Interview with Stephanie Vie

Tina Arduini interviews Stephanie Vie, Project Director for Computers and Composition Digital Press. Vie discusses her work as Project Director, offers advice about preparing a multimodal text for publication, and anticipates the next steps for Computers and Composition Digital Press as an academic publisher for scholars in the field of rhetoric and composition.

Full transcript here

Temple University Adjunct Professors Want a Union

Contributed by Michael Blancato

In 2010, Megan Fulwiler and Jennifer Marlow began collecting stories from contingent faculty across the United States and Canada about their experiences as part-time instructors. The resulting documentary, Con Job: Stories of Adjunct & Contingent Labor, presents harrowing accounts of how higher education institutions have increasingly come to rely on contingent workers who face poverty-level wages and uncertain futures.

While contingent faculty exploitation has become a disturbingly common trend, many faculty members are taking steps to secure better working conditions and pay. In 2014, a majority of adjuncts at Temple University signed authorization cards for union representation. Although these adjuncts have a right to seek union representation and collectively bargain, Temple University administration officials have blocked a union vote.

This short video documents some of the protests that have taken place at Temple University in response to the school’s decision to block a union vote. For more information about these protests and Temple University unionization efforts, you can visit the United Academics of Philadelphia and the Temple Association of University Professionals websites. You can also call on Temple University officials to respect adjuncts’ right to unionize by signing this petition.

Updated October 11, 2015: It seems the protests and testimonies from Temple University adjunct faculty members have yielded results. On September 29, 2015, the Pennsylvania Labor Review Board approved Temple adjuncts’ request for a union election. This decision means Temple adjuncts will soon be able to vote whether they would like to join the Temple Association of University Professionals, a collective bargaining unit that currently represents “full-time faculty, professional librarians academic professionals in the 11 schools and colleges enrolling undergraduate students at Temple University.”

You can find the full text of the Pennsylvania Labor Review Board decision here and a statement from the Temple Association of University Professionals here.

Interview: Con Job

This is an interview with Megan Fulwiler and Jennifer Marlow about the exigence, content, and production of their documentary, Con Job: Stories of Adjunct and Contingent Labor, the most recent publication of Computers and Composition Digital Press. (Full transcript available as a PDF or TXT file.)

Girls Gone Coding: New Media Stereotypes from the Computer Guy to Changing the World

by Chris Parsons

parsons-01-webI’m not quite sure how the opening to the story goes. “I was looking at the woman in the clearance bra but was distracted by an article about teen girls coding.” Or maybe, “I kept trying to click away the ad in the middle of my article before remembering I wasn’t reading news online.” Maybe: “Popular article connecting to my academic interests serendipitously rewards me for not flipping directly to news about Michigan’s Final Four run.”

No matter the story of the encounter, on April 4th, 2013, the Detroit Free Press ran an article called “Group looks to get more teen girls into computer programming” by Megha Satyanarayana, a staff writer. Initially stunned that such a column was not syndicated from a national source, I found that an event in Detroit this coming July (put on by the nonprofit Girls Who Code) prompted the local coverage. Most strikingly, at least at first, was the layout: the article unfolds like a waterfall, wrapped around a Macy’s advertisement.

parsons-02-webThat design-quirk noted, the article contains a history of the organization, quotes from the founder, scary statistics on women and coding, reasons for the Detroit camp, and information on signing up.

I became interested in gender stereotypes in new media after I spent some time researching the crisis rhetoric around boys and literacy that started around 2000. Amidst stories of “wars on boys” and “women leaving men in the dust,” came pedagogical recommendations that sounded like pop songs (“Make’em Laugh,” “Let’s Get Physical,” etc.). One stereotype-cum-teaching strategy that popped up now and again went something like this: “boys don’t like reading” but “boys do like computers” so “boys should read (and write) on computers.” Basically, it seemed to me, some were reacting to stereotypes (and, to be fair, test scores) about boys and literacy by trying to offer some sort of pedagogical portmanteau in the sense that Wikipedia says Lewis Carroll first imagined portmanteau: put boys, reading, writing, computers, and maybe some violent video games into a suitcase and shake like hell.

