Rhetoric/Composition Teaching

digital composing workshop

Tomorrow I’m doing a brief digital composing workshop for FYC instructors as part of a Bedford symposium at Buffalo State. So this is me thinking through that somewhat. I am imagining an audience with limited experience teaching digital composition, as well as limited technical resources and a limited amount of time in a semester in which to do it. It’s really the time constraint that interests me the most because it points to the way we still think about digital composing within FYC, but I also want to give some practical advice. It is a workshop after all.

So we will be looking at two types of assignments: the slidecast and a Storify “essay.” As you probably know, the slidecast is technically easy to produce; you can make one with PowerPoint. It also creates opportunities for talking about visual rhetoric and design as well as a kind of oral presentation skill. I typically point my instructors (and their students) to Garr Reynolds’ site for advice on slide design. I typically do an assignment that is 3-5 minutes long with at least 10 slides and we typically pull this off in about 2-3 weeks of class meetings. The Storify essay is an assignment I haven’t actually done, but I think could be an interesting option, especially for a course that has a research component and wants to pay attention to social media conversations surrounding an issue. This kind of assignment would clearly be more text-based, although you can certainly incorporate image and video. Essentially though, you are collecting data from the web around a conversation and then weaving it together with text.

My plan is to introduce these two briefly and then give the participants some time to pick one to play with. However, I also want to say something about time. Typically I believe we still look at digital composing as a kind of add-on to composition courses as secondary to the goal of teaching academic writing. I think our program at UB is guilty of this, and it’s partly my fault. When I introduced the digital composition assignment requirement into our curriculum a few years ago, I presented it as something that could be contained within a short period of the semester. I did this out of a perception that it would be easier for the instructors to accept that way. Unfortunately it can lead to a situation where the digital stuff is in one place, which leaves the rest of the curriculum potentially “non-digital.” That’s not a model that’s going to work for us anymore. We need to recognize that all composing is digital and by that I don’t simply mean that we are using word processors. We are also using web-based research that comes in a variety of media, and we are employing a range of devices for accessing and composing media. The choice to compose a text-only, word-processed document is simply that: a choice. I mentioned in a workshop for our TAs a couple weeks ago that there’s no reason why one could have an entire composition course without producing a single document that looked like the conventional essay from the 1990s.

  • A blog with updates about an ongoing research project, discussions about class readings, and reflections on one’s writing;
  • A class webzine with essays that incorporate image, video, and audio;
  • A collaborative wiki-based site organizing important concepts from the course;
  • A slidecast as mentioned above.

I could go on, but you get the idea. When I look at the WPA outcomes, I think they could all be achieved through digital assignments. There is little reason to be passing around these MS-Word documents on paper or electronically.

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