Computers and writing

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Computers and Writing is the name of a conference as well as a sub-field of college English studies whose members are dedicated to the academic study of how computers, as well as other, related digital technologies, affect literacy and the writing process. The range of inquiry in this field is quite broad and can include studies as diverse as works of video game theory to a quantitative study of first-year college students using Microsoft Word. Some frequently addressed topics include hypertext theory, visual rhetoric, multimedia authoring, distance learning, digital rhetoric or eRhetoric, usability studies, the formation and lifecycles of online communities, and how various media change reading and writing practices, textual conventions, and genres. Other topics examine social or critical issues in computer technology and literacy, such as the issues of the "digital divide", equitable access to computer-writing resources, and critical technological literacies.

The field[edit]

The field, which (in the United States, at least) has grown out of rhetoric and composition studies, is inter-disciplinary, and members also do scholarly work and teaching in such allied and diverse areas as technical and professional communication, linguistics, sociology, and law. The most important journals supporting this field are Computers & Composition, Computers & Composition Online,[1] and Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy. Though there is no single professional organization covering this field, an information resource portal exists at The professional organization Conference on College Composition and Communication has a committee, known as the 7Cs committee (CCCC Committee on Computers in Composition and Communication), that selects onsite and online hosts for the Computers & Writing conference and coordinates the "Technology Innovator Award" presented at that annual conference.

Conference and conference history[edit]

The conference "Computers and Writing" was established in 1982 in Minneapolis, Minnesota by Donald Ross and Lillian Bridwell.[2] The conference was informal at first, but over the years, it has grown from a grassroots organized conference to an established, mainstream conference that examines the ways in which computers change writing practice and pedagogy.[3] In earlier conferences, the scholarship presented often explored how computers influenced individual writers, but during the late 1980s and 1990s, scholarship shifted to hypertext and hypermedia, and therefore, the social nature of computer mediated writing.[2][3] The conference originally presented original or "homemade" software design associated with word processing and editing, but eventually switched to commercial software as commercial software became more common for both individual students and educational institutions.[2]

The conference has a history of technological optimism, and often, scholarship presented is optimistic regarding technology's influence on writing. However, the conference also has a history of examining and voicing fears and concerns related to computer technology, and some of these fears are related to institutional policies and control as well as the fear of being overwhelmed by the constant march of technological innovation.[3] The conference has also traditionally explored the ways in which computer mediated writing can be used in socially responsible ways, as is evident by the feminist roots of the conference and subfield.[4] The conference’s feminist roots are evident in its support of minority scholars and scholarship. Awards such as the Hawisher and Selfe Caring for the Future Scholarship provide opportunities for new presenters in Computers and Writing related fields to attend the conference. This scholarship is preferably awarded to minority scholars who are involved in the field.[5][6]

While the conference was originally more focused on software and hardware decisions and use, the conference has steadily become more concerned with the theoretical application of computers in writing pedagogy and practice.[2] This attention to theory mirrors a shift to embrace multimodal compositions as texts and interdisciplinary growth as the conference became more mainstream and established in the 1990s and early 2000s.[3]

The conference has been held annually since 1988, which is the year that the CCCC Committee on Computers established a subcommittee to support the Computers and Writing Conference. While the journal Computers and Composition, founded by Cynthia Selfe and Kate Kiefer in 1983,[2] is not officially connected to the Computers and Writing Conference, both began around the same time and explore the subfield within the larger fields of composition studies and rhetoric.[4]


Computers and writing pedagogy allows students learn practical applications and implications of writing by exploring complex concepts such as visual rhetoric, issues of access, and the social implications of online writing. Students and teachers, together, interrogate the computer as an environment where writing can be facilitated in a variety of ways. Particular attention tends to be paid to the production and consumption of digital, multimodal, and new media texts. The majority of computers and writing scholars seem to agree that engaging students in the production of such multimodal/digital texts is crucial to the learning process in our digitally infused moment, but how best to do this is somewhat controversial.

During the 1960s and 1970s, which was also known as the “Birth of Composition”, Computer-Assisted instruction was used to "observe" students and provided instant positive, negative, or constructive feedback.[7] However, there was initial criticism from anti-technology groups. Many teachers thought that the technology needed improvement because the programs did not allow for creative expression of the students since the programs only acted as an evaluator, reader, and feedback agent.[7] Since that time the technology has improved immensely. Now the programs require multimodality, creativity, and technical complexity.[8] The problems the students face in these programs now require much more comprehensive thinking and creativity to the point that it is difficult to still call the subject “writing” because the students are required to know much more.[8]

Computers and writing pedagogies must be dynamic and adaptable to the ways in which technology, media, and the sociopolitical spaces operate in a constant state of flux. Discussions about negotiating paradigm shifts abound in disciplinary journals, and teachers continually develop new approaches that engage with and build upon developments in digital technology and new media texts. Because most scholars in this area work within a university system that privileges print-media over digital text, much of the work produced and assigned by these teachers and scholars continues to be relatively traditional. While a Computers and Writing pedagogy should encourage the use of sampling, remixing, and file sharing that invites students to conceive themselves as reproducers or co-authors of digital compositions as well as consumers, this is not always an achievable goal. In the pedagogical paradigm shift that computers and composition scholars strive for, students play a vital role in the construction and transformation of knowledge.