I suggested that this idea might serve to strategically, hegemonically leave female students out of the new language / technology of power. If the supposed new media, high-tech economy gendered stereotypically male, then women might be stuck enjoying the subtlety of Great Books while being systematically kept away from great jobs. The Free Press article points to the stats: the sex distribution is nearly 50 – 50 on jobs in medicine and chemistry, but “in computer science as a whole, women made up 25% of the work force…, 23% of programmers, 20% of the software developers and 34% of web developers.” In the world of stereotypes, I can’t help but wonder if that is partly because people envision the holders of those jobs like Nick Burns, “your company’s computer guy,” from Saturday Night Live.

Most interestingly of all, at least to me, is how the article (and perhaps Girls Who Code as an organization) tries to recast existing stereotypes to address the original stereotype. Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code, is paraphrased by the article as saying, “The issue…is women’s perception that the field is made up of white males often working alone.” Stereotypes about computer science jobs certainly seem to be a motivating factor for the organization. The response? Further layers of stereotypes. The article refers to the event this summer as a “boot camp” and suggests that teen girls want jobs that “change lives.” As Cinda Davis, director of the Women in Science and Engineering Program at the University of Michigan, suggests, “Girls want to help people.” A former participant in the program notes that she “bonded with the other girls in the group.” Oddly, the essentialized ideas are not even gender consistent: a boot camp to help people seems to index a drill sergeant screaming that your candy ass better collaborate on some ideas to help those orphans or you’ll owe 1000 lines of code.

To what end these comments? In a certain sense, I’m trying to react as honestly as possible to an article I recently stumbled across. I certainly have no aim of presenting a solution to complex problems like sexism in the workplace or over-stereotyping. I do, however, mean to point out a possible problem in accepting one stereotype (women are more caring than men) to solve the problems created by another one (men know about computers). A more thoughtful solution might involve interrogating the basis of these stereotypical assumptions while still understanding the very real work gender essentialism does for people. Girls Who Code, for example, seems a likely source for beginning to narrate a counterstory to computer science as a male domain. Nothing grinds at exclusive stereotypes like active, discovery-based participation. To be sure, the group immediately challenges the image of “white males…working alone,” but, at least as presented in the article, tries to call on the same binary-based stereotypes that helped to start the exclusion in the first place. Still, my hope is that Girls Who Code represents a still-forming sentiment of awareness and advocacy about access issues. That sentiment might be taken-up and enacted at a more local level by teachers, parents, school clubs, community groups, whoever. It really might be something as simple as the AP Computer Science teacher thinking hard about why no female students take (we’ll say) her class. The distant stereotypes will still exist, but, like the article eroding the edges of the Macy’s ad, local work can make an impact on distant ideas.

Discomposed Composing in a First Year Writing Classroom

by Molly Parsons

I just completed my first year of graduate school at the University of Michigan, and my first year teaching a first year composition course. I created this comic book as a way to explore and share the experience of creating my first digital composition unit for my students. I hope that it is valuable to instructors who find themselves considering undertaking a similar project, but (like me) lack the technological skills or pedagogical understanding. It’s for those who (also like me) are just a bit suspicious of introducing text-less compositions into the writing classroom.

Multimodal-Me.” By Molly Parsons. (Click the lower-right corner to expand.)

For me, this whole process was a working out of skepticism. I wanted answers to questions, gosh darn it, and I am one of those people who have trouble accepting answers without having gone through the (often) punishing process of digging them up myself. I was a middle school and high school English teacher before I began studying at Michigan. In that role, computer technology and I had a very simple relationship:

  • It allowed me to type on the board what once would’ve been written in my strange, slanted left-hander’s scrawl-01-web; type was much easier for my students to read. Added bonus: less chalk dust, fewer Expo-marked encrusted finger nails.
  • I sent e-mails instead of shouting down the halls or walking miles around campus in search of someone or something.
  • It let me show clips of video during class without having to stand on a chair to reach the TV and DVD player that was mounted five feet above my head.

