Douglas Eyman
Cape Fear Community College

Contributing author:

Cindy Wambeam
New Mexico State University

Contributing editor:

Mike Salvo


CWTA at the MOO: Plights and Ponderings

      Let us begin with stories of our own experiences. What facilities does your campus have? What are you expected to do with/for those facilities? What would you *like* to do with these facilities?

      My goal is to *begin* with the griping and complaining and work *towards* an analysis. As you read people's stories, what can you offer as a solution? What can an organization like the CWTA offer?

      Begin with stories of our experience as computers and writing Teaching Assistants, Graduate Assistants, and Adjuncts. In thirty minutes, I will post another slide or two asking for more pointed suggestions and information regarding the CWTA.

      As our discusion began, we shared our horror stories--and a few common themes emerged as we talked about our positions. It became clear that in a majority of cases, the institution simply did not know what to do with us, and was often under the impression that we could be used as technicians more profitably than we could be utilized as teachers of technologically-facilitated composition and communication:

GregS says, "I think in some places (like ours), the labs all too often become a place to put TAs who they don't know what else to do with. That practice not only undermines the labs, but it also undermines the credibility and value of lab and training work."
SCog says, "I was hired as a Computers and *English* person, and my dept. doesn't really know what counts and what doesn't..."
barrym [to SCog]: classic problem
KarlaK says, "Many people in our dept. want a printer fixer and a word-processor de-confuser, not a curriculum integration of technology specialist."
SCog [to KarlaK]: yes exactly, and we're leaping into a pit if we try to fulfil that. It's the old Victorian servant-master problem.
Tari says, "heh, printer fixers make a damned lot more money than writing/rhetoric grad students."
GregS nods Tari...he thought he should get a copier-fixing minor and he'd get hired anywhere he wanted to go!

      And even though we want to be seen as teacher/researchers and computers and writing specialists, we often also want to help our techno-resistant colleagues to see technology as a viable tool in the classroom. Unfortunately, doing so often forces us to become teachers of technology (as opposed to communication, or composition), thus reinforcing the notion that we are primarily technicians. We seem to be situated in a dichotomous position: in order to advance the acceptance of technology in teaching, we have to denigrate our position as teachers. As GregS cogently points out:

GregS also thinks that our geekiness makes us *want* to do C&W or lab work, even if it's not part of our job. And that hurts our ability to argue the need for real positions. "I know every time I help people on the side it takes care of a need the department should be filling through *official* means."
SCog says, "Not as long as they think of us as technicians instead of thinkers."
SusanL says, "I told my grad. assistants that they were not to help faculty fix their office machines, and told the chair that, too."

      As SusanL points out, it may be in our best interest to stop being so helpful and to instead make clear that we are, in fact, more than just technicians:

nickc says, "A lot of what we do is investment in the future; trouble is, I'm not sure it's our immediate futures. The more departments come to rely on computers, the more likely they are to want someone full time to help. Trouble is each teacher/scholar will assume they will know what to do (pretty much) without needing a pedagogy specialist and so will just want instead a techie."
Green_Guest says, "And what do you do about it when you're the teacher, the techie,and up for tenure and they hate you for it."
SCog [to Green_Guest]: I told them I wasn't a technician or a servant or a tech support person, but a thinker and teacher.

      The other main issue that affects all of the TAs represented at this discussion is that of compensation. Although a certain amount of exploitation seems unavoidable, given our position as graduate students and writing teachers, it seems that we have become the most exploitable element in academia today--we do more work for far less money, and perhaps more importantly, for far less recognition and respect.

JanetC [to MikeS]: WE are expected to become tech geeks overnight for nothing.
GregS nods janetc
MikeS nods janetc
MikeS [CWTA dude] sighs.
SusanL says, "I have 2 grad students working for me who are supposed to help me maintain the labs *and* train our 70+ grad students to teach in them."
Tari jumped ship "Because I thought that $5 an hour to administrate a network, manage a computer lab, write documentation, help users, train teachers, etc. etc. Sucked Out Loud."

      Part of the problem (perhaps most) is that our activities have been extensively (and, I would argue, endemically) maginalized both within the realm of English studies and within Composition as well. As long as the administration of each field consistently relegates the role of teaching with technology to only graduate students or adjunct or junior faculty, the teaching of writing using technology must remain marginalized. One of the reasons that groups like the ACW and CWTA are being formed is that traditional professional organizations have been contributing to the continued marginalization of computers and writing as a valuable (and valued) field:

barrym says, "When a junior faculty has the responsibility to means the chair isn't doing his or her job."
SusanL nods barrym. "That was the main problem I saw in those MLA guidelines published in the fall newsletter...all responsibility went on the jr. person, not the dept."

      The struggle to change is slow and tiring--we are often both undervalued and isolated. Even when our departments begin to see the use of technology in the classroom as inevitable, there is still considerable resistance to using that technology to its fullest potential.

MikeS is just an instructor -- but I made myself a pain in the rump of the undergrad director. Actually, he's pro-technology, but not quite *yet* pro pedagogically-responsible technology.
SCog [to MikeS]: yes, I know what you mean about the pro-tech types thinking once they've used word processing, they've got the technology scene wired.

      What MikeS is doing is important--but individuals working for change cannot be as effective as a collective effort to bring change to our institutions; hence, the creation of the CWTA. We next begin to consider how this new organization can help us to promote our field and improve our plight.

After discussing our collective position, we turned our attention to the role that the CWTA might play as an agent of advocacy for graduate TAs. Onward!

To put this all in context, you can peruse the full moo-log for Tuesday, November 14, 1995 at

CWTA Moo Dialogue CWTA Interview 4C's '95 CWTA SIG CWTA Editorial CWTA Web Pages

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