The CCCC Position Statement on Teaching, Learning, and Assessing Writing in Digital Environments is a strange mix of both significant forward progress in accepting new forms of writing in the academy and somewhat bland skirting of some of the deeper issues involved with using new technology.
Its strengths are apparent: in its opening salvo, the authors cast the net of intriguing new areas for students to “compose digitally” as listservs, bbs, and chat rooms. This is a significant step beyond the five paragraph essay. It emphasizes connectivity and purposeful writing as important goals when dealing with digital composition in the classroom.
But it also hedges, using vague language and dodging some of the bigger issues that may arise. Among the most prominent issues is that of language. As Clive Thompson makes clear in his gloss of Andrea Lunsford’s work at Stanford, the language used in many of these digital environments is vastly different than what is conventionally taught. Texting’s pervasive abbreviations and any of the other variations (or virtually new languages) that arise online are the main source of contention in Lunsford’s work. Thompson addresses the clash in attitudes between schools of thought that embrace or reject these developments.
It points out the lack of serious acknowledgement of this issue in the C4’s statement. The fall-back for them would be, of course, their Statement on Students’ Right to Their Own Language. But that was published in 1974, well before this particular type of language revolution was at hand. Thompson acknowledges this tension in the academic community. Winking a little at the audience, he notes about emoticons in writing: “As for those texting short-forms and smileys defiling serious academic writing? Another myth. When Lunsford examined the work of first-year students, she didn’t find a single example of texting speak in an academic paper.”
Where is the line defining acceptability of a student’s own language? Despite its undeniable importance, the C4’s language statement of course has not resolved the issue, and the debate can be found even outside of formal academia. Maybe they don’t need to take up the issue in this statement? How does visual language, which is such a part of electronic composing, fit into a broader idea of acceptable language?