The Medium and The Message

In “Opening New Media to Writing”, Wysocki invites teachers to use new media as an addition to their composition-based pedagogy, and to allow new media to inform the composition classroom in new ways. In “Composition in a New Key”, Yancey does the same, and Cynthia Selfe joins in as well in “Toward New Media Texts: Taking up the Challenges of Visual Literacy”.

There is a call to arms in Wysocki, Yancey, and Selfe’s articles to push composition into a future of public writings and readings, visual analysis in addition to text, and examination of the construction of self, identity, and place through the lens of the internet. Ohmann, a skeptic, offers some minor cautionings and perhaps occupies a similar mindset that I do in “Literacy, Technology, and Monopoly Capital”: New Media and technology have the potential to be incredibly beneficial to education as a whole, but our goals and purposes will ultimately decide whether it is successful or not.

While I am enthusiastic about the potential benefits of such an application, I conflict with the purpose of inserting new media in a classroom.  Each reading contained a specific kind of reasoning for this shift, however I still struggle to except justifications at hand.

So, by adding new media into the composition classroom, are we training students for future jobs? Ohmann seems to think that this is an exaggeration of the future state of technology. He relates this ‘age of technology’ to previous ages of economic revolution; in this, technology is a tool of workforce stratification where only a few will need the specialized skills of technology.  By no means is Ohmann alone in his skepticism of the political implications of technology.

Certainly there are niche jobs in technology, and training for them is done in specific classes that may even happen in specific technology-centered schools. And, if future students are becoming proficient with new technologies earlier than ever, then how are we, who may often be behind their skills, going to help them with future jobs?

While there are those who would argue that even the most recent generation is under-prepared for jobs involving even the slightest technological skills, I’m not sure I understand the task of training for technological jobs in the writing classroom. Based on my job technology-related job experience, I envision composition classrooms working in Excel, Word, Outlook, and alike. And this seems like a challenge to me, even if Yancey does detail an interesting idea for using PowerPoint in the classroom.

Then, if we are not training a future workforce, are we leveraging new media as a means to engage students and motivate them? Yancey offers different points in her articles where she details several moments in history where writing and reading activities were done on a large scale outside the classroom. She asserts that not only do people not need formal instruction to participate in different forms of social reading and writing practices, they especially do not need assessment to validate these acts.

Ultimately, people don’t need grades to be active readers and writers. If we then decide to pull things from technologies that drive people to read and write more into the classroom and assess them, are we just going to slowly suffocate their joy?

Ok, so we’re not trying to be kill-joys and grade your favorite internet activity. Continue to make Willy Wonka memes without fear. Then, is this move into a related, but seemingly separate field a last-ditch effort to give composition departments a fighting chance in the academic world? Yancey, Selfe, and Wysocki spend a lot of time detailing how composition should be moving into the future–presumably so that we don’t get left in the past.

There’s been plenty of concern about the direction of composition studies over the past couple of decades (See: End of Composition Studies by David Smit– the title says it all). And so, it’s no wonder that we want to make sure that we’re presenting something fresh and appealing to colleges. But I think some of this progress has the potential to dismantle the field and place it in the realms of other disciplines. I think this is why Yancey mentions WAC classes and their new importance to composition teachers.

Ultimately, I’m conflicted with what our purpose is or could be, even if I can see all of these justifications as potential benefits. The answers I have are certainly a product of being here and now for me, grappling with teaching myself for the first-time, and generally doubting everything I do in the classroom. Perhaps though, others have more insight for the use of New Media in the classroom and the choice, like inserting anything into your teaching, is a personal one based on personal reasoning. Clearly, I’m not quite there yet.

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2 comments on “The Medium and The Message

  1. I’d like to comment on your writing style which is amazing to read and digest. I like how you pose questions and then answer them by referencing lines of thought from our readings. I think it is very engaging and thought provoking. We as readers ponder on the questions for a few brief moments and then get the answer as we read along. I think this is effective because we get a chance to see what we think, and if the articles that are referenced create dissonance with out thinking, we will retain the information better. Bravo!

    I find this line of thought interesting from your post: “New Media and technology have the potential to be incredibly beneficial to education as a whole, but our goals and purposes will ultimately decide whether it is successful or not.”

    This is an important point which emphasizes the fact that technology is only a tool that is dependent on how the person uses it. It is up to the person to use that technology within moral grounds and as a means towards individual advancement. I do not think it is quite so important to have goals in mind, as that may limit the potential uses of technology, but it is useful to realize that you can do so much with technology. It is an artistic medium and an effective tool for communication and this is enough to just keep in mind for food for thought. If we put a cap on it, like, “our goal is to save the world” then we might trump other uses for technology such as using it for aesthetics.

    This is also important: “And, if future students are becoming proficient with new technologies earlier than ever, then how are we, who may often be behind their skills, going to help them with future jobs?”

    The older generations of teachers are slower than the newer generation of students. The problem is how are the older generation of teachers supposed to help the students get better at technology when students are way more advanced. My answer to that is that a teacher’s job is to instill the love of learning and motivation to probe further into issues. We do not necessarily have to be competent in technology but rather provide an environment where students can showcase their knowledge in classroom settings to build their self esteem in their competence in technology and be a supplement to their learning experiences.

    And finally, you say: “Ultimately, people don’t need grades to be active readers and writers. If we then decide to pull things from technologies that drive people to read and write more into the classroom and assess them, are we just going to slowly suffocate their joy?”

    Yes it may seem that we are suffocating their joy as educator, but teachers can high standards for students to follow when using new media so that students will be forced to think at a more critical level and deeper complexity of thought. Giving out grades can inspire students to work better. If there is the threat of failing, then it may motivate students to work harder. Of course, after the class is over, only then can the benefits be seen.

  2. As I read other posts, I started to wonder if I had really misread Ohmann. You put my fears to rest, however; it is nice to know there might be other “paranoid” academics out there.

    I am also terribly worried about both “suffocating their joy” (nice, by the way) by assigning literacy practices they engage in for fun, and also of teaching in such a way as promotes a kind of technology training as opposed to opening their minds a little with respect to the complex and multi-faceted nature of language. I actually think the five-paragraph essay is a perfect example of the “drone” nature of writing technlology- when was the last time you read a truly enlightening five-paragraph essay after Montaigne? I don’t want to simply train students in the correct uses of literate technologies- I want them to learn to use writing to learn to think differently about their worlds, and I am not sure that I myself am in a knowledgeable enough position to do so effectively with certain forms of “New Media” practices.

    Thanks for raising these kinds of concerns.

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