Free-falling into the Digital Divide: Reading on smartphone in writing centres

Vol. 2., No. 6 (Winter 2021)

Brian Hotson is CWCR/RCCR co-editor and Director of Academic Learning Services, Saint Mary’s University.

Until recently in our centre, reading from a screen was not allowed, a rule that I carried from the Queen’s writing centre where I first worked as a writing tutor. We read from paper, and we wrote on paper. We used a pencil to mark up the student’s paper and an eraser to make changes there, too. Students needed to come with a hardcopy of their paper. If they didn’t have it, we sent them off to the library to get the paper printed.

Then students started saying that they didn’t need to hand in a printed copy of their papers; the instructor asked them to submit them electronically only. They weren’t getting hardcopies of their assignments from their instructors either; they were showing us their assignment instructions on their phones. I remember the all-staff training session where I said that we would allow students to use their devices to show us their assignments. There were protests and conversation, but we agreed that it was the right thing to do for our students. It was a fundamental change, and we all felt it. I developed guidance for the tutors and students. The students were happy with the change, and the tutors who protested adapted were happy the students were happy.

Of course, now this is quaint nostalgia. None of us has seen student work on 8.5 x 11 sheets of paper since March 2020, and many of us won’t see one again until maybe September.

Digital shove

(Pew Research Centre, 2021)

It’s not often significant institutional, pedagogical, and operational change can be marked and recorded on the calendar together, let alone on the clock. For our centre, it was March 14, 2020 at 12:16 am. I’ve saved the e-mail I wrote announcing the suspension to face-to-face student tutoring and the move to digital tutoring: “I’m working on a solution for online tutoring for both tutors and students.” But this change has been coming since the digital turn in the 1980s. As my colleague, Stephanie Bell, and I write, Canadian writing centres have been slow to begin to recognize this turn (2020), my centre included. The pandemic gave us all a terrific digital shove, and in free-fall we were forced to reckon with digital tools. It turned out that our laptops and phones—despite being so controversial within educational spaces—are the parachutes.

Digital tools for reading have developed significantly in the last 15 years. The iPhone only came in to existence in 2007, and the iPad in 2012. Remember when the e-reader was going destroy every book ever written like some kind of Alexandrian kindling? Remember those hand-wringers, worrying that laptops and tablet in schools were ruining everything (Here’s February 1, 2020 WaPo piece, “More students are learning on laptops and tablets in class. Some parents want to hit the off switch”)?

Let’s consider the most ubiquitous connected devices. In 2011, 35% of American adults owned a smartphone, compared to 81% in 2019 (Statista, 2021). But, Americans aged 18-29 in 2016 owned smartphone at a rate of 96%. Of smartphone owning students in 2017, 84% used their phones for “learning support” (Newman & Beetham, 2017). These pre-pandemic numbers were surprising when they came out. I was surprised at the use of phones by students for reading, and then writing their papers (Reed, 2018). As Pigg in Emplacing Mobile Composing Habits: A Study of Academic Writing in Networked Social Spaces (2014) points out, the embodied student is tethered to the classroom by their connected devices always and everywhere. The classroom is the breakroom, the floor of the kids’ bedroom, and in the car waiting for the train to pass. Now in the pandemic, this has become obvious to everyone, everywhere.

For students without access or with limited access to connected devices and wifi, the digital divide is often insurmountable. But this divide is deep and nuanced. Gonzales, Calarco, and Lynch’s (2018) Technology Problems and Student Achievement Gaps: A Validation and Extension of the Technology Maintenance Construct, shows that a lack of access to devices for reading and writing in HE is a social justice issue based largely on race and economic disparity (p. 2). It’s not just owning or access to a device for school that is an issue;  there is also a link between “technology maintenance and students’ academic performance,” and the “negative effects of short-term disruptions [of access to technology] on healthcare, employment, and interpersonal social support” (Gonzales, Calarco, & Lynch, 2018, pp. 3-4) for students of students of colour and of lower socio-economic status.

And then there is this twist.

