screencast rhetoric

Going back eight years I was part of a pilot program in writing in electronic environments at Georgia Tech. Basically we working trying to figure out how to teach hypertextual, web-based writing in first-year composition. The primary obstacle, as I recall, was the shift from linear argumentation to a non-linear mode of presentation. Clearly it’s an issue that we are still working through as we try to imagine the e-book or whatever.

Now as I look at it though, it makes sense to me to begin with recognizing that we rarely read print books in a linear fashion, especially nonfiction ones (though who hasn’t skipped to the end of a novel). Hypertext need not preclude linearity but simply offers alternate means to experience the text.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking more about audio and video this semester. Bringing iTunes University into the curriculum and working in a learning community with video production and digital imaging courses has necessitated this. This has brought a new set of rhetorical challenges. In a sense, we are all so familiar with television that we have a fairly stable sense of genre that we are beginning with. That doesn’t mean I think we’re trying to create Discovery channel or PBS programming or CNN, but that sense of video documentary is certainly there in the students’ minds as they try to imagine their own productions.

However, it does have me thinking about the regular intellectual work of the classroom in the context of video, particularly the English/writing classroom, and to me it is analogous in some respects to the challenges hypertext presented.

For example, let’s say I’m teaching a general education intro to lit course. I often teach Frankenstein in this context. I’ve read many 3-5 page essays on Frankenstein that employ some mode of literary critique–Marxist, psychoanalytic, feminist, something. Today, I could imagine students producing a website on Frankenstein: a course wiki, a blog covering the reading experience, a linkroll of Frankenstein-related websites, and so on. The intellectual work of such a website is quite different from the "single-authored" essay; it’s a network of texts and other media.

To think of video production in the classroom, for me it is necessary to see it through this intermediate step of networked communication. I shudder to imagine a video of a student reading her paper (yikes!), just as I try to avoid the student presentation/read powerpoint slides to the class experience.

The video/screencast must be understood in the context of a network of communications-not as the interpretation of Frankenstein, to continue my example, put as an element in an ongoing interpretive community. The power of video, in my albeit newbie view, is that it necessarily pulls us into the context of the visible world around us. If we contend that reading and interpreting literature continues to have value in our lives, then should we not be able to capture that value with a camcorder?

Obviously you are not going to duplicate the knowledge gained through writing an essay by producing a video. If you want students to learn what they learn through essay writing, then it makes sense to write an essay. The task here is to imagine a different type of knowledge production enabled through a different mode of media composition.

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