In this Wiki Wednesday post, Dr. Simone Sessolo discusses the ways in which he incorporated the DRC Wiki into his undergraduate new-media writing course. Dr. Sessolo shares his course design and his take on the multi-dimensional benefits of encouraging students to use and contribute to the DRC Wiki.
At the University of Michigan’s Sweetland Center for Writing we offer several classes on new media writing, some of which are semester-long while others are mini-courses (7 weeks). One mini-course that I designed and had the privilege of teaching three times is “The Rhetoric of Memes.” This is an undergraduate upper-level course that examines what image-macro memes say and how they say it, analyzing them from the perspectives of visual and argumentative rhetoric. Each of the three iterations culminated in a “meme” project, the sum of which is intended as a sequencing structure to understand and participate in meme culture. In fact, these three mini-courses could easily be molded into one long-semester course. In the first, students created a website that houses analyses of popular image-macro memes, and the website was ultimately published by The Journal for Undergraduate Multimedia Projects (you can access that project here: http://jump.dwrl.utexas.edu/node/261/layout). In the second, students created a website that offers original image-macro memes about their discourse communities, thus shifting the focus from analysis to composition (you can access that project here: https://uofmemes201.wordpress.com/). And in the third, students wrote wiki entries with active links for the Digital Rhetoric Collaborative Wiki, to summarize and become more familiar with key texts and issues in the field. In fact, familiarizing with and browsing through the DRC Wiki was a central component of the course.
I was inspired to set up a class project for the third iteration that contributed to the DRC Wiki because it worked very well with the sequencing structure that I wanted the three iterations to have. Even though the courses are new media ones, steeped in multimodality, the sequence is strongly based on the five canons of classical rhetoric: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. While the first two iterations deal specifically with invention, arrangement, and style of meme-writing, contributing to the DRC Wiki seemed the best opportunity to focus specifically on memory and delivery—two canons that are often associated with speech, rather than writing, and so they might not find the appropriate space in the writing classroom. That is, writing wiki entries would help students “memorize” the work they had been doing in the analysis and composition of memes, and as a consequence the DRC Wiki would “deliver” that work to a wider community of people interested in digital rhetoric.
My experience in teaching using the DRC Wiki was extremely productive, and it made teaching quite easy. Students are already familiar with using Wikipedia for their research, and they know quite well, instinctively, the writing conventions of a wiki entry. As a matter of fact, using the DRC Wiki offered a wonderful opportunity for merging prior and emerging experience. Students could draw on their everyday experience as multimedia users and connect it to their academic work. Most of all, in using the DRC Wiki students realized that their work was not confined to the classroom, but it could contribute to common and shareable knowledge—they learned to be scholarly contributors to a vibrant discussion. That is to say, the DRC Wiki brought the world into our classroom.
As a class, we contributed three entries to the DRC Wiki. For the key “Threshold Concepts in Digital Rhetoric” we added the entry “Memetic Rhetoric.” In it, we explained some rhetorical theories that we think can be used in understanding how memes work: Bakhtin’s concepts of heteroglossia and carnivalesque, and recent linguistic studies in ambient affiliation. For the key “Texts” we added the entry “Websites on Memetic Rhetoric.” In it, we introduced and shared links for the two websites we created on the analysis and composition of image-macro memes; this entry works very well with the “memory and delivery” aspect of the class, since it allows student work to be accessed and circulated. Finally, for the key “Technologies and Software” we added the entry “Memes.” There, we considered what the basic characteristics of a meme are, not just in its image-macro version but throughout history: propagation, duration, and replication. Following Richard Dawkins’ pioneering work on memes, we define a meme as anything that can be easily replicated, that spreads easily among discourse communities, and that lasts for a determinate period of time (it could be a week or a century).
Perhaps the most important aspect, for me and for my students, about teaching using the DRC Wiki was that the entries we contributed are not a point of arrival, but a beginning. A wiki is a living document resting on multitudinous authorship. In the same way, multimodal writing is often collaborative writing, in which composition and revision constantly intertwine. So, the entries we created for the DRC Wiki serve as an invitation: my students and I invite the digital rhetoric community to add to them, revise them, update them. Using the DRC Wiki in the writing classroom allowed our learning to become, so to speak, organic, and it convinced my undergraduate students that they can be active participants in scholarly discourses. My students realized that, millennials as they are, they grew up with a particular set of multimodal skills, and these skills have a place in the multimodal writing classroom.