But beyond these tool-ish affordances, I felt uneasy about how technology was sneaking into my classroom. The teacher-lunchroom talk often ran the way of, ‘Kids these days…with their text-message language…If I get one more essay that has a smiley face emoticon…” (bluster, bluster, bluster). I saw some teachers take up technology as an essay-grading tool. And though I don’t think computers can grade, I knew why there was such happy excitement about this possibility—when you have 150-180 students it just isn’t possible to grade (writing) and plan for class and be a happy, well-balanced person.

I saw other teachers take their students to the lab (reserving it for weeks at a time!) only to have them type essays on Word that, in the good ol’ days, would’ve been written in those little blue test books or in a spiral notebook. Technology seemed helpful sometimes but necessary only occasionally.

Then I got to graduate school and people all around me kept talking about how technology was Text-art image of the word, "transforming." learning! Writing! Thinking! (If this was my comic book, I would add a picture here of me squinching my eyebrows together and shrugging my shoulders.) And I thought, Hmmmm. That sounds nice…

Nice in the way that any idea sounds when it is spouted by someone who hasn’t taught—nice for a classroom that I’m not sure exists. But it seemed that if I was really going to push against this claim of transformation, I better know what exactly everyone says computer technology can do. I had questions that needed to be answered:

  1. What can I say using digital technologies that I can’t say with conventional pen-to-paper or even fingers-to-keyboard technologies?
  2. Should ENGLISH teachers be tasked with training students how to use all the new technology? How to write and read all the new genres that are cropping up in digital environments? (With the specter of standardized Text-art image of the word, "testing." trolling the hallways of K-12 schools, this seemed like an awfully big additional ‘burden’ to heap onto the poor English teacher’s curriculum plate.)
  3. If we do need to teach students to make movies or write blogs or tweets or… How will those things change the way that students write and read? What, if anything, can they add to an English curriculum?

No way to know, until I tried it for myself. So I did. My comic book tells the story how I created my first multimodal composition unit. Why a comic book about a video project? See question #1. I figured that the more technologies that I could try out—the more different modes of expression that I could experiment with, the better I could answer that question. The comic book taught me a few things. I learned that in composing a comic book, I had to cede a lot of the control I had over my message. I ALWAYS wanted to type more, provide more context (through words), but I had to try to let pictures communicate. And this was very tricky! My goal was to tell a pretty complex story, to weave in all the questions (those I’ve listed above, and more, too) about importing computer / digital composing methods into my first-year writing curriculum.

I wanted my audience to have the chance to ask the questions with me, to partake in my process of discovery. I think that I was successful, kind of. But in order to make this sort of project communicate with the force and depth of writing, I now know that I need to learn a LOT more about the genre—and the software (I used ComicLife to compose the book). This is all to say that even though my intent was to create a stand-alone project, I find myself sitting at my computer and writing this blog post to explain it. And I am not alone here—even in the most multimediated of journals—Kairos, The Scholar Electric, Harlot of the Arts—text reigns. The videos, the comic books, the interactive interfaces are most often supplements to a word-made message.

But that’s the ‘bad’ part. And it certainly isn’t all bad. In the course of creating the comic book, I was also in the midst of implementing my video composition unit. Though I have yet to see my students’ final compositions or to read their reflections about the unit, the prep work leading up to the project helped to re-focus my thinking about the reason we bring all of this ‘stuff’ into our classrooms. And, it helped to remind me about things I knew about writing, but that I had never adequately expressed to my students before. For example, videos show us how to make layering (usually of different modes) evocative, meaningful. But text can do this too—when a controlling metaphor stretches over an essay, or when tone and word choice work against a message, creating irony and understatement. Layering is easy to see in video and multimodal compositions. Learn to manipulate those layers in text, and next time your friend finds you hunched before your computer, and asks what you’re writing, you can answer with a superior sniff, ‘Writing, bah! I’m composing.’

I included screen shots of Garret, Landrum-Geyer, and Palmeri’s “Re-inventing Invention” and of Sorapure’s “Between Modes: Assessing Student New Media Compositions” in my comic book. I would recommend these pieces to anyone planning a new media composition unit with their students.

