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


Schiavone, Aubrey. Consumption vs. Production in Multimodal Textbooks. March CE. Posted 03/24/2017.

Schiavone, Aubrey. “Consumption, Production, and Rhetorical Knowledge in Visual and Multimodal Textbooks.” College English 79.4 (2017): 358-80. Print.

Aubrey Schiavone presents a study of four textbooks designed to support composition’s “multimodal turn” (359). In her view, these textbooks, published in the past fifteen years, can be positioned as “mainstream textbooks” likely to be used by a range of teachers, including teachers new to composition, in designing a class with multimodal components (363). Schiavone presents statistics on citation and sales to support her choice of these books (380).

Schiavone draws on the work of scholars like Robert J. Connors and A. Abby Knoblauch to argue that textbooks influence teachers’ decisions about what kinds of assignments are appropriate in writing classrooms (377). Thus, she argues for “mindful” attention to the particular messages embedded in textbooks about how best to teach activities such as multimodal composition (376). Her analysis suggests that an unself-conscious use of textbook assignments can limit the degree to which classroom practice accords with theories about the nature of multimodality and how students can best learn to respond to and use multimodal artifacts (371).

The books in her study are Picturing Texts (Lester Faigley, Diana George, Anna Palchik, and Cynthia Self, 2004); Rhetorical Visions: Reading and Writing in a Visual Culture (Wendy S. Hesford and Brenda Jo Brueggemann, 2007); Seeing & Writing 4 (Donald and Christine McQuade, 2010); and Beyond Words: Cultural Texts for Reading and Writing (John J. Ruskiewicz, Daniel Anderson, and Christy Friend, 2006) (362).*

Developing her “[t]heoretical [f]ramework” (363), Schiavone cites a number of scholars including Diana George, Lester Faigley, and Steve Westbrook to propose that the use of multimodal elements can function in different relations to text. A “binary” relationship is one in which students are encouraged to examine, or “consume” a visual or multimodal artifact and then produce a separate written text analyzing or responding to the artifact (364).

In a “linear” relationship, illustrated by assignments discussed by Westbrook, students examine products in one mode and then convert them to other modes, for example creating images to capture the meaning of a previously produced essay; in this kind of relationship, in Schiavone’s words, “students’ consumption of visual and multimodal artifacts functions as a kind of scaffolding up to their production of such texts” (365; emphasis original).

Finally, Schiavone identifies a “reciprocal” relationship, which “imagines consumption and production as necessarily interconnected” and, in her view, citing Faigley, encourages students to engage in more meaningful critical awareness of rhetorical processes as they produce their own multimodal artifacts (366).

Schiavone also investigates theoretical definitions of “visual” as opposed to “multimodal” artifacts. In her discussion, a “visual” artifact will be “monomodal” if students are encouraged only to examine an image, whereas artifacts that combine the visual with the textual (e.g., maps) or with other modes such a auditory elements can be more correctly identified as “multimodal.” Schiavone contends that the terms “visual” and “multimodal” have been “conflat[ed]” in some scholarship and that this distinction should be made more consistently (366-67).

In her analysis, Schiavone is concerned with the difference between “consumption” and “production” of various kinds of artifacts. Through her examination of “every assignment prompt across four textbooks, a total of 1, 629 prompts” (371), Schiavone developed codes for “consumption” of textual, visual, or multimodal artifacts (i.e., CT, CV, or CMM) and for “production” of these artifacts (PT, PV, PMM) (369). She provides examples of each kind of code: a prompt receiving a code of CV, for example, might ask students to “examine [the] image carefully until you are reasonably confident that you understand and appreciate how it works. . . ,” while one receiving a PV code might require students to “create a visual adaptation” of another artifact (375, 369; examples in Schiavone’s analysis are taken from McQuade and McQuade, Seeing & Writing).

She notes that some prompts can receive more than one code, for example calling for the consumption of a multimodal artifact and then the production of a textual response (370). She argues that such combinations of codes can either reinforce a binary approach by separating the activities involved in “reductive” ways (374), or they can encourage a more complex understanding of how multimodal composition can work. However, she states, “complexity is not the norm,” with 49% of the prompts receiving only one code and 33% receiving only two (374).

Her findings indicate a “misalignment” between theoretical approaches that advocate more production of multimodal projects in writing classrooms and what the four textbooks appear to promote (373). One result is that the textbooks call for much more production of text than of either visual or multimodal artifacts (372). She detects a pattern in which prompts receiving “linked codes” required students to consume a visual or multimodal item, then produce an essay about the item (374-75). She argues that this pattern perpetuates binary or linear approaches to multimodal instruction.

Her analysis further indicates variation across the textbooks, with Picturing Texts calling for a higher percentage of production, particularly of visual or multimodal items (PT = 28%, PV = 6%, PMM = 25%) than the four books as a whole (PT = 36%, PV = 2%, PMM = 11%) (373).

