Everything Rhetorical and the Rhetoric of Everything

Rhetoric, Composition, Politics, Society, Culture, Etc.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Context for Final Project

In 1986, Stephen A. Bernhardt published an article in College Composition and Communication titled “Seeing the Text” calling for composition teachers to recognize the visual nature of texts and to begin to teach students to consider the rhetoric of visual design in the texts they produce. Since then, an ever growing number of researchers have urged the incorporation of visual rhetoric and multimodal composition into classrooms (Clark, Hill, Lanham, Selfe). Ignoring for the moment arguments over the need to teach students to create and edit video or audio texts, or web-sites, wikis, and blogs, it is becoming increasingly clear that Bernhardt’s vision of a future “[i]nfluenced especially by the growth of electronic media, strategies of rhetorical organization will move increasingly toward visual patterns presented on screens and interpreted through visual as well as verbal syntax,” has been realized(103–5). Indeed, it is hard to argue with Charles A. Hill when he notes that “it would be difficult to deny the importance of electronic and other visual media in today’s society” (107). Today a large percentage, if not most, texts produced outside of our classrooms require the use of at least some visual rhetoric, and, in fact, texts have always been visual (Elkins 91, Mitchell 5–6).
Bernhardt and others (Trimbur, Wysocki “Opening New Media,” “What Should Be” ) have long urged us to recognize the materiality of texts. Hill asserts that it is “missguided” to think “that we could ever draw a distinct line between the visual and the verbal, or that concentrating on one can or should require ignoring the other” (109). Despite that all texts communicate visually as well as symbolically through language, many composition classrooms still require students to produce texts that ignore visual design. Bernhardt’s 1986 criticism that “[i]nstead of helping students learn to analyze a situation and determine an appropriate form, given a certain audience and purpose, many writing assignments merely exercise the same sort of writing week after week, introducing only topical variation” is as true now as it was 25 years ago. Students need to be able to think rhetorically about design, but the texts they are asked to write in composition course which, as Hill notes, may be “the only real exposure to rhetorical theory and principles that [students] will have” mostly ignore visual rhetoric. Some composition textbooks still, if they include visual rhetoric at all, only treat the visual as something to be analyzed and then written about in purely alphabetic texts (Ramage, Bean, & Johnson; Kennedy, Kennedy, & Muth).
This is a case where our pedagogy may be completely and unnecessarily out of synch with the needs of our students. Perhaps Hill says it best when he argues:
What many people fail to understand is that visual elements are powerful and essential features of almost any writtin text. Even when all of the propositional content is expressed in verbal form, the design of the page or the screen on which the text resides, the relative location and proximity of textual elements, and even the font used can not only enhance readability, but be part of the message that is conveyed. Overall, the visual aspects of writing can have as much to do with the effectiveness of one’s message as choosing an appropriate tone or sentence structure. (122)
The material nature of all texts and the effects of visual elements on rhetoric are an important part of composition. While much work in new media has focused on digital texts, video, and audio (see Selfe), the need to include visual rhetoric in our classes goes beyond arguments over the nead to incorporate new assignments that ask students to compose videos, webpages, audio texts, etc. Scholars like Bernhardt, Hill, and Wysocki have demonstrated the need to pay attention to the visual rhetoric and material nature of the texts our students already produce.
As Wysocki argues, the “results of digitality ought to encourage us to consider not only the potentialities of material choices for digital texts but for any text we make, and that we ought to use the range of choices digital technologies seem to give us” (“Opening New Media” 10). Some of those digital technologies are the ones students now use to compose nearly every text they produce. Our students are using computers to write, so why are they limited to creating texts that might as well have been written on a typewriter? Hill notes that “general-education writing courses pay almost no attention to issue of page design. By specifying a particular format and font…in their assignments, instructors control issues of design, and therefore prentend that these issues don’t matter” (122). Rather than ignoring design and the visual, material reality of texts, our students need us to help them learn to make effective design choices when composing includig the incorporation of visual elements.
Hill correctly notes that “by leaving design elements a nonissue in our courses, we leave students unprepared to analyze visual elements as readers and to use them effectively as writers” (122). He goes on to note that this situation is not only unacceptable but also unnecessary, noting “[n]ow that digital technologies have given all writers the ability to easily manipulate design elements in their tets, it is past time for teachers of writing to begin to pay serious attention to the communicative and rhetorical aspects of page and screen design” (122–3). It is with the intent of helping us and our students begin to give this “serious attention” to visual rhetoric that I prepared the following video tutorial. While many attemtps to include new media in the classroom are met with constaints on access to technology and ignorance regarding software, incorporating visual rhetoric into the classroom can be done with only some instruction in visual rhetoric and design, the assignments students already complete, and a little training with the software most of us already use to create our texts. The following tutorial demonstrates how to turn the wordprocessing software Microsoft Word, available on nearly every computer in every computer lab on every campus and most home computers, into a powerful design tool. This should provide a helpful tool for both teachers and students as we begin to pay more attention to the visual rhetoric of design and the interfaces (Wysocki “What should be”) of the texts students already produce.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Story Board