This is further complicated when considering Kazanci’s (2015) longitudinal study of 790+ students from 2008 to 2014. Kazanci found that a majority of students (77.9%) prefer paper-based reading versus 22.1% digital screens. This didn’t change much between 2008 (78.5%) and 2014 (77.3%). Even with technological advances and greater electronic options, most of the undergraduates in this study acknowledge that print works best for learning and still prefer reading their academic texts in print format when they want to achieve a deep learning outcome (Tsai, 2016): “students at a high reading proficiency level preferred to use the printed text over the electronic text, partly because they could not use reading strategies effectively and could not concentrate on the screen” (p. 149). Mizrachi (2015) found that when students are assigned fewer than five pages of reading, 40% said that they preferred electronic formats and 38% paper. But, when given readings over five pages in length, 70% wanted paper copies.

(Mannheimer, 2016)

For Mannheimer (2016), this becomes significant for many students who cannot afford to print:

An inadvertent outcome of higher education’s efforts to negate the effects of the ‘digital divide’ may be the creation of a ‘print divide’ which, because print is still the most effective learning format, favors [sic] students who can afford it. (p. 310)

This is especially evident when we consider Mannheimer’s Figure 2 (above). It’s not just about reading, or even the quality of reading, but the ability to retain, process, and remember—which, critically, is often how we assess students.

Since March 2020, all of the student papers we’ve tutored have been on a screen. The controversies of these devices have been set aside. We’ve gone from “Should students use devices in the classroom?” to “How do we use devices in the classroom?” to “I’m teaching from these devices” in short order. Reading has always been a political act, and it’s related directly to our students’ intellectual and economic futures. Being open to (and providing the tools to offer) all platforms and devices for reading is to take a stand for student social justice and well-being helping the student where they are, at any stage of the writing and reading process.

Photo by Christian Santizo on Unsplash

_____

References

Bell, S., & Hotson, B. (2020). Tooling up the multi: Paying attention to digital writing projects at the writing centre. Canadian Journal for Studies in Discourse and Writing/Rédactologie, 30. Retrieved from https://journals.sfu.ca/cjsdw/index.php/cjsdw/article/view/785/721

Evans, E. (2017). Learning From High School Students’ Lived Experiences of Reading E-Books and Printed Books. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 61(3), 311–318. https://doi.org/10.1002/jaal.685

Kazanci, Z. (2015). University Students’ Preferences of Reading from a Printed Paper or a Digital Screen ― A Longitudinal Study. International Journal of Culture and History (EJournal), 1(1), 50–53. https://doi.org/10.18178/ijch.2015.1.1.009

Mannheimer, S. (2016). Some Semi-deep Thoughts About Deep Reading: Rejoinder to “Digital Technology and Student Cognitive Development: The Neuroscience of the University Classroom.” Journal of Management Education, 40(4), 405–410. https://doi.org/10.1177/1052562916630771

Newman, T., & Beetham, H. (2017). Student digital experience tracker 2017: The voice of 22000 UK learners. Retrieved from http://repository.jisc.ac.uk/6662/1/Jiscdigitalstudenttracker2017.pdf

Pigg, S. (2014). Emplacing Mobile Composing Habits : A Study of Academic Writing in Networked Social Spaces. College Composition and Communication, 66(2), 250–275.

Reed, M. (3 December 2018). Writing Papers on Phones: Is a smartphone a necessity for college students today? Retrieved January 14, 2020, from Inside Higher Ed website: https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/confessions-community-college-dean/writing-papers-phones

Tsai, C.-C. (2016). A Case Study of English-Major Students’ Preferences for English Reading from a Printed Text versus Electronic Text. The New Educational Research, 46(4), 142–151. https://doi.org/10.15804/tner.2016.46.4.12

Confronting oppressive language in our tutoring practice: Some guiding thoughts

By Roniksha Kumar

Vol. 2, No. 5. (Winter 2021)

Roniksha Kumar is an undergraduate student and a Peer Tutor at the University of Waterloo. As an aspiring educator, she is committed to learning and applying Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion practices in her work and everyday life.

