Posted: August 25th, 2009 | Author: benmccorkle | Filed under: Bookshelf, Research, Rhetoric, Writing | Tags: computers & composition digital press, review | No Comments »
The recently published edited collection Technological Ecologies & Sustainability (Dànielle Nicole DeVoss, Heidi A. McKee, and Dickie Selfe, eds.) is an important book for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it is the inaugural offering from the upstart Computers & Composition Digital Press [DISCLOSURE: I was part of a Flash-animation marketing campaign for the press, the first episode of which my kind readers may see here]. This press, under the imprint of the Utah State University Press and helmed by a group of new media scholars at a handful of institutions (The Ohio State University, Miami University, Illinois Institute of Technology, and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in partnership with the Institute for the Future of the Book), seeks to recreate academic publishing by bringing the whole enterprise online, lending its imprint to ebooks and innovative multimodal digital projects. Additionally, the press is an advocate of the open source/content movement, endeavoring to make its offerings as accessible as possible for its readers.
To that last point, TES is free for readers to read and download at their leisure (another important aspect of the book, as it acknowledges what I deem as imminent changes on the economic/political horizon for academic publishing). It is more or less an e-book, primarily packaged as a PDF, although there are short introductory videos for each section available, as well as some supplementary files associated with individual chapters (see the multimedia content associated with the chapters “A Portable Ecology” and “Sustaining Scholarly Efforts” for two examples). I suppose one might wonder why the first effort from this press wasn’t more multimodal in format (although such projects are currently in production with the press), but to those naysayers I would counter by suggesting that a more familiar format is valuable for bringing in that initial (and perhaps initially wary) readership. Hook them with the (e-) book, and they’ll likely stick around to see the more state-of-the-art multimodal offerings the next time around. Although I do not know this firsthand, I imagine that this decision was a deliberately strategic one, one that makes sense.
But on to the actual contents of the book: collectively, TES offers readers multiple perspectives of how to build, maintain, and sustain cultures of digital composing in academic environments, with the emphasis here on “culture”–this isn’t just a book about how to set up a computer lab or what sort of digital video cameras you should buy, but an exploration of the intrapersonal, political, and material dynamics that run through our experiences with academic computing. These issues scale upwards, to be sure, involving not only our approaches to teaching with technology in the classroom or our larger scholarly discourse with colleagues about technology, but also how we interact with administrators to secure funding and support, the case we make to the general public for the inherent value of teaching and composing with digital technology, and even the attention we pay to matters related to responsible recycling practices, a matter that literally has a global impact.
TES is divided into four main sections, each one dealing with: 1) the classroom setting, 2) writing programs, 3) writing/research centers, and 4) the larger scholarly and environmental concerns that lie beyond academia. Again and again, the book persuasively offers up case studies ranging from the very local to the nearly global in scope, and demonstrating how vast, complicated, and interconnected such techno-ecological spaces often are. The goal here not only recognizing how such spaces are networked, but also one’s own position within it and the degree of mobility one has given that position. This book is full of practical advice on how to bootstrap if you happen to be at a cash-strapped institution, how to integrate digital work in a writing program’s curriculum, how to jawbone with skeptical administrative types, how to advocate for the validity of digital scholarship to the promotion-and-tenure gatekeepers in a department, and so on. The book includes a mixture of up-and-coming as well as more seasoned voices in the field in keeping with the collection’s multifaceted, inclusive ethos; among the more notable names are Kathleen Blake Yancey, Patricia Sullivan, Cynthia Selfe and Gail Hawisher, Cheryl Ball, Patrick Bell, and Shawn and Krista Apostel.
To close, TES should appeal to a variety of readers–the writing instructor looking to assign multimodal compositions for the first time, the administrator looking to fund new computers for the campus’s outdated labs, directors looking to start up a cutting-edge digital studio–all of whom will be well served by the book’s overarching message encouraging such people to think about the larger context in which their work as digital humanists is situated. Ultimately, this work will prod readers to question the pragmatics, ethics, efficacy, and legitimacy of the specific work they do in digital writing environments, especially as it relates to the impact of those caught up in the same social network (and depending on how one defines that network, it can indeed be quite large). In all, this first showing from CCDP is a strong one, and hopefully more of the same is soon to come from this promising new press.