Read Sorapure’s piece when you start having those oh my gosh I have no idea how to grade or think about new media projects! thoughts. She’ll bolster your courage. Sorapure argues (and I’ve come to agree) that composition instructors are uniquely equipped to evaluate new media work. We know how to study the relationships between ideas, words, images, in writing—so, when we are handed a new media project, she encourages you to focus on ‘composing,’ the bringing together of modes. We can ask students about their composing choices—even if we can’t evaluate their film-making prowess, their digital editing skills. Sorapure suggests using rhetorical tropes that describe relationships between two or more things as a starting place for talking about new media composing options with students. But as I mentioned in the comic, it is a slippery slope between developing a shared language with which you and your students can discuss new media composition and using so many terms that the students lose sight of the relationships which are central to composing. (Sorapure suggests just two: metaphor and metonymy.)

I also relied on Garret et. al’s piece—I used this text with my students to help them think about ‘juxtaposition’ as a concept and as a tool. We spent a day thinking about juxtaposing as a method of ‘inventing’ (as Garret et. al do), but then we continued to work with the term as the students were making choices about combining materials in the drafting state of composition. We asked: How can I create meaning without written or typed words, but rather by purposefully juxtaposing image with sound, video with still image, etc. Next time I teach this assignment—and I think that I will…–I will introduce this concept much earlier in the term, when there is still lots of writing left to be done. Because writing is all about purposeful juxtaposition—but it’s a heck-of-a lot easier to see how juxtaposition works in bright, flashy, multimedia. In fact, if this project wasn’t so time consuming (I needed 5 weeks to pull it off), I might make it the first or second thing my students did in the semester…In the current iteration of my syllabus, the video composition unit felt a little bit like a retrofit. All things I will continue to think about.

Have I answered my questions? Kind of. I know better why my colleagues advocate for the inclusion of new media composing projects in the classroom. There is a great deal of overlap in process, technique, and even products, of all sorts of composition modes. And now I can have that discussion with my students—I know that, ultimately, the answers lie with them.

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

by Merideth Garcia

I am a mother. And a daughter. And a graduate student enrolled in Dr. Melanie Yergeau’s Computers and Writing course. Our class recently spent a week discussing some of the more complex intricacies of copyright, and among our readings was Danielle DeVoss’s “Mothers and Daughters of Digital Invention,” in which she posits that one possible reason for the noticeable absence of women in the historical record of technology innovation is that many may have “deliberately avoided the regime of intellectual property.” While acknowledging Autumn Stanley’s argument that perhaps women are socialized to share rather than profit from their innovations, she argues that some women must have known about their IP rights and chosen to resist pursuing them. As a mother and a daughter (and a graduate student), I’m interested in this hypothesis. My own experience with fan culture supports DeVoss’s idea: many of the women I know write, vid, knit, sew, bake (and more!) for reasons that stand outside the monetary economy.

DeVoss presents two examples of women battling the IP regime. Both involve content on Youtube that was met with DMCA intervention. What’s interesting to me here is that in both instances, women were making videos (for personal and educational reasons) with copyrighted content. This kind of IP resistance strikes me as a little different from, say, deciding to post your own artwork or story under a Creative Commons share-alike license. But maybe it isn’t. They used materials at hand in the course of their teaching and parenting, and their experiences became material for DeVoss’s scholarship.

When I think about the literacies that my mother and grandmother engaged in, such as inventing bedtime stories or games, sewing dress-up costumes or knitting, creating, copying, and improvising recipes, keeping records for family trees and scrapbooks, writing invitations, thank-yous, and yearly Christmas card updates, I don’t see many opportunities for the intervention of IP. My mother and grandmother practiced these literacies of necessity, and they drew on the resources available to meet their needs. If they had been required to pay ninety-nine cents to license every copy of a recipe they shared, well… they just wouldn’t have. Paid, that is. A good recipe is meant to be shared.

Like my mother and grandmother before me, I have appropriated the resources available to me to meet creative challenges. I’ve improvised bedtime stories that catapulted my children into Hogwarts. I’ve created birthday scavenger hunts based on Camp Half Blood. I’ve not limited myself to what only I could imagine (What a small and unsatisfying world that would be!), but built on the creative work of others. For example:

Public domain would allow me to make “Starry Night” cupcakes for the 6th grade “Starry Night” dance.