Set up a wiki page with scholarly conversation about integrating new media instruction into composition classrooms:

·      access
·      technology
·      software
·      teacher resistance
·      using visual design capabilities to teach students to start seeing texts (Bernhardt, Wysocki) and designing the assignments they are already producing instead of just writing them
·      How this small shift toward document design represents an available step towards teaching new media because many of the same principles students learn by designing for print apply to designing in other modes and for digital media

Create the video:

Teaching new media with old texts: enabling student designers

Establishing Shot: Me working at my IMac

Turn to camera, Open with greeting and reference to the need for simple and accessible ways to make the assignments teachers already use sync with principles of new media and our digital environment. Discuss how nearly all texts are composed digitally, but teachers and students still treat computers like type-writers when computers allow for texts to be designed rather than simply typed.

With minimal effort, we can help students learn to think rhetorically about the materiality of their texts.

What a text looks like affects its rhetoric just as much as what it says, and the standard school paper doesn’t say good things. (Discuss interfaces-Wysocki) Interfaces like genres, or like texts themselves establish relationships and subjectivities, the school paper interface establishes students as perpetually erring trainees whose work is prepared for correction, and teachers as correctors and evaluators. How can we begin to change that?

Discuss: most designing done through high-powered desktop publishing programs like Adobe InDesign or Quark, but few students have access to these expensive large programs. Wordprocessing programs like Microsoft Word, however, have come a long way since the days when they were essentially digital typewriters. I’m going to show how Word’s publishing view feature can be used to design any standard assignment.

Video adjustments to MLA formatted school paper, going through the following subjects:

Typography—type as image, rhetoric of type, principles of choosing typefaces
Layout—Focal point, hierarchy, emphasis (size, weight, style, color, indent, outdent), whitespace, grids, margins, chunking, line-length, etc.
Adding Visuals
Visuals that explain type, 
Visuals explained by type,
Visuals that work with type to create something more than the sum of their parts.
Does size matter?
Thinking in Spreads/Making a magazine.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Conference proposal revision (same title)

For fifteen years many scholars (see Lanham, Selfe, Sirc) have advocated incorporating new media literacies into composition. But, alphabetic literacy still hasn’t gone the way of the the floppy disk, nor is there yet indication that students’ ability to succeed in life might depend on their video editing skills. However, even the most stalwart defender of the alphabetic tradition has begun to feel pressure to address new media literacies. New media literacy has come to mean any number of things from the use of technologies like blogs and wikis as to the ability to produce and edit digital videos. While it is becoming clearer that composition will need to address digital literacy, it is far from clear which literacies are becoming truly vital for composition and which remain the domains of specialists. Technology changes at a rapid pace; the emergence of vital literacies moves much more slowly. Rather than devote limited and valuable time with students teaching them the next new technology for producing a video, perhaps we should start by acknowledging how principles of new media and digital literacy are already part of any composition (See Wysocki). Nearly all texts are produced as digital texts so all texts can be tools for demonstrating properties of digital literacies and new media. This presentation will discuss how instructors can begin to teach visual design and rhetoric, Lev Monovich’s concepts of modularity and variability (30–45), and other principles or affordances of new media using the assignments they already teach and minimal instruction about ubiquitous software programs like Microsoft Office. By teaching students to design texts rather than just write them, instructors can teach important principles relevant to whatever digital literacies students may have to develop without having to devote the majority of a semester or quarter to teaching software and technology.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Teach New Media with Old Texts: Introducing New Media Principles Through Current Assignments

