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Thomas T. Barker
Department of English, Texas Tech University
A computer revolution is underway in composition teaching, but nobody knows who's doing what, with what, and for what purposes. Last spring, when I began to investigate computer facilities that taught writing, I had to start from scratch: no tips, no contacts, no bibliographies--nothing but a few names out of College English and a phone. Talk, talk, talk, and my list of microcomputer labs, or "microlabs," grew to 10, then to about 20. Now, a year later, I could probably name about 50 sites. Yet seasoned researchers estimate that there are between two to three hundred now and more emerging soon.
Here are some characteristics of those facilities, based on an informal survey I conducted among researchers and administrators in computers and composition. Most of these facilities do research as well as teach. Many are tailored to specific needs but all are exploring ways to define the general purpose of computer-assisted instruction in composition. They all use operating systems, word processors, and perhaps some "courseware," either homegrown CAI or commercial CAI. Many of these facilities exist in Business Communications environments, in Academic Support Centers, and in Writing Centers. Some departments may share computers with another department, such as Business Communications or Journalism. Some labs may be administered by English instructors, others by data processing departments. One researcher suggested to me that some might exist only as one machine and an interested person.
The English Microlab Registry (EMR) began as an attempt to survey computer labs devoted to teaching composition in English departments. It now welcomes registrations from other language-related departments, like Rhetoric, Technical Communications, Communications, Speech, Linguistics, and Journalism. It welcomes registrations of Writing Centers and Academic Assistance Centers that use computers to teach writing. It now includes an index for easy cross-referencing, and it will be updated twice yearly. The EMR has grown into a combination census and database. As a census it provides a quantifiable profile of trends in micro facility design; as a data base it provides sources of primary information for researchers.
While the scope of the EMR has grown more complex, physically the EMR will be simply formatted and easy to use. It will resemble an annotated bibliography with an index (by record number) of keywords and trademarks. A single record will look something like the following:
57. Michigan Technological University, Humanities Department, Houghton, Ml 49931 (906) 487-2447. NAME OF FACILITY: Center for Computer-Assisted Language Instruction (1980). USER HOURS: 1500. CONTACT: Cynthia L. Selfe. HARDWARE: (computers) 4, Terak 8510/A, 3, IBM PC, 2, Macintosh; (printers) 4, NEC Spinwriters, I Okidata 2410, 1, Diablo Inkjet Color Printer. SOFTWARE: (system) PC-DOS, UCSD Pascal; (w/p) UCSD Pascal, MOONSHADOW (text formatter), VOLKSWRITER, THE FINAL WORD, KOALA GRAPHICS, FAST GRAPH, PERSONAL EDITOR; (courseware) WORDSWORK. PURPOSE: To establish a uniformly high standard of computer literacy by introducing students to the potential of computer-assisted document design, text editing, word processing, and graphics layout. CAI in composition classes. Development of software and applications in language instruction.
The EMR can give beginners who want to know more about computers and composition a place to start, and give those already involved in microlab administration an avenue for primary research. Additionally, software authors and hardware developers; publishers; and members of service industries such as Information services and consultants, can all benefit from the information in the EMR
COMPUTER LAB PLANNERS AND ADMINISTRATORS. Primary research (inquiry letters, phone interviews, and visits to sites) remains the computer lab planner's most important tool. Planners, and those who already administer computer labs, can use the EMR to supplement secondary research in books and articles with primary research. They can use the listing to share plans, programs and philosophies. The EMR is like a one-dimensional Rolex of contacts and facts about systems and software. It opens the door to valuable information about what works and doesn't work.
RESEARCHERS IN CAI. For researchers, the EMR works like a bibliography of sites that, surveyed and questioned, can provide insight into such topics as trends in locally-developed software, networking, and applications. Sponsors of research conferences in computers in composition could also use the EMR as a mailing list.
SOFTWARE AND HARDWARE DEVELOPERS. For software and hardware developers, the EMR can provide lists of possible test sites and lists for market surveys. The EMR operates for them like Moody's INDUSTRIAL MANUAL or the many directories of industries and businesses. The index to the EMR will allow these developers to narrow the scope of their research to topics such as "microlabs that use IBM PCs" or "microlabs that do extensive work in basic writing skills."
PUBLISHERS. Editors and publishers wishing to encourage subscriptions to journals and newsletters, and to encourage submission of papers can reach their audience by using the EMR as a mailing list. Announcements about special issues and calls for papers could be directed to the names of contact persons on the list. Publishers of traditional print-oriented textbooks who want to explore software publication can also use the EMR for a mailing list.
SERVICE INDUSTRIES. What I know about the service industries that exist or will exist could fit into my coffee cup. But I can imagine a variety of maintenance, security, and consulting firms that could use the EMR to establish contacts and help create a service base. The EMR could also be useful to information services, like Compuserve, Edunet, or The Source, who want to expand their clientele. Institutes and organizations, like the newly formed "Institute for Personal Computing" might also use the EMR to increase their membership.
The EMR uses a combination Order/Registration form. Those who order are asked for their name and address. Those who register (or order and register) are also asked to provide the following information: the name and address of the institution and department in which the facility is housed; the official name of the facility; the number of user hours it offers; the date it opened; the name of the contact person, such as the Director or Coordinator; the brands and numbers of computers and printers; the main software used (operating systems, word processors, and courseware); and a brief statement of the facility's purpose. Twice a year registrants will be notified of the deadline for updating of all the information in an individual record.
The EMR Order/Registration form is not meant to be a full-length questionnaire, nor is it meant to be comprehensive. It limits each record to vital statistics; and it allows for some subjectivity, especially in the statements of purpose. But part of its limitation comes with the subject. As we learn more about facilities that use computers in composition the EMR form, and thus the EMR itself, along with its supporting documents (like the index), will evolve to meet more fully the needs of the facilities it supports.
DISTRIBUTION. The EMR, along with its index, comes out two times per year and costs $4.00 per issue. The first mailing is scheduled for the Fall, 1984, and the deadline for registration is September 30, 1984. Orders of the EMR, registrations, updates, and inquiries about registrations may be sent to: