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Kitalong and Miner. Rhetorical Agency through Multimodal Composing. Mar. 2018 C&C. Posted 02/02/2018.

Kitalong, Karla Saari, and Rebecca L. Miner. “Multimodal Composition Pedagogy Designed to Enhance Authors’ Personal Agency: Lessons from Non-academic and Academic Composing Environments.” Computers and Composition 46 (2017): 39-55. Web. 21 Jan. 2018.

Karla Saari Kitalong and Rebecca L. Miner discuss the use of multimodal assignments to enhance student engagement and personal agency. They compare and contrast the responses of students working on multimodal projects in three different scenarios to argue that multimodal assignments, if well-structured, offer opportunities to move students beyond “normative reproduction of received knowledges” (52).

The authors state that even though the “current turn” to multimodality began in 1999-2000, composition is “still grappling with how to teach and engage with the many complexities of multimodal composition” (39). Kitalong and Miner see agreement among scholars that effective use of multimodality involves more than simply including a multimodal component in an assignment (40). In their view, multimodal composition, like all composition, should

allow students to practice so that they can synthesize modes, genres, ideas, and skills, and become ever more fluid and flexible composers. (40)

Such assignments, the authors argue, should instill in students as well a sense that their work has value and can impact issues important to them on both a local and global level (40, 41). Quoting Anne Wysocki, they define this component of “agency” as an awareness that

[b]ecause the structures into which we have grown up are neither necessary nor fixed, they can be changed when we forge new positions for ourselves among them, or when we construct new relations between the different structures that matter to us. (40)

Effective agency is “alert,” in Wysocki’s words, to openings for activism and change (40). Kitalong and Miner argue that their three scenarios illustrate how such alertness can result from the specific activities inherent in multimodal learning when those activities are paired with reflection and revision (40).

The first scenario involved a “front-end evaluation” for an exhibit, Water’s Journey Through the Everglades, “a collection of interactive science museum exhibits” designed to educate visitors in the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, area about the importance of water to individuals and the environment (41) as well as to encourage interest in STEM careers among middle-school children. The evaluation, conducted by Kitalong as “lead formative evaluator,” measured middle-school students’ levels of knowledge about water and its role locally and globally (41). Kitalong and Miner report data collected from 20 sixth-graders given the task of “visually depicting” their knowledge (41).

From drawings provided by the sixth-graders, the authors conclude that at the local level, the students envisioned themselves as active conservators of water, whereas, when asked to portray their role and that of other actors at the global level, they showed humans as “small and passive” (42). Some of the drawings seemed to present “distant views” that included no indication of human action, even though the sixth-grades were enrolled in a STEM magnet school (42).

Kitalong and Miner conclude that while the sixth-graders’ responses indicated that they grasped the material and would be able to learn more, they were not inspired to develop agency.

In contrast, in the second scenario, 75 late-elementary and middle-school students worked with Sketch-N-Tell, an interactive “Discovery Game” that allowed them to create images and designs from “traditional art supplies (paper, markers, crayons)” that they could then digitize and animate (45). The primary purpose of the activity was testing for usability and audience appeal of the game for Come Back to the Fair, an “immersive game-like learning environment that virtually replicates the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair” (44). This environment was intended both to stimulate interest in STEM and to encourage participants to think more critically about the ways technology can impact lives (44).

Kitalong and Miner contend that the assignment to create their own “visions of future technologies” and the encouragement within the project to reflect on and revise their efforts quickly led these students to assume agency as actual contributors to the project (46). Hands-on multimodal participation, they maintain, sparked engagement and inspired students to modify their creations in ways that suggested attention to the global effects of their visions (47). In the authors’ view, students’ responses indicated that “[t]hey were not merely accumulating modes, but coordinating and synthesizing them” (47).

Scenario 3 took place in a sophomore-level composition course taught by Miner at a “STEM-focused school” (47). Students created “Timeline Maps” tracing the development of a product in a field they were considering as a career. The assignment, which led from the production of a multimodal exhibit to a researched argument paper, required attention to ethical issues in the field (48). Creating the Timeline Maps and the related presentations asked students to “dearticulate an assemblage of texts and rearticulate them” in new forms, in the authors’ view thereby encouraging new perspectives and new connections (48). Peer review and a reflective essay helped to generate agency by triggering questions about otherwise familiar processes and products, so that, by the argumentative paper, students were considering their personal positions in relation to ethical issues and taking strong, critically informed stances (49).

The authors posit that the prompt for Scenario 1 limited students’ engagement and sense of agency by asking for “depictions of the status quo” rather than solutions (52). Thus, design of prompts that “explicitly encourage students to learn something new” is one of three components that the authors recommend for making full use of the potential of multimodal assignments (53). A second component is giving students freedom to combine multiple modes; the authors contend that this freedom results in “excitement” and “engagement in their own learning,” which in itself produces the “reflectiveness and self-awareness” necessary for agency (53). In this view, the responsibility imposed by uncertainty about what the teacher expects further demonstrates to students their own ability to exert control (53).

Third, Kitalong and Miner identify time for reflection as one of the most formative elements in Scenarios 2 and 3 (53). They see the act of reassembling familiar materials into new forms as requiring extended time that allows students to find connections to their personal interests. Reconsidering their products through different stages in light of input from peers and other respondents leads students to revise the impact of their projects, in itself an exercise of rhetorical agency (53). The authors argue that multimodal composition enhanced by “the act of describing and reflecting upon their rhetorical choices . . . ultimately provoked a sense of personal agency” in the learning scenarios (54).


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Bastian, Heather. Affect and “Bringing the Funk” to First-Year Writing. CCC, Sept. 2017. Posted 10/05/2017.

