C&W 18 DRC Mini-Workshop Reflection: “The DRC as a Digital Rhetoric Playground: Writing in the Classroom, Writing in the World”

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At the DRC’s 2018 mini-workshop at Computers & Writing, our focus was on how the work of the DRC may fill the gap between classroom conversations and real world events. Using select materials curated from past DRC posts, attendees brainstormed problems and issues that arose on a topic and created activities building from it. Guiding questions included:

  • What kinds of activities could this post/posts help us develop?
  • What kind of writing classroom would this activity be for? (first-year composition, upper level writing, writing in the discipline, graduate classes, etc.)
  • What is “writing out in the world?” How does this activity help students understand writing beyond their classroom?
  • What are the goals/outcomes of the activity?
  • How might these activities connect to the conference theme of phronesis?

The mini-workshop asked attendees to work in small groups focused on one of the four following topics. Below are takeaways from each of the groups.

Remediating Dis/Ability

This group was based off the 2016 blog carnival Cripping Digital Rhetoric and Technology. Some posts discussed included Remediating Disability, Combinatory Composition, Anxiety and Technology in the Classroom, Image Accessibility Part I & Part II, and A Reflection and Step-by-Step Process of Using Open-Source Software to Closed Caption Video

  • Cripping technology (and our writing classrooms) involves moving beyond accommodations and learning to center and value other forms of participation
  • We have to learn how to preemptively prepare for multiple forms of engagement (and push our universities to do so) rather than waiting for students to come forward and self-disclose
  • Cripping technologies calls us to be attentive to the power of writing to both include and exclude
  • In our classrooms, we want to both push students to recognize how writing is empowering and dangerous, as well as teaching them ways to engage in technology that are accessible (for example, teaching them to create captions when making videos)
  • All of the above calls for a mindfulness that is connected to the Computers and Writing theme of phronesis

Makerspaces & Writing

This group used the 2016 blog carnival Makerspaces and Writing Practices, specifically the following blog posts: Precarious Deliberation and Failing Faster, A Maker Mentality Toward Writing, and Writing is Making: Maker Culture and Embodied Learning in the Composition Classroom

  • Maker projects prompt us and our students to think about how materiality matters to the message.
  • Making as work and effort causes us to reexamine writing as labor. These maker projects are ones we (as instructors) would want students to do collaboratively to not only share that labor but to utilize students’ unique abilities.
  • In our classrooms, we both need to help guide students and help them think critically to produce the level of work some of the projects the posts shared.
  • How does failure live in the classroom? Maker projects often incorporate failing faster and this can be a means to prompt revision and reworking. To have time for such revision and to develop that culture of failure faster, these are projects we would assign early in the semester.
  • We are left considering if and how we share and make public these projects? Who is the audience?

Rhetorics and Ethics of Smart Technologies & AI

This group used the DRC’s 2018 Blog Carnival. The guiding post was McKee & Porter’s “The Impact of AI on Writing and Writing Instruction.”

  • AI is already here and we should be prepared to respond to their presence in writing practices and pedagogies.
  • We must consider and address issues of access, agency, representation (identity, voice, embodiment, affect, lived experiences, culture), and privacy in AI writing.
  • We ask: where does AI begin and end?
  • When writing scholars deal with AI, are we intervening or mere reacting?
  • Possible exercise for the classroom: Creating Twitter bots to learn AI programming, expressions, data mining, and analysis.

Social Justice and Games

This group used the DRC’s 2016 Blog Carnival: Social Justice and Gaming, as well as additional webtexts and conversations. Posts discussed were Tropes of Feminine AI, Backless Dresses and Walking Shirtless Scenes: Gender Politics in Castlevania, Building Empathy and Empowering Others Through Live-Action Role Play, and the Blog Carnival wrap-up post.

