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.

 

WoW…I’m Not Sure About Playing Games in the Classroom, Especially World of Warcraft.

Video games have been a major part of my life experience ever since I was able to hold a controller and barely move and jump in Super Mario Brothers or swing a sword in The Legend Of Zelda for the NES.

 

super-mario-bros-start-screen.jpglegend of zelda start screen

Sources: Rebubble and Nitwitty

My experience with gaming has evolved over the years from home consoles to handheld devices to PC gaming. I have spent around 7 of the last 10 years of my experience with gaming has evolved over the years from home consoles to handheld devices to PC gaming. I have spent around 7 of the last 10 years of World of Warcraft’s (WoW) existence playing the game as well as playing League of Legends, Hearthstone, and other multiplayer games and I would love nothing more than to find a way to incorporate video games or game design concepts into the classroom on some scale. From digging into writings by pieces by Bogost, Alberti, and Gee on what we can learn from gaming, game design, and gaming concepts, I was sure that introducing these kinds of concepts into the classroom could be wildly successful.  I was all ready to pop the champagne and celebrate, but then…

I really wanted to write an entirely positive article, but I guess I am too enticed by challenging academics at their assertions because once I started reading the Colbys’ article I slammed on the proverbial brakes and turned that celebration car around, faster than you could say “LEEEEEEEEEEEEEROY JEEEEEEEENKINS!

And on that day, a meme was born.

“A Pedagogy of Play: Integrating Computer Games into the Writing Classroom” by Rebekah Shultz Colby and Richard Colby weaves an idyllic world where they could advertise a class in which the entire class would spend the semester playing Blizzard Entertainment’s wildly successful and still very popular game, WoW, and I am here to try to (probably unsuccessfully) tactfully explain why this would be a terrible idea that would not work outside of isolated cases. Maybe this type of class is not supposed to be adopted in any significant way in a school system. I find that kind of exclusivity to be a bit reprehensible, which is why I am so incensed at the notion of WoW or any high-intensity computer game, being used as the core aspect of a classroom.

If my work at community colleges and life as a student has been any indication, many students would not have the resources to be able to take the opportunity offered by this class. Sure, at Denver University, a private college where tuition currently sits at around 15,096 dollars a semester, students might be able to afford a computer with the capabilities necessary to run WoW well enough to play the game. However, if implemented where I live, go to school, and work, I do not believe this would be the case. While many students have laptops, most of them are basic machines that are built with only the bare essentials to utilize programs like Microsoft Office, Facebook (maybe casual games on said website), and content streaming services.

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Given these choices, many would take the HP. Credit: Freebies2deals

Predominantly, these are the kinds of computers that are advertised to students by stores like Best Buy: non-gaming computers with no dedicated graphics processor that would barely run the game if at all. One would need to buy a laptop that  costs around $700 to run the game in a way that is playable.  Further, WoW requires its own monetary subscription of $15 a month after you buy the game, which, at this current moment, involves spending at around $40 to purchase the game and the most recent expansion. I would fear that students would not be totally clear on what they would need when signing up for a class like this and then have to drop, leaving them sans an important class for their GE. None of the financial aspects of this endeavor are examined in the paper; the authors only made the point that “WoW has relatively low system requirements.” Send a message to any PC gamer and ask them if playing on the lowest settings makes a game fun to play. The answer you will probably get is:

This class concept is not feasible or accessible to the larger student population of an American college campus, especially community colleges.

I would also question a student’s time dedication to be able to participate in this class. Unless you are already an avid WoW player, which the paper identifies is not required, there is a huge amount of time that a player must commit to gain expertise in any aspect of the game without putting in a significant amount of research on other websites (and I would argue that both of these are required to be able to contribute to a wiki or make a guide on the game). For some students, playing the game might take far in excess of the expected time, and, even then, I would be concerned how much time would be required to play the game in addition to time spent doing the various class writing assignments. Leveling a character, finding and immersing oneself in a guild, leveling a profession, and learning how the mechanics of the game work take hours upon hours of play and research even in the current version of the game which is MUCH simpler than it was in 2008 when this article was published. Most active guilds will not look at you twice if you are not at or near max level and player interaction is minimal outside of a guild. In addition, you just do not learn enough about the game or its community at low levels.

