This week’s articles focus on the disparity that arises when composition classes transition to incorporate new media, and how the lack of appropriate modes of assessment fail to meet the accompanying transition from traditional print to newer digital platforms. Anne Wysocki concentrates on the visual image in her dense piece titled “The Sticky Embrace of Beauty,” while Madeline Sorapure details the need for assessment with varied forms of digital technology in “Between Modes: Assessing Student New Media Compositions” that includes Web sites, images, video, audio and text altering software. The two articles share a similar desire to find alternative ways of evaluating student work that takes advantage of the multimodal landscape twenty-first century students inhabit.
Both articles also look at form and content, but suggest different avenues in executing an approach. Wysocki is frustrated at the formal tools available to discern art, which separates form from content, stating “these approaches assume a separation of form from content, but they emphasize form in such a way that ‘content’ can be unremarkably disembodied” (149). Wysocki seeks to find an approach that “builds” from “community” and works within the construct of the “particular” and the “messy” as opposed to the distancing that the formalist approach that we all inherited, and to some degree, internalize. Conversely, Madeleine Sorapure’s article suggests that as compositionists we critique what we know best, using tropes such as metaphor and metonymy as our guideposts. Sorapure proposes separating content from form by extension in examining her student projects to demonstrate her model. Sorapure reveals that through alternative forms to print, i.e. music, video, and image, and through re-conceptualizing the original source, we see “elements out of their contexts” (11), which then allows students an opportunity to show us something new, and perhaps unexpected.
I must admit that the subject matter of both articles initially intrigued me – essentially searching for a system of assessment rules for the non-written aspects of student work – but ultimately frustrated me for different reasons. Wysocki sets out to figure out why she feels both excited and repulsed by the image of the naked woman in the New Yorker advertisement. I applaud her methodical, trenchant approach to demonstrate how old forms of visual evaluation do not allow for the observer to respond more personally with the piece, or to view the object as more than the sum of its parts within the composition as a whole. However, I felt as though Wysocki’s article was more of a mash-up of Art History lesson mixed with an Anthropological investigation as to how to approach the visual representation. And Sorapure’s method is interesting but proves tiring as well as limiting in approaching student work with the narrow measurements of “metaphor” and “metonymy”. If we assign students visual, digital representation as part of their written work, then, I feel, we should also assess that work.
I still come back to the role that we serve, which is teaching students composition technique, strategies, reading approaches, critical thinking, engagement with text (yes, this can include visual mediums) and the myriad of ways to execute this goal. While, I find many of the examples put forth by Wysocki and Sorapure to be very good, and most likely assist with generative writing, such as manipulating text with images; I still come away thinking that some students may not be able to express themselves in this new visual way. Are we then providing a disservice to those students within Composition Studies? I do believe that incorporating some of these practices in the classroom can be useful; to assist in sparking creativity and to shift students from passive receptors of knowledge, to more active writers and thinkers.