Anti-oppressive writing goes beyond academics—it reflects the writer’s experiences, their colleagues, and those who do not have opportunities to express themselves. Oppression is intersectional, including, but not limited to, the marginalization of race, socioeconomic status, gender, sexuality and disability. A commitment to learn how intersectionalities of oppression present themselves in writing enhances a critical lens to view historic and existing power structures. Continue reading “Confronting oppressive language in our tutoring practice: Some guiding thoughts”

Black History Month: Black-Authored Resources for Writing Centres

Vol. 2, No. 4 (Winter 2021)

Canadian writing centre involvement
While Canada recognizes Black History Month, as Writing Centre professionals, it is our responsibility to address the gaps in our own education in February and beyond. Furthermore, we must confront the fact that these gaps were created intentionally to exclude learning about Black excellence, both historical and contemporary. It is our work to both name anti-Black racism as a force that has shaped our knowledge and our field, and to take up antiracist practices to re-shape our knowledge and our field. 

Many Black writers, thinkers, scholars, and educators have made and are continuing to make significant contributions to Writing Centres, both as places of practice and as spaces for theorizing. We are taking this opportunity to amplify this work and to acknowledge and thank our Black colleagues for their contributions, which have been made in environments that are too often exclusionary, hostile, racist, and traumatic. 

#BlackHistoryMonth in Canada
Black History Month began as a week-long celebration in February 1926. Its founder, Carter G. Woodson, was inspired in 1915 by a three week long event that was sponsored by the state of Illinois to mark the fiftieth anniversary of emancipation. Speaking to an audience of students at Hampton Institute, Woodson said: “We are going back to that beautiful history and it is going to inspire us to greater achievements.” From its very beginnings, Black History Month has provided a necessary push for educators to intentionally seek out and amplify the work of Black writers, and to recognize the contributions that Black people have made to every facet of our society. The Association for the Study of African American Life and History has a detailed article about the history of Black History Month itself and the Black leaders who envisioned it and worked for its creation and continuation. 

Black History Month was not officially recognized in Canada until the late 1970s. It was established in Canada, as in the US, through significant Black effort and leadership. In 1978, Dr. Daniel Hill, Donna Hill, Wilson Brooks, Joan Kazmarski, Lorraine Hubbard, and others co-founded the Ontario Black History Society and petitioned to have Black History Month recognized in February. The first official Black History Month in Canada was recognized in Toronto in 1979. You can learn more about Black History Month in Canada through the Ontario Black History Society website. 

We invite you to read on, during Black History Month and beyond. To paraphrase Chantal Gibson, Otoniya J. Okot Bitek, and Ebony Magnus in their recent discussion of their poetry/photography exhibition un/settled, these works are good every other month, too.

Resources
All of the following resources have been authored or co-authored by Black writers, thinkers, scholars, and educators. We would love to see this, admittedly incomplete, list grow! Please submit your recommendations for additional resources herehttps://forms.gle/CLvjJUbd4xvfwpjM9

Azard, M. G. (2017). “Beyond Johnny can’t write: Tracing the identification of basic writers as deficient, disabled, and foreign others in developmental composition textbooks.” (Doctoral dissertation, The Graduate School of the Texas Woman’s University, Denton, Texas). https://twu-ir.tdl.org/handle/11274/9913 

Baéz, K. & Ore, E. (2018). “The moral imperative of race for rhetorical studies: On civility and walking-in-white in academe.” Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies Special Forum, 15(4), 1-6.

Baird, P. (2021). “Honoring languages: Review of Creole composition: academic writing in the Anglophone Caribbean.” Writers: Craft & Context, 2(1), pp. 59-67. https://journals.shareok.org/writersccjournal/article/view/35/17

Baker-Bell, A. (2020). Linguistic justice: Black language, literacy, identity, and pedagogy. London: Routledge. 

Baker-Bell, A., Williams-Farrier, B. J., Jackson, D., Johnson, L., Kynard, C., & McMurtry, T. (2020). This Ain’t Another Statement! This is a DEMAND for Black Linguistic Justice! Conference on College Composition and Communication. cccc.ncte.org/cccc/demand-for-black-linguistic-justice

Black Canadian Studies Association. (2021). “Statement regarding 2021 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences.” Twitter. https://twitter.com/blkcdnsa/status/1359136941346816006?s=21

Bonilla-Silva, E. (2010). Racism without racists: Colour-blind racism and the persistence of racial inequality in the United States. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield. 