A batch of cupcakes in a tin, frosted together to resemble Van Gogh's "Starry Night" painting.

Public domain cupcakes

Would private interests object to the Pokemon cake made for my son’s 11th birthday?

Pokemon-themed birthday cake.

Pokemon cake design copied from uncited Pinterest source.

And what about a Snow White cake made for my daughter’s 4th?

Cake mash-up of Snow White and Beaty from "Beauty and the Beast."

Cultural icon with multiple sources.

Is it the public domain fairy tale or the Disney princess? Half and half? Before we ate it, how much did this cake owe to the Brothers Grimm? How much to Disney? How much to Mattel? How much to Pampered Chef (who made the bowl in which the cake was made)? How much to the anonymous woman who posted a picture of her Barbie cake? How much to me? What was left to consume once it was properly apportioned?

Cakes are perhaps not the best example. Being amateur renditions and quickly consumed, they don’t offer much threat (artistic or commercial) to the IP they are appropriating. Or maybe theyare the best example, being hand-made for a specific purpose, drawing on the cultural moment of the very local community they serve, intended for sharing, and (at least in this case) made by a woman. If I hadn’t posted the pictures here, you wouldn’t even know that I had made derivative works. Of course the same could be said of any movie-inspired Halloween costume, knitting project, remix vid, missing scene or alternate ending composed in response to copyrighted material. What the code has not caught up to is our expanded ability to share, and I think people who’ve learned the habit of this kind of creative work are going to continue to press copyright until it adjusts.

For time out of mind, people have made things (for both artistic and utilitarian reasons) out of the materials around them, and the materials around us right now are often text, audio, images, and video that are available on the web. We don’t print pictures or mail cards so much anymore. We post them online instead. Deciding what, where, and when we post makes us curators of our own experience. We compose our online selves in text, image, and video. We compose our online selves out of experiences with other people, places, and texts, out of in-person and online interactions. We routinely invent and deliver using resources available online.

This work isn’t new, but the question of who owns the resources of composition seems a little trickier. In a system that makes “sharing” the entry point, that encourages us to “post” our pictures, videos, and writing, even the language around what used to be somewhat private literacies has changed. (I never posted my high school diary entries, and I only share my scrapbooks with people who are willing to come over to my house and sit through them.) The former habit of privacy precluded any obvious need for copyright.

A cat looking like a vampire burning in the sun.

This is my real cat.

The number of people who benefitted from comical pictures of my cat was limited to those who encountered me personally while I had the picture with me and thought to share it. Now that I could share the picture with an audience of unimaginable size, that picture (or recipe, pattern, blog post, film review, etc.) has the potential to be taken in and taken up and transformed by whoever accesses it. I have neither the resources nor the inclination to police it. Maybe the women in DeVoss’s webtext are pushing those who have the resources to give up the inclination.

Will they?

I doubt very much that those who own the rights to audio, images, video, and text will give up their grip on intellectual property and depend on the goodwill of fans to support them (though some are trying to). And of course all of these platforms prompting us to “share” our every life-moment, our every dark secret, are appropriating our work and collecting info to improve their ability to advertise, to capitalize on our dreams and desires. Don’t despair just yet, though! I think DeVoss is correct to press on Stanley’s notion that women are simply “socialized to share,” as if sharing were a shame. People are a social lot, and our most powerful stories may manage to survive in spite of poorly administered copyright protection that seems designed to keep them pristine, unevolved, unadapted to circumstances changing at the speed of technology. There have always been parallel and overlapping systems of barter and exchange, and there’s no reason to think that the internet will not have its own ways of getting around the constraints of a property-driven society. Mothers and daughters (and fathers and sons) will keep trespassing, keep making, keep testing the boundaries and sharing their results.

Like we’ve always done in person, we are constantly making and remade on the internet.

The Legacy of Hypertext Fiction and how Steven Johnson Gets it Wrong

afternoon-1-webThis week, Steven Johnson published a short article on Wired’s site called “Why No One Clicked on the Great Hypertext Story.” He opens by referencing and effectively contextualizing Michael Joyce’s foundational hypertext fiction, Afternoon, a Story, from the early ’90s. Back then there was a literary electricity about the possibilities for telling stories by linking together smaller chunks of text into a larger whole. The future was finally on its way, and it looked like hypertext.

