Overall, Coley’s book constitutes a solid contribution to the field of rhetoric and composition—in particular, the field of computers and composition. He identifies a gap in the research on ethics in the writing classroom and provides a useful, practical, and humble look at ways in which instructors and WPAs can help students learn an ethical literacy of digital media composing.
In particular, Coley's methodology section is extremely thorough and demonstrates a sound understanding of grounded and activity theories. In addition, two important points strike me about Coley’s methodology. First, each participant was provided with Coley's definitions of ethics and digital media. They were then asked for their feedback, and Coley changed the definitions based on their feedback. I find it useful that he allowed participants to help define the terms that were at the heart of his book. Second, to truly model an ethical approach to research, Coley actually sent participants copies of their transcripts and chapter drafts for their feedback. This ethical move is one he felt was important to the process and is one that I hope other researchers continue to use as a model.
In addition, Chapter 6 is a very useful and practical chapter. The sample student assignments and the heuristics will prove useful for Coley’s identified audience—anyone teaching writing intensive courses and using digital media for students to create content. I could envision WPAs using his student learning outcomes (SLOs) in revising their own SLOs as digital media composing continues to thrive in our classrooms. I could also imagine instructors referencing Coley's sample student assignments for ideas, and while these sample assigments are only described briefly, it seems that Coley uses the brevity to avoid being prescriptive in his suggestions.
I also appreciate that Coley brings religion into the scope of his research because this is a large gap in research on the composition classroom and teaching in general. He points out a 2004 survey of children aged 11-18 in which 86% of the students state that religion is an important aspect of their lives. In addition, he writes that four out of five faculty in today’s professoriate describe themselves as "spiritual" people (22). The fact that so many faculty, as well as students in the age range we tend to teach, are interested in spirituality demonstrates a need for exploration of the relationship between religion and teaching. Coley uses this data to set the stage for some of the faith-based dimensions of his research.
These statistics convince me that religion is an important and underexplored dimension of teaching in general. However, Coley's exploration of religion is actually the least useful part of the text. The distinction between his two chosen sites rarely adds anything new to the conversation. In other words, he rarely points out significant distinctions between the two sites. He does note in the final chapter that the participants at the Christian institution tend to make ethical literacy "more interwoven and often more explicit in their instruction" (109). In addition, he notes that one major limit of the public site is a neglect of moral character development. However, these distinctions seem somewhat common sense, as the private institution is more likely to emphasize the moral elements of their writing pedagogies due to their Christian worldview. These distinctions do not add to Coley’s overall recommendations, heuristics, or outcomes and therefore seem peripheral to his overall study. Ultimately, though, perhaps Coley expected to find more differences between the two institutions when he began his research and simply did not.
Thus, the religious perspective of Coley's text constitutes my greatest issue with the book because it not only fails to provide useful distinctions, but it also seems to occasionally cloud Coley's research. For instance, Coley occasionally conflates ethics with religion in a way that might be unsettling to those with different beliefs. In addition, there is a fine line in this book between teaching ethics and teaching ethics regarding digital media. Occasionally, Coley seems to indicate that instructors should teach ethics in general to students. I doubt that all instructors would agree with this assertion.
There is also an important limitation to Coley’s study, which he does recognize. Coley does not use any feedback from students in his research. Granted, instructors were asked to send a survey link to their students, but not enough responded to make the numbers statistically significant. Coley therefore does not factor this data into his research. He does indicate that student feedback is an important place for a possible follow-up study, and I agree that student feedback is vital to this type of study since the ultimate purpose of this book is to teach students an ethical literacy of digital media use. Similarly, the scope of this project is rather small, despite Coley’s best efforts to elicit many responses to the surveys. This was also likely to influence his data.
Aside from the religious perspective and the lack of student input, I find Coley’s text to be a worthwhile read for WPAs and instructors who use digital media in their composition pedagogy. The interviews and survey data are threaded throughout the book in a cogent manner that supports Coley's claims, and ethics is clearly established as an important factor in digital media composing that often gets left behind in the face of other pressing teaching concerns. Coley's book reminds instructors that we need to teach students about audience awareness, critical computer literacy, rhetorical principles, and academic integrity—in particular, we should show them how these concerns apply to their compositions in digital spaces. His heuristics, outcomes, and sample assigments will help instructors think through these issues. Overall, Coley's book provides an excellent starting point for instructors and WPAs to consider the ethical concerns and obligations inherent in digital media composing.