Coenen, H., Folarin, F., Tinsley, N., & Wright, L. (2019). “Talking justice: The role of anti-racism in the writing center. Praxis: A Writing Center Journal, 16(2), 12-19. http://www.praxisuwc.com/162-coenen-et-al

Condon, F. , & Green, N.-A. (2020). Letters on moving from ally to accomplice: Anti-racism and the teaching of writing. In Diverse Approaches to Teaching, Learning, and Writing Across the Curriculum: IWAC at 25. WAC Clearinghouse/University Press of Colorado.

Condon, F., & Young, V. A. (Eds.). (2016). Performing antiracist pedagogy in rhetoric, writing, and communication. The WAC Clearinghouse; University Press of Colorado. https://doi.org/10.37514/ATD-B.2016.0933

Conversations from the Margins. (N.D.). Racism in the Margins. University of Connecticut. https://ritm.initiative.uconn.edu/narratives/ 

(Video where tutors of colour speak about their experiences with racism in response to their writing) 

Cook, N. A. (2020)  Anti-racism resources for all ages, Padlet. compiled by Dr. Nicole A. Cook: https://padlet.com/nicolethelibrarian/nbasekqoazt336co 

Cooks, J. & Sunseri, A. (2014). Leveling the playing field: The efficacy of thinking maps on English language learner student’s writing. The CATESOL Journal, 25(1), 24-40.

Craig, Todd. (2015). “‘Makin’ Somethin’ Outta Little-to-Nufin’: Racism, Revision and Rotating Records – The Hip-Hop DJ in Composition Praxis.” Changing English, 22(4), 349-364. https://doi.org/10.1080/1358684X.2015.1109833

Dei, G.J.S. (1996). Anti-racism education: theory and practice. Halifax: Fernwood Publishing. 

Dei, G. J. S., James, I. M., Karumanchery, L. L., James-Wilson, S., & Zine, J. (2000). Removing the margins: The challenges and possibilities of inclusive schooling. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press. 

Dei, G. J. S., Karumanchery, L. L., & Karumanchery-Luik, N. (2004). Playing the race card: Exposing white power and privilege. New York: Peter Lang.

Dei, G. J. S., Zine, J., & James-Wilson, S. V. (2002). Inclusive schooling: a teacher’s companion to removing the margins. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press.

Esters, J. B. (2011). “On the edges: Black maleness, degrees of racism, and community on the boundaries of the writing center.” In L. Greenfield & K. Rowan (Eds.), Writing centers and the new racism: A call for sustainable dialogue and change (pp. 290-299). Logan: Utah State University Press.

Faison, W. (2019). “Writing as a practice of freedom: HBCU writing centers as sites of liberatory practice. Praxis: A Writing Center Journal, 16(2), 53-64.

Faison, W., et al. (2019). “Potential for and barriers to actionable antiracism in the writing center: Views from the IWCA Special Interest Group on Antiracism Activism.” Praxis: A Writing Center Journal, 16(2), 4-11. http://www.praxisuwc.com/162-faison-et-al

Green, N-A. (2018). Moving beyond alright: And the emotional toll of this, my life matters too, in the writing center work. The Writing Center Journal, 37(1), 15-34.

hooks, bell. (2013). Writing beyond race: Living theory and practice. London: Routledge.

Horner, B., Lu, M-Z., Royster, J. J., Trimbur, J. (2011). “Language difference in writing: Toward a translingual approach.” College English, 73(3), 303-321.

Hudson, D. J. (2017). “The whiteness of practicality.” In Schlesselman-Tarango, G. (Ed). Topographies of whiteness: Mapping whiteness in library and information studies (pp. 203-234). Sacramento: Library Juice Press.

Jackson, K. K. & Howard, M. (2019). “MSIs matter: Recognizing writing center work at minority serving institutions.” Praxis: A Writing Center Journal, 16(2), 51-52.