 

 time played

This is my most recent character and I have not even gotten him to max level.

And I sort of know what I am doing half the time.

The Colbys only identify two cases of students in this experimental class environment, “Josh, an experienced WoW player” and Tiffany who had a roommate who played WoW often and took the class with her. I was disappointed by the lack of other representative experiences for this proposal of a WoW classroom if a student was not a WoW player. There was no real consideration of what to do if one or more of the students in the class decided that they did not like the game besides the result of dropping, which, again, really punishes the student.

I honestly do not know of a massively multiplayer online style game that would dodge both of these serious issues with this pedagogy. I want to love this idea. I REALLY want to. But just like any game community, even if one could find a way to make this work, I doubt its longevity. Semester to semester a teacher might have to find a new game or gaming community as games die and a new fad emerges. When this article was written WoW was the biggest PC game that had ever existed boasting around ten million subscribers, but now the game has less than half of that number and seems to still be declining.

 

WoW Subscriber numbers 001 jim younkin_b.png

Now down to around 5.5 million subs.

A multiplayer online battle arena (moba) like League of Legends would be the WoW of today, but who know how long that game would last (Nor would I ever subject my students to that game’s community. I have been called every slur, profanity and disgusting use of language imaginable when I am playing badly in that game. It is the YouTube comments section of video games. Only click this if you want an example. It is not safe for work because of the intense language.)

Gaming is definitely a New Media Literacy that, as time passes, more and more students will be playing in some fashion. Involving games, game design, and gaming rhetoric in the classroom is worth studying. Programs like Classcraft are already paving the way for creating augmented reality games in the classroom environment. To me, this is the most exciting use of the excursions composition academics have been making, in addition to using video games as a way of studying rhetoric and genre in the classroom.

I think it is about time to end this rant and hope that this even fits the bill for this blog. I leave you again with an OC remix of the week. This is Legend of Zelda: ALttP ‘Come to the Dark Side, It’s a Funky Place’ by Nostalvania:

 

 

Social Media: The Renaissance Self-Expression and Community.. or is it?

I have spent the last few hours pondering what Micheal Wesch would say about the changes in spaces like Youtube and other social media since he made his video on Web 2.0 and his anthropological study of Youtube. Once upon a time, (though really it was not that long ago) vlogs and other personal videos were absolutely the predominant videos and content type on Youtube. Looking all the way back at 2006 we see much of what was being discussed by Wesch in simple user generated videos with just a few thousand views sitting on the front page.

youtube 2006 screenshot.png

Credit: Graphitas

I am sure if we used The Way Back Machine then we would see many response videos, even to these front page entries. If we take a peek at the front page of Youtube today, the field has completely changed. Every front page is tailor made for the person who is consuming the media, especially if you have any viewing history or an account linked to your Youtube habits.

Youtube Today.png

As you can see, the trending videos look like a Hollywood catalog; they are almost completely comprised of massive company sponsored channels or the titanic channels with hundreds of thousands of subscribers making professional content for our consumption. Now, I am not saying that this is necessarily bad, since millions of hours of entertainment have arisen from the ability of an individual to monetize their videos on Youtube, but the community of videos that was so exciting to Welsh ten years ago is dying if it is not completely dead already. It seems that a significant amount of social media is moving away from being a way of interconnectivity toward being a way to create or popularize a brand. Even my own Facebook feed has become more of a space to see updates from news and entertainment sites than just seeing what a friend is up to on any given day, resulting from giving a page or website a “Like.” Is there a new social media that has replaced this phenomenon? Maybe Vines? Snapchat? My experience with these new medias are limited so I have no real idea if those kinds of apps are filling this void.

