CMC and the Online Classroom Vol. 1 Chapter 3


 Cover of CMC Book

Volume One: Computer-Mediated Communication and the Online Classroom: Overview and Perspectives

Editors: Dr. Zane L. Berge &
Dr. Mauri P. Collins


Chapter 3: CMC and Writing Instruction: A Future Scenario

Jim Shimabukuro

Kapi’olani Community College, University of Hawaii System

Today, if we in the discipline were to draw a line separating the innovative from the traditional and the new from the old, teaching students to use word processors to compose and revise drafts would fall to the right of center. For most of us, the personal computer (PC) is an integral part of composition instruction, as much a fixture as the handbook.

For the past decade, the computer has invigorated the review phase in process-oriented approaches. Until the PC became accessible to students, the approach was a great idea. It made all the sense in the world to ask students to revise their drafts umpteen times “because that’s what successful writers do.” Practically speaking, however, rewriting an entire draft on a typewriter was, at best, tedious, and at worst, impossible. The PC transformed the idea into a viable option.  The word processor allows a student to edit specific portions of a text and, with a press of a key, send the file to the printer. The result is a revised draft—quick and clean.

Text production, however, as important as it is, is still peripheral to the writing process. Planning, translating, and reviewing—the major phases—have been resistant to the instructor’s direct control; activities designed to stimulate and inform students struggling through the process are difficult to implement, evaluate, and monitor. The problem is time and space: Given 50 minutes in a classroom, an instructor cannot confer with all 20 students. Teachers have been imaginative in their efforts to overcome this natural barrier: They have students collaborating in small groups, and some have tutors working with groups and individuals. These strategies work, but they are unwieldy and inefficient.

Teachers have turned to computers, looking for ways to adapt its power to their needs. Again, they have been innovative. They have improvised online heuristics to aid invention and made available spell, word choice, and grammar checkers to help in the revising process. The craft has been revitalized by these strategies, but much of the writing process remains inaccessible.

To more directly intervene in and thus guide the student’s composing process, some teachers have experimented with computer mediated communication (CMC). In 1987, Troll described the system she used at Carnegie-Mellon University:

The computers we used were IBM RT’s, advanced function workstations that allow users to run many processes simultaneously. For example, students can revise a paper, study an on-line glossary of critical terms, review teacher and student comments on their drafts, read bulletin board posts on a paper topic, and send mail to the teacher or a classmate for clarification. All of these chores appear simultaneously in different “windows” on the high resolution monitor. (p. 22)

The stations ran off a mainframe, on network software. Considering where we are today, six years later, Troll’s working model is surprisingly advanced. The software and hardware features she describes comprise a standard that is still out of reach for most teachers who are experimenting with networked computers in the teaching of writing.

From the outset, she found that the new technology had a positive impact on students. The new medium encouraged them to put more effort into their online messages and papers. Students often wrote better peer review comments. “[In] the EditText files that my students produced in commenting on one another’s papers,” she says, “many students produced full-sentence comments and short paragraphs covering everything from style to the cogency of the argument” (pp. 25-26). Perhaps, as Meeks (1987) states, students feel “increased motivation to work hard on assignments because they will be viewable by other students as well as by the instructor(s)” (p. 187).

One of the most important outcomes of CMC, however, is increased participation in the activities that make up the writing process. Troll observes that “students who were shy in class asked questions or made comments on the computer, using either electronic mail or the bulletin board. The technology seemed to make communication easier” (p. 26). She finds that “increased interaction with the audience during the reading and writing processes makes the context more social, recursive, and dynamic” (p. 30). Thus, she concludes “that the quality and quantity of the discussions merit continued use of the electronic bulletin board as a vehicle for critical thinking and socialization of the writing process” (p. 27).

