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New Media in the Composition Classroom: Concerns and Complications
In 2004, members of the Conference on College Composition and Communications (CCCC) met to discuss the emerging role of technology in writing instruction, and to create a statement that addressed teaching, learning, and assessing writing in digital environments. In it, they assert that, “The focus of writing instruction is expanding: the curriculum of composition is widening to include not one but two literacies: a literacy of print and a literacy of the screen. In addition, work in one medium is used to enhance learning in the other” (CCCC 2009). At its most fundamental level, the statement acts as a recognition of the ever deepening relationship between technology and writing pedagogy, as well as of the mutual ways in which these areas have the potential to enhance one another’s utility in the writing classroom. On a deeper level, the CCCC statement alludes to some of the eminent concerns surrounding the impact/s of new media on teaching, learning, and writing in increasingly digitized 21st century classrooms.
Perhaps the most prominent concern surrounding new medias’ implementation in the composition classroom has to do with, “[…] Those teachers who fear using any form of technology apart from those which they are very comfortable (e.g., chalk/chalkboard and printed page)” (Duhaney 2000). Although these teachers are often criticized for their inability to “get with the times” and modernize their classrooms and teaching strategies to better suit the needs of an increasingly technologically driven society, their concerns are often valid and worthy of consideration. Not surprisingly, a significant underlying concern for these teachers is their lack of knowledge regarding how to use specific facets of technology and/or new media, as well as a lack of supplementary training and support from their respective administrations and/or institutions. Another prominent concern that Duhaney’s statement alludes to is the fear that, “[S]chools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning” (Richtel 1). This concern is particularly resonant among composition instructors, who find themselves worried that; “The negative impacts [of new media] include… decreasing the quality of student writing” (Russellet al. 2003). The concern that Russell et. al. point to is that while technological innovations in new media may expand the focus of writing, their efficacy in improving students’ fundamental writing abilities is still questionable.
Despite these concerns, significant scholarship regarding the use of new media in composition instruction suggests numerous benefits associated with writing for and in (new) multiple media (See: Kerawalla et. al. (2009), Magnifico (2010), McGloughlin & Lee (2008), Marwick & boyd (2010)). The work of these authors and indeed and great deal more support the effectiveness of new media in enhancing student learning, and suggests that new media technologies themselves may not be the cause of poor student performance, but rather that instructors are often ill equipped to effectively and purposefully integrate new media into their specific teaching strategies. This lack of constructive application in the classroom resonates with anxieties about how to approach using new media in general and the cycle continues, keeping reluctant and non-proficient instructors at bay, and depriving their students of advantageous tools that can support their learning. For advocates of new media in the composition classroom, the emerging imperative seems then to be aiding instructors in accessing and engaging with new media technologies while maintaining the academic standards of college-level writing. While a number of scholars have suggested approaches to dealing with these apprehensions individually, Bolter and Grusin’s theory of remediation offers a compelling precedence in addressing them simultaneously.
(Re)mediating Composition Pedagogy
In their book Remediation: Understanding New Media, Jay D. Bolter and Richard Grusin argue that, “What is new about new media comes from the particular ways in which they refashion older media and the ways in which older media refashion themselves to answer the challenges of new media” (Bolter & Grusin 15). The act of “refashioning” is regarded as a cornerstone of new media, and is exercised through a practice that the authors refer to as remediation, “[A] more complex kind of borrowing in which one medium is itself incorporated or represented in another medium” (45). In this definition, Bolter and Grusin specifically emphasize the borrowing of mediums as an essential characteristic of remediation and, “[…] a defining characteristic of new media” (45). The authors are careful to point out, however, that while new media technologies build upon, borrow from, and refashion prior mediums for the purpose of innovation, their basic functions fundamentally relate to and derive from basic human activities. They write, for example that, “The [computer] mouse and the pen-based interface allow the user the immediacy of touching, dragging, and manipulating visually attractive ideograms” (23). Here, Bolter and Grusin highlight the ways in which the sophisticated technology of a computer mouse and a pen-based interface more or less replicate (and to a further degree, remediate) the sensation of touching, moving, and manipulating objects. The authors draw similar parallels throughout the early chapters of the book, highlighting the ways in which new technologies (cameras, word processors, televisions) remediate the essential characteristics of basic activities (drawing, writing, acting) through ever developing successive mediums.
