College Composition Weekly: Summaries of research for college writing professionals

Read, Comment On, and Share News of the Latest from the Rhetoric and Composition Journals


Leave a comment

Stewart, Mary K. Communities of Inquiry in Technology-Mediated Activities. C&C, Sept. 2017. Posted 10/20/2017.

Stewart, Mary K. “Communities of Inquiry: A Heuristic for Designing and Assessing Interactive Learning Activities in Technology-Mediated FYC.” Computers and Composition 45 (2017): 67-84. Web. 13 Oct. 2017.

Mary K. Stewart presents a case study of a student working with peers in an online writing class to illustrate the use of the Community of Inquiry framework (CoI) in designing effective activities for interactive learning.

Stewart notes that writing-studies scholars have both praised and questioned the promise of computer-mediated learning (67-68). She cites scholarship contending that effective learning can take place in many different environments, including online environments (68). This scholarship distinguishes between “media-rich” and “media-lean” contexts. Media-rich environments include face-to-face encounters and video chats, where exchanges are immediate and are likely to include “divergent” ideas, whereas media-lean situations, like asynchronous discussion forums and email, encourage more “reflection and in-depth thinking” (68). The goal of an activity can determine which is the better choice.

Examining a student’s experiences in three different online environments with different degrees of media-richness leads Steward to argue that it is not the environment or particular tool that results in the success or failure of an activity as a learning experience. Rather, in her view, the salient factor is “activity design” (68). She maintains that the CoI framework provides “clear steps” that instructors can follow in planning effective activities (71).

Stewart defined her object of study as “interactive learning” (69) and used a “grounded theory” methodology to analyze data in a larger study of several different course types. Interviews of instructors and students, observations, and textual analysis led to a “core category” of “outcomes of interaction” (71). “Effective” activities led students to report “constructing new knowledge as a result of interacting with peers” (72). Her coding led her to identify “instructor participation” and “rapport” as central to successful outcomes; reviewing scholarship after establishing her own grounded theory, Stewart found that the CoI framework “mapped to [her] findings” (71-72).

She reports that the framework involves three components: social presence, teaching presence, and cognitive presence. Students develop social presence as they begin to “feel real to one another” (69). Stewart distinguishes between social presence “in support of student satisfaction,” which occurs when students “feel comfortable” and “enjoy working” together, and social presence “in support of student learning,” which follows when students actually value the different perspectives a group experience offers (76).

Teaching presence refers to the structure or design that is meant to facilitate learning. In an effective CoI activity, social and teaching presence are required to support cognitive presence, which is indicated by “knowledge construction,” specifically “knowledge that they would not have been able to construct without interacting with peers” (70).

For this article, Stewart focused on the experiences of a bilingual Environmental Studies major, Nirmala, in an asynchronous discussion forum (ADF), a co-authored Google document, and a synchronous video webinar (72). She argues that Nirmala’s experiences reflect those of other students in the larger study (72).

For the ADF, students were asked to respond to one of three questions on intellectual property, then respond to two other students who had addressed the other questions. The prompt specifically called for raising new questions or offering different perspectives (72). Both Nirmala and Steward judged the activity as effective even though it occurred in a media-lean environment because in sharing varied perspectives on a topic that did not have a single solution, students produced material that they were then able to integrate into the assigned paper (73):

The process of reading and responding to forum posts prompted critical thinking about the topic, and Nirmala built upon and extended the ideas expressed in the forum in her essay. . . . [She] engaged in knowledge construction as a result of interacting with her peers, which is to say she engaged in “interactive learning” or a “successful community of inquiry.” (73)

Stewart notes that this successful activity did not involve the “back-and-forth conversation” instructors often hope to encourage (74).

The co-authored paper was deemed not successful. Stewart contends that the presence of more immediate interaction did not result in more social presence and did not support cognitive presence (74). The instructions required two students to “work together” on the paper; according to Nirmala’s report, co-authoring became a matter of combining and editing what the students had written independently (75). Stewart writes that the prompt did not establish the need for exploration of viewpoints before the writing activity (76). As a result, Nirmala felt she could complete the assignment without input from her peer (76).

Though Nirmala suggested that the assignment might have worked better had she and her partner met face-to-face, Stewart argues from the findings that the more media-rich environment in which the students were “co-present” did not increase social presence (75). She states that instructors may tend to think that simply being together will encourage students to interact successfully when what is actually needed is more attention to the activity design. Such design, she contends, must specifically clarify why sharing perspectives is valuable and must require such exploration and reflection in the instructions (76).

Similarly, the synchronous video webinar failed to create productive social or cognitive presence. Students placed in groups and instructed to compose group responses to four questions again responded individually, merely “check[ing]” each other’s answers.  Nirmala reports that the students actually “Googled the answer and, like, copy pasted” (Nirmala, qtd. in Stewart 77). Steward contends that the students concentrated on answering the questions, skipping discussion and sharing of viewpoints (77).

