We begin our new media writing journey with blogging and Tweeting, where success hinges upon on our ability to develop a distinct voice, to identify our audience, and to network. For example, there are thousands of cooking and lifestyle blogs online. To standout you need a unique lens, a fresh perspective, humor, or an innovative approach. Consider one of the most successful examples of a cooking and lifestyle blog, Pioneer Woman, which led to a show on the Food Network. She capitalized on the fact that she lives a lifestyle that most of us can only imagine on a large cattle ranch in Oklahoma. It has humor, tradition, and cowboys. Of course, not all of us are willing to market ourselves and our lives in that much detail.
“In Confessions, I post photos of cows, horses, and my four weird children…as well as frequent shots of my…
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The key shift between composing for a print environment and composing for a digital environment is the number of “modes” available to aid in the storytelling. Modes are different forms of expression: linguistic, visual, aural, spatial, and gestural. In the discipline of English, we are most familiar with the linguistic, the selection, arrangement, and delivery of words. I like to say to be a new media writer you need to be a jack of all trades and a master of one. For most of us, writing will be our “master trade.” The trick in new media writing is not relying solely, or too much, on our strongest and most comfortable form of expression.
While writing may be our strength, it may not always be the most effective mode. As the cliché goes, “A picture tells a thousand words.” Visuals can give viewers a more immediate understanding of a concept or situation. In addition, visual choices regarding size and color drives a viewer’s attention and shapes their understanding/perception of the message. Visual choices, not just linguistic choices, are a part of every paper we compose. For example, academic papers should look a particular way. We would not use pink Comic Sans for a font choice.
In conjunction with the visual is the spatial. Appearance and function often work together. The spatial mode involves the arrangement of a piece and how people move about it. This movement can be how someone opens and consumes a brochure, how we navigate a website, or even how we sit in a classroom. The rhetoric of place is a fascinating area of study if you are into architecture, landscaping, or urban design. However, in this class, we will mostly look at layout and navigation. When we move from a print environment to a web environment, the spatial mode also expands, as web texts are not isolated — they can easily connect to other texts via hyperlinks.
Another change as we enter the digital environment is the introduction of sound. Instead of reading an interview, we can hear an interview. As a standalone mode, sound allows stories to become more portable. I can listen to a podcast while I drive and do household chores. As a supplementary element, it brings personality/culture to the individuals and places featured. We can use music as a new way to express tone: this is serious, this is relaxing, etc. This can get us into trouble at times if the music we have chosen is not appropriate to the situation or editorializes the content in negative manner.
The final mode is the one that we will employ least in this class, the gestural. Unless you are delivering a monologue via your webcam, this won’t be a factor. The gestural is the way our bodies communicate: our expressions, our hand gestures, our posture, etc. If you are wondering an emoji could be counted as a gesture (I was), the answer is yes. At least, some scholars are arguing that they be considered as such. In this way, the gestural may find its way into your social media posts.
As you can see, we can express ourselves in many ways and can constructive meaning, at times, without even realizing it. In this class, we will be utilizing multiple modes whenever we construct a text. Our focus will not be on the technical aspects of page layout or audio editing; it will be on making good choices to create an effective, cohesive text where all the elements are appropriately selected and arranged.
For a more in-depth explanation of the five modes discussed, see: https://www.amazon.com/Writer-Designer-Making-Multimodal-Projects/dp/1457600455
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