Hart-Davidson: Yeah, how I define digital rhetoric probably has changed this weekend. It's a moving target. Yancey: The question of the hour is whether it's simply another episode in a continuous history of rhetoric or whether it marks some kind of rupture. Beck: I tend to say that it's studying discourse in digital spaces. Hodgson: What I typically do when I talk to students about this is I say rhetoric itself is concerned with discourse—however you want to look at it—so if we think about the digital as just a new form of discourse—and so digital rhetoric is inherently tied with the forms of transferring discourse back and forth for communacative purposes. Arola: I'm just gonna go Aristotle on this one. It's discovering the available means of persuasion in, around, through digital spaces. Hart-Davidson: I think about it maybe in a fairly traditional sense in that I think about digital rhetoric as a field of study as wanting to contribute to a set of scholarly conversations about rhetoric—using digital means to kind of explore those boundaries, to maybe push them back a little bit, maybe to reinforce some things that we've known for some time. Rieder: For me rhetoric is a process of creating immersive suasive environments, based on data from the world that then feeds back onto one or more participants within a space or who are engaging with an object. Demers: Moving images, text, discursive, non-discursive, sound, cut-and-paste, you name it, and can we figure out some kind of rigor, rules, guides, to help us use it more effectively. Losh: I think that the rise of ubiquitous computing is gonna require some rethinking—particularly our theoretical frameworks—and when technology becomes an actor, how do we understand rhetorical activity differently. Brown: The electronic literature organization uses this definition that talks about the computer being sort of essential to the meaning-making process. I think digital rhetoric could maybe think along these terms as well. Yancey: It's an art, a practice, a theory, a phenomenon that can be researched, so it assumes a public, it assumes an audience, it assumes a rhetor, it assumes some agency. Brooke: Ideally what happens to the digital is that it eventually just vanishes off the name—that everyone who practices humanities is practicing digital humanities. And I think you could say the same thing about digital rhetoric. Rivers: A rough distinction that might not necessarily be fair: digital humanities is sort of more hermeneutic—so it's more sort of analytical—whereas digital rhetoric seems to be more interested in production. Holmes: I think rhetoric historically has always been interested in not just using the tools to analyze—digital humanities to analyze—big swaths of texts but to also like produce new arguments through them, to make new things. Hart-Davidson: I think digital humanities is an attempt to sort of frame a moment—that is to understand that all the processes of making are kind of happening all around us, that we don't only study the artifacts of those things but maybe the practices too. Wargo: There was this nice visual at Cs that someone did about, oh, well under the circus tent everyone, because everyone can do digital humanities work. And then the other tent was like oh actually no, only those who code, and like the coders, can do and be digital humanists or do digital humanities work. So I think that like I'm somewhere in between there, trying to understand what that story is. VanKooten: So I think we do the same types of things. We study digital texts, we make digital texts, we use digital texts to get at new research questions. But it's sort of two different conversations happening that overlap a little bit, is how I would characterize it. Eyman: I don't want to sound flippant about this, but it's not a particularly interesting question to me because i don't think digital humanities is a field, but I think digital rhetoric is a field. Digital rhetoric is a core, a central theory, and a central method—we have a place that we can say this is where digital rhetoric starts and works from. Digital humanities is kind of an agglomeration of methods applied to digital products, but there's no core there, right. It's just a way of describing new ways of thinking about methodology across a broad range of humanities subjects or humanities disciplines. Brown: I think actually we get a bit too hung up on this sort of distinction between digital rhetoric and the digital humanities. And I think it sort of ends up in this cul-de-sac conversation. I also think it's bound up with lots of discussions about the difference between rhet-comp, rhetoric and writing, and literature. And I'm not really invested in re-fighting all those fights. So I basically—my argument, and I will sort of make a piece of this argument today during my presentation is to just stop trying to distinguish digital rhetoric from the digital humanities. Ricket: That's a really interesting question because it really depends on what emphasis you want to place on rhetorician. Are you talking about simply people who are practitioners? Or are you talking about practitioners who attempt to understand the practice, theorize, discuss its issues? Aguayo: You know this is really funny because—this may be my thing—like, I always kind of thought it was funny when people call themselves rhetoricians because to be a rhetorician assumes that you're engaging in some kind of practice of rhetoric, and when you look at people who call themselves rhetoricians, they most often are just scholars. So, when you say what is a digital rhetorician, for me, that assumes one is engaging in the connection between scholarly thinking and practice. Brock: Interest in seeing the kinds of rhetorical inquiry or study that we can apply to digital media is really where I think we can have the most productive discussion for what digital rhetoric can be and then the kinds of individuals involved in exploring that space. Rice: I guess you just say I'm a digital rhetorician and become one. I don't know, it's kind of magic. Yancey: Last night, Justin made the observation that there were three rhetoricians that helped define this area of inquiry if you will: Lanham, Zappan, and Losh. Warfel Juszkiewicz: I would probably use Liz Losh's Hacking Aristotle chapter from Virtual Politic. Eyman: I suppose if I had to pick just like one, then I would say the sections of Liz Losh's Virtual Politic that talk about digital rhetoric. Losh: I'm very excited about Doug Eyman's book on digital rhetoric. Boyle: The one book I keep coming back to is Collin Brooke's Lingua Fracta. Yancey: We're reading Collin Brooke. Brown: I would pick Collin Brooke's Lingua Fracta. Boyle: I think it does a fantastic job of taking classical rhetoric and folding it right into new media technologies. Wargo: I'm a fan girl of Jody Shipka, so I've told everyone to read Toward a Composition Made Whole Rivers: I quite like something like what Jody Shipka does with composition made whole. Brooke: Benjamin, Heidigger, McLuhan. Hodgson: The one book I would always have them read is McLuhan's Understanding Media: the Extensions of Man. Rice: I'm very influenced by Marshall McLuhan's work. Rivers: I had my students read about half of Jeff Rice's Digital Detroit. Arola: If I really had to choose one the person that keeps coming to mind, which is odd, is Lisa Nakamura. Arroyo: Victor Vitanza and Craig Saber just came out with a collection called electracy. It came out a couple months ago and it's a compilation of Ulmer's works. Demers: It has to be the work of Greg Ulmer. Beck: I would choose Claire Lauer's What's in a Name. Brooke: Borges's Labyrinths.
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What is digital rhetoric, and what does it mean to teach digital rhetoric? In this webtext, we synthesize and share converging and contrasting perspectives on ways of knowing and doing in digital rhetoric pedagogy among 25 teacher–scholars, each of whom sat down with us for video-recorded interviews in spring 2015. Through this synthesis, we have two related purposes. First, we provide a rough sketch of the state of digital rhetoric pedagogy as it is understood and practiced in the middle of the second decade of the 21st century and as it is told by a range of voices, including leading voices, in the subfield of digital rhetoric. Second, we identify and highlight areas of productive tension among interviewees’ responses, particularly in terms of how those tensions instructively map multiple approaches to teaching digital rhetoric rather than cancel one another out. With these two purposes, we hope both to inform an audience of newcomers to digital rhetoric—including graduate students as well as experienced writing studies professionals for whom digital rhetoric pedagogy is unfamiliar terrain—and to prompt discussion among more seasoned scholars about how we understand, describe, and practice digital rhetoric as a pedagogical venture.

