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THE EFFECTS OF COMPUTER MEDIATED COMMUNICATIONS
IN THE COLLEGE FRESHMAN COMPOSITION CLASSROOM

by Traci HalesVass

CONTENTS

CHAPTER

1.      A New Era of Learning and Teaching

2.  The New Classroom
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Relationships 

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Community

3.      The New Writing

4.      The New Pedagogy

5.      Conclusion: Adapting to the New Era

REFERENCES

 

 

Chapter One

A New Era of Learning and Teaching

"We have a much larger and more complicated obligation to fulfill—that of trying to understand and make sense of, to pay attention to, how technology is now inextricably linked to literacy and literacy education in this country."

Cynthia Selfe, 1998 CCCC Keynote Address

 

 

We cannot ignore the computer in the English classroom. We have no choice: if we don’t learn about the effects of the computer and acclimatize our teaching, we can actually inhibit our students’ education. The computer in the new millennium will be as much a part of academic life as pen and paper are now. Whether the computer is used only as an adjunctive form of communication between students and teachers via email, or the entire class is conducted online, the computer has radical effects on teaching and learning English. Computer use has produced so many upheavals of established standards that we notice the first tremors of a significant paradigm shift. As Jay David Bolter (1992) describes it, this is a "watershed as important as the shift from manuscript to print in the fifteenth century" (p. 20).

Our first step is to wake up and pay attention, the second is to design and implement appropriate research, but the ultimate goal is to apply this research to our curriculum. We need to learn how the computer affects our students and our teaching and adapt accordingly. It is not a coincidence that the growth of computer awareness correlates with the emergence of social, student-centered pedagogical theory.

Though computer-mediated communication has been increasingly a part of the English classroom for over ten years, relatively little empirical research is available regarding its effects. The existing research is inconsistent and conflicting.

There are several reasons for this lack of clarity. Computers are affecting familiar areas in dramatic ways, and their usage is taking us to entirely new realms that we have never before explored. The old axioms cannot be applied to research in this field, and former interpretations must be reconsidered. As Hawisher and LeBlanc (1992) tell us, "old assumptions regarding writing and the teaching of writing may no longer hold true in the virtual age" (p. ix). They remind us that the familiar maxims of "print culture [are] so ingrained in our thinking that understanding virtuality requires a difficult conceptual leap" (p. x).

Therefore, research techniques previously employed in the composition classroom do not hold up in the computer-mediated environment. Curtis and Klem (1992) assert that "research itself may resist change" because traditional concepts are applied to new contexts (p. 158). The "narrowly focused research questions" of traditional exploration modes "are derived from prestructured research designs and preset assumptions—from previous contexts—rather than developing naturally from present data and their emerging patterns" (p. 160).

Despite the lack of empirical data, there are many papers written discussing observations and speculations. Educators have noticed changes in the writing classroom. The effects of technology on students are broad and inclusive of many levels of their academic lives, from classroom relationships and roles, to their attitudes about writing, and their ability to write. Previous research does not "show enough of the context for the reader or, reflexively, the writer to assess other factors" (Curtis & Klem, 1992, p. 159). The "computer culture," that new community we see in the computer assisted classroom, has not yet established rules or roles, or "shared artifacts to unify us" (p. 168).

Also, as Reynolds and Lewis (1997) explain, most student work is still done outside of the classroom, and therefore, we may never completely track the effects of computers. We know too little about access sites and students’ habits of using these sites. The ever-changing horizon of computer accessibility, taking into account economic situations of students, added to the speedy evolution of different software, makes it difficult to really know how and when students are using computers. Definitions of "access" vary "as well as the concept of ‘access’ itself" (p. 270). These elements result in relatively little empirical research that evaluates the effect of the computer on students’ writing.

Because research is scanty, pedagogical theories are in a state of flux while teachers attempt to adapt to the changes caused by computer-mediated communication. Inquiry needs to be done to ascertain the most effective means of incorporating the computer into the classroom.

Though there is a lack of empirical data, there exists a body of literature that discusses and analyzes observations of the use of computer-mediated communication in the composition classroom. These educators recognize dramatic effects, and through an analysis of their findings the consequential needs for research and changes in teaching techniques can be extrapolated. In this thesis I have gathered and summarized these writings, illuminating the need for change in pedagogy. This thesis shows important, undeniable effects of the computerized classroom and why we need to adjust our pedagogy appropriately.

In discussing these articles, I have used the terms computerized classroom, computer-mediated communications, CMC, technology, networked technology, and computers interchangeably. By these terms I refer to those activities that involve the capability for back-and-forth exchange, such as computers used to communicate through email, synchronous or asynchronous chats, on-line discussion groups, bulletin boards or listservs. These procedures have been conducted on the Internet or by using appropriate software, and are an aspect of a college classroom. By classroom, I mean both the physical environment of a college room and that space, virtual or real, where students and teachers meet to learn and teach.