Schiavone concludes that both individual instructors and compositionists engaged in teacher-training must “be mindful about their uptake of textbook assignment prompts” (376). This caution, she suggests, is especially important when instructors are not necessarily specialists in rhetoric and composition (376). Theory and guidance from sources such as the WPA Outcomes Statement should be more visible in the texts and in the development of instructors (376-77, 378). Textbooks should be seen as “teaching tools rather than full teaching plans” in composition classrooms (377).

Schiavone also notes that the textbooks provided far more prompts than could conceivably be used in any single course, and suggests that the authors could more fruitfully “pay better attention to assignment sequencing” than to quantity of materials (377).

Ideally, in her view, such “mindfulness” should lead to multimodal pedagogies that are “theoretically grounded and rhetorically rich” (378).

*Online searches suggest that some of these texts have subsequently appeared in later editions or with different titles, and some are out of print.


Goldblatt, Eli. Expressivism as “Tacit Tradition.” CCC, Feb. 2017. Posted 03/15/2017.

Goldblatt, Eli. “Don’t Call It Expressivism: Legacies of a ‘Tacit Tradition’.” College Composition and Communication 68.3 (2017): 438-65. Print.

Eli Goldblatt explores what he considers the “subtle legacies” (442) of a “much maligned movement” in composition studies, expressivism (439). His locates his exigency in conversations about the value of a “literacy autobiography” he recently published. These discussions led him to believe that this form of writing did not meet his colleagues’ definition of respectable academic work (438-39).

For Goldblatt, expressivist tendencies may be rejected by theorists but persist in much recent work in the field, creating what Christopher Burnham and Rebecca Powell call a “tacit tradition” within the field (qtd. in Goldblatt 440). Goldblatt argues that recognizing the value and influence of expression will lead to a sense of writing that more fully integrates important aspects of what actually inspires writers.

Graduate students, he reports, often learn about expressivism via the scholarly debate between David Bartholomae and Peter Elbow in 1989 and 1991; such theoretical work cast personal expression as too grounded in the individual and “lacking in a political analysis of the composing situation in schools” (440).

Yet, Goldblatt observes, students often prefer “personal writing,” which they may consider “relatable” (439); his graduate students exhibit interest in the role of the personal in literacy activities in their own research (440). He posits, with Burnham and Powell, that the research from the 1970s by James Britton and his associates reveals “some sort of Ur-expressive drive [that] stands behind all writing” (440).

Goldblatt traces overt strands of expressivism through the work of such scholars as Sherrie Gradin and Wendy Bishop (440-41). He posits that some resistance to expressivism in composition may be traceable to concerns about the kind of research that would lead to tenure and promotion as the field began to define itself within departments heavily populated by literary critics (445). He notes “two stigmas” attached to expressivism: one is its centrality to high-school pedagogy; in its effort to establish itself as a respectable college-level endeavor, composition distanced itself from methods practiced in K-12 (446). Similarly, the field set itself apart from creative writing, in which, Goldplatt recounts, instruction in his experience emphasized “aesthetic achievement rather than self-actualization” (447).

Wendy Bishop, who characterized herself as “something-like-an-expressivist” (qtd. in Goldblatt 448), subsequently became CCCC chair. Goldblatt notes her defense of her pedagogy against the claim that expressivism

keep[s] students in a state of naiveté, [doesn’t] prepare them for the languages of  the academy, . . . and “emphasize[s] a type of self-actualization which the outside world would indict as sentimental and dangerous.” (Bishop, qtd. in Goldblatt 447-48; quoting from Stephen M. Fishman and Lucille Parkinson McCarthy)

Still, Goldblatt contends, her stance was “more admired than imitated” (448), doing little to recuperate expressivism within the field.

Despite his own commitment to poetry, Goldblatt acknowledges the importance of composition’s “social turn” and the power of the “social-epistemic rhetoric” promulgated by James Berlin and others. Still, he finds the rejection of expressivism problematic in recent movements in college writing such as the focus on transfer and the “writing about writing” program advocated by scholars like Elizabeth Wardle and Doug Downs. Goldblatt worries that too much emphasis on “school success and professional preparation” (441) undercuts “two  impulses” that he posits underlie the need to write: “the desire to speak out of your most intimate experiences and to connect with communities in need” (442).

Goldblatt examines “habits of mind” that he associates with expressivism in the recent work of four scholars who, he believes, would not explicitly call themselves expressivists (443). In Goldblatt’s view, Robert Yagelski’s Writing as a Way of Being “seems both anchored in and estranged from expressivism” (448). Yagelski’s focus on “the ‘writer writing’ rather than the ‘writer’s writing’” seems to Goldblatt a “phenomenological” approach to composing (448) that values the social impact of relationships at the same time it encourages individual self-actualization (448). Goldblatt compares Yagelski’s views to Ken Macrorie’s in his 1970 book Uptaught in that both reject “standardized instruction” in favor of “writing as a means to explore and enrich experience” (450), undoing a “false binary” between writing for the self and writing to engage with the world (448).

