All posts by Heather Schulze

Finding Even Ground: Tutoring Multimodal Texts in the Writing Center


OVERVIEW: In this video, I explore how multimodal texts affect writing center tutoring pedagogy. Incorporating interviews with both teachers and tutors, I challenge the notion of “traditional” texts and argue for a genre based understanding of multimodal assignments. This project grew out of my experiences working within a writing center, both as a tutor and as an administrator. And while my own experiences led to my interest in the topic, the interviews that I conducted for the video really shaped my argument and the project as a whole. Through talking to other people about their experiences working with multimodal texts, I was able to gain a better understanding of both what the problems were and what we could do to help fix them.

TutorComputerPROCESS: Because I’ve never created a video of this length before, a large part of the process was acclimating myself to the form.  I began the process by conducting the interviews, because I really wanted these to help guide my thinking. After they were done, I wrote the script that would fill in the space around them. I then created (very) rough storyboards to try and figure out how I wanted it to all fit together. Finally, I started making the actual video itself, which proved to be incredibly recursive. Every element that you see in the final version was done at least 2 or 3 times, some of them many more.

AFFORDANCES: The greatest affordance of this medium was being able to fully incorporate other voices. While collaboration is important in all work, I feel like it is particularly crucial to writing center studies. By weaving interviews into my own essay–and by having people actually speak for themselves–I think that the video form better captures the collaborative nature of my work than a print essay ever could have done. I also think that the video form will make this essay more digestible/shareable in the future. As many of you know, writing center tutor training often involves watching short videos, and I could see this video easily being incorporated into that training format.

CONSTRAINTS: The biggest constraint was balancing out images and words. It was hard to find a balance between not being too literal with the images yet still remaining on topic and useful. Similarly, linking images and sounds were difficult because I wanted to make sure that the images were helping guide my argument, but I didn’t want the video too become too cluttered or too busy that it would detract from the words that I was saying


Video Essay Models

I’m going to cheat a little bit and post two examples. But they’re both fairly short (and you don’t have to watch them in their entirety to get the point). More importantly, they both show the power of video essays in very different ways. Here’s the first one:

As you’ll see in the info section, this video was created by a college student for a class project. And while this video is certainly not perfect (I find the choice of soundtrack to be absolutely awful), I do think it interestingly shows how a digital medium (YouTube) can be used to explore itself.

The videographer used YouTube to create his driving question (why do people use youtube?), to collect data (through sending out a survey request), to compile that data (through creating the video itself), and to present the final project (through hosting the video on youtube). It seems to me that this multi-layered use of a single medium is something that is distinctly digital. That is, it is something that really could not be accomplished in other mediums.

And that’s what I find most interesting about the possibilities of digital writing—not only does it allow us to transform “traditional” texts into something else, but it opens up whole new areas of research and production that were heretofore unavailable.

The second video is something I just came across on Facebook earlier today (and I wouldn’t be surprised if many of you have seen it already as well). Here it is:

While this video is different from the one we watched above in many ways—perhaps most obviously in its production quality—it is similar in that it is using digital mediums to make an argument that would otherwise not be possible (or at least not nearly as effective).

This video not only relies on the visual footage itself to make much of its argument—both through the people walking past their relatives and through their later reactions to watching themselves—but it seems to me that it is also relying on social media in order to spread its message. Through creating a short, relatable video with a clear message, this video just begs to be shared with others (which, according to my Facebook page, it is accomplishing).

Taken together, these two videos all show the possibilities for collaboration that come through digital mediums. Both of these videos use interviews as their primary source of content—yet they are also both edited to reflect the overarching argument of the videographer. It seems to me that this type of interweaving of different voices is one that is not fully possible in static print texts, and it is one that I find to be very successful in crafting an argument.

Multimodal Tutoring Pedagogy: Digital Essay Draft 1

Greetings fellow Woodchucks:

For my project, I am exploring how incorporating multimodal texts into writing centers alters tutoring pedagogy. And although I am making a specific intervention into a conversation in writing center theory, I am aiming my digital essay at a more general audience—comp teachers, writing center tutees—basically anyone who is (or could be) affected by this issue. Ultimately, I argue that the polarization of multimodal texts in current writing center theory (i.e., “treat them like any other text!” or “put them in a separate building!”)  is unnecessary, because these texts adhere to writing center theory and, in the end, are not very different from the mythical “traditional” text that we already work with.

As you’ll see, my essay is entirely in video format. I really struggled with figuring out what a “first draft” of a video looks like. I’m sure you all remember the particular challenges of creating videos—all of which don’t really lend themselves to drafts (that look like anything comprehensible). That said, I tried to do my best at creating what I wanted my video to look like without going so far that they idea of revision would be maddening. I accomplished this primarily by dividing my video into two halves. The first half is far more polished and complete—it’s basically what the whole video is going to look like. The second half is much rougher, particularly after about 10 minutes in, when it switches to all audio and an “under construction” image.

