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Composition Forum 21, Spring 2010

Dànielle Nicole DeVoss, Heidi A. McKee, and Richard (Dickie) Selfe, eds. Technological Ecologies and Sustainability. Computers and Composition Digital Press. Web. May 2009. 383 pp.

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Stephanie Vie

Technological Ecologies and Sustainability (TES) is an important offering in the field of composition studies, one that is incredibly necessary in a technologically mediated world and one that helps readers consider the various ways to build and sustain technological ecologies and computerized composing environments. The metaphor of technology as ecology takes as its central concept the idea that technologies, like biological entities, are living and mutable things. In other words, a technological ecosystem is dynamic and adaptable; it is also susceptible to ecological crises, thus the necessity of sustainability efforts to ensure that the system does not break down. As the editors note, such systems need “to be planned, fostered, designed, sustained, and assessed to create a vibrant culture of support” at all possible levels (Digital Press, “Technological”). The introduction to the book carefully parses each node of the concept, ultimately pressing the reader to ask him or herself the following: “If we can gather together productive collectives of human agents and non-human actants, and if we can enlist these collectives in support of projects shaped by humanistic values, can we create digital composing environments worth sustaining?” (p. 8).

The book’s audience is wide and varied—“teachers, scholars, administrators, and graduate students working in fields of composition studies, computers and writing, technical/professional communication, literature, education, and English education”—but it is that variance that helps us see how technological sustainability is an issue no longer limited merely to computers and composition scholars (Digital Press, “Technological”). Indeed, as the editors note, these issues face us all: “Local and larger infrastructures of composing are critical to digital writing practices and processes. In academia, specifically, all writing is increasingly computer-mediated; all writing is digital” (Digital Press, “Technological”).

To that end, TES is offered as a free, online e-book in Adobe PDF format, bundled as a full e-book and also available as individual chapters. This collection is the first publication offered by Computers and Composition Digital Press, an imprint of Utah State University Press; all projects presented by the Digital Press are available online to read and download for free.

TES is primarily a print-based collection; each chapter is offered as a PDF file while additional materials are composed as both Rich Text File and Microsoft Word documents, a suitable nod to cross-platform accessibility. However, the collection does take some advantage of the affordances of a web-based project such as this in the video introductions to each section, individually composed by each of the editors. This is a well-designed compilation that offers readers multiple ways of accessing, reading, and experiencing the collected works. In fact, one of the interesting aspects of offering the whole collection as one PDF as well as through separate chapters is the way that the latter practically encourages readers to skip around, eschewing a linear reading process and presenting one more akin to hypertextual web browsing.

As well, the collection’s focus on translating print to screen meshes well with the Digital Press’s mission: “The Press will … publish ebooks (print texts in electronic form available for reading online or for downloading); however, we are particularly interested in digital projects that cannot be printed on paper, but that have the same intellectual heft as a book” (“Mission”). TES showcases some effective ways that a traditional print-based book can be translated to an online format, retaining a familiarity that should satisfy those who read books offline, a choice that seems well-suited for a new press’s introductory offering. Yet it also incorporates multimedia aspects and hints at some of the exciting opportunities that may be available for future offerings through the Digital Press. Finally, the Digital Press promises to uphold the “intellectual heft [of] a book” in its publications through its connection to Utah State University Press—i.e., all projects offered through the Digital Press have gone through rigorous peer review and must show intellectual excellence (“Mission”). Overall, one limitation of TES might be that it looks and reads, in many ways, much like a traditional print-based book; however, that recognizable look and feel could be encouraging to those suspicious of (or merely unfamiliar with) online, multimedia-rich scholarship. A second limitation emerges from the format of the text: Because each chapter is available as its own PDF, the temptation exists to merely pick and choose from among the various chapters, disregarding the heft of the overall argument presented by all of the chapters working harmoniously together. As a result, I would urge readers interested in this text to experience the book in full rather than omitting certain chapters.

