For my upcoming students
Last year, one student’s email became famous online, not because he wrote the most beautiful note of gratitude or delivered the most persuasive request for a paper extension, but because he wrote a drunken, profanity laced message to let his professor know: 1. He is sorry that he is bald, 2. He can “hook him up,” and 3. He will need an extension on a paper due to his upcoming hangover. If you are curious to learn more, all you need to do is Google “drunk student email.” I mention this because in an English class we would refer to this as a failure to meet the rhetorical situation. The rhetorical situation refers to how our purpose, audience, stance, genre, and medium shape the construction of our texts.
Most commonly, students will email their professor when life interferes with their ability to complete their work or if they have questions about an upcoming assignment. In either case, the student should remember their purpose is to solicit help, whether that help is to be given more direction or more time. To best achieve your purpose, you must consider your audience.
Your audience is your professor, who is (despite any rumors) human. Humans respond best to polite requests, not frustration-driven demands. Accusations or negative comments usually result in feelings of defensiveness, so be careful of the stance you present. Also, remember you have a professional relationship with your professor. This means you do not address them as “Hey” and write a collection of fragments, typos, and LOLs.
Remember the medium. With emails there are no take backs when you hit send, unlike on social media when better judgment may cause you to delete a post or Tweet. It is good to remember an email message is a particular genre. It may even be an unfamiliar genre. Do not treat it like a text message or social media chat. It is more akin to a writing a letter. The example below fails to meet the expectations of the genre, utilize the features of the medium, or consider the audience.
Lately I have been reading how periods should not be used in text messages, as recipients perceive this as less sincere. This is not the case with emails. It is actually good to think of text messages and emails comparatively. Text messages to friends tend to be an informal form of communication. Email messages to professors and professional contacts are written formally. Like letters, emails usually include salutations and closings, at least when beginning a formal thread of conversation. Like business memos, they include a subject line, letting the reader immediately know what the email is about. This allows individuals to prioritize messages in their inbox.
The example below meets the expectations of the genre, utilizes the features of the medium, and is written in a manner that fulfills the purpose and considers the audience.
The example above has all the proper formatting and information. The subject line succinctly tells the recipient what the email is about. It begins with a formal, respectful salutation. The content is polite, succinct, and grammatical.
TIP: You may not know whether or not your professor holds a Ph.D. If you do not know, it is best to use the honorific “Professor” rather than “Dr.” Often in higher education, we avoid gendered honorifics (Mr., Ms., and Mrs.).
Though we brainstorm, labor, arrange, and perfect, our texts are not finished when we hit publish. Instead, we are throwing our words and images to the world in hopes that they will live beyond our hard drives, memory cards, and web space. Like our children, when the leave the house, our control fades. We may have created the initial shape, but the world will permeate their structures and alter the perspective we instilled. Excluding the murky world of copyright law, how do we feel about this?
For the Make Cycle #2, the #clmooc community used remix to reciprocate “with generosity and gratitude.” I intended to select quotes from other blog posts and Tweets to overlay with #silentsunday images, as I enjoy the interplay of image and text. However, when I looked at the images, I realized I could make a (mostly) visual remix.
I created this image solely to express gratitude to those who shared weekly snapshots from their life. Together, these snapshots create a new, imaginative world, richer for each perspective contributed. In general, I have enjoyed the tapestries people have woven using other people’s work to express what they found meaningful.
The why is key in remixing. The topic of plagiarism was trending last week due to Melania Trump taking words and structures from Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech to use in her own. It was not a purposeful remix to pay homage to the great work Michelle has done as first lady. Instead, it was speech that missed a step in the writing process.
The reaction to Melania’s speech and the various concerns and questions #clmooc raised regarding remix/plagiarism/ownership indicates it is a discussion that would be fruitful in a writing class. I am visualizing breaking up a class into groups to each analyze a different text to determine whether or not it is a remix protected under fair use or a plagiarized text with no artistic merit. They will then defend their standpoint.
