Session 565 ~ What Is the Next Thing? Postmodern Pedagogies in the Composition Classroom

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Reviewed by Nick Carbone

Presiding
Elizabeth M. Schwartz, San Joaquin Delta Coll., CA

Panelists
Elizabeth Harris McCormick, LaGuardia Community Coll., City Univ. of New York
Lykourgos Vasileiou, LaGuardia Community Coll., City Univ. of New York
Lanta Davis, Baylor Univ.
Matthew Parfitt, Boston Univ.
Miles McCrimmon, J. Sargeant Reynolds Community Coll., VA

Program arranged by the Discussion Group on the Two-Year College

Powered by conviction and enthusiasm, the panelists in “What Is the Next Thing? Postmodern Pedagogies in the Composition Classroom” described classroom assignments that invigorate their teaching and, they said, student learning. Like so many teaching ideas, those shared by this panel were not, strictly speaking, new. Online peer review, using television clips to illustrate argument, assigning students to compose for Wikipedia, and asking students to go online to socially comment on assigned readings—all ideas this panel shared—have been around for a while.

But when it comes to pedagogy and sharing good teaching ideas, it is not always necessary to be first and newest. The opposite is true: for good ideas to spread, new people need to be exposed to them by experienced people who do well by them. And so it was in this session as I watched the packed audience from my seat in the back row: pens scribed and heads nodded as the presenters shared their ideas.

Energetic panels such as this make the audience want to talk, but unfortunately, little time for discussion remained at the end. However, someone did volunteer a cry-for-help question about what to do when a student balks at online work. This question unintentionally shifted the focus from recommended practices to classroom management. But in a lot of ways, this question reveals a fundamental concern still asimmer under the surface for many instructors as they try to integrate online tools and pedagogy into their teaching: how to assure the requirement meets a learning need, how to work through student resistance, how to handle students’ technology confusion, how to get around problems with access to technology, and other issues that frequently occur when asking students to do online work. Although the panel gave good advice on addressing resistance, their overriding point was in the panel’s very premise: when a teacher believes in the pedagogical value of a good teaching idea, resistance is futile.

In “Peer Review 2.0: Using Digital Technologies to Transform Student Critiques,” Elizabeth Harris McCormick and Lykourgos Vasileiou described a micro study on peer review, in which one class provided feedback on each others’ drafts through a blog and another class did so by swapping printed drafts. McCormick and Vasileiou reported that blog comments tended to be more longer and more detailed compared to comments on paper drafts; however, students seemed to fall back into more “reader response” type of comments on the blog rather than providing constructive feedback. I look forward to reading more details about this study when and if McCormick and Vasileiou publish their full findings.

In “How I Met Your Argument: Teaching through Television,” Lanta Davis, showed and told how clips from two popular television shows – “How I Met Your Mother” and The Office (– provided funny and relatable examples of argument, making it easier for her to illustrate such concepts as ethos, logos, pathos, warrants, claims, and evidence. For Davis, the use of the clips was less about their entertainment value, which is readily appreciable, and more about how the clips quickly jump-start students into doing their own analysis. She referred to a learning pyramid similar to this one and claims that students learn more by doing and teaching rather than being lectured to; she sees the clips as tools for motivating students and increasing learning.

In “Writing Wikipedia as Postmodern Research Assignment,” Matthew Parfitt described how he assigned first-year composition students to write for Wikipedia as a way of complicating the epistemology students bring from high schools, moving them beyond mere reiteration towards the active questioning of ideas. Through analyzing Wikipedia, students come to understand that, as Parfitt put it, truth in Wikipedia isn’t about “Truth” but rather is about the verifiability of documented sources. In addition to meeting his epistemological goals, Parfitt also noted that the Wikipedia article topics are challenging, requiring students to do extensive research, taking them into the library where they work with librarians to go beyond basic web searches and the library catalog.

Note: A source Parfitt didn’t draw upon, but one worth considering if you’re contemplating developing a Wikipedia assignment is Robert Cummings’ book, Lazy Virtures.

In “Weaning Isn’t Everything: Beyond Postformalism in Composition,” Miles McCrimmon, offered a look at a new Web-based tool for social reading from Carnegie Mellon called the Classroom Salon, and explained how he uses it to reinvigorate some teaching ideas that first emerged in the 1980s, where students were asked to create newsletters, newspapers, or magazines – collaborative projects with a variety of roles for students. McCrimmon’s observed that information has never been cheaper and education has never been more expensive; he argues that for higher educators to succeed we must wean ourselves away from the one-size-fits-all assignments and move towards teaching our students about aggregation, annotation, reflection, and publication in today’s media-saturated world. McCrimmon notes that many social websites– Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Blogs, Social Bookmarking – are tools for aggregating, annotating, reflecting, and publishing. What students do in those spaces have direct bearing on how we operate as scholars and citizens making our way through tsunamis of information.

The start of this review posit that the ideas presented were not, strictly speaking, new. Yet each offers new twists because the presenters adapted those ideas to their circumstances: where they teach, the students they have, the technology they’re comfortable using. This means that they created a new incarnation of ideas percolating in our field, and by so doing, keep those ideas alive and growing. Were this panel a full or even a half day workshop, one could imagine the extended discussion participants could have about the kinds of adaptations and adjustments they would make in their classrooms. The panelists, one imagines, would tell richer origin stories about their practices, about the tweaks and adjustments they made from their first classroom to their most recent. Still, as it is, the panel gifted attendees with a pedagogical store house of ideas that are accessible, ideas that I think everyone who attended could picture themselves use in their teaching and picture their students following and learning from. I imagine many who attended this session are using these ideas now, dreaming new pedagogies and visualizing how it might flower in their classrooms.

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