In Adam Banks’s Digital Griots, Goldblatt finds the personal entering through voice and style that both invoke the African-American tradition while “consciously modeling that social boundaries everywhere must be crossed” (451). Banks recounts “personal testimony” from young African Americans for whom individual storytelling establishes solidarity while creating connections with the past (452). Goldblatt notes that unlike early expressivists, Banks rejects the sense that “all expression is drawn from the same well” (453). Instead, he “remixes” many different individual voices to generate an implicit expressivism as “a deep and dialogic commitment to the individual within the swirl of events, movements, and economic pressures” (453-54).

Tiffany Rousculp’s Rhetoric of Respect recounts her creation and administration of the Community Writing Center at Salt Lake City Community College (454). Goldblatt finds Rousculp addressing tensions between progressive Freirean motives and her recognition that community members from a wide range of backgrounds would have personal reasons for writing that did not accord with the specific goals of the “sponsoring institution” (455). Although honoring these individual goals may seem antithetical to a social-epistemic approach, Goldblatt writes that the Center’s orientation remained deeply social because, in his view of Rousculp’s understanding, “individuals can only be seen within the web of their relationships to others” (456). Only when able to escape the constraints of the various institutions controliing their lives and select their own reasons for writing, Goldblatt posits, can individuals “exert agency” (456).

Sondra Perl’s On Austrian Soil depicts a teaching experience in which she worked with native Austrian writers to explore the legacy of the country’s Nazi past. Stating that he connects Perl not so much with early expressivism as with the origins of the process movement (458), Goldblatt notes her interest in the “personal, even bodily, experience of composing” (457). In his view, her experience in Austria, though painful in many ways, highlights the ways in which students’ emotional positioning, which can both inspire and limit their ability to write, must often become a teacher’s focus (458). Moreover, Goldblatt stresses, the learning both for individuals and the group arose from the shared emotions, as Perl connects what she called each student’s “wonderful uniqueness” (qtd. in Goldblatt 459) with “the socially oriented responsibility” of ethical behavior (459).

Goldblatt hopes for an understanding within composition of how a sophisticated approach to expressivism can infuse writing with the “intentionality, joy, seriousness, and intimacy available in the act of writing” (461). He worries that the writing-about-writing agenda “elevates the study of writing over the experience of writing,” an agenda perhaps appropriate for more advanced writing majors but complicit in what he sees as higher education’s current “hostility toward intellectual play and exploration” in the service of completely managed institutional priorities. He proposes that recognizing the power of expressivism can fuel compositionists’ hopes that students will embrace writing:

Without an urgency that is felt as personal, a writer will always be looking to the teacher, the boss, the arbiter for both permission to begin and approval to desist. (461)


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

West-Puckett, Stephanie. Digital Badging as Participatory Assessment. CE, Nov. 2016. Posted 11/17/2016.

Stephanie West-Puckett presents a case study of the use of “digital badges” to create a local, contextualized, and participatory assessment process that works toward social justice in the writing classroom.

She notes that digital badges are graphic versions of those earned by scouts or worn by members of military groups to signal “achievement, experience, or affiliation in particular communities” (130). Her project, begun in Fall 2014, grew out of Mozilla’s free Open Badging Initiative and the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory (HASTAC) that funded grants to four universities as well as to museums, libraries, and community partnerships to develop badging as a way of recognizing learning (131).

West-Puckett employed badges as a way of encouraging and assessing student engagement in the outcomes and habits of mind included in such documents as the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing, the Outcomes Statements for First-Year Composition produced by the Council of Writing Program Administrators, and her own institution’s outcomes statement (137). Her primary goal is to foster a “participatory” process that foregrounds the agency of teachers and students and recognizes the ways in which assessment can influence classroom practice. She argues that such participation in designing and interpreting assessments can address the degree to which assessment can drive bias and limit access and agency for specific groups of learners (129).

She reviews composition scholarship characterizing most assessments as “top-down” (127-28). In these practices, West-Puckett argues, instruments such as rubrics become “fetishized,” with the result that they are forced upon contexts to which they are not relevant, thus constraining the kinds of assignments and outcomes teachers can promote (134). Moreover, assessments often fail to encourage students to explore a range of literacies and do not acknowledge learners’ achievements within those literacies (130). More valid, for West-Puckett, are “hyperlocal” assessments designed to help teachers understand how students are responding to specific learning opportunities (134). Allowing students to join in designing and implementing assessments makes the learning goals visible and shared while limiting the power of assessment tools to marginalize particular literacies and populations (128).

West-Puckett contends that the multimodal focus in writing instruction exacerbates the need for new modes of assessment. She argues that digital badges partake of “the primacy of visual modes of communication,” especially for populations “whose bodies were not invited into the inner sanctum of a numerical and linguistic academy” (132). Her use of badges contributes to a form of assessment that is designed not to deride writing that does not meet the “ideal text” of an authority but rather to enlist students’ interests and values in “a dialogic engagement about what matters in writing” (133).