For more than fifteen years now many scholars have been advocating the incorporation of new media literacies into composition classrooms—if not going so far as to prognosticate the disciplines destruction should we fail to do so. At this point alphabetic literacy hasn’t yet gone the way of the eight-track tape or the floppy disk, nor is there yet indication that our students’ ability to succeed in life might depend on their video editing skills. However, even the most stalwart defender of the alphabetic tradition has begun to feel pressure to address digital literacy. Digital literacy has come to mean any number of things, as have other terms like new media, including anything from the use of technologies like blogs and wikis as pedagogical tools to the ability to produce and edit digital videos. While it is becoming clearer that composition will need to address digital literacy, it is far from clear which literacies are becoming truly vital for composition and which remain the domains of specialists and hobbyists. Technology changes at a rapid pace; the emergence of vital literacies moves much more slowly (Who still uses DOS commands?). Rather than devote limited and valuable time with students teaching them the next new technology for producing a viral video, perhaps we should start by acknowledging how principles of new media and digital literacy are already part of any composition. Nearly all texts are produced as digital texts so all texts can be tools for demonstrating properties of digital literacies and new media. This presentation will discuss how instructors can begin to teach visual design and rhetoric, modularity, variability, and other principles or affordances of new media with the texts they already assign through minimal instruction in the desktop design capabilities of the ubiquitous Microsoft Office. By teaching students to design texts rather than just write them, instructors can teach important principles relevant to whatever digital literacies students may have to develop without having to devote the majority of a semester or quarter to teaching or providing access to software and technology, some of which may become obsolete before the end of the decade.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Blogging: A Change Of Mind

Ok, so I have, in the past, expressed a fairly dim view of forced blogging as a pedagogical tool. Admittedly, however, a lot of that came as hold-over from miserable experiences being forced to participate in online discussion board threads, which are a different animal entirely. Blogging, somewhat similarly to discussion boards, do not necessarily lead to productive interpersonal conversation. It is really easy for students, including me, to see blogs as busywork or annoying inconveniences to be gotten out of the way as quickly and efficiently as possible, which only requires meeting the minimum requirements for posting and commenting. This view is unlikely to lead to productive conversations about classroom topics. I still feel this is the case, but I have begun to see that a few strategies can help mitigate this tendency.

As opposed to previous experiences with blogging as a student, for Computers and Composition, I tried to finish the readings with enough time not only to write up my own response, but to then read the blogs of the rest of the class and comment while the readings were fresh in my mind. Having done this right before class, not only were my own thoughts on the readings fairly fresh in my mind but some of the ideas raised by others in the class. This often helped me notice when many of us were thinking along the same lines, which, I feel, influenced class discussion. In the last few weeks, I was also able to participate in some on-going conversations in comments because I could respond to others comments on Thursday, having responded to blog posts already.

Now, my positive outlook about blogging for this course might be influenced by the fact that my schedule gives me a large span of time to blog and comment before class, but I think that it is always within my power to get the reading and blogging done early enough to read others' blogs and comment on them before class.

In the past, I did not find commenting very useful. I do think that part of that was because I would comment a day or so after we had blogged on and discussed in class the readings and commenting on blogs seemed superfluous to class discussion. I did make an effort this time to comment before class while the readings were fresh partly because I had had some success having my students read and comment on each others' blogs at the beginning of class last quarter when I was teaching in a computer lab. This quarter, my students' commenting isn't as productive because we can't spend that time reading and commenting.

As a means of ensuring that students do readings and attempt to think critically and reflectively about them, blogs are a great eco-friendly alternatives to response papers, but the potential is for them to be more than that. Pedagogically, the benefits of getting students not only to post their response to the readings but also to comment thoughtfully on their peers responses are pretty huge. Students can help each other understand difficult readings by essentially collaborating on interpretation. The difficulty, however, is to get them to do that, and I've found using the first ten to twenty minutes of class to help further conversation is one helpful way, though it would be better if students would engage actively in reading and commenting as soon as they finish their own posts.

