Why Composition (and Digital Media)?

Alex Reid, author of The Two Virtuals (a chapter of which we discussed in class a couple of weeks ago), has a recent post on his blog about “what composition is for and why digital media is integral to it.” This post seemed to speak directly to some issues that our class has been circling around now for a few weeks: namely, what is the point of introducing digital media into a composition course?

Reid’s answer? We do it to leverage the writing (some) students are already doing:

What we can know with a higher degree of certainty is that [students] will write for online spaces. Of course this writing is often very, very short and highly informal. But it is the one writing practice they actually elect to pursue. My suggestion is that by incorporating digital composition into FYC we can make connections between their current elective writing practices and other writing practices that they might choose to adopt.

Perhaps the line between what students “elect to pursue” and school writing isn’t so easy to draw, but I thought that distinction resonated with the themes of motivation, discipline, and (dare I say it?) desire that came up in our latest class discussion. Some of us seemed to feel that moving toward new literacies in FYC is an important end in itself (as Cynthia Selfe argues in Writing New Media), while others seemed to agree with Mark Bauerlein that doing so (or doing too much of it) might lead to a loss of “slow, linear thinking.”

What I see Reid suggesting is that it doesn’t have to be one or the other. New literacies and “old” literacies aren’t (necessarily) mutually exclusive, any more than learning another language reduces your ability to speak your native tongue. Perhaps increased attention to — and practice of — any literate practices can have positive and lasting effects. The challenge composition instructors face, though, is helping students negotiate the sometimes murky waters between what Lankshear and Knobel present as two different “mindsets.”

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3 comments on “Why Composition (and Digital Media)?

  1. thanks Kory. I do think I am suggesting that. Katherine Hayles has 2007 PMLA article on the intersection of “hyper” and “deep” attention, which might be relevant here. In part, I don’t think one can go backwards (nor am I suggesting that you are suggesting that). It’s just that literacies of the past are, well, in the past. Irrecoverable as such. Of course print literacies are also in the present. It’s just that they are changing more rapidly now than in the 20th century.

    My central argument is that we in rhet/comp need to be engaged in studying, theorizing, and inventing the rhetorical and compositional practices that are unfolding before us.

    BTW, I agree that the path from students’ elective writing to school writing is not an easy one. However, I think it is the only one. Student writing is what it is.

  2. Thanks, Alex. Will definitely check out the Hayles piece. So much anxiety seems to hover around “attention” — I’m thinking of the Frontline “Digital Nation” special. But I think there’s more to the anxiety than concerns over changes in cognition. Bourdieu’s habitus comes to mind.

  3. Pingback: These are a Few Of My Favorite Posts (Part 1) « Teaching Writing in a Digital Age

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