Some Notes (and Questions) about New Media Activites

In my class (first-year composition) next week, I’m dedicating all three days to visual rhetoric to try out some of the things I have gathered from various readings and discussions with people. My class is between formal assignments and I want to take a break from all the essay writing they have been doing. Plus they are going to need this visual rhetoric background later on in the course for something else. While trying to create a lesson plan, I searched through the activities included at the end of Wysocki’s “The Sticky Embrace of Beauty” (Writing New Media) since I was reading it anyway, but I felt resistant and came up empty. I think that many of these activities are not accessible because they require a lot of planning and scaffolding. Sometimes they include multiple components that are completed over a larger series of classes or they require a certain skill set from my students that I can’t help them with. Some of them also seem to require a certain class “theme” or at least more attention to a certain “theme” or subject.

I know the author’s state that the activities can be adapted, but I’m having trouble with that. So of course after I had this reaction, I had to kickstart my reflection process, as I’ve been trained to do, and think about why I feel this way when I (think) I am eager and willing to include visual rhetoric and new media in my classroom. Am I too lazy, or intimidated, or scared to put in the effort? Did I not give myself enough time to think about what I want to do? Am I not creative enough? Do I feel unqualified? Do I think my students can’t handle it? I find myself falling back on viewpoints and excuses that the authors in this book tell us (teachers) not to have, and then I feel guilty and frustrated.

Since I feel this way, Cynthia L. Selfe in “Toward New Media Texts,” tells me that I should start with visual literacy, so I think great…problem solved! Then I flip the page and look at her activities, and again I feel kind of defeated because they involve some larger lessons, a lot of  planning, and a good chunk of class time, which starts a whole new round of self-reflection. So what is the problem? Right now, I think it might be that I didn’t leave enough time to plan. I can’t just haphazardly throw together a visual rhetoric lesson at the last minute, or if I do I’m just going to have to accept that the lesson won’t be as productive as it can be. I’m starting to think that visual rhetoric is not something you can just include one day out of fifteen weeks, and claim you are pro-visual rhetoric. Of course it’s a start, but I think it needs to be more deeply embedded in a curriculum to  allow  for a series of  effective class discussions and homework assignments. Maybe this whole thought process is what Wysocki and Selfe’s are arguing in the first place.

I’m still going to go through with my “visual rhetoric week,” but when I design my next class I need a better approach then dedicating a week to visual rhetoric with the idea that I can just pull something together the minute before. Probably not the best method for me or my students.


15 Megabytes of Fame

Michael Wesch’s compelling video An anthropological introduction to YouTube is a Rosetta Stone for the current state (give or take a few years) of the video blog or vlog.


He highlights and translates a possible meaning for the shared experiences of Gary Brolsma’s Numa Numa, Juan Mann’s Free Hugs, and Lonely Girl 15, while thankfully leaving Brittany alone.

What is intriguing yet utterly confusing to me is the need to share one’s innermost thoughts or outright silliness with this cold and cynical world. Where would Numa Numa Gary have lipsinked before YouTube? Would Free Hugs Juan still be seeking a little warmth in a pre-internet life? How would he have been received by passers by? And what about Lonely Girl 15? Would she still be a soap opera queen in training, but in a different venue?

And what about all the copycats?


Is this any different than me and my friends pretending to be The Supremes when we were kids? We were just having fun, sharing the experience of a song we loved and at the tender age of 8, a group we emulated. When the eccentric Charles Caleb Colton wrote “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” I doubt he had his kid brother in mind. Yet hundreds of emulators and autotuners are only sharing the love, right? What makes us want to imitate and remix and mashup? Is this the only way we can acquire our god given 15 megabytes of fame?

When I invite my students into the visual rhetoric conversation, where will I draw the line? How do I grade a re-envisioning of mashup of a repost?


While I love the absolute joy and liberation from the drudgery of grad school that free-form video allows, I am ever practical and looking for a way to teach this genre of visual rhetoric without losing site of critical thinking. Your thoughts and ideas are most welcome below.

