CCCC 2014 Reviews

AW.05 "From Emma to Marca: Technology and Pedagogy in a Decade of Open-Source Writing Software Development"

Reviewed by Rajendra K Panthee (rkpanthee@utep.edu)

Chair: Christy Desmet, University of Georgia, Athens, GA. 

Robin Wharton, The Calliope Initiative, Inc., Atlanta, GA. “Intellectual Property and Privacy Concerns in Open Access Policy."
Christy Desmet, University of Georgia, Athens, GA. “Teachers, Writers, and Developers Create Electronic Portfolios.”
Deborah Miller, University of Georgia, Athens, GA. “Technology and Pedagogy in the Development of Writing Rubrics.”
Elizabeth Davis, University of Georgia, Athens, GA. “Technology and Pedagogy in the Development of Peer Review and Assessment.”
Sara Steger, University of Georgia, Athens, GA. “From Theory to Practice in Open-Source Code Development.”
Ron Balthazor, University of Georgia, Athens, GA. “From Theory to Practice in Open-Source Code Development.”
Andrew Famiglietti, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA. “From Theory to Practice in Open-Source Code Development.” 

The agenda of the half-day workshop, “From Emma to Marca: Technology and Pedagogy in a Decade of Open-Source Writing Software Development,” was to discuss a range of topics: theory to practice in open-source code development; intellectual property and privacy concerns in open access policy; teachers, writers, developers and e-portfolios; technology and pedagogy in the development of writing rubrics; and technology and pedagogy in the development of peer review and assessment. As a praxis time, the workshop allocated 20 minutes for brainstorming, 45 minutes for building, 45 minutes for practice, and, last, 30 minutes for reflection and discussion. The presenters emphasized the use of technology in building a community of writers and its importance in enhancing the notion of writing as a process. A formal introduction of both the workshop presenters and participants followed the overview of the presentation. The presenters introduced themselves and informed participants about their roles in the development of Emma or Marca [Learning Management Systems]). The participants also introduced themselves and shared what had brought them to the workshop. The presenters tailored the workshop to the interests of the participants. As a result, a significant portion of the workshop was dedicated to portfolios even if they had originally planned to focus more on peer review.

As a part of short history of Emma, Ron Balthazor described how he and other workshop participants at UGA began Emma twelve years ago. There was no focus on writing, as there was no notion of Web 2.0. He informed that “most of the [Learning Management Systems]) back then had them pushing content.” They, as a group of compositionists, professionals, instructors, rhetoricians, local people and rhetoric students, came together to think about what they could do. That’s where the whole idea of Emma first emerged. Balthazor described Emma as having always been a tool guided by pedagogy, with student instruction at the center. The workshop participants shared that they have been learning by doing. As a result, they have been experimenting with different codes since they began Emma. They began with very simple tasks such as marking the subject, verb and object in a sentence. From there, the next most important thing that was developed was the “inclusion of portfolio back in 2005.” Balthazor emphasized that the use of an electronic portfolio was “a real game changer.” Since they had had an open source spirit from the very beginning, they came up with Marca, an open source writing software.

Robin Wharton addressed concerns about open source writing software and intellectual property and privacy. She argued that, because Marca was an open source writing software, they needed “more control over (their) personal data and intellectual property: i.e., the resources [they]) create as an instructor and that [their]) students submit as well as about data about [them]), the users.” According to Wharton, more control over their software was necessary in order to address questions related to their intellectual property. Since there was a shift from passive readers to content consumer and active readers and creators, they needed to ask “different sort of questions that are equally relevant to writers, teachers, and students.” She added that, because Emma’s development has always been part of development at UGA, these kinds of concerns about intellectual property and privacy have been at the forefront. 

Christy Desmet then illustrated how electronic portfolios enhance interaction between students and writing instructors. According to Desmet, e-portfolios are much more than just a collection of files. She showed how writing students could personalize their portfolios to create a “kind of balance between uniformity and creativity.” In her discussion of technology and pedagogy in the development of e-portfolio rubric, Deborah Miller argued that “[N])o matter how we feel about rubrics, there is a connection between pedagogy and assessment.” About an hour was spent on examining the different aspects of e-portfolios and their role in the writing process. 

When the discussion turned to tracing the history of peer review in composition programs, Elizabeth Davis argued that it was important for “collaborative and non-authoritative approaches to writing.” She discussed how new possibilities and opportunities for peer review emerged with the development of digital technologies in the 20th century. According to Davis, Emma and Marca made peer review possible and effective because it facilitated quick comment and feedback. The presenters then related the notion of peer review to the use of e-portfolios. 

After a break, Balthazor showed different pages and activities on Emma and explained how they worked. He also argued that the whole logic of the software was to “emphasize process writing fundamentally.” Then Wharton explained how Marca worked. Both Balthazor and Wharton emphasized the “notion of flexibility and nimbleness” in creating elements, including rubrics, that allow for customization in order to “empower users.” Both of the presenters argued that the peer review sections worked to develop a community of writers. 

As a part of a peer review exercise, the workshop presenters and participants formed four groups to first develop a list of questions and then share them among or between group members. Then the questions generated in small groups were addressed by the larger group as a whole. A range of issues was addressed in the discussion that followed—from evaluating peer review to methodological and procedural concerns. 

CCCC 2014 Reviews

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