Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Open Technology and the Writing Center

I enjoyed the connection between Chaiklin and Lave’s book and the previous two we’ve read. The anthropological examples, especially, gave me not only a sense of the theories the authors were trying to examine, but also of the methodologies for research in a field I’m not very familiar with. The chapters that interested me most were Hutchins’s on Navy quartermasters, Mehan and McDermott’s looks at the ways in which learning disabilities are diagnosed, and Minick’s study of the ways children learn to think in representational language.

Because of my interest in the way technology aids thought, Hutchins’s study of the quartermasters intrigued me, especially his comment on the openness of the technology used by the sailors allowed for mistakes, but allowed for them in a framework that corrected them and thus allowed the mistake-maker to learn on the job. I was particularly interested in how his view of open technology can be applied to composition studies. It is odd, I think, that most people who write on the computer, edit on paper. Where I work at the Undergraduate Writing Center, we require the students to bring in a print copy of their papers for us to go over with them. This practice has the benefit, seen by Hutchins, of making the document accessible to us both, but I wonder why computer files could not serve the same purpose and eliminate the paper. Besides, it seems a retrograde activity in light of the fact that all the papers are created on the computer. Perhaps we work on hard copies to eliminate concerns that are beyond the scope of the UWC but vital on the computer, like setting margins and picking font sizes and styles. Or perhaps it is that our current software (Word) does not quite allow us the easy of notation that is available with pen or pencil, but tablet computers could change this fact. Would peer editing on a computer change the way the students write, or think about writing?

I was drawn as well to the role that language plays in the final three chapters I mentioned. I found McDermott’s description of the disability acquiring a child to be extremely plausible, and it connected nicely to the surrounding chapters, all of which focused on the role social settings play in creating learning disabilities. Whether existing just as a convenient label or as a way of responding to a person that hinders their intellectual growth, all of the views of learning disability are created by the community, not just in the heads of the children in question. The lessons learned by Minick in studying how school children learn their tasks through abstract and representational language could apply to these studies, helping teachers to respond to students in a way that would not be detrimental to their development.


Blogger Annie said...

Just a personal comment on editing...I'm one of those people who MUST have paper and (different colored) pens to edit my work. I'm very kinesthetic and I make meaning by writing comments in different fonts and with different colors. This allows me to be more open and let my thoughts flow because I don't have to worry about how I'll find various types of comments later (typos might be indicated with one color and alternative word choices in another, making it easy for me to focus on one or the other later). For me to edit on the computer would require too much active brain work on the format--it distracts me from my creative process.

Actually, I almost never compose on the computer until after I've worked out several drafts or at least ideas on paper. I've never used a notebook/write-on computer, but I've seen them. Perhaps I'll have to make the switch someday, but for now, I'm guarding my pretty colored pens with my life!

5:12 PM  
Blogger Sean McCarthy said...

I do think that there is much bridging to be done between hard-copy and electronic editing. Newer versions of MS Word has quite sophisticated tracking and comment facilities, but these do not really work when face-to-face with a student.

You may be right that editing on Tablet PCs will change all that. Yet, I find hard to edit on screen: I tend to miss details that I would not on hard copy. This makes me think that the advancements in LCD technologies may have to occur before teachers and writers fully - if ever - ditch the idea and material reality of the hard copy.

1:51 PM  
Blogger IB said...

You made very interesting points! The first thing that came to my mind when I read your thoughts about open technology and composition studies was how much working on the computer has changed my essay writing. Some five years ago when (at least where I went to school), writing your homework and term papers did not take place on a computer, my writing was different. I wrote rough paper drafts, marking and scribbling on them as I went along. If after proof-reading my final draft, I wanted to change a sentence constellation that was hard to manage whereas today, I don’t write a draft but rather rearrange thoughts and whole paragraphs as I go along. I think, that Fleck’s idea of esoteric and exoteric circle (hope I recall the terms correctly) can be applied to your ideas about composition studies. Let us assume that we as composers grew up with handwriting our essays and where then introduced to writing our essays on the computer. I would also consider us to be part of the esoteric circle concerning knowledge about composition. Some five to ten years down the road, students entering university might have used the computer only to create their essays. Right now they are part of the exoteric circle concerning composition studies. Once they move further into the esoteric circle, they will as time goes on replace us “oldtimers” and their use of technology will become more dominant. So maybe a couple of years down the road, paper copies of students’ essays will no longer be used in the UWC?

Also, I found your comment on the McDermott chapter very interesting. Another example of social construction of disabilities came to my mind, but I think I’ve already written too much in this comment, so I might keep it for our in-class discussion.

2:16 PM  
Blogger gfp said...

I, too, enjoyed McDermott's presentation of representational and nonrepresentational meaning used by teachers. I wonder, though, how applicable this knowledge is. It seems that as we study socially situated practices, we continue to learn new nuances about interaction (the variety of ideas presented in this book is a good example of that). What should we be really focusing on? As Max Dupree said, "It's easy to fall into the trap of measuring only what's easy to measure. Our real job is to figure out what is significant to the organization and to the people who actually do the work and find ways together of measuring what's significant. That's tough. That's essential. That's beginning to reach for potential." I think this quote REALLY applies to current qualitative standards in educational research, but it's just as valid in reasearch on socially situated activities.

3:12 PM  

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