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Computers and Writing 2009

I attended Computers and Writing 2009, earlier this month and returned with mixed emotions.

First, the negatives -- so I can end on the positives of the actual presentations and keynotes.

As you can guess, the job market for writing teachers at all levels is weak. The reality is that a handful of instructors are losing their jobs; new jobs are definitely not on the horizon. Community colleges, four-year colleges, and full universities are all suffering from a lack of funds. Writing seems to be an easy target for cuts. In some cases, courses will migrate to online settings and in other instances graduate students will assume more teaching responsibilities.

Technology, especially online courses and hybrids, are letting universities outsource general education. This is definitely a rough trend to confront. While it is good for the online companies, which offer packaged online courses overseen by part-time, freelancing instructors with graduate degrees, the end result is that general education becomes homogenized and commoditized.

Some attendees told me that writing instructors at their institutions are never tenure-track faculty. Writing is seen as "blue-collar" and handled by instructors with annual contracts, adjuncts without tenure, and various part-time employees. At some institutions, writing instructors are employed by a myriad of departments, so the writing tasks can be focused on the disciplinary needs. Again, such instructors are viewed as laborers, not professors.

Now, the positives.

Most writing programs are embracing technology and alternatives to printed texts. Video and audio are accepted forms of composition, which gives me hope.

More of the presentations addressed fiction and creative non-fiction. This means we are allowing for more than the "academic" forms in our classrooms. That's a good thing.

The instructors recognize that students are living online, familiar with numerous media. In some cases, getting the students "off-line" is important, so instructors are experimenting with assignments that take students away from computers. Collage compositions was an interesting concept: create a collage representing you, then write about. Sure, this could be done digitally, but the idea is to move away from technology a bit.

There is an understanding that we need to balance many thing: virtual / physical, new media / traditional media, creative / academic writing. In the end, these aren't binaries, but our students need bridges to recognize that binaries exist to be challenged.

It was a good event, even if it reinforced how tough the job market is.

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