Transcript

Eyman: Well, the problem with this question—it kind of assumes that there's a kind of one way to do digital rhetoric. Brooke: That changes. From course to course. Yancey: So, I could simply say that my favorite assignment was electronic portfolios. Because inside an electronic portfolio I can have all of the other assignments (laughs). Which is great. And, with an electronic portfolio, you have to come up with an interface, you have to think about audience. I mean, you have to do a lot of the kinds of things that we do. Losh: Right now I have a get to know you assignment that I really like that's— curate four selfies of yourself: a Facebook profile picture, a picture that would be appropriate for the staff page of a bank, a dating website photo, and then a picture that would be good for a textbook on 21st century history. And students write really interesting things in the context of thinking about these different performances of identity. Hart Davidson: A semester-long project where they build a piece, a system of some kind. What I ask them to do is make some group of, concrete group of people's lives better. Rieder: What I've really enjoyed doing is have students understand just how different it is to develop in a hypertext environment. Getting them to compose within a story space, or within a hypertextual environment really opens them up to digital media. And you end up talking more technically about the media itself. And that's a nice primer into what would it mean then to compose in hypertext. Hodgson: I have students take key concepts from whatever we're reading and produce visualizations of it. if we get to that point where students are comfortable enough, is we start looking at their individual artifacts and talk about them as clickable interfaces. In some classes we've been advanced enough to be able to actually start producing them in various web interfaces. Demers: Give them the Cat Generator: it simulates inventio, it's one of Greg Ulmer's conceptual tools. Warfel Juszkiewicz: We have two blog posts required for each of our students each unit, so there's six total. If we want them to learn to do visual analysis, we'll ask them to find a text that they find interesting. Find something, some image that you noted during spring break and point out one or two important visual moments in that. I printed out the students' blogs and brought them to class. I had this lovely moment of all these students taking what was a digital text and having a print version in front of them, and trying to trace it backward to themselves and then slightly freaking out. Brown: An assignment that tracks through a whole semester—students begin the semester with a sort of traditional research paper assignment of some sort and then throughout the semester they run that argument through multiple sort of machines. Davis: I like doing remediation projects. Lee: My favorite assignment is when I assign them a remediation or a remix project. Brown: So maybe it's a podcast you run it through Comic Life, maybe you make a mini documentary. Davis: That has a lot to do with the sort of [Jody] Shipka thinking. which is you've got a text, you have to move it from one medium to another and in the process, I think you learn a lot about the choices that you made and/or that were hidden from you. Brown: And, again the idea being that at each moment, argument changes, it has to change, the evidence has to change a little bit, the presentation and delivery have to change because the medium is sort of pushing you in certain directions. I haven't really found anything that does exactly what I want to do in the classroom like that assignment because it really forces them to understand the relationship between medium and message and to understand again the available means of persuasion and each of these sorts of digital rhetorical situations. Lee: It's kind of an and/or, and they have to make a case, too, like is this a remediation or is it a remix or is it both and how is it… how is it acting as both. McElroy: I also want to plug an assignment that I've been doing lately along with a colleague of mine at Florida State, Travis Maynard, that asks students to create what we call a rhetorical assemblage, to engage in the textual landscape and look for textual materials that they can use to address some kind of rhetorical situation. Lee: Take existing texts, it could be your own texts, it could be other people's texts, it could be your own and other people's texts, and create something new out of it, and that new has to be transformative, you know, thinking in terms of copyright and fair use, and if they're using stuff that's not their own and/or not in the public domain, then they have to make a case, they have to make an argument, a defense for why this qualifies as an instance of fair use. McElroy: The way that the assignment is set up really invites an engagement in digital rhetoric, I think, and we also have a reflection essay, a pretty extensive reflection essay, where the students have to outline the rhetorical situation that they think their assemblage speaks to and is a fitting response to. Brooke: In about the mid-2000s I stopped asking my students to write papers and I started having them draw network maps. Brock: I'm interested in mapping. Yancey: Another activity that I ask people to do has to do with asking them to make some kind of map of some kind of phenomenon. Brock: Seeing the kinds of connections that these tools allow them to make in tracing scholarly citations or access to certain journals and ideas. Brooke: So it might be tracing the genealogy of citations, it might be doing disciplinary maps of the field. Brock: Seeing the kind of popular and academic interplays that happen when certain ideas get picked up by news media sources and so on. Yancey: And what's interesting about that is that people will choose various kinds of materials to complete that task. Everything from—someone did a 3D map of some sites in Tallahassee that I think is still sitting in our office, as a matter of fact. And then we've had some that have been completely digital and everything in-between. That raises issues of materiality which is another aspect of digital rhetoric that I think is increasingly coming to the fore. Aguayo: I teach primarily practitioners, so the one way I get them thinking about how to become a thinking director or thinking media maker is to have them actually put theory into practice. Arroyo: Video making—I like to ask students to think about dense theoretical concepts and visualize them through video. VanKooten: I do a lot of video composition with students and I like video composition because of its multimodal possibilities. Aguayo: … and I ask them to choose one director or one film and then to make their own piece that responds to that, so they don't have to agree with that person, but they have to be referential to it. Arroyo: And then going out and taking another student's video and remixing it and really want them to practice that meaningful appropriation and I want people to feel… what does it feel like when your work is remixed, you know, when you thought you had a certain message and argument and things and then somebody remixes it and turns it into something else. How is that for you as the video maker and how is that as the person doing the remixing? Aguayo: That gets them thinking about "well, what… where do I stand in this tension between the camera and its ability to tell the truth." VanKooten: Video in particular highlights images plus sounds plus written words plus movements and animations and different rhetorical techniques. Students are well versed in the consumption of video, so they know when something looks better or not so great. Whether they can produce that or not, they can give it a try or they can analyze it and they're used to consuming those texts. Aguayo: So there's a lot of strategic processes happening in that assignment. Arroyo: Because again, like in the class I'm teaching now "I didn't even know I could do this" and by the end of the semester, they have 4 or 5 videos and they feel pretty proud of that, you know. I don't see that when I… I used to just assign papers. Beck: I have a lot of my students actually go and look at privacy policies on websites. Boyle: One of my favourite assignments is anything that's involving tags—the use of tags. Holmes: My favorite project to assign is a non-digital project actually. Turn students loose with Play-Doh. Because one of Shipka's arguments in Toward a Composition Made Whole is that multimodal can be more than just digital. I find that actually assigning, when I give my students Play-Doh and say go forth and make me an argument. And they actually do start playing around with it, they achieve on the one hand Shipka's goal which is to have students think about process, and then having to transpose that assignment to think back through the digital, it makes them a lot more attuned to the material substructures and underpinnings of their kind of digital interfaces that they are working through. Rice: If you have 75 students to create a group… a Facebook group that will attract 100 members—you know the book Made to Stick by the Heaths? How Sticky Messages Work. And so, how do ideas attract other people and then you have mimetic discussion, you have discussion of memes and how do things go viral, how do ideas… how do stories pick up and branch out and fork and become other stories so that you can learn how to build an audience. Arola: One of the big assignments I have is an informational campaign. Students work in groups to choose an issue that's local in some way, and figure out how to actually produce an informational campaign that includes a website, that includes a video on that website, that has some sort of branding with it. Rickert: One of my favourite assignments to give to new TAs that they have to teach, is an advertisement assignment. While it's not digital per se, in engaging those logics you're thinking about and wresting with the digital. let's think about rhetoric and let's think about the ways it can be pursued, how is it that the digital shows up for us, makes itself available for us, shapes and contours us. Rivers: It's basically treasure hunting or a scavenger hunt, so it's really easy, if you're going to like introduce students to the whole notion of space and navigation, and the way that digital technologies work in terms of that, and they're able to end up in the medians of busy roads finding things, you know, it's an easy sell. Eyman: A couple of ones that I really like in terms of like both production and analysis are working with Wikipedia, for instance, like engaging and interrogating what Wikipedia is and how it works and really fully understanding that from a kind of genres perspective and then going in and working directly into Wikipedia and seeing what the responses are and then doing an analysis of those responses. Yancey: I do have an assignment where students have to create either Wikipedia articles or additions to Wikipedia. And I think it's enormously instructive. If you think that, in the terms of which you specified. Because if you think that digital rhetoric, or any rhetoric, is also about epistemology, then creating something for Wikipedia is nothing if not an epistemological enterprise.
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Question Three:
What is your favorite assignment in digital rhetoric and why?