Johnson, M. T. (2011). “Racial literacy and the writing center.” In L. Greenfield & K. Rowan (Eds.), Writing centers and the new racism: A call for sustainable dialogue and change (pp. 211-227). Logan: Utah State University Press.

Jones, W. (1993). Basic writing: Pushing against racism. Journal of Basic Writing, 12(1), 72-80.

Lockett, A. (2019). “Why I call it the academic ghetto: A critical examination of race, place, and writing centers.” Praxis: A Writing Center Journal, 16(2), 20-33. https://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/bitstream/handle/2152/75575/16.2%20Lockett%20PDF.pdf?sequence=2&isAllowed=y

Mitchell, K. (2019). “Liminally speaking: Pathos-driven approaches in an HBCU writing center as a way forward.” Praxis: A Writing Center Journal, 16(2), 75-81. http://www.praxisuwc.com/162-mitchell-1

Morrison, T. H. (2018). Nooses and balancing acts: Reflections and advice on racism and antiracism from Black writing tutors at predominantly white institutions. [Doctoral Dissertation]. Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana. https://docs.lib.purdue.edu/dissertations/AAI10788542/

Perryman-Clark, S., Kirkland, D. E., & Jackson, A. (2014). Students’ right to their own language: A critical sourcebook. Bedford/St.Martin’s. 

Royster, J. J. (1996). When the first voice you hear is not your own. College Composition and Communication, 47(1), 29-40. 

Suhr-Sytsma, M., & Brown, S. E. (2011). Theory in/to practice: Addressing the everyday language of oppression in the writing center. The Writing Center Journal, 31(2), 13-49.

Teachers College Reading & Writing Project. (2021). Teach Black history: Not just in February but all year. The Reading and Writing Project, Teachers College Columbia University. https://readingandwritingproject.org/blog/teach-black-history-not-just-in-february-but-all-year

Villanueva, V. & Smitherman, G. (Eds). (2003). Language diversity in the classroom: From intention to practice. Southern Illinois University Press. 

Walton, R., Moore, K. R., & Jones, N. N. (2019). Technical communication after the social justice turn: Building coalitions for action. New York: Routledge.

Young, V.A. (2011). “Should writers use they own English?” In Greenfield, L. & Rowan, K. (Eds). Writing centers and the new racism (pp. 61-72). Utah State University Press.

Much of the Black Writing Centre scholarship has emerged from the US context. The following are powerful pieces of Black Canadian writing that engage with the experience of Black people in Canada:  

Cole, D. (2020). The skin we are in: A year of Black resistance and power. Toronto: Doubleday Canada. 

Maynard, R. (2017). Policing Black lives: State violence in Canada from slavery to the present. Halifax, Winnipeg: Fernwood Press. 

Walcott, R. & Abdillahi, I. (2019). BlackLife: Post-BLM and the struggle for freedom. Winnipeg, Manitoba: Arbeiter Ring Publishing.

This post was written and compiled by members of the BC Writing Centre Association, regional affiliate of the CWCA/ACCR, as part of our stated commitment to antiracism. In particular, this work addresses two of our public commitments: 

  • Creating opportunities to learn from our communities about their experiences of injustice, especially as these pertain to the intersections of race and academic expectations. 
  • Critically evaluating our resources in an ongoing way to ensure antiracist, decolonial, and Indigenized approaches and content. 

You can read our statement of commitment to antiracism here

Is it really worth it to write for a blog?

Image of woman at her computer

Brian Hotson
Vol. 2, No. 2 (Winter 2021)

Brian Hotson is the director of Academic Learning Services at Saint Mary’s University. He is the current co-editor the Canadian Writing Centre Review / revue Canadienne des centres de rédaction (CWCR/RCCR), and past editor of the WLN blog, Connecting Writing Centers Across Borders.

 

You’ve just received an unsolicited e-mail to write a post for an academic blog. The blog looks interesting, and you’re considering replying. But you have questions.

Blogging is growing, not waning, in importance for academic writers who are interested in testing and workshopping ideas, as well as finding collaborators and publishers. When used in combination with other media platforms, such as twitter, blogging can amplify a writer’s voice, audience reach, and provide a platform to promote ideas and concepts into their field and literature. Writers can use info graphics, gifs, and other multimodalities in addition to text, things often associated with academic journals. And, they are usually fairly quick to turn out.

