Risks, Restrictions, and Policies
The institutional concerns at with the United States Military Academy (USMA), particularly those associated with technology, differ in significant ways from those at other colleges and universities. However, the attitudes and tensions we discuss in this section surrounding the relationship of technology to curricular and pedagogical goals are not unique to USMA, as was evident—for example—in the wide-ranging and often vigorous online discussions (2004–2007) in various fora concerning the addition of a so-called "technology plank" to the 2001 WPA outcomes statement for first-year composition (Susanmarie Harrington, Rita Malencyzk, Irv Peckham, Keith Rhodes, and Kathleen Blake Yancey, pp. 321-325).
Those discussions, as well as statements such as the 2004 CCCC Position Statement on Teaching, Learning, and Assessing Writing in Digital Environments and the 2011 Council for WPA Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing have engaged questions about the proper relation of digital technologies to institutional and curricular missions, and such questions are ones we have lately engaged at USMA.
The overarching USMA mission is to "educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country; professional growth through a career as an officer in the United States Army; and a lifetime of selfless service to the Nation" (USMA, Oct. 2002, p. 4). In support of that mission, the goal of the USMA academic curriculum is to prepare graduates to "anticipate and respond effectively to the uncertainties of a changing technological, social, political, and economic world" (USMA, Oct. 2002, p. 6). Technology and technological change, then, are a concern of the USMA academic program, and they are a relatively new concern. As the West Point leadership (USMA, Oct. 2002) has observed,
[w]e are convinced that the overarching goal of our Academic program—anticipation and response to the uncertainties of a changing world—is on the mark. But changes—especially in the areas of technology—led to a substantive review of our Academic Program goals. As a result of that review, we introduced a tenth goal of the Academic Program—an explicit focus on information technology. (p. 3)
That explicit focus, having come about as a result of recent and ongoing technological change, is something that many composition faculty at USMA struggle to engage in concert with the other goals that we see composition courses as serving. No one course or one academic department has sole responsibility for a particular goal. At the same time, however, most composition instructors in the USMA English department see their primary pedagogical focus as being on helping students "listen, read, speak and write effectively" (p. 6). In this regard, it is perhaps important to note West Point began to issue cadets laptops in August 2002, before the Office of the Dean had completed its October 2002 revision of the Academic Program goals to include a focus on technology.
revision has prompted the beginnings of a move away from the stovepipe approach
to curricular goals, with individual instructors acknowledging an integrative
responsibility to seek for areas of overlap between the goals of the
composition course and the other Program Goals that might affect them. The
following sections detail how Jeff and Mike have begun to implement the Office
of the Dean's directive to have "graduates understand and apply
information technology concepts to acquire, manage, communicate, and defend
information, solve problems, and adapt to technological change" (USMA,
Oct. 2002, p. 32) in the English Department's core writing courses. We should
point out, as well, that the goals from the Office of the Dean have made their
way explicitly into the English Department's curricular documents associated
with those core writing courses, in the form of a strong attention to
multi-modal and new media literacies.
These institutionally and departmentally expressed goals for increasing students' proficiency with digital technologies seem directed towards both education and training, and as expressed above seem as well to construct students as independent, critical, intelligent, and responsible users of digital technologies, particularly in the attention to "implications" and to "adapt[ing] to technological change" (USMA, Oct. 2002, p. 32). Yet the rapid advance of technological change can sometimes present problems and incompatibly shifting priorities.
Those incompatibly shifting priorities set up tensions between the productive, useful, and always necessarily contextualized uses of technology and the institutional frameworks in which various stakeholders embed those uses. For example, computers and writing as a field saw a significant boom in the scholarship on the pedagogical uses of weblogs and social networking sites starting around 2003, which led some instructors to see promise in experimenting with incorporating such uses into composition classes at USMA. However, according to Wired Magazine, on April 19, 2007, "the U.S. Army… ordered soldiers to stop posting to blogs or sending personal e-mail messages, without first clearing the content with a superior officer" (Schachtman, 2007). Furthermore, expressing concerns about bandwidth, the Army also banned use of MySpace and YouTube on military networks, although another Wired Magazine contributor observes that massive PowerPoint briefings are still permissible (Weinberger, 2007). Rather than "adapt[ing] to technological change," (USMA, Oct. 2002, p. 32), which has been remarkable in the expanded uses and applications of Web 2.0 technologies, the Army directed that certain technologies were forbidden. This would seem to bear out Will Richardson's (2006) observation that some "see the constructionist, collaborative pedagogy of Weblogs, wikis, digital photo and video, and others as presenting a risk instead of a solution" (p. 5). While the Army later reversed its decision, spurred in part by the advocacy of officers like Lieutenant General William Caldwell's (Edwards and Hart, 2010) concerning the uses of digital technologies in the military, the perception of risk and corresponding regulation of technology is still not uncommon for some instructors and administrators in West Point's highly regimented teaching environment.
Such risk is managed by clear and explicit regulations, as the Army's policies indicate, and these are regulations that some at other institutions of higher education might perceive as strict. West Point, as well, regulates the uses of digital technologies through its own additional policies. The most explicit regulation is in the Dean's Program Operating Memorandum (DPOM) 4-1 on Information and Educational technology, which delineates the various "types of classroom attendance requirements with respect to computers," which are "attendance without computers," "attendance with computers optional," "attendance with computers mandatory," and "graded attendance with computers" (USMA, Feb. 2002, paragraph 7). The memorandum recommends that "Graded Attendance with Computers" "should not exceed five times per semester" (USMA, Feb. 2002, paragraph 7). The implication here would seem to be that technology is separable from pedagogy, and that computers are a useful supplement to instruction, but that instruction itself is essentially unchanged by technology. This is a view characteristic of what Jim Porter (2002) calls "technological instrumentalism, a binary view that separates technology from humans, that sees them as separate entities" (p. 385). As we discovered in our teaching, however, students and instructors shape and are shaped by technology and its uses.