Although the answers given to each question provided valuable and varied insight into the pedagogical practices associated with and constitutive of digital rhetoric, the question about assignments yielded more diversity in responses than any other. As Doug Eyman says, there is not “one way to do digital rhetoric,” and that was apparent given the breadth of assignments interviewees marked as their favorites when teaching digital rhetoric. Part of the reason there was such variety amongst the assignments mentioned, as Collin Brooke acknowledges, is that one’s favorite assignment might be course specific. As such, we see here the same explicit attention to local contexts as we see in the responses to outcomes. Additionally, many interviewees found selecting only one assignment too arduous a task, opting instead for answers that left them flexibility. For example, Kathleen Blake Yancey says, “I could simply say that my favorite assignment was electronic portfolios because inside of an electronic portfolio, I can have all of the other assignment […]. And, with an electronic portfolio, you have to come up with an interface, you have to think about audience.” In other words, “you have to do a lot of the kind of things that we do [in digital rhetoric].” In turning our attention toward portfolios, Yancey is expressing a desire not only to provide students the challenge of practicing and refining their digital and rhetorical literacies via portfolios but also to “have all of the other assignments,” too. And, as we explore at the end of this section, although the three-axis framework maps the variety of assignments reasonably well, the assignments also implicitly speak back to the framework—pointing to how digital rhetorical work puts rupture-within-continuation, theory-into-practice, and texts-in-networks.