West-Puckett argues for pairing digital badging with “critical validity inquiry,” in which the impact of an assessment process is examined through a range of theoretical frames, such as feminism, Marxism, or queer or disability theory (134). This inquiry reveals assessment’s role in sustaining or potentially disrupting entrenched views of what constitutes acceptable writing by examining how such views confer power on particular practices (134-35).

In West-Puckett’s classroom in a “mid-size, rural university in the south” with a high percentage of students of color and first-generation college students (135), small groups of students chose outcomes from the various outcomes statements, developed “visual symbols” for the badges, created a description of the components and value of the outcomes for writing, and detailed the “evidence” that applicants could present from a range of literacy practices to earn the badges (137). West-Puckett hoped that this process would decrease the “disconnect” between her understanding of the outcomes and that of students (136), as well as engage students in a process that takes into account the “lived consequences of assessment” (141): its disparate impact on specific groups.

The case study examines several examples of badges, such as one using a compass to represent “rhetorical knowledge” (138). The group generated multimodal presentations, and applicants could present evidence in a range of forms, including work done outside of the classroom (138-39). The students in the group decided whether or not to award the badge.

West-Puckett details the degree to which the process invited “lively discussion” by examining the “Editing MVP” badge (139). Students defined editing as proofreading and correcting one’s own paper but visually depicted two people working together. The group refused the badge to a student of color because of grammatical errors but awarded it to another student who argued for the value of using non-standard dialogue to show people “‘speaking real’ to each other” (qtd. in West-Puckett 140). West-Puckett recounts the classroom discussion of whether editing could be a collaborative effort and when and in what contexts correctness matters (140).

In Fall 2015, West-Puckett implemented “Digital Badging 2.0” in response to her concerns about “the limited construct of good writing some students clung to” as well as how to develop “badging economies that asserted [her] own expertise as a writing instructor while honoring the experiences, viewpoints, and subject positions of student writers” (142). She created two kinds of badging activities, one carried out by students as before, the other for her own assessment purposes. Students had to earn all the student-generated badges in order to pass, and a given number of West-Puckett’s “Project Badges” to earn particular grades (143). She states that she privileges “engagement as opposed to competency or mastery” (143). She maintains that this dual process, in which her decision-making process is shared with the students who are simultaneously grappling with the concepts, invites dialogue while allowing her to consider a wide range of rhetorical contexts and literacy practices over time (144).

West-Puckett reports that although she found evidence that the badging component did provide students an opportunity to take more control of their learning, as a whole the classes did not “enjoy” badging (145). They expressed concern about the extra work, the lack of traditional grades, and the responsibility involved in meeting the project’s demands (145). However, in disaggregated responses, students of color and lower-income students viewed the badge component favorably (145). According to West-Puckett, other scholars have similarly found that students in these groups value “alternative assessment models” (146).

West-Puckett lays out seven principles that she believes should guide participatory assessment, foregrounding the importance of making the processes “open and accessible to learners” in ways that “allow learners to accept or refuse particular identities that are constructed through the assessment” (147). In addition, “[a]ssessment artifacts,” in this case badges, should be “portable” so that students can use them beyond the classroom to demonstrate learning (148). She presents badges as an assessment tool that can embody these principles.


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).

 


2 Comments

VanKooten, Crystal. Meta-awareness through video composition. CE, Sept. 2016. Posted 11/03/2016.

VanKooten, Crystal. “‘The video was what did it for me’: Developing Meta-Awareness about Composition across Media.” College English 79.1 (2016): 57-80. Print.

Crystal VanKooten argues for the use of video composition assignments to develop students’ metacognitive awareness of composition. For her case study, conducted at a Midwestern public research university, VanKooten worked with students in two first-year writing courses in which the instructors agreed to assign the video project. She selected six students, three from each class; she reports on three women who “related or demonstrated movement toward meta-awareness about composition” by participating in activities and discussions connected with the assignment (64).

VanKooten observed and videoed classes in each section during the assignment, conducted student interviews at the beginning of the course, after the assignment was completed, and at the end of the course, and gathered materials, including the video drafts and final products as well as various reflective documents, such as a final reflective essay in one of the classes (64-65). She reports using a “grounded theory approach” which allowed her to “derive meaning from the data itself” (65). She particularly looked for “observable” evidence of meta-awareness that would shed light on how making videos affected students’ approaches to composition (63).

Noting that the video assignment accords with composition’s tradition of embracing new learning experiences and tools as well as the field’s interest in multimodality (59), VanKooten theorizes that the video effectively raised meta-awareness in her study in part because it presented students with “obstacles”; VanKooten cites John Dewey to contend that encountering obstacles is “educative” in that obstacles lead to “action, effort, and interest” (60). She argues that these responses to the video project enhanced meta-awareness about composition, which she defined as

a student’s ability to move consistently between enacting multimodal compositional choices and articulating how and why those choices are effective or ineffective within a rhetorical context. (58)

Making a video, she states, “highlights” and “makes more obvious” important “rhetorically layered actions” that make up the composition process (59; emphasis original). These actions are “orienting and reorienting” to new processes demanded by different media; “addressing multiple audiences and purposes”; and “examining and shifting parts of a text in order to revise the whole” (61). The video project introduced obstacles into these processes, requiring effort, which engendered “a conscious knowledge of purposes and . . . evaluation of thoughts and actions,” which in turn increased meta-awareness (62).

