More Thoughts on Shipka

I echo some of the thoughts on the previous post on Shipka.  I think it deserves further discussion.

I appreciated today’s discussion on Shipka because I had mixed feelings about her argument, although I still have some concerns: exactly what kind of “changes” is she proposing be made to the composition curriculum? I understand that she urges us to think about assigning multimodal assignments instead of more traditional essay tasks. She claims that the same SLOs can still be met by assigning multimodal assignments. It sounds great to me, and I liked some of her own examples of such exercises, but why must the field of composition become obsessed with multimodality? What is wrong with a healthy, diverse curriculum that may include some multimodal and some traditional assignments, depending on who is teaching it? While Shipka is definitely an accomplished writer, and she expertly positions her part of the conversation among so many other voices, I’m not sure I get the urgency of her argument. I think what she has to say has considerable value; I just don’t see if the “reform” or “revolution” she’s calling for be beneficial, if even possible. I mean this earnestly, please, somebody tell me what it is that I’m missing. Maybe I don’t get it because I only read one chapter (plus the intro and the conclusion).

Here’s an example of what I mean from Chapter Five. These are the SOGC Questions she proposes:

  1. What, specifically, is this piece trying to accomplish— above and beyond satisfying the basic requirements outlined in the task description? In other words, what work does, or might, this piece do? For whom? In what contexts?
  2. What specific rhetorical, material, methodological, and technological choices did you make in service of accomplishing the goal( s) articulated above? Catalog, as well, choices that you might not have consciously made, those that were made for you when you opted to work with certain genres, materials, and technologies.
  3. Why did you end up pursuing this plan as opposed to the others you came up with? How did the various choices listed above allow you to accomplish things that other sets or combinations of choices would not have?

 Shipka, Jody (2011-04-30). Toward a Composition Made Whole (Pitt Comp Literacy Culture) (Kindle Locations 2059-2066). University of Pittsburgh Press.

These sound really good to me.

Now, these are the questions that she’s compiled from more “expressivist” scholars about self-reflection:

  • What did you try to improve, or experiment with, on this paper? How successful were you? What are the strengths of your paper? Place a squiggly line beside those passages you feel are very good. What are the weaknesses, if any, of your paper? Place an X beside passages you would like your teacher to correct or revise. What one thing will you do to improve your next piece of writing? What grade would you give yourself on this composition? Justify it (Beaven 1977).
  • Have you written a paper like this one before? Have your ideas about the topic changed since you started writing the paper? How? Have you made changes in your paper during or after writing a draft of it? What are the three most important changes you have made? In the process of writing this paper, did you do anything that was different from what you have done when writing papers in the past? What was it? (Faigley et al. 1985).
  • What do you see as your main point( s)? How did this process differ from your usual writing? Did you write things that surprised you, things that you did not know you were thinking and feeling? Which parts went well or badly for you? (Elbow 1999).
  • • Where were you challenged? What did you risk in writing the text in this way? What did you learn about yourself as a writer and/ or writing in general while drafting this piece? If you had three more weeks, what would you work on? Estimate your success with this text (Bishop 1997).
  • You’ve given this text to a friend and he or she gives you four ideas for making it stronger and/ or more accessible to a general audience. What would those four things be, and how would you feel about doing them? How would each change improve your paper or ruin what you have been attempting? (Bishop 1997).

Shipka, Jody (2011-04-30). Toward a Composition Made Whole (Pitt Comp Literacy Culture) (Kindle Locations 2118-2133). University of Pittsburgh Press.

These sound really good to me too!

I do understand that her SOGCs are more analytical in nature and the other ones are more process oriented. But I don’t see why we can’t just use them all, depending on the needs of the assignment, the philosophy and personality of the teacher and the relationship that teacher has with her students?

I do appreciate all the care she takes in explaining the importance of multimodality, new media, etc. Yes, this is something that the field of Composition must include in its curriculum.   But why is it important that we only teach toward multimodality? Why can’t some of us sometimes still teach using some “more traditional” kinds of assignments? As far as I am concerned, we should teach it all, but not all the time. The personality and individuality of a teacher are key qualities that students latch onto – this is how students connect with their favorite teachers. Maybe I am ignorant, but it seems that teaching a multimodal-only class would be a forced and foreign proposition for me, and I fear that my personality and individuality would be sacrificed in service of a compulsory multimodal composition world. I like to use a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I like a little Elbow to balance out my Bartholomae. I feel the need to rein in my Donald Murray with a loose lasso of Stanley Fish. And, certainly, Shipka is invited too.



Multimodality in the Composition Classroom


In Towards a Composition Made Whole, Jody Shipka argues that we should reconsider college composition. In Chapter 1, she begins her argument by summarizing the traditional approach to teaching writing in college. Shipka argues that multimodal assignments should be a part of composition classrooms to make the learning relevant to students. She says that tools like social network and editing software can promote a multimodal learning experience. At the same time, she wants to avoid defining multimodal as strictly the technological tools that we use. Instead she argues that students can have a true multimodal learning experience “negotiat[ing]– an interplay of words, images, sounds, scents and movement (21). She supports this definition because it reflects students’ out of class literacy practices, one that is dynamic and reflective of their unique discourse communities.


In addition, Shipka notes the traditional practice of teaching college composition often alienates students and she says instructors can overcome this perception by transforming writing as a process for creating authentic communication. She argues that the traditional way of teaching freshman composition creates an artificial corridor around the skills developed in a classroom, hard to acquire and just as difficult to employ outsides the classroom. Instead, Shipka encourages instructors to equip students with an “experimental attitude” so that they see that literacy is context dependent and part of a social practice. To accomplish this lofty goal, instructors should be mindful of helping students develop transferable skills, by weaving students’ out of school writing practices into their teaching while shepherding students through a process to tailor their writing to fit their audience, purpose and genre.


I am glad that Shipka clarified what multimodal assignments should be. I initially thought that it should be about the use of technology or the use of visual images. I think my initial definition of multimodality was underdeveloped. I agree with her that we should help our students negotiate and mold different texts and have them interact with one another. We do live in a dynamic world with technology disrupting our very conception of writing. I think it would be useful to incorporate multimodal texts into the classroom so that students see that composition can include a lot of different mediums.


At the same time, I am also mindful that many of us operate in an academic setting where there are certain conventions that give students power and access. In that case, I believe that it is still important to teach students how to write for an academic audience. Shipka says instructors can be comprehensive by incorporating multimodality into their instruction and teach academic composition. Shipka says there is enough time to do it all but I question her stance. There are Student Learning Outcomes to follow and I will be evaluated based on my ability to meet these standards. I am afraid that privileging multimodal assignments leaves me little time to meet my SLOs. I see multimodality as text to introduce to the class but I would not assign the production of a multimodal assignment because I don’t know how valuable it is for their academic experience. I can have my students write a visual essay but what happens when they go to their history class and they are asked to write a research paper? Have I failed my students if I don’t teach them how to write a type of paper that is privileged in academia?





Semiotic Domains, Virginia Woolf, and Video Games

A New York Times review of a new Batman video game

I eagerly signed up to blog for this week’s topic “Games and Writing,” in order to learn more about video games, and gaming since I am a little embarrassed to admit – I am novice. I came of age during Atari’s ascent, had friends with early Apple computers that had video games loaded into the software (primitive by today’s standards), but never caught the bug that so many of my contemporaries did. I read comic books as a kid and as a teenager, have returned to them as an adult, but somehow, I never jumped on the wave of video games, believing that they were a waste of time, as one grandfather (aghast!) makes comment in one of this week’s articles.

In my attempt to unpack why I felt they were not worth my time, I realized, I just was not that informed about them, and even a little frightened, because I did not know the lexicon necessary to enter the conversation of video games. However, I soon realized, after pushing past my initial discomfort, that if I believe that the study of images, film, television, comic books, graphic novels, and Cultural Studies, are apt canvas’s to read, and write about, so too are Video Games. Moreover, if I did not think that video games had arrived, I could not ignore that the seminal New York Times regularly reviews newly released, and popular video games, in a serious-minded fashion, as they would review a book, play, or film – providing video games weight and status.

In reading James Paul Gee’s “Semiotic Domains: Is Playing Video Games a ‘Waste ofTime’?” article and Ian Bogost’s “The Rhetoric of Video Games,” I noticed that both writer’s link and even go so far as to define learning to play video games as “learning a new literacy.” I was moderately suspicious but Bogost made an argument that resonated to me when he suggested that “playing video games is [a] kind of literacy . . . not one that helps us read but . . . that helps us make or critique the systems we live in” (136), which made sense to me after he had systematically chronicled the benefits that video games provide. I especially like how Bogost presents games that have socio-economic structures and questions that can assist with a student’s actively engaging with real world issues, that may seem more abstract when written only on the page, but more concrete and alive through the application of a video game.

James Paul Gee places an emphasis on recognizing that in the modern world, we need to acknowledge more than just print literacy to move forward. Gee’s sentiment reminded me that ever since motion pictures were developed, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, writing has been altered in order to incorporate the public’s new understanding of images. The Modern writers of the 1920’s and 1930’s made strides to incorporate the visual into the word in ways never before imagined, so as to make the text more like something the reading audience could “picture” happening in film. Reading words in a visual frame much like Gee argues for learning multiple literacies.