Toward that end, we propose a three-axis frame for understanding the tensions within digital rhetoric pedagogy, with each axis providing a continuum that represents the following areas of tension that we observe as emerging from among the interviewees’ responses (see Figure 1):

  • Continuation ←→ Rupture
  • Theory ←→ Practice
  • Text ←→ Network
Digital Rhetoric Pedagogy Dimensions
Figure 1

Through the four videos and accompanying write-ups located within the subsequent pages of this webtext, we show how the course outcomes, readings, assignments, and assessment practices that the interviewees identify and articulate can be charted along and among the dimensions of the above axes. In other words, these three axes form a framework for theorizing and practicing digital rhetoric pedagogy—and thus a framework for situating our own praxis. We hope that this framework will provide other teachers in and of digital rhetoric with heuristics for developing, assessing, and revising pedagogical approaches and materials:

  • Continuation ←→ Rupture
  • To what degree does this pedagogy position digital rhetoric as a continuation of traditional ways of knowing and doing, and to what degree does it acknowledge digital rhetoric as a rupture brought about by new and unprecedented technologies and forms of communication?
  • Theory ←→ Practice
  • To what degree does this pedagogy emphasize the theoretical and analytical side of digital rhetoric, and to what degree does it emphasize the practical side that is focused on and keyed to production and play?
  • Text ←→ Network
  • To what degree does this pedagogy privilege analysis and/or production of the text or the individual, and to what degree does it attend to the ways in which those texts and/or individuals operate within networks and communities?