The process of remediation does not happen at random, but rather occurs over “[A] spectrum of different ways in which digital media remediate their predecessors, a spectrum [that depends] on the degree of perceived complexity or rivalry between the new media and the old” (45). This rivalry refers to our cultures ever present desire, “[T]o multiply its media and to erase all traces of mediation: ideally, [to] erase its media in the very act of multiplying them” (5). The disparity between these two goals highlights the inherent binary opposition that exists within remediation, calling attention to two distinct categories of mediums: immediate and hypermediate. While immediacy refers to, “[…] ignoring or denying the presence of the medium and the act of mediation” (11), hypermediacy is defined as, “[M]ultiple acts of representation made visible by explicitly referencing the [multiple] medium[s] involved [within them]” (33-34); essentially the opposite of immediacy. Though the authors argue that new media technologies inherently move towards immediacy in an attempt to immerse users within the “authentic” experience of the medium, they acknowledge that the multiplicity of the mediums utilized within hypermediacy create their own form of hybridized authenticity, and therefore has an equally significant relationship with remediation (53, 48). Ultimately, Bolter and Grusin argue that, “Hypermedia and transparent media are opposite manifestations of the same desire: the desire to get past the limits of representation and to achieve the real” (53), by either erasing or emphasizing the medium of communication. While the authors discuss remediation primarily in the context of aesthetics and technology, their theory has potential application within the field of composition as well.
In the same way that remediation can be seen borrowing basic characteristics of certain human activities for the purpose of aesthetic and technological innovation, so too can it be seen as borrowing from existing social and institutional ideologies in an effort to utilize them within a particular medium. In other words, a new media technology like Moodle, a classroom management tool used by secondary and higher education instructors alike, remediates the notion/ideology that students benefit from having their instructors directly engage with their work outside of a classroom setting, and (re)mediates that ideology through a (new) technological medium. This deconstructed approach to using new media has significant potential to intervene in aiding writing instructors who are reluctant to or skeptical of integrating new media technologies into their existing pedagogies. For the former, it provides a point of access at which reluctant instructors can identify specific pedagogical elements that they are familiar (peer-response, audience awareness, genre, etc.) and examine how they operate within the expanded medium of new media for the purpose developing a mutually inclusive pedagogy. For the latter, and especially those writing instructors who question new media’s ability to meaningfully improve student writing, this approach illustrates the fundamental pedagogical elements that are present in new media technologies, and draws direct parallels between these elements and their (new) mediums. To further explore the potential benefits of applying remediation theory to the development of new media based pedagogies, I will examine two emerging new media tools within composition pedagogy: Twitter (immediate) and blogging (hypermediate). In doing so, I will highlight the traditional pedagogical elements that are remediated within each medium and explore the various ways in which these (new) technologies can be purposefully applied within composition pedagogy.
Twitter: A Dialogue of Immediacy
Twitter is a microblogging website designed to let users communicate with a network of friends/”followers” in short, 140-character “tweets” or posts that answer an initial prompt reading, ‘What are you doing?’ As a whole, Twitter remediates the act of conversation, as it enables users to engage in an extended dialogue that occurs in real time and can include various numbers of participants. The real time aspect of Twitter highlights the immediacy of the medium, as it seeks to efface the time lapse more keenly felt by e-mail and its remediated predecessor, letter writing. While Twitter strives for immediacy, it is hindered by “The common feature of numerous forms [of immediacy]… the belief in some necessary contact point between the medium and what it represents” (Bolter & Grusin 30). In the case of Twitter, the contact point between the medium (Twitter’s interface) and the message (point of communication) exists in physical act of composing a tweet. Here, the author must actively engage in an act of physically and verbally expressing their thoughts within the added constraint of a 140-character space. It is at this point of contact that the pedagogical benefits of Twitter in composition studies are rooted.
Although Twitter was not originally created for classroom use, it has gained prominence as a communicative tool between teachers and students, as well as between students and their fellow classmates (Dunlap & Lowenthal 2009). It is through these successive, often rapid communicative acts that users/students are able to engage in a dialogue with a live audience that can immediately respond to and engage with the content of the their tweet/s. As result, “Twitter users negotiate multiple, overlapping audiences by strategically concealing information, targeting tweets to different audiences and attempting to portray both an authentic self and an interesting personality” (boyd & Marwick 2010). By engaging in and with multiple, overlapping audiences, users are positioned to gain an awareness of classic rhetorical conventions like logos, ethos and pathos, which in turn enable them construct tweets that are aware of and directed towards specific audiences, their needs, expectations, and how to fulfill them. Another, perhaps more subtle advantage of audience awareness via Twitter is a generally increased recognition of diverse discourse communities and the specific and various discursive conventions that are necessary to communicate effectively within a given community. In doing so, Twitter highlights the (remediated) pedagogical notion that audience awareness helps to improve student writing (Lunsford & Ede 1984), and suggests further application/s for this new media technology within composition pedagogy.