For Stewart, these results suggest that instructors should be aware that in technology-mediated environments, students take longer to become comfortable with each other, so activity design should build in opportunities for the students to form relationships (78). Also, prompts can encourage students to share personal experiences in the process of contributing individual perspectives. Specifically, according to Stewart, activities should introduce students to issues without easy solutions and focus on why sharing perspectives on such issues is important (78).

Stewart reiterates her claim that the particular technological environment or tool in use is less important than the design of activities that support social presence for learning. Even in media-rich environments, students placed together may not effectively interact unless given guidance in how to do so. Stewart finds the CoI framework useful because it guides instructors in creating activities, for example, by determining the “cognitive goals” in order to decide how best to use teaching presence to build appropriate social presence. The framework can also function as an assessment tool to document the outcomes of activities (79). She provides a step-by-step example of CoI in use to design an activity in an ADF (79-81).

 


Leave a comment

Rodrigo and Romberger. Roles of “Writing Program Technologists.” C&C June 2017. Posted 07/25/2017.

Rodrigo, Rochelle, and Julia Romberger. “Managing Digital Technologies in Writing Programs: Writing Program Technologists and Invisible Service.” Computers and Composition 44 (2017): 67-82. Web. 13 July 2017.

Rochelle Rodrigo and Julia Romberger discuss their concerns that the work done in writing programs by faculty with expertise in technology is often not recognized by programs or institutions. To highlight this issue, they interviewed 23 faculty at the 2012 Computers and Writing Conference (72). Because the data consisted of “detailed anecdotes,” the authors consider their project a “phenomenological study to learn about what is going on in the field” and to determine whether the issue of recognition for technology experts merits investigation (79). They contend that the degree to which digital modes have become central to writing instruction makes the issue worth further study.

The authors create the designation “Writing Program Technologist” (WPT) for “faculty who have scholarly expertise in various technologies” (67-68). They see the role of such faculty as in part a labor issue in that much of the work needed to support digital spaces falls under “service” rather than research or teaching (70); Writing Studies, they argue, has not fully examined what is involved when particular faculty play supporting roles in programs that incorporate online and digital learning (68).

Rodrigo and Romberger locate what they consider a “gap” (68) in scholarship in a set of pervasive cultural and rhetorical perspectives on technology. In these views, technology is a neutral tool to which work can be “handed over” (Carolyn Miller, qtd. in Rodrigo and Romberger 68). The tool itself acquires authority that can override human agency and knowledge (69); even though it is considered “basic, like the hammer” (77), it is at the same time often seen as “magical,” with the human effort needed to produce and sustain it hidden from common view (69).

Rodrigo and Romberger detect a shift in revisions of outcomes documents from the Council of Writing Program Administrators in which technology moves from being “a separate plank” to an “infusion of technological awareness and expertise throughout the statement” (69). In their view, this infusion increases the need for explicit articulation of WPT work, which, they contend, does not appear in either the 1998 CCCC Promotion and Tenure Guidelines for Work with Technology nor the 2015 update (68).

The authors note a range of WPT activities, from informal help for other faculty to setting up and maintaining networked classrooms and other spaces for digital writing. They write that faculty not engaged specifically in WPT work do not always realize that technology presents “a moving target” (68) as software and devices evolve regularly and WPTs must remain up to date. They note that the documentation necessary to formally account for the variety of services WPTs perform “added another layer of work” to unspecified duties already performed (78) and therefore might not be undertaken; only 4 interviewees reported doing “any sort of accounting” of their labor (73). As an aid to WPTs working to make their contributions visible and valued, the authors point to the history of the position of writing program administrator (WPA) and efforts to ensure that activities related to this position are recognized as intellectual work (72).

Of the 23 interviewees, only nine had formal job titles, with WPT assignments often overlapping with a designation as WPA (73), a reflection, the authors state, of the growing importance of digital modes within some programs. WPT work, the interviews note, did not end when appointments as WPAs ended (73).

Types of compensation varied from stipends to course releases to resource allocation (73-74). The study uncovered less tangible forms of compensation as well. Interviewees addressed rewards accruing from increased contact and influence across their campuses as they served on committees with decision-making power (74). One interview noted the agency provided by the expertise:

There’s a great power in being a volunteer that we tend to underestimate because you get to choose your projects. You’re accountable for only the things you want to be accountable for. So that, I don’t know how much I would want to be compensated. (qtd. in Rodrigo and Romberger 75)

Apropos of this kind of response, Rodrigo and Romberger note a concern that WPTs can be highly intrinsically motivated to take on the extra duties their expertise permits and that this motivation can be seen by some both within and outside of the WPT community as reward enough (76). WPTs take on tasks that enable their own work as well as that of fellow faculty (74). Desires for compensation, in these cases, focused on acquiring the “space,” “time,” and “resource support” to achieve individual and scholarly goals (74-75).

