public pedagogy

I working on the subject of public pedagogy this semester while on sabbatical, specifically the practice of teaching in public, online spaces. It’s something I’ve been doing for a couple semesters now on blogs, wikis, YouTube, Second Life, and so on. It’s a subject that I see bringing together several conversations going on in rhetoric and composition and elsewhere.

  1. The issue of public pedagogy itself, which I see as primarily an issue of cultural studies and critical pedagogy, but generally I think the idea is to see the classroom as a mechanism of social change.
  2. The reshaping of the humanities (and rhet/comp in particular) as disciplines that connect more immediately to everyday people, including our students. Here I see public, online teaching spaces as wonderfully mundane, everyday interfaces with what academics do and say.
  3. The Internet as a "public sphere" or democratic force: of course this is a broader ongoing debate that covers everything from issues of access and literacy to complaints about amateurs and the value of knowledge produced online.
  4. Preparing students to be critical, productive participants in media networks: really the backbone of the work I do.

Perhaps most interestingly though, at least from a rhet/comp perspective, is how public online pedagogies might address the question John Trimbur considered in his CCC article "Composition and the Circulation of Writing:" "how to imagine writing as more than just the moment of production when meaning gets made. How can we see writing as it circulates through linked moments of production, distribution, exchange, and consumption?"

Trimbur turns to the Grundrisse to consider this question in philosophical terms. I admit it’s been more than a decade since I looked closely at this text, but I do recall how Marx articulates that "production is also immediately consumption" and "consumption is also immediately production." (I shouldn’t make too much of this use of immediate, since I imagine some mediation in here, but I want to point it out.) More importantly though is the point that one consumes through production and produces through consumption. I think of this quite literally in the consumption of hardware, software, networking, technical support, processing speed, memory, instructor labor, tuition dollars, and student effort that go into any composition, particularly multimedia compositions.

As Trimbur notes elsewhere in the article, in composition "delivery has been an afterthought at best, assigned mainly to technical and professional communication and associated largely with such matters of document design as page layout, typography, visual display of information, and Web design. Delivery, that is, appears for the most part to be a technical issue about physical presentation whether in oral, print, or electronic forms." I think this is something that has shifted somewhat over the last decade in terms of scholarship, though is still largely true in practice. what I see here is the perception of a degree of transparency or at least a naturalization of the materiality of delivery. Trimbur likens the conventional comp classroom to a middle-class family scene where the instructor acts in loco parentis. The result here is an occlusion of the cultural and material forces at work in composition. The students’ writing appears as an almost private communication with the professor, perhaps with some equally intimate sharing in a small-group workshop.

While I wouldn’t construe an online public pedagogy as a "solution" to the situation Trimbur describes, it certainly alters the context of the writing classroom. Again, Trimbur points to the efforts of some compositionists to incorporate "real world" writing into classroom assignments:

I endorse the turn to public writing, civic rhetoric, and community service learning that is often invoked in such assignments, but at the same time I want to resist the notion that student writing is not otherwise part of the “real world.” While these kinds of assignments do begin to address the problem of circulation in interesting ways, they depend nonetheless on a dichotomy between schooled and “real” writing that rejects the private space of the classroom/home in the name of an unproblematical, immediately available public writing.

These online spaces create a third context, one in which classroom writing itself becomes a public genre. One has to begin by recognizing that such writing is always-already in excess of the notion of privacy or interiority. Then we can begin to investigate how these material contexts shape composition, which does not mean that we vacate the role of the subject or body or mind involved in an act of composition but rather situate that role within a network. We can do this without making compositions public online but by making these compositions public we take our students out of the overdetermined familial relations of the classroom and put them in a context where the broader span of compositional practices are in play.

More on this later.

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