Or not so much. Twenty years later, it would be hard to argue that hypertext fiction has found the cultural traction so many theorists thought it would. Johnson speculates as to why:

It’s not that hypertext went on to become less interesting than its literary advocates imagined in those early days. Rather, a whole different set of new forms arose in its place: blogs, social networks, crowd-edited encyclopedias. Readers did end up exploring an idea or news event by following links between small blocks of text; it’s just that the blocks of text turned out to be written by different authors, publishing on different sites. Someone tweets a link to a news article, which links to a blog commentary, which links to a Wikipedia entry. Each landing point along that itinerary is a linear piece, designed to be read from start to finish. But the constellation they form is something else. Hypertext turned out to be a brilliant medium for bundling a collection of linear stories or arguments written by different people.

I think Steven Johnson is a great writer. A certain kind of writer. Someone who learns important ideas and puts those ideas in conversation with each other in a way that’s accessible to a wide audience of readers. He is smart and has positive cultural impacts. But in this case, he’s just wrong. In so many ways. First of all, while his brief description of the rise of social media is clearly written, it is neither smart nor new. Cultural critics have been trotting out a version of that same summary every time blogs, MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter have made news for the past ten years (or more, depending). The compressed history Johnson offers us is the answer to some other question–not about the legacy or failure of hypertext fiction.

And yet, I love the fact that Johnson’s using his stature in the world of culturally-recognizable intellectuals and Wired’s status as a respected institution for the discussion of digital culture, especially hypertext fiction. What I’d like to do is rewind Johnson’s article just a bit. To the point just before he offers us his answer. The strongest moment in Johnson’s article is when he reflects on why there was so much enthusiasm for hypertext in the early nineties:

The literary/philosophical world had been musing about the death of the author and fragmented, reader-centric text since the late 1960s, but suddenly all those abstract ideas were grounded in technological reality. [If you’re interested in these ideas, I’d start with Foucault’s “What is an Author?,” Barthes’s “Theory of the Text” and “Death of the Author,” Derrida’s ” Différance.” Among others, of course.]

Rather than looking at the literary theory and philosophy informing the enthusiasm for hypertext, I want to argue for–and eventually offer–is an alternative approach to understanding hypertext’s legacy (and future). That alternative approach involves certain orientations toward history, narrative theory, the publishing industry, literature, genres, authorship, distribution, intellectual property.

Essentially, we need to explore two fundamental aspects of storytelling. The first is understanding how and why the forms and practices of storytelling have mutated in the past. The nature of an entity affords and limits the ways it can possibly change, and those changes end up changing the ways it will be able to change again. What emerges is a unique continuity of change across an entity’s history. At any given time, an entity has a certain type of momentum fueling it’s changes, and that momentum is shaped by the current nature of the entity. In other words, as in Johnson’s case here, he attempts to comment on the nature of hypertext storytelling by focusing only on hypertext. He doesn’t invoke an understanding of the historical changes storytelling has undergone.

The second aspect of storytelling we need to understand is that of its cultural functionality. What does storytelling do for us as individuals? As storytellers? As a reader? As a member of an audience? Considering questions like these allows us not only to theorize what stories do, but also what we might want stories to do had we access to different technologies or cultural attitudes. For instance, Johnson mentions the excitement on the part of a tiny portion of writers and readers. It was the cultural euphoria and wonder regarding the nascent web that amplified the attitudes of this small community. Writers and critics were focused back then on the potential for what hypertext could do to stories. What they forgot to ask, however, was whether or not storytelling in its current social and cultural forms lent itself to these types of changes.

I plan to continue this discussion in subsequent (and likely sporadic) posts this summer where I’ll break out smaller pieces of this post and offer more detailed explanation and examples.

