The “Discomfort” of New Media in the Classroom… and why to overcome them


Between the three readings for this week (Selfe’s “Toward New Media Texts,” Wysocki’s “The Sticky Embrace of Beauty,” and Sorapure’s “Between Modes: Assessing Student New Media Compositions”) the common issue addressed is the difficulty composition teachers have in assessing and grading new media assignments done by their students. Although this is an issue specifically focused for this week (at least from what I’ve noticed in the readings), I feel that this is a recurring question constantly brought up not only in our class, but with every English teacher in general, regardless of age and experience.  

To start things off, I think that this issue of assessing new media texts with students is the teacher’s inherent need to separate visuals (images, animation, etc.) and text (letters, words, oh my) into opposing binaries. Although we as teachers don’t intentionally tell students the differences between visuals and texts, we show a difference between the two by making the visual assignment as the “dumbed-down” and “less-intellectual” (Selfe 71). By doing so, through George’s critique, Selfe points out that teachers use these visual assignments as “stimuli for writing” and do not place place them on equal ground with the “real” writing and work done in the course (71).


So where does this problem of low-priority visual assignments start from? Sorapure states that by “examining how student work in new media is currently assessed, it is clear that we are at a transitional stage in the process of incorporating new media into our composition courses” (2). Compared to the more traditional text based assignments (like the classic essay) that first come to mind when thinking of academic writing, the more visual and new media assignments are still in the process of being established and have yet to be a keen to academia. Besides for academic reasons, the main purpose of language is ultimately for communication.  

Despite this ongoing process of establishment, new media is beneficial because it allows students to make connections within the classroom to what they experience in their everyday lives; “When students are the audiences of design, they see how designs work to shape and naturalize the necessity of their day-to-day worlds” (Wysocki 173). By having their students focus on what Selfe calls “the visual,” visual elements geared towards communication, teachers are also enabling their students to have a deeper sense engagement with their writing and their overall development of thought (69).

Although I like to think of myself as “internetly” adequate and part of the on-going technology boom that we as a society are continually diving deeper into, I also find myself feeling the same “discomfort” that Selfe describes composition teachers having when assigning new media assignments to their students.  As Selfe states, by having teachers update their new media literacies, “the usefulness of composition studies in a changing world” is extended and further pushes our field into new depths (72). Interestingly enough, this discomfort doesn’t come from my own inadequacies and illiteracies with technology, but mainly my own insecurities of what actually “works” in a classroom and for students.

Despite my inexperience in actually teaching a class on my own yet, I always found myself at odds, especially in my many attempts in perfecting my forged course arcs for 710, in finding an absolute “correct” way in integrating types of new media into my courses.  Time after time… and time, I constantly find myself at odds with what can actually work for students.

In a way, my own struggles with finding an absolute “correct” way is an issue that many of us in this field struggle with.  Yes, I know… There is no such thing as an absolute “correct” way when it comes to teaching, especially in composition, but there are different paths that one can take in finding a way.



3 comments on “The “Discomfort” of New Media in the Classroom… and why to overcome them

  1. I got stuck when the readings brought up the notion of assessing new media. I agree that most instructors want to separate various facets of assignments. Perhaps instructors do this because it’s within their comfort zone. It seems less messy or complex to assess individual pieces/media based off of a specific list of criteria, rather than assessing a project via the relationships (metaphor and metonymy*) between the different media. Or less complex than assessing a web of media as one sole entity. Not to mention, separating everything seems a hell of a lot easier in terms of articulating grading/rubrics/assessment to students.

    However, I like the idea of assessing the relationship or assessing multiple mediums as a one cohesive thing. I’m not sure how to do it, exactly…it sounds terrifying. But it would help students see how everything is connected and purposeful .

  2. As someone who tries and wants to embrace New Media in the composition classroom, I will say that you hit on a hurdle that I still haven’t overcome – the “lessening” of alternative forms of media. If you look on paper at some of my assignments, it may seem like I hold Tweets, podcasts, and videos to the same level as traditional texts, but if you were to sit in on one of my classes, you may hear me slip and hold traditional texts as the higher standard of our study.

    As you pointed out, this is nothing new – teachers struggle with this time and again. But is it that we are a product of our own previous learning? Or that there hasn’t been enough guidance in the field at large about how to go about handling New Media texts? I guess essentially I’m asking if we can blame someone for our difficulty with this subject, but really I’m just curious about how to proceed from here in terms of usage and assessment.

    I also wonder about the difference between including New Media texts as “readings” versus having students compose new forms of text. In a way, I feel like no matter what path I take, I am in some way prioritizing text over the product as a whole. Maybe I do a great job of handling a wiki, a traditional print text, and a prezi as equal mediums……..but then we write a standard academic essay about them. It seems like even if we compose something in a different form, writing will NEED to be the key component of the work our students produce (hence the name Composition). Maybe there’s a way to adapt “grading for process” that will lend itself to New Media texts and assessments. That’s the closest existing way of thinking that I can imagine may work.

  3. Love the usage of graphics in this blog post. I like the way you synthesized the ideas across the three articles, and I agree that we have a tendency to ascribe less intellectual value to visual compositions. However, I would like to add that this is not only a problem amongst instructors, but rather amongst our students as well. In my FYC course, my students absolutely loved V for Vendetta and really considered it an intellectual masterpiece, but when we were examining propaganda posters, they seemed to treat it as something less serious; admittedly I positioned it as the first unit, as I was unconsciously prioritizing it below the graphic novel. Likely due to the limited text we find on propaganda posters.

    In my SYC course, I find similar forms of resistance within my students. I have had them draw things in class, gave them a few visual comp assignments, etc. and they look at me like I’m assigning them a bunch of kindergarten crap. Naturally, I don’t blame them — if I were 18 or 19 and that was the extent of my experience with visual literacy (elementary school stuff), I might be quick to dismiss such activities as well. I typically openly provide my rationale and make sure that such visual comp assignments dovetail nicely with alphabetic/traditional text compositions so that they can see the value and see how the assignments fit together to teach them something or provide them some food for thought. It demands a lot of clarity and transparency on the instructor’s behalf. I am currently tinkering with the idea of having them integrate images into their next essays in order to position their visual “homework” as higher stakes learning outcomes.

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