Foreword to the Bedford Bibliography of Research in Online Writing Instruction

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Rethinking the Ubiquitous and the Everyday in Meaningful Ways:

A Perspective on Online Writing Instruction and Resources for Challenging Passivity

Ubiquity can foster passivity. Essentially, the more common something is in our daily lives, the less attention we give it. This means we generally spend little time critically thinking about and reflecting on that which seems to be a common part of our regular routines. Our minds seem to fade such items into the background until they become the dull shapes and white noises of life -- items always present, but that we’ve learned to overlook for the very reason that we expect them to be there. As a result, we often forget to ask key questions about these “everyday” things -- questions like “What it is?” “How it is used?” “What potential might it hold? “and “How can we tap that potential?” And when it comes to such ubiquitously present things, we almost never ask the questions “Are we doing this correctly?” and “Should we re-think our approach to this all-present thing?”

 

In many ways, society’s approach to the online echo this situation of passivity based on ubiquity. After all, the frenzy and fascination that surrounded the early days of online access has evolved into it now being an expectation bound up in all the other aspects of our daily existence. Now, when we enter coffee shops, building lobbies, or other public places, we no longer sheepishly approach the information desk and ask “Do you have wi-fi here?” Rather, we reflexively expect it, and we’ll only approach the information desk to report our heightened displeasure if it is NOT there or if it is NOT working. Funny how quickly such attitudes can change.

 

In many ways, this situation applies to the teaching of writing in online contexts. The use of online media to engage with students to examine writing processes and practices is by no means new -- it’s been going on for almost as long as writing instructors have had access to online environments.

 

And over the last two plus decades, members of a rage of writing studies areas have explored the uses of the online in different educational contexts. As such, the teaching of writing online has become increasingly ubiquitous in modern society. (Consider, for example, how quick individuals are to assume an online version of a writing course/curriculum/program exists or -- better yet -- how quickly such courses/curricula/programs can be put online.) Yet, in some ways, this perspective of teaching writing online has also brought with it a blurring of our memories in terms of reflecting on questions such as “How did we get here?” or “How did this practice emerge and evolve over time?”  

 

What makes such questions particularly difficult is the complexity of providing an effective response. The evolution of this area is both multifaceted and uneven. It involves individuals working across different fields, examining a range of technologies, focusing on various educational objectives, and experimenting with several approaches. So, finding answers to such fundamental questions is not easy, for the literature one must review is vast, and navigating it in search of answers can be daunting. Yet the answers to such questions are essential both to re-thinking current practices associated with teaching writing online and to guiding the evolution of this area over time. After all, if we don’t know where we’ve been, how can we accurately determine where we are (and if we’re even in the right place) or where we should go -- or can go -- next? In sum, we cannot be passive about this topic, for its ubiquity means it will continue to have a pronounced effect on our lives, and if we fail to critically examine and understand it, we could find ourselves reacting to it vs. working with it.

 

But where and how to begin? In this case, the sheer volume of material one needs to survey -- the ubiquity of the topic as it’s been covered in so many, many publications -- can lead to sense of being overwhelmed, a sense that can render us passive as a result of information overload. What is needed is a resource that can guide us on our journey through this topic -- a map of sorts that can help us navigate the rich landscape of material published on this topic over time and across different areas and venues. And, if such a source could be organized around central principles that focus on the effective teaching of writing in online environments, then our ability to achieve a range of goals around understanding this topic can be achieved.

 

This text -- The Bibliography for Online Writing Instructors -- is such a source.

 

Through a series of amazing efforts that have played out over the last two years, the editors of this volume have engaged in a major collaborative effort to map the scholarship of online writing instruction from 1990 to the present. In so doing, they have compiled one of the most comprehensive resources on the topic one could hope to find. By coordinating the efforts of a small army of volunteers, the Bibliography’s editors have compiled annotations of central works on a range of topics involving the teaching of writing online. This compilation, moreover, spans not just time but disciplines (e.g., rhetoric and composition, technical writing, and professional writing), sources (e.g., journal articles, book chapters, and overall books), and scholars (e.g., from the well known to the emerging) -- all of which examine this topic from a particular perspective.

 

Moreover, the selection and organization of these annotated entries is guided via a dedicated focus on teaching writing online. That is, the editors have organized this text around the 15 principles of the Position Statement of Principles and Example Effective Practices in Online Writing Instruction developed by the Conference on College Composition and Communication’s Committee for Best Practices in Online Writing Instruction.   As such, this Bibliography represents a unique resource that can help us -- as researchers and teachers -- avoid the passivity created by information overload and ubiquity and engage in new, focused, and meaningful activities and collaborations around the topic of teaching writing online.

 

This volume, however, is not a static text. Rather, it represents a living document readers/users are encouraged to update over time in order to continue expanding the base of resources we can search and use to better understand online writing instruction. Thus, this document is not a passive text that represents a moment frozen in time and that soon fades grey into memory. Rather, it is a dynamic document that encourages interaction, collaboration, and community by providing readers the opportunity to become contributors.   As such, while the Bibliography’s online and comprehensive nature can make it appear ubiquitous, its interactive design and open call for continual input will prevent it from ever becoming a passive text.

 

The key to effective change is often bound up with re-thinking how we passively accept and engage in everyday activities. By providing us with the resources needed to think critically about that which seems ubiquitous, certain resources can become engines of change that foster engagement, collaboration, and community-based approaches to the evolution of topics, practices, and perspectives. The Bibliography for Online Writing Instructors is such a resource, and the editors, contributors, and readers should all be commended for creating a work that will allow us to continually investigate and expand our understanding of teaching writing online.

 

I look forward to the future iterations of this text, how it will evolve, and how it will prompt us to re-think our practices, perspectives, and predictions related to the teaching of writing in an online age. After all, it’s a history we’re now all writing together online . . .

 

Kirk St.Amant

Louisiana Tech University

Ruston, LA

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