What stood out from this week’s reading was the idea of asking students to write about their favorite posts or posters on the class blog. Rather than allowing to vanish over time, the assignment forces students to look back over the work the class has produced. Such an exercise has two important functions: it reviews the material, develops critical skills and encourages the social production of knowledge.
I would recommend a variation that would add another important skill, synthesis: students could review the blogs from the course and pull out ideas that seem most significant. Since my final project is an overview of the salient points of the course, along with some of my own new ideas, I thought I would mine your posts for the most relevant concepts for my own purposes (teaching face-to-face, text-based classes with online support), which I would then possibly include in my final paper. Such recycling of material fits in with my developing idea that teachers should encourage students to use the smaller pieces of writing, both their own and that of others in the class, to create a larger whole in an integrated and continuous process.
Remixing and Repurposing
This idea of reusing material leads naturally to Mark West’s post about remixing and repurposing, “There is No Such Thing as Originality, Just Authenticity.” He states that even the most “experimental of experimental artists are still ‘repurposers.'” He defines this repurposing not as changing a specific work but transgressing and remixing genres. What seems to matter to me is that writers borrow from a range of works and types of writing in order to synthesize something that is at once a remix and uniquely the writer’s own. It’s important for students to understand that the line between plagiarism and “entering a conversation” is vague, but manageable if writers are trying to do something new with the material, and the easiest way to do this is to include a wider range sources. “If Philip Roth or someone else,” Mark writes, “takes my blog post and remixes it in a bestselling book, I plan to send a thank you note, not a subpoena.”
A brilliant example of this “repurposing” is described in Nate’s post, “From Social Media to Games.” “Welcome to the Desert of the Real” is a critique of the U.S. military, the author calls it “reverse propaganda.” “So we’ve got a video, made with a video game, on a socially networked video sharing site, talking about a social issue, made by a video game designer,” Nate says. “It’s almost more meta than I can handle.” The short film, instead of showing a heroic vision of the soldier’s life, illustrates the psychological alienation that war can create, the eerie sense of being isolated from the people and country the soldier is supposedly defending, isolated from other soldiers, his home country and himself, and isolated from a sense of purpose. Showing this video in class would be an excellent way to show how students can reinvent material, formats, or genres to make them their own.
Integrated Reading and Writing Promotes Critical Thinking
Alissa’s post, “Integrated Consuming and Producing” reminds me a lot of an excellent article I have just read for my own research project, “The Changing Space of Research: Web 2.0 and the Integration of Research and Writing Environments” by James P. Purdy. Purdy argues that research and writing are no longer separated physically or conceptually. Before research happened first in the library, then writing happened elsewhere. The internet and new technologies such as blogs and wikis allow these to happen in the same place at (nearly) the same time. Referring to the Integrated Reading & Writing Program and Philosophy at SFSU and Richardson’s discussion of the Read / Write web, Alissa writes, “Post-secondary reading is a difficult endeavor and we have to teach students to be critical consumers of college-level texts while teaching them to be critical producers.” In other words, encouraging writing as an integral part of research practically requires critical thinking, and shifts the focus, as Purdy explained, from the consumption of knowledge to the production of knowledge, the goal of every writing teacher.
Megan offered an important qualification, however, “Web 2.0, Class Consciousness and Critical Thinking.” Pierre Bordieu, in his book Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, claims that people are “habituated into certain levels of aesthetic appreciation based on class.” Megan ponders whether Bordieu is right that social standing partially determines our critical abilities. If this is so, Megan suggests, “then the whole democratizing potential of web 2.0 ‘experts’ seems negligible at best. She poses important questions for the writing teacher: “Can the critical apparatus provided by education close Bordieu’s class-determined cultural appreciation gap? How would an instructor achieve this goal in a freshmen composition classroom?” In response, I would say that a teacher should be aware not only of class differences but also cultural differences when approaching critical skills, at least to recognize that different groups understand critical thinking differently. A teacher should attempt to widen and develop everyone’s critical skills without claiming that there is one right way to think critically. (As an example, Japanese business workers would evaluate someone’s proposal as a group to reach a consensus, being very careful not to offend the writer of the proposal. A critical comment might be, “It would be a little difficult.”)
Instructors Modeling Writing
In “Instructors Modeling Student Writing,” Oliox (who is that?) wrote about the importance of teachers modeling writing, something that is often missing. Students only see “class syllabus or writing prompts or the short criticism, compliments, or commentary on paper feedback.” Oliox gives a couple of examples of instructors at SFSU: Joan Wong modeling the messy writing process with an overhead project and Mark Roberge actually doing the assignments he has assigned. Warnock, of course, insists on the importance of the teachers presence online, so that students can read examples of the writing the teacher is looking for and to see that even instructors have difficulties expressing themselves from time to time and might even make mistakes. I heartily agree with Oliox and Warnock that this is essential.
Bridging In-Class and Out-of-Class Writing
Speaking of instructors modeling writing, Kory’s post, “Why Composition (And Digital Media)?”
made a very important point about why it is important to bridge in-class and out-of-class writing. Quoting Reid, he pointed out that the writing that most students are doing online is “the one writing practice they actually elect to pursue.” In other words, these are the kind of writings that students are choosing to do themselves, and ignoring these forms undercuts or kills motivation in students who see academic writing as being utterly unconnected with the kind of writing they are interested in. Kory problematizes this, however, by adding, “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.” However difficult it may be to distinguish, bridging the gap can encourage motivation, even discipline (since the writing is closer to what students want to produce) and even a desire to write.
Lothlorien talks about the disconnect she experienced between scholastic and personal writing in “Confessions of a Fanfic Writer, D&D Player.” “If we accept as fact that the more literary events you engage in, the more literate you become,” she writes, “then isn’t it strange that we limit the variety of literary events valued in school? What if all acts of composition were at least encouraged and acknowledged? Think of the effect it might have on a student’s sense of agency and authority, as well as supporting the development of an understanding of one’s own ideological situatedness as a writer and a reader, and general textual savvy.” Apparently, Lothlorien herself found a way to bridge these two areas of writing in order to produce academic writing that is passionate and interesting. The minimum, she suggests, is at least to acknowledge that the writing students are doing outside class are valid forms in their own right, rather than to ignore and sweep such text aside as worthless. Even better would be to encourage such writing, since any writing increases literacy and ability.