Remix as “Concept, Material and Method” in FYC

I’d like to use my digital essay project as a way to explore a possible solution to a set of challenges I’ve continually bumped up against in teaching first year composition (FYC) for the first time this spring. These particular challenges have originated, at least to my mind, from a lack of “content” in my FYC course; while I’ve continually brought in ‘outside material’ other than the Arak Anthology and the Allyn & Bacon Guide to Writing, my students have not been tackling a related set of writings that ‘speak to’ one another in some way. I’m finding this particularly regrettable as they set off on their research projects. It’s not surprising, when I reflect on it, that many of them had difficulty coming up with an interesting question to pursue. They’re almost all freshmen, so few of them have a sense of ‘conversations’ they might like to enter in their disciplines, and they haven’t engaged in any sustained way with a set of related ideas and texts throughout the semester, so they aren’t coming into any new ‘conversations’ in an authentic way.

The possible solution I’m interested in exploring “the use of remix as concept, material and method” for FYC, to steal a phrase from Kathleen Blake Yancey (who was using it to describe the process of redesigning the comp/rhet graduate education program at FSU). There are clearly many different possibilities for the ‘material’ of a FYC class, but I am particularly intrigued by the conceptual and methodological possibilities of remix as an entry point for FYC students into intellectual thinking and composing. I’d like to further pursue a line of thought I picked up in my x5 blog post, about the potentially fruitful parallels between multimodal remix and academic writing. I’m interested in what might be gained by seeing intellectual writing as already a (mostly monomodal) form of remix, and seeing other kinds of remix as participating in a similar kind of intellectual discourse. If we can reimagine the discourse of the academy and the discourse of remix as practices of layering and arranging other texts to produce something new, then perhaps we can help FYC students start to break down the walls they often sense between the academic and public types of composing and reading they tend to do (as well as the walls between the different modes in which these compositions can be accomplished—‘text’ vs. ‘media’).

I’m conceiving of my project, then, as divided into two parts: theory and practice. In the theory section, I intend to engage composition theory and other scholarship about remix, to explore and potentially make the case for remix as a particularly apt “concept, material and method” for FYC. In the practice section, I intend to come up with a set of materials for teaching an FYC course centered on remix—at the minimum, readings and a set of major assignments, with commentary for other teachers who might potentially be interested in teaching an FYC course with remix as its theme. Though it’s unlikely I’ll get to it before the semester ends, I’ll also design a full syllabus and series of lesson plans over the summer, as I’d like to test drive this course in the fall.

As such, the platform I select for the project needs to be flexible enough that I can add to it later. I really enjoyed creating the Concept in 60 video and would like to find a way to make use of video in my essay—I may actually try to put the “theory essay” in video format, because I think it would be one way to make that material more engaging. For the platform itself, I’m actually kind of a fan of Prezi. It allows the viewer to move through the material at his/her own pace, and it offers a giant canvas for presenting related ideas in a dynamic way. Plus you can embed video as well as text, so it seems flexible enough to accommodate the range of modes I’m hoping to use. Although my essay would likely contain more alphabetic text than this Prezi digital essay, I think the graphics, layout and incorporation of video are something to aspire to.

In terms of texts to work with, I think I’m more in danger of having too many than not enough. I suspect this is actually going to be my biggest challenge, since “remix” has become a bit of a buzzword in comp studies in the past 10 years; finding something new to say, or at least something usefully synthesizes others’ ideas, may be difficult, though I don’t believe it is impossible. Since Lessig was my initial starting point for this line of thought, I will likely work with him. But as I mentioned earlier, I’d like to engage some composition scholarship: Kathleen Blake Yancey had done interesting work on multimodal composing/remix; Eduardo Navas’s e-book Remix Theory: The Aesthetics of Sampling looks promising; and Johndan Johnson-Eilola, Stuart Selber and our own Joe Harris have done really interesting work on the relationship between plagiarism and remix in composition. Since I’m interested in the connection between alphabetic compositions and new media compositions, I’m also exploring Walter Ong’s concept of “secondary orality” in Orality and Literacy. In terms of teaching material, Catherine Latterell’s student textbook Remix: Reading and Composing Culture may provide both a source of inspiration and something to critique, since at least in my skimming through it, it seems rather distant from what I initially had in mind for my remix FYC class. I also found this video miniseries that might be a nice introduction for students to some of the main lines of thought around remix:

Some have started to push back against remix, too: a recent piece in Computers and Composition by Brian Ray argues for “genre uptake” as a more useful concept than remix for students composing in new media, which is already testing my thinking on remix in potentially generative ways. And I’m sure there’s a bunch more stuff out there—I’ve only started to scratch the surface.

Questions for you folk: do you have any immediate responses to my line of inquiry that might help me narrow my thinking and research? Because the idea of remix is so popular in composition right now, I am slightly worried about my scope and about finding something new to say. What do you think about Prezi as a format? Would a WordPress site be more practical? Any materials you’re aware of that might be useful?

Thanks in advance for taking the time to read and respond to this. I just realized this post is over 1,000 words. FML. Concision: I’m still working on it.

6 thoughts on “Remix as “Concept, Material and Method” in FYC”

  1. Kiley,

    After reading through your “proposal,” I’m really bummed that I won’t be around in the fall to talk to you about the progress of your remix-oriented E110 courses!