VanKooten cites Gregory Schraw to categorize aspects of “general metacognitive awareness” as “knowledge of cognition” and “regulation of cognition.” Knowledge may be “declarative (knowing about things),” “procedural (knowing how to do things),” and “conditional,” which means the ability to judge when declarative or procedural knowledge is appropriate (62). Regulation of cognition involves “planning, monitoring, and evaluation” (62).

Finally, effort and metacognitive awareness were supplemented by increased interest, which encouraged more engagement and reflection (62-63).

VanKooten provides examples of the actions and interview responses of the three case-study students. (Lauren and Marlee allowed Van Kooten to use their real names [79n1]). Lauren found the video assignment “fun” because of the many different activities involved (qtd. in VanKooten 66), a comment that VanKooten sees as an indicator of increased interest. Lauren’s desire to communicate her support for arts funding led her to consider broader audiences and ways to use the video components to attract these additional viewers.

In VanKooten’s analysis, this communicative effort led Lauren to consider her purpose more carefully, which in turn encouraged her to examine more closely how different elements of her video contributed to the whole. In these ways, VanKooten argues, Lauren demonstrated both declarative and conditional knowledge, making decisions about “how and why” to apply her understanding of the elements of video production (67). Such evaluative actions also demonstrate “regulation of cognition,” in VanKooten’s view.

Lauren connected the video experience with written composition by noting the importance of revision, which she equated with editing her video and deemed “essential” in both media (qtd. in VanKooten 67).

Marlee also demonstrated engagement with the video process, stating that “I didn’t want to do any of my other homework” (qtd. in VanKooten 68). In VanKooten’s analysis, Marlee also responded to the opportunity to address “actual audiences beyond the classroom” with her video on a summer-camp experience (69). Members of Marlee’s peer audience found the video effects Marlee combined “cool” (69), a reaction that VanKooten believes motivated her to work on the project but that also underscored the “unique” power of video to foreground “layered modes of expression” (69).

VanKooten finds that the sensory appeal of video that Marlee encountered both in her own work and in that of her classmates also enhanced her desire to experiment with a wide range of options and to collaborate with other video authors in class workshops (69-70). Marlee’s descriptions of her engagement further illustrated what VanKooten calls “educative play” that “digital space” facilitates, demonstrating the effects of the medium on the author’s responses (70). Like Lauren, Marlee expressed awareness of the connections between her video work and a written project, for example in her understanding of the importance of “completion” as a way of unifying the message of a project and of using transitions to link parts to the whole (70).

“Logan” had more difficulty “orient[ing]” to the video medium, partly because she had not previously used a video camera (72-73). VanKooten argues that this kind of reaction is an indication of “how video composition makes strange the traditional writing space” (73). Logan writes, “Because I didn’t know what I was doing, I had to work harder” (qtd. in VanKooten 73). In particular, according to VanKooten, Logan focused on goal setting, a strategy that she ultimately extended both to written composition and to personal needs such as planning her college career (75). VanKooten finds that, like the other students, Logan developed her ability to revise to communicate with her audience, regulating her cognition by “monitor[ing] and evaluat[ing]” her process (74).

VanKooten notes that many of the behaviors she recounts were not “observable” but rather were “self-reported during interviews” (76). Also, the evidence of transfer acquired  from the interviews could not be confirmed (77). VanKooten suggests that “[a]lternate research methods” might make student actions more visible, and encourages more self-reflective components in such assignments, including “repeatedly prompting” to raise students’ meta-awareness of their actions (77).

Although she states that a video assignment alone will not necessarily result in these benefits, VanKooten argues that writing programs should incorporate more multimodal assignments because they introduce obstacles requiring more effort and metacognitive development. She offers suggestions for instructors without access to video equipment who wish to incorporate multimodal projects in their classrooms (77).


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).

 


Head, Samuel L. Burke’s Identification in Facebook. C&C, Mar. 2016. Posted 05/10/2016.

Head, Samuel L. “Teaching Grounded Audiences: Burke’s Identification in Facebook and Composition.” Computers and Composition 39 (2016): 27-40. Web. 05 May 2016.

Samuel L. Head uses Kenneth Burke’s concept of identification to argue for Facebook as a pedagogical tool to increase students’ audience awareness in composition classes.