For feedback, I’d like style focused comments on the first half and argument focused comments on the second half. Some prompting questions may be: what parts of the various video styles (white board, images, interviews) work and which ones don’t? Is the ratio that I use to mix these styles together too heavy handed on one side or another? Are there major stylistic changes I should make in the second half? Can you follow my argument at the speed with which it’s laid out? Are there certain areas that you think I need to clarify/expand (keep in mind that there are still more interviews I’m going to add in to the second half that help support some of my points)?


Forcing the Issue: Talking about Race in E110 at UD

When reading Banks’ work, I couldn’t help but think of my own E110 classes at UD. My undergraduate university was extremely racially diverse, so I have learned first hand how useful discussions of race, power, and privilege can be in a composition classroom. That said, I think these conversations are only useful when the class contains voices that are diverse enough to contribute varying perspectives. Without these first hand accounts of the effects that race has on writing practices, a discussion about writing studies can very quickly become a discussion about race studies. And while this latter discussion is important to have, I am not convinced that the FYC classroom is the right place for it.

My unease about having discussions of race in E110 at UD stems from the fact that, like Banks, I believe that we should adapt our teaching voice to the communities that we serve. Banks explains the importance for this adaptation in his chapter on community engagement:

One must have a teaching voice, an active voice, a scholarly voice that allows one to teach, politic, build, act, plan, in the idiom of the people—whoever “the people” are in the settings in which we hope to work. And one must teach in the idiom—not just the language practices but the ways of seeing the world, the ways of being in the world, the values, attitudes, knowledge, needs, hopes, joys, and contributions of a people as expressed through their language (49).

I think that it is this belief that makes questions of race appropriate for some first year composition classrooms and not others. During my time at Temple, discussions of race arose organically and felt natural. Racial discussions were a part of the “cultural idiom,” so we never had to have a specific week when we sat down and talked about race. Yet at UD, it seems to me that the norm is to have “the race week” where there is one text about African American studies and the central question of race is put on the table. Even at places like UD, race is an implicit part of all conversations, but because it is not a part of UD’s explicit cultural idiom, it just doesn’t come up. So instead we opt for making it come up. To me, these discussions always seem forced and contrived, which is why I’ve excluded them from my own E110 classroom.

Moreover, I think there is a very real danger of discussing race in an E110 class that is mostly white. In all of my classes, I have had at least one minority student (but never more than three). And although I have never tried to have discussions of race in this 20 white people 3 non-white people environment, I imagine that it would make the minority students feel very uncomfortable—as if they suddenly had to speak for ALL minority students.

I know that not talking about questions of race does not remove the very real implications of white hegemony over academic discourse. But I don’t think that talking about race in a room of mostly white people does either.

Expanding Texts, Collapsing Conversations: Multimodal Tutoring

Throughout the semester, we have been discussing how instructors are increasingly assigning both the consumption and production of digital texts. What we have not discussed, however, is how this alteration in classroom pedagogy affects the writing centers that aid these classes. In recent years, writing center tutorials have seen an influx of digital and multimodal texts. Because of this influx, tutors and writing center scholars have had to expand what they consider “writing,” or, in other words, what types of texts they consider appropriate material for writing center work. In addition to rethinking what writing is, we also need to rethink the types of conversations that writing center tutorials engage in. While these conversations were once purely academic, they now include elements of visual design, popular culture, and humor—just to name a few.

For my digital essay, I will examine how this shift in conversations alters writing center pedagogy. More specifically, I want to think about how the inclusion of digital assignments that span academic/popular conversations—e.g. blogs, “gif stories,” and mock-facebook conversations—change the conversations of the writing center tutorial. To accomplish this task, I will use the theoretical lenses of Kenneth Bruffee and Kenneth Burke to engage with current discussions of multimodal tutorials, such as David Sheridan’s and James Inman’s collection of essays Multiliteracy Centers: Writing Center Work, New Media, and Multimodal Rhetoric and Arlene Archers “Dealing with Multimodal Assignments in Writing Centers.” In addition to these scholarly works, I also hope to include video interviews of several UD writing center tutors on their experiences working with multimodal texts.

