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.