Computers & Texts No. 13
Table of Contents

Review: A Field Guide to 21st Century Writing

Sioban Dillon
Department of English
Binghampton University

Judy Williamson and Trent Batson (eds), (Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education, 1996). $35.00.

A unique publication, A Field Guide to 21st Century Writing offers a wide variety of individuals, from neophyte to expert, a wedge into teaching writing skills in computer-based classrooms. Developed by a number of faculty from an array of disciplinary backgrounds, the Guide is suitable for any subject that utilizes writing. However, first and second level composition students will be the greatest beneficiaries of this book since it gives their teachers the support and information services many need to implement or supplement computer-based learning environments. The project originally grew out of a series of workshops on teaching writing with computer-supported communications hosted by the Alliance for Computers and Writing and the CPB-Annenberg funded Epiphany Project, a government-sponsored organization in America assembled to re-think Composition Studies in light of information technology. These workshops were offered to teachers interested in utilizing computer-based aids for composition classes soon after the Daedalus integrated writing software caught fire in American composition classrooms. Co-editor Trent Batson, Director of Academic Technology at Gallaudet University in Washington D.C. and the Epiphany Project, invented ENFI (Electronic Network for Interaction) for deaf students learning to write, a program which became the prototype for Daedalus. Co-editor Judy Williamson teaches writing in the Literature Department of the American University in Washington D.C.


The Guide represents several years of academic and 'hands on' research, but more importantly, this publication suggests a hybridization between electronic and paper text forums. Originally laid out as a standard textual manual to integrate computers into writing curricula, the book evolved into something of a community scrapbook for those involved in the Computers and Writing field. The text features numerous articles introducing the reader to current conversations about writing with technologies, a section outlining strategies for a technologically enlightened pedagogy in a step-by-step format, and workbook exercises for the technological novice as well as points for teachers who already have an excellent working knowledge of the computer classroom and who desire an even more engaging and effective composition-centred class. The publication also contains reviews of the latest educational software, with tips on how they might best supplement the teaching of composition, together with numerous gateway sites, print resources and discussion lists devoted to this topic. The Guide features its own version of a hypertext environment, splicing together snippets from multiple electronic and paper text communications about teaching writing in a world that draws on both the real and the 'virtual'. The book aims to collapse the distinction between book and computer learning that is still so prevalent in education by attempting to encourage teachers to create an atmosphere that facilitates composition on a multi-textual level, hence dismissing some concerns many educators have about converting their classrooms to an electronic media base. More importantly, the Guide represents an effort to publish a text with a purpose beyond that of expanding current conceptions of computer-based writing technologies. It aims to debunk the notion of computer-based learning as mere technique, focusing instead on the vital possibilities opened through a synthesis of mediums in the composition class. Moreover, because the text is accessible and non-coercive in its approach to introducing computers to classrooms which emphasize writing, it may provide a means by which technologically-oriented teaching staff who encounter resistance from sceptical (and probably overwhelmed) colleagues might familiarize departments with electronic discourses. The text also demonstrates a respect for the personal, pedagogical style each teacher brings to class by pointing out ways in which one might adapt computers to suit the needs of individuals, rather than the other way round. Twenty-first century writing encompasses all disciplines and all faculty who understand that writing itself is in transformation; the text addresses teachers from this assumption.

Online communication

The book also discusses the rhetorical contexts created by all forms of electronic communications from lists to MOOs. The editors suggest that it is no longer the author with a singular authority who publishes in virtual spaces and so a new model of development in the writing classroom must be envisioned to meet the demands of technologically literate students. Likewise, a new model of faculty member as facilitator stresses collaboration, dialogue and discussion with the goal of enhancing individual teachers' own theories about writing and pedagogy as well as student writing skills. The Guide's writers contend that changes accompanying the virtual revolution entail new constructions of knowledge as social processes, a change bound to the nature of electronic communications: Knowledge loses its static character so Composition Studies must come to reflect this shift by adapting pedagogical practices to 'process environments.' The Guide merges issues of teaching with issues of technology, treating this relationship as indivisibly associated. This timely publication emerges from the polyphonic, electro-textual conversations around teaching, technology, and the new hybridized class setting.

[Table of Contents] [Letter to the Editor]

Computers & Texts 13 (1996), 23. Not to be republished in any form without the author's permission.

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