Notably, Virginia Woolf’s makes use of modern technology in a sequence in Mrs. Dalloway, in which a plane flies overhead, providing descriptive language to incorporate the propulsive, motion that the new technology provided (airplanes and film).   Influenced by Impressionistic Art in the Fine Arts, and often making an attempt to meld different mediums, Woolf and her fellow Moderns embraced pushing the boundaries of the written word, through experimentation, stream of consciousness narration, and shifting perspectives in time and place. While I am not sure what Woolf and her colleagues would make of today’s multimodal landscape, many of their interests are extended in today’s digital mediums and literacies.

I believe this week’s readings assist in providing a solid foundation for the use of video games as a learning tool in the classroom by demonstrating active and applied effort from students as a result of playing video games.  I am still not sure on quite how, or where to begin with in my own effort to get started.  I do not want to wrangle with joy sticks or consoles, but I am interested in computer based games, or smartphone applicable ones; and therefore, I welcome suggestions from my fellow blog readers and writers.

Counterculture in New Media


The description of Mann’s collage centered around the quotation-“Whoever controls the media“- made me recall a new media project I saw by another student years ago, where they focused their work around a scene from Clockwork Orange with the thesis: rebellious youth culture has overturned the bourgeoisie ideology that predominantly existed in middle class suburbs of London in the 1960’s through standard forms of media (music, television, film.) The Clockwork Orange clip serves to illustrate how the counter-culture movement presents the negative impacts that people’s fascination with capitalism and consumerism, masked by religion and wealth, has had on society. In Mann’s college, the main concept of media and the impact that a person can have on society (depending on who is in charge of it) is expressed through primarily visual images on one piece of paper. This other project is illustrated through the movie clip and relies heavily on music and speech to present a message. The images that Mann chose are all recognizable to a mass audience (President Bush and Rush Limbaugh) and as a result of this, they have immediate associations for the viewer that can carry meaning. Other signifiers are used, such as the television, the puppet strings, and even the crucifix. All are easily recognizable symbols, and they serve to illustrate Mann’s thesis that President Bush uses various spokespeople to send a negative conservative ideology, which includes, but is not limited to, religion and war propaganda. The Clockwork Orange clip above similarly uses religious symbols through the images of porcelain Jesus figurines (martyrdom), the snake (evil), the poster of the naked woman (Eve) and media is represented through movie clips from One Million Years B.C.(decadence) and Beethoven (conservativeness). Both projects are successful because they don’t just randomly present images and clips to the viewer, but instead construct these pieces of media with a unified message. The message is then further elaborated upon through examples and explanation-the how and the why. All things one would expect to see in successful essay, and this information is just instead presented through visual or auditory means.


“It is at first a bit disconcerting to see the lyrics of one song plays in the background; adding to the oddness is the visual experiences of seeing a very famous paintings faded in and out on the screen with the words superimposed on them…new context with new associations.” This description of Starry Night is similar to how I would describe the Clockwork Orange clip, and the value that each project has seems to rest in this last line: “new context with new associations.” That is the importance in multimodal assignments. However, deciding how to determine whether a new media project has accomplished this is the challenge facing instructors now. How to best assess multimodal assignments is a valuable concern when addressing the transitional process that is occurring in classrooms now where new media is being more readily incorporated. New media being defined as “…texts that juxtapose semiotic modes in new and aesthetically pleasing ways, and in doing so, break away from print traditions so that written text is not the primary rhetorical means.” Cheryl Ball (2004) “Show, not tell.”


The primary tools for evaluating new media, as presented in the article “Between Modes: Assessing Student New Media Composition,” are: looking at how effectively a project addresses audience and its ability to achieve purpose, how clearly the message or meaning is conveyed through the use of multiple modes (that each one has a purpose and is not just applied flippantly), and how effectively the connections between these modes have been formed in order to effectively illustrate meaning. Sorapure’s flexible stance that these assessment tools should not be applied to all assignments in all contexts, lest the value of the project be neglected because it is important to take the context of the assignment, purpose of the course, and the teacher and students themselves into account.


Problems occur when the project simply includes an element because it looks good or because it is a cool effect. There exists no meaning and then instead creates a distraction. Addressing this concern helps the evaluator not feel that just because the work is aesthetically pleasing, they need to give the project a high grade. The idea here seems that new media should be judged close to the way that an essay is assessed. There needs to be a central thesis, main ideas and arguments that link together the author’s ideas, and that these need to be elaborated upon through some sort of commentary. Ultimately, there does need to be some coherence that links together the purpose of the work, and analysis also needs to exist, so that there isn’t just a surface-level message. The article presented several examples of evaluated works, and Gabe Mann’s collage with the image of Bush as a puppeteer to conservative media moguls was presented as the most highly valued because of it’s use of both metonymic and metaphoric components. The combination of images, sound, and text worked metonymically because it linked images by association like “lines from a poem combined with a melody from a song.” This collage, like the Clockwork Orange project was successful because as a “Digital composition [it] weave[ed] words and context and images” with a unified thesis. This is something to look for when evaluating multimodal works.