Citing Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital, the authors work to chart the accumulation of both positive and negative forms but find quantifying this accumulation difficult (77). Interviewees who report increased status because of their cross-campus networking are balanced by those who find their expertise being taken advantage of. Some interviewees felt that colleagues did not fully understand what they did (77).

Rodrigo and Romberger write that the value assigned to WPT work and the sense of appreciation and recognition expressed by the WPTs themselves is “highly contextual,” dependent on the particular configuration of the program involved as well as on the status of the WPT him- or herself; non-tenure-track or contingent faculty reported negative experiences that the authors link specifically to their positions within the institution (76-77). The authors did not collect data that allowed them to compare experiences across different institutions because “individual contexts would be too variable and anecdotes too likely to be traceable back to a particular individual at a particular institution” (73). Further research might include such data.

Rodrigo and Romberger detect changes in the role of WPTs as digital work becomes more diffuse across campuses; some of their interviewees report evidence of a shift from “a support worker” to a role within “the decision making infrastructure” (78). Although the authors encourage providing job descriptions, titles, and documentation for WPT work as such changes develop, some interviewees report that such descriptions actually limit the work they want to do (78). The authors suggest, finally, that “[t]he closely related, sometimes overlapping, work between the WPT and the WPA means that carefully mapping both jobs and the relationships between them might benefit both individuals” (78).

 


Leave a comment

Colby, Rebekah Shultz. Games as Pedagogical Tools. C&C, 2017. Posted 05/11/2017.

Colby, Rebekah Shultz. “Game-based Pedagogy in the Writing Classroom.” Computers and Composition 43 (2017): 55-72. Web. 29 Jan. 2017.

Rebekah Shultz Colby conducted a series of interviews to determine how writing teachers use video games as teaching tools in their classrooms; she asked as well about their “rationales” for using games (55).

Colby located 24 teachers who use games in writing classrooms via a “purposeful snowball technique” (59), asking colleagues in various venues if they knew of anyone teaching with games; she also posted an invitation to the Facebook group “Academic Gamers” (60). She used this method in preference to posting on more widely based listservs because scholarship on the use of games suggested that she would find very few teachers using games through conventional sources (60).

She cites as a primary motivation for her study providing more teachers with the resources to use games. In her view, teachers avoid using games because there are no textbooks or other kinds of apparatus dedicated to this pedagogy, because most scholarship on the topic has consisted of isolated case studies, and because articles reviewing the use of games in classrooms neglects games as tools for specifically teaching writing (58). Thus, for Colby, teachers are discouraged from using games because they lack a sense of the many different options and trends in gaming as a pedagogical resource. Further, teachers may find the complexity of games and the lack of support daunting, especially if they are not gamers themselves (59).

Colby argues that using games provides “rich pedagogical opportunities” (59) such as the exploration of “richly multimodal spaces that incorporate visual, aural, written, spatial, and kinesthetic modes” (56) that create true multimodality because the different modes “remediate” each other rather than standing inertly in relation to each other (56).

She further advocates for games as teaching tools by stressing how they function as “complex systems” that encourage “systemic thinking: how one person’s actions can affect the entire system” (56). Moreover, she contends, as nonlinear experiences, games inspire exploration and experimentation, including “emergent play” in which gamers change or subvert the rules and ostensible goals of the designers. This kind of play can become “potentially resistant” as students enact the theories incorporated into the game as “set[s] of domains or systems of meaning making” (56). Colby argues, for example, that diverse gender roles in games can “embody for students both queer and feminist theory” (57).

Further, Colby maintains that the “paratexts” surrounding game design and play—“walk-throughs, FAQ guides, tutorials, and online discussion forums”—provide opportunities for analyzing and practicing technical writing genres (57). Colby notes that both games and classrooms are “activity systems” with their own rules and purposes (57); whereas classrooms, as specific activity systems, often conflict with the very different extra-academic systems teachers hope to integrate into coursework, games are just such a system that engages students beyond the classroom via processes with which they are already familiar (57).

In coding interviews, Colby detected “seven overarching approaches” used by teachers who teach with games (60). “Game Rhetorical Analysis” allows teachers to introduce study of “communicative affordances and constraints” as well as shifts in audiences as factors in the “meaning and persuasiveness” embodied by in a game (61). Rhetorical analysis also includes the concept of “procedurality” (61), which includes awareness of how specific procedures “position players in specific ways” (61), for example by forcing players to adopt specific personas subject to procedural limitations. Students can also be encouraged to consider ways in which procedures can be “broken” as a critical response to this positioning, a possibility that Colby feels is specific to games as rhetorical encounters (62).

“Composing New Texts: Game Design” is an approach that asks students to develop their own persuasive or educational games (62). A variation involves asking students to recast a written text as a game. Further, game design as a teaching tool can draw students into an enactment of “new media theory” about the role and function of multimodality as well as aspects of design itself, such as those delineated by Robin Williams (63).

