Each semester, my students and I map theories of writing using a list of key terms. The first week of class, they generate definitions of our key terms, and then we return to revise our definitions as the semester progresses. Students use these terms to create (and revise) their own theories of writing several times throughout the course. This image shows their first definitions, commonly-held writing rules (rules we "blow up" in our course), and three rules from "10 Ways to Think about Writing" by E. Shelley Reid.
The following is a response to questions posed by the Graduate School's "Teaching with Technology" program. As I develop this portfolio further in preparation for submission at the end of next fall semester, this teaching reflection will evolve into an expanded reflection of the role of digital, multimodal composition in first year writing classrooms.
Why Use Technology?
Why should you use technology for teaching?
In her Conference on College Composition and Communication chair's address, "Technology and Literacy: A Story about the Perils of Not Paying Attention," Cynthia L. Selfe proclaimed,
"As composition teachers, deciding whether or not to use technology in our classes is simply not the point—we have to pay attention to technology. When we fail to do so, we share in the responsibility for sustaining and reproducing a unfair system that, scholars such as Elspeth Stuckey and Mike Rose have noted in other contexts, enacts social violence and ensures continuing illiteracy under the aegis of education" (415).
In the two decades since Selfe reminded us of the necessity of attending to issues of technology in the writing classroom, countless scholars in rhetoric and composition have extended the conversation to consider new media and
technology (Jenkins; Lanham; Lessig), multimodal composition (Bolter and Grusin), and the intersections of rhetoric and computer programming (Baron; Frabetti; Selber; Vee). For example, Kathleen Blake Yancey, in her 2004 CCCCs chairs address, "Made Not Only in Words: Composition in a New Key," begins with contextualizing the present moment, where "literacy today is in the midst of a tectonic change," a change towards compositions in new genres to writing publics outside the academy. Yancey calls for writing teachers to address technology, so that students will compose and create using their own rhetorical practices, rather than filling in blanks in pre-imade software packages. Continuing the theme of technology and pedagogy, in his 2015 address,"Ain’t No Walls behind the Sky, Baby! Funk, Flight, Freedom", Adam Banks argued,
As composing becomes more and more enmeshed in digital environments, tools, practices, and networks, we need to see this as a crossroads moment for our scholarship too. That crossroads for me is one where we see that we have to embrace technology issues not as part of what we do, but as central to what we do. Technology is what we do, or what we need to do, not just because literacy is always technologized, not just because of computers AND composition, but because of the big picture technological issues that are always brought to bear on all facets of our lives and work (274).
For Banks, technology is always a part of literacy, and composition has the critical tools needed to disrupt and "create and risk," so "we can write graffiti on the walls and color outside the lines" (272). Finally, in Joyce Locke Carter's 2016 address, "Making, Disrupting, Innovating," Carter urges writing instructors to move from advocacy (while still affirming its importance) to making:
When I talk about making, I’m flipping the power and flipping the epistemology, and saying that when you make, you dictate what will happen. You create new things that hopefully challenge the status quo (which is also the goal of advocacy), and while some, if not most, efforts end in failure, some will be quite disruptive (390).
I quote these addresses because they provide a snapshot that represents the interests, concerns, and directions of composition as a field during specific moments in time. Furthermore, the addresses cited illustrate the increased urgency given to locating technology within the domain of teaching writing across a range of genres and modalities.
How does using technology relate to the pedagogy of teaching?
Teachers who view technology and pedagogy as inherently distinct, or technology as primarily relevant to teaching in fields of computer science or information science, have an incredibly limited view of technology. We can trace conceptions of teaching technologies back to Plato and Socrates' discussion of writing in The Phaedrus. (Undoubtedly, the intersections of technology and pedagogy extend far further than rhetoric's traditional origin stories in ancient Greece—I use this as only one example of many from a variety of global contexts and times.) Writing is a technology: a fact only obscured by pervasive ideology that privileges print above other forms of literacy, naturalizing writing as an invisible technology. Technology and pedagogy are (and always have been) inextricably intertwined, especially when we consider technologies capaciously across historical contexts.
What are the limitations of technology as a solution for teaching and learning challenges?
