Computers, Writing, and What We Teach

This entry is also about Computers and Writing 2011, but at the same time, it isn’t, thus my giving it a separate post from the previous one noting the call for proposals. One thing I love about the Computers and Writing Conference is how the structure acknowledges that we teach writing, not just composition. The people who present and attend teach a broad spectrum of writing from classic first-year composition (FYC) to technical writing to new media to creative writing. Some teach more than one, and I am definitely in that group. This year in particular I am rhetoric/composition faculty and creative writing faculty. We are short one tenure-line poet and one tenure-line fiction writer, with no search for replacements yet, so I really am thankful for my MFA and the additional creative writing cognate that I had with my doctorate coursework. That cognate (student’s choice: others chose more obvious choices such as technical writing or ESL) evened out my poetry-heavy MFA and made it a a bit more reasonable to have me teach fiction when needed. Apparently, this is the year; this spring I am teaching one of the few fiction areas that I should, science fiction with fantasy and magical realism included.

The theoretical crossover works for me–Haraway, Baudrillard, Bachelard–check. More to the point is the pedagogical crossover: how creative writing classes are not just a site for self-expression, they are also a site for critical thinking, writing to learn, and a lens for a close-up analysis of past, present, and future worlds. Just like with composition, if students don’t read voraciously, they won’t have the needed context to write in these genres. Also like composition, they need to be aware of the world around them and think critically about it (i.e., analysis, speculation, and so on). Good fiction and poetry also has supports, scaffolding. It means digging about and actually doing research so that the logic and details in the story or poem will be accurate. I’m not sure students realize all this when they sign up for that first creative writing class, but on the whole, they tend to be more intrinsically motivated to take the course than composition. That motivation tends to help them do the behind the scenes work that must happen before a piece really takes shape. I am glad that Computers and Writing overtly includes creative work in the conference, thus acknowledging the work behind the art while also celebrating the art itself.

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Author of the poetry collection The Tethered Ground and Professor of English at Missouri State University. Contact me for readings or for workshops on writing/publishing and on teaching writing online.

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