As of now, I am leaning towards wordpress as my format for this essay. Because this is such a multifaceted issue, I imagine each post dealing with different aspects. I have chosen wordpress because of the more conversational nature of the blog format. Because pedagogy is always developing, I do not want this essay to be a final word on multimodal tutorials. Rather, I want it to participate in a conversation that other writing center scholars can comment on and contribute to. I’m imagining my blog to follow a format similar to that of a specialty recipe blog. I want it to contain posts that are all different from each other, yet linked together under the same theme. So like this vegan dessert blog, my posts will all contain the same types of ingredients, but put them together in various ways to show different recipes writing center strategies.

Right now, I have two pressing (groups of) questions: first, do you think that wordpress is the best format for this project? What about my recipe blog analogy? How literally do you think I should take this analogy? Is there some other format that you think I should consider? And, second, because you have all been writing center tutors, are there certain issues that you think are really important for me to address? What were the biggest challenges that you faced when working with non-traditional texts in the writing center? What other conversations do you think multimodal texts bring to writing center tutorials?


Planned Generalizations?

Disclaimer: As Chris points out below, Fitzpatrick addresses some of these issues in her conclusion. As per the prompt, this was an “in progress” post. I look forward to reading how she explains these issues in the conclusion. 

As someone who went from being a “lit” person to a “comp” person within a literature focused graduate program, I am perhaps hyper-aware of the differences between the two branches of English studies. That said, I do think these differences are significant enough that it is problematic to discuss lit and comp as if they were the same field with the same values and guiding principles. More troubling, is when we make generalized claims about “the humanities” as if we can say anything about this nebulous category that would equally apply to the various disciplines caught within the overgeneralized net.

When reading Fitzpatrick’s work, I found her tendency to overgeneralize about the humanities to distract from her otherwise compelling argument. This tendency was particularly irksome because Fitzpatrick herself notes the problems of such a generalization. When discussing the online journal Philica, she notes that “the site suffers from a too-general mode of organization; the ‘humanities’ as a whole . . . represents a single field” (40). Her phrasing (“suffers from”) and her use of scare quotes shows her resistance to discussing humanities as a category, yet it is this specific type of categorical organization that guides the rest of her argument.

I realize that my issue with this generalization sounds a bit nit-picky (which is a technical term), but I think that the issue I point to has larger ramifications in the applicability of her argument. For instance, when discussing the potential problems of empirical study, Fitzpatrick claims that “the values of the humanities are largely uncountable” (47). The importance of empirical studies within composition studies aside, what exactly are these “values of the humanities”? Do philosophy, history, and writing centers all share the same values? We could make broad claims about how they all work to better the interiority of students, but then are we saying that the sciences don’t do this?

I suppose my larger point is that I think Fitzpatrick’s argument is more relevant and urgent to some sub-fields of the humanities than it is to others. While Fitzpatrick claims that many disciplines need to rethink their cultural relevancy and work to combat the public disdain for their irrelevancy (13), I believe that this need is far more urgent for some divisions of the humanities than it is for others.

Some disciplines are on their way up, others are.. well, you see.

Moreover, I think that if Fitzpatrick had waded through some of these over-generalizations, her argument would have been able to include more practical solutions. While I found her argument to be very compelling (when applied to certain contexts), I found myself continually wondering about how realistic her ideas were. While I want to believe her that it would be possible to make reviewing a requirement for publication and that this would then lead to “greater diversity of opinion and a greater distribution of the labor” (47), in such general terms it comes across as a utopian dream and not a practical solution to a very real problem academia is facing.



Am I making myself clear?

In the section “Remixed Media” of Lessig’s Remix, he discusses a lip synched video of George Bush and Tony Blair made by Swedish film director Johan Soderberg. The entire video is over a minute long, but you need only to watch 10 seconds or so to understand its concept:

After praising the videos technique and style, Lessig concludes that “the message [of the video] couldn’t be more powerful: an emasculated Britain, as captured in the puppy love of its leader for Bush” (74). While I agree with Lessig that the video is well done and amusing, I take issue with his assertion that the video’s message is powerful and clear.

For Lessig this message may be clear and powerful, but only because he possesses a certain level of cultural literacy that allows him to interpret the video in light of other circumstances. So while Lessig is right that “a remix like this  . . . delivers its message successfully to a wide range of viewers” (74), not all of these viewers are going to interpret it in the same way. So can we really count this delivery as successful?

Without knowing not only who the two figures are but also the complicated relationship between the United States and England during the time the footage was taken, you would not be able to garner any message from the video, let alone a clear and powerful one. Moreover, the message particular viewers receive is also contingent upon their political and cultural associations. Certainly a liberal from America and a conservative from Britain are not going to take away the same message from the video, even if they do possess the same cultural literacy as Lessig.

The issue that I take with Lessig’s interpretation of the video is one that appears more broadly in our discussion of the possibilities of video over text. According to Lessig, “a mix of images and sounds makes its point far more powