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Rodrigo and Romberger. Roles of “Writing Program Technologists.” C&C June 2017. Posted 07/25/2017.

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Rodrigo, Rochelle, and Julia Romberger. “Managing Digital Technologies in Writing Programs: Writing Program Technologists and Invisible Service.” Computers and Composition 44 (2017): 67-82. Web. 13 July 2017.

Rochelle Rodrigo and Julia Romberger discuss their concerns that the work done in writing programs by faculty with expertise in technology is often not recognized by programs or institutions. To highlight this issue, they interviewed 23 faculty at the 2012 Computers and Writing Conference (72). Because the data consisted of “detailed anecdotes,” the authors consider their project a “phenomenological study to learn about what is going on in the field” and to determine whether the issue of recognition for technology experts merits investigation (79). They contend that the degree to which digital modes have become central to writing instruction makes the issue worth further study.

The authors create the designation “Writing Program Technologist” (WPT) for “faculty who have scholarly expertise in various technologies” (67-68). They see the role of such faculty as in part a labor issue in that much of the work needed to support digital spaces falls under “service” rather than research or teaching (70); Writing Studies, they argue, has not fully examined what is involved when particular faculty play supporting roles in programs that incorporate online and digital learning (68).

Rodrigo and Romberger locate what they consider a “gap” (68) in scholarship in a set of pervasive cultural and rhetorical perspectives on technology. In these views, technology is a neutral tool to which work can be “handed over” (Carolyn Miller, qtd. in Rodrigo and Romberger 68). The tool itself acquires authority that can override human agency and knowledge (69); even though it is considered “basic, like the hammer” (77), it is at the same time often seen as “magical,” with the human effort needed to produce and sustain it hidden from common view (69).

Rodrigo and Romberger detect a shift in revisions of outcomes documents from the Council of Writing Program Administrators in which technology moves from being “a separate plank” to an “infusion of technological awareness and expertise throughout the statement” (69). In their view, this infusion increases the need for explicit articulation of WPT work, which, they contend, does not appear in either the 1998 CCCC Promotion and Tenure Guidelines for Work with Technology nor the 2015 update (68).

The authors note a range of WPT activities, from informal help for other faculty to setting up and maintaining networked classrooms and other spaces for digital writing. They write that faculty not engaged specifically in WPT work do not always realize that technology presents “a moving target” (68) as software and devices evolve regularly and WPTs must remain up to date. They note that the documentation necessary to formally account for the variety of services WPTs perform “added another layer of work” to unspecified duties already performed (78) and therefore might not be undertaken; only 4 interviewees reported doing “any sort of accounting” of their labor (73). As an aid to WPTs working to make their contributions visible and valued, the authors point to the history of the position of writing program administrator (WPA) and efforts to ensure that activities related to this position are recognized as intellectual work (72).

Of the 23 interviewees, only nine had formal job titles, with WPT assignments often overlapping with a designation as WPA (73), a reflection, the authors state, of the growing importance of digital modes within some programs. WPT work, the interviews note, did not end when appointments as WPAs ended (73).

Types of compensation varied from stipends to course releases to resource allocation (73-74). The study uncovered less tangible forms of compensation as well. Interviewees addressed rewards accruing from increased contact and influence across their campuses as they served on committees with decision-making power (74). One interview noted the agency provided by the expertise:

There’s a great power in being a volunteer that we tend to underestimate because you get to choose your projects. You’re accountable for only the things you want to be accountable for. So that, I don’t know how much I would want to be compensated. (qtd. in Rodrigo and Romberger 75)

Apropos of this kind of response, Rodrigo and Romberger note a concern that WPTs can be highly intrinsically motivated to take on the extra duties their expertise permits and that this motivation can be seen by some both within and outside of the WPT community as reward enough (76). WPTs take on tasks that enable their own work as well as that of fellow faculty (74). Desires for compensation, in these cases, focused on acquiring the “space,” “time,” and “resource support” to achieve individual and scholarly goals (74-75).

Citing Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital, the authors work to chart the accumulation of both positive and negative forms but find quantifying this accumulation difficult (77). Interviewees who report increased status because of their cross-campus networking are balanced by those who find their expertise being taken advantage of. Some interviewees felt that colleagues did not fully understand what they did (77).

Rodrigo and Romberger write that the value assigned to WPT work and the sense of appreciation and recognition expressed by the WPTs themselves is “highly contextual,” dependent on the particular configuration of the program involved as well as on the status of the WPT him- or herself; non-tenure-track or contingent faculty reported negative experiences that the authors link specifically to their positions within the institution (76-77). The authors did not collect data that allowed them to compare experiences across different institutions because “individual contexts would be too variable and anecdotes too likely to be traceable back to a particular individual at a particular institution” (73). Further research might include such data.

Rodrigo and Romberger detect changes in the role of WPTs as digital work becomes more diffuse across campuses; some of their interviewees report evidence of a shift from “a support worker” to a role within “the decision making infrastructure” (78). Although the authors encourage providing job descriptions, titles, and documentation for WPT work as such changes develop, some interviewees report that such descriptions actually limit the work they want to do (78). The authors suggest, finally, that “[t]he closely related, sometimes overlapping, work between the WPT and the WPA means that carefully mapping both jobs and the relationships between them might benefit both individuals” (78).

 

Author: vanderso

I'm a recently retired associate professor of English in Southern Indiana. I've been teaching writing for twenty-five years, but I feel I have much to learn about how people really learn to write. In this blog, I'll be sharing research and thoughts and hopefully gathering information from others about the process of learning to write.

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