The articles and chapters that I have included in this review are less than ten years old; they have been written by instructors of English composition classes; they relate to a class or classes in which computer-mediated communication has played a part, either adjunctively or as the sole medium for the class.

This paper is a step toward paying attention to the computer in the English classroom, exploring the effects of computer-mediated communication. I have analyzed research that falls into three main categories: effects on the classroom, including relationships and community; effects on writing; and issues of pedagogy. These categories represent the most poignantly evident areas that computers have affected, and those sites wherein we need to pay immediate attention. In these classrooms, relationships inherently exist between teacher and students, and between student and student. Also in these classrooms, extending from the relationships, is a particular community. Regarding pedagogy, I have investigated how traditional pedagogical practices hold up to the computerized classroom, compared to how postmodern theories apply. Conclusively, I have found that the computer irrevocably affects the English composition classroom, and I reaffirm Selfe’s exhortation that we need to pay attention, and further, aggressively adapt to the changes.

 

 

 

Chapter Two

The New Classroom

One of the most important areas that computer-mediated communication has affected is the teaching and learning environment. Not only has the delineation of physical boundaries been removed, but also the relationships within the classroom have transformed. A new community has arisen within the classroom. Teacher-student and student-student relationships have changed. Perhaps most significantly, computer-mediated communication has disrupted the traditional teacher-centered classroom.

Many educators opine that the computer in English composition has created an entirely new classroom, both in the physical sense and, in turn, in the classroom community. Whether each student sits in front of a computer or the class is conducted entirely on-line, a new learning situation is produced. Even if interactive computer use is assigned outside of the classroom, as in requiring email communications or participation in a discussion group, definite results are evident (see Barker & Kemp, 1990; Bolter, 1992 &1996; Hawisher, 1992; Hawisher & Moran, 1993; Selfe, 1989 & 1998).

This new technology opens the door to teaching situations we haven’t even yet imagined. How we recognize and adapt to these changes will mean the difference between the success of students or their suppression. Charles Moran (1992) speculates that the computer could allow the classroom of the future to be conducted entirely outside of the boundaries of the conventional school building. He extols this change in setting, contrasting it to the current college classroom. Today’s teaching environment is "as impersonal as a motel room," he says (p. 8). But, according to Moran, with computers introduced into the classroom we have "the opportunity to break with the past and to create interactive writing classrooms" (p.12). How we construct these new spaces and how we utilize them are issues that require serious study. Additionally we need to recognize the shift in classroom roles and relationships that the new spaces cause.

The traditional classroom setting, with the teacher standing behind a lectern facing her students, promotes an atmosphere of hierarchy. Even if we choose to break the authoritarian rank of teacher and encourage an environment that welcomes debate and discussion, our physical settings hamper us. Selfe (1992) agrees that the parameters of our physical space help determine our effectiveness in teaching and learning. Barker and Kemp (1990) also suggest that the physical arrangement of traditional classrooms upholds teacher hegemony. This arrangement is not conducive to group work or student empowerment, nor consequently, to a successful education.

Many teachers fear that, rather than empowerment, computers in the classroom will cause students to hide behind the machines and isolate themselves in cyberspace. But Barker and Kemp (1990) have discovered that computerized classrooms do not isolate students. As they say, "networked microcomputers dissolve the proscenium classroom" by providing connections from station to station, and not privileging any one controller (p. 16). When the students are connected in this manner, and the teacher no longer holds a prominent position in front of the students, relationships within the classroom change.

 

Relationships

Because the computer’s presence in the classroom has the ability to shatter teacher-governed situations, a shift in the entire structure of educational relationships results. Cyganowski (1990) has found that "the physical setting of a computer lab . . . has changed dynamics within the classroom" (p. 70). The configuration of a classroom with networked computers automatically sets up small groups and partnerships. With a computer screen in front of a student, visual focus is removed from the teacher and channeled onto an interactive writing space, one that the student can control.

When the environment of the classroom is altered, as Carolyn Boiarsky (1990) discovered, traditional roles of teacher and student are modified, "blur[ing] the line between teacher and student and enhanc[ing] students’ active participation in their learning" (p. 50). The new computerized classroom no longer has a "front," but becomes a workshop. The teacher now acts as coach, or as Boiarsky describes her role, "an editor" (p. 50). With students making decisions in their own writing in an interactive medium, they take more responsibility for their own education.

Much about the changes in the classroom was learned through the use of ENFI (Electronic Networks for Interaction). ENFI was one of the first networking systems used for composition classrooms. Langston and Batson (1998) conducted classes using ENFI. They extrapolated from their observations that when students discuss issues back and forth through the written word, "the normal social hierarchies . . . that exist in a regular classroom are affected . . . whether the teacher intends such a change" (pp. 140 & 144).

When students are empowered and the teacher’s position is decentralized, a shift in value of student writing occurs. Cooper and Selfe (1990) believe that CMC can make class sessions "more egalitarian, reducing the dominance of the teacher . . . and increasing the importance of the students’ discourses" (p. 852). When student discourse becomes more important, and students have more control over what they express, the classroom changes from teacher- to student-centered.

Cooper and Selfe observed that as students exercised their power and "became used to setting their own agenda . . . they resisted any suggestions the teacher made in class" (p. 857). Students challenged formerly instituted hierarchies. They established the computerized classroom as their own territory and made their own decisions on what to do in it. This empowerment allows students to take responsibility for their own learning, strengthening the educational process. Hawisher and Moran (1997) agree that the new classroom opens up the possibility for different teacher-student relationships. The teacher is now another reader (p. 123).

Several authors comment on this change in teachers’ role, and search for new descriptions. Richard Lanham (1990) calls the teacher in this setting "a learned coordinator" (p. xiv). Langston and Batson (1990) assert that the computerized classroom changes the teacher’s role from "evaluator to participant/leader" (p. 147). Hawisher (1992a) urges instructors to "relinquish authority and become learners with their students" (p. 47).

This shift in position is exhibited even when the computer is not a part of the physical classroom setting, but used externally. Email used as a communication device between teachers and students, according to Hawisher and Moran (1993), "breaks down some of the barriers that have long been established between students and professors . . . email allows us to communicate with students in ways that large research institutions often work against" (p. 635). Students can connect with faculty using email to find ways through an unfriendly bureaucracy, and in turn discover the potential to develop more confidential relationships (p. 635).

Though it is recognized that CMC produces changes in classroom relationships, there is debate whether these changes are beneficial or detrimental. One of the misconceptions about computers, according to Hawisher and Selfe (1991), reflects the attitude that computers "automatically create ideal learning situations" (p. 60). But the computer itself cannot determine behavior. Unless this new learning tool is introduced with sensitivity and understanding of its potential, there can be problems and misuse. Hawisher and Selfe have observed that in a CMC setting there can be a lack of discussions between teachers and students regarding writing problems. It seems that when the computers are a physical presence in the classroom, their use can interfere with the relationship between the students and teachers. Examples from their classes show how students can still bow to teachers’ authority, and "hide" behind the computer, deluding the teacher into believing there is more interaction going on than there is. This is one reason the proper understanding and instruction are vital to make the computerized classroom work to its fullest potential.

Without suitable knowledge of the characteristics of networked technology, Curtis and Klem (1992) caution that "hegemonies in traditional classrooms reappear in network systems" (p. 158). Students, not only teachers, will tend to act in formerly established ways, and unless the potential for change is acknowledged, old patterns will be maintained.

Furthermore, the use of CMC has the potential to add another aspect to the teacher’s function. Hawisher (1992a) discusses the addition of "invisible work" (p. 50) that is above and beyond teaching and researching (like answering email). In her articles with Moran (1993 & 1997) this problem is also mentioned. Teachers may "suffer from a surfeit of communication" by being "too well connected, and with too many people" (1993, p.635 and 1997, p. 119). They have tagged this invasion "telework" and describe how this can "increase the teacher’s accessibility" and add more work (p. 637).

These negative considerations point out that the computer has changed the classroom. The computer’s presence in the classroom has altered the physical setting of the teaching environment, which has produced a shift in classroom relationships. Especially noteworthy is the decentralization of the teacher’s position and the resulting empowerment of the student. This brings up the necessity for the instructor to be willing to change his role, relinquish some authority, and learn about the new communication and its effects. Not only do we need to pay attention, we need to recognize where and why the computer does not work, and research areas showing conflicting results. The computer in itself is powerless, possessing no agency. It cannot, in itself, produce or cause action. So what produces these different effects? We need to discover the factors that influence the results.

 

Community

One result of CMC that stems from the changing relationships is a new classroom community. A stronger collaborative atmosphere exists, resulting in more audience awareness and more motivated students.

Computers in the English classroom seem to cause a unique form of community to arise. From what educators have observed, there is a new, closer, more familiar type of affiliation that results directly from the use of technology. This leads to a greater degree of collaboration among peers, which in turn can lead to a greater sense of audience and more carefully revised papers.

In a comparative experiment between a computerized classroom and a traditional classroom, Harris and Wambeam (1996) noticed that CMC adds an element of "play" to the students’ writing activities, referring to the philosophy that play allows people to "overcome feelings related to confusion, doubt, and fear" (p. 357). They also feel that networked communication lends authenticity and relevance to students and their writing that allows them to unite in a discourse community which "can lead to their realizing the relevance of writing to participation in this community" (p. 357).

