Saturday, May 03, 2008

The Ticking Time Bomb

The good news: more students are posting their academic work online, where it can be seen by the general public

The bad news: more students are posting their academic work online, where it can be seen by the general public

The teaching of writing is often considered to be a remedial skill at research universities and one that is often relegated to academic employees relatively low in the campus hierarchy of job titles. In times of budget cutting, such as it is now for many public universities, class sizes are often enlarged and the course releases granted for the duties of administrative personnel in charge of assessing programs, supervising pedagogy, and articulating elements of the curricula are often simultaneously shrunk. Furthermore, as we enter an increasingly digital age of communication, many faculty members wonder aloud if traditional writing requirements are even needed for tech-savvy students who may not be producing the print genres of today in the very near future, when academic essays, technical documents, and experimental science laboratory reports may become a thing of the past in a new era of databases, video demonstrations and pitches, and interactive and collaboratively written scholarly hypertext.

Yet it is precisely the faculty members who are teaching courses that involve digital communication who are sounding the alarm bell about a looming crisis in which the very reputations of some of the most august universities in the country may be at stake. After all, badly worded and organized compositions on the Internet reflect poorly on the faculty who supervise their production in ways that the traditional paper essay that was graded and then relegated to the trash can never did.

Wisely, many of these professors are also working writing into their syllabi. Alan Liu requires revised writing and emphasizes guidelines about plagiarism, Nick Montfort teaches page layout, and Ian Bogost reminds his students that he wants to see a "formal written assignment, not a note or a blog post," which is "well-written" with "well-reasoned arguments that address the question posed." Trebor Scholz lists these instructions about writing in a full formal presentation:

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