Grabill, J. T. (2003). On divides and interfaces: Access, class, and computers. Computers and Composition, 20, 455-472. doi:10.1016/j.compcom.2003.08.017.
Grabill’s article attempts to discuss the relationship between access and class, particularly in the context of the digital divide. He uses a heuristic coming from the rhetoric of the everyday which he suggests can help make these relationships visible, not just between access and class, but also between the material and the rhetorical. Grabill first tries to identify the history of discussing access and class within the field of computers and composition. While he acknowledges that there has been little explicit discussion of these issues, he traces a history that includes access and class as issues that the field has taken up more implicitly. He specifically points to Lisa Gerrard’s (1993) statement on the “core values” of the computers and composition field where she argues for an egalitarian pedagogy. However, Grabill does argue that while there is a visible history, more in depth explorations of class and access have been largely ignored in the field.
Grabill’s next section begins to define what we mean by “class” and how it functions within the institution. Ultimately, he determines that class is a meaningful classification, but it is difficult to pin down precisely without considering the situated context. Grabill also contextualizes this in a definition of the digital divide and bringing up the social, political, and intellectual nature of it. He points out that class within the digital divide is often linked with other markers of identity such as race, disability, and educational level. While he points out that many critics see the divide shrinking, he does not believe there is evidence to support this viewpoint. He uses the term interface to point out that “access is deeply infrastructural (the argument) but how the infrastructure of access operates is an open question that researchers in computers and writing must address” (464). He asks us to consider the ways in which interfaces are written/designed and how this might be blocking access to students. He also asks to consider how the interface might operate or look differently if designed with these students in mind.
Grabill’s discussion of the rhetoric of the everyday was useful for me to consider when I imagined the material reality for students based on class that might be trying to use our writing center’s online tutoring services. It also helped me conceptualize access beyond just disability, but also beyond the legal standards such as the ADA and other similar laws. I realized that the material reality for many of our students is that while they may have access to a computer and to the internet, this doesn’t necessarily translate into having sufficient access to something like WebEx for our appointment–for instance, their connection speed may not be fast enough to allow for the video and audio to run interrupted. In other cases, the student’s access to a computer could be through their work computer which may not allow them to download any applications to the computer because they do not hold administrative power on the computer. These material realities exist beyond just the simplified idea of the digital divide–does the student have a computer? does the student have internet access? I thought Grabill’s point about the complexity of what class means, and particularly about what access means may help others in the class consider carefully how much access our students have not only to digital literacies, but access within the material. Especially if anyone is considering access and usability, these are key considerations when using technology in the classroom or in the writing center and how we make design choices about what systems to implement and how we implement them.