It is obvious then that many of the critical approaches to the use of computers in education in general, and more particularly their use in composition classrooms, take an instrumentalist line of one form or another, all of which rely on a simplistic notion of impact: that is, if we introduce computers into the composition classroom their application will result in this or that particular skill or set of skills. In part this is because much of the research in the educational applications of infotech, whether it acknowledges it or not, intersects with the field of Science and Technology Studies (STS) and partakes of some of the problems that have become evident with research in that field.
In describing the evolution of STS, David Edge, one of the early pioneers, notes two broad tendencies which he characterizes as "Technocratic" and "Critical" attitudes toward science. Both of these are responses to what Edge considers to be the central question motivating STS: how can science be useful for society, and once we have an idea of this, how can we train scientists to fulfill this idea? The technocratic answer stresses research to find out what skills scientists need in the workplace, and then creating courses to teach these where they are lacking; this model emphasizes specific skills. The second one, the Critical model, posits that what people really need is a way of making sense of the institutional forces acting upon them to enable them to exert a measure of control over their fate (12-15).
His own preference is for the second model, which he considers to have the subversive potential of being able to challenge the received idea of science as irrefutable truth. However it is the technocractic model, with its optimistic view of the nature of science, that appears to dominate: "It seems that the "old" positivistic image of science, as an abstract, timeless search for irrefutable facts--ending the pain of uncertainty, the burden of dilemma and choice, separable from "society," and leading inexorably to technical innovations for the good of all--exhibits a puzzling tenacity" (18-19). But he notes that this is hardly surprising since the positivist idea of truth and method underpins the research institution, education in general, and even the legal system in a crude fashion, so challenges to it are not going to be received favourably.
However, the failure of the Critical model to mount an effective challenge to this positivistic scientific outlook also derives in large part from inherent weaknesses in the field of STS itself: inasmuch as it identifies itself with a desire to be "useful" to science, it falls into an instrumentalism that does not allow it sufficient distance from the culture of its object to try and force any sort of reform. Part of the reason for the marginalization of STS that Edge describes is that it is trapped in a nowhere land: wanting to partake of the glory of science, yet wanting to demystify it also, a delicate balance.xxi
The field of composition studies has also not been immune to this desire to borrow some of the prestige of science. Valerie Flynn notes that in its early years composition went to great lengths to try and quantify its efforts through "objective" research that would lend its efforts the authority of scientific pronouncements (360ff).xxii And while I would agree with Flynn that more recent studies in composition generally have adopted a more critical stance toward those early efforts at scientific objectivity, when it comes to the introduction of infotech into the classroom, compositionists appear to have rediscovered that earlier naive effort to render their experiments somehow objective.
Partly this is to be expected from what is still a relatively new area of study, partly also it is the result of a larger institutional emphasis upon outcome-oriented education, a desire to quantify "usefulness" which can only have deleterious effects on education in general. In the next section I shall have more to say about some of the assumptions of compositional uses of infotech concerning the "productivity" enhancement in writing that is supposed to result from introducing computers.