Common Characteristics of Assignments: Visual, Collaborative, and Networked

Although the assignments interviewees shared ranged in scope and focus, some did share certain characteristics. For instance, Liz Losh, Justin Hodgson, and Jennifer Warfel Juszkiewicz have students create texts that attend to and focus on the visual. Losh in particular asks students to curate four selfies: (1) one for a Facebook profile, (2) one for the staff page on a banking website, (3) one for a dating website/app, and (4) one for a textbook on 21st-century history. In completing this project, students are asked to consider “different performances of identity” within the same visual genre of the selfie. Hodgson, on the other hand, asks students to “produce visualizations” of key concepts, which demonstrates that their understanding of and engagement with such concepts is not limited to the modes of the spoken and written word. Lastly, Warfel Juszkiewicz has students engage in visual analyses by having them identify visual moments within an image or set of images. And as a whole, all three assignments highlight multimodal meaning-making that brings together visual and alphabetic modes. Despite these commonalities, however, we can see two of the dimensional tensions identified in the introduction emerge among these examples. For instance, whereas Hodgson and Warfel Juszkiewicz have students focus on producing or analyzing digital texts, Losh’s assignment asks students to consider networks first and then identify the text that would function most appropriately within them.

Another common thread in digital rhetoric assignments is having students work collaboratively, and here, the focus is likewise on texts functioning in networks. Kristen Arola, for example, assigns students informational campaigns for which they create texts within and across different genres and media in an effort to affect change on a local issue. Similar to Arola, Bill Hart-Davidson has students “build a system of some kind [… in order] to make some concrete group of people’s life better.” For both assignments, students work collaboratively with different media to foster engagement with the local community.

Having students create texts that are for and that operate within networks outside of the academy is also a feature in Nathaniel Rivers’ favorite assignment, which asks students to use geocaching technologies to conduct treasure hunts. This project pushes students to think critically about the intersections between the digital and physical world, thereby drawing attention to materiality. Such attention is also present in the assignment Steve Holmes shared, which asks students to create with Play-Doh. This assignment, according to Holmes, enacts and illustrates that multimodality is a process of composing that generates not only digital but also material texts, a concept he links to Jody Shipka’s (2011) work in Toward a Composition Made Whole.

Four Representative Assignment Types

Remixes, Remediations, Assemblages

Visual, collaborative, and networked projects, many of which cultivated community engagement and material awareness, were not the only through-lines across the responses to this question, however, as four specific types of assignments were cited on more than one occasion. The first was a project keyed to remix, remediation, and/or assemblage—which speaks to digital rhetoric’s focus on texts that not only operate in networks but also are derived as a function of networks. James Brown, for instance, asks students to begin the semester by creating a traditional research paper that they then run “through multiple machines”—that is, through different genres and media. For Brown, examples included “a podcast,” “comic life,” or “a mini-documentary.” The value of having students remediate arguments for different genres and media is that, with each remediation, “the argument changes, it has to change, […] because the medium is sort of pushing you in different directions.” Said another way, in remediating their work, students are required to be more rhetorically cognizant of and sensitive to the way genre conventions and media affordances and constraints inform and shape content, appeals to an audience, and the rhetorical situation as a whole. As Brown says, such an assignment “really forces [students] to understand the relationship between medium and message and to understand the available means of persuasion in these digital rhetorical situations.”

For some, naming this type of work and the texts students produce matters greatly. Rory Lee, in particular, asks students to create a remediation and/or remix and, in so doing, make an argument for whether it is one or the other—or both. In classifying work as a remediation and/or a remix, students come to realize that, while these terms are certainly comparable and can be used to refer to and categorize similar types of texts, there are important differences between and amongst the terms that describe the rhetorical act of utilizing the old to generate the new. Nonetheless, the projects characterized as remediations, remixes, and assemblages are united in that they invite students to de- and re-contextualize content into new rhetorical situations in ways that sharpen their understanding of exigence, audience, genre, modes, and media. In addition, such projects ask students to be conscious of the impact and importance of both copyright and fair use and the ways in which they can leverage the latter rhetorically to create transformative works.