  • Critiques of games and/or popular media artifacts have places in many kinds of classrooms, including literature and rhetoric/composition classes.
  • Possible uses for these texts include (1) immersing students in an experience they wouldn’t otherwise have and (2) helping students see something they wouldn’t otherwise notice.
  • Gamification could be a productive pairing for social justice content because the context of the game, either playing it or creating it, might enable students to try things they wouldn’t otherwise try.
  • Possible uses in the classroom: articles as basis for critiquing a media object, gamifying cultural critique, creating games designed to bring attention to social justice concerns, re-creating critiqued objects to address concerns

Our workshop group designed the following classroom activity: “How would SIRI sound if she was…” To put on students’ radar the trope of AI as feminine and submissive, students attempt to rethink how SIRI would sound if she was a different character, which could be taken from literature, games, television, etc.: a drill sergeant, Lara Croft, Sarah Connor, an action hero, an objectified AI, etc. The activity might also prompt discussion of gender and racial representation in the popular culture artifacts under discussion.

Reflections from the Group Discussion

The mini-workshop concluded with a large group discussion where the groups shared their activities, reflected on themes across the groups, and considered future possibilities for how the DRC might be used and resources it could provide.

One theme that emerged across each of the groups’ classroom activities was the emphasis on creating and making. While the Makerspaces group was inherently prompting making, each of the groups also found themselves developing activities that prompted creating, whether captions, Twitter bots, or imagining what SIRI could sound like.

The discussion and the different activities had us also considering the implications for pedagogical practices and how they shift. As the activities could scale from classroom activities to multi-part projects, we were left considering what assessment could be for the projects. There is the question as well of how much access the instructor has, especially with regards to knowledge to technology.

Not only do these activities have implications for pedagogical practices, but they also caused us to reflect more so on our learning goals. As instructors, we want to develop activities that would be fun to teach our students and for them to engage in.

As the Remediating Dis/Ability group further reminded us, it is important to consider when we are being able blind. The discussion ended with the theme of reaching out and how the activities serve as a means of bridging the gap between writing in the classroom and writing in the world. The DRC was considered as a space to invite students to participate. With student’s work being public beyond the classroom, there is the need to have safe spaces.

Reflections from Participants

Marcia Bost, Shorter University (Social Justice and Games workshop group):

Reflection on blog carnival activities: Bouncing ideas off each other is always fun and usually productive. I like how our Siri activity leads students to explore the expected gender stereotypes which are reflected in the blog posts. We talked about using this activity in first year composition, but I’m wondering about whether it could be used in upper level courses as well. In addition to first year composition, I teach a course on Editing and Publishing, which focuses on the conventions and ways to publish.  The Siri activity could be used as an introduction to the pitfalls of relying too heavily on the conventions and of editing for ever-changing demands of the social media. I also teach a course called Modern Writing, where we explore the digital genres of writing such as Twitter, Facebook, and memes. I’m thinking that the Siri activity could be used as an introduction to analysis of any of these genres, pointing students towards their own critical thinking about the issue of gender representation.

Marc Santos, University of Northern Colorado (Social Justice and Games workshop group):

I enjoyed our workshop group. My research interests focus on a notion of postpedagogy informed by Rickert, Davis, Vitanza, and Ulmer. Part of that notion involves avoiding directly confronting ideology. Direct confrontation can lead to resistance and resentment. Games can approach ideology in non-direct ways, potentially prompting students to ask questions themselves. I think the impact of Bogost and Holmes suggests that we are better off changing what people do in hopes changing what they think (rather than the other way around), and games facilitate such change.

I liked our idea of redesigning Siri because it doesn’t necessarily directly present itself as a critical, ideological activity. But we can, with optimism, hope that students will be spurned to ask that question—to think critically about why Siri was designed as she was. Not every student will ask such questions, but I bet many would. And such questioning would likely be more authentic, more powerful, more transformative, because they were asking it.

Final Thoughts

Overall, Computers & Writing and our mini-workshop provided us with the opportunity to reflect on our own pedagogical practices and how we engage and re-engage the DRC. Particularly evident throughout the groups’ takeaways and the reflections is the importance of fostering and developing students’ critical thinking. Thank you to all who participated in our mini-workshop. If you have other ideas of how you might (or already have!) utilize these DRC  materials or others in your classroom, we would love to hear from you in the comments!

About Author(s)

Lauren Garskie is a PhD student in the Rhetoric & Writing Program at Bowling Green State University. Her interests include design, literacies, digital rhetoric, and multimodality.

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