A Reflection on Praxis 2.2 (2005): Why Wire the Writing Center

Paul Oka, "Old vs New (Week #41)," 2009.

Paul Oka, "Old vs New (Week #41)," 2009.

Reading vintage Praxis always gets me thinking about how far writing center research has come, and no issue manifests this sense in me more that 2.2 (2005): Why Wire the Writing Center.  I was transitioning from college to graduate school at the time of its publication, and although I was emailing regularly by 2002, the birth of email was still a relatively recent memory for me.  Really, I had just a hair more experience with email than I had with writing center work, which I’d entered into as an enthusiastic sophomore peer tutor at Penn State University Park.  Back in those days, we read papers on paper, and words such as YouTube, Facebook, or Prezi had yet to enter into our writing center lexicon. 

In what I’ve termed the age of de facto multiliteracy in my own scholarship (http://www.praxisuwc.com/naydan-111), the about-to-be wired world of that Praxis issue seems in some ways a world away, especially given that we’re now mostly wireless.  It was a world in which Beth Godbee felt the irreplaceability of the handwritten word—a feeling that many students in contemporary writing centers and classrooms share less and less.  Moreover, it was a world in which Michele Eodice feared that she’d render her readers as “overwhelmed” by inviting them to ponder the utility of an array of technologies that they might choose to incorporate into their centers—a world in which writing centers arguably didn’t see themselves as always already multiliterate and a world in which all rhetoric wasn’t inherently digital, as Laura J. Gurak and Smiljana Antonijevic suggest it is in “Digital Rhetoric and Public Discourse.”

For better or worse, I don’t know that we have the luxury to choose or deny technology in 2015, and I imagine that even anxious writing center administrators who try to keep the stuff of the twenty-first century outside their centers’ doors can’t stop consultants or the writers who work alongside them to from covertly pulling out their smartphones. Even without their directors’ or their teachers’ endorsements, they’ll secretly search for quick answers on Wikipedia that books don’t provide quite as quickly. And, of course, teachers and writing center directors, too, will turn to Wikipedia, which arguably emblematizes the sort of interconnected community that Godbee worked to theorize in her 2002 Praxis article. As scholars such as James P. Purdy intimate, Wikipedia may well be good for all of us—even if some of us continue to deny how readily we turn to it.

In my own career, I perhaps see the clearest evidence of my communion with the digital and hence my transformation as a scholar and digital citizen in the amount of space that I dedicate to the subject of teaching with technology in the array of application materials and professional documents that I’ve produced.  In applying for part-time jobs circa the time of Facebook’s initial popularity—back when poking people was novel and before the dawn of Farmville, a now near-obsolete game—I remember deciding to dedicate a paragraph or so to digital media as I incorporated them into my lessons.  Even my first post-Ph.D. job letter contained just a lone formal paragraph on teaching with technology.  But within just a year or two of writing that letter, I realized the problem of confining a discussion of the digital to such a small space.  The digital age had entirely pervaded contemporary American life—my life—regardless of the privilege of my academic institution or the size of my own paycheck.  Perhaps needless to say, in the next job letter I wrote, I deleted the lone paragraph about teaching with technology and incorporated a discussion of digital media into every paragraph.  It made no sense to quarantine the stuff of digital life in a letter as it makes no sense to quarantine it in life.

Because technology changes so rapidly, I clearly can’t even begin to speculate where writing centers will be as multiliterate spaces in dynamic interplay with digital existence in the next decade, but it’s certainly exciting to think about where we’re going.  It seems to me that the already rich subject of digital multiliteracy is only getting richer, and I look forward to seeing the questions that writing center scholars will raise in future issues of Praxis as they put multiliteracy into more robust dialogue with emerging theoretical issues that come to define our always already digital times.


Liliana Naydan