Under the approach titled “Games Illustrate Theory,” Colby includes teachers who use games to introduce students to cultural and critical theory (63). Games “interpolate players in certain ways” (63), and a particular assignment that constrains students followed by classroom discussion of how such positioning affects choices can make students more aware of how such Foucauldian “disciplining” works in other systems and contexts (64). One teacher quoted by Colby writes that games “often hail players as individuals, promising them the ultimate in agency, but only if they consent to consume the games in very specific ways” (63).

“Writing with Game Industry Genres” exploits the range of “paratexts” involved in game design and dissemination. Cobly argues that students working on talk-aloud protocols and usability testing can explore how their writing is taken up and used within the “gaming discourse communities” (64).

“Games as a Research and Writing Space” (64) denotes classroom activities in which students investigate specific questions, such as gendered behavior among gamers, and share their results with widely networked gaming audiences, garnering feedback and “a deeper identification with role of researcher” (65).

In “Games Enhance Writing Transfer,” Colby describes teachers using reflection to encourage students to consider what skills they learned from playing games and how these skills might be employed in other contexts (65-66). Similarly, students can compare composing in a game setting with composing other forms of communication and can understand such abstract concepts as kairos by studying how games and their paratexts evolve across rhetorical situations. Some teacher use games to develop reading comprehension, while others find games useful in introducing students to the complexities of collaboration, both in play and in design (66).

Finally, some teachers developed strategies of “Gamification,” in which they converted learning experiences into games, exploiting games’ intrinsic motivation, “positive emotions,” and “sense of accomplishment” to encourage learning. Colby contrasts this use of game structure for learning with “Pointsification,” in which teachers allow students to work for points as they would in games, perhaps even allowing avatars to “die” if enough points are lost (67). Colby cites critique of such systems as providing primarily extrinsic motivation, noting that while participation in an activity may increase while points are being accumulated, in one study, “students stopped using the app once they had accomplished the achievements” (67).

Colby’s quantitative results suggest that games contributed most often to rhetorical analysis and least often to specific ways to encourage “transfer about aspects of the writing process” (68). Colby advocates a clear understanding of the kinds of outcomes being stressed and the importance of incorporating games for a specific purpose rather than just for their own sake (68). She provides suggestions to help teachers become more confident in their own identities as gamers and to include minority students who may not identify with the gaming culture (68-69).


2 Comments

Skains, R. Lyle. Multimodal Creative Writing. C&C, March 2017. Posted 02/05/2017.

Skains, R. Lyle. “The Adaptive Process of Multimodal Composition: How Developing Tacit Knowledge of Digital Tools Affects Creative Writing.” Computers and Composition 43 (2017): 106-17. Web. 29 Jan. 2017.

R. Lyle Skains describes a “practice-based research” project conducted over a three-and-a-half year period in which she analyzed her development as a writer of digital fiction. In this project, Færwhile, Skains progresses through drafts of several stories, beginning with a traditional “analogue” story and culminating in stories in which she has internalized the knowledge needed to create successful digital compositions.

Skains argues that such research is needed because composition pedagogy does not fully account for the “fundamental, cognitive differences between writing for the page and writing for digital media” (106). While students may engage with digital media as readers, she contends, they have little practice in actually exploiting the possibilities of digital media as writers (115). She emphasizes the need for explicit knowledge of the demands of a new medium to become internalized as tacit knowledge; students come to multimodal assignments with tacit knowledge of print from their long experience with it, but may not yet have gained the kind of tacit knowledge of digital media that will allow them to become fully accomplished multimodal writers (107).

Her own project involved reading digital fiction, reading theory on narrative and genre, and then working through several stories, beginning with a “zero-state” text: “an analogue short story” she undertook before delving into digital composition (107). Subsequent stories engaged more and more fully with the possibilities of digital fiction. Skains walks through her processes as she composes these stories.

Her method is “auto-ethnomethodological”; it consists of observations of herself at work and the states of mind through which she moves from conscious explicit knowledge to a fully functional tacit knowledge of the medium (108). Following advice from Deborah Brandt, Skains draws on “observable paratexts” to her process like “notes, journal entries, and comments on revised drafts”; these allow her to reconstruct her cognitive journey. She draws as well on the 1981 Cognitive Process Model advanced by Linda Flower and John R. Hayes, which she credits with the observation that a design or intention can be realized in many different ways and the specific realization emerges from the actual process of writing (108).

She cites other theories of narrative and creative processes including Gérard Genette’s invocation of “hypertextuality (playing the text off familiarity with other texts in the genre) and architextuality (exploring generic expectations in relation to other similar texts)” (107). Flower and Hayes’s Multiple Representation Theory suggests that “the initial mental model of a text is multimodal, then subsequently translated to written language” (107). Skains relates such theories to her own processes, for example noting how her reading interacted with her own texts as well as how the stories in her project contributed to an “intratextual” effect via a shared “element of parallel mythology,” the “Trickster” figure (111). In accordance with Flower and Hayes, she relates how her analogue short story “unfolded in [her] imagination on a visual reel, which then needed translation into written language” (110).