Blogs are also a way to develop your current writing projects. Breaking down journal article sections into blog posts, for example, and blogging these sections can become an important writing development stage, especially for those sections that are causing headaches and writing blocks. Getting ideas out there is a great writing tool – blog posts are public-facing, open to comment, and can be shared with colleagues as think pieces and to publishers as pitch documents

If you’re a new writer wanting to establish a credible publishing record, blogging can be a means to develop your writing chops. Most good blogs will have an editorial team, much like a journal. They will work with you to produce polished text, even if that text doesn’t have an academic voice—or at least the academic voice that is usual for your field. Many academic blogs are rigorous, have blind (or blind-ish) readers, and require drafts. If you’re stuck in a writing rut, blogging can be an exciting way to shake things up.

Some considerations
Here are some questions to ask before you start writing.

What is the advantage for me to publish on this blog?
Are you able to advance your writing by posting to the blog? Think about this in two ways: Can I advance the current book chapter or journal article I’m writing by workshopping parts of it on a blog? Am I able to connect with colleagues and collaborators who can provide input and criticism of my work?

Who publishes this blog?

  • Look at the blog’s About page – how long have they been posting? What is the story of their development as a blog? What are their affiliations.
  • Look at the Editorial Team – Who are they? Do they have editorial experience? Can they help you with your writing? How long have they been at the job? High turnover of editors is not a good sign.
  • Who publishes the blog – Are they associated with any groups that you’re interested in writing for? Are they part of the publishing house or academic journal? What are their politics?
  • Do they have manuscript readers? Are they in your field? Do they have experience as readers? And, is it blind?
  • Do they have a publishing schedule? When and how often do they publish?
  • Do you retain copyright? Is the blog open source? Are they creative commons licensed, for example?

Look at the kinds of pieces the blog has published.
Do you want to be associated with this blog? Are they related to your field? Often times, unsolicited invites to publish come from new blogs, those associated with political view-points, or academic publishers. Read the fine print often at the bottom of the blogs Home for Welcome pages. Do a google search of the blog. Do you see any read flags? Ask your colleagues if they know of the blog.

Read a few of the pieces.
Their format should be similar to an academic article: introduction, in-text citations, proper formatting style, and references. Good blogs edit pieces and check citations, so if their missing these, you might reconsider, but note that the tone is usually journalistic and opinion-based, may be in the first-person.

Who else is posting on this blog?
Are they in the same place in their career as you? In the same field? Do you want to associate with those who have published on the blog? Find out where they’re associated, teaching, or researching. What other things have they published? Most good blogs will have author bios, which include all the posts they written for the blog. Do a Google Scholar search of some of the authors. What scholarly publications do they already have?

If the blog is new(ish), do you want to help them get things going?
You could become a regular contributor, as contributing writer, or editor. It’s also a way to do service work that will help others in your field and academic community.

They’ve invited you. Ask where they found your name.
Was this a mass e-mail ask? Why did they send an invitation to you specifically? Is this going to be a long-term relationship? Ask what they are looking for from you as a contributor.

Most of this work can be done fairly easily.

Writing is a practice, with no perfection. Blogging is a way to keep the writing going, especially if you’re stuck or need a change. So, before you delete that e-mail, take a second to consider what you might gain from posting.

BCWCA “Director’s Day Out”: Meaningful Collaboration Online

Screenshot of collaborative Padlet.

Vol. 2, No. 1 (Winter 2021)

While the pivot to a remote environment has created significant disconnection and isolation, it has also opened unexpected and creative possibilities for collaboration. Our boundaries are no longer so firmly institutional or geographical.

Previously, our BCWCA “Director’s Day Out” events were planned and hosted by one institution, and often at what was deemed to be a more central geographical location. 2020’s virtual event was necessitated by pandemic restrictions and made possible by our increased familiarity with collaborative writing tools. Continue reading “BCWCA “Director’s Day Out”: Meaningful Collaboration Online”