Bringing New Media into My Classroom

In my ENG 114 class, I asked my students to read Pratt’s “Arts of the Contact Zone” and in their next formal assignment I’m asking them to create an autoethnography: “a text in which people undertake to describe themselves in ways that engage with representations others have made of them” (35). An autoethnography asks students to speak to an audience by using that audience’s language, so my students won’t be writing a traditional essay; they will be mixing different genres to speak back to a public audience. Although I am still requiring students to do a certain amount of writing, they are creating a new media composition, at least in the way that Wysocki defines new media in “Opening New  Media To Writing: Openings & Justifications,” (Writing New Media) as texts “that have been made by composers who are aware of the range of materialities of texts and then who highlight the materiality” (15). I’m asking my students to think about the choices they are making and what that means for them as producers, and their audience as consumers. I’m also considering a conversation about Yancey’s “writing public” and the ways in which people communicate outside of school (301).

I’m excited about this assignment, but I’m also a little wary. I’m worried that my students have spent so long writing traditional academic essays that they won’t know what to do! I’m not doubting my students creativity; I think they have great ideas about everything (probably like most teachers do). However, after feeling uncomfortable just reading Yancey’s “Made Not Only in Words: Composition in a New Key,” I’m wondering how my students will feel actually crafting a new media composition for a formal grade in an English class. This is the second time I’ve read Yancey’s piece, and the format of the “essay” still throws me off. We often talk about how teachers feel weird assigning anything other than a traditional essay, so I’m wondering how students feel creating a new media composition in the classroom. I wonder if they enjoy it like we think they will? Or if they think its important or relevant to their education like we think they should? I’m hoping to ask my students about this as they work on this assignment, and a few other assignments in the future.

But for now I’m wondering if any of you have assigned a new media composition in a writing class? Did the students have trouble fulfilling the assignment? How much did they incorporate the new media aspect? Do you think they thought is was fun or useful?


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.

Peer Response on New Media Project

I’ve finished my new media project and, while I know peer response isn’t part of the assignment, I’m interested in any feedback on my “composition” you all might be willing to offer – your impressions, commentary, interpretation, critique. Then, if you’re willing, you can give feedback via comments on this post. My first question would be – do you think this is a New Media Composition since less than a handful of the words are mine? ummmm…. what about this: