Widespread work with computer technology in the field of composition studies began during the1980s when the first fully assembled microcomputers began making their way, in large numbers, into American classrooms, specifically English, language arts, and composition classrooms.
Faced with the reality of computer environments that were fast becoming the accepted milieu for literacy practices and values, universities and departments began seeking qualified candidates well prepared in the areas of composition and rhetoric, and yet knowledgeable about the computer environments that had begun changing communication on local, national, and global levels.
Given the relative youth of this specialized area, departments and universities continue to face some distinctive challenges when dealing with the preparation and assessment of faculty bringing forward tenure and promotion cases.
At least four major factors figure into these challenges. The first challenge involves the preparation of these professionals—which often takes place in Ph.D. programs in Rhetoric and Composition or English. Within such contexts, the interests of computers and composition specialists represent an unusual blend of humanist and technological. In their graduate preparation, these scholars may combine—among many other areas of study—composition theory, rhetorical theory, technology studies, computer science, critical and social theories, new-media studies, and communication. As a result of this non-traditional preparation, scholars who focus their work on technology may have a wide range of expectations about their own responsibilities to a department and the ways in which tenure and promotion criteria apply to the work they may do.
Second, because these professionals often cross traditional disciplinary boundaries in their scholarly work as well as their preparation, they may publish in unfamiliar journals or emerging digital venues that can accommodate their work. The publications that such specialists produce may also take digital forms unfamiliar to department chairs, other colleagues, and tenure and promotion committees: among just a few of these, new-media texts, hypertexts, software, CDs, visual arguments and narratives, digitized documentaries or coverwebs. Similarly, the teaching materials and approaches of these new faculty may diverge from the conventional. Their syllabi and assignments may be online or in digital forms unfamiliar to other faculty. Their classes may take place in electronic environments or their exchanges with students and colleagues may be conducted in synchronous exchanges. As a result, the teaching and scholarly profiles of these colleagues may take unfamiliar forms.
Third, composition professionals who focus their work on technology—faced with the complex task of keeping abreast of fast-changing communication technologies and helping their departments to do so, as well—may be asked to take on departmental assignments that involve an unusually heavy time commitment and service load: administering a computer-supported writing facility; assisting departmental faculty with distance-education efforts; serving on university, college, and department technology committees; helping colleagues learn how to use instructional technology; supervising graduate students teaching in computer-supported classrooms. As a result, their departmental profiles may look unlike those of other colleagues, their work loads may need adjusting, or their progress toward tenure and promotion may need special attention.
Fourth, faculty members who focus their work on technology are often charged with staying abreast of changing technology and exploring new forms of digital composition, literacy, texts, and professional involvement. As a result, they may value various forms of scholarship, teaching, and service work that are unfamiliar to other department members and to the university as a whole. Hence faculty members who work with technology need to meet regularly with department chairs and the chairs of department personnel committees to clarify expectations for tenure and promotion and their progress toward tenure and promotion.
For more information about these factors and advice that may benefit new faculty working with technology, see the links provided to statements of the CCCC and the MLA.