Since the advent of the computer as composing tool, writing practices have been undergoing dramatic revisions. Users are confronted with new cultural and social assumptions around what it means to compose text in the digital sphere. From multimodality to word processing programs like Microsoft Word becoming the “new normal” platform for composing any variety of text, the ways in which individuals intercept and compose texts has extended to integrate the new rituals of ‘writing’, outdating much of the traditional approaches to the Composition classroom. As academics across disciplines move to incorporate cultural shifts in the digital spheres into their course curriculum, there is a pressing urge for compositionists especially to take note of these changes and keep track of the shifts in cultural literacy practices to better understand the assumptions and worldviews of students.
As Johndan Johnson-Eilola writes in “The Database and the Essay: Understanding Composition as Articulation,” post-modernity has expanded the notion of text to include any number of intentional acts of composition while the internet has created a networked and highly social environment which confronts and revises the old Romantic notion of the private author as sole creator of text. Instead, people are engaging with a textual world that privileges the idea of intertextuality or ‘the text as ongoing conversation’. Despite these cybernetic principles finding application in the act of composing texts, I don’t believe that we have yet to understand the implications for these paradigm shifts as change and evolution continue to multiply exponentially fast across the globe in the overlapping domains of knowledge, technology, culture and society. Just as long as 1994-ago, Douglas Davis was experimenting with collaborative virtual technologies for digital art installations, one of which is available on the Whitney Museum of American Art’s website entitled The World’s First Collaborative Sentence. If the vanguard was moving in an adopting digital practices for art making nearly 20 years ago, it is safe to say that the mainstream has caught up with the innovative theorists and experimenters who began demonstrating and exploiting the potentialities of the internet’s early foundations. Composition teachers need to fearlessly innovative without risk of reprimand or chastisement from the institutions within which they carry out their work.
The pedagogies in place need to advance the eco-systemic principles which stress the need for teachers to keep abreast of developments in literacy practices, especially those that influence the lives of students to better understand the assumptions with which they approach writing and to tailor curricula to changing needs. However, one must be forward thinking enough to ask if the moment will approach when the FYC teacher must curate the approaches to reading and writing used in a course as an act of careful selection of which content extends the notion and application of literacy to both the most important actual and virtual domains. What might an integrative approach to Composition Studies look like?
The importance of emphasizing the digital sphere within literacy education is not without risk of losing sight or focus of the ongoing need to ensure that regardless of the changing values and privileged approaches to writing that changes with shifts in culture, students will still be able to articulate their thoughts in critical, self/other-enlightening ways.