Head cites a range of scholarship that recognizes the rhetorical skills inherent in students’ engagement with social media, particularly Facebook, and that urges composition specialists to take up this engagement with “very real audiences” (27) to encourage transfer of this kind of audience connection to academic writing (27-28, 29). Noting that, according to the National Research Council, new learning depends on “transfer based on previous learning” (qtd. in Head 28), Head contends that, while much scholarship has explored what Facebook and other digital media have to offer, “the pedagogy of transfer with students’ previous experience and prior knowledge of audience in social media requires more scholarly analysis” (28).

In Head’s view, among the skills developed by participation in social media is the ability to adjust content to different audiences in varied contexts (28). He offers Burkeian identification as a means of theorizing this process and providing practices to encourage transfer. Further analysis of transfer comes from work by D. N. Perkins and Gavriel Salomon, who distinguish between “low road transfer” and “high road transfer.”

Low-road transfer occurs when a learner moves specific skills between fairly similar environments; Head’s example is the use of cooking skills learned at home to a restaurant setting. High-road transfer, in contrast, involves using skills in very different contexts. This kind of transfer requires abstract thinking and reflection in order to recognize the applicability of skills across disparate domains (30). Burke’s theory, Head writes, offers a means of evoking the kind of reflection needed to facilitate high-road transfer from the very different contexts of Facebook and a writing class (30, 31).

Head reports on Burke’s identification as a means of persuasion, distinguishing between classical rhetoric’s focus on deliberate efforts at persuasion and the “subconscious” aspects of identification (32); without identification, according to Dennis Day, persuasion cannot occur (cited in Head 31). Identification allows communicators to show that they are “consubstantial” with audiences, thus “bridg[ing] division” (31). This process invokes shared values in order to win audience adherence to new ideas (32).

Head explores aspects of identification theory, including “cunning” identification in which the values shared between audiences are not genuine but are rather created to generate persuasive identification and therefore work to the extent that the audience believes them to be genuine (32). In particular, he notes analysis by George Cheney that discovers “three main strategies” in Burke’s theory: “[t]he common ground technique,” which focuses on shared aspects; “[i]dentification through antithesis,” or the establishment of a “common enemy”; and “[t]he assumed or transcendent ‘we,'” to create group allegiance (qtd. in Head 32). Current scholarship such as that of Tonja Mackey supports Head’s claim that components of identification inform regular Facebook interaction (33).

Head reports on Facebook’s algorithm for determining how users connect with friends. This process, according to Eli Pariser, creates a “filter bubble” as Facebook attempts to present material of interest to each user (qtd. in Head 33). Head suggests that students may not be aware that this “filter bubble” may be concealing more complex combinations of ideas and information; introduction to the theory of identification in the classroom may make them more alert to the strategies that both link them to like-minded audiences and that direct them away from more challenging encounters (33).

Postings by an anonymous “example Facebook user” illustrate the three Burkeian strategies pointed out by Cheney as they inform a Facebook timeline (34). This user establishes common ground by sharing photos and posts that reflect a religious affiliation as well as an interest in fantasy that connects him to many friends. He establishes a common enemy by posting and then collecting likes in opposition to “mandated health care” (34). Finally, he generates a sense of the “transcendent ‘we'” by appealing to group membership in a National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) experience (34). These examples, in Head’s view, demonstrate the degree to which identification is a natural component of Facebook interactions.

For Head, the transfer of this inherent identification to an academic environment involves explicit instruction in the theory of identification as well as reflection on the students’ part as to how these actions can be applied in more formal or novel settings. Students can recognize the strategies and moves that constitute identification in their own Facebook interactions and then can locate similar moves in other types of writing, finally applying them consciously as they connect with academic audiences (35).

Head contends that more teachers need to use platforms familiar to students, like Facebook, to teach rhetorical skills and awareness; he urges teachers to share their experiences with these media and to publish analyses of their findings (36). He reports that his own students enjoyed beginning their rhetorical curriculum with a medium with which they were already engaged, using their own work as a starting point (35). He concludes with a schedule of suggested assignments for making the tenets of identification visible in Facebook and transferring awareness of them to academic projects (36-39).


1 Comment

Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc. Scalar Analysis in Literacy Studies. RTE, Feb. 2016. Posted 03/20/2016.

Stornaiuolo, Amy, and Robert Jean LeBlanc. “Scaling as a Literacy Activity: Mobility and Educational Inequality in an Age of Global Connectivity.” Research in the Teaching of English 50.3 (2016): 263-87. Print.

Amy Stornaiuolo and Robert Jean LeBlanc introduce the concepts of “scales” and “scalar analysis” as tools for examining how people locate themselves in a stratified global context. Scalar analysis moves beyond the dichotomy between “local” and “global,” shedding light on the ways in which locations are constantly in flux and in interaction with each other, often shifting as a result of strategic moves to respond to asymmetries and inequalities.

Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc applied their analysis to five teachers in four countries—India, Norway, South Africa, and the United States—who worked with adolescent students on “a Space2Cre8 (S2C8) project,” which was “oriented to helping young people in challenging circumstances engage in cross-cultural communication” (270).