Hawisher (1992a) has noticed that this community provides a safe ground for students to disclose information about themselves that they would usually not share in class (p. 47). In another article, (1992b), she states that computer-mediated communication can "foster a sense of belonging among participants" (p. 87). As one of her students says, "I am still constantly amazed at the ‘companionship’ and warmth one can find on a computer terminal" (p. 87).

As we have seen, the teacher’s position is changed in the computerized classroom. Within this new community, students as well as teachers exercise new roles. Boiarsky (1990) has found that students "change from being passive recipients of a teacher’s judgement to active seekers of constructive criticism . . . seeking solutions to their problems." (p. 59). A remarkable consequence of this increased sense of community is that, as students find empowerment, they reach out and take responsibility for their classmates’ learning, also. A cooperative circle of support can emanate from and back to each individual.

Because of the kinship that develops in a computerized classroom, collaborative learning is enhanced. Several educators discuss a self-perpetuating "group synergy" (Moran 1992, p. 20, Cooper & Selfe 1990, p. 857). Hawisher (1992) finds that this synergy is a phenomenon commented on frequently. In this community "participants perceive themselves as a closely-knit group of friends who create their own intellectual spaces" (p. 94). The unity of the students sustains itself, often extending beyond the perimeters of the assignments. There are many reports of classes continuing their on-line discussions after semester’s end.

Contrarily, in the traditional classroom, students often do not have enough occasions to interact due to standing social structures, and the outspoken personality quiets the shy one. As Langston and Batson (1990) have found, in face-to-face situations, social hierarchies in the classroom are sustained (p. 144).

But computers seem to allow for an informal ambiance to flourish. Selfe (1992) has found that computers in the classroom provide opportunity for "productive collaboration, connectedness, and equal educational opportunity" (p. 30). There is much evidence that, as Hawisher (1992b) declares, "student participation does seem to increase in electronic conferences" (p. 89).

Networked technology encourages collaboration in a variety of class work, including invention, revision, and editing, and enhances peer response. Cyganowski (1990) finds that on-line workshops are more positive than face-to-face groups because students "talk" about writing by writing and reading. Written comments, received privately, "erase the negative factor of students’ feeling their work is ‘cut up’ by others" (p. 69).

According to Costanzo (1994), technology enhances collaborative writing and peer review because writing is no longer a "solitary act" but now "a gesture of communication" (p.14). Barker and Kemp (1990) suggest that networked technology aids in critique and revision in a collaborative setting. Because students’ comments to one another are delivered in text, they are understandable, are more thoughtful, and more easily remembered. Hawisher and Moran (1993) refer to Barker and Kemp’s article, agreeing that CMC lends itself to collaboration "by dissolving the temporal and spatial boundaries of the conventional classroom" (p. 633).

The issue of community brings up the question of egalitarianism. There is a great deal of debate regarding this topic. When the first reports came out about computer-mediated communication, users were quick to assume that all manner of marginalization was removed, and that the medium leveled the field in regard to gender, race, or other biases. But other observations soon followed that questioned these first utopian reports.

Barker & Kemp (1990) declare that the virtual classroom, without its walls, has "the potential to bring in voices from the margin and might be more egalitarian than face-to-face discussion" (p. 635). Observations at Carnegie Mellon University caused Langston and Batson (1990) to deduct that students "who don’t generally dominate face-to-face interactions are likely to speak more strongly when communicating on-line" (p. 144). They noticed indications that "groups working on-line will show a more evenly distributed interactive pattern than face-to-face groups" (p. 144). These conclusions dispute the concern that, as the loudest and boldest talker dominates a discussion group, the fastest typist "will dominate the on-line conversation" (p. 146). Because more than one student can type at once, it becomes more difficult to shut any one person out.

Hawisher and Moran (1993) believe that "lack of paralinguistic cues such as one’s appearance, tone of voice, and facial expression invites participation in group email discussions from those who normally refrain from speaking up face-to-face" in what has been labeled " the equalization phenomenon" (p. 634). In support of this conclusion, Barker and Kemp (1990) find suggestions that this "psychological filtering" eliminates distractions and power plays of dominant personalities (p. 18).

In contrast to this equalizing effect, Sibylle Gruber (1995) describes some of the problems that her CMC class encountered. In her experience "the absence of social and nonverbal cues . . . can lead to remarks that contain swearing, insults, name calling, and hostile comments" (p. 61). She feels that "computers do not necessarily facilitate equal participation; instead . . . hierarchical structures, gender prejudices, and racial stereotypes remain intact" (p. 61). In her opinion, "domination, miscommunication, and voicelessness overshadow the positive features of CMC" (p. 61). She found that "CMC can encourage dissent and conflict and lead to tensions in and outside the classroom" (p. 62).