Elements out of their Context

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.

Don’t panic, but the future of human existence depends on what you choose to teach in your Composition course.

I couldn’t quite tell if I was sensing a tone of excitement or panic in this week’s texts.

While I think both Miller and Yancey (CCC 56:2) make excellent arguments for rethinking and possibly expanding our practices (we already inhabit a world heavily influenced by screen literacy), and I couldn’t agree more when both Wysocki (Writing New Media) and Yancey suggest that the writing we ask students to do in school is not connected enough to their lives, I’m still not convinced that this justifies changing the purpose of a first year writing course from “writing/composing” (as Hesse argues in CCC 61:3) to “rhetoric/composing” (as Selfe does, also CCC 61:3).

I do think we should teach composition in a broader context, integrating visual arguments and the rhetoric of new media composition, but I think this has to be a different course than what is usually conceived of as first year comp. Might a certain large, urban state university in northern California change the focus of its second year composition course, currently emphasizing writing about literature, to multimodal composition? I, for one, would love to teach a such a course, but I would want students in it to have a good handle on written composition (and here’s maybe where we need to expand beyond the singular focus on the academic essay, considering that the world we inhabit includes written composition in many forms, some of them digital), so that writing can be one of many possible modes of communication for our students.

So, while I hear the new media alarm, it’s competing with others that have been going off for some time—in particular, the one screaming about the need for colleges to equip students with basic writing skills.

Agony in the Digital Garden

Our first class session revealed much in terms of the vast range of technological literacy(s) among us that may represent the technological literacy of society at large.  But our trepidations with using computers—nowadays more so with various software/programs/applications than actual hardware—are rather difficult to pin down.  In any historical trajectory, the first place we tend to go to is to look at how Plato, in his Socratic dialogue Phaedrus, is anxious of the new technology of writing, and what it does to the originary speech.  As Walter Ong asserts in citing himself, “Plato’s objections against writing are essentially the very same objections commonly urged today against computers by those who object to them” (“Writing is a Technology” 27).  Because he’s a preeminent scholar of orality, I’m inclined to believe Ong’s analysis—after all, he had spent his whole academic career researching the subject.  However, because he is the same scholar who has made backhanded comments on Native American oral communication in saying that:

There is hardly an oral culture or a predominantly oral culture left in the world today that is not somehow aware of the vast complex powers forever inaccessible without literacy.  This awareness is agony for persons rooted in primary orality, who want literacy passionately but who also know very well that moving into the exciting world of literacy means leaving behind much that is exciting and deeply loved in the earlier oral world.  We have to die to continue living” (Orality and Literacy 15),

I’m not sure that I trust his analysis completely.  Besides the absolutism that Condescends-Other-Cultures prescribes for orality and textuality, his theory here is presumptive in the melodramatic “agony” of oral folk of which he is not a part, not to mention fatalistic in their assimilation due to inability to survive otherwise.  Another reason Ong’s theories are problematic is that they tend to overlook what happens in between Plato’s 4th century B.C.E. and today.

On the other hand, a more grounded look into the various nuances of textuality’s evolutions can be found in the work of Dennis Barron, who says that “the computer is simply the latest step in a long line of writing technologies” (“Literacy and Access” 118).  Barron takes us through an evolution of tools from the pencil to the telephone to the computer, and even provides a study of their original utilities, which apparently were not meant to be as writing utensils.  Just like previous technologies, he suggests, the computer was originally intended for more mathematical computations, and not necessarily invented to be conducive of reading/writing/literacy.

The biggest difference seems to be that using computers for literacy activities is more multimodal in terms of the number of skills that we have to use.  Reading a book, writing with a pencil, or speaking on the telephone are relatively more simple tasks and modalities compared to learning how to navigate course management systems such as Moodle or blogging on WordPress.  To jump on Barron’s idea, this is “the flexibility of digitised text” (117).  If the pencil and telephone are modern inventions, the computer and interwebs are postmodern inventions.  The difficulty we have with teaching writing in a digital age, then, is that we’re not just learning how to hold a new tool with our fingers to write cursive or speak clearly into the correct end of the tool, but we are learning to be aware of available navigation from link to link in doing our research, or the many Microsoft Word icons and features that do various tasks, and must constantly, because of their rapid creation, not only learn our way around new software and digital applications, but also (re)learn updated versions of existing ones dot dot dot.

N.B.  Our article by Barron was published in 1999.  Here is an interview with Barron on his latest book, A Better Pencil (2009), which may or may not update some of his thoughts.