Moving to a slightly different sphere, in “Examining Digital Literacy Practices on Social Network Sites,” Amber Buck examines what she calls, (finally…at the end of the article) “a rather extreme case of social network site use.” Throughout this study, her subject, Ronnie, is shown to be trying to make a “brand” much like the celebrities that we see on Twitter, Facebook, and other networking websites. I feel that this discussion is a bit disingenuous as a result because it is not indicative of most students practices on a social networking site. While we all create an online identity, I do not believe that most people are developing as complex rhetorical skills that Ronnie is displaying and Buck is discussing nor do I think most people are trying to generate fans and fame from their social media exploration. To me this kind of study just screams outlier case.

(As a side note her abstract mentions that the literacy practices we explore include navigating user agreements, which means that she thinks that many young adults read them.)

 

Now this is not to discount that rhetorical  and genre learning is going on and we as teachers cannot take advantage of that, but social media and how people, especially youth, interact with that media evolves faster than we can build data and studies on how to incorporate it into pedagogy and the classroom. We have read many papers examining Myspace, but that website is now a wasteland with most people’s profiles sitting derelict, an interesting photograph of our past social media lives. It makes me wonder how much of that study is still relevant as things so rapidly change. I am extremely interested in what the next few years hold and how social media and literacies will continue to evolve.

Will we see another website emerge to replace Facebook? Or has the evolution of social media begun to settle and slow down? If students are as active as Ronnie and I am just ignorant of this, then how might we best bring this to the forefront in the classroom?

I think I have rambled like a terrible cynic for long enough today. So I shall do what I always will and leave you all with an OC remix of the day. This is a remix by FoxyPanda of the famous “Aquatic Ambiance” Theme from Donkey Kong Country. Cheers!

Unmediated Publics? Those are So Last Millennium.

In “Why Youth ❤ Social Network Sites,” Danah Boyd explores why teenagers are drawn to social networking sites, what they express on the sites, how the sites fit into their lives, what they’re learning from participating on them, and whether or not their activities online are equivalent, different, or supplementary to in-person friendships (119). Boyd’s research mostly focuses mainly on MySpace-using teens, aged 14 to 18.

(Sidebar: Boyd has the most awesome job, ever! I would love to do this research; I wonder if she needs a Research Associate to help her out? I will be available starting in June, but I digress…)

“…Social network sites are a type of networked public with four properties that are not typically present in face-to-face public life: persistence, searchability, replicability, and invisible audiences” (120).

Boyd’s description of “public” in reference to social networking is very interesting: She describes it as not just a collection of people who may or may not know one another, but also something that is “quite similar to audience as both referred to a group founded by a shared text, whether that is a worldview or a performance” (125). Specifically, Boyd refers to two types of networked publics – spaces and audience as connected through technological networks, such as MySpace or, most recently, Instagram. These networks (mediating technologies) mediate communication between members of the public.

Mediated Publics – Inquiring Minds Want To Know

So, what separates unmediated publics from networked publics?

  • Persistence: The Internet never forgets! Code: Your embarrassing moment or terrible public break-up are probably going to be there forever. Future employers can also dig up dirt from your red cup-enhanced party days.
  • Searchability: You can run, but you can never hide. You have a digital footprint, and folks will find you.
  • Replicability: (Wuh-oh!) Rumors spread quickly and indiscriminately. Also, folks can quickly and easily plagiarize (hence: heavy use of turnitin.com amongst teachers).
  • Invisible audiences: Lurkers abound, stalking your page. Or maybe you’re the digital stalker…

Essentially, these mediated publics are very … well … public, and in an especially widespread fashion. And while this can be problematic for most of us older folks, it’s especially challenging for young whippersnappers to navigate. This is especially the case as teenagers tend to have even less of a concept of how magnified their public exposure is, and the potential downfalls of that exposure.

In light of these potential downfalls, why do youth venture into the exciting and potentially dangerous land of social networks? In short, they want to socialize! Instead of hanging out at Valley Fair Mall, like my friends and I did back in the Stone Age 1990s, today’s youth connect via heavy social network use.

clueless

Social networks also “enable youth to connect with peers in new ways…to extend the friendships that they navigate in the familiar contexts of school, religious organizations, words, and other activities” (Ito, et al, 2008, p. 1). Basically, they’re always “around” in digital form, and there’s no parental gatekeeper taking messages via landline or portable phone, 1998-style.

