Clark, J. Elizabeth and Marisa A. Klages. “New Worlds of Errors and Expectations: Basic Writers and Digital Assumptions.” Journal of Basic Writing. 28.1 (2009): 32-49. Academic Search Complete. Web. 18 April 2010.
In “New Worlds…” Clark and Klages examine the new challenges and opportunities associated with teaching basic writing in the digital age. By first describing basic writers’ literacy and the evolving notion of literacy in the digital age, the writers set the stage to present examples of the incorporation of multi-modal instruction into the basic writing classroom, especially with the use of e-portfolio. The article is a record of the current teaching practices in basic writing at LaGuardia Community College, in the City University of New York system. Three central questions are explored throughout the work: What factors contribute to a failure to acknowledge or practice writing as a process by basic writers who are also “digital natives?” What are the best practices for teaching basic writing in the digital age? What are the effects of multimodal instruction for basic writers?
Klages and Clark begin by examining expectations and truths about literacy of basic writers in the digital age. While these students are often active users of many tools of Web 2.0, they often lack the critical consciousness necessary to engage in sustained evaluation of the uses and products of digital technology. Facility with technology should not be mistaken for fluency in language use, according to the authors. Basic writers may be fluent in the mechanics of the Internet and computers, but they often fail to “dig deeper,” to inquire into the purposes and possibilities of the technological tools they use everyday. A similar disconnect has historically prevailed among basic writers: they are partly marked as “basic writers” because they lack the critical thinking apparatus and stylistic tools needed to compose post-secondary appropriate writing. Basic writing students in the digital age need exposure to ideas and questions about rhetoric of the digital age to become more proficient writers.
Further, the “instant publishing” capabilities of the digital age present basic writers with two seemingly opposed opportunities: they can post writing for the public to view without participating in the process of revision. While basic writers have historically labored in the intellectual back waters of the university or community college, today their work is easily recognizable on many popular web sites and social networking communities. The web presents forums for users to share their ideas, and users of Web 2.0 technology are constantly exchanging small pieces of text with one another. Every piece of writing from social network messages to comments in a discussion forum is an act of composing, be it eloquent or not. In effect, basic writers who compose messages on the web are being published without being vetted: they are participating in a public act of written communication. Because they lack the critical tools and stylistic proficiency of writers with more practice, basic writers may fail to reproduce the messages they intend when publishing on the web, or they may fail to consider the writing they are doing as “real” writing. The authors find these acts of literacy encouraging, but no tutor, peer or instructor reviews a basic writer’s posting before it is published on the web, and the idea of a process for writing is seemingly incongruent with the instantaneous “real time” presentation of text on the screen. Basic writers traditionally lack an understanding of or fail to acknowledge the idea that writing is a process, and the digital age presents more opportunities for students to ignore that idea.
After establishing what they perceive to be the contemporary situation and problems of basic writers studying in the digital age, Klages and Clark suggest some strategies for effective use of multimodal tools in the classroom. They suggest the use of the e-portfolio as the primary digital tool for increasing effectiveness of basic writing instruction today. The e-portfolio builds on the successes of the portfolio model of instruction in writing courses, but incorporates investigation of digital rhetoric and opportunities for multi-modal composing into the critical appreciation for writing that students develop as they build their collections of essays and reflections. The authors believe that use of the e-portfolio is one way to engage students’ technological knowledge while building their writing skills, especially among the specific demographic they serve at LaGuardia Community College.
The demographic of LAGCC students is incredibly diverse and multilingual, and most students are active participants in the social and community networks available via Web 2.0 technologies. The basic writer at LaGuardia Community College is nearly in the majority of the student population: 44% of admitted students are placed in a basic writing course. While these basic writers are active composers in the digital realm, they often view themselves as “non-writers” in a society that prizes literacy, and view the writing courses they are assigned to as an “academic ghetto,” according to the authors. Basic writers fail to understand a connection between the writing they do outside of class with the perceived demands of “college writing.”
E-Portfolio, then, is a means for students to connect and strengthen the writing and technology skills they already possess and gain exposure to the process involved with academic writing that will help ensure their success in college. Three key practices inform the authors’ pedagogy for e-portfolio: revision, reflection, and exploration of possibilities for expression in the digital realm. While revision and reflection are not new elements of writing as a process, with the course built around e-portfolio, the modes of composing, revising and reflecting are broadened. Students have the opportunity to demonstrate their mastery of technological applications while practicing the critical reading and analytical skills required of good writing.
What traditionally happens within the walls of the basic writing classroom is connected to the world outside by e-portfolio, thereby validating basic writers’ position as writers participating in society. Students writing in different courses have access to each other’s work, and faculty and other campus community members can view work in student e-portfolios when provided access. Further, students can choose to share their work with family members and friends outside of school. The authors suggest that e-portfolios empower basic writers to take control of their education, and ultimately, their future lives.
The authors present anecdotal evidence of the learning about writing and the college community that results from the use of e-portfolios in the basic writing classroom. Several examples note students’ development of an awareness of the arena they have entered in college and present the possibility of preserving individual identity within the morass of the institution. One student’s e-portfolio pictures allowed her to show the various roles she plays as a student, a Nepalese woman, and an immigrant New Yorker, and other images she used helped to demonstrate ideas she conveyed in writing. Reflections and comments posted by students and professors on the e-portfolio pages are a running record of the student writing processes and help to document learning. Blogs allowed students to connect course content with current events, creating opportunities for inter-textual synthesis. Evidently, the e-portfolio provides students with a public forum to document their learning and “try on” the voice of academic writing, even while they increase their digital proficiency and retain a strong sense of self. The digital divide of the eighties and nineties has been largely resolved, but the authors point to a new, emergent digital divide, where basic writers and other underprepared adults are unable to critically navigate the complex mass of information and possibilities for communication available via Web 2.0 technology. Clark and Klages suggest that increasing digital literacy and writing skills together for basic writers will lead to their further engagement with and success in society. The use of the e-portfolio in the writing classrooms of LAGCC is one technique to manifest this transformation of basic writers into what the authors call “literate cyber citizens.”