I couldn’t quite tell if I was sensing a tone of excitement or panic in this week’s texts.
While I think both Miller and Yancey (CCC 56:2) make excellent arguments for rethinking and possibly expanding our practices (we already inhabit a world heavily influenced by screen literacy), and I couldn’t agree more when both Wysocki (Writing New Media) and Yancey suggest that the writing we ask students to do in school is not connected enough to their lives, I’m still not convinced that this justifies changing the purpose of a first year writing course from “writing/composing” (as Hesse argues in CCC 61:3) to “rhetoric/composing” (as Selfe does, also CCC 61:3).
I do think we should teach composition in a broader context, integrating visual arguments and the rhetoric of new media composition, but I think this has to be a different course than what is usually conceived of as first year comp. Might a certain large, urban state university in northern California change the focus of its second year composition course, currently emphasizing writing about literature, to multimodal composition? I, for one, would love to teach a such a course, but I would want students in it to have a good handle on written composition (and here’s maybe where we need to expand beyond the singular focus on the academic essay, considering that the world we inhabit includes written composition in many forms, some of them digital), so that writing can be one of many possible modes of communication for our students.
So, while I hear the new media alarm, it’s competing with others that have been going off for some time—in particular, the one screaming about the need for colleges to equip students with basic writing skills.