Clair Huxtable

“Hello? I’m sorry, but Monica can’t accept phone calls after 10pm on a school night…”

Furthermore, Amber Buck, in “Examining Digital Literacy Practices on Social Network Sites,” argues that social media platforms allow students to represent and cultivate their identities, not only through intricate pages, but also through the messages they transmit via Tweet, meme, or picture (2012). Social networks give teens the opportunity to practice image management through something other than wardrobe, car selection, or other more “traditional” status markers. And most of all, social networks give teenagers more agency over how and when they will “hang out” with friends and acquaintances. Of course youth ❤ social media sites!

 

Blogging

 

blog pict

In the article “Erasing “Property Lines”: A Collaborative Notion of Authorship and Textual Ownership on a Fan Wiki” Rik Hunter explores the academic value of fan based blogs in regards to the symbiotic, social and technological, relationships. Wow Wiki pages, one of the top websites on the internet, is a participatory blog where fans, players, and observers voluntarily post their writing about the interactive game World of WarCraft. World of WarCraft, a lineage video game, is regarded as highly academic because it demands high level critical and active learning and engagement; for example, the game’s “..manipulation of texts, images, and symbols for making meaning and achieving particular ends” are functions that correlate with academic functioning and thinking. The members and readers of WOWWiki blog collaborate and create a collective knowledge and ownership, where many share a mindset creating hyper-social interactive writing, therefore bridging readers and writers with social interaction.  The postings are then moderated and the moderators give feedback, edit errors, and require bloggers to provide credible sources and factual evidence to their claims. The site also has a guideline of posting and communicating in appropriate ways and how to navigate tension and conflict. The article argues the academic benefits of fan blog sites and how they are used.

 

This is an interesting perspective about the academic elements of blogs and video games. This brings up the idea of how to use academic gaming into the classroom to build on students’ executive functioning. Until this video game/ curriculum is created, this is best approached as an example of a well functioning blog and forum.  I could not help but bring up that a well oiled and functioning blog works because the audience and participants are invested in the topic(s) and in this particular case game. It cannot run as smoothly in the classroom environment because not all the participants are motivated, interested, or enthusiastic about the topic(s).

In the article “Writing and Citizenship: Using Blogs to Teach First-Year Composition” Charles Tryon argues for the use of blogs in classrooms. Tryon’s article partially supports and coincides with the article “Learning to Write Publicly: Promises and Pitfalls of Using Weblogs in the Composition Classroom” where John Benson and Jessica Reyman conducted a study to demonstrate the strengths and weaknesses of blogging. The positives support Tyron’s positives: blog writing allows students to experience writing in a public space in multiple contexts with real communication value. This also involves an awareness of audience; however, Benson and Reyman exposed that sometimes audience is unknown or varied within a classroom blogging context. Students also become aware of genre and genre conventions in blog writing, however, Benson and Reyman state that some web blogs assignments can complicate a students understanding on genre because some genres are not applicable in the blogging format. Both authors state the benefits of blogging, through social engagement and collaboration, that are typically lost in the more traditional essay writing. Blogging also contains purpose and real life meaningful interactions that can supplement both reading, writing, and discussions.  

As a student I have been introduced to the academic blogging sphere while in grad school. I see the benefits of blogging: the immediate interaction, the ability to read, internalize, and then respond thoughtfully and accordingly. I like it because I can proofread and sculpt my opinion as I write, but most importantly the discussion thread is “permanent” and therefore I can see the thread of comments at any time which help as I gain perspective. I do have to say that sometimes I have a hard time with my language; I want to have a more colloquial tone and approach while blogging but then have to remind myself that this is still an academic environment.

Blogging is effective because it requires a whole new literacy. One can have computer literacy in terms of mechanical skills as well as technological literacy, social and cultural environments, but it is necessary to use those two skills and apply them in a cyber literacy.