I found the posts of my peers thoughtful and interesting, often focusing on aspects of the readings that I did not. It was nice to see the directions others are taking in their learning and research and to have the opportunity to participate through comments. I think that the blogging aspect of the class worked well for me this quarter.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Making my case, and asking hard questions.

I’m going to do my blog-post early, and probably slightly off-topic this week. Our somewhat contentious end of discussion Thursday left me thinking about what I want to get done in a writing class (focusing for the sake of argument not on FYC but on say a 308J class that I want to address what I see as essential parts of alphabetic literacy that students need but have likely not mastered in or since their 151 course). That is fairly easy for me to imagine since I taught a 308J course last year and found that my students still had a great deal of stuff to learn about reading and writing. I had a fairly successful course that focused on having the students do ethnographic research on the places, genres, scholars, and discourse ecologies of their majors or expected professions. Since then, however, I’ve decided that the approach I took was probably a little to advanced for what is for many students only the second college course they’ve taken that has asked them to write extensively let alone tried to teach them anything about writing. My intention, should I teach a 308J next quarter is to take a Writing about Writing approach using Elizabeth Wardle and Doug Down’s (whom I had the pleasure of working with for a couple of years) new reader Writing About Writing along with some additional Rhet/Comp articles not included in that text, Graff and Birkenstein’s They Say/ I Say, and Norton’s Little Seagull Hanbook . The proposed ten weeks would work as follows:

Week 1: Intro, syllabus, conversation about what makes writing “good”/successful, introduce the concept of writing as an emergent phenomena within complex ecological systems using articles by Porter and Cooper.
Week 2: Genre using articles by Bawarshi and Mauk and exercises in Genre analysis,
Week 3: Rhetorical Reading using articles by Haas and Flower, Kantz, Tierney and Pearson, and Penrose & Geisler
Week 4: Class workshop, small group and/or individual peer reviews of Paper 1
Week 5: From reading to writing articles by Swales, Greene, Kleine, and Casanave, They Say/I Say chapters.
Week 6: Workshop/peer review activities paper 2
Week 7: Students in the conversation/ rhetoric: Articles by Wardle, McCarthy, Harris, and Grant-Davie, They Say/I Say Chapters
Week 8: The rest of the process, articles by Nelson, Perl, Tomlinson, Lamott
Week 9: Individual Consultations with students
Week 10: Workshop etc. Paper 4, conclusions and reflections.

Final Portfolios due by scheduled final.

This is, of course, very rough and lists more, really, than I’ll actually be able to do. I will have to make choices about what articles will be most beneficial and which I can do without. I’ll have to balance discussion of articles with exercises and activities that help students practice skills related to the knowledge about writing we’re discussing. So reality will not be this optimistic. However, this isn’t as optimistic as I could be. I’d really like to take some time to discuss Grammar, style, proofreading, and editing. I’d like to take a day to go over print design (ha, there’s some multimodal stuff I’ve taught before but ended up cutting because other things seem more important), I’d like to meet individually with students more often ( I probably will force them to come in after the second paper, but I’ll have to do that outside of class time). I’ll also require responses to readings that students will post to the course blog to which I’ll require them to respond in comments. Paper 3 will be an annotated bibliography of their research for paper 4, which I want to try building via wiki with separate pages for the various aspects of writing the students choose to write on. The final paper will be a researched academic argument. The first two papers will be selected from a list of genres I find useful:

Rhetorical Analysis
Critical Analysis
Genre Analysis
Literacy Narrative
Discourse Ecology Ethnography
Autoethnography of their writing process

So, where in this schedule is there room to teach students the affordances of other modes, the knowledge needed to make effective rhetorical choices using them, and the skills (especially technologis/software) to make one of these assignments a required multimodal project? I have in the past allowed students to make certain projects multimodal if they wanted and could. I always encourage students to make their papers look good as best they can to encourage thinking about design, but I don’t have room to teach principles of design, or software programs, or the terminology and affordances of video, audio, etc.

