Cynthia Selfe’s chapter “Towards New Media Texts” in Writing New Media attempts to first define new media texts with particular attention to visual literacy, and then details composition instructors’ resistance to implementing these new forms of visual literacy within their curriculum. Selfe claims that instructors “privilege alphabetic literacy over visual literacy…because they have already invested so heavily in writing, writing instruction and writing programs” and seems to imply that visual and textual literacy cannot exist within the same course (71). While Selfe’s argument is valid and extremely relevant, I found her somewhat sweeping claims that composition is becoming irrelevant to students who engage with technological forms of communication to be problematic.
While some forms of academia are becoming inappropriate or inconsequential in a digital age, there is no reason that core academic values cannot be updated to include new forms of communication and technology. Selfe’s attempts to rationalize these concepts are apparent in her first sample activity of the visual essay. By introducing the newer idea of visual literacy through the more traditional and recognizable essay form, she grounds new media within accepted discourse conventions. While this is an admirable attempt to entwine visual and alphabetic literacy, her heavy dependence on essayist forms negates or makes unclear the more digital or new media aspects of the assignment.
Because of the wording of the prompt, phrases like “the essay should demonstrate an overall coherence,” “the essay should identify 2-4 major points,” first year composition students will perhaps have difficulty grasping the core visual nature of the assignment (77). I think this could have been made more clear or more impactful if the prompt itself had been in a visual format (a flow chart illustrating all of the steps or requirements possibly), as this would model the type of work she is encouraging and expecting.
Also her reflection/evaluation sheet for the “composer/designer” is a rather generic form that could be applied to almost any academic essay written in a freshman composition course. If we are exploring new mediums of expression, shouldn’t there be new criteria for evaluation? Should students be responding to new media texts in the same language they would use for more textual works? How can we change or update student’s and our own discourse conventions to include and explicitly speak to these new literacies?