book is organized as follows, to each chapter a corresponding period:
1979-1982: The Profession’s Early Experience with Modern Technology
1983-1985: Growth and Enthusiasm
1986-1988: Emerging Research, Theory, and Professionalism
1989-1991: Coming of Age–The Rise of Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives and a
Consideration of Difference
1992-1994: Looking Forward
Each chapter also includes the following segments: Considering Contexts (comp
scholarship focus), Observing Trends (pedagogy and technology focus),
Recognizing Challenges, and Our Colleagues Remember. Collectively, the project
is an assertion of legitimacy for computers and composition and also an
articulation of a substantial and complex tradition dating back to the 1960’s.
Still, it focuses on a relatively small start-up community (just ten members at
the 1983 meeting of The Fifth "C" SIG) (81), which raises all sorts of
questions. It is also interesting to consider this historical account alongside
cases like the one Jeff makes about the discipline’s
^Hmm: "invisible writing": Marcus and Blau, "writers write invisibly on
darkened computer screens" (27); counts of conference sessions as evidence (on
process in 1983 CCCC) (71)
"The present book is the first full-scale effort to define computers and
composition within its history" (xii).
"Electronic technology is not simply a medium for the mass-delivery of a
managed curriculum" (4).
"Computers entered our scene at a moment when there was a loud and public
call for the improvement of writing instruction, and at the beginning of what
was to be a long and difficult period of retrenchment in American public
education [re 1975, "Why Johnny Can’t Write," and the related "literacy crisis"]
"Patricia Sullivan, working in 1982 on interface design for the library at
Carnegie Mellon, had a difficult time convincing her English department that
what she was working on was English" (51).
?? "HYPERCARD would popularize and extend the use of hypertext in English
studies, but all the groundwork for our field’s later enthusiasm for hypertext
was in place by 1985" (78).
"Of the many papers presented at these conferences, only a few focused on
theoretical issues associated with technology" (95).
"The kids were interacting with paper, not with each other" (129, from
"In 1986, for most of us, the computer was still a stand-alone machine, one
marvelous in its capability–and on used by a single writer, writing alone. Yet
by 1988, many of us–not yet most of us–would see the computer as a means of
connecting to a virtual space in which we might participate with others in the
construction of knowledge" (135).
See 282+ for highlights in "Perspectives of the authors after reading this
Terms: "soft technological determinists" (1), computer as agent (2),
community (2), electronic territory (6), techno-evangelists (13), generation gap
(13), "writing crisis" (19), magical thinking paradigm (30), military discourse
(106), add-on (111), ecology (124), burst/dissipation pattern (145), white coat
syndrome (164), systems (174), "research community" (216)
- Related sources
- Cooper, Marilyn. "The Ecology of Writing." College English 48
- Emig, Janet. "Writing as a Mode of Learning." CCC 28 (1977):
- Nold, Ellen. "Fear and Trembling: The Humanist Approaches the Computer."
CCC 26 (1975): 269-273.