Recently, the networked computer classroom has really taken off. Programs such as Daedalus, written specifically for popular PC (Macintosh and MS-DOS) environments, have been the catalyst. By linking computers in a classroom, teachers are learning what Troll discovered, that they can overcome many of the real-time barriers imposed by the face-to-face environment. Everyone can talk at once in a class discussion. Students are able to form conferences of four to five members for in-depth exchanges, including problem solving, brainstorming, and draft review, and they can correspond with one another via e-mail. The beauty of computer-mediated communication is that students and teachers can move among conferences, participating as required or at their discretion, and the messages are stored as they are sent, providing a permanent, sequenced record that can be accessed, then or at a later time, by one, some, or all. Students are able to review discussions after the class is over and comment on or respond to others’ ideas and questions via e-mail or uploaded public files. They are able to capture or download message files to their disks, from which they can later copy and paste text.

Reports on networked classrooms are beginning to appear in greater numbers. Teachers are learning that information is distributed and exchanged much more efficiently, and the quality of class and group discussions is improved (Beals, 1990; Henri, 1988; Hiltz, 1988; Kaye, 1990; Kuehn, 1988; Phillips & Santoro, 1989;). CMC helps to improve thinking (Phillips & Pease, 1985) and collaborative skills (Davis, Scriven, & Thomas, 1987; Kubota, 1991; Smith, 1990). There is tentative evidence that CMC has a positive effect on student writing (Casey, 1990; DiMatteo, 1990; Holvig, 1989; Miller-Souviney & Souviney, 1987; Murray, 1988; Phillips & Santoro, 1989; Roberts, 1987).

What networked computers can do for process-oriented writing instruction in the next decade or two is perhaps best examined by illustration. The following narrative is fictional, but it presents features that will probably become part of the virtual classroom.


It is Saturday, 19:00, Hawaii time. Maria is at home, in her bedroom. She turns on her laptop computer, which has a built-in modem connected via a standard cable to the phone jack on the wall, calls up the communication program on her hard drive, logs on to the University of Hawaii UNIX system (UHUNIX), and goes to her mailbox. She had completed a draft of her essay the night before, sending it through the built-in spell- and grammar-checker and making a few last-minute revisions. She had composed the entire paper on her laptop, using a popular word-processing program. She had gotten up at 05:00 this Saturday morning, reread it once more, decided it was ready, and uploaded the file. She is in the final phase of this assignment, the third in her English 100 class.

The file was saved in her class’s UHUNIX subdirectory, an area which had been set aside for up- and downloading text files. The assignment, which had been posted as e-mail to all members of the class by Dr. Chan, the English 100 professor, was to observe, describe, analyze, and discuss a specific human behavior. The deadline for the final draft is midnight, Monday. For her subject, she had chosen her boyfriend; she observed him as he watched a recent live telecast of a UH versus Brigham Young University football game. She thinks the draft is quite good, but she knows it could be better.

She had downloaded, read, commented on, and uploaded her three c-mates’, or conference mates’, drafts during the week, making sure to use the unique filename extension they had worked out earlier in the semester to differentiate among versions of the same file. All three were excellent. For Ebasa’s and Cam-Tu’s, she had commented on a few surface problems: run-ons, fragments, word choice; the descriptions and analyses had been excellent. For Ayako’s, she had pointed out the need for a stronger thesis. Maria had grown into the role of the group’s expert on focus and mechanics.

At the mailbox prompt, she types the command that lists all her mail. She has received over 70 separate messages from many different sources. This evening, she is interested in mail from her c-mates. Ayako, Ebasa, Cam-Tu, and Maria form an online c-group; there are four c-groups in her class with four students each. She is relieved to find that Ayako and Salevaa have left messages for her; she is a bit concerned that Ebasa and Cam-Tu have not. Salevaa is one of two student facilitators in her English 100 class. She reads the mail from Ayako first.

Ayako says that she appreciates Maria’s feedback on her draft. She also feels that Maria’s draft is “terrific.” However, she suggests that Maria revise the introductory paragraph: It “doesn’t grab” Ayako. Maria sends a reply to Ayako, thanking her for the compliment and the suggestion and asking for advice on how to strengthen the opening.