Writing in the age of communication technology[edit]

In the age of communication technology, amateurs and experts collaborate to create, sustain, and develop virtual communities based on what Gee and Hayes (2011) call "passionate affinity spaces", or communities organized around "a shared endeavor, interest, or passion". Technology, specifically blogs, can be an excellent way to build learning communities and help students learn to write authentically for and respond to various audiences by making their writing public. On the virtual playing field, knowledge and talent matter more than degrees and professional memberships, so these spaces offer students a new learning environment and space to collaborate on the production and distribution of knowledge.[9]

Aligning with the notion of "affinity space," composition scholars have coined the term "cultural ecology" to examine the complex social and cultural contexts that shape the development of technological literacy. Drawing from the literacy narratives of two participants, Hawisher, Selfe, Moraski, and Pearson theorize five themes emergent from the cultural ecology of literacy, namely the "cultural, material, educational, and familial contexts" that shape and are shaped by literacy development.[10] The five themes of cultural ecology pinpoint that technological literacy goes through life spans, that literacy provides the medium for people to exert their agency, that literacy occurs and develops both within and outside of school contexts, that the conditions of access influence people's literacy development, and that literacy practices and values transmit via family units. Kristine Blair further complicates "cultural ecology" by pointing out the positive impacts of cultural conflicts in constructing online discourses and political discussions, while at the same time warning that students may not undergo transformation through exposure to the conflicts.[11] Also looming behind the issue of culture in computer and writing is the digital divide. Cynthia Selfe points out the ways through which gaining access to technological literacy is situated in unequal social, cultural, economic, and political situations.[12] As Selfe writes, "computers continue to be distributed along the related axes of race and socioeconomic status and this distribution continues to ongoing patterns of racism and to the continuation of poverty." To address the digital divide, Selfe calls upon educators and compositionists to rethink computer literacy as a political act that requires paying critical attention to inequality issues and taking political actions in specific disciplinary contexts.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Computers and Composition Online". Retrieved 2017-12-08.
  2. ^ a b c d e Gerrard, Lisa (1995). "The Evolution of the Computers and Writing Conference". Computers and Composition. 12: 279–292. doi:10.1016/s8755-4615(05)80066-0.
  3. ^ a b c d Gerrard, Lisa (2006). "The evolution of the Computers and Writing Conference, the second decade". Computers and Composition. 23: 211–227.
  4. ^ a b Beck, Estee (2013). "Reflecting upon the Past, Sitting with the Present, and Charting our Future: Gail Hawisher and Cynthia Selfe Discussing the Community of Computers & Composition". Computers and Composition. 30: 349–357. doi:10.1016/j.compcom.2013.10.007.
  5. ^ "Caring for the Future Award". Retrieved 2017-12-01.
  6. ^ Butler, Janine; Cirio, Joseph; Del Hierro, Victor; Gonzales, Laura; Robinson, Joy; Haas, Angela (Fall 2017). "Caring for the Future: Initiatives for Further Inclusion in Computers and Writing". Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy.
  7. ^ a b Whithaus, Carl. "The Development of Early Computer-Assisted Writing Instruction (1960-1978): The Double Logic of Media and Tools." Computers & the Humanities, vol. 38, no. 2, May 2004, pp. 149-162.
  8. ^ a b Edwards-Groves, Christine. "Interactive Creative Technologies: Changing Learning Practices and Pedagogies in the Writing Classroom." Australian Journal of Language & Literacy, vol. 35, no. 1, Feb. 2012, pp. 99-113.
  9. ^ Gee, James Paul; Elisabeth R. Hayes (2011). Language and Learning in the Digital Age. London: Routledge. pp. 69–71. ISBN 978-0-415-60277-8.
  10. ^ Hawisher, Gail; Selfe, Cynthia; Moraski, Brittney; Pearson, Melissa (2004). "Becoming Literate in the Information Age: Cultural Ecologies and the Literacies of Technology". CCC. 55: 642–692. doi:10.2307/4140666. JSTOR 4140666.
  11. ^ Blair, Kristine (1998). "Literacy, dialogue, and difference in the 'electronic contact zone'". Computers and Composition. 15: 317–329. doi:10.1016/S8755-4615(98)90004-4.
  12. ^ a b Selfe, Cynthia (1999). "Technology and Literacy: A Story about the Perils of Not Paying Attention". CCC. 50: 411–436. JSTOR 358859.