ACDFA Conference 2013 …a brief chat about (dance) composition

by Maxx Passion

I am a first year MFA student in Dance Composition at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and this past March I attended the American College Dance Festival Association’s (ACDFA) 40th anniversary conference, which was held at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Four first year graduate students accompanied ten sophomore, junior and senior BFA students to this four-day conference. ACDFA is a way for colleges and universities from around the country to come together to take class, present dance work in both formal and informal showings, and generally see what everyone else is up to. As a graduate student, I was not only taking class, but teaching as well. I was also asked to sit on a panel of faculty members to watch one of the informal concerts, and provide verbal feedback to the student and faculty choreographers who presented work.

I enrolled in Melanie Yergeau’s Computers & Writing course (along with an MFA poet and PhD students from the Joint Program in English and Education) because my thesis work explores composition for both stage and online/onscreen. This class has given me the opportunity to discuss creation and composition with people who are outside of my genre, but it has taken me by surprise that my colleague’s main concern about including multimodal/digital composition in their classroom is how to assess and give feedback on a creative project. For dancers, it is common practice to both give and receive peer-to-peer or faculty to student feedback about composition and choreography. I now realize that I have taken this assessment experience for granted. I found myself using terminology and aesthetic discourse during class discussions on readings and online multimodal/digital compositions that I would use if I were giving feedback about a dance work. If my colleagues are searching for a metalanguage in order to discuss and assess digital compositions, why not apply the language that already exists for inherently multimodal and interdisciplinary arts such as dance/dance making? What follows are two examples of ways to make connections between the metalanguage of dance composition and interdisciplinary composition in the English classroom.

As mentioned earlier, I had been asked to sit on a panel of an informal concert at ACDFA and give feedback about the work presented. This was the perfect opportunity to put my ideas into action as to whether choreographic feedback could speak to a community outside of the dance world. During this feedback session, I decided to record words that my fellow panelists were using to describe what they experienced during each performance, and then share them with my classmates upon my return.

Here is a photograph of the words collected:


There are some words listed that are obviously dance-specific: kinesthetic awareness, retrograde, shape of space and physicality. However, there are a number of words that I believe can easily be navigated into a conversation about composition of all kinds. I asked my classmates to take a look at my compiled list, and pick out any words that they either already use in their classroom for creative assessments, or that they find particularly intriguing as words that might apply to an English composition classroom.

Here is what they gave me:
(words in bold were listed by more than one classmate):

empathy, delicacy, bravery, gesture, embodiment, subtext, juxtaposition, balance, intimacy, cohesion, contrast, theatricality, ambiguity, association, transitions, design, fusion, entrance/exit, subtext, interactions, connection

Many of the words chosen by my classmates had performative connotations, which makes sense if we are searching for how to discuss a visual representation of creative ideas. And while there isn’t a concrete answer to how each of these words might find their way into a conversation about multimodal/digital composition, there are a couple of exciting possibilities. Here are a few of my thoughts:

Delicacy: I find that the idea of delicacy doesn’t always have to do with the intention of performance, but how light (or heavy) a hand the creator uses while putting together their media.

Ambiguity: I believe that ambiguity has the potential for a positive description. The right amount of ambiguity can provide the audience with wiggle-room to make decisions about reason and meaning on their own. Ambiguity can be a powerful device when used appropriately.

Entrance/Exit: These two words can be taken very literally for the stage, but when composing digitally, it is very important to be mindful of how to transition between media; a well-placed cut on action, or fade-in/out are important details that can change the look and feel of a project.

My experience at ACDFA did not warrant graded results of course, but it provided the perfect opportunity to gather a list of words that give an embodied indication about what is seen, heard and felt about a composition. By finding ways to tap into vocabulary from outside mediums of written compositions, a teacher who might be in new territory speaking about non-written work can find ways to articulate themselves to their students.

There was extraordinary work created by the young dancers attending ACDFA; dances that were thought provoking and provocative, complex and dynamic, funny and grounded, collaborative and solo projects, and I was tasked to speak on it all. Of course there were performances that I found more compelling than others, but regardless of what I found aesthetically appealing, I was still responsible for articulating to the dancers and choreographers not only what I saw, but also, how their compositional choices affected the audience

Ignoring the Digital Elephant

by Rebecca Manery

The big news at the 2013 Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference held in Boston last month was the announcement, tweeted and retweeted, that the Zell Family Foundation was donating $50 million to the MFA creative writing program at the University of Michigan. In an Associated Press interview, Helen Zell, in whose honor the program has been renamed, explained the impetus for the donation: “What I’ve watched happen with the introduction of the Internet and media and blogging, I almost feel like this part of our education is under siege. The ability of fiction to develop creativity, to analyze the human psyche, help you understand people–it’s critical. It’s as important as vitamins or anything else. To me, it’s the core of the intellectual health of human beings.”

