Dangerous Writing: Understanding the Political Economy of Composition

By Tony Scott | Go to book overview

5
WRITING DANGEROUSLY

Last semester Lindsay Hutton “taught” 1,940 students. She met only 70 of
them in person. Those were the ones enrolled in the two weekly sections of
English composition that she taught in an actual classroom. The hundreds
and hundreds of others she knew only as anonymous numbered documents
she read on her computer screen and then, with a click of a button, sent back
out into the ether. As one of 60 graduate students hired to teach fresh-
man composition at Texas Tech University, Ms. Hutton had a weekly quota
of grading.

“Sometimes,” Ms. Hutton says, “it feels like a factory.”

—Paula Wasley

The above quote describes a graduate student teaching in a university writing program at Texas Tech University called ICON (Interactive Composition Online). The quote is from an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education that describes the system (Wasley 2006). The ICON program relies on an interactive, computer-automated system that facilitates the distribution of a writing curriculum, the management of a composition staff, and the assessment of students' writing. According to the article, the system assigns two roles to the staff: “composition instructors” (“CIs”) who meet once a week with a section of FYC students, and “document instructors” (“DIs”) who grade students' papers from across all sections using an automated, blind system. According to the system's flowchart, CIs meet with students to

discuss assignments and present general principles of grammar, style, and
argumentation, and to discuss their weekly assignments, which are standard-
ized across all 70-odd sections of the two required first-year composition
courses. Each assignment cycle includes three drafts of an essay, reflective
“writing reviews” commenting on students' own work, and two peer reviews of
other students' work, all of which are submitted and stored online (A6).

The system thus brings uniformity to the curriculum and reliability and efficiency to the program's system of assessment and data compilation

-180-

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