These dimensional and intersectional areas of tension are more thoroughly defined and fleshed out in the succeeding pages of this webtext. For the remainder of this page, however, we offer more background for the project in terms of both its exigence and the scholarly conversation to which it aims to contribute.

Ways of Knowing and Doing in Digital Rhetoric—Project Overview

Put simply, this particular project stems from a general difficulty in defining—for ourselves, for colleagues, and for students—what digital rhetoric is and does. In fall 2014, with prompting from the CFP for the Indiana Digital Rhetoric Symposium (IDRS), we wondered together: How do we define digital rhetoric? How is it different, if indeed it is, from digital humanities and other kinds of rhetoric? And what makes one a digital rhetorician? These questions are, of course, entirely too broad to be useful as research questions, so we began to brainstorm the kinds of things we would need to know in order to answer them. In doing so, we generated 10 questions about scholarship, methods, and teaching, the answers for which we thought would be robust enough to hold some potential for describing the emerging subfield of digital rhetoric. We then posed those questions to scholars and teachers working in digital rhetoric who were among the presenters at IDRS, held in spring 2015 in Bloomington, IN. For this webtext, we narrow our focus to the four questions on pedagogy and develop the framework described above. Those four questions, as seen in the sections of this webtext, are as follows:

  • What are the outcomes for teaching with/in digital rhetoric, and how do you achieve those outcomes?
  • If you had to pick one reading or scholar to assign your students in digital rhetoric, what would it be and why?
  • What is your favorite assignment in digital rhetoric and why?
  • How (if at all) do you assess digital rhetoric in the classroom?

Our initial observations from this project were published in the special issue of enculturation devoted to the IDRS proceedings. We framed these initial findings as both a primer and a teaser for our larger project, and here, we invite readers, viewers, and listeners to experience the audio-visual interviews, the written transcripts, and our scholarly commentary simultaneously. To that end, we have designed what we hope will be an intuitive, accessible interface, one that will help those interested to create new connections across the four pedagogical foci and to engage with our three-axis framework.

But first, some background.

The Symposium

The occasion for our project—for actually having viable answers to our questions, as described above—was the IDRS, which was held in spring 2015 at Indiana University. As we detailed previously in enculturation:

the purpose of the symposium, according to its website, was “to foster conversations at the intersections of rhetoric, media, and technology” by “(1) explor[ing] Perspectives and Definitions of Digital Rhetoric and (2) articulat[ing] the ways in which digital rhetoric connects to, yet is distinct from, digital humanities” (link). As a practical matter, the Symposium offered an opportunity for key figures in the field to interact and dialogue with one another in a moment where the subfield of Digital Rhetoric appeared to be crystallizing: through research and scholarship, through our field’s hiring practices, and through curriculum and pedagogy. (Davis, McElroy, & Lee, 2016)

Given the occasion and the nexus of perspectives potentially available from the 32 scheduled presenters, the IDRS provided an ideal moment to inquire into the ways in which digital rhetoric is conceived, discussed, and practiced across the subfield. Over the course of the three-day symposium, we sought to explore ways of knowing and doing in digital rhetoric by documenting our colleagues’ perspectives in response to our 10 questions. Ultimately, we conducted interviews with 25 different scholars and video-recorded their responses. In the rest of this introduction, we connect our overall project to some of the scholarship in the subfield.

Scholarly Backdrop

As Eyman (2015) notes in the “Introduction” to Digital Rhetoric: Theory, Method, Practice, “more than one academic discipline and intellectual tradition can make claims to being the ‘home’ of digital rhetoric” (p. 1). For us, that home is rhetoric and composition. Our mutual interests in rhetoric, digital culture, and pedagogy stem both from broad, recent movements within the humanities to articulate itself in a digitizing world (e.g., Gold, 2012; Gold & Klein, 2016) and from the older and narrower disciplinary history within communities like computers & writing (a history that Eyman deftly overviews in his “Introduction”). More specifically, this project’s inception takes place against the backdrop of two coinciding moments: one in which the subfield of digital rhetoric is beginning to take shape with and against composition, literature, and the humanities, and a second in which an interest in how digital technology inflects pedagogy continues to be an increasingly dominant theme across the humanities generally.

