The Online Tutor as
Cross-Curricular Double Agent

Basic Composition Course Analysis

Course Design

Basic Composition started as a Title program in the early 1980s. Its design was borrowed from another regional Title program, and although the course may have been designed by someone with a composition background, at DSU the course has rarely been in the hands of compositionists. The course has changed little since its inception. Its theory and pedagogy are soundly Current-Traditional. It emphasizes product over process, correctness, drill and practice, and although there is an emphasis on style, it teaches almost exclusively arrangement, not style.

The course enrollment was originally set at 15, but through the years the enrollment cap has increased to 25. Although it may be possible for an exceptionally talented and heroically dedicated writing teacher to accomplish great feats with this many under-prepared writers, this unrealistic enrollment serves to reinforce the status quo, as teachers are so busy "correcting" papers that there is little time for reconsidering the course pedagogy.

In addition to the pedagogy and numbers, two other factors heavily influence how Basic Composition is taught: the text and the teacher. As recent research detailing the history of computers and writing notes, "In our field, then, practice is not always informed by contemporary theory; it may be informed by earlier theory, embedded in 'procedural knowledge' and transmitted from teacher to teacher, or embedded in textbooks which become the theoretical center of a given course"(Hawisher 30). As our research unfolded, it became obvious that we needed to take a closer look at these two pieces of the puzzle more closely.

With one exception, every teacher hired in the Basic Composition program has been a graduate of a literature-based English program. As so many researchers have observed, basic composition courses are nearly always taught by underpaid, overworked and undertrained teachers. That is certainly true at DSU, where the Basic Composition load can often be four huge classes each semester. None of the Basic Composition teachers has a strong composition background; therefore it stands to reason that the text used may have had a decisive effect on the course itself. A closer look at the textbook provided even more clues to how our tutor had become a "double agent."