Obviously, technology is not a panacea for all the ills and inequities present in our current educational systems (Noble and Tynes). Limitations arise in a number of overlapping contexts: instructor preparedness, student readiness, and classroom access, among others. A functional technological literacy alone is not sufficient; our students need both rhetorical and critical literacies to engage with technology (Selber). Banks continues further, "We need a more critical edge when it comes to technology studies so that we don’t become hoodwinked every time governments and corporations unite to try to sell us utopian visions about the next new technological hotness that will heal everything that ails us" (275). Without such critical literacy, students can create, but not engage with larger issues arising from the intersections of technology and writing.
How does technology help you and the people with whom you work and teach?
Technology is deeply integrated in the underlying infrastructures of my research interests, workflow, and pedagogy. [Expand this section.]
How does using technology relate to your personal and professional goals?
Like many of my friends and colleagues, I initially approached digital technologies with a great deal of trepidation. In fact, it's only been in the last year that I've switched from reading articles on print to annotating PDF versions, and I still compose a significant proportion of my writing with ink and page. But after discovering that attention to technology facilitated inquiry into my first two disciplinary loves, English and economics, I decided to reconsider my semi-Luddite stance. [Expand to consider how this transition occurred and how tech relates to my current goals.]
What methods will you use to achieve your goals?
I employ a variety of methods for teaching digital, multimodal composition. My classes have been taught with a teaching for transfer approach that views literacy as encompassing digital tools and multiple modalities in addition to the written word. I also draw pedagogical inspiration from my own undergraduate and graduate courses with Jason Helms, particularly his Spring 2014 Digital Rhetorics seminar. In Helms' seminar, students not only read work theorizing digital rhetorics, but also enacted theory through the learning of new technologies. In my own classes, I strive for a similar blend of theory and praxis through engaging with new tools.
How do you know when you have achieved your goals?
Assessment of digital, multimodal composition is challenging, both on the level of evaluating student work and when reflecting on my own pedagogical strategies. To that end, I turn to the work of Jody Shipka and Michael Neal, respectively. Shipka, in her article, "A Multimodal Task-Based Framework for Composing," offers one practice for assessing student projects through the use of rhetorical rationales. Rather than evaluate my students on technical prowess in Final Cut Pro or other software programs, or their access to material resources and artistic abilities, I collaboratively create rubrics with my class that evaluate their work on their own terms. Central to this assessment is the "Rhetorical Rationale," a narrative where students explain their intentions, design choices, and self-assessment of those choices. As a graduate student and early-career instructor, I have not yet had the opportunity to evaluate the role of technology in writing programs more broadly. Instead, I turn to Neal's Writing Assessment and the Revolution in Digital Texts and Technologies for his insight into the challenges and opportunities of digital assessment. Finally, the feminist ethos enveloping my pedagogy calls for a reflexive teaching practice.
Did the student behavior meet your expectations?
Popular discourse expounding myths of "digital natives" might lead you to believe that all Millennial students are early adopters of new tech and eager to implement their technological expertise into their coursework. But popular discourse, in my experience, tends to flatten the wide range of attitudes towards technology held by my students. My students were constantly composing in a wide variety of genres on a range of platforms (especially social media platforms), but it took frequent class discussions for some of them to connect their own composing practices with their ideas of writing in academic spaces. My anecdotal evidence bears out in scholarship on student engagement with composing technologies (DePalma and Alexander; Shipka; Wolff). In spite of trepidation expressed by some of my students, I have consistently been impressed with the quality and innovation of their use of technology in course projects.
What would you recommend to a colleague?
I am an unabashed evangelist for the incorporation of digital, multimodal composition and technology in the classroom. I would particularly advocate for projects like the "Composition in 3 Genres" remediation taught in the sophomore composition classes at Florida State University. (For examples of exemplary student responses to this assignment, check out this page.) But introducing new digital tools into our classrooms is not enough. From my work in the FSU Digital Studio, I know how to teach a variety of programs and tools. Far more difficult is teaching critical literacy for technology usage. One useful example of how to do this is Stuart Selber's article "Technological Dramas: A Meta-Discourse Heuristic for Critical Literacy." As I continue to teach writing with technology, I hope to develop more effective strategies for encouraging making, disrupting, innovating and reflecting.