As evidence of the first moment, we point to Eyman’s proposal for and review of definitions of digital rhetoric in his “Introduction,” in which he states that digital rhetoric is “the application of rhetorical theory (as analytic method or heuristic for production) to digital texts and performances” (p. 13). Working from this definition, he builds on Zappan’s (2005) list of “primary activities” in which the field engages. For Zappan, those include:

  • use of rhetorical strategies in production and analysis of digital text;
  • identification of characteristics, affordances, and constraints of new media;
  • formation of digital identities; and
  • potential for building social communities (p. 319).

To these, Eyman thus adds:

  • “inquiry and development of rhetorics of technology;
  • the use of rhetorical methods for uncovering and interrogating ideologies and cultural formation in digital work;
  • an examination of the rhetorical function of networks; and
  • theorization of agency when interlocutors are as likely to be software agents (or ‘spimes’) as they are human actors” (p. 44).

In reviewing Losh’s (2009) four-part definition of digital rhetoric from Virtualpolitik, Eyman also argues that digital rhetoric is “closely connected” with other fields, including digital literacy, visual rhetoric, new media, human–computer interaction, and critical code studies. He then describes his sense of the relationship between digital rhetoric and the digital humanities (DH), the latter of which he says is

currently used as a kind of catch-all description for a very broad range of approaches and methods that involve use of digital technologies (from geographical information systems, to 3-D modeling and simulation, to large-scale text mining and data visualization) to study humanities subjects (including history, art history, literature, and archaeology). (pp. 58–59)

Digital rhetoric, on the other hand, has a more well-defined set of definitions, methods, and practices and a coherent disciplinary history, which he notes in our primer video in enculturation linked above. He also cites a lack of NEH funding for digital rhetoric projects, suggesting that the trends of interest in DH have been primarily concerned with traditional forms of cultural heritage materials such as books, newspapers, film, and so on, to the exclusion of ‘born-digital’ artifacts. It is here, Eyman argued, that digital rhetoric is well positioned to participate in and contribute to the digital humanities, and he suggests that such a turn is imminent.

What is important for our inquiry is that, among the available definitions for digital rhetoric and among the listed disciplinary connections, there are few mentions of pedagogy. From this perspective, one might assume that the teaching of digital rhetoric is not, itself, integral to (defining) the subfield of digital rhetoric. Or, one might assume that using the term “digital rhetoric” itself somehow obfuscates attention to teaching in ways that, say, “digital literacy” does not. (After all, each of the authors listed above is also a teacher.) From another perspective, however, attention to digital rhetorical pedagogy predates all of these definitions: the first issue of Kairos, for instance, was published in 1996, three years before Welch’s (1999) groundbreaking Electric Rhetoric.

Within the wider orbit of the humanities, attention to pedagogy in digital environments has lagged behind the subfield of digital rhetoric. Though perhaps still the “catch all” that Eyman described, digital humanities has nonetheless given increasing attention to the pedagogical implications of engaging humanistic inquiry online. In particular, the Debates in the Digital Humanities (2012) books series and MLA’s Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities (2016) project have begun to lay the foundations for fruitful and rigorous connections between teaching and new directions in humanities research.

Debates in the Digital Humanities includes a full section—including four chapters and four blog posts—on “Teaching the Digital Humanities.” Most of these contributions contextualize the rise of DH during the perceived decline of humanities teaching in higher education more generally (Waltzer, 2012), explore the effects of DH on graduate education (Reid, 2012), or offer perspective on the differential manifestations of DH in different institutional contexts (Alexander & Davis, 2012). But, as Brier (2012) noted, though “pedagogy is not totally ignored by DH’s growing cadre of practitioners [...] teaching and learning are something of an afterthought for many DHers” (pp. 390–391). This observation seems to be borne out in the same volume, where nearly 400 pages are devoted to disciplinarity and research methods and only one chapter and a few short blog posts are devoted to teaching.

