Monday, February 8, 2016

Technology, writing, program administration, and multiliteracies

In terms of technology and writing, one of the most profound moments I've had as a teacher and learner came when we read Gitelman and Pingree’s introduction, “What’s New about New Media” in Rory's Teaching with Technology class last semester. In this introduction, Gitelman and Pingree write about the ways we define “new” media and that, really, all media (and technology) were new at one point in time, so what makes media (and technology) “new”? 

From that point on, when we read texts by Selber, Lessig, Shipka, Wysocki and Arola, and others, I began to understand computers, “technology”, and multimodality in more complex ways. For example, one concept I understood differently, plagiarism, is what Donnelly et al. write about in their article. Their article brought up several topics: ethics and Intellectual Property rights, intertextuality and originality, and the goals of education. In my classroom, I choose to talk to students about defining plagiarism, intertextuality, the originality of ideas, epistemology, and authorship. This conversation complicates plagiarism for students, as well as gets them to think about authorship and originality. When I pose the question, “is anything we write or say original?”, many students are quick to say “yes! Of course” and then I push them a little more and others chime in, and often the class realizes that nothing is really original. This semester, my students watched a segment of “Everything is a Remix”, which breaks down the “plagiarism” (or intertextuality—depending on how you look at it) of popular songs that borrow sounds, riffs, and lyrics from each other without giving credit or acknowledging sources. Students began to see connections among knowledge production, authorship, and plagiarism that I think was productive for them. Too, when I have a conversation about plagiarism and the issues it raises, I establish that we—both me and the students—have an understanding about what constitutes plagiarism, and we are able to establish trust, that I’m not out to gatekeep and fail students, something Ingalls, Morse, and Castner Post discuss in their sections.

Plagiarism isn’t the only issue raised by computers and digital technologies; as Yancey discusses in her CCCC address, computers and digital technologies afford us opportunities to bridge the kinds of public writing students are already doing with the kinds of writing we ask of them in the academy. Yancey believes we need a new model of composition that prepares and engages students to be a part of a “writing public”—which is achieved by thinking about three things: the circulation of composition, the canons of rhetoric, and the deicity of technology. Her model reimagines composition as a rhetorical, contextual act which is produced for a real audience and produced in appropriate genres and mediums. The third part, the deicity of technology, is important in our discussion of technology and writing, because it reveals technology to be changing and changing our literacy practices. Too, Yancey believes a key idea to takeaway from the deictic nature technology is that we often use technology for purposes beyond how it’s been designed to be used. This, she writes, is what we must encourage students to bring to the classroom and encourage them to know. Yancey, then, believes in multiliteracies that encase not only print literacy but also rhetorical literacy and screen and visual literacies. 

Building on Yancey’s keynote, new media and multiliteracies are two terms Leverenz takes up in her article about remediating writing programs. Leverenz argues that WPAs should remediate not only the message about what writing programs do but also remediate the ways in which we deliver those messages. I close my blog post with this article because I’ve wanted to tie together what we’ve read about technology, literacy, and new media by connecting it back to writing program administration, and by asking a few questions:

  •  Going back to our theory and practice conversation, and in the context of Leverenz’s argument, what does a remediated writing program look like?
  • Do Yancey’s suggestions for how to have “composition in a new key” sit well with you? Why or Why not? 
  •  How do the readings from this week contradict or affirm your teaching practices?

o   Have they caused you to reevaluate the ways you define literacy? Why or why not?

  • What are your thoughts on the requirement of a multimodal project in the BSU Writing Program knowing what we now know about new media and multimodality?


  1. You bring up some really good points and questions. I, also, thought of the multimodal requirement during my own reading. My feelings on the multimodal requirement are mixed.

    For me, a major aspect of the multimodal project demonstrates how arguments are created and rhetorical strategies are utilized in other mediums. However, as we try to bridge this understanding of digital rhetoric to what students already do online there is sometimes a disconnect. I think this occurs, because (1) the audience is vastly different, and (2) the project is forced.