The questions I have after this article:

  • How will students create their own discussion norms in a classroom?
  • How will a teacher demonstrate appropriate tone and language of blogging?
  • How do all students feel apart of the community and therefore feel motivated to be involved?
  • How are we going to scaffold blogging for those who do not know the blogging structure nor explored this type of communication outside of the classroom?

 

 

New Media: A Bottomless Pit of Procrastination, or a Gateway to Deeper Learning?

Often, when I talk to people about the benefits of using new media in the composition classroom, I receive looks of disbelief, terror, and confusion. One might say to me, “Wait… did you just say ‘benefits’? I thought that new media were a negative force, sucking up all of our time and distracting us from in-person relationships. I mean, come on! Haven’t we all found ourselves being sucked into a bottomless pit of Facebook postings? What about twitter? Ain’t nobody got time for that!”

Kevin Hart Really

This guy thought I was nuts for even uttering “new media” and “classroom” in the same sentence!

However, upon reading “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century,” by Henry Jenkins and “The Digital Imperative: Making the Case for a 21st-Century Pedagogy,” by J. Elizabeth Clark, I found myself smiling with satisfaction – I now have an arsenal of rebuttals against those who argue that new media don’t belong in the classroom! My encounters with skeptical folks highlight a very important point: in the midst of the media hysteria about how harmful new media can be, there is little discussion about the benefits of using new media in the classroom. For one thing, new media promote a culture of participation and collaboration (isn’t every CEO all over these like white on rice?): In fact, through the frequent use of new media, students find themselves immersed in participatory culture: “…a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations with others, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices” (Jenkins, 2006, p. 3). Why does this matter? Given the fact that our society is becoming more and more collaborative (for example, in the workplace), it’s important for students to become comfortable in digital spaces. Students also must learn how to navigate new media safely – learn how to decipher whether or not sources are reliable, how to avoid online predators, how to reflect on their new media use, and how to collaborate effectively with others, for example. Merely turning them loose on new media without such guidance (what Jenkins refers to as a “laissez-faire” approach) can lead to harm. But by ensuring that students are comprehensively educated about new-media, there is much that they can gain from it.

A portion of this text I felt especially interesting was Jenkins’ discussion of the participation gap, which is “the unequal access to the opportunities, experiences, skills, and knowledge that will prepare you will participation in the world of tomorrow” (Jenkins, 2006, p. 3). Although use of new media is widespread – in contrast to the stereotype of the suburban, middle class, white male, using new media and video games in his mama’s basement – Jenkins explains that new media usage is actually higher amongst urban, rural, and female users. However, even though usage is rather widespread, there remains participation gap. For instance, many lower-income families have access to new media, but they are less likely to have access to in-home computers. This hinders their familiarity and comfort with using new media in a variety of ways. Access to technology is insufficient for eliminating the technology divide. Jenkins warns us: “Expanding access to computers will help bridge some of the gaps between digital haves and have-nots, but only in a context in which Wi-Fi is coupled with new educational initiatives to help youth and adults learn how to use those tools effectively” (13). In short, in order for everyone to have equal access to the benefits of new media, they need access not just to the technology itself, but the proper guidance about how to get the most benefits from it.

The transparency problem: “The challenges young people face and learning to see clearly the ways that media shape perceptions of the world” (Jenkins, 2006, p. 3).

I found this discussion particularly interesting. Jenkins warns us that certain forms of new media, such as video games, set up antagonistic relationships between players and games. This seems pretty harmless, right? Or… maybe not? It appears that there needs to be more research to help us draw conclusions. In the meantime, here are some of the concerns: Although video game players are gaining the benefits of strategic thinking through complex situations, they may also be developing a more antagonistic and suspicious attitude than those who do not play such games. Furthermore, students who play video games are not usually taught how do “read games as texts, constructed with their own aesthetic norms, genre conventions, ideological biases, and codes of representation” (Jenkins, 2006, p.15). How transparent can these games be, if we haven’t yet taken the time to analyze and deconstruct them? However, there is no doubt that this can be mitigated through to media literacy education.

The ethics challenge: “The breakdown of traditional forms of professional training and socialization that might prepare young people for their increasingly public roles of media makers and community participant” (Jenkins, 2006, p. 3).