While Twitter remediates the seemingly simple activity of communication through a written medium, its position within the larger space of the information society (web) calls attention to the “new” (and implicitly improved) aspects of this technology. As Sachu and Gilly note Twitter users, “[Think] of their work [writing] as constructed for the public; even if they focus on friends or family, users ‘acknowledge the potential for [their] audience to be unlimited and unified’” (boyd & Marwick 2010). The existence of this unlimited and unified audience is made exponentially possible within the space of the internet, where users publically assemble and engage in a variety of activities including social interaction, discourse, and debate (Habermas, 27). It is within this (new) media spaces that users are again positioned to experience the discursive interplay between themselves and other users as immediate, on going, and “real”. Through this positioning, students are better situated to follow Twitter’s imperative to “Join the conversation!” and contribute to the joint-public discourse of the Twitter-verse. With relation to composition studies, this imperative can help students to conceptualize themselves as members of an ongoing academic discourse that is directly impacted and altered by their participation within it. This conceptualization has the potential to ascribe meaning and purpose (exigency) to student writing, as users are able to quickly recognize why their writing “matters” through its impact on their audience and their collaborative discourse. Furthermore, increased social interaction among classmates and student-lead communal learning are two significant additional benefits to using Twitter in the classroom, as they help to engage students socially and mentally. An increased sense of audience awareness, the dynamics of public writing, and the “purpose” of academically related discourse are only some of the benefits of using Twitter within composition pedagogy.
Blogging Towards Hybridity and Hypermediacy
Blogging Towards Hybridity and Hypermediacy
While Twitter acts as a microblog, enabling users to post their thoughts in short, character limited bursts, traditional blog platforms such as Blogger and Tumblr allow users to compose in an extended form that can incorporate other external media. As Lisa Gerrard points out, “Blogs are asynchronous—that is, the conversation does not need to take place in real time” (Gerrard 418). The “conversation” that Gerrard mentions refers to the exchange that occurs between the writer and their readers, who are able to comment on and critique the blog’s content and engage in a dialogue with its author/s. Here, we are able to see the long-established pedagogical tool of peer review at work, except that it has been remediated to occur outside of the classroom in a more informal digital medium, where students are free to read and comment on one another’s work at their leisure, without the constraints of class time and other external distractions. The application of peer review via blog feedback is doubly beneficial for writing instructors, as the act of blogging, “[Makes] for more formal writing than chat..” while the comment feature enables students to, “[…] write responses to articles, create brief arguments, and post links and images to support those arguments” (418). In this way, blogs engage with the remediated pedagogical practice of peer review, as well as the remediated medium of the “traditional” extended college essay.
Although blogs possess an inherent potential to closely replicate the medium of traditional (that is to say single media, text on page) essay writing, the “new” feature of this technology allows users to combine multiple mediums within a unified space. Unlike Twitter, whose interface seeks to achieve immediacy through real time communication between users, blogs are hybrid spaces that actively acknowledge and engage with the multiple mediums (image, video, text, audio, etc.) at work within them. As Bolter and Grusin point out, “In digital media today, the practice of hypermediacy is most evident in the heterogeneous ‘windowed style’ of World Wide Wed pages… [This] visual style ‘privileges fragmentation, indeterminacy, and heterogeneity and… emphasizes process or performance rather than the finished art object’” (31). The authors’ description of the characteristics of hypermediacy resonates with the features of blogs, and illustrates the ways in which they are a hypermediate new media technology. It is by way of this hypermediacy, however, that composition instructors are positioned to engage with aspects of rhetoric and the writing process, including visual rhetoric, genre, cohesion and style.
In their collaborative essay on the future of literacy, DeVoss et. al. offer a number of student commentaries on their experiences using various forms of new media in the classroom. One such commentary regarding the experience of blogging came from a student named Joseph, who wrote that the more he blogged, the more he, “[C]ontinued to focus on visual literacy, recognizing the culture’s increasing dependence on reading, understanding, and composing texts in which meaning is communicated through the visual elements of still photographs, video, animated images, graphics, and charts..” (DeVoss et. al.2003). Here, Joseph highlights various remediated mediums (photography, video, animation) that he engaged with during the act of composing for his blog, which he affirms helped to contribute to his overall sense of visual literacy. Furthermore, Joseph directly references the act of composing meaning and communicating cohesively through the interplay of various mediums, rather than a singular, often immediate medium. The end result is a hybrid, multi-media text that remediates the traditional essay largely through its medium, while utilizing and supporting the same long established pedagogical ideologies. In this was, blogging has the capacity to meaningfully intervene in and support composition pedagogy.
As Webster argues, “New technologies are one of the most visible indicators of new times, and accordingly are frequently taken to signal the coming of an information society… The suggestion is, simply, that such a volume of technological innovations must lead to a reconstitution of the social world because its impact is so profound (Webster 9). The rise of new media technologies through the process of remediation indeed indicate a shift towards an information society, in which digital and new media writing plays a prominent role. For writing instructors, the challenge lies in purposefully engaging with new media into their classrooms, as well as in integrating new media into existing pedagogical practices in a way that is thought provoking and effective for students. In doing so, writing instructors will better position their students to be active and informed contributors to the public sphere of digital writing, as well as the ongoing conversation of academic discourse.
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