Essay Assignment

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GWRTC 103—Gumnior
Fall 2010
Assignment Description Paper 1—Group 1

Dennis Baron’s article, “From Pencils to Pixels: The Stages of Literacy Technologies,” provides us with a great starting point to think about literacy and writing technologies of the past, present, and maybe even the future. 

For this first paper, I want you to investigate the attitudes of different generations toward various literacy technologies from pencils to computers (any implement you use to produce written text, including cell phones).  You should get in touch with your grandparents, parents, assorted relatives, former and current teachers, former and current employers, friends, room/suite-mates, facebook “friends”, siblings, etc. and ask them a few questions that can shed light on how people feel about and use these literacy or writing technologies.

Some of the questions you might ask your research subjects are, for instance:

  • Which writing technologies did you use when you first learned to write?
  • Which writing technologies do you prefer today?
  • Do you use different writing technologies (WTs) for different purposes?  If so, why?
  • Which WTs do you prefer?  Which do you find easiest or most convenient to use?
  • At what points did you have to learn to use new WTs and for what purposes?
  • Did/do you enjoy or dread learning new WTs?
  • What problems do you experience with any of the WTs you use? 
  • Which writing technologies have changed your writing habits the most or the least?
  • Which WTs have helped your writing or writing habits; which have hurt them?
  • Do you think that pixel technologies (computers, smart phones, etc.) are generally better, or worse, as literacy technologies than older technologies (pencils, pens, type writers, etc)?
  • What do you see as the advantages or disadvantages of pixel technologies?
  • What are the advantages or disadvantages of non-electronic WTs?
  • Do you believe that literacy has changed as a result of new writing technologies?  If so, how?

You are not limited to these questions; think up your own questions.  Use the article to come up with other questions, or play it by ear and let  the responses of your research subjects guide your follow-up questions.

Record your interviews or take very careful notes!!

Once you have your data, review it very carefully. 

  • Look for obvious patterns; for instance, you might find that all the subjects of the older generation share specific attitudes and opinions, all the subject of younger generations share other attitudes. 
  • Ask yourself what these patterns (or maybe the lack of patterns) might mean. 
  • Look for the most interesting illustrations of certain experiences, practices, opinions, etc.; for instance, I learned to write not on paper but on a chalkboard tablet, but I have never met anyone (here in the US) who has had that experience.
  • Ask yourself how what you learn from your research subjects influences your own thinking about WTs.

Present your findings in as systematic and interesting way as possible.  If you feel your strength as a writer lies on the more creative side, you can present your research as a narrative (story).  If that seems too daunting then you might consider presenting it as a more formal (scientific) research report with clearly identifiable sections: intro, background, methodology, findings, and conclusion.  If you look at Joseph William’s article on error, you will see that he does a little bit of both, and maybe that it what you want to try to do yourself.

Your audience for this paper are the other students in this class or anybody with an interest in or a need for the information you present, i.e. scholars and students in literacy and writing studies.

Your purpose for the paper is inquiry; in other words, the desire to find an answer or answers to a question or questions.  You know the saying “Inquiring minds want to know.”  Your purpose then is to give them some of what they want to know. 

The occasion for this paper is, as I pointed out above, the broader discussion of literacy and writing that Baron inspired with his piece.

Your finished paper should be between 800 and 1200 words—that is roughly 3 to 5 pagesdouble-spaced with a font size no larger than 12.  You may choose the standard Times New Roman 12 pt, or any equivalent of that (this document, for example, is written in Calibri 11 pt; personally, I also like Arial Narrow at 11 pt).

Please feel free to consult with your group members; you may discuss the assignment and/or compare notes on your field research.  If you have serious problems, feel free to get in touch with me.

Hardcopies are due in class on Thursday, September 23.


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