Addendum and Reflection

I went to a Community of Practice workshop yesterday sponsored by Berkeley City College and The Academy for College Excellence. My takeaway is that there are definitely more inspiring uses of online video and social networking that I can share and discuss with students. I do not look down on the imitators, autotuners and mashup artistes of the world. Collective entertainment and shared experience has its place and makes me laugh. However, at the end of the day, I want a bit more substance. For example, look at the work of Oluwaseun Odewale, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard. He writes about elections in his home country, Nigeria:

Of the 87 million mobile phone users in Nigeria (44 million of which have access to the Internet), it was an interesting trend to see how social media, for the first time, was adopted and, quite interestingly, adapted, to ensure credibility of the electoral process in Nigeria.

And then there is the social justice work we are doing with ACE, to promote success for basic skills students.

Whoever controls the images…controls the culture

There are problems for assessing new media literacies. We do not know how to evaluate new media literacy. There is so much more involved than print text—such as visuals and logic behind words. Should we just get rid of assessment together?

Madeleine Sorapure in “Between Modes: Assessing Student New Media Composition” suggests using a mix of criteria that applies to both new media and print text.

Eportfolios are one suggested method of assessment.

Sorapure points out that we make the common mistake of assessing the print portion of a new media assignment.  She suggests a “broadly rhetorical approach” where assessment is based on whether you reached a specific audience with a specific approach.

New media is putting together threads of ordered complexity (e.g, a graph is easier to understand than a chunk of text. In this case the writing is of higher complexity than the image)

An interesting point to note is that we are not qualified to assess the effectiveness of how well different mediums are put together but rather on the effectiveness of different resources combined.

Relations between modes in new media need to be explored. Metaphor and metonymy can be used to describe relations between modes.

An image such where modes are too closely matched are not as effective as when an image is a metaphor for something else.

Anne Frances Wysocki in her article “The Sticky Embrace of Beauty” wrote a fascinating bit on why we are attracted to looking at a woman’s picture. She gave us criteria for creating such a visually stimulating picture: the only reason we see it is because of the contrast of light and dark and the way the words are shaped around the silhouette of the female body.

Wysocki mentions that we should not create new media images that are simply designed to catch our attention in this way, but to see new media as a series of choices where we can continually revise images to create more thoughtful relations between each other.

Wysocki also sprinkles images and different fonts throughout her article which at some points seemed random but they definitely brought a meaning to the text. I particularly enjoyed the right curly brace on page 172. 

We should be careful not to simplify the deep and complex ideas of new media.

Say a 1000 Words About a Picture…What Will Your Words Say About You?

Anne Frances Wysocki’s, “The Sticky Embrace of Beauty” was a difficult read for me. Wysocki argues that the contemporary approach to helping students critique visual texts is incomplete and may prevent students from being able to thoroughly critique those visual texts. What is missing from our approach is the realization that we, us, as viewers are culturally accustomed to seeing form in particular ways, ways informed by Western conceptions of universal beauty, and because we don’t realize how our judgments are culturally informed, we divorce form from content. In divorcing form from content, we objectify whatever material/media makes up that content. In Wysocki’s argument, her example is the body of a women used in an advertisement. The woman’s body has been divorced from the content, and is used to enhance the form of the visual ad. The objectification of the woman’s body goes unnoticed because her body is presented in a visual form that is pleasing and in line with our cultural ideals of “universal beauty.”

Wysocki borrows this term of “universal beauty” from Kant’s Critiques. I admit I was lost in much of her explanation of Kant’s theories, especially when she notes that Kant states that our judgments of beauty “should be disinterested” and that Kant himself is always gendered. I thought maybe what she meant was that since we all partake in the judging of “universal beauty,” we are all like Kant and are all gendered in our judgments of beauty (and beauty could easily be replaced with the words “truth” or “goodness” here).

Wysocki proposes that we strive to present visions of beauty that highlight how parts of the everyday fit into a larger and more communal ideas and activities. She posits, “How then, might we learn to appreciate—see the beauty of, take rich pleasure in—the particularities of our experiences and those of others within this shared day-to-day?” (171) (My immediate response to this was, “Wow, that is a very intellectual form of beauty. Will the whole country get on board with that?” Images of Susan Boyle come to mind. People were so shocked that a woman who didn’t fit a visual ideal of “universal beauty” could produce something so “universally beautiful” She disrupted the whole process of objectification and people were shocked.)  ImageI think that Wysocki’s goals are ambitious, and I find myself a skeptic because of the sheer scope of the problem she presents. I want violence against women to be less reified by society, but I don’t see the presence of sex leaving advertising anytime soon. I was troubled by how hard it was for me to envision what she is talking about. What Wysocki proposes definitely falls into critical pedagogy (pedagogy that has an aim of social justice), and I have to remind myself that in discussing what art should do she is not expecting that a composition student would perform a visual rhetorical analysis and immediately be cured of biases, but its easy to get overwhelmed when reading this kind of scholarship.

