Discussing DeVoss, Cushman, and Grabill, “Infrastructure and Composing”

Here’s where we’ll talk about DeVoss, Cushman, Grabill “Infrastructure and Composing: The When of New-Media Writing.”  Like the Hull and Nelson, this is one of those pieces I decided to put at the end of the class but it might have worked at the beginning as well. And also like Hull and Nelson, this is more about teaching of writing that the practice of professional writing, but I think the overlap is there.

In the nutshell, what DeVoss and Cushman and Grabill are talking about here is the story of folks in English departments working with technology, and from my own experiences, I’d describe it as a “sliding scale” based on whatever the “next” technology is. When I started teaching writing way WAY back when, in the late 1980s/early 1990s, I used to require students to use some kind of word processing software for at least one of their essays. This freaked people out. When I first had students doing web pages in the mid 1990s, getting server space to host those projects on the web was not all that easy to do. And here we are now with audio/video projects.  Who knows what will come next.

I think the description of “infrastructure” on page 20 and 21 is particularly useful– it might be useful to take this into the professional writing space to explain to employers and would-be clients what’s really involved in “throwing together a help video” or some such thing– and I also think the discussion on the bottom of page 22 about “when” something is a tool makes a lot of sense. After all, most of us are using our phones as the camera and microphone for our recordings, and that seems to shift the definition of infrastructure.

11 thoughts on “Discussing DeVoss, Cushman, and Grabill, “Infrastructure and Composing”

  1. Molly McCord

    I’m glad that we read a piece that addresses infrastructure and its role in multimodal composition. I’ve generally always thought of infrastructure as a kind of concrete “thing,” but Devoss, Cushman, and Grabill helped me shift my concrete notion of the term by stating that “infrastructure is more than material, is never static, and is always emerging” (22). I found their definition to be fairly practical as well; by reframing my view of technological infrastructure as more than just wired and wireless connections and computer hardware/software, and more as a “when” and not a “what,” as the authors say, I think I may be better prepared to articulate some needs and concerns I have regarding technology access and the institutional policies that influence such access at my own workplace.

    Reply
    1. Adam Czarnecki

      I’m with you, here. That part stuck out to me as well. It got me thinking about how the idea of a “thing” changes over time. “When is a tool?” could perhaps be reworded as, “when is a tool a tool and not just… something else?” This speaks to our need to be something of advocates for this kind of stuff, in a way to kind of shape their perception and change the preconceptions people have about the medium and materials we use.

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      1. Tracey Sonntag

        Absolutely. As on 17, when they talk about how certain–assignments or projects, I’m assuming–proved to be “infrastructurally impossible,” I can see how relevant this concept is to the writing instruction going on in classrooms today. I remember playing “school” as a kid, and I’d give my dolls and stuffed animals little chalkboard slates to work with. My daughter’s kids will probably give THEIR dolls toy iPads. Or real iPads, for all I know.

        And yeah, I was that kid.

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        1. skrause Post author

          Yeah, and this is also what I mean by the “sliding scale” of technology needs and also how that changes what we can expect to do. When I first started teaching writing in computer labs way back when, students used the labs to write their essays– that is, they’d have hand-written drafts and they’d come in and use those computers because they didn’t have access anywhere else. This is simply not true nowadays– that is, everyone has their own computer, and I suspect that’s the case with Molly’s students as well.

          Anyway, the point is the expectations/assumptions about infrastructure change. Now it’s a given in a class like this that everyone has a computer, but not necessarily the right software and a camera. Who knows what the assumption will be in two years?

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          1. Molly McCord

            I suppose I kind of assume that every student has access to a computer nowadays–if not at home, then at least at school in the library or learning lab. And I know they all have smart phones (I see those in class every day!). So I’ve begun posting assignments for my face-to-face classes on our course management system, and I require students to access it for homework and announcements. I wasn’t requiring this kind of technology use even a few years ago, since my assumptions about access were different than they are now. Like Steve said, our expectations about infrastructure change–and at very rapid pace.

  2. Molly McCord

    Reading about Ellen’s multimedia writing class experience made me reflect on some very similar kinds of problems I’ve encountered in my own efforts to incorporate more use of technology into my writing classes. Students inexplicably unable to save their work on the server space or losing their work due to a system failure, computers freezing and crashing unexpectedly…I’ve been there with my classes. DeVoss, Cushman, and Grabill note that “On campuses wehre technology budgets are limited, writing is still often seen as a low-technology subject, and writing classes as low-technology spaces” (26). There are few computer classrooms available for composition courses at my workplace, and those common labs that are available must be reserved far in advance due to high demand. Ellen’s story made me think about ways to begin a discussion about our workplace infrastructure and how to make some changes for the better.

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    1. Lisa Pignotti

      I thought it was interesting that they included “standards and classifications” in their list of the composing infrastructure, and it wasn’t limited to the actual equipment. Because if the attitude about new media and ability to see the value of using new media in composition classrooms is not present, then having the physical equipment doesn’t really make all that much of a difference.

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      1. Tracey Sonntag

        Exactly. The equipment–the tech–is secondary to the willingness to incorporate digital tools and mutimodal composition in writing courses. And that willingness has to be present on so many different levels, in both hierarchal and commitment contexts.

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        1. Seth Taylor

          Yes, I think the copyright situation we were discussing earlier is a good example for the infrastructure analysis too. You could have the money and the equipment to produce a project, but because of political and cultural influences, the deliverables probably won’t be what you intended.

          Reply
  3. Danielle

    The idea of “what” is a tool versus “when” is a tool makes sense to me, especially in the context of the video/audio projects we’ve been doing throughout the semester. I think DeVoss, Cushman, and Grabill explain this well on page 22: “a tool is not an artifact with ‘pre-given attributes frozen in time’ but rather is given meaning as a tool by specific users working on particular problems in specific situations.” This reminded me about the idea of activity theory, where tools are only tools in the contact of their community, its rules, its division of labor, etc. In other words, things are tools when we use their affordances in a way that helps us reach our goals.

    Edit: I meant to post this underneath Molly and Adam’s comments. Sorry. :(

    Reply
  4. Seth Taylor

    DeVoss et al seem to echo a theme that’s been recurrent in several courses in our program, and that is that technologies have politics, and so do the compositions that result from their use. “Infrastructure also entails decision-making processes and the values and power relationships enacted by those processes…” I like how this article emphasizes this idea and highlights the myriad cultural/contextual/environmental factors that go into composition, and the pedagogy surrounding it.

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