In the Fall, my colleagues Charles Heasley, Paul van der Veur, and I will be running our first-year learning community titled Digital Living. We’ve altered some of the courses, and the content has evolved somewhat, but the general idea is that same. This year we’re offering COM 110: Introduction to New Media, ATS 112: Photography I, CPN 100: Academic Writing I, and COR 101: The Cortland Experience (this last one being a one-credit orientation-type course). We are continuing with our theme of exploring the practical and cultural dimensions of digital media production: digital imaging, podcasting, video production, and neworked compositon. Last year we piloted the use of iTunes University, which we will continue; this year we are planning on incoporating some experience with Second Life (stay tuned on that).
This is a big shift for me as I’m teaching composition for the first time in this learning community. Like all of us rhet/comp folks, I’ve taught my share of comp, but it’s been a while since I taught it consistently. This semester I’m teaching the second semester of academic writing, but it’s a strange course. It’s online, and there are only six students in the course. I didn’t really plan the course to operate with such a small number of students. Also, I decided to cleave rather narrowly to the idea of academic discourse, which is the programmatic focus of the course. I think this was a mistake for me because I am deeply skeptical about about the concept. I’m not sure I can teach students to write academic discourse except as the most cynical of activities. But that’s a post for when I’m in a snarkier dispostion.
So in Digital Living, CPN 100 will simultaneously be about encountering emerging compositional practices and getting back to some of the fundamental questions about writing. Along the lines of the fundamental, the question I want to focus on is "how do you know when you have ‘something to say?’" I think this is both a question of invention and ethos. That is, obviously one must "invent" the something one is going to say, but also one must recognize the appropriateness of what one says for a specific audience, in a specific context. I think our students struggle with both of these (and that they are not unusual as students in this regard).
For my money, these are the interesting challenges of composition. It starts with a kind of invention compass or geiger counter, to borrow somewhat from Ulmer: a writer’s sensibility that interacts with the world always with an eye toward composing. I don’t want to romanticize this. I think one cultivates a multi-dimensional perspective that opens fissures for writing; where there are uncertanties, there are writing possibilities. Then writing becomes more strategic and tactical as one composes an audience and an exigency, a reason for them to read. There also has to be a purpose for the author. Perhaps it is stated from the start, and one goes out looking to serve a purpose. More often for me, however, I have come to trust that my instinct that I have something to say will lead eventually to an audience and purpose, through writing.
So these are the things I want to investigate in my class with the idea that students who discover they are writers, i.e., who discover they have something to say, will continue down a path toward better writing.