In terms of its content, this is indeed an intellectually hefty book; with 383 pages encompassing seventeen separate chapters, TES offers a wide variety of theoretically informed as well as practically oriented discussions of technological sustainability. The collection is split into four sections (not including an introduction and afterword): “Sustaining Instructors, Students, and Classroom Practices”; “Sustaining Writing Programs”; “Sustaining Writing Center, Research Centers, and Community Programs”; and “Sustaining Scholarship and the Environment.” The authors of many of the chapters are prominent members of the field of computers and composition; some notables (though this is certainly not an exhaustive list) include Cheryl Ball, Patricia Freitag Ericsson, Kristie S. Fleckenstein, Gail E. Hawisher, James E. Porter, Cynthia L. Selfe, Patricia Sullivan, and Kathleen Blake Yancey. Many newer voices in the field are also showcased within: Patrick W. Berry, Lisa Dush, Shawn Miller, and others. Thus the collection as a whole showcases a multiplicity of voices and emphasizes the many ways we can pay attention to the issue of technological sustainability. The first section looks at issues pertinent to daily writing praxis: incorporating laptops, video, and portfolios into writing classes and sustainability in institutions with poor access to technology resources. Section two is of particular interest to the WPA, focusing on analyzing, building, and sustaining technology-rich writing programs. Section three looks to writing centers (Chapter 13 uses the example of Writing@CSU as a project that benefited from the application of activity theory to ensure its stability), the connections between research centers and writing centers on campus, and outreach efforts in the community such as online writing labs and distance education courses. Finally, section four focuses on sustainable scholarship in technology and, briefly, sustainability efforts regarding the impact of technologies on our environment. While section four is shorter compared to the others at only three chapters, it reminds us that we stand at an historical moment of change in terms of the role of writing studies in the humanities; as such, we can continue to attend to issues surrounding technology to maintain the inroads already fostered through scholarly work in computers and composition studies and digital rhetorics.

The overarching focus of the project is to assist readers in best planning, fostering, designing, sustaining, and assessing “the complex ecologies framing the study and practice of digital writing that we do (or hope to do) as teachers, scholars, learners, and writers” (Digital Press, “Technological”). While it does offer moments of practical advice throughout, the collection is ultimately more concerned with advocating theoretical approaches to digital composing that support sustainability. For example, Peter J. Fadde and Patricia Sullivan’s chapter “Video For the Rest of Us? Toward Sustainable Processes for Incorporating Video into Multimedia Composition” argues that sustainable processes for video production in the composition classroom should focus on efforts that move beyond software generations. Rather than suggesting specific software that may later be outdated, Fadde and Sullivan offer four sustainable concepts for the rhetorical use of video in a writing class: ideate, locate, evaluate, and integrate. By keeping the focus on writing throughout and making use of already available materials, such an assignment remains centered on aesthetic, ethical, and rhetorical issues.

The introduction to the collection, composed by all three editors, provides clear, detailed overviews of each chapter. Thus, I would encourage all readers to first peruse the introduction to discover those chapters immediately most pertinent to the particulars of their situation. One of the chapter highlights I discovered was Ryan (Rylish) Moeller, Cheryl Ball, and Kelli Cargile Cook’s chapter, “Political Economy and Sustaining the Unstable: New Faculty and Research in English Studies,” which outlines recommendations for supporting and sustaining the work of new hires who will work with digital media. Through their focus on two case studies at a large research university, the authors offer practical advice for job candidates, hiring committees, administrators, promotion and tenure committees, and so on. Anthony Atkins and Colleen Reilly’s chapter, “Stifling Innovation: The Impact of Resource-poor Techno-ecologies on Student Technology Use,” rings true for many instructors who teach at institutions where technological access is unpredictable; their survey-based research focuses on the effects of resource-poor techno-ecologies on student experiences and perceptions, noting that “the lack of access … appears to have detrimental effects on some students’ perceptions of their fitness for specific high-tech careers in our field and on their comfort levels and confidence as technology users” (p. 17). Michael Day’s chapter, “The Administrator as Technorhetorician: Sustainable Technological Ecologies in Academic Programs,” describes administrative philosophies appropriate for writing program administrators and others concerned with developing sustainable technology-rich writing programs.

These are only a few of the excellent chapters included in this collection, which I would highly recommend as a satisfying debut from the Computers and Composition Digital Press. It would be an excellent addition to a graduate-level course on computers and composition, particularly because of its ease of access and price as well as the immense amount of theoretical and practical material covered within the text.

Works Cited

Computers and Composition Digital Press. Technological Ecologies and Sustainability. 2009. Web. 15 Nov. 2009. <>.

———. “Mission and Goals.” 2009. Web. 15 Nov. 2009. <>.

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