In “Modern Times” Charlie Chaplin portrays an average man working to survive in his industrialized world. He is astoundingly on point when he demonstrates how  the ‘average man’ not only struggles to come to terms with the political implications of such a society, because he not only shows how this conflict arises, but also demonstrates from where the conflict originates….within himself. Thus, he becomes a part of the productive working machine, compromising identity and the personal values it contains, for convenience and productivity. Winner’s article raises a number of issues for me, as a student and instructor. As I read through the article, I noticed an important point that I would like to articulate. Winner is not arguing for the benefit or burden of technology, and its advancements within society, he is simply illustrating political conditions associated with opening up conversations about the biases and repercussions of said advancements.

I am a distinct product of pop-culture and the generation X era, where, even though we have been exposed to most modern technology and its said benefit in our lives, we have also been the generation that knows full and well how to get off the sofa to change the channel and how to sit down next to the phone jack, in order to have a telephone conversation. I thought my generation had given me exposure to what it is to be a part of both worlds, until I read this article. It is now clear to me that with all of the advancements that I have been alive to witness in my time, thus far, precisely because they are advancements marketed as making life better and more convenient, I now know that I have looked past the difficulties or inherent political assumptions embedded in these advancements. Although we will, as an industrialized society and progressive nation, have the impetus to forge forward with regard to new and undiscovered technology, I believe it is vital to always be aware of, not just the pros and cons as that seems to simplify our quest, but be vigilant in expressing the biases inherent in our quest.

One example I would like to use here is the on-going discussions professionals have with regard to electronic grading for writing sample assessments such as: GRE, Basic Skills exam, college entrance exams….etc. Since I have entered graduate school, I have heard several discussions regarding these types of assessments and one main factor seems prevalent among scholars, and that is, how can we utilize this feature to its fullest and maintain the highest quality of assessment for our students, simultaneously. A written sample is a standard for most assessments, and regardless of the field one is moving into, students will be expected to provide a cogent and structured argument,which is mechanically on par and polished. This type of writing does not simply require all the right commas, quotations, and citations, but must be clearly stated and well thought out. I’m not certain if I have a problem with programs that assess this material as such, because I am a product of my environment or if I truly believe that technology is incapable of discerning the previous characteristics I mention. However, one concept seems to remain apparent for me, and it’s the fact that we need to have conversations regarding this type of assessment, in order to call forth the implications of its utilization.

We cannot afford to assume that because these programs make our lives easier, are cost effective, and more productive, that they better serve our students than our red pens, because if we do this, then we are making the mistake that I mention in my opening. We are looking past the inherent biases and inconsequential results of implementing this fairly innovative assessment technique. Now, I am in no way arguing for or against electronic writing assessments, because let’s face it, I am a composition professional and I am grown up enough to admit that anything that makes my job more productive is ideal. However, I am stating that the dialogue that properly addresses this subject, needs to be open, inclusive, and realistic about how this technological advancement really advances. I believe, if we jump on the bandwagon of computerized assessment for writing students, we are eventually going to find ourselves tangled within the machine of our own. When we market techie ideas in a way that sells a segment of society wholeheartedly, we are the awkward and fumbling Chaplin….eventually stumbling over ourselves to recreate/sell something with an ideal, not an idea. We become a part of our own machine, and may very well lose sight of the goal with which the intention was sough to begin with.

Advertisements