Review by Abigail G. Scheg
Read more about session C3 on the C&W conference site.
Jacob Craig, Florida State University
Andrew Pilsch, Arizona State
Danielle Nicole Devoss, Michigan State (not present)
LauraAnne Caroll-Adler, University of Southern California
This panel represented a number of different questions, answers, and perspectives regarding the concept of “What is writing?” Although composition instructors and those active in the field of computers and writing are familiar with many types and definitions of writing, these panelists challenged multiple perspectives on the definition and imagination of our discipline. The participants shared their ideas and perspectives on using templates as a place to start with writing (whether multimodal or traditional writing assignments), addressing concerns of what constitutes writing with our institutions, and attempts to move into technological developments without institutional support or encouragement. Therefore, the overarching question of this panel was indeed, “What is writing?” to all persons involved in the university writing process.
“Pausing at Automation: A Pattern-Based Reflective Pedagogy”
Jacob Craig (@symbolizejwbc), Florida State University
Craig’s presentation looked at the way that writing spaces impact the composing process and culminating text. In particular, Craig discussed his experience with students using templates as the place to begin their writing process. Without any prompting, Craig’s students created template-based documents to present their writing from which he learned that reliance on templates is so engrained in our students’ minds that they immediately use templates as their starting place. Craig argues that multimodal assignments conflict with the idea of templates; texts should not just be documents, but rather a structure that the student authors can wholly manipulate.
Using student reflections upon this experience, Craig’s students recalled that most of the rhetorical decisions about the text were, in fact, made by the template, not by the writer themselves. Therefore, the students had to renegotiate what they wanted to do with the content because they felt that it had to fit into a particular framework. Craig explains that creativity in the entire process of document creation, not just in the text, is imperative to the development of multimodal assignments.
“When Writing is no Longer Writing: Institutions, Objects, Disciplines”
Andrew Pilsch (@oncomouse), Arizona State University
Pilsch discussed the institutional challenges that arise when implementing multimodal assignments in the writing classroom. Multimodal assignments, he asserts, are changing the definition and future definition of what constitutes writing. Pilsch explained that at an institution he worked for, there was a required multimodal assignment in every writing course which he used resume writing to fill. Finding that the concepts of visual rhetoric in resume writing made multimodal writing easier for students to work with, he generally found the assignment to be successful. Until, however, this assignment was challenged by Career Services as being part of their institutional responsibility and not an appropriate assignment for a writing course.
This was the context of Pilsch’s main argument—that institutional boundaries are getting to discuss and decide what counts as “composition” in our classrooms; it’s not always the choice of the field or the institution. There is an institutional turf-war, he asserts, that gets to decide the appropriateness of multimodal composition and, in many cases, does not agree with its validity. Pilsch identified this as an element of format theory. More specifically, that format is a social object that is constrained by social anxieties. And, in this case, the social anxieties are of implementing new, multimodal assignments. Thus, instructors are left with the onus of generating, preparing, and now defending multimodal assignments as worthwhile when our field recognizes it, but our departments or administrations do not.
“Writing about Computers—Searching for Questions”
LauraAnne Carroll-Adler, University of Southern California
Carroll-Adler represented a different perspective on this panel because she works for an institution that does not allow multimodal assignments in the classroom; rather, there is an emphasis on writing traditional research papers. In order to work with this challenging dynamic, Carroll-Adler has become interested in writing about computers, not writing with computers.
Her presentation was about varying types of writing assignments about computers and some worthwhile discussion questions and prompts that one could use to engage students in these conversations. Carroll-Adler discussed the challenging nature of discussing technology while working with texts that may be outdated and provided practical tips for engaging students in discussions: present questions that are open for debate regarding technology, not concepts with obvious responses or just two opposing ideas. Some of the ideas that she brought up were about Watson on Jeopardy; grading student papers without a human audience (i.e. just using grading software); engaging in conversations through Wikipedia, and much more.
Because of the varied nature of the presentations within this panel, there were many takeaway moments for attendees and participants. Reimagining composition without the use of templates is paradigm-changing and represents a significant challenge to those at institutions that value and encourage traditional composition assignments. Also, for faculty members who are challenged by institutional constraints, this panel shared ideas for incorporating technology in the composition classroom without altering traditional requirements. Taking this movement a step forward, this panel encouraged instructors and departments to move forward with the development and requirement of multimodal assignments and how to present and argue for the validity of such assignments within the institutional framework.
Dr. Abigail Scheg (@Abigail_Scheg) is an Assistant Professor of English at Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina and researches in the area of online pedagogy, distance education, and regulating standards for online teaching and training.