Maps

A second recurring assignment involved mapping. Brooke, for instance, has students “draw network maps.” Here, students might trace “the genealogy of citations” or they “might be doing disciplinary maps of the field.” Kevin Brock also asks student to create maps, and like Brooke, he perceives mapping as an opportunity for students to trace “scholarly citations” or “certain journals and ideas.” In both cases, students are able to employ digital technologies to make connections that they might not make with and through other media, and as such, they are prompted to think about their text along the axis of text/network: their text not only functions within a network but also is itself a network. Yancey, on the other hand, offers students more openness in what they map, as she asks them “to create some sort of map of some kind of phenomenon.” Ultimately, and as Yancey notes, students “will choose various kinds of materials to complete [the] task,” which “raises issues of materiality.” In that regard, the maps that Brooke, Brock, and Yancey ask students to create are connected in that they draw attention to the relationship of our mapping tools and the materiality of the maps we create given the tools to which we have access. This focus on materiality is important, as Yancey argues, because materiality “is another aspect of digital rhetoric that […] is increasingly coming to the fore.”

Videos

The third type of project that received multiple mentions included students participating in video production. The justifications for assigning such projects varied, though there were some connections between video projects and the assignments mentioned above. For instance, both Angela Aguayo and Sarah Arroyo require students to create videos in order to highlight the connections between theory and practice, one of our three axes. Aguayo asks students to produce videos that function as responses to other videos and that “put theory into practice.” In a similar vein, Arroyo asks “students to think about dense theoretical concepts and visualize them through video.” Like Hodgson, then, Arroyo wants students to think about other ways in which we can represent and understand concepts within the subfield specifically through video.

Aguayo and Arroyo assign video projects for other reasons, too. For Aguayo, one of the major benefits of asking students to create videos is to have them encounter, engage with, and navigate the epistemological implications associated with video production. In particular, Aguayo is interested in seeing how students determine where they “stand in this tension between the camera and its ability to tell truth.” In other words, visuals—and videos as a whole—function in ways similar to language: that is, both are epistemic and therefore a means to construct and convey realities.

Similar to Brown, Davis, Lee, and McElroy, Arroyo focuses on remix, especially as a lens to understand and interact with video production. In particular, Arroyo’s assignments involve students “going out and taking another student’s video and remixing it.” Here, students glean insight from both sides: they gain practice in “meaningful appropriation,” and they learn what “it feels like when your work is remixed.” With the latter, Arroyo wants students to consider what is it like “when you thought you had a certain message and argument and someone remixes it and turns it into something else.” Such an exercise underscores that we do not always have rhetorical agency over how our messages are interpreted, especially in the digital arena and in the era of the prosumer.

Crystal VanKooten offers yet another reason for why she has students create videos: they illuminate the qualities and complications of multimodality. As she says, “I like video composition because of its multimodal possibilities.” For her, “video in particular highlights images plus sounds, plus written words, plus movements and animations and different rhetorical techniques.” She also believes that students are well equipped to do this work because they “are well versed in the consumption of video,” which helps them translate into the role of producer of video.

Wikipedia

Having students work with Wikipedia was the fourth and final project referenced by more than one interviewee. Eyman considers Wikipedia to be a particularly valuable text and network in terms of what it reveals about genre. As a result, he has students interrogate “what Wikipedia is and how it works” in order to facilitate an understanding of Wikipedia “from a genre perspective.” Yancey, on the other hand, requires students “to create either Wikipedia articles or additions to Wikipedia.” According to her, such an assignment reminds us “that digital rhetoric, or any rhetoric, is also about epistemology,” and for her, “creating something for Wikipedia is nothing if not an epistemological enterprise.”

***

The variety of assignments interviewees shared and discussed offer us a rich set of resources to consider when designing and assigning projects within digital rhetoric. In addition, if we read across the corpus of examples offered in response to our question about assignments, we can tease out certain pedagogical values. For instance, we can see that digital rhetoric embraces projects over papers. We ask students to think visually and, most importantly, rhetorically, to work collaboratively, to connect with the local community, to engage with and work across various genres and media, to acknowledge and negotiate the importance and influence of materiality, to investigate the intersections between online and physical spaces, and to work, think, and play with multiple modalities, often at the same time. In addition, the projects shared here indicate an awareness of and appreciation for the intertextual and epistemological implications of digital rhetoric.

Moreover, many of the participants’ favorite assignments engage explicitly or implicitly with the three axes that frame our larger analysis. The curation of selfies engages students with the visual, and it does so by having them critically consider the rhetorical space where text meets network. Similarly, productions and analyses of digital texts—such as visualizations of course concepts or the creation of remediations—use differences in media and modes to highlight for students the tension between continuation and rupture. Finally, having students complete collaborative assignments entails work across all three axes: ideally, students not only form small networks of work (groups) that interact with and consider larger networks (communities) but also produce within the former meaningful texts that affect and change the latter.