The five teachers worked with the S2C8 groups once or twice a week during the two-year duration of the project; students engaged in various forms of media to communicate with each other about their lives and cultures. During the project, the teachers met ten times via Skype, communicated in emails, and produced memos and notes; additional data came from interviews and classroom observations (271-72, 284-85). The teachers came from varied disciplines, such as technology, art, history, and design (271). Much of the work took place in English, which was the “only shared language” across the sites (270).

According to Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc, scalar research is useful for literacy studies because of its power to examine how meaning gets created and how it shifts as it moves into and through different contexts (267). Understanding literacy through scales “compels several shifts in literacy research” (268). These shifts revolve around moving from a sense of literacy actions and artifacts as fixed in time and space to understanding them as products of “ongoing and often contentious labor” that evolve through “the active and strategic working/reworking of texts in unequal globalized contexts” (268; emphasis original). Scalar analysis asks scholars to examine “how people are positioned and position themselves and their literate identities in and through literary practice” (269).

Such a focus on the “mobilities” of meaning, Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc contend, is necessary to understand how inequalities are created and sustained, how meaning becomes more or less “understandable” (269) as it enters different scalar levels, and how people negotiate the hierarchical contexts that characterize globalization and in which they inevitably locate themselves. The authors were specifically interested in the ways that educators functioned in an environment understood through the lens of scales; the use of scales as a heuristic can both “explain how difference is turned into inequality” as well as how movement within and across scales can enhance agency for individuals and groups addressing their own marginalization (266).

Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc delineate six scalar “jumps” or “moves.” “Jumps” include “upscaling,” which involves “invok[ing] a higher scale rationale to prevail over lower-scale orders of discourse” (272); for example, institutional factors might be named as a reason for a particular choice. Kgotso, working in South Africa, refers to exam schedules and a teachers’ strike “to justify how he had been using his time” (280). Via “downscaling,” an actor asserts his or her local circumstances to validate a choice (272). Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc recount how Amit, writing from India, focused attention on how local technology limitations affected his group’s participation in the project (275). “Anchoring” privileges the actor’s location in the “here-and-now” without necessarily invoking higher or lower scales. The authors cite teacher emails in the project, in which the teachers claimed authority in reference to “an issue at hand” (273).

Other moves do not necessarily involve jumps. “Aligning” occurs when actors compare scalar locations to strengthen positions. As an example of aligning, Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc present the efforts of Kgotso in South Africa to compare his concerns about the dominance of English with similar issues he saw as affecting Amit’s work in India (278). Kgotso further engaged in “contesting,” a scalar move in which he challenged the “US-centric imprint” of the project, suggesting that the curriculum be reconsidered to address the needs of the two “linguistically disadvantaged” sets of participants (qtd. in Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc 278). Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc provide an example of “embedding” in the way that Maja, in Norway, saw the project as “nested within a number of other entities” such as school and university commitments that affected her own use of time (281).

Such examples, for Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc, indicate the usefulness of scalar analysis to illuminate “gaps” that reinforce inequality. Differences in resources, such as adequate bandwidth, affected the ease with which the teachers were able to integrate the social-media exchanges the project hoped to foster (275). Another important research gap uncovered was the varied access to English as the primary language in communications among students. For example, Maja in Norway saw the need to translate S2C8 contributions into English, and Kgotso contrasted his students’ use of Afrikaans with the need to “cross over” to an outside language when working in the project. Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc consider moves like Kgotso’s and similar ones by Amit to be examples of downscaling, asserting the validity of students’ local practices and needs (277, 281).

Gaps in availability of time also figured prominently in the findings. Materials presented by Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc suggest that the teachers regularly made scalar jumps and moves to position themselves in relation to the amount of time required by the project in comparison to the demands of their local situations and of the higher-order scales in which they found themselves embedded. The teachers, Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc suggest, saw S2C8 as such a higher-order scale, one in some sense “imposed” on their immediate missions and requiring strategic negotiation of the scalar landscape (281).

Although Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc acknowledge that their account of the S2C8 project echoes “familiar narratives” about the issues that arise when the promise of digital communication across space and time is actually put into practice, they argue that these narratives “mask” what scalar analysis can illuminate: “the ongoing labor of producing texts and contexts over multiple affiliations in time and space” (283). Especially visible, they indicate, are the ways that literacy productions are valued differently as they move through different scales. The authors contend that attention to scales provides a “concrete set of tools to highlight the constructed and contingent nature of all literacy practices” (283).


2 Comments

Shepherd, Ryan P. Facebook, Gender, and Compositon. C&C, Mar. 2016. Posted 03/06/2016.

Shepherd, Ryan P. “Men, Women, and Web 2.0 Writing: Gender Difference in Facebook Composing.” Computers and Composition 39 (2016): 14-26. Web. 22 Feb. 2016.