Hawisher and Selfe (1991) also recognize the negative side of technology, warning "technology can exacerbate problems . . . of American classrooms" (p. 55). They exhort that computers can "embody . . . society’s values . . . [that] currently dominate within our culture and our educational system," such as supporting the existing hegemony of the classroom (p. 55). The prevailing message of their article calls for an awareness of the possibilities of detrimental effects. If we assume everything about CMC is beneficial, then we endanger our students’ education.

In her 1998 Keynote address to CCCC, Cynthia Selfe (1998) reiterates the danger of this attitude to technology, claiming that "technology and literacy . . . have become linked in ways that can exacerbate current educational and social inequities in the United States" (p. 4). A lack of attention to this phenomenon will continue discrimination. In fact, as Jane Zeni (1994) proclaims, the gap between privileged and not so privileged can be widened by technology.

There is disagreement on this issue and, as Barker & Kemp (1990) suggest, "further research is necessary before the ‘democratizing’ effects of computer-based classroom interaction are fully understood" (p. 146).

The computer can create a new community in the classroom that produces a greater degree of collaboration. This community exhibits a confidentiality and cooperation seldom seen in other situations, to the point that a group synergy perpetuates, often extending beyond the perimeters of the classroom. Students show increased responsibility for their own and their classmates’ learning. One of the strongest points researched is this increase in collaborative activity. The question of democracy in this forum, which naturally follows these observations, is still one of great debate. This is an area that needs much more thorough and controlled research.

 

 

 

Chapter Three

The New Writing

Does the computer improve student writing? This is a question of primary concern for teachers, which is difficult to answer. Finding answers must first mean redefining what "good" writing is, and realigning our expectations of student writing.

We have seen how technology changes relationships in the classroom and how it has enhanced collaboration. But this does not specifically answer whether or not the use of the computer improves students’ writing. For years the computer has been overlooked in the composition classroom and considered a tool meant to stay in the science and mathematics departments. There has been suspicion and disregard for technology’s infiltration into the English class. We question the effects and resent taking time to learn and teach the technical aspects of the machine. Almost with a reluctant shrug, English teachers have acquiesced to computer use by their students. But in our observations we have realized one thing: computers have affected writing (Bolter, 1992 & 1996; Hawisher & Selfe, 1991; Selfe, 1989 & 1998). This fact can not be disputed. There are many speculations as to the reasons for this and as many attempts at analyzing the long-term results.

Whether the computer makes better writers is not a question easily answered. New definitions need to be formed to fit the new medium. The computer in itself is innocuous. But certain core aspects of the machine cause changes in all elements of written language including author, text, reading and writing. As Tuman (1992) says, "computers will reshape not just how we read and write . . . but our very understanding of basic terms such as reading, writing, and text" (p. 8, italics original).

Computers, according to Jay David Bolter (1992), provide a "new writing space," freeing the student "of the primary constraint of the page [because] an electronic text is fluid" (p. 20). The screen does not consist of the familiar two-dimensional black ink on white pages that we read from left to right, top to bottom. On the computer we look at points of light on a glowing background; in place of page turning, we now scroll through documents, and rather than read foot/end notes, we maneuver hypertext links. Tuman (1992) claims these characteristics are "subtly and irrevocably eroding the status of the independent, unified text" (p. 8). Writing on the computer is no longer a linear event. Therefore, as John Ribar (1998) sums it, computers "require different strategies for navigating and . . . composing texts."

Changes in text redefine the meaning of author. Computers change students’ understanding of authorship. In Tuman’s (1992) rather graphic words, "what changes is the image of the deist author, a godlike figure who embodies meaning in texts that are then sent forth to be received by compliant readers" (p. 9). Bolter (1992) also uses the phrase "deist author" in referring to the former role of the writer. But the new writing space challenges former standards of "good writing" in the print medium (p. 35). Computerized writing disputes the sense that every work a student produces is "a complete, separate, and unique expression of its author" (p. 22).

The purpose of this new writing is "to make connections" (Bolter, 1992, p. 23). Hawisher (1992b) describes how electronic writing is an act of "bringing together multiple perspectives and creating new understandings, rather than . . . producing something that is thought to be original" (p. 89). This makes the "weaving together" of different views possible (p. 89). Langston and Batson (1990) agree, saying that there is now a new focus on "coherence." The networked writer develops "perspectives through which masses of data can be productively viewed, providing coherence" (p. 153). The new computerized author, as a "coherent, stable self grounded in a body" (Webb, 1997, p. 86) is challenged, and students experience a change in boundaries and definitions of ownership of text.

The new author writes in a new language. This is demonstrated particularly in email, where the language is a mixture of spoken and written language. Email requires a different language than academic papers, demanding a new format, structure, and voice. Discussion groups and synchronous chats consist of short phrases that lack punctuation and capitalization. Students adapt their writing to the medium, switching between formulating complete sentences for paper assignments and using the virtual language for computerized "talk."