Key questions from other blog posts:
“What does it mean to “own” something composed we’ve composed? If we are remixing someone’s composition, then where does that ownership begin and end? Does it matter? (If not, why is intellectual property law such a booming field?) Is ownership in the intention or act of communicating? In the product?” (Karen LaBonte)
“If I use someone else’s words for a remix, am I a writer or remixer? Is it writing if the words are not my own? (I prefer: composer)…. If the writer asks the remixer to stop/halt/remove, does the remixer have an obligation to do so? (legal, moral, etc.)” (Kevin Hodgson)
For the past four semesters, I have had my students bring in self-representing artifacts as a vehicle of introduction, an object lesson on concrete versus abstract, and a conversation starter on how we all bring various skills, literacies, experiences, and perspectives to the classroom. For the #CLMOOC Make Cycle #1, I am testing out how well this works digitally. Of course, what I share will be based on my purpose, essentially why I am here and what has shaped me as an educator.
I always begin with place, as it is the infrastructure that both invisibly and visibly shapes our choices. Like video games, our childhood settings contained large amounts of procedural rhetoric—we understand what is possible by what is presented to us. My foundational setting is a farm in rural Michigan, a place of solitude, working class ethos, and little diversity. This foundation is a key influence in my maintenance of the public/private divide.
From a small age, I identified myself as a writer. I attempted my first novel in the fifth grade, a spoof of the Twilight Zone set in an elementary school. As I grew older, I kept two distinct separate modes of writing: a public one designed to entertain and a private one designed to reflect. They came together in junior high/high school in an angsty hand-written anthology of poetry, which could easily be mistaken for Taylor Swift songs today. Over the years, writing has allowed me to reflect, to entertain, to escape, to inform, and to discover. #whyIwrite
Today, I feel like I am again in front of the teacher’s desk with a poem, at the crossroad of public and private. My life is compartmentalized into various social media accounts for my professional and home life and nonacademic hobbies. I rarely share work with my full legal name and unfiltered image. Also, rarely do I engage in video chats or webcam videos. I prefer to hide behind a screen share. Due to my disposition, my web utopia was an asynchronous world full of avatars. Today’s web requires more of me, and I am working to become comfortable with that.
In the early 2000s, my multimodal storytelling skills were fairly cutting edge, thanks to my family’s early adoption of the home computer. Computers were still rare commodities, more commonly seen in sci-fi books than home living rooms in the late 80s, early 90s. Instead of the vivid blue graphical interface of today’s Microsoft Windows (version 17 or whatever), our IBM ran through DOS prompt commands. At the age of 10 I was typing out elaborate lines of code to eek out line drawings and shapes that were reminiscent of Spirograph creations. The most important skill I learned from my technological endeavors is discovery through play. I became a graphic designer mostly through hands-on trial and error. Later, as graduate student in rhetoric and composition, I found myself continuously drawn to new media ecologies. I became fascinated by the cultural ramifications of search engine algorithms, by the phenomenon of “going viral,” and by the potential for online activism. These explorations of the relationship between composition/ rhetoric, the public sphere, and technology are what gave me an edge when it came to job applications and put me on the tenure track.
Today, after years of academic study, I feel I have lost touch with the practical skills and evolving social media landscape. Last week, I finally downloaded Snapchat onto my phone, though I have yet to use it. What I hope to gain from #CLMOOC is a higher level of confidence and comfort in creating a more immersed and live public persona that utilizes the technology my student create, consume, and need to become literate in.
Today I experienced the collaborative, anything-can-happen wonder that is THATcamp. An “unconference” where all participants are potential presenters, THATcamp stands for The Humanities and Technology Camp. Instead of beginning with what we could potential present, we began by listing on a whiteboard what we wanted to know. Then we marked the topics we were interested in discussing. The most popular topics became the headings of the day’s six sessions.
The first session I attended discussed engaging students in an online environment. One of my colleague discussed how she sends her online students care packages in the mail. At one point in the semester, students send her back a postcard. She does this to add an element of “touch,” which she says students crave. I would call this an affective dimension, and it’s a strategy of engagement. In my face-to-face settings, students always comment on how well they come to know their classmates in a composition class, as opposed to more lecture-based disciplines. I assume this is why I have students who will attend all semester, even though they fail to complete any assignments outside of class. They find the community setting to be valuable or they simply have no other place to go from 12-2 on those days of the week (I have yet to quite figure it out). My interest was in how to move students away from the silo-based individualized instruction that often happens in online classes.
