5390: Article Commentary 1: An Exercise in Preaching to the Choir

Clark, J. Elizabeth. (2010) The digital imperative: Making the case for a 21st-century pedagogy. Computers and Composition, 27, 27-35.

In my own case, whatever hook the author provided had two barbs: 1) the subject and constellation of conversants were enough to get me to decide upon this article; 2) a particular stylistic turn of phrase in the first paragraph was enough for me to decide I might enjoy the prose of the article more than others I could spend my time reading (“Myopic, Luddite fantasies…” — this helps locate me firmly in the back row of the titular choir, belting out a bass line) The article was clearly aimed at C&C readers, there is an “us” in the first sentence that carries throughout the article, an “us” made up of forward-looking, tech-savvy composition instructors still somehow caught in the traditional essayist paradigm of our discipline. In the very first sentence, Clark appeals to C&C readership (and editorship) with a statement that exudes “hey, we’re a cool, cutting-edge group!” (“In March of 2009, Kathleen Blake Yancey’s NCTE publication “Writing in the 21st Century” came as little surprise to Computers and Composition readers, who for years have been at the cutting edge of implementing new technologies in the classroom.”)

Overall, (and this is part of the hook), the piece is stylistically appealing and consistently easy-to-read from an academic perspective, with phrases like “Myopic, Luddite fantasies of returning to pencil and paper” sprinkled throughout. An amusing comparison of digital writers to monkish scribes is another engaging (if questionable) stylistic element. The author’s voice is firmly active, with scholars and ‘we’ (teachers) firmly in the character seat. She doesn’t get too bogged down in vocabulary games, but doesn’t oversimplify either (“marginalia” “flux” “imperative of the now”), though some of these terms go relatively undefined. One slip that almost turned me off was at the end of the abstract, where Clark used “everyday” for “every day” — a particular editorial peeve of my own. Stylistically, this was a standard rhet-comp scholarly piece, with strong opening links to conversants (Yancey, Elbow, Viadhyanathan, Lunsford, Lanham, etc); name-dropping is important, but not overdone in this intro. She effectively uses this section to provide a reading list of bona fides.

Clark spends part of the opening of her article with a discussion of technology, pervasiveness, shifting of norms–this sort of “shared knowledge” is par for the course in C&C articles, and she obviously knows what her audience believes and agrees with in discussing these themes. Her assertions throughout the piece are in general well-supported, in a logical (but not entirely abstractly reasoned) manner. That is, she argues broadly for the digital imperative and habits of thought that students have or should have. There is lots of detail and time spent on giving a rationale for ePortfolios, with a hearty mix of scholarship/theory review and classroom examples drawn from her own experience. However, some of her concepts aren’t all that well-supported in the details and arguments of the essay. “flux” and “imperative of the now” go only vaguely defined; she (in preaching to the choir) assumes these concepts as true, but doesn’t go into detail about how they work or where they appear. Another time, she brings up a phrase “challenging the willful disconnect” in a subheading; the section that follows doesn’t really seem to discuss this concept, however. Also, beyond the ePortfolio section (her discussions of blogs, second lives, digital literacy) are also briefly and vaguely treated, with quick examples from her classroom. At some level, these sections seemed “stuck in” to round out the piece beyond ePortfolios.

In general, Clark seems to know that she’s making an argument her peers already agree with, and just saying “here’s a way to do it” instead of making an argument into a room of people who disagree with her. Thus, there’s not much here that’s “disturbed.” She makes calls to go further past essayistic literacy in composition classrooms, even moving beyond it altogether. Not a very big “this is something new” for this audience, who would agree with most all of her contentions, I think. This author is firmly in the Web 2.0 wave, very hot right now in C&C (and the Web in general). Her being firmly inside this wave is just as much a weakness as a strength, however. Though important to current writing technology scholarship, Clark doesn’t try nearly hard enough to look beyond this wave, other than vaguely pointing out that “there will always be new technologies.” She doesn’t explore that problem, which I think ties in neatly to her concept “flux,” very much at all…

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