New language has redefined grammar and literacy. Grammar is very different in virtual environments. Contextual cues are no longer evident. The old axioms that allow a reader to "predict certain standard approaches" in print are no longer valid (Ribar 1998). The difference in grammar conventions affects literacy.

Cynthia Selfe (1989) asserts that "our definition of literacy changes when communication activities are mediated by computers" (p. 3). The non-linear literacy leads to a new comprehension. Non-linear thinking is demanded, she writes in 1992 (p. 28). Not only does technology change how students write, according to Patricia Webb (1997), "it radically change[s] what it means to write" (p. 74). Very little discussion is found about this new comprehension, though the existence of such can be extrapolated. There is a distinct need to research this phenomenon, and determine its significance and far-reaching effects.

In the meantime, we are recognizing that the old-fashioned act of writing is again increasing in importance in the computer age. Charles Moran (1992) predicts that "writing will once again become a universal form of expression," replacing telephone conversations (p. 18). When all class work is done on-line, everything is written. Students writing comments to one another on-line, or discussing issues in a discussion group use a variety of writing styles. As Hawisher (1992b) puts it, students who communicate on-line "are totally immersed in writing" (p. 84). Through this abundance of writing, they "refine their rhetorical skills of persuasion as well as . . . sharpen their mechanical skills. They are in an environment in which they constantly write and read" (p. 85).

Not only do students write more, they seem to enjoy writing. Leslie Harris and Cynthia Wambeam (1996) conducted an informal experiment comparing a traditional classroom to an on-line class. The evidence shows clearly that students using CMC write more often, enjoy writing much more, and improve in their writing ability. The students in the CMC class wrote more often in their journals than those who wrote in paper journals. There was a "significant increase in positive attitudes toward writing" compared to the students in the paper class (p. 360). Harris and Wambeam determined by examining the writing samples of the computerized class that students distinctly improved when compared to the paper class. Cooper and Selfe (1990) report one student’s entry that sums up a new attitude: "I’m writing often, because I find it stimulating, and because I enjoy writing without tightly-specified boundaries and controls" (p. 856).

Not only does computerized writing cause students to write more, the computer affects the process of writing. For one thing, process is no longer "independent of medium" (Hawisher & LeBlanc 1992, p. xv). As Costanzo (1994) and Bolter (1996) note, computers enliven the process of writing by creating layers that can be easily manipulated for editing, notetaking, and organizing text. Because prewriting is easier, it generates associations to other thoughts. The computer allows the writer to store and sort through these thoughts more easily than with any previous form of writing. Additionally, Barker and Kemp (1990) affirm that in the revision aspect of the writing process, in writing on-line, a student "revise[s] in accordance with his or her own interpretation of the text . . . [not] in accordance with his or her interpretation of the instructor’s interpretation of the text" (p. 6).

The texts that students produce on networked computers are "at higher levels," Boirasky (1990, p. 58) states, though she doesn’t clarify what "higher" means. One reason for this, according to Langston and Batson (1990), is that students "write better when they write directly to another person than when responding to assigned writing tasks" (p. 148). The aspect of audience awareness is more acutely genuine when writing on-line. Students do not consider themselves to be writing, but rather "talking," which produces an energy and fluency not before recognized.

Experts agree that networked technology enhances the viability of audience awareness. Betsy Bowen (1994) connected her class with a class of different geographical and cultural circumstances. This exchange provided real contexts for audience. She found that the students on both sides of the computer were motivated to produce an effluence of messages. Hawisher (1992b) agrees that CMC "provide[s] real and expanded audiences for writers" (p. 86). In Harris and Wambeam’s (1990) computer class, they concluded that "frequent contact with an actual audience . . . helped students become more competent, comfortable writers" (p. 370).

It is clearly evident that computer-mediated communication has affected writing. The computer is a new writing space, demanding new definitions of reading, writing and text. Audience awareness is more real, and students find themselves writing more, enjoying it more, and feeling as if they are making more real connections. Teachers using CMC must research the full extent of this new writing space and adapt their methods accordingly. The singular fact that students enjoy writing more can be a key to making our teaching methods more effective. How can we more fully take advantage of the computer’s appeal?

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Four

The New Pedagogy

Computer-mediated communication has irrevocably changed the English classroom. Not only has it revitalized student writing, it has been instrumental in creating new relationships within the classroom, which in turn has forced new roles upon the teacher and students. With the decentralization of the teacher’s position, students have been empowered and have taken on more responsibility for their own and their peers’ writing. Students on computers exercise more initiative in their own learning. These changes require a new pedagogy to ensure students receive the best education possible. There is evidence that applying traditional pedagogical theories to the computerized class results in negative consequences.