Skains argues for the importance of long-term memory that can draw on a “knowledge base” and allow fiction writers to construct characters and worlds (109). As short-term memory of actions involved in a medium is transferred to long-term memory, tacit knowledge is developed (110).

An important finding for her project is that the linear structuring and narrative processes she found most comfortable did not lend themselves to a simple “remediation” of the typical analogue text into a digital version (112). As she worked through a succession of stories, she continued to begin with these familiar invention and composing steps; the third story in her discussion, for example, shared features with the “zero-state” story: its “traditional, linear structure and minimal level of interactivity,” even though she “remediated” it into Adobe Flash (111). However, when she struggled with a story about a character whose “interaction with her world, both real and virtual, was hyperlinked,” Skains found that the character could not evolve if she was “stuck in sequential page turns” (112). The solution was to work through the digital version first, giving over fully to the hyperlinked world invoked by the story (112). Skains found that she was still working toward a fully developed “mental model that afforded a fully multimodal composition process” (112).

The author argues that first- or second-person points of view, increased interactivity that provides readers with agency, and intra- or intertextuality are defining features of digital fiction (111). Texts that are composed an analogue narratives, she posits, lack full commitment to these elements and will not lend themselves to revision in digital form (110): “the composition process for multimodal works must necessarily be multimodal” (112).

Skains reports that the means by which she addressed the original “rhetorical problem” for her stories was affected by her deeper and deeper engagement with digital composition (114). Writers of digital texts like hers, she writes, become programmers, with the result that “the text as composed (i.e., the source code) does not resemble the text-as-read/played” (113). She cites digital writer Jenny Weight to argue that a digital-composing experience becomes an “environment” in itself rather than a “traditional narrative” (113). Inventing a set of environments for a character to traverse in the digital composition influences the “world-building” efforts of the analogue version (113).

Similarly, she cites an example of a story in which providing a narrator with multiple voices led to the creation of a website for each voice, a move that in turn led her to experiment with visual font effects in the print version (113-14). In such cases, Skains’s “mental model of the narrative” had been influenced by the digital process (114).

Skains posits that students attempting to apply their tacit knowledge of print technology as they encounter multimodal assignments face a trajectory similar to hers, and that current composition-classroom practice does not facilitate this evolution (114). The addition of digital elements, she notes, adds many new layers to the composing process, “significantly increase[ing] the creative decisions that have to be made” (115). She contends that, like her, students must learn to adjust their creative processes to conform to the media rather than expecting the media to meet their original goals (115). The tacit knowledge and expertise to make this transition, Skains maintains, is “immersion” in the digital process, moving beyond reading to doing (115). She is currently engaged in ethnographical work to develop a “pedagogical model for teaching digital writing” (115).


1 Comment

Cohn, Jenae. “Devilish Smartphones” and Students’ Online Practices. C&C, Dec. 2016. Posted 11/10/2016.

Cohn, Jenae. “‘Devilish Smartphones’ and the ‘Stone-Cold’ Internet: Implications of the Technology Addiction Trope in College Student Digital Literacy Narratives.” Computers and Composition 42 (2016): 80-94. Web. 01 Nov. 2016.

Jenae Cohn analyzes student attitudes toward online and social-media interactions, arguing that student “skepticism about how social media impacts their relationships and literacy practices” (91) has not been adequately studied in computers and writing research (83). In general, Cohn states, composition theorists and instructors believe that online media should be included in writing curricula but have not taken into account how students themselves see their use of digital communication and literacy tools (91).

She examined 75 “digital literacy narratives” from first-year students at a large California research university with a majority Asian/Pacific Islander or White population. She found that 35 of the 75 students preferred face-to-face “embodied” interactions over digital ones while another 15 were “ambivalent” (82).

Keyword searches revealed the prevalence of the “addiction” trope when students discussed uncertainty about their online activities (82). While “addiction” was not the most common keyword (most common was “technology,” followed by “computer” and “Facebook), Cohn states that it was the most common word with a “clear affective charge” (82). Cohn details case studies of four students whose narratives about their use of social media employed the “addiction” trope (82).

Cohn explores the possibility that adults have created and spread the trope that teens are addicted to social media and notes as well that “addiction” is one of a set of powerful “popular tropes” that permeates discussions of media use (91). She argues that the adoption of this trope by the student writers reflects a true student concern rather than a effort by adults to, in the view of danah boyd, “gain control over a space that teenagers have claimed for themselves” (cited in Cohn 83).

Similarly, Cohn reviews criticism of the literacy narrative as a possible invitation to students to produce attitudes that they think mirror their teachers’ views of social media use as an interference with more serious writing (85). She contends, however, that taking the narratives “at face value” provides insights into how “myriad ideological influences” have impacted student views (85). She hopes as well that her own digital literacy narrative assignment will allow her a glimpse of how students who are presumed to be “‘digital natives’ . . . actually see themselves” (84).