    In other words, students are composing on things that they wouldn't normally in spaces that they might not necessarily usually use, and it comes off as unnatural as most academic genres.

    I do find the multimodal requirement beneficial, because students learn about digital and/or visual rhetoric; however, I am not convinced that students feel that the multimodal requirement is a way to express their ideas or make meaning in a way that they generally aren't able to in a traditional academic setting.

  2. I like that you brought in the "Everything is a Remix" video, which was something important that I took away from last semester and helped me more clearly see the complex ways that we enter into and build upon other people's ideas. Technology makes this concept sharing of ideas possible in infinitely new ways, which is a valid reason why we might reconsider our definition of plagiarism along with all of the new ways that students can potentially cheat using their technology.

    For me, this has opened up new and tricky territory. I'm also not out to gatekeep. Dealing with cheaters is my least favorite aspect of the job, but it continually comes up in different ways, and there have been times when I'm certain that a student has cheated -- as in a final essay is so much more sophisticated than anything else they have written and they don't have drafts or proposals to demonstrate their process -- but I can't figure out where the essay came from. Often I think students do buy essays online, and maybe they are purchasing "C-quality" work so they are less likely to raise suspicion. I'm always unsure what to do in those situations. How do we respond to these potential problems in ways that are ethical and conducive to student learning?

  3. I have a couple of thoughts in response to Kelsie's good questions and Abigail's and Cara's responses to them... On the multimodal assignment requirement: This isn't even a real thing in my 103 and 104 classes, if I'm honest, because I expect all of my students' work to be multimodal to varying degrees. I want them to think about genre conventions, their own purposes for composing, and how, rhetorically, they can put forward an effective message. Very rarely, IMO, is a traditional word-only text the way to do that. So I hold them accountable, on all assignments, for thinking through their composing choices and using the modes strategically. To me, the requirement of including multimodal writing assumes that it's a new, innovative thing, but I'm ready to move past that; I see it, now, as a given throughout the composition course. Mike himself said in class on Tuesday, "I can't believe Yancey's address was 12 years ago." Time for us to get with the times, eh?

    Next, on plagiarism: I've been thinking about how I want to tackle this topic in my class this semester. Because we're doing a writing about writing thing, I was hoping the student group that presented on "computers and composition" would start a useful conversation, but they kind of ran out of time and ended up breezing through it by saying, basically, plagiarism is unethical, so don't do it. Well... As we know, it's more complicated than that. First of all, what is plagiarism? According to whom? What factors lead to plagiarism? How do we and why should we try to "avoid plagiarism," or should we have some different kind of goal? I think that by pointing out to students the ways in which plagiarism is more complex than they might assume would help them to be more aware of it and thoughtful about what they're doing when they incorporate other people's work into their own. That's really my main goal for students--to get them to be thoughtful and deliberate when they compose.

  4. Like Morgan, I expect multimodality to be a component of every project that students compose in English 103 or 104. Instead of forcing students to write about topics using platforms they do not usually use, I try to meet students halfway. They may be composing a text on a topic that they wouldn't usually talk about (I see that as a good thing because they are expanding their ways of thinking), but I ask students to compose these texts using platforms they are actually using already. I also encourage them to try out new ones (like a blog if they have never blogged) but last semester students made videos as a final project in my course. Most of them record things on their phones and half of them already had their own YouTube channel so video production was not new to them. Anyway, my point is that it's okay to ask students to try new mediums or platforms for composing. In fact, I think we should be doing this. But it's also helpful to think about the ways students are already writing and incorporate that into the classroom. My hope is that this helps students seem themselves as writers and they recognize the power of language in the spaces they are already composing. Even when students compose a more traditional alphabetic print text, I require some kind of visual component. This could be an original photo or drawing, a graph or chart, an image, etc. We rarely read texts that have no images. Even most books have a cover image that relates to the content in some way. So students should take advantage of the ways we can make texts more engaging and build stronger arguments through a variety of modes.