Teachers who have accepted the postmodern pedagogical theories have been trying to change conditions in the traditional classroom. Barker and Kemp (1990) describe postmodern pedagogy as "open, inclusive, nonhierarchical, consensus based, and process oriented" (p. 5). This theory involves urging students to resist and dissent through discourse so that they may explore their own differences, consequently building self-confidence and empowerment (Cooper & Selfe, 1990). Postmodern theory is based on the premise that "no one can actually teach another person anything; people learn on their own" (Baron, 1997, p. 20).

Cooper and Selfe (1990) describe how they had tried in previous, traditional classrooms to engage their students in questioning and objecting, voicing opinions, and openly discussing ideas. They had been trying to spur students to resistance and challenge and exploration of students’ own concepts. They had "almost despaired of achieving" this atmosphere of argumentative discourse. But when their students sat behind computers and typed out responses to synchronous chats and discussion groups, the teachers discovered a realization of their hopes. (p. 857). Students showed initiative, assertive presentation of their own thoughts, and active involvement in the forum. There was a dramatic difference, to the point that the students took over the discussions, in many cases, and directed them in ways the teachers never foresaw.

But, as Barker and Kemp (1990) admonish, "simply plugging computers into classrooms will not automatically transform this instructional environment" (p. 26). The effectiveness of computer use is dependent on the pedagogy practiced rather than on technology.

Though English teachers recognize this and want to change the old hierarchies established in teacher-directed classrooms, they maintain the former situations. New, non-traditional forums must be applied. Cooper and Selfe (1990) recognize the necessity for patterns of interaction among students that disrupt teacher dominance (p. 847). CMC enables "the kind of learning through discourse that we know is important but that is often frustrated by the structures of our educational institutions" (p. 849).

Postmodern pedagogy seems to fit the computerized classroom better than it does the traditional classroom situation. Conversely, old pedagogy does not work in the computerized classroom. Webb (1997) asserts that technology without associated critical pedagogy reinforces old axioms. Though there are many claims that network technologies redefine writing and the English classroom, the technology itself is not what is causing the change. She maintains that "if we do not actively teach our students to use technologies critically, they will map their traditional concepts . . . onto the new technologies" (p. 73). What makes a difference is the pedagogy. We cannot apply old traditions to new technology and expect a positive change.

A computerized class not properly guided can lead to conflict and diversity in the classroom. In analyzing why her computer assisted class did not meet her expectations, Sibylle Gruber reviewed the experience of Marshall Kremers, from the New York Institute of Technology, who taught an ENFI class (see page ten). Kremers is a strong traditionalist, according to Gruber, and tried to apply his teacher-directed pedagogy to a CMC setting. She extrapolated that Kremer’s attempt failed partially because he did not "establish an explicit pedagogy that allows for the integration of students’ experiences and students’ voices to inform academic learning" (p. 74). Kremers looked to the technology to make the changes.

As in Kremer’s class, a response paper was assigned in Gruber’s class. The students were required to write long, formal, academic essays and transmit them via email. The students hated the exercise and reluctantly carried out the motions. Nevertheless, after an experience with a synchronous chat, a casual and lively discussion began on email. The comments were bold in that they addressed issues of gender that normally would not be discussed face-to-face. The instructor intervened and reprimanded the students for their remarks. Again, students were backed into silence or only cursory engagement in the medium. Trying to re-assume the role of authoritarian squelched student voices and snatched away their personal power. As Gruber sums it up, technology is innocuous, but the correct pedagogy is necessary to facilitate positive discourse and learning (p. 74).

The bold comments of the students are examples of what Cooper and Selfe (1990) call "thinking and writing against the grain of convention" (p. 850), which is necessary for students to question the "authoritarian values" of traditional classrooms (p. 857). Computer-mediated communication provides a non-traditional forum where students can "develop a critical consciousness" (p. 850). This new platform invites students to "resist, dissent, and explore the role that controversy and intellectual divergence play in learning and thinking" (p. 849). When the teacher’s dominant role is diminished and consequently students’ attitudes of accommodation, the importance of discourse is enhanced. We have seen how, through CMC, students gain power in their own learning, exercise their own voice in discussions, and consequently "learn through discourse" (p. 858).

Computerized composition seems to be custom made for postmodern theory, or vice versa. Hawisher (1992) correlates networked technology to social constructivist theory, because CMC is "intrinsically communal" (p. 82). Teachers need to adapt pedagogy to technology and "endorse a view of meaning as negotiated, texts as socially constructed, and writing as knowledge creating" (p. 83). Bolter (1992) recognizes this relationship. He says, "postmodern theorists from reader-response critics to deconstructionists have been talking about text in terms that are strikingly appropriate to hypertext in the computer" (p. 24). This is an echo of Barker and Kemp’s (1990) interpretation of postmodern theory, who define it as "self-conscious acknowledgment of the immediate present and an attempt to respond to it in new ways" (p. 1). Today’s student requires a "pedagogy [that] should be open, inclusive, nonhierarchical, consensus based, and process oriented" (p. 5). CMC contributes to this pedagogy.