In her view, her examination of these narratives suggests that the students she studied have accepted a common assumption that face-to-face interaction is inherently better than mediated communication like the kind required by social media (84). In this kind of narrative, Cohn writes, the shift to a “new technology” entails what Marita Sturken and Douglas Thomas characterize as a sense of “loss of connectivity, of intimacy, of desire, of authenticity in some way” (qtd. in Cohn 85; emphasis original). Moreover, according to Cohn, students see digital and “embodied” communication as binaries, generally rejecting the possibility of overlap (84).

Examining especially narratives that focus on cellphone use, Cohn distinguishes between two types of addiction narratives. In her view, the “distraction” narrative presents virtual communication as functioning to extract users from “real” experience, substituting less authentic relationships (88). As an example of a student’s concerns about cellphone use, Cohn presents “Lisa,” who, on a trip to London, decided that her desperation to stay connected online left her unable to remember any details of her London experience. Only after curtailing her phone use did Lisa claim to able to participate in what she saw as the “normal” life superseded by her phone use (86-87).

Cohn notes Lisa’s “clear bifurcation” (87) between her digital life and her embodied one. Recalling the trip, Lisa does not mention any use of her phone to take pictures to help her recall events. Cohn suggests that a cellphone might also have allowed a student like Lisa to share pictures with friends in an embodied social setting (87).

“Jack,” author of another “distraction” narrative, also laments the power of the phone to interfere with what he casts as “normal” life (87). Thinking he would use the phone for schoolwork, he claims that he soon found himself playing games and listening to music. Jack ultimately settles into a more nuanced view in which his inability to stay away from the phone “sham[es]” him (88) but also in which he tacitly acknowledges the usefulness of the phone for maintaining connections (89). Cohn posits that Jack is “nostalg[ic]” for a life without the rhetorical complexities imposed by digital communication; Jack insists on the importance of maintaining a sense of an embodied self not entangled with his online persona (89).

Cohn emphasizes the degree to which these two students saw themselves as completely passive before the power of their phones to distract them (88). Authors of the second kind of addiction narrative Cohn analyses, the “loner” narrative, also tend to see themselves as controlled by the technology and “pathologiz[e]” cellphone use (90) as a deviation from what they see as the normalcy of embodied life (89-90). In this kind of narrative, virtual interaction actually threatens normal existence (89). “Loner” narratives present the availability of cellphones as a temptation to “avoid face-to-face interactions” (89) and to “compensate” for “shy behavior” that is seen as “a source of shame” (90).

“Carly” sees herself as addicted to texting because she finds it emotionally easier than face-to-face interaction, while “Albert” describes himself as unable to articulate verbally in a classroom, isolating himself instead in a darkened room where he addictively communicates with strangers online (89-90). Both of these students arrive at a conclusion that virtual devices have benefits but that fellow students should seek “balance” (89). According to Cohn, they continue to endorse the view that “fluency in face-to-face interactions is more normative than fluency in online interactions” (90).

Cohn argues that writing teachers should teach critical literacy before assigning literacy narratives so that students can be more aware of how popular tropes can influence their conclusions about their literacy experiences (91). She notes that teachers should be alert to the ongoing rhetorical framing of literacy practices so that prompts can elicit more nuanced observations and attention to how different communication modes can accord with the exigencies of differing contexts (92). The article provides specific suggestions for classroom activities that can help students see both the distinctions and overlap among the different communicative practices they employ and can encourage them to value a wide range of skills (92).

 


4 Comments

Grouling and Grutsch McKinney. Multimodality in Writing Center Texts. C&C, in press, 2016. Posted 08/21/2016.

Grouling, Jennifer, and Grutsch McKinney, Jackie. “Taking Stock: Multimodality in Writing Center Users’ Texts.” (In press.) Computers and Composition (2016). http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.compcom.2016.04.003 Web. 12 Aug. 2016.

Jennifer Grouling and Jackie Grutsch McKinney note that the need for multimodal instruction has been accepted for more than a decade by composition scholars (1). But they argue that the scholarship supporting multimodality as “necessary and appropriate” in classrooms and writing centers has tended to be “of the evangelical vein” consisting of “think pieces” rather than actual studies of how multimodality figures in classroom practice (2).

They present a study of multimodality in their own program at Ball State University as a step toward research that explores what kinds of multimodal writing takes place in composition classrooms (2). Ball State, they report, can shed light on this question because “there has been programmatic and curricular support here [at Ball State] for multimodal composition for nearly a decade now” (2).

The researchers focus on texts presented to the writing center for feedback. They ask three specific questions:

Are collected texts from writing center users multimodal?

What modes do students use in creation of their texts?

Do students call their texts multimodal? (2)

For two weeks in the spring semester, 2014, writing center tutors asked students visiting the center to allow their papers to be included in the study. Eighty-one of 214 students agreed. Identifying information was removed and the papers stored in a digital folder (3).