Ryan P. Shepherd discusses a study to investigate how gender differences affect the use of Web 2.0 platforms, specifically Facebook, as these differences relate to composition classes. He argues that, although a great deal of work has been done within composition studies to explore how gender manifests in writing classes, and much work has documented gender differences in online activities in fields such as psychology, education, and advertising (16), the ways in which gender differences in Web 2.0 affect students’ approaches to composition have not been adequately addressed by the field (14).

Shepherd notes that discussions of gender differences risk essentializing male and female populations, but cites research by Cynthia L. Selfe and Gail E. Hawisher as well as Nancy K. Baym to contend that evidence for different behaviors does “persist” across studies and should be considered as composition teachers incorporate digital practices into classrooms (15). Without attention to the ways online composing relates to “aspects of identity and how these aspects shape composing practices when integrating social network sites (SNSs) into FYC [first-year composition] classes” (15), composition teachers may miss opportunities to fully exploit Web 2.0 as a literacy experience and meet student needs (15, 24).

The data come from a survey of FYC students about their Facebook activities and attitudes toward Facebook as a composing platform. Developed through multiple pilots over the course of the 2011 academic year, the survey gathered 474 responses, mostly from freshmen enrolled in some form of FYC at Shepherd’s institution and at other “large, doctoral-granting institutions” from which Shepherd solicited participation via the Council of Writing Program Administrators’ listserv (17). The survey is available as a supplemental appendix.

Shepherd argues that Facebook is an appropriate site to study because of its widespread use by college students and its incorporation of “a number of literacy practices,’ in particular what the 2004 CCCC Position Statement on digital writing calls “the literacy of the screen” (15). Shepherd first explores discussions of Facebook as it has been recommended for and incorporated into writing classes since 2008 as well as studies of student use of the platform (16). He then considers comprehensive work outside of composition on gender differences in the use of Facebook and other SNSs.

These studies vary in their results, with some showing that men and women do not differ in the amount of time they spend on SNSs and others showing that women do spend more time (17). Some studies find that women use such sites for more personal uses like email, compared to the finding that men are more likely to “surf” (17). Women in some parts of this body of research appear to engage more in “family activity,” to provide “more personal information in the ‘about me'” areas, and to worry more about privacy (17). Shepherd discusses one article about student use of Facebook that reveals that women use varied media more often; the article expresses concern about student comfort with online spaces and urges careful scaffolding in incorporating such spaces into classwork (17).

Shepherd presents his findings in a series of tables that reveal that gender had “a more statistically significant effect on more questions and often with more significant differences than any other independent variable” (18). The tables focus on the aspects in which these differences were evident.

In Shepherd’s view, gender difference significantly affected participants’ “rhetorical purposes,” their “different view[s] of audience,” and their varying “rhetorical stance[s]” (21). In general, he states that the data suggest that women are more concerned with “communicating with a broad audience,” while men appear more likely to see Facebook as a way to engage in “direct, personal communication” (22). Evidence for this conclusion comes from such data as the degree to which women and men invested equally in comments and chat, but women were more likely to post status updates, which Shepherd suggests may be a type of “announcement . . . to a large group of people at one time” (22). Women are also more likely to visit friends’ pages. Shepherd’s data also indicates that women think more carefully about their posts and “were more mindful” about the effects of photos and other media, even to the point that they might be thinking in terms of visual arguments (22). Shepherd believes these findings accord with conclusions drawn by Linda A. Jackson, Kevin S. Ervin, Philip D. Gardner, and N. Schmitt in the journal Sex Roles, where they suggest that women are more “interpersonally oriented” while men are more “information/task oriented” (qtd. in Shepherd 23).

In general, women were “more aware of audience on Facebook” (23). Shepherd cites their tendency to consider their privacy settings more often; he proposes that women’s tendency to post more personal information may account for some part of their concern with privacy (23). Moreover, he found that women were more likely to be aware that employers could access information on Facebook. In short, it may be that women “tend to have a greater awareness of people beyond the immediate audience of Facebook friends than men do” (23).

Shepherd sees differences in “rhetorical stance” manifested in the ways that men and women characterize Facebook as a location for writing. In this case, men were more likely to see the platform as a site for serious, “formal” writing and argument (23). The data suggest that men saw many different types of Facebook activities, such as posting media, as “a type of composition” (23). Shepherd posits that because women tend to do more multimodal posting, they may be less likely to think of their Facebook activities as writing or composition (23). He urges more investigation into this disparity (24).

Gender is just one of the differences that Shepherd contends should be taken into account when incorporating Web 2.0 into writing classrooms. His study reveals variation across “age, year in university, language, and attitude toward writing” (24). He suggests that women’s tendency to reflect more on their writing on Facebook can be helpful in course work where reflection on writing is called for (22); similarly, women’s use of multiple forms of media can be leveraged into discussions of visual rhetoric (22). In particular, he writes, students “may not be aware of the rhetorical choices they are making in their Facebook use and how these choices relate to the audience that they have crafted” (24).

Attention to gender, he contends, is an important part of making exploration of such choices and their effects a productive literacy experience when Facebook and other SNSs become part of a composition class (24).