A new theory is developing in direct response to the computer-based pedagogy. Barker and Kemp (1990) term this "network theory" (p. 15). This theory is based on the finding that the fundamental activity in composition is "the textual transactions between students." These transactions cause a "group knowledge" to develop, in which every student affects and is affected by this group knowledge, and that this group knowledge is pliable by each or all students. The outcome is a "deneutralizing of text itself and a greater emphasis and skill on the part of the [student] in rendering such text" (p. 15, italics original).

Pedagogy based on network theory must be student-directed, with the teacher enacting a new role as guide, coach, editor, co-learner, and facilitator. We must recognize the importance of student empowerment. Collaborative efforts must be supported, and free expression which leads to synergy must be sanctioned

Several educators have suggested specific techniques in applying this new theory. Hawisher and Moran (1993) recommend project-oriented and cross-disciplinary pedagogy. They also believe that CMC instruction should include "tele-apprenticeship" (p. 633), or teacher-student collaboration in research.

Jane Zeni (1994) proposes assigning shorter pieces of writing, requiring revision, setting up collaborative essays, and asking for informal publication to utilize computers fully. Learning with computers is "a process of reflection on action; through this philosophy, teachers can bring technology into the classroom" (p. 79).

CMC can open the door to more effective learning, but only if we present it to students correctly. Webb (1997) believes that students tend to fall back to the old familiar patterns of learning. The new pedagogy must include understanding the discomfort with new, strange tools and address this. Therefore, it is important to "give [the students’] struggles and their successes with technology an important place in the class" (p. 86). We must convince the students that "all the writing they do in this class counts" (p. 87).

 

 

 

 

CONCLUSION

Adapting to the New Era

Computers in the college composition classroom have had undeniable effects. If presented with a postmodern pedagogy, sensitivity to its potential, and a willingness to be flexible, computer-mediated communication can enhance and fortify a student’s education. However, we need to see long-range, controlled research to uncover any surprises we may, in our enthusiasm, not see. Is, indeed, this instrument as phenomenal as its proponents would suggest?

As Cynthia Selfe (1992) warns, if not presented cautiously, CMC can contribute to "intellectual isolation, competitiveness, and the continued oppression of women and minorities"(p. 30). Selfe’s article is one of the few that contains empirical research results of "differential patterns of access to technology in our schools for whites and non-whites" (p. 31). Her study showed that middle and upper class students have more computers than their lower socioeconomic class peers. When poorer students have access to computers, they tend to use them more for skill and drill exercises than networked communication. This perpetuation of the marginalization between socioeconomic classes is probably not intentional, Selfe suggests, but due more to a lack of thorough research.

If those people who already have the educational advantages are the ones to have greater access to computers, the gap between the privileged and not-privileged will widen, thwarting the efforts at equalizing education. We need to study this issue of access thoroughly, with the goal of understanding attitudes and opportunities. What are cultural restraints toward technology, and what issues prohibit its acceptance and usage?

The issue of marginalization can hold hidden problems. On the surface, it seems as though the anonymity of the computer would level the field and remove biases, such as the visual biases of gender and race. But we need to look further, studying more carefully the distinctions in discourse between people before we make hasty assumptions that can continue discrimination (see Gruber, 1995; Selfe, 1998).

Definitions of "good" writing are vague and disputable. Much of the measure of success of computerized writing hinges on these definitions. The computer stifles the long, formal academic essays demanded by traditional pedagogy. Is this positive or negative? If we assert that writing has been redefined, what, exactly are the new definitions? This must be established in order to carry out more concise evaluation of the medium.

Another area of controversy is the interpretation of correct pedagogy. I have shown evidence that traditional pedagogy does not easily coexist with the computer, but this claim can not stand alone. We must go back and re-hash the old discussions on pedagogical theory.

As English teachers, can we adapt to the shifts caused by computer-mediated communication? Are we willing to step back and let the students take charge of their education? Can we relinquish the role of authority? And, if so, how do we facilitate the new changes? Are we ready to become learners with our students, and learn from our students? How do we restructure the classroom to accommodate technology?

The question "what is the effect of the computer on the composing process?" (Curtis & Klem, 1992, p. 158, italics original) is not really answered. Contextual research must be conducted; that is, the entire context must be studied, "the teacher, students, and technology as they interrelate" (p. 159).

Until new standards are delineated, we cannot be sure of the true effects of the new computerized classroom. And, as Cynthia Selfe admonishes in her 1998 Keynote speech for CCCC, it is time we "pay attention." We cannot ignore the computer revolution, or accept it without proper research, because doing so can "exacerbate current educational and social inequities in the United States."

The computer is a part of our students’ lives, whether we love it or hate it. And it is changing the classroom, whether we admit it or not. New research must be implemented that has clearly defined criteria and situations, and analyzed critically and thoroughly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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