Similarly, the follow-up collection Debates in the Digital Humanities (2016) devotes only two chapters to pedagogy: one on teaching “small digital humanities” to connect classroom contexts to digital political advocacy (Earhart & Taylor, 2016), and a second, the wryly titled “How Not to Teach the Digital Humanities” (Cordell, 2016). In some ways, this short piece outlines as thorough a sense of DH pedagogy as we have found: by identifying a disjunct between the concerns of DH practitioners, who prefer “meta-discussions about the field,” and the dispositions of students “who do not care about DH qua DH,” Cordell was able to create a space for the beginnings of a digital humanistic pedagogy. This pedagogy urges students to take up “substantive investigations of specific projects, thinkers, methods, books, or articles” and outlines four strategies for such investigations: one, start small; two, attend to both the present state and the history of technology; three, scaffold everything; and four, consider local context. Moreover, books that identify explicit, mutually informative links between rhetoric and DH, such as Jim Ridolfo and Bill Hart-Davidson’s (2015) award-winning Rhetoric & The Digital Humanities, focus largely on outlining theory, methodologies, and methods that forge interdisciplinary research connections and forecast future trends in scholarship and publication. Except for one chapter geared towards curriculum, there is little discussion of pedagogy.

This partial review is, perhaps, an unfair shake for digital humanities—which has needed to spend much of its early energy in self-definition, interdisciplinary exploration, and methodological and epistemological justification—and for those two volumes in particular, as DH has attended somewhat more to pedagogy in other venues. For instance, the Journal of Interactive Technology & Pedagogy, launched in 2012, has eleven issues that address teaching humanities with technology from disciplinary, institutional, and classroom perspectives (in addition to subsections that include teaching materials and useful anecdotes). Similarly, the Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory (HASTAC) meetings and initiatives have formed broad social networks for practitioners at the intersection of teaching and technology. Finally, and perhaps most closely related with the disciplinary concerns of the volumes mentioned above, is the MLA Commons’ Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities: Concepts, Models, and Experiments (2016) project, which describes itself as “a curated collection of downloadable, reusable, and remixable pedagogical artifacts” (Description). Taking as its rationale the fact that “scholarly examples of digital pedagogy remain limited,” the project presents a keyword glossary of 60 terms, wherein each term is explored through a “curatorial statement” and a set of curated pedagogical artifacts (Description). The overall effect of the project, for us, is the feeling of encountering a massive, rich digital archive, wonderfully exhibited and pedagogically exhilarating, the components of which are difficult to synthesize into pedagogy.

This may be a lack of imagination on our parts, but the inability to identify digital rhetorical pedagogy harkens back to 2005, when Zappan noted that “Digital rhetoric is thus an amalgam of more-or-less discrete components rather than a complete and integrated theory in its own right” (p. 323). We find that, at the current moment, the same could be said about digital pedagogies in the humanities and about digital rhetorical pedagogy in particular. And so here we hope to take forward the best impulses of the works above—that there is much disciplinary work to do and, within it, also a need for “scholarly examples of digital pedagogy.” We also hope to build on the insightful work we have reviewed both in the subfield of digital rhetoric and in fields adjacent to it and to follow in the footsteps of Kairos, Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities, and the Journal of Interactive Technology & Pedagogy. And lastly, we hope to carry Zappan’s (2005) question another step forward: In the second decade of the 21st Century, is digital rhetoric pedagogy an amalgam of discrete components or is it a complete and integrated praxis in its own right? If it is integrated, as we are here theorizing, can we develop a consistent and satisfactory framework that would account for its dimensions?

This is what our framework attempts to do: It opens up a space for thinking about teaching digital rhetoric in ways that

  1. acknowledge that our rhetorical traditions must be carried forward but expressed anew;
  2. accommodate theoretical and analytical perspectives that inform and are informed by processes of production; and
  3. recognize that rhetorical impact of texts are a function of the networks with/in which they operate.

Finally, we would be remiss if we did not mention other multimodal projects in rhetoric and composition that use audio and video to incorporate multiple voices and perspectives on the same topic, question, or set of questions. Among them, Todd Taylor’s Take 20 (2007) and Claire Lauer’s “What’s in a Name?” (2012) served as both inspiration and method. Take 20 is a film project that seeks to capture thinking about the teaching of writing in U.S. higher education by interviewing writing teachers and researchers about their formative experiences and classroom practices; the documentary was influential in our formation as academics and informed the creation of our questions here. Similarly, Lauer’s “What’s In a Name” reflects the field’s multiperspectival and at times conflicting thinking around the terms multimodality, multimedia, and new media through audio interviews, commentary, and accessible design. We hope that this text attends to digital rhetoric with as much complexity and nuance as “What’s In a Name?” did with multimodality and other related terms.