Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Out Comes

As much as anything else, I wanted to gather together the full (re-released!) collection of interchange on "computer literacy" section of the WPA Outcomes Statement on technology. Why? Just so I'd have it, evidence of the watershed moment.

Suggested Section: Computer Literacy
Outcomes, Technology, and a Blog
Computer Literacy Plank on Outcomes Statement
Party like it's 1996
Why I haughtta...
planks of technology
More on Technology, Outcomes, Walking Planks, Being an Outsider"
WPA Technology Outcomes Statement
Walking the "Techplank"

While I'm at it, I've been thinking about outcomes statements for a few days now, too, not only because of the WPA OS on technology, but also because I've been deciphering quite a few acronym-rich emails with references to CO, CA and CAR associated with my summer gig.

Just moseying along, minding my business, when I bump into an OS, I want to ask, What comes out? (Is it possible to do so without seeming rude?) Put another way: What do we gain and lose by shifting outcomes from a noun to a question? What comes out? Or what, with adherence to the listed dictums, would come out?

That probably wouldn't work becomes outcomes are answers, affirmations of the implications of a particular set of activities (often associated with formal schooling). Because the answers or outcomes precede the activity, they run the risk of overdetermining the activity, reducing it to its forecast. They are, for the most part, inertial rather than accelerative, a happy cocktail of teleology, ideology and institution-ology. They depend upon clear, concise language, language that must not theorize, must not introduce perplexity (no matter how vital these things might be throughout the activity!). Outcomes, necessary though they are, might be the antithesis of inquiry. Inquiry moves ahead without full certainty or reassurance of already knowing. Inquiry knows not what will come out: wondering, wandering, guessing.

In fairness, we can all recognize the need for removing these three nuisances: theory, perplexity and inquiry. Outcomes statements must be the surest answers; the activity would be a failure if it didn't come out as predicted, if it didn't come out, that is, an exact match with the lowest replicable components (LRC).

Last thing: this brings up an audience problem. I mention this because audience seems to be a crossed-wires issue here. In "Composition Studies: Dappled Discipline," citing Farrell, Lauer writes, "In social fields, advocates have two kinds of audience: 1) the epistemic court of experts and 2) larger affected populations for whom social knowledge exercises a rhetorical function, attempting to gain their acceptance of its conclusions and to induce their action" (24). Eventually there's a third audience (even if Lauer includes it with the second audience): "those writing instructors and pedagogical advocates who are neither in touch with existing scholarship nor contributing to it" (24). What do I mean about an audience problem? The three audiences, again:

1. Epistemic court (experts who keep up with the reading and write actively on the issues they profess)
2. General public
2a. Those who self-identify with the field but who neither keep up with the scholarship nor write actively on the issues they profess

Outcomes statements can't appease all three audiences at once, and it's altogether likely that those in the first group will find them to be egregiously reductive, simplistic and lacking in vitality (fair enough; Lauer wasn't writing about OSes, exactly). They must name only what is already known to be possible as an LRC (and often such sure things are a few years old) rather than naming what is possible or recently emerging.

Bookmark and Share Posted by at July 11, 2006 10:15 PM to Academe

I've been afraid to dive in to this whole discussion too deeply, for reasons of time and expertise. But I keep wondering: isn't writing already a technology? As for outcomes, I like the way you're thinking about this. What comes out is indeed the question we should be asking, with special attention to the "what"--if learning is social and a process, then how to understand that "what"? Ack.

Posted by: susansinclair at July 11, 2006 11:56 PM

I also like the new focus for the conversation here. I understand why some of the discussion has broken down to old school/new school, but backing up to think about how outcomes actually work makes sense. My understanding is that if they are written well, there should be enough ways for teachers and students to get to them to make them harmless and helpful. Something like understand that composition is a process, then, could be gotten to with import, layer, crop as well as draft, revise, edit. The what comes out then remains an open question in a good way.

Posted by: Daniel Anderson at July 12, 2006 7:32 AM

Technology outcomes are tricky because they travel in packs with other writing outcomes. And you're right, Susan, that because writing and rhetoric are already technologies, "technology" becomes a kind of god-term such that the only way of dealing with it is instrumentally, in one if its easiest-to-reduce connotations (i.e., computers). This problem seems to me to be topmost among those who've expressed concerns about the statement. What comes out? takes a turn once we, as Dan suggests here, inflect all of the outcomes with the logics of new media (the processual variations amplified by new and emerging writing technologies though not limited only to composing with the instruments themselves).

Posted by: Derek at July 12, 2006 7:42 AM

I like this breakdown very much. But I think it also speaks to the Old School/New School generation issues I raised (sorry, Dan, disagree with you on that point). I - and my colleagues - or not the audience for he Statement. We are not the audience, however, in more than one way.
1. We already are engaged with technology in research, teaching, play. Thus, we don't need to be told what we should be doing; we are doing it already.
2. We are not asked to participate in the conversation (either we are deemed "outsiders" explicitly via a listserv comment or are not consulted at all). I doubt whether we are understanding "conversation" in the same way as the participants are.
3. We are speaking a different language than the authors of the statement. This is a huge deal. Our experiences with new media allow us, at times, to see connections that others are not seeing. This is not a novel event; it happens all the time when technological changes occur. But because we see things differently, we cannot hear the statement in the way others would want us to, and the others don't hear us as well.

That final point speaks to different understandings of technology, but also to the foundation of the argument as well: Outcomes. I know I'm not alone in doubting Outcomes as an idea. A good deal of that doubting is generational (generation indicating the education, experience, influences, writing experiences, etc. that someone of MY generation might experience as opposed to someone from an earlier generation).

Posted by: jeff at July 12, 2006 8:21 AM