The second session I attended illustrated how Pinterest and Tiki-Toki could be used in history courses. As I thought about what students could “pin” in a composition class, aside from rules and exercises, I thought about memes and my thematic assignments regarding digital identity. For the timeline assignment, I thought not about historical events, but current events and my online journalism class. In particular I thought about the Freddie Gray’s arrest and subsequent events and came across an interesting timeline from the New York Times. This one is laid out in a linear fashion. However, a horizontal timeline could be layered, where you could have a layer containing the actions of the cops and government officials and a layer of protest activity. Thoughts to explore later…
For the final session, I co-presented my experiences designing and teaching digital story assignments. I love presenting this topic and looking at past student examples because it reminds me why overcoming student resistance and wrestling with technology is worth it in the end. The products speak for themselves, literally, that’s the beauty of digital stories. Here is one example: http://youtu.be/JY3s7RNMzqY
Academic scholars have drawn from various influences to understand the role selection and arrangement play in new media writing, such as Marcel Duchamp’s Green Box, Walter Benjamin’s Flaneur, and William Burrough’s cut up method. Geoffrey Sirc uses Duchamp’s Green Box collection of personal notes as inspiration to imagine “a compelling medium and genre with which to re-arrange textual materials–both original and appropriated– in order to have those materials speak the student’s own voice and concerns, allowing them to come up with something obscure, perhaps, yet promising illumination” (“Box Logic” 113). However, such things no longer need to be imagined. The idea of choosing and placing a variety of materials based on personal association is one of the most common uses of sites like Tumblr and Pinterest. The only difference is, unlike Duchamp’s box, these repositories are linked to a network of other boxes. How many high school seniors have a Pinterest board labeled “College,” where all their future goals, visions, and desires are stored, from possible majors to dorm room layouts? Like Benjamin’s vision of the modern flaneur, individuals online leisurely stroll through Pinterest boards and Tumblr and Twitter feeds that beacon like storefront windows. However, unlike the modern flaneur, there is often little reflection on what these collected cultural artifacts say or mean.
So what do we do with these fragmented materials? Jeff Rice draws from Burrough’s use of the cut up method to demonstrate how writers can appropriate material and use it in their own writing. Burrough’s work brings both a commentary on the oppressiveness of copyright and an approach to using juxtapositions and collections as a mode of invention:
It is experimental in the sense of being something to do. Right here write now. Not something to talk and argue about.
Greek philosophers assumed logically that an object twice as heavy as another object would fall twice as fast. It did not occur to them to push the two objects off the table and see how they fall. Cut the words and see how they fall. Shakespeare Rimbaud live in their words. Cut the word lines and you will hear their voices. (Burroughs)
Within Burrough’s cut-up method, individuals are writing with a sense of play in order to discover. They are learning through the experience of cutting up and assembling. Too often students think of learning as something that happens prior to writing. Using cut up and collecting methods to invent and understanding how juxtapositions or a collection of texts create meaning is another specific literacy skill needed to navigate and create rhetorically in new media ecologies.
Fair Use: The Modern Day Cut Up Method
The mastery of remix is using clipped pieces to create a different meaning than they had in their original form. The Daily Show does this when they cut up and remix news clips. The cut up and juxtaposition of clips tells a different story than the ones originally aired in newscasts. Usually it is to show the ineptitude of a news station, the hypocrisy of a politician, or the illogical viewpoint of a special interest group. This is why it is considered a transformative use.
Often when we add music to videos we are not thinking of a transformative use. We put romantic ballads over wedding videos and sad songs over photo montage tributes. Now, what if you had a wedding video juxtaposed with the song Papa Roach “Scars”? The song and the wedding video would mean something different together than they would apart. This is what a good remix does.
