This presentation will draw from two points of data: one, a summary of findings on teaching with technology based on questions on technology which Bedford/St. Martin's includes in its book and media project proposal, review, and revision surveys and questionnaires; two, notes from the field that I have compiled in my travel to campuses, where I work with faculty in three often overlapping areas related to teaching with technology -- faculty development, writing program development, and B/SM product development.
The surveys reveal that many programs and the faculty in them are still by and large conservative in their approaches to pedagogy, and by extension to their new media pedagogies. However, increasingly all programs are under pressure to use technology, or, if not under pressure to use technology per se, are looking to technology to relieve other pressures they are under. The turns to technology, then, have less to do with best practices and faculty desire, and more to do with the perceived efficiencies technology can bring or an uninvited requirement.
My work often involves helping departments and faculty respond to these pressures, and has included over the past several years consulting on such diverse matters as accreditation planning and e-portfolios; the limits and dangers of essay grading or "reading" software such as Criterion; workshops on how to teach online as an ancillary to a face to face course, as part of a hybrid face to face/online course, or as an online course, and more.
The presentation will ask how those of us who are at the forefront can best support and help our colleagues who labor and work under different circumstances and who often turn to technology more out of pressing need than the luxury of desire.
Survey Data, Summarized Briefly
In 2004 Bedford/St. Martin's worked with a well-known scholar and researcher on a project called "Portraits of Composition in America," which sought to explore how first year writing was being taught, specifically in order to see how digital technologies were changing assignments, perceptions of students, and other pedagogical elements. The study was to have three research phases:
- first, a survey that asked 49 questions of faculty about their programs, their teaching, and their use of technology;
- second, an analysis of artifacts from departments about their program as found on their websites, including assignments, syllabi, course descriptions and possible links to student work if that work was being written publicly;
- and in the third phase, site visits for the creation of case studies.
In 2010, we did another national survey, this one on our own; it was much shorter that 2004 survey, but did reuse 26 of the questions from the 2004 survey. I don't want to get too much into the methodology here and now -- except to say that the survey is one of instructors' perceptions of their own practices and their students needs. For example, in a question that asks instructors, "Which of the following is part of your pedagogy? (Choose all that apply)," and which was followed by a list, we didn't define items on that list such as "Writing Process," and we left it to instructors to determine the difference in their mind between "Collaborative Writing Activities" and "Coauthoring Documents," and whether if they choose "Coauthoring" they were also going to choose "Collaborative."
To help draw an analysis of the surveys, Melissa Graham Meeks, a post-doc in Georgia Tech's Britain Fellows Program, has been analyzing the data. Like all such surveys, we raised more questions than we answered, but we did notice some telling trends none the less.
Some Trends Our Surveys Revealed
When asked to choose most used pedagogical practices, the following were the top four, given in order, and all reaching 90% or higher on both surveys: Discussion, Writing Process, Reading Texts, Peer Review of Student Work.
The top two curricular approaches grew more pronounced from 2004 to 2010: Academic Writing increased to 72% in 2010 from 57% in 2004; Argument increased to 51% in 2010 from 41% in 2004.
Digital technology, based on instructors report of it its use, is more integral in the 2010 survey than it was in 2004. On scale of four options, we asked instructors to describe the importance of digital technologies in their teaching:
Not Part of classroom practice: 14% in 2004; 2% in 2010
Peripheral to the classroom: 20% in 2004; 12% in 2010
Enhances in-class work: 43% in 2004; 46% in 2010
Integral: 23% in 2004; 40% in 2010
On open ended comments provided as an option on a question of instructor access, we received 122 written comments (4% of the survey participants) in 2010. 63 of the comments identified the lack of theoretically grounded pedagogical training as an obstacle to using more technology; 26 comments included concerns about finding the time to learn. Access to pedagogical support and time learn the technologies pedagogical benefits is more of an issue for many instructors than access to technology itself.
We found that instructors at research institutions are more likely to use trend-setting digital tools in their pedagogy: making video; using Skype, Twitter, Ning, Delicious; applying e-portfolios, and so on.
