I had an appointment this afternoon, which I made weeks ago, to speak with a person from Instructional Support Services. The appointment happened to follow Computers and Writing. And man was that weird. I was talking to this gentleman (helpful, kind, knowledgeable) about the possibility of having my students design posters which translated their best written argument of the semester into a visual argument. Here’s the funny part (OK, not funny ha ha): In computers and writing I think we kind of operate under the assumption that people haven’t fully realized the necessity of allowing students to express their ideas multimodally. . . and that this is the reason computers haven’t invaded composition classrooms–this conservatism in composition faculty, departments, universities, students, whatever. (The funny part is still coming.) So imagine my surprise when I declared my intention of having my students design these posters and incorporate all this technology into the classroom, only to have my tech person remind me: You know what you’re really supposed to be teaching in an English 125 is how to make a written argument. (Ha. Ha!) Then, he asked: Do you have any idea how you would grade this type of poster? WOW. His concerns are spot on, of course–they are my concerns, too. He was interested rehashing the debate that’s been going on in Computers and Writing class (I tried for about half-a-second to lure him in), so I said, “huh. I guess I still have some things to think about in terms of this project.” He was worried, of course, that in ‘importing’ a computer design project into my classroom (and only dedicating about a week and a half to it), that I couldn’t really train my students to make a meaningful, complex visual designs. And even if they did make a design, he/I wanted to know, if I am qualified to judge that product. “You are trained to judge the argument,” he said, “not the subjective design qualities.”
I still think I will probably do some version of the project I’ve been imagining. But I wonder what sorts of reservations experts in the computer world have about the appropriation of certain technological tools by neophytes (like me) into their classrooms? Do we non-experts essentialize these practices when we bring them to our classrooms? Do we misrepresent the complexity of the field when we introduce computer practices / programs in “fun!” projects? Is it insulting to these experts that we assume our ability to do these things?