In my own example, I juxtapose clips of the TV show Community with videos from Delta College’s marketing department. I used the program WeVideo, which I loved until they began charging to upload videos to Youtube. So I won’t be doing my fine tuning in WeVideo, but starting again in Adobe Premiere. I wanted to create a video where I say nothing and let the edits tell the story. Here is the rough cut: https://www.wevideo.com/hub/#media/ci/257660886
One of the featured assignments in my dissertation was the Remix Video. The Remix best illustrates what it means to be a new media writer. We gather, we curate, we link, we comment, and we create. Our social media identities are remixes of shares, posts, retweets, likes, etc. As we move forward in our digital era, we are leaving behind the myth of the self-contained author, who extracts brilliance from his own mind in isolation.
As Thomas Rickert in his book Ambient Rhetoric explains:
“The writer writing is not so much in the middle as extended into the very dynamics of ambience. The ‘writer’ writing cannot be understood as a discrete, individualized entity bounded by skin and self-image, wielding external tools and thoughts (which, by being external, can ‘alienate’ us), for in writing we can entwine ourselves with the accouterment of writing—pen, paper, keyboard, typewriter, computer, books, ideas, sounds, furniture, food, beverage, interruption, serendipity, the things dotting the local environment and the environment itself, the larger infrastructure, other people, even our own bodies—and lose ourselves in this immersion. Ideas emerge in the complexity of interaction beyond our individual control, since the ambient situation worlds us. We contribute, of course, but as catalyst and site of disclosure, not as sole producer and controller.”
What he is saying is that when we write and create we are synthesizing a collection of influences to respond to a certain rhetoric situation. Essentially we are remixing.
Remix and Fair Use
Now how do you deal with copyright in a world of remix? I imagine copyright lawyers will always wrangle with this issue. However, as of now, Fair Use offers new media writers a good deal of protection, especially in educational settings.
There are many great resources online discussing what the four statutory factors of Fair Use are, such as this one from University of Minnesota Library: https://www.lib.umn.edu/copyright/fairuse. Our remixes will most likely contain commentary and criticism of published media clips/shows. We won’t be stealing the main argument or heart of another work or taking a large portion of the original. All the clips we take will be transformed into our own creation. Hence, what we do will fall under the umbrella of Fair Use.
In the past decade we have seen the emergence of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat, which have reshaped the way we communicate and find information online.We’ve had to adapt and learn new programs in order to find friends, network, and get information. As new software, devices, Apps, cloud editors, and websites emerge, we must be able to find, test, and judge these new programs and tools to improve our productivity, entertainment options, and creative possibilities. This is just what we are doing for our first formal assignment in my New Media Writing class, the Technology Review.
In order to prep my students, I have made my own review of Superhero Workout and fell a little bit in love with Adobe Voice. Through Ipad screenshots, I was able to quickly make a little video to accompany my review. I do think I need some family shots of me working out with my tiny superheroes to add more character to the review, but I need to find us a set of matching superhero capes first.
The number one rule of App selection is know thyself — how do you like to work, study, cook, read, etc. Apps should augment your lifestyle and productions, in short make it easier to be the awesome person you were meant to be. As a working mom, I find it difficult to make time to go to the gym. I discovered, though, that I can do workouts with my children if there is a novelty involved. We each have our own stability ball and often roll around the floor trying to imitate the moves on Youtube workout videos. So when I stumbled upon the app Superhero Workout, I thought it could be another workout we could do as a family.
What initially drew me to the App was the name, as my son is an avid fan of The Justice League and dressed as Batman over Halloween. I initially thought I would be fighting crime, ala Wonder Women style, but I later read on the website that the premise is this: “Earth is under threat of invasion. You are pilot of the AEGIS One battlesuit, our last line of defence. Your workout isn’t just about keeping in shape – it’s about saving the world [sic].” The misspelling of the word “defense” does make me question the app designers’ attention to detail. Still, I hoped it would entertain me enough to minimize the agony of jumping jacks, mountain climbers, and other moves designed to torture my body.