Instructors at two year institutions are more likely to use digital tools that help with their workload: anti-plagiarism tool use, quizzes and tests online, publisher supplied companion sites to textbooks with resources at them such as e-books, tutorials, bibliography builders, and increasingly instructional video and audio.
I want to stress the "more likely" accept of the above data points; there are instructors at two year colleges doing excellent pedagogical work with the newest digital tools. However, just as two year instructors are under-represented in attendance and panels at Computers and Writing, so too does use of digital technology in two year colleges trend more conservative.
Digital completion of traditional kinds of assignments has increased:
We asked, "which of the following writing tasks do you assign to students?"
Print Portfolio: 38% in 2004; 28% in 2010
Digital Portfolio: 7% in 2004; 10% in 2010
Webpage: 9% in 2004; 5% in 2010
Blogging: (not asked in 2004); 15% in 2010
Discussion Posts: 29% in 2004; 44% in 2010
Print Journals 49% in 2004; 39% in 2010
Blog Posts: 8% in 2004; 15% in 2010
As Melissa Graham Meeks notes in her draft analysis of the data, the most popular digital assignments/pedagogy calls for working with prose online: electronic peer review (mid 40%); teacher response (near 60%), research writing using web sources (mid 80%), online discussions (low 60% range).
Multimodal assignments where students create sound (2010):
2 year colleges: 6%
4 year colleges: 6%
Multimodal assignments where students create video (2010):
2 year colleges: 5%
4 year colleges: 9%
So what we see is pattern. Most digital technology use is fairly conservative and centered around text and prose based practices that many in computers and composition first explored 30 years ago. A second divide occurs in the practices of 2 year colleges, where the use of technology focuses more (not exclusively, but more) on using technology that is, to borrow Meeks phrase, "more packaged" and meant to help relieve workloads or create some instructional efficiencies.
The pattern fits the metaphor Wassily Kandinsky, describes in his monograph Concerning the Spiritual in Art (http://www.mnstate.edu/gracyk/courses/phil%20of%20art/kandinskytext2.htm)
The life of the spirit may be fairly represented in diagram as a large acute-angled triangle divided horizontally into unequal parts with the narrowest segment uppermost. The lower the segment the greater it is in breadth, depth, and area.
The whole triangle is moving slowly, almost invisibly forwards and upwards. Where the apex was today the second segment is tomorrow; what today can be understood only by the apex and to the rest of the triangle is an incomprehensible gibberish, forms tomorrow the true thought and feeling of the second segment.
At the apex of the top segment stands often one man, and only one. His joyful vision cloaks a vast sorrow. Even those who are nearest to him in sympathy do not understand him. Angrily they abuse him as charlatan or madman. So in his lifetime stood Beethoven, solitary and insulted.
Most of us here at Computers and Writing are at the apex of the triangle of techno pedagogic innovation, though happily we don't have one mad person alone at the top, but a bunch who sustain one another. What we see, however, is that many of our colleagues, colleagues who may not subscribe to the journals we publish in, attend the conferences we go to, join the email lists we contribute to, are just now getting to where the apex of our field used to be: discussion boards, e-response to writing, the middle of the triangle. They're discovering pedagogies we assume or take for granted and rarely write about anymore: word processing to provide feedback to students is new to them; online discussion best practices and how to make discussions productive not given over to flaming is their struggle; finding ways to address the malleability of text as expressed in their concerns about plagiarism, all these and more are issues this field, this conference especially, addressed 15 - 30 years ago.
So I go back to the questions in the abstract :
But what about the middle and base of the triangle -- the schools and programs that aren't reading or seeing the field as defined by its literature, the programs where teachers may have a technology imperative thrust upon them but no support, or no time? If we think of those colleagues as working in fields adjacent to our own, down Kandinsky's slope from us, what do we need to remember and do when we wander into those fields, the ones that are bigger than ours and reach more students? And do we need to do more to reconsider and remember that those fields exist and that perhaps those colleagues reinvigorate the scholarship of old so that it is new again?