Computers and Writing

Computers and Writing

Computers and Writing is the name of a sub-field of college English studies whose members are dedicated to the academic study of how computers, as well as other, related digital technologies, affect literacy and the writing process. The range of inquiry in this field is quite broad and can include studies as diverse as works of videogame theory to a quantitative study of first-year college students using Microsoft Word. Some frequently addressed topics include hypertext theory, visual rhetoric, multimedia authoring, distance learning, digital rhetoric or eRhetoric, usability studies, the formation and lifecycles of online communities, and how various media change reading and writing practices, textual conventions, and genres. Other topics examine social or critical issues in computer technology and literacy, such as the issues of "the digital divide," equitable access to computer-writing resources, and critical technological literacies.

The Field

The field, which (in the United States, at least) has grown out of rhetoric and composition studies, is inter-disciplinary, and members also do scholarly work and teaching in such allied and diverse areas as technical and professional communication, linguistics, sociology, and law. The most important journals supporting this field are Computers & Composition, Computers & Composition Online, and Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy. Though there is no single professional organization covering this field, an information resource portal exists at The professional organization Conference on College Composition and Communication has a committee, known as the 7Cs committee (CCCC Committee on Computers in Composition and Communication), that selects onsite and online hosts for the Computers & Writing conference and coordinates the "Technology Innovator Award" presented at that annual conference.


Computers and writing pedagogies encourage students to think critically about the connections among composition, technology, and media. By exploring complex concepts such as visual rhetoric, issues of access, and the social implications of online writing, students learn practical applications and implications of writing using technology. Students and teachers, together, interrogate the computer as an environment where writing can be facilitated in a variety of successful ways. Particular attention tends to be paid to the production and consumption of digital, multimodal, and new media texts. Computers and writing pedagogy also considers students’ previous knowledge of computers and technological skills as an asset. The majority of computers and writing scholars seem to agree that engaging students in the production of such multimodal/digital texts is crucial to the learning process in our digitally infused moment, but how best to do this is somewhat controversial.

Computers and writing pedagogies must be dynamic and adaptable to the ways in which technology, media, and the sociopolitical spaces operate in a constant state of flux. Discussions about negotiating paradigm shifts abound in disciplinary journals, and teachers continually develop new approaches that engage with and build upon developments in digital technology and new media texts. Because most scholars in this area work within a university system that privileges print-media over digital text, much of the work produced and assigned by these teachers and scholars continues to be relatively traditional. While a computers and writing pedagogy should encourage the use of sampling, remixing, and filesharing that invites students to conceive themselves as reproducers or co-authors of digital compositions as well as consumers, this is not always an achievable goal. In the pedagogical paradigm shift that computers and composition scholars strive for, students play a vital role in the construction and transformation of knowledge.

Writing in the Age of Communication technology

In the age of communication technology, amateurs and experts collaborate to create, sustain, and develop virtual communities based on what Gee and Hayes (2011) call “passionate affinity spaces,” or communities organized around “a shared endeavor, interest, or passion.” Technology, specifically blogs, can be an excellent way to build learning communities and help students learn to write authentically for and respond to various audiences by making their writing public. On the virtual playing field, knowledge and talent matter more than degrees and professional memberships, so these spaces offer students a new learning environment and space to collaborate on the production and distribution of knowledge.

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