Except for workshop, peer review, peer response, and individual consultations, most of my students’ work on projects happens outside of class. With alphabetic genres, I don’t worry about students knowing how to type or use the basic functions of word processing software.

I do use technologies in my class (blogs, wikis, blackboard). I don’t have students turn in hard copies anymore. I comment on papers using track-changes/mark-up, but these technologies are so simple and ubiquitous that it doesn’t take much if anything to get students to where they can use these technologies. I don’t require them to put visuals in their blogs, and I wouldn’t require visuals on wikis just like I don’t require visual design of type or visual images in their research projects. I encourage all these things, but I leave it up to students to decide if that is something they are comfortable doing since they are on their own to figure out how if they don’t already know.

Now, I view 308J as a writing class not a writing intensive course. I know that others teach it as a writing intensive course where writing is secondary to other knowledge. I’m not comfortable with that since the 308J is listed as “Writing and Rhetoric II” and because it is only the second writing course students here take unless they are in a writing related program. If I were teaching a writing intensive course where I felt like learning writing itself was a secondary rather than a primary goal for the course I might feel comfortable including a multimodal project and taking a class or two to instruct students in the affordances of video/audio as well as some principles of design. I would be most comfortable doing that if it was part of the content of the course, but I could see doing it even when it wasn’t. In fact, as I’ve mentioned, my 284 students this quarter will be doing a collaborative multimodal composition as their third short project. The way I conceived it probably isn’t as rigorous as the authors of Multimodal Composition would like. I originally planned to give students the option of what multimodal technology they want to use (to allow for the fact that some students may not be comfortable designing a web-site, video, etc.), and I conceived collaboration as a way of pairing up those who are already comfortable composing in other modes with those who aren’t. I wasn’t planning on teaching much about technologies because that isn’t really one of my purposes. I wanted to do a multimodal project in order to let students experiment with multimodal composition within their comfort zones not to push them out of their comfort zones and teach them how to compose in multiple modes. Pardon my ignorance. If I do it again, I will probably plan a day to teach some basic competency with wikis and require the students to construct multimodal wiki sites for their projects. I still, however, don’t know how much time I would spend teaching visual rhetoric etc. when the course content is writing about culture, which I view as a course meant to focus less on the general affordances of writing and more on the discourse features specific to the ecology of cultural studies.

All this is why I feel that the only proper place to teach all the things Multimodal Composition is telling us we need to teach is in the context of a class specifically on multimodal composing, which I would be very interested in teaching. I just don’t think it is realistically feasible to teach these things to an extent that makes the effort worthwhile within the context of a writing course especially, but even in a writing intensive course. Yes I can see giving multimodal assignments that require only some basic instruction in certain applications, but that is not the same as taking the time to teach the affordances of video, still image, audio, how image and text interact, etc., etc. There is quite a difference between teaching students how to put together a video and teaching them all about how video communicates, its affordances, and the rhetorical choices involved. We can always remind them to think about audience purpose and genre, but that isn’t the same as teaching them how those rhetorical principles function differently in different modes.

So, do I think I can or should incorporate multimodal composition into my planned 308J course? No. Do I think I can design pedagogically better multimodal assignments for courses like 284? Sure, but I don’t think I can take enough time to teach multimodal composing itself beyond what the experience of doing the project will teach. If multimodal composing is or ever will be an urgently needed essential skill for students to have as so many texts have argued, I think the only way to teach it is to teach it in a class designed for that purpose.

On the other hand, I think that everything I teach in my planned 308J will help students compose better multimodal texts. Everything I teach about discourse ecologies, writing in conversation, using sources, rhetoric, and process applies to multimodal composition just as much as it does to alphabetic composition. Is the reverse true? Can everything we would take the time and effort to teach in a class on multimodal composition be equally applicable to alphabetic composition? I don’t think so. I could be wrong?