Jenkins is on a roll: Again, he brings up a very important issue – the issue of ethics in the more casual, more public new media writing spaces. After all, there isn’t a long tradition of ethical norms for new media writing (unlike in more traditional media forms, such as newspaper writing). Furthermore, this newer media is often used by younger people and avoided by older adults. The widespread exposure of new media writing also may draw unwanted attention. This is certainly an issue I haven’t yet thought much about, especially in terms of using new media in my composition classroom. While I will definitely take Jenkins’ advice and encourage my students to think carefully about what they post on social media, I can’t help but wonder what else I can do create an ethical framework for my students.

Before I finish this blog without even mentioning Clark, I’d like to share some of what she discusses in her text:

“As integral as digital rhetoric has become to society at large, for the first time, many of the ideas of the academy are far behind social and cultural innovation, not leading them. Academia has been slow to adopt the teaching of these habits of thought to our students…” (Clark, 2010, p. 28).

Clark argues that the future of writing (digital, collaborative, global, and potentially public) requires educators (and the academy) to get with the times, and stop running away from using this new media in our classrooms. This new “Digital imperative” insists that we use digital media with the same enthusiasm as we use old media, such as (expensive and heavy!) books. New media should not be something we use occasionally, just to spice things up in the classroom and keep our students from falling asleep – its use should be expected, and we should accept that it is always in flux.

I can’t help but agree with Clark, and the vignette about her student, Ally, highlights how beneficial new-media is for students. Through use of new media in her composition classroom, Ally transforms from a terrified, five-paragraph-essay writer to a digital activist. And in the process, she comes understand herself better as a writer, and learned how to address a public audience. And, this is exactly what we instructors desire for our students, isn’t it?

 

 

Hot or Not: Invisible Transgressions in Composition(s)

I was absolutely thrilled to be assigned this week’s topic, as I have long been fascinated about form and content, or the idea of form being content (a comment I made that Kory so brilliantly rephrased into a more eloquent form — go figure!), and how might we teach it. After all, integrated reading and writing is nearly everyone’s Kool-Aid and the general attitude (and I say this, very generally) is that we can’t separate reading and writing processes because they are symbiotic; in that manner, form and content are likewise entwined. I’m today’s Jim Jones and I wish to highlight the complex relationships and challenges that instructors of composition must surmount in order to spread the gospel of visual literacy, and situate ourselves as druids/priests/brothers/sisters/moderators in the cult of new media texts.

Wysocki’s article “The Sticky Embrace of Beauty” takes an interdisciplinary approach to the question of visual appeals and how they might present themselves in the various visual compositions with which we are confronted. She examines graphic design texts, art theory, and even our homeboy, Kant (who, I am convinced, along with Nietzsche are indispensable in every humanities-related field), as sources of inspiration and as possible ways to “decode” and inscribe values to the semiotic challenges that visual texts present to us as readers, viewers, and consumers of “texts” — the audience.

burgerking_7inch

^^_____ Take a look at exhibit A. What are your impressions of this image? Which alphabetic words come to mind? What concepts? What sort of feelings does this visual composition evoke?

…..

……..

Now consider the complete advertisement below:

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How does the entire advertisement change our perception of it? To what extent, do you think? As discussed in class and emphasized in the reading (Selfe 70), this is a postmodern culture in which binaries have been disregarded (therefore, we should not pit form against content), and so we can see how alphabetic text/numbers and pictures are manipulated for a specific purpose.

If we were to consider this visual composition as just a “text” isolated and limited to its compositional qualities — its form — how would we be able to evaluate the underlying social, cultural, and historical values of this piece? If we can read traditional, alphabetic texts and cut straight to the content, why are we not affording visual compositions the same consideration of its content, in other words, doesn’t the form itself — the placement, the contrast, the lighting, the angle, even the proportion/ratio of the sandwich vis-à-vis (no pun intended… well, OK, perhaps a little bit) lipsticked, (blow-up) dolled-up model, convey messages and ideas without any alphabetic text. Throw in the alphabetic text, and you have a complete “package” (oh, no, I’m on a pun spree), which brings us back to a tension that Wysocki highlights repeatedly in her article: communication. We are analyzing and composing vials of “communications,” little repositories in which meaning is bottled up and contained, waiting to be uncorked by the audience (OK, OK, no more sexual puns).