    That said, one question I have for you is how would you like to define the term or genre of “remix” in the context of FYC? That may seem like an obvious question, but I’m genuinely curious to just hear your thoughts, especially since Lessig tended to speak of remix mostly in terms of music.

    One assignment, or kind of assignment, that I know a handful of us in the department use is the idea of “remixing” the research paper (or in my case a personal narrative on material culture) into another genre. I may be using the term “remix” too literally here, but I think it can apply nonetheless.

    In terms of your platform, I’m intrigued by Prezi as well, so I think it could work wonders for the project you’re setting out to do.

  2. Kiley,

    I love this project proposal! And I think your passion for the topic and the fact that you’re deep in a semester of teaching E110 without the remix approach serve as a great impetus for this project. I think you’re right to have some concerns about the incredible expansiveness of the questions you raise. Actually, I’m wondering if the simplest way to resolve that issue is to lop off most of the theory or most of the practice. That’s probably the simplest way, but I also understand you don’t want to end up with a project that’s devoid of either one of those two components.

    Honestly, I think either half would be incredibly useful and compelling, both for you as a researcher and educator and writer as well as for us as readers.

    The part of your proposal that intrigues me the most is the video theory essay, actually. While it all needs to come down to practice, do you really have the time and energy to design a new course, essay assignments, reading materials, etc. over the next handful of weeks? Wouldn’t it be better and more realistic to aim for the theory now and then put it into practical modes this summer? You know, when we’re studying for comps and catching up on sleep and spending time with pets, partners, and loved ones? :p


  3. Kiley,

    I’m beginning to think that I need to pay Janel a stipend, because once again I agree with her. This is a terrific, two-part project. So why don’t you do Part I (theory) really well now and Part II (practice) in the summer?

    [I’ve actually got kind of a cool idea for Part II: What about a course on Rewriting/Remixing—i.e., that begins with yours truly and then pushes beyond my lamentable monomodalism?]

    I think you could make effective use of Prezi as a platform, and that Kirby Ferguson’s Remix videos are good models of digital essays in video. I also hope that Banks and Goldsmith will give you some ideas to play with.

    Right now, my strategy would be to read as much as possible—dropping stuff when it grows dull, keeping with stuff that seems pointed and useful. That is, find your materials, and I think the form for your writing will soon begin to emerge.

    Good luck!


  4. Chris– your question about how I’m conceiving of remix is a really good one! That is definitely something I will need to define clearly for my project. What I *think* I want to do is try not to put boundaries on remix, because I think my larger stance is that all seemingly ‘new’ texts (where I’m using ‘text’ in the broadest sense of the word) are actually remixes. This is because humans constantly circulate, appropriate, and recontextualize cultural material in order to make meaning. In terms of the ‘remix’ material I might ask students to examine, I think it’s useful to find text artifacts that allow us to trace material back through various iterations, in order to see how the same texts are used in new ways. And digital remixes seem particularly appropriate for this kind of work, since the tools needed to make and distribute digital remixes have rapidly become available to the general public. So remix texts we would examine might include music remix, video mashups, remixed alphabetic texts like Jonathan Lethem’s “The Ecstasy of Influence,” etc. I haven’t thought this all the way through yet. But I hope to expand, rather than restrict, our understanding of what “remix” really is. I think if we can see the textual work of the academy on a “continuum of remix,” if you will, with the popular, publicly circulated remixed texts (like remixed songs, videos, etc.) then both kinds of work gain value by association. Can we think of the work of the academy as engaging the public? Can we think of popular remixes as engaging in intellectual work?

    Janel– I really appreciate your appeal to what’s reasonable to accomplish in the semester. I am with you in feeling like the “theory video” might be the most interesting and intellectually rigorous part of this work. So I think I will make that my top priority and focus, while leaving room in the format I choose for including practical materials. But I do really hope, at the very least, to identify a set of readings for a course centered on remix by the end of the semester. Building a syllabus, and crafting assignments / lesson plans might be something that can wait.

    Thanks for your feedback you guys!

  5. Oops, posted my comment before I saw Joe’s response! Joe– YES, what I need to do right now is read, read, read. I need to figure out what’s already been said about remix, and test my emerging perspective against others’ ideas to see if it crumbles, morphs, etc.

    I love the idea of starting with Rewriting as textual remix, and then pushing into digital/multimodal remix and all of its interesting forms and genres. My purpose (at the moment) is figuring out how to view these kinds of remix as performing similar intellectual work, so I really like the idea of connecting them in this way.

    Thanks again for the feedback!

  6. One thing that I wonder about this project is whether or not you intend for this to be a freely available, public sort of project? If so, Presi is really cumbersome for public sharing. It’s not impossible, but a lot of the cooler features of Presi (including some of the sharing capabilities) are only available if you pay for it.

    When I looked into Presi a year ago for pedagogical purposes, I developed a deeply ingrained hatred for it as a medium (due to the few free skins, weird account issues, and large amount of restrictions on any of the free services). I also want to share all of my projects, so sharing is a big deal for me.

    I also like the idea that Janel and Joe posited about not doing everything now (and developing Part II over the summer). If you are wanting to do this, I would also caution against Presi (it’s like a glorified PowerPoint). Something like a website would allow you more freedom to keep developing and reconceptualizing your information as you develop your project.

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