Is it okay to assign multimodal assignments without taking the time to teach the affordances of video etc.?
Is Multimodal Composition making the inclusion of other modes out to be more of a thorough time-consuming effort than it needs to be?
Are we incorporating other modes into our work or taking on the responsibility to make students literate in those modes? What is the difference?
Is it enough to include discussion on reading other modes when we teach reading rhetorically/critically?
In Chapter 9 of Multimodal Composition Alexander repeats previously stated ideas about multimodal not necessarily involving digital texts with video/audio, but would those urging us to teach new media literacy really think asking students to drop some visuals into their word documents with an effective tag line and some reference to the image in the text was good enough?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Why again?

I'm at a bit of a loss for what to blog about with this particular set of readings. It doesn't help that I'm still stuck on why I should include multimodal assignments. The various authors of the chapters in Multimodal Composition give us great advice for creating assignments that work and considering all the problems and affordances, but I am simply still unconvinced that doing such assignments is the best use of class time. The CC online Wiki page argues

"To keep pace with advancing technology, writing courses at NMSU must move beyond traditional alphabetic texts. Even though such texts, with solitary and individual writers are still the most common choice at the university level, the rest of the world is rapidly changing. Multimodal tools, such as wikiboards, facebook,blogs, twitter, and more, are communicative media, both in and out of classrooms and employment settings. Multimodal composition assignments provide students the skills necessary for creating and interpreting the many different contexts of reading and writing taking place within our technology-based world beyond the university."

Notice, however, that the specific examples they give (wikis, facebook, blogs, twitter) are all, largely, alphabetic dominated technologies. Instead of typing in a wordprocessor, I'm typing in a blogger publishing window. Yes, I could include images, videos, etc., but they aren't essential. There is a big difference between incorporating technologies like blogs and wikis as a pedagogical tool and asking students to design websites/web videos/ etc. Students could easily, if encouraged, incorporate images into their printed essays. None of the texts we've looked at so far seem overly concerned with whether or not students design GOOD multimodal compositions so we wouldn't really have to worry about whether their use of images is particularly aesthetically successful.

For these reasons, Dickie Selfe's article seemed the most interesting and useful since its focus was on using technologies in the classroom rather than necessarily assigning multimodal compositions. On the other hand, I would suggest that technology only be incorporated once it has been around long enough to reach a certain level of user accessibility/stability.

I've been around long enough to see certain patterns in technology development. I first used computers in the mid 1980s when my elementary school class learned some very basic computer literacy using DOS based computers (mostly we got to play early computer games like Oregon Trail and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego back when the games were big green pixel graphics if they had any graphics at all). Back then there was the idea that everyone would need to learn DOS commands because computers were becoming a part of life. Then, of course, Steve Jobs developed Machintosh/Apple computers with user friendly interfaces and the need to learn DOS commands went out the window—or Windows after Bill Gates stole the Machintosh interface and wrote the DOS programming to reproduce it on PCs. This patter seems to repeat itself: by the time new technology reaches the point where it is NECESSARY for people to use it, user-friendly interfaces have developed to make it fairly simple to use it—I don't think we'd be blogging if we had to learn to code first, but now we have these nifty publishing windows.

So, why then develop assignments that force us and students to use technologies that are, as yet, the realm of specialists? Sure people are composing videos with text and sound and posting them on YouTube, or even producing them for work, but those who do have developed knowledge of the technologies needed as either a hobby or part of their job and had no need of composition course assignments to teach them how to do it. Everyone else still seems to get along just fine without in-depth knowledge of the finer points of IMovie.

Photoshop has created a world where anyone can produce professional quality photography, but most people still just point, click, download, and upload/print without even basic literacy with Photoshop or similar programs, can these Photoshop illiterate people really be compared to those who can't write a decent report, letter, proposal because of inadequate alphabetic literacy?

The more we read about multimodal assignments and the challenges/affordances, the more convinced I am that there are better ways to use class time in composition courses (unless it is a writing for digital media class, which I would expect to tackle such composing).

All of the advice from these readings, however, applies equally to alphabetic assignments. Also, all my talk of user accessible interfaces for blogs and wikis reminds me of Wysocki's assertion that we pay attention to the interfaces of all texts, which is something I do think I can and should incorporate into my classes, even freshman composition. I don't think students should be required to write in ugly MLA double-spaced formats when no discourse ecology outside academia would produce texts with such a terrible interface. I tend to encourage students to think about design, incorporate visuals, etc.