1. Introduction

2. Open Source in Computers and Composition

3. Defining Access

4. The Access Research Agenda

5. Access and Open Source Research

6. Conclusion: Directions and Challenges

7. References

8. A Note on Webtext Design
Open Source and the Access Agenda
Clancy Ratliff, University of Louisiana at Lafayette

In 1998, James Porter pointed out that viewed from a communitarian or Marxist perspective, "the first principle of internetworked ethics might well be something like this: Work to insure that the poor and marginalized have access to internetworked resources, and make sure that such resources are fairly shared and distributed" (p. 102). In 2001, Charles Moran wrote that "if as writing teachers we believe that writers are in any sense advantaged by technology, then access is the issue that drives all others before it" (p. 220). At the time Moran's essay was published, access had for years been a high research and teaching priority for some, though not many, scholars in computers and composition studies. During the 1980s and early 1990s (Olson, 1987; Schwartz, 1990; Gomez, 1991), scholars expressed general concerns with access, and in the late 1990s and early 2000s (Moran, 1998; Fitzsimmons-Hunter & Moran, 1998; Moran & Selfe, 1999; Selfe, 1999a, 1999b; Moran, 2001; Grabill, 2003), scholars suggested directions for future research that could help address the problem of access. Those in computers and composition illustrated the stakes of access: “Dramatically changing demographics in the United States,” argues Mary Louise Gomez (1991), “as well as dilemmas posed by our concern that equitable opportunities exist for all students, make our profession's consideration of [access] an urgent one” (p. 318-319). Unequal access to computers, for Gomez, results in the amplification of “stereotypic assumptions regarding the superior abilities and greater interests in technology, science, and mathematics of males, whites, and students of higher socioeconomic status,” assumptions which “guide teachers' expectations of students. In turn, teachers' assumptions about learners' abilities and interests guide the development of activities for students” (p. 322). I would agree that research and pedagogy that prioritizes access is important and needed; access to technology is at the nexus of two of our field's most serious intellectual and ethical concerns: teaching and learning with technology, and social justice and equal educational opportunity.

This essay is an effort to synthesize the work that has been done on issues of access and the emerging research being done in our field about open source software. I begin by giving a brief review of the history of composition studies' interest in open source software. I then describe ways that scholars have defined "access" and what it means to have access to technology and the ways in which access is a problem. I follow that with several measures researchers have taken toward solving the problem of access; I situate these measures and other suggested directions for future research as "the access research agenda." In this article, I hope to show some ways that research about open source can contribute to the body of work on access and make meaningful interventions into access as a social problem.