mid-zummer reading aiming a new direcction

Since the start of the summer – actually, since end of spring semester because summer begins tomorrow – I’ve reading in and working with visual rhetoric and new media writing:

– Wysocki, Johnson-Eilola, Selfe, and Sirc, Writing New Media
– Horn, Visual Language
– Hocks and Kendrick, Eloquent Images
Multimodal Discourse and Reading Images by Kress and Van Leeuwen
– Handa’s collection Visual Rhetoric in a Digital World
– for remediation Bolter and Grusin

and re-reading a couple on e-rhetoric

– Crystal, Language and the Internet
– Baron, Alphabet to email

I started reading to design Elements of E-Rhetoric and to re-design of the web design and web writing courses. I want to shift the emphasis from the rule-governed and towards the rhetorical, from the strictly functional and towards the semiotic: “Ever thought about what the menus mean rather than just how they look?”

But the more I look into new media and visual rhetoric, the more I think about bringing visual composition into FYC. This year’s default text for FYC has some elements of visual rhetoric in it – not a lot, and what it does have is mainly about interpreting images rather than creating them, but it’s a beginning.

Then, this morning I was reading TechRhet comments this years’s C&W. Lots of mentions of “the end of composition” (aka bringing visual into the first-year classroom), and new media and visual rhetoric. Even a mention of a second-semester required course in multimedia literacy. There was a similar buzz during C&W in 1988, I think. HyperCard had been out for a year, so we were talking about students creating multimedia hypertextual productions in HyperCard. Saw a couple of interesting ones. And I remember “the end of compostion” being discussed even then. Maybe this time it will be different. Maybe we can help it along.

At BSU, we have a required “oral component” in our FYC requirement. A few years back, the required speech course was cut from lib ed, but the lib ed committee thought that practice in public speaking was important enough to keep – in some form, in some course. So it was bolted on to FYC. It makes sense. First-year comp is, at root, a course in public rhetoric, although we tend to emphasize invention, arrangement, and style rather than delivery; and we tend to focus on the written rather than the spoken.

When I work with the oral component in ENGL 1101 and 1102, I ask students to put together a panel presentation. In the past, it’s been dominantly oral and modeled on the kind of public panel the students would use in classes or in public: each person presents, then the panel takes questions. But there’s no reason not to add a visual component to an oral presentation, or to shift the presentation completely to a multimodal presentation. I’m not talking PPoint mode: the strict bullet-list presentation of bullet-list thinking. I’m thinking more on the line of what some of the students in Teaching Writing with Technology presented as finals: poster sessions; illustrated discussions; piss-takes of PowerPointing… One semester, a group of students in ENGL 1101 to the presentation into a new area when they wrote and acted in a skit called “The Terrors of Themewriting” by parodying South Park.

I’m thinking more like box-logic, or a full-page image and text layout, or an image and text comic that makes a logical argument (we have the software for this), or an infomural poster, or small website or a single web page, or a photo/weblog design, or a multi-media presentation in iPhoto or iMovie … any number of forms that provide some practice in bringing word and image together. Some of the weblog projects from Blogs and Wikis illustrate what I have in mind.

The most demanding side of this idea – swapping out the oral component for something multimodal – is not the technical stuff; enough students come with enough technical expertise to make it work, and we have the technical capabilities to do this. The most demanding part of this is developing a way of talking about, thinking about, the relation of image and text – exactly the issues the work I’m reading are working through. The emphasis would not be on aesthetic design but on rhetoric and meaning… That’s going to stretch us all (me and the GAs because I know senior faculty wouldn’t go for this) into looking closely at both classical and contemporary rhetoric.

Tomorrow’s solstice. I have a long day to think about it.

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