Bastian, Heather. “Student Affective Responses to ‘Bringing the Funk’ in the First-Year Writing Classroom.” College Composition and Communication 69.1 (2017): 6-34. Print.

Heather Bastian reports a study of students’ affective responses to innovative assignments in a first-year writing classroom. Building on Adam Banks’s 2015 CCCC Chair’s Address, Bastian explores the challenges instructors may face when doing what Banks called “bring[ing] the funk” (qtd. in Bastian 6) by asking students to work in genres that do not conform to “academic convention” (7).

According to Bastian, the impetus for designing such units and assignments includes the need to “prepare students for uncertain futures within an increasingly technological world” (8). Bastian cites scholarship noting teachers’ inability to forecast exactly what will be demanded of students as they move into professions; this uncertainty, in this view, means that the idea of what constitutes writing must be expanded and students should develop the rhetorical flexibility to adapt to the new genres they may encounter (8).

Moreover, Bastian argues, citing Mary Jo Reiff and Anis Bawarshi, that students’ dependence on familiar academic formulas means that their responses to rhetorical situations can become automatic and unthinking, with the result that they do not question the potential effects of their choices or explore other possible solutions to rhetorical problems. This automatic response limits “their meaning-making possibilities to what academic convention allows and privileges” (8-9)

Bastian contends that students not only fall back on traditional academic genres but also develop “deep attachments” to the forms they find familiar (9). The field, she states, has little data on what these attachments are like or how they guide students’ rhetorical decisions (9, 25).

She sees these attachments as a manifestation of “affect”; she cites Susan McLeod’s definition of affect as “noncognitive phenomena, including emotions but also attitudes, beliefs, moods, motivations, and intuitions” (9). Bastian cites further scholarship that indicates a strong connection between affect and writing as well as emotional states and learning (9-10). In her view, affect is particularly important when teachers design innovative classroom experiences because students’ affective response to such efforts can vary greatly; prior research suggests that as many as half the students in a given situation will resist moving beyond the expected curriculum (10).

Bastian enlisted ten of twenty-two students in a first-year-writing class at a large, public midwestern university in fall 2009 (11). She used “multiple qualitative research methods” to investigate these first-semester students’ reactions to the third unit in a four-unit curriculum intended to meet the program’s goals of “promot[ing] rhetorical flexibility and awareness”; the section under study explored genre from different perspectives (11). The unit introduced “the concept of genre critique,” as defined by the course textbook, Amy J. Devitt et al.’s Scenes of Writing: “questioning and evaluating to determine the strengths and shortcomings of a genre as well as its ideological import” (12).

Bastian designed the unit to “disrupt” students’ expectation of a writing class on the reading level, in that she presented her prompt as a set of “game rules,” and also on the “composing” level, as the unit did not specify what genre the students were to critique nor the form in which they were to do so (12). Students examined a range of genres and genre critiques, “including posters, songs, blogs, . . . artwork, poems, . . . comics, speeches, creative nonfiction. . . .” (13). The class developed a list of the possible forms their critiques might take.

Bastian acted as observer, recording evidence of “the students’ lived experiences” as they negotiated the unit. She attended all class sessions, made notes of “physical reactions” and “verbal reactions” (13). Further data consisted of one-hour individual interviews and a set of twenty-five questions. For this study, she concentrated on questions that asked about students’ levels of comfort with various stages of the unit (13).

Like other researchers, Bastian found that students asked to create innovative projects began with “confusion”; her students also displayed “distrust” (14) in that they were not certain that the assignment actually allowed them to choose their genres (19). All students considered “the essay” the typical genre for writing classes; some found the familiar conventions a source of confidence and comfort, while for others the sense of routine was “boring” (student, qtd. in Bastian 15).

Bastian found that the degree to which students expressed “an aversion” to the constraints of “academic convention” affected their responses to the assignment, particularly the kinds of genres they chose and their levels of comfort with the unusual assignment.

Those who said that they wanted more freedom in classroom writing chose what the students as a whole considered “atypical” genres for their critiques, such as recipes, advertisements, or magazine covers (16-17). Students who felt safer within the conventions preferred more “typical” choices such as PowerPoint presentations and business letters (16, 22). The students who picked atypical genres claimed that they appreciated the opportunity to experience “a lot more chance to express yourself” (student, qtd. in Bastian 22), and possibly discover “hidden talents” (22).

The author found, however, that even students who wanted more freedom did not begin the unit with high levels of comfort. She found that the unusual way the assignment was presented, the “concept of critique,” and the idea that they could pick their own genres concerned even the more adventurous students (18). In Bastian’s view, the “power of academic convention” produced a forceful emotional attachment: students “distrusted the idea that both textual innovation and academic convention is both valid and viable in the classroom” (20).

Extensive exposure to critiques and peer interaction reduced discomfort for all students by the end of the unit (19), but those who felt least safe outside the typical classroom experience reported less comfort (23). One student expressed a need to feel safe, yet, after seeing his classmates’ work, chose an atypical response, encouraging Bastian to suggest that with the right support, “students can be persuaded to take risks” (23).

Bastian draws on research suggesting that what Barry Kroll calls “intelligent confusion” (qtd. in Bastian 26) and “cognitive disequilibrium” can lead to learning if supported by appropriate activities (26). The students reported gains in a number of rhetorical dimensions and specifically cited the value of having to do something that made them uncomfortable (25). Bastian argues that writing teachers should not be surprised to encounter such resistance, and can prepare for it with four steps: ‘openly acknowledge and discuss” the discomfort students might feel; model innovation; design activities that translate confusion into learning; and allow choice (27-28). She urges more empirical research on the nature of students’ affective responses to writing instruction (29).

 


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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).