Up to this point in the class, a simple thing has had the biggest impact on me professionally: expanding the definition of “composition.” I can’t begin to answer why it’s so, but I realize I have had a very restrained interpretation of that word when it came to first year composition courses. Even though I knew composition happens in many modes, I kept thinking writing, teaching writing, the writing process, and how writing is supported. Somewhat blithely, and despite many experiences and discussions that should have expanded my viewpoint, I kept focused on how I would be a writing instructor.
The past weeks of visual literacy work have had the biggest impact so far. Here again, understanding what is included in “composition” is key. When thinking about visual rhetoric, I recall that I’ve always been intrigued by the use of visual presentations in composition classes, but felt their inclusion risked missing the valuable development of writing. In this retrospect, I can’t fathom how I never made a stronger connection in my own mind. As discussed in an earlier blog post, I realized that when faced with the wide-open world of options on how to teach, I simplified things by retreating to a very analog format.
And so now I turn to reconciling this refined definition with my formative pedagogy. Already I’ve decided to get more visual than I might have without this insight. In the past few weeks, more of my in-class exercises have included visual elements, and I’ve already decided that digital and social writing will feature much more prominently the next time I lead a section of English 1101. A simple change to my current run was to reform the ongoing writing project I had planned (which I was reluctantly about to make a simple journal) into an ongoing discussion to prepare for the term’s final project, an open-topic research paper. A series of low-stakes uLearn discussion board posts have done far more to get my 1101 classes thinking about their writing processes than a simple open-ended free writing journal could. It’s not without its flaws and I’ve yet to see the final results of course, but I expect this simple use of digital writing in their composition processes has done a great deal of good. Perhaps a critical strength of this approach is my non-involvement with their discussion. I’ve divested myself, at least temporarily, of the be-all for how they approach their topic. The longer I can keep their perception of my perception off their minds, the more they can learn about how they compose.
For English 1102, which I assume I’ll have for at least one section next semester, I’m already planning to further open student writing to larger feedback by moving to a unified course blog. While it may be too late within my syllabus structure to effectively do so for Fall, my Spring classes will definitely feature a wholly visual project as one of the major grades. I look forward to convincing them the hallowed criteria for effective verbal writing are still relevant to effective visual writing.
Toward the end
Looking now at the end project, I’m going a slightly different direction. Back in my Graduate Resource Network presentation for Computers and Writing 2011, I began the process of looking into a thorny issue I faced several times at my writing center at University of Michigan-Flint. Inspired largely by a tutorial gone horribly wrong earlier that year (Wherein one slipped through a crack), I asked a vague question about how universities deal with the truly rare, truly technologically unaware/incapable – the people Prenksy must’ve had in mind as the worst of the Digital Immigrants. I’ve yet to experience this type of tutorial here at GSU, but I’m convinced this type of student can be found anywhere.
At the time I wrote that post, I was thinking of it from just the tutor perspective. That may endure as I take this project forward, seeing as writing center theory and practice continues as my main research interest. Regardless, it’s a question that all of composition theory must address, and that computers and composition researchers may be able to help me answer: since we must accept that in times of economic recession, non-traditional students enter college for the first time with little or no functional computer literacy, then must we develop a strategy to mitigate this disadvantage?
This recalls the earlier weeks of 8900 where, along with Selfe, we acknowledge that failing to expose students to computers denies them computer literacy. Now it has shifted. Functional literacy, if not proficiency, has become the standard assumption. Yet we will continue to have students who do not or cannot this expectation. How do we accommodate them? Is this illiteracy statistically present enough to even bother with? How should we address it if we decide we have this obligation?
Like during my feedback session at the GRN, I’m struggling with the feeling that I don’t know if I’ve refined a research question well enough to take this on, or if I should even consider the topic under my authority.