For $4.99, it delivers some level of novelty, though not as much as I would like. It delivers the “super-hero” feel through overlaying standard exercise animations with an audio storyline. However, when you are panting through high knee jogs, it is hard to follow along with the mission details. The app designers, though, did a decent job coordinating the plot with the exercise sequence. For instance, when you are defeating whatever enemy is upon you in the story, you are also doing boxing moves. When it is nearing the end of the 25-minute workout, the mission shouts words of encouragement, asking that you not give up. Still, I find standard workout music (think Rocky soundtrack) is a better motivator than imagining I am “clearing out spores.”
While I did not have high expectations for the camera tracking feature, as this is an Ipad app not an Xbox Kinect game, the workout design made tracking even more difficult. For the standard workout, you needed to be able to use a wall, a chair, and stairs. Unless I constantly repositioned the IPad, and subsequently missed a few reps of the workout, some of my moves wouldn’t be tracked. This wasn’t a big issue for me, though, as I was doing the workout moves with a five year old and three year old at times, so I had already discounted the possibility of accurate rep and calorie count. Still, I think the tracking feature is a nice one to include in a fitness application. Tracking works well as a motivator. You feel watched in a way that you do not when you are going through a workout DVD. It’s not the same social pressure as not keeping up in a face-to-face physical fitness class, but it is something.
However, I did like that the game has set up a series of short workouts to choose from in addition to their “missions.” Times vary from 7-11 minutes, so you can do a quick general workout or several target area workouts. The mission workouts range from 16-25 minutes. My children could not keep up physically or mentally with a workout that long. Midway through our second mission workout, as we began jumping jack squats, my three year old stopped and said she couldn’t go on because she “lost her powers.” Later in the workout, amazed that I was still doing the moves, my five year old chanted, “Mama’s a superhero! Mama’s a superhero!” I found this to be the most motivating moment of the workout, as honestly, nothing makes me feel less superhero-like than a push up. The best part for our little family is the workouts that end with the Superman move, where you lay on the floor and simultaneously hold up your arms and legs, probably because this is the most superhero-like move.
Overall, this app motivated me to do exercise moves that I usually avoid. I like it doesn’t make me do a lot of repetitions of one move but constantly changes, usually switching moves every 30-60 seconds. This keeps me from getting bored or giving up when there is a move I particularly hate, such as burpees. I also like that there are 20 different missions and 46 different achievements you can obtain. It makes it as much a game as a workout. If I were to improve upon this game, I would add some graphical interludes during the missions instead of having it simply be an audio story. This would help orient me in the mission and make the experience more immersive. Something for Six to Start, the game designers, to consider as they work on their next game/exercise app.
1. Choose your layout wisely. In general, the more you can customize the layout to your content the better. Stock layouts, especially ones with graphics, tend to shout “amateur”! You want readers to view you as a serious blogger.
Also, for most of our blogs, writing is the focus. Because we are showcasing our voice/knowledge/perspective/wit via text, text should be prominent our layouts. The text box should be given more than half the screen.
2. Consider how individuals read online. Reading online, due to backlit screens, is more difficult than reading a hard copy, print text. Try to avoid long paragraphs. Insert white space between paragraphs and add visual elements when you can. If you are writing a long blog post, consider subheads. Be conscious of the fact that many readers skim content online.
Also, take pity on your reader’s eyes. Use at least a 12-point font. Don’t choose a decorative text for the body (cursive fonts are especially difficult to read). Generally, a sans serif (without legs) font is recommended, such as Arial. Avoid putting a light text on a dark background.
3. Add a profile description and picture. Whenever a new person follows me on Twitter, I always look at their profile description and picture. If they sound interesting, I will then check out their Twitter feed. If they don’t, I quickly forget about them. The same goes for when someone subscribes to my blogs. Names also matter quite a bit. When I changed my Twitter handle from niestermika to theNMwriter, within a day I had a dozen new followers. Until I become a celebrity, the name “niestermika” isn’t going to generate much interest.
4. Take advantage of the medium. On your blog, take advantage of the ability to link, insert images, and embed videos. On Twitter, take advantage of how hashtags will make you visible in a search and attract viewers who are Tweeting on the same subject matter. You should add tags to your blog posts for the same reason.