During those two weeks as well as the next five weeks, all student visitors to the center were asked directly if their projects were multimodal. Students could respond “yes,” “no,” or “not sure” (3). The purpose of this extended inquiry was to ensure that responses to the question during the first two “collection” weeks were not in some way unrepresentative. Grouling and Grutsch McKinney note that the question could be answered online or in person; students were not provided with a definition of “multimodal” even if they expressed confusion but only told to “answer as best they could” (3).

The authors decided against basing their study on the argument advanced by scholars like Jody Shipka and Paul Prior that “all communication practices have multimodal components” because such a definition did not allow them to see the distinctions they were investigating (3). Definitions like those presented by Tracey Bowen and Carl Whithaus that emphasize the “conscious” use of certain components also proved less helpful because students were not interviewed and their conscious intent could not be accessed (3). However, Bowen and Whithaus also offered a “more succinct definition” that proved useful: “multimodality is the ‘designing and composing beyond written words'” (qtd. in Grouling and Grutsch McKinney 3).

Examination of the papers led the researchers to code for a “continuum” of multimodality rather than a present/not-present binary (3-4). Fifty-seven, or 74%, of the papers were composed only in words and were coded as zero or “monomodal” (4). Some papers occupied a “grey area” because of elements like bulleted lists and tables. The researchers coded texts using bullets as “1” and those using lists and tables “2.” These categories shared the designation “elements of graphic design”; 19.8%, or 16, papers met this designation. Codes “3” and “4” indicated one or more modes beyond text and thus indicated “multimodal” work. No paper received a “4”; only eight, or 9.9%, received a “3,” indicating inclusion of one mode beyond words (4). Thus, the study materials exhibited little use of multimodal elements (4).

In answer to the second question, findings indicated that modes used even by papers coded “3” included only charts, graphs, and images. None used audio, video, or animation (4). Grouling and Grutsch McKinney posit that the multimodal elements were possibly not “created by the student” and that the instructor or template may have prompted the inclusion of such materials (5).

They further report that they could not tell whether any student had “consciously manipulated” elements of the text to make it multimodal (5). They observe that in two cases, students used visual elements apparently intended to aid in development of a paper in progress (5).

The “short answer” to the third research question, whether students saw their papers as multimodal, was “not usually” (5; emphasis original). Only 6% of 637 appointments and 6% of writers of the 81 collected texts answered yes. In only one case in which the student identified the paper as multimodal did the coders agree. Two of the five texts called multimodal by students received a code of 0 from the raters (5). Students were more able to recognize when their work was not multimodal; 51 of 70 texts coded by the raters as monomodal were also recognized as such by their authors (5).

Grouling and Grutsch McKinney express concern that students seem unable to identify multimodality given that such work is required in both first-year courses, and even taking transfer students into account, the authors note that “the vast majority” of undergraduates will have taken a relevant course (6). They state that they would be less concerned that students do not use the term if the work produced exhibited multimodal features, but this was not the case (6).

University system data indicated that a plurality of writing center attendees came from writing classes, but students from other courses produced some of the few multimodal pieces, though they did not use the term (7).

Examining program practices, Grouling and Grutsch McKinney determined that often only one assignment was designated “multimodal”—most commonly, presentations using PowerPoint (8). The authors advocate for “more open” assignments that present multimodality “as a rhetorical choice, and not as a requirement for an assignment” (8). Such emphasis should be accompanied by “programmatic assessment” to determine what students are actually learning (8-9).

The authors also urge more communication across the curriculum about the use of multiple modes in discipline-specific writing. While noting that advanced coursework in a discipline may have its own vocabulary and favored modes, Grouling and Grutsch McKinney argue that sharing the vocabulary from composition studies with faculty across disciplines will help students see how concepts from first-year writing apply in their coursework and professional careers (9).

The authors contend that instructors and tutors should attend to “graphic design elements” like “readability and layout” (10). In all cases, they argue, students should move beyond simply inserting illustrations into text to a better “integration” of modes to enhance communication (10). Further, incorporating multimodal concepts in invention and composing can enrich students’ understanding of the writing process (10). Such developments, the authors propose, can move the commitment to multimodality beyond the “evangelical phase” (11).

 


3 Comments

Kelley, Brittany. Fan Fiction as a “Gift Economy.” C&C, June 2016. Posted 06/22/2016.

Kelley, Brittany. “Chocolate Frogs for My Betas!: Practicing Literacy at One Online Fanfiction Website.” Computers and Composition 40 (2916): 48-59. Web. 02 June 2016.

Brittany Kelley investigates the literacy practices of a fan-fiction site, the Ashwinder archive included in the Sycophant Hex fan community, a “site for quality Harry Potter fanfiction” (Sycophant Hex, qtd. in Kelley 49). Noting prior research on fan fiction that casts it as a locus for “resistance” within consumer cultures, Kelley contends that the interactions within the fan community she has studied are more complex, with unique “affective econom[ies]” (49) that both derive from and expand upon larger social forces (50).

