Review by Elizabeth Fleitz Kuechenmeister, Lindenwood University
Danielle Nicole DeVoss, Michigan State University
Aimee Knight, Saint Joseph’s University
David Sheridan, Michigan State University
Douglas Walls, University of Central Florida
Russell Carpenter, Eastern Kentucky University
James Purdy, Duquesne University
Leslie Wolcott, University of Central Florida
Heidi McKee, Miami University
Andy Frazee, Georgia Tech
This Saturday late afternoon session collected five mini-presentations involving the rhetorical space of the writing classroom, as these spaces have been interpreted through recently built classrooms, labs, media centers, and maker spaces at several universities. David Sheridan and Danielle DeVoss, both of Michigan State, Andy Frazee of Georgia Tech, and Douglas Walls of University of Central Florida, led the session, which filled the room with over forty attendees. Each presenter gave a ten-minute overview of his or her work, and the rest of the 75-minute session was devoted to discussion questions posed by the presenters regarding the issue of classroom lab design.
The presentations were selected chapters from a collection called Making Space, to be published by University of Michigan’s Sweetland Digital Rhetoric Collaborative, edited by James Purdy and Danielle DeVoss. More information about the collection, including several abstracts from selected chapters, is available here.
David Sheridan, filling in for panelist Russell Carpenter, presented Carpenter’s discussion of the Noel Studio, a media lab/classroom space at Eastern Kentucky University. Using photos and examples of student work, Carpenter (via Sheridan) made an argument regarding the vital role that space plays in the multimodal composition practices of college students. He found that this studio space invites a collaborative and creative pedagogy.
Danielle DeVoss presented her work on the media lab and maker space built at Michigan State. Using student examples of social and cultural entrepreneurship (such as a local student-run fundraiser for Japanese tsunami victims), she explained how these work spaces help to foster student collaboration and creation. Focusing especially on the Fab Lab at MSU, this maker space (crafting lab) allows students to be creative and create tactile, handmade objects, an activity that has increased in popularity through what DeVoss calls a “renaissance of material.” As DeVoss argued, “making spaces requires maker spaces.” A video of this maker space at MSU can be found here.
Andy Frazee, representing a collaboration of several Georgia Tech scholars, presented on new media lab initiatives in process at the University. Frazee discussed the rhetoric, process, and multimodality involved in the creation and implementation of these new lab spaces. Frazee showed photographs of the new laptop classroom, communication center, and program headquarters spaces. Frazee argued for the importance of matching a physical space to a specific purpose.
David Sheridan next presented his own project, involving the Language and Media Center at Michigan State. Sheridan showed examples of student work from the digital cutter machine at the LMC. Through these examples and student responses, he noted the ways in which the LMC fosters connections between students, encouraging students to socialize and “hang out” there, ultimately resulting in new collaborations and creations. Sheridan argued that the LMC facilitates, encourages, and participates in a “learning ecology.”
Douglas Walls, the final presenter of the group, discussed methods for using these sorts of design-oriented strategies in pedagogy without the need for state-of-the-art lab spaces. Basing his work in actor-network theory, Walls cites an example of a technology and literacy class he teaches at University of Central Florida and the methods used in that course to integrate notions of design and technology. Walls showed examples of his use of a Twitter archive to measure student participation in online discussion spaces and how he used the social network to expand discussion beyond the space of the physical classroom.
The remainder of the time was used for open discussion about these issues, with Danielle DeVoss taking notes, the results of which can be found here. Among the many comments and questions, some notable points included:
- Michael Day posed the question asking how to make an argument to a University administration for this kind of infrastructure, to argue for the creation of a media lab or maker space.
- Janice Walker commented about the need to anticipate changes in technology needs on campus when making considerations about designing a lab space, citing her own campus’s reduction of lab spaces due to increased student ownership of laptops, tablets, and mobile devices.
- Dickie Selfe brought up the issue of the desire to make these kinds of spaces and work open and available to students, and the tension with the occasional need to make these spaces private for students to comfortably and safely explore their ideas.
- Kathleen Blake Yancey commented about the importance of fostering a dialogue with other disciplines about the construction and use of these spaces, to build coalitions across the University to use and appreciate these labs.
- There was an in-depth discussion about how changes in spatial considerations impacted the creation and design of labs. The issue of running out of physical space in which to build a lab was brought up. Someone asked if the laptop could conceivably be considered a space, and discussions also involved issues associated with the increasing use of online spaces and online classes.
- Near the end of the discussion time, issues of student/instructor safety in online and physical spaces, involving privacy as well as accessibility issues, were brought up as having a major impact on the usability of these spaces.
More about this session, including links to PDFs and PowerPoints used in the session, is found here.
Elizabeth Kuechenmeister is an Assistant Professor of English at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO. She teaches courses on writing, research, and grammar, and has a research agenda focused on women’s rhetorical practices in cookbooks and other quotidian texts and spaces.