However, how do we interrogate this fictionalized “reality” and how do we take this “visual grammar” and go beyond form (or rather, refiguring it) the way many of us have learned how to do with traditional, print-based texts during our educational careers? We know what to do with giant blocks of monolithic texts. And yet we separate form and content in visual “texts,” something that Wysocki regards as a dangerous practice and one that allows us to perceive “content” (in the case of the “Peek” ad, p. 148 as well as the above Burger King ad) in an “unremarkably disembodied” manner, one that in itself encourages the objectification and dehumanizing of said subjects in these Photoshopped, visual compositions, and works “against helping students acquire critical and thoughtful agency with the visual” (149) because a strict emphasis on form cannot account for what Wysocki terms, all the “reciprocal communication” in the work.

Selfe’s article “Toward New Media Texts: Taking Up the Challenges of Visual Literacy,” naturally raises the next question that I am certain many of us have asked ourselves as we plan(ned) our courses and are asking ourselves as we are learning how to teach writing and maintain its relevance an age where just about everything is intertextual, interwoven, and intersectional, including the very nature of composing “texts” themselves or rather, texts as artifacts of constructed meaning. We just don’t know how to approach them. As a field we have focused on alphabetic texts, and as we can see from Wysocki’s article (and the example advertisement I provided) that such adherence is outdated and perhaps even obdurate in the face of practical realities (72). But of course we would do so, as we are just comfortable with alphabetic texts. We feel confident that we can teach it because we ourselves have “developed a comfortable, stable intellectual relationship. We know… how to approach a book or non-fiction essay… we have developed many strategies for reading and understanding such texts, for analyzing and interpreting them, for talking about them” (71).

Many of us, I am certain, are cooking up our technoliteracy narratives this afternoon, evening (and tomorrow morning?). In those very narratives, I would expect some discussion of this topic, if even in an oblique manner. Based on the forum posts I read a couple of weeks ago, it seems many of us feel a need or pressure or expectation to teach visual literacy, yet so few of us feel intellectually and occupationally equipped to do as much,  and in no small part due to the fact that “many of these technologies… are thus unevenly distributed in schools along the axis of material resources” as Selfe claims (71). Both Selfe and Wysocki, echo a post-Saussurean obsession with a transcendent, floating meaning determined by sociocultural contexts. So how should we position all of this? As an interchange of “symbolic instantiations of the human need to communicate” (74).

Yet how does communication occur in a vacuum? It doesn’t. Wysocki writes about graphic design and its ethos: “[graphic design] aligns the values behind many of the formal principles taught in the texts [she has] discussed… with the political and economic structures of industrialization, structures many of us find problematic” (158). Soyoung-man-eating-banana-multi-racial-36025215und familiar? It should, if we read Ohmann’s article. We simply cannot escape the power dynamics and structures that permeate the various compositions to which we expose our students. The “monopoly capital,” in tandem with the postwar intellectual coterie, has continued to work from and support a top-down model in which those who wield power determine how the masses “consume” content. Obviously, we wouldn’t expect the above Burger King ad to depict a man doing the same thing, would we? Although, allow me to remind you, there are many men who would do the very activity the article implies but does not come out and say (all right, last bad pun, I promise). Yet such an ad would be considered controversial, perhaps even transgressive — why?

Expanding our thoughts beyond alphabetic literacy to include new media is perhaps the perfect juncture to overthrow this pyramidal dissemination of knowledge, meaning, and the “old school” compositional skill sets that determine the way (or non-way) we prepare our students for the critical thinking tasks in today’s world.