Citing Kathleen Blake Yancey’s 2004 call for composition studies to embrace “this moment right now” for its unique window on what writing and identify mean in an age of increasing digital expansion, Kelley argues that fan fiction deserves attention because it would seem to embody the democratization offered by new online environments (49). For Kelley, however, an important reason to study fan fiction is what it can reveal about evolving digital practices, how they shape writers, and how these practices “change the ways in which texts are produced, circulated, and received” (49).

Kelley documents the degree to which sites like Sycophant Hex are governed by hierarchical gatekeeping processes, such as “vehement” assertions from administrators about the importance of correct English grammar, at the same time that they play a “teaching role” for novice writers who are encouraged to use the site’s resources to improve their writing (50). Contributors are also held to high standards with regard to accurate use of the Harry Potter “canon” and are reminded that while they “own” new characters, invented settings, and events they create beyond those that appear in the books, the “intellectual property” belongs to J. K. Rowling (51-52). Thus, Kelley posits, the site offers access and agency tempered with elements of control.

Kelley’s particular focus is the nature of the exchanges that govern interaction on the site. Though these exchanges take place within a rule-bound context that requires strict adherence to the canon and that channels writers into categories of permitted activities, Kelley argues that the more salient feature of such sites is the degree to which they are governed by the development of emotional relationships and a “‘goodwill’ ethics of exchange” (52).

Citing Henry Jenkins, Kelley posits that continued interaction within the group is the incentive for participation in the exchange of symbolic and social rather than financial capital (52-53). She sees this incentive as affective and emotional, noting for example that plagiarism, which is loosely defined on the site, is seen not so much in terms of legal ownership but rather as “a direct offense against the affective economy of the website” (52).

Kelley illustrates this “goodwill” ethic through a case study of one successful fan-fiction writer, Chivalric. In Kelley’s view, this writer’s practice demonstrates how writers establish long-lasting and emotionally rich relationships with the “betas” who voluntarily edit both for surface correctness and for plot and character development (56). Members of the fan-fiction community serve as betas for each other, generating what Kelley describes as a “gift economy” in contrast to a “commodity culture” (53).

Kelley presents Chivalric’s process to support her claim that literacy practices among fan writers are “deeply heteroglossic” (53). Writing produced by these writers integrates many elements and voices: the intellectual creations of J. K. Rowling; an extensive set of categories and tropes created by community members over time; discussion and debate on forums; specific group-governed genre expectations; and the ongoing interactions among authors and beta readers (55). Many of these intertwined voices are documented in the notes, acknowledgments, and dedications that accompany texts (56).

Further analyzing the heteroglossic nature of these sites, Kelley draws on Mikhail Bakhtin’s distinction between “centripetal” and “centrifugal” language practices to examine Chivalric’s short story, “Divorce.” Centripetal or “unitary language,” in this view, is language that is bound by clear directives from the language community, in this case the accepted uses that can be made of the Harry Potter characters and themes. At the same time, Kelley writes that Chivalric’s story, which won one of the competitive challenges generated on the site, demonstrates centrifugal force in that it gives the standard tropes and story material a “unique twist” (55) that results in an original, “transformative” telling that expands readers’ understanding of the conventional materials Chivalric incorporated (54, 55-56). This story, Kelley argues, comments on the power relationships among two Harry Potter characters, legal and political machinations in the post-canon world of fan fiction, and implications of gender in the particular category into which the story falls.

Citing Matt Hills, Kelley notes that prior research casting fan fiction as an avenue for resistance to dominant cultures has been criticized as an attempt by scholars to justify their attention to the form and to cast fan writers as “mini-academics” taking on the role of cultural critics (50, 57). She argues that her study reveals the degree to which academic views of digital environments as “somehow democratizing and hence liberating” should also recognize that “these spaces are still beset with the tensions of power structures” (57).

In her view, the hope that the access offered by such sites will allow for “widely shared and discussed knowledge” free of the bonds of entrenched power systems should include the caveat that much of what ultimately gets distributed “already fits nearly within dominant narratives” (57). The practices Kelley has examined, she contends, are still subject to issues of “race, gender, sex, class, sexuality, etc.” (58).

Noting scholarship on the possibilities of importing fan-fiction processes into the classroom, Kelly cites Michelle Knobel and Colin Lankshear to caution that it may not always be possible or advisable to do so. However, she notes that fan-fiction communities adopt many features of formal writing instruction, such as peer review and revision, and that components of fan-fiction engagement mirror the goals of writing classrooms. In particular, these sites feature learning that is “entirely self-directed” and that is enabled by the kind of intense emotional engagement that fosters learning (58). For these reasons, Kelley urges more “in-depth investigation of the writing practices of these online communities” (58).