Session L.28: Disrupting Interpretations of Language Online


Presenters: Christina Boyles (Michigan State University), Jacob Craig (College of Charleston), Vanessa Osbourne (University of Southern California)

Chair: Laura Sparks (California State University, Chico)

When you think about a “disruption,” the first thing that probably comes to mind is something chaotic that has busted through an orderly or traditional system. And indeed, disruption might be: an upset of regular order, a hitch in a network, or an event or process that inhibits growth. At the same time, disruption isn’t usually a destructive act in and of itself, but rather can be generative. Sometimes, disruption is seen as innovation, especially when it comes to new technologies, business models, or even pedagogies. In this way, disorder can also produce new ways of knowing or being in the world, which is certainly what the panelists presented early Saturday afternoon in “Disrupting Interpretations of Language Online.”

Christina Boyles, “Surveillance Theater: Performance as a Strategy of Sousveillance”

On the last day of the conference, disruption was threaded throughout the presentations via the panelists approaches to pedagogy, where disruption acted as a generative process. The first speaker was Christina Boyles, an Assistant Professor at Michigan State, known in the DH community for her work on surveillance, digital pedagogies, and maker culture. Dr. Boyles opened by speaking about a controversial Twitter post where another scholar described the following assignment: students attempted to de-anonymize a stranger based on the things they said in an eavesdropped conversation. Turns out, you can do this rather easily, but as Boyles pointed out, this disruption of privacy has different implications for surveillance structures within which people are unfairly (or more easily) targeted. Boyles then segued into privacy and surveillance, and how she integrates what she terms “surveillance pedagogies” in the writing classroom, in a way that doesn’t endanger others’ safety.

Boyles pointed out that her students seemed to be hyper aware of the ways they are constantly being surveilled by technology, so she has students take a closer look at corporations’ privacy policies. This helps her students understand the (available) legal discourse that Google (for one) uses to watch over us. After analyzing this language, she has her students write their own privacy policies so they can better understand surveillance and privacy risks. Students also use performance by creating instructional videos that convey security risk and engage in communal problem-solving.

Jacob Craig, “Voices from the Valley: How Marketing Language Shapes Students’ [Performance] Processes”

The next speaker—Jacob Craig—is an Assistant Professor at the College of Charleston, and a rhetorician whose research examines the development of writers in relation to their writing technologies. In his presentation, Dr. Craig discussed languages of affordance in marketing language, in the context of his pedagogy, and in his students’ writerly development. In particular, he talked about how marketing language for technology is differently motivated in print advertisements, and how students can similarly be affected by technological discourses. How might we disrupt traditional pedagogies by considering the languages of affordance, and seeing writing as a design problem that might be solved through the right tool?

Vanessa Osbourne, “Entering the Storehouse of Knowledge: Editing Wikipedia Stubs in the Composition Classroom”

Last but not least was Vanessa Osbourne, a Lecturer at the University of Southern California who researches composition pedagogy and visual rhetoric. In her presentation, Dr. Osbourne discussed an assignment that helped students see classroom work as action-oriented and audience focused. In a class about collective memory and information curation, she described a Wikipedia edit-a-thon where students worked on making shared histories more inclusive by focusing a list of “stubs” (underdeveloped articles) for American activists. This assignment disrupted traditional approaches to knowledge creation by allowing undergraduates to see themselves as knowledge producers rather than just consumers. Furthermore, by creating a piece of public writing, students became more confident in their writing and more aware of their own and others’ citation practices.


The presentations as a whole encouraged me to think more deeply about how I might productively disrupt my own classroom practices, especially as related to digital pedagogies. And while digitality itself already disrupts traditional ways of teaching, learning, writing, and knowing, how might we (as teachers, writers, people) harness this disruption in ways that are generative not only for our students, but also for our own writing practices?

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Sarah Welsh

Sarah Welsh is a PhD candidate at the University of Texas at Austin.

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