Ironically, I was at the conference to present, with three other University of Michigan instructors, a panel entitled, “Creative Convergences: Integrating the Arts and Technology in the Writing Classroom.” Each of us showed examples of undergraduate work that used multimedia and genre-blending to create compositions that were aesthetically and conceptually sophisticated. The example I showed, an excerpt from Molly Yaple’s four-part video poem, “Love Poems,” consists of a voiceover of Molly reciting her original text in combination with original and open-sourced video footage, music, and sound effects. The result is an integrated, complex, and moving work of art.

Like Zell, I have had the feeling, when reading responses to news posts or other public forums on the Internet, that literacy is “under siege.” Yet positioning printed literary works in opposition to web-mediated text ignores the potential of digital compositions to not only contribute to our collective intellectual health but to push at genre boundaries maintained by traditional creative writing programs. Of the nearly 500 presentations listed in the three-day schedule of events, less than a dozen included any mention of digital technology in spite of the significant numbers of digital journals registering their presence in the bookfair. If technology integration is part of the pedagogical focus of most MFA programs, you couldn’t prove it by the roster of presentations at AWP.

Any survey of the Web will uncover literary texts ranging from wince-producing to awe-inspiring. The same, however, can be said of a survey of texts in print. Privileging printed texts is a form of literary snobbery that working writers can ill afford to harbor. As digital humanities scholar Cathy Davidson reminds us, “To be valued by one’s time requires making oneself responsible and responsive to one’s time.”

Like many writers, I have a deep and abiding love for books made of ink and paper. But writers who ignore the potential of digital technology for not only distributing but creating texts risk becoming obsolete in their own time.

A Review of Transnational Literate Lives in Digital Times: Home

Sections: Home / Mode / Intro / Chapters / Conclusion / Reviewers
authors bannerBerry, Patrick W., Hawisher, Gail E., & Selfe, Cynthia L. (2012). Transnational Literate Lives in Digital Times. Logan, UT: Computers and Composition Digital Press/Utah State University Press. Retrieved from

We came to Transnational Literate Lives in Digital Times (TLL),  Patrick W. Berry, Gail E. Hawisher, and Cynthia L. Selfe’s 2012 book-length collection of digital literacy narratives, from three different vantage points: as doctoral students in a writing research methods seminar, an undergraduate student enrolled in a composition pedagogy class, and, finally, as the professor of record for both classes. Each of us read TLL to learn more about individual histories with technology and also about the collaborative methods for locating, gathering, and presenting the digital narrative content of TLLTLL did not disappoint: Berry, Hawisher, and Selfe provide a dynamic and purposefully multi-vocal discussion of digital literacy practices as told by a collection of inter- and transnational undergraduate and graduate students to “suggest different and increasingly accurate ways of understanding the life histories and digital literacies of those with transnational connections, attempting to take into account local perspectives and the complex processes of globalization”  (“About” para. 1).

Berry, Hawisher, and Selfe deploy a collaborative, multimodal approach to storytelling to highlight affordances digital media bring to research as a way of presenting a more comprehensive account of participant experience than exclusively alphabetic text allows. Embedded video clips allow readers to see and hear Mirza Nurkic describe his family’s 1988 move from the former Yugoslavia to Australia (Chapt. 2). Readers watch the video Ismael Gonzalez’s narrative “Writing: Pain or joy,” (Chapt. 4), and so on. Those who have been traditionally considered to be “research participants” function as coauthors, as fellow storytellers in TLL. An additional break from tradition, Berry, Hawisher, and Selfe also provide direct and reflexive attention to methods and methodology, making the text a must-read not only for new(er) digital literacy researchers, but for any researcher looking to develop expertise in reading and conducting person-based, digital, feminist, and/or collaborative writing research.


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