The other reading this week, “Between Modes,” by Madeleine Sorapure, answers a very straightforward and prescient questions in the context of new media assignments like the ones that Wysocki would have her students participate in, and that question is how do we assess works in the composition classroom that contain visual imagery? What is a success and what is less effective? Sorapure presents the notions of the metaphor and the metonym, a metaphor being a substitution for an idea, and a metonym being a trope that evokes ideas that are in proximity to the image being used. I really appreciated the simplicity, and the practicality of her method of assessment. It’s not foolproof–teacher assessment can still be subjective when a student is assessed on their use of these tropes—for example, I didn’t think that world on a hook was so bad.

The Wysocki reading was REALLY difficult to read at times, but it did get me thinking about how I could perform similar analyses with students. I nominate this picture of Nancy Reagan sitting on Mr. T’s lap as a possible photo to analyze, but it might be too dated for my students.

This is a good example to me of a photo that has a lot going on in it, and the metonyms and the metaphors you could draw from it would be evocative even though they may not be intentional due to the context of this photo.

Photo Credits:

Susan Boyle:

Mr T and Nancy Reagan:

Graphic Novels and Visual Rhetoric

Here’s an article from Scott Eric Kaufman’s website (he’s a Professor of English) on the use of panel transitions in The Walking Dead. I first started reading him on the Lawyers, Guns, and Money blog which covers politics. He’s quite funny there, but his work on visual rhetoric is particularly interesting. At some point this year, he’s supposed to be putting out a book on visual rhetoric, so you may want to watch for that.

Take a look at what he’s doing in the article, but follow the link for more good stuff:

Continue reading

IPhone post: producing critical readers

I’m having some serious technical issues today, which is why I’m writing and posting my blog post via my iPhone. Hopefully, Internet in my apartment will be resolved tomorrow at noon, but until then, I have my trusty smart phone to lead me through the darkness. On a side note, I have never had a problem with my Internet in the whole year and a half I’ve had AT&T. I feel like I’m living one of the major concerns of using new media in a classroom; what happens when it fails and the coffeeshop on the block with wifi is closed?!

This week focused on visual rhetoric, and specific activities to do in the classroom. While selfe discussed the composing of visual rhetoric, I was refreshed to read Anne Frances wysocki advocate for teaching critical reading of visual texts. For my thesis, I’m looking at Guy Debord’s Society of the spectacle, and how the ideology transformed into visual masks the complexities of real life. A great debate in the world of cultural criticism and Marxism is whether society has the tools or the will to debunk the spectacle. All of this praise of visual rhetoric has left out any skepticism about the nature and power of the visual. More than just teaching students how to compose, we must teach how to read critically.

This provides a great opportunity for students to think about visual representations of the body, gender, race, developing countries, and other categories in a deep, nuanced manner. Yes, students are mostly reading/viewing visual rhetoric at home, but who is producing the new media they are consuming? What underlying messages and ideals are embodied by the visual/ the culture of illusion/ the spectacle?

Debord asserts that to undo the power of the spectacle, society must engage dialectally; that is the recipe for liberation. The classroom provides this foundation, and like Wysocki, I believe it is our responsibility as teachers to provide that space.

I’m curious to see how and when cultural criticism about the spectacle and the culture of illusion merge with new media studies. Both are concerned with the visual, how it manifests and how it is consumed, but they have a slightly different agenda. Thankfully, compositionists, like Wysocki, are bringing these issues to the forefront.

I apologize for the shortness and the formatting of this post. My thumbs are tired, and I hope the words speak for themselves!

Visual Rhetoric: Whose Bailiwick?

In The Low Bridge to High Benefits by Anderson and The Sticky Embrace of Beauty by Wysocki, the authors call for composition education to include visual rhetoric. While I agree that form carries function and that learning to analyze these forms makes us better readers (and publishers), isn’t visual rhetoric the bailiwick of art class? One takeaway from these articles could be that we desperately need to restore funding for art education at all levels of education, and that perhaps art & visual rhetoric should be a required class at the college level.

Q: To what extent is visual rhetoric the domain of the comp class?