Next, Maria reads Salevaa’s message. He, too, likes Maria’s draft and seconds Ayako’s comment. As usual, he is impressed with her skill at describing people, places, things, action, and so on. Her images are always vivid. He suggests a deeper analysis of the social causes for her subject’s behavior: “Why does he behave so aggressively? Assuming that this is a learned behavior, who or what are the sources of his ‘education’?” To generate ideas, he suggests a live online chat with members of her group. In closing, he commends her for her excellent reviews of her c-mates’ drafts.

Maria isn’t surprised. Salevaa, like Dr. Chan, always pushes for deeper analyses. She has read their messages to her and other students. In her c-group, she and the others have come to rely on Ebasa for advice on how to dig deeper. Ebasa has developed a reputation among his c-mates, as well as other classmates, for giving expert advice on meeting Salevaa’s “deeper” requirements. Salevaa, too, has openly recognized Ebasa for providing his peers with help in massaging and milking their subject matter for insightful, significant ideas. Salevaa, in fact, is planning to recommend Ebasa to Dr. Chan to serve as a paid online facilitator after he completes the course.

Maria sends Salevaa a reply. She says she will try to set up a chat for Sunday afternoon, but given the short notice, she may need to settle for e-mail responses. She composes a message to the members of her group, asking them if they would be willing to help with her analysis for a half hour on Sunday, starting at 14:00. If not, she asks that they send suggestions to her. She logs off UHUNIX, exits the communication program, and turns off the computer.

On Sunday morning, 08:00, she logs on to UHUNIX and lists her mail. Ayako has posted a suggestion for improving Maria’s introduction; she also says that she is looking forward to the chat at 14:00 HST. Ayako asks if they could spend a few minutes chatting about her thesis. Maria sends a reply, thanking Ayako for her help. She says that they should definitely spend a few minutes discussing Ayako’s thesis. Maria finds brief messages from Ebasa and Cam-Tu. They, too, will be able to chat that afternoon. Maria is relieved.

At 14:00, all four are logged on and in the live-chat mode. Maria sends a greeting to the others. She composes the message in the lower portion of the split screen and sends it to the public area, the top portion of the screen. Immediately, the top screen begins to scroll with messages. All four have posted their initial greetings.

Ebasa gets the ball rolling. He, as well as the others, has read Maria’s draft and all the comments related to it, including Salevaa’s request for further analysis. He asks about her boyfriend’s family background. Maria reports that Bobby, her boyfriend, had been raised in a family of jocks. Cam-Tu and Ayako immediately follow up with questions: “What sort of person is the father?” “Is Bobby the oldest child?” “Has Bobby been successful in sports?” In responding to these and other questions, she quickly emerges with possible explanations for his aggressiveness. She has captured the session to a file on her hard disk and plans to review the material later when she is revising her paper. She thanks her friends.

Maria then suggests that they discuss Ayako’s thesis. After a few minutes, they are able to pinpoint the problem. Ayako needs to be much more specific about the main contrasting idea that she is developing. It is too broad. Ayako agrees. She quickly types and posts a revised statement. After additional feedback and revisions, Ayako is satisfied with the sentence that captures the essential point she is trying to make. She thanks her peers.

Before exiting chat, they talk about their social lives, families, friends, cultures, and so on. As usual, they talk about someday getting together, face to face. They thank each other for the help they have received and end the session.

Maria revises the analytical portion of her draft, based on the input she received online. At 17:00 on Sunday, she is done. On Monday morning, she will take a last look at the essay before uploading it as a final draft. She goes downstairs and joins the other members of her family who are setting up a barbecue on the outdoor lanai.

Maria is a freshman at a community college in Hawaii, on the island of Maui; Ebasa is a sophomore at a university in Ethiopia; Ayako is a freshman at a major public university in Osaka, Japan; Cam-Tu is a freshman at an ivy league college in Massachusetts; Salevaa, who lives in American Samoa, is a junior marketing major at UH-Manoa; and Dr. Chan, who lives in Macao, is a professor of composition at a community college in Honolulu.

The Networked Classroom

The networked classroom will take many forms. This scenario presents one—albeit one that maximizes the virtual capacity of computers that are globally networked. This version will not appear overnight. As CMC is increasingly embraced, a developmental range will emerge, and this model will be at one extreme.

Generational schemes are often used (e.g., Marcus, 1984) to describe developments in computers. They provide a useful way to differentiate among the various CMC models for the teaching of composition. The future scenario, which links students and instructors at international sites, is based on what I am referring to as a fourth-generation model. The purpose of this scheme is to form a clearer perception of the possibilities, not to judge the quality or worth of individual programs.


This network is a pre-area-network (PAN), computer-equipped classroom or lab. Computers are available to composition students in a classroom or at different sites on campus. The machines are not networked; each is an independent station or a stand-alone system. They are not hardware linked via cables through serial ports or network cards, and students and instructors cannot communicate electronically with one another. The computers are viewed as sophisticated word-processing machines or independent computer-assisted instruction (CAI) stations. A message is composed on a machine and captured to disk or printed on paper. The disk or hardcopy is then hand carried or mailed to the intended receiver. The system aids in the development of the message, but not in its transmission.

An example of a PAN setup is North Carolina State University’s computer classroom. The writing instructors began with dual floppy, stand-alone Tandy IBM/compatibles. They installed hard drives on the computers in Summer 1992. Word processing is the primary function. Some of the teachers use Norton Textra Writer with their classes, but most use Word Perfect 5.1. Only 10 of the approximately 130 freshman composition classes are scheduled in the classroom (Fletcher, 1992).

Michigan Technological University’s 1982 version of Wordsworth II is an example of a program designed for a PAN classroom. It consists of supplementary computer modules for process-based, interactive CAI in the composition classroom (Selfe & Wahlstrom, 1982).

First-Generation Network

This network is an isolated local-area network (LAN) classroom or lab. The computers at a particular location are networked on a server; however, the server is restricted to the site and isolated from systems in other areas, on and off campus. Students and instructors must meet at the site at scheduled times, and generally, applications and files are available at that location only. Besides enjoying the advantages of the PAN model, students are, during class, able to exchange messages, engage in live chat, share uploaded files for peer review, and so on.

The computer writing classrooms at Kapiolani Community College (KCC) are first-generation LAN models. Presently, the campus has two: one is equipped with approximately 22 Macintosh computers; the other with the same number of IBM-compatibles. The individual PCs are networked through Daedalus. The servers are a beefed-up Macintosh and an 80486 MSDOS machine. Both are located in the classroom. As LANs, they are not connected via communication lines to networks outside the classroom. Thus, they are not accessible to users after they leave the classroom, and users in the room cannot communicate with systems on the outside.

Despite the limitations, this setup has tremendous advantages over the PAN. Students are able to view assignments, instructions, and information files; participate in live chats; receive and send public and private messages; up- and download files; and engage in standard word-processing activities—much as the students in the future scenario. The major difference, however, is that all the work must be done in the classroom at the appointed time. The first-generation classrooms at KCC are popular, and they are scheduled for classes, back-to-back, all day, every day, from morning to night. A major drawback is that the files generated during live-chat sessions are not immediately accessible to students online once they leave the room.

To get around this limitation, students send the text to the printer for a hard copy (to keep costs down, this practice is discouraged) or take notes off the screen with paper and pencil. Those with access to Macintosh computers outside of class copy files to disk. However, the chat data files cannot be directly transferred from screen to disk without first being compacted by the instructor. These alternatives are extremely awkward and time-consuming. In a LAN setup, the network is, for all practical purposes, inaccessible to instructors and students after the scheduled class.

In a few years, the college is hoping to move up to a wide-area network (WAN) configuration, with students and teachers having access to classroom servers from other sites on campus. The communications infrastructure is in place for fiber optics, which will make multiple links feasible and affordable.

Second-Generation Network

This network is a site-limited, WAN (Weber, 1992) classroom or lab. Individual computers and servers are linked throughout much of the campus, but they are not accessible from off-campus sites. Students and instructors have all the advantages of the first two models, as well as access to relevant applications and files from various sites on campus throughout the school day. Troll’s setup at Carnegie-Mellon is a WAN. MIT’s Project Athena is another example of a second-generation network, a “campus-wide computing system which is available to all undergraduates and graduate students” (P.S. Huang, personal communication, February 4, 1993). The writing labs at the University of Massachusetts and the University of Idaho are further examples. At Massachusetts, one of the lab computers is linked to the university’s mainframe. “Students with email accounts use that to load and mail their work back and forth rather than transporting a disk” (Carbone, e-mail, 1992). At Idaho, the lab is considering purchase of Daedalus or a similar integrated writing environment, which could be connected to the “campus backbone,” allowing users access to programs from other servers on the WAN (Thomas, 1993).

At the University of California, Berkeley, Keeling (e-mail, 1992) will be “teaching a section of freshman composition making use of [a WAN] BBS for journal entries (which will enable students to respond more freely to each other[‘]s thinking and writing), group presentations, peer review workshops, bibliographies, and student conferences.” He is also planning to “post model essays and university calendar events.” His “students will be responsible for 2-3 writing tasks per week on the Bulletin Board, and the computer-mediated writing will account for 30% of their grade.” He is “using a software package called PCBoard which will run on a multi-user host computer dedicated to this pilot project.” His students will be “able to logon to the BBS from their dorm room computers or from one of the university computer labs.” The CMC portion of the course “will augment [and] not replace classroom instruction.”

The approach at the heart of the June 1992 Cornell [University] Learning Technologies’ CMC workshop for writing faculty in Ithaca, NY, had elements of both second- and third-generation models. As advertised, it was to be taught by Nancy Kaplan, University of Texas at Dallas, and Stuart Moulthrop, Georgia Institute of Technology. The promotional electronic post highlighted the mutually beneficial relationship between CMC and process-oriented strategies: It makes “the writing process both more visible and more malleable.” The ad further stated that “the benefits of electronic technology for writing pedagogy do not stop with word processing.” WANs with e-mail capabilities “enable writers to collaborate and exchange ideas during formative stages of their work . . . transforming oral class discussion into simultaneous on-line discussion.” Other announced activities included ways “to create a virtual classroom using a network” and strategies on conducting “classroom discussion as real-time writing” (L. Holmes, personal communication, February 17, 1993).

Third-Generation Network

This network is a site-focused, remote-access network (RAN) classroom that is accessible from on- and off-campus locations. Judging from the literature on instructional CMC in e-mail conferences—which tends to emphasize cutting-edge technology and current trends and issues—the third-generation RAN model is by far the most popular. Instructors and students are able to log on from a distance, but the college as a specific geographical location is still the hub for the management and delivery of instruction. Teachers work out of offices on campus, and many classes continue to meet, physically, in classrooms. In this setup, students and instructors enjoy all of the advantages of the first three models, in addition to off-campus access. A student could log on to the RAN from home with his or her laptop computer on Saturday evening, or early Tuesday morning, before classes begin.

The major advantage of moving from a second- to a third-generation CMC format is accessibility. S.N. Dunbar, in response to a teacher who complained that evening and part-time students don’t spend enough time on campus to take advantage of computer labs, says that “using a modem from home and calling into the university mainframe is the answer to this.” She explained that “there are programs, such as Participate, that allow students to interact with instructors at the times that are most convenient to all” (personal communication, February 4, 1993). This exchange underscores the importance of access in a teacher’s decision to use or not use CMC. The RAN model allows all students, including night and part time, the option of logging on to instructional networks from home through modems and personal computers.

The University of Michigan has one of the most comprehensive RANs. CMC “has been in widespread use . . . for at least a decade, and is nearly universal now. Every student, staff member, and faculty member has access to EMail and computer conferencing. . . . Faculty use it to give out class assignments. Staff use it to run the university. Students use it for everything, including getting dates” (M. Alexander, personal communication, August 10, 1992). Some teachers, such as Condon (e-mail, 1992), provide Internet access to all their students. Users are able to access the network “from almost anywhere. All of the dorm rooms are wired into the network . . . . All of the systems commonly used for EMail are also accessible from the major national and international networks (the Internet, SprintNet, Tymnet, etc.).” They “are also . . . connected to the Merit Computer network which provides extensive coverage of the state of Michigan.” The RAN messaging system “is available 24 hours a day, except from midnight to 8AM Saturday morning. It is reasonably busy from about 7AM to after midnight and very busy during the day” (M. Alexander, personal communication, August 10, 1992).

Students with personal computers at the University of Colorado, which is primarily a commuter campus, “quickly acquire modems and are very happy for the convenience” (L. Brodsky, personal communication, September 8, 1992) of being able to access their RAN from home and other off-campus sites.

Today, in the third-generation configuration, CMC is used primarily as one of a number of learning activities in courses in which students meet face to face periodically with their instructors. Out of class, they are expected to read material that is stored online and to participate in e-mail and/or live-chat conferences. The frequency, quantity, and quality of participation is usually spelled out in course syllabi. An example of this mixture of traditional and CMC methods, although in a field other than composition, is Management 670, as taught by Morton Cotlar, professor of professional management and industrial relations at the University of Hawaii-Manoa. The course, International Management and Industrial Relations, focuses on topics such as the international management and transfer of technology. In the latest rendition of the course, Cotlar designed a unique CMC activity. He invited a number of prominent professors from major universities across the country to serve as online guest lecturers. He asked his students to actively participate in the sessions and to enter into public and private e-mail discussions with professors and classmates on topics generated in, or as a result of, the lectures.

Another example is a course, Speech Communication 350, Group Discussion, taught by Gerald M. Phillips (1992), professor emeritus in speech communication at Pennsylvania State University. A good part of the course objectives are accomplished online. Students attend face-to-face meetings with an instructor who works directly with Professor Phillips; they also view videotaped lectures by the professor; however, rarely do they meet with him in person. Most of the information that is usually exchanged on paper or in conferences between professor and students are managed via CMC. Students signing up for the course receive a syllabus and instructions that include a description of the course, a detailed schedule of activities, and explanations of procedures. The course is innovative and unique, a radical departure from the traditional class in which the teacher and students meet, face to face, in a room or lecture hall, so many times a week, every week. Much of the material for the future scenario is based on Professor Phillips’s course design.

Fourth-Generation Network

This network is a virtual, global-access network (GAN) classroom. Instructors and students are electronically linked around the world, and they seldom if ever meet face to face. The college campus as we know it is no longer the focal point. Offices do not have to be grouped at a single geographical location; instructors are able to work out of home offices, often far removed from the physical campus. The campus may house conferencing facilities, and so on, but traditional classrooms have all but disappeared. The campus is primarily the geographical base for the mainframe or system that functions as the network server. The future scenario is based on this last model.

Given the projection of a campus, classes, student body, and faculty that exist on the edge of virtual reality, teachers need to be aware of its significance for the profession. When the medium of instruction, the very fabric of their art, undergoes such drastic transformation, the collective approach must also change. In all likelihood, the roles of teachers, as well as students’ roles as learners, will be redefined. Practices, too, will either be adapted to the new medium or discarded; new ones will undoubtedly have to be adopted or invented. In the following section, a few of the major implications are identified and discussed so that teachers might learn from tomorrow what they need to know today.


Time and Space

Students are able to access their class on any day, at any time, from anywhere. Maria, the student in the scenario, is at home on a Saturday evening, logging on to UHUNIX. Her professor, facilitator, and c-mates are scattered around the globe. The college is online seven days a week, 24 hours a day; services are, for all practical purposes, virtual. The notion of a college as a geographical entity may become obsolete. Entire institutions could exist in virtual reality, defined by an electronic address. The implications could be that: (a) the student must learn to manage his or her own time, and the instructor must learn to construct time frames that are appropriate for online classes; and (b) teachers and students must be able to develop working personal relationships without ever meeting face to face.

International, Multicultural Education

The virtual university will gather students and faculty from locations around the world. Classes with international, multicultural students will proliferate. The implications could be that: (a) students and teachers need to become sensitized to the different ethnic groups represented in the classroom; and (b) participants may need to learn a universal CMC patois, which will be defined in part by the technical jargon that work with computers seems to require. To some extent, the primary language of instruction, presumably determined by the national origin of the institution’s leaders, will be flavored with words and expressions from the nations represented in the classroom.

Access to Computers

Participants, teachers, and students will rely on small, lightweight, modem-equipped, relatively full-featured notebook systems. They are flexible, allowing users to plug in to phone or communication lines at various sites on campus (including classrooms, labs, and study areas), in the community (e.g., libraries), or at home. The implications could be that: (a) colleges may need to require students to own laptops that are suitable for connection to networks as well as to communication and phone lines, (b) institutions, through bookstores, may need to provide students with hardware and software at low cost, allowing students to pay in installments with low or no interest—payments could be deferred until after graduation, or made in small increments over one to three years; and (c) computer classrooms, labs, libraries, and so on, may not need a terminal for each student. The student could create an instant station by simply plugging his or her personal laptop into appropriate outlets on the desk. After plugging in, he or she uses the necessary software in the computer to log on to the network.

Student Access

All faculty and most if not all students will be online. The implications could be that: (a) computing centers must expand the number of lines available to dial-up callers; and (b) the resulting cost could be monumental; however, it could be offset by network fees and by the reduced demand for on-campus facilities such as classrooms, parking stalls, study areas, and so on.

CMC Knowledge

CMC is complex and requires technical facility. The implications could be that: (a) faculty and students must learn to function in the network environment, (b) knowledge levels may need to be set for certain classes; and (c) CMC competence may be a criterion for faculty hiring and promotion.

CMC Curriculum and Instruction

Students will be expected to manage much of their own learning. The implications could be that: (a) students must become knowledgeable about how to learn, both independently and collaboratively, in a given discipline, and teachers must know how to empower them, (b) training programs for teachers must include strategies designed for computer-mediated instruction; and (c) CMC workshops must be provided for inservice faculty.

Writing Skills

Students and teachers will communicate primarily through the written word. This could imply that: (a) writing across the curriculum programs must be emphasized, as it is on most campuses; and (b) researchers must examine the medium and assess the impact of CMC on the writing process and its outcomes—Are there constraints or advantages that are unique to computer-mediated writing instruction? What are they? What are the characteristics of effective electronic writing? How are they achieved by successful writers?

Instructional Roles in the CMC Classroom

The teacher will not be able to monitor and guide all the students on his or her class rosters. This could mean that: (a) lead teachers will need to work with student group facilitators and section instructors (Professor Phillips’ strategy could serve as a model); and (b) institutions and departments must develop programs to train student facilitators and section instructors.

These are only some of the implications. There are many more. In the next few years, others will surface, presenting new and exciting challenges.


Six years ago, Meeks (1987) saw the natural relationship between CMC and education: “It is this concept of communications being the fundamental benefit of the classroom environment that underlies the premise . . . that computerized conferencing provides one of the first opportunities to create a true ‘virtual classroom’” (p. 186). Needless to say, writing skills will play a prominent role in this new environment. Currently, the virtual classroom is still more an opportunity than an established practice, but it has arrived. A growing number of teachers are incorporating features of this electronic medium into their curricula, allowing them to transcend, even for just a moment, the limits of scheduled, real-time, face-to-face meetings at on-campus sites. In the months and years to come, many more will follow, and the globally networked classroom will soon become commonplace.


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CMC and the Online Classroom (3 volumes) was published by Hampton Press in November 1994, and is now out of print. Used copies are available at

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