Pigg, Stacey. “Emplacing Mobile Composing Habits: A Study of Academic Writing in Networked Social Space.” College Composition and Communication 66.2 (2014): 250-75. Print.
Stacey Pigg reports on an ethnographic case study of student “composing habits” (257) as they use technology to pursue their academic work in public spaces. Pigg observed activity at two spaces, a Wi-Fi-equipped off-campus café and an on-campus “Technology Commons” (258-59). Observations were followed by interviews of twenty-one students with diverse majors and at different academic levels; interviews and video-recordings of their processes were transcribed and coded (257). Pigg presents two of her participants in detail, one at the café and one at the commons.
Pigg’s study emphasizes the material aspects of such use of social space to accomplish focused work outside of the classroom. She argues that all students need an external space where they can distance themselves from distractions such as TV, pets, and family and extend their classroom learning, thereby bolstering the academic state of mind that leads to success (270). She explores how the use of public spaces by the two students she features allows them to develop work and mental habits that support their academic goals.
Pigg reviews research that argues that technology has changed the relationship between people and space. Technology expands space by making available knowledge and contacts outside of the immediate surroundings. It also enables control of space by making it possible to use varied spaces as “sites of academic learning” (252), and by providing means of limiting access to social interactions, as public places become specifically adapted to individuals’ focus on their screens. In such spaces, writers can choose their desired degree of social interaction as well as interaction with their devices.
Pigg is concerned that lack of access to spaces outside of the classroom where learning can take place will disrupt the “stability” of a student’s academic experience and degrade “persistence,” which the WPA Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing establishes as key to academic success (269-70). The harder it is for students to continue their learning outside the classroom, the less exposure they experience to the learning strategies Pigg identifies in the two subjects she portrays in detail.
For example, writing and learning, as embodied processes, become associated with memory and imbued with personal resonance: the extended extracurricular engagement with classroom material allowed by the two students’ merging of public spaces with the virtual access enabled by their computers and other devices encourages increased time on task as well as the use of virtual locations like an outline template to insert information into personally meaningful frameworks (263, 268). The two students’ preferred spaces allow the creation of routines that enhance productive “stability” (267) as “they returned to familiar places that had yielded positive results over time” (263).
Pigg emphasizes that her two subjects are not necessarily typical (269); rather, they illustrate how materiality can become an active force in learning, as the material components of scenes in which writing takes place assume an “agentive” function, playing a role in how the writing unfolds (255). Simply urging students to develop study and time-management skills is inadequate when material conditions do not lend themselves to the kinds of learning strategies that make use of the new configuration of space enabled by technology (270). Factors such as a good laptop and easy physical access to spaces outside of the classroom privilege those who have them. Moreover, such spaces need to be not only physically easy to access, but also psychically available, because not all spaces are equally welcoming to all students (262). Writers must be able to appropriate space to accommodate notebooks, books, and computers (268). Environments where studying is the norm also facilitate academic focus (260).
Pigg contends that most scholarship of writing processes has addressed the cognitive, internal aspects of composing and the effects of the devices themselves (254, 268); the effects of student processes may visible, but with the changing landscape, the processes themselves may be lost (271). She argues that increased study of how the negotiation of space and technology interacts with literacy practices can enable compositionists to become more active in efforts to construct appropriate spaces where all students can establish a fruitful version of what Kazys Varnelis and Anne Friedburg call a “mobile sense of place” (qtd. in Pigg 253, 270-71).