As academic professionals charged with administering key components of our university's writing infrastructure, we are drawn to explorations of how the ever-evolving digital medium affects writing pedagogy and what that means for the tools, techniques, and tactics we employ to support and sustain writing in our classrooms and at our institution. This webtext serves as a portfolio of our exploration of that question through various modes of communication—written text, technology-assisted dialogue and peer review, and multimedia composition—that are (and, in the case of video, must become) facilitated by a key piece of our writing infrastructure at the University of Georgia (UGA). <emma> is a content management system (CMS) for writing developed in-house and used by the entire First-year Composition Program (FYC) and in other courses, including, importantly, the capstone ePortfolio Workshop for the Interdisciplinary Writing Certificate Program (WCP).
Ron Balthazor is the lead developer of the team that created <emma> and continues to shepherd its development. Elizabeth Davis is the coordinator of the WCP, tasked with finding ways to foster, support, and spread writing intensive opportunities for students (and faculty) across the campus. For both of us, the intersection of infrastructure and writing pedagogy is of supreme importance, particularly since both FYC and the WCP use ePortfolio assessment. This means that writing on our campus requires a foundational structure that effectively supports both the kind of writing pedagogy these programs wish to foster and the technological support structure that allows for easy creation and long-term storage of student ePortfolios. In thinking about how we might build on that foundational structure, we realized that we were influenced by several critical concepts and perspectives, namely, ecocriticism, discourse communities, and Actor-Network Theory. Those influences, in a sense, constitute our own theoretical infrastructure and form the metaphors that permeate this webtext and help it cohere into not just a random assortment of texts and ideas, but into a portfolio that explores (and, in some ways, embodies) the ecosystem of writing here at UGA. This portfolio helps us to understand the relationships between people and programs—both institutional and technological—so that we may better maintain a flourishing, sustainable writing culture.
Ecocriticism, discourse theory, and ANT all prioritize social relations and remind us that no one and no thing acts alone or in a vacuum. The technical and organizational structures that exist in a given environment can be just as important in influencing the actions and behaviors of the organisms residing within it. In defining ecocomposition, Sidney I. Dobrin (2001) argued that we must consider "not just 'natural' environments, but other environments: classroom environments, electronic environments, writing environments, and textual envvironments" in order elucidate the effects of these "spaces" on textual production (p. 13). Using the metaphor of place or space to think about how writing happens and what kinds of texts are produced, Dobrin emphasized the systemic nature of environmental spaces and drew on Marilyn M. Cooper's seminal work on ecocomposition to support the idea that "[w]riters, too, reflect and connect with systems" (1986, p. 17). Cooper's early argument for an ecological understanding of writing focused on the relationships between writers, audiences, and texts intertwined in "dynamic interlocking systems which structure the social activity of writing" (1986, p. 368). This conception of the activity of writing seems closely connected to James E. Porter's (1992) later use of poststructuralism as the foundation for his theorization of the discourse community as a space in which relationships between elements and actors in a system interact and overlap constantly with others in a dynamic and shifting field. Porter's argument that discourse communities are "not sociological entities," but "sets of relations" (p. 89) seems to prefigure Bruno Latour's (2005) later claim that the social is a "peculiar movement of re-association and reassmbling" (p. 7), which he complicates with the insertion of Actor-Network Theory's welcome attention to the non-human players in these complex webs of relations that Cooper and Porter asked that we trace.
Our concern with the interaction and interplay between writers, writing instructors and assessors, and technology is part of our interest in understanding the complexities of infrastructure through this ecosystemic frame. In this text, we will consider the foundational structures, the architectural supports, of our current writing ecology and then move on to survey the larger landscape of research and debate how to build and sustain a thriving ecosystem of writing and writing instruction and assessment. The interface of <emma> and its applications can help us think about what kinds of protocols, or what kinds of practices, we need to cultivate in this particular ecological community. Screencapture videos that show how the technological application of <emma> allows for the production of texts and the assembly of those texts into an electronic portfolio are intended to demonstrate the way infrastructure and pedagogy are necessarily intertwined—the way that technological tools and human beings must act together to create a fully realized and effective writing ecology.Go to "Foundational Structures"