All the presenters for this section work in the composition program, or at least as part of the on-line version of the composition program, at the University of Michigan. These folks were the most eager presenters I saw that day because they were at the conference to report on their success with a program that has tied the local public school system in with their on-campus, on-line composition tutoring program. The program as a whole is quite developed, and I won't go into all the aspects of the program here. For more detailed information you should check the Computers and Writing Conference Web site.
What interested me the most about this group was the fact that they were operating so far outside the realm of the University of Michigan English department. All their funding apparently comes from outside sources; none of the presenters seemed to be in tenure track positions (nor, as far as I could tell, was anyone else associated with their program -- they continually referred to the fact that nearly every year they lost someone to more "substantial" positions).
To get their community/university-cooperative program rolling, a number of the on-line composition faculty took their appeal directly to the "deep pockets" who actually fund most university projects. By a stroke of luck, the composition faculty was invited to speak to most of the high-level decision makers in the Michigan state education system (alumni now running large local companies, a number of high-level university administrators, and other assorted decision makers). When they presented their idea of networking their on-campus writing lab with a number of local high schools and junior high schools, the decision makers were impressed. Once the idea was pitched to more people in the "right" places, money began to flow and other supplementary programs were set up across the state. One woman in the program (who was not at the conference) was apparently the primary mover and shaker behind this cooperative program, and all the presenters continually referred to the fact that without this woman's persistence, nothing would have happened.
What appeared at first to be catching enthusiasm, however, began to look more and more (as questions began to proliferate) like extreme denial. All the work they put into this new cooperative program was, in the grand scheme of things, undeniably going to be one of the important first steps in changing the way we think about and teach English, but despite all their future-driven work, these instructors were still treated like outsiders by their English department -- a department that should be embracing them with open arms. The old problem of composition being treated as a "lower life form" in comparison to the elevated study of "literature" was immediately obvious, and the use of computers in the program (while definitely helping to attract the attention of outside money) seemed to increase the prejudices against those interested in teaching writing, making them seem even more outside the realm of standard English study.
Again the comment came up (and elicited a lively debate) that none of the presenters had actually received any "substantial" compensation for all their work. They created, then expanded a huge on-line educational program that served the agendas of many university administrators, local business interests, and a number of politicians, but in the end they were no better off (professionally, as English scholars) than when they started.
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