With our instantaneous, almost ubiquitous access to information and collaboration, and the dialogue that is brewing and of which we are a part by virtue of reading and discussing such concepts in class and on this blog, we owe it to ourselves and our students to find some way to sharpen our own multimodal literacies and to gain the confidence and comfort needed with these forms (and the way they deliver content) in order to successfully integrate them in our classrooms and teach the habits of mind that are relevant not only under the auspices of the institution, but in the present. So to that top-down crap, I say bottoms up (cue tasteless “Peek” ad)!

And with that, it’s time for my Kool-Aid: a bottle of Anchor Steam and a tablespoon of DayQuil.

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“Towards New Media Texts” but in old ways?

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? 

A Liberatory Literacy

While Ohman’s article Literacy, Technology, and Monopoly Capital argues that technological literacy, or new media literacy, will simply promote the idea of “monopoly capitalism,” Yancey’s work Made Not Only in Words, Composition in a New Key, contends that this new literacy will help negotiate a more positive type of economy that is “driven by use value” (Yancey 301). Although Ohman and Yancey are writing in different eras which naturally is illustrated from rather disconnected economic contexts, they both categorize new media literacy in social terms from an economic perspective.

 

By utilizing Ohman’s article as a precedence that Yancey responds to through her discussion of literacy and the economy, we can see the development of new media literacy from a social and historical perspective. Because Ohman is writing near the advent of the personal computer, he is rather skeptical and believes that “the computer and its software are an intended and developing technology, carrying forward the deskilling and control of labor,” and draws parallels to F.W. Taylor’s work on assembly lines, which all contribute to Ohman’s idea of monopoly capitalism (Ohman 708).  Ohman extends this idea to the classroom, claiming that the attempt to utilize technology in school settings will not transform education, but will simply contribute to the increasing politicization of the educational system. New media and technology are a way for businesses to stimulate and direct educational processes, so do not have “liberatory potential” (710). Yancey is similarly concerned with the economy’s role in evolving literacies by claiming that the expanding writing public has contributed to globalization, which has led to a loss of jobs. This speaks to Ohman’s references to Taylor and the dehumanization of the creation process, but Yancey further explores this type of labor development in more positive terms of globalization leading to new forms of cooperation and communication among previously disparate social realms. While Ohman does not address these more positive societal developments, his definition of literacy is inseparable from social constructs so does support Yancey’s socially-charged claims.

 

Ohman argues that literacy is a social exchange that will always contain unresolvable political conflict. Although he claims that new media and technology cannot advance the educational system, he also demonstrates that this technology can’t be separated from his socially affected and continually developing definition of literacy. His resistance to new media’s place in the classroom is very clearly delineated, but he is unable to argue against its place in the evolution of literacy. He concludes with the statement, “It’s worth trying to reconstitute literacy as a process of liberation– but also to remember that work for literacy is not in itself intrinsically liberating” (Ohman 713). This remark illustrates that although Ohman claims to not believe that technology can radically change writing, he has incredible foresight which allows his argument to carry validity in the current debates about how to utilize technology in the classroom.

Yancey then expands on and complicates this idea of “literacy as a process of liberation” by demonstrating that screen literacy, or new media literacy, will not only aid students in their education but will also prepare them for our economy’s increasing globalization by providing them with competitive skills. Where Ohman believes that computer literacy is not applicable to or diminishes the skills necessary to succeed beyond education, Yancey argues that the educational system, particularly composition, can help students engage with new media and then act as a gateway to the real world where they will be able to effectively “become members of the writing public” (Yancey 306). Yancey also agrees with Ohman’s assessment that literacy is not inherently liberatory, but situates her view of this in terms of the student/professor relationship. She contends that if literacy is a social process, “Shouldn’t the system of circulation– the paths that the writing takes– extend beyond and around the single path from student to teacher?” (Yancey 311). This argument can stem from the ongoing debate of how to utilize technology in the classroom in a way that expands and, as Ohman would term it, liberates students from the traditional and more restrictive model of students writing only for their professor. So how can schools and universities utilize new media in a liberatory way that allows students to participate in the increasing globalization of society? Neither Yancey nor Ohman provide a concrete solution to the issue of new literacies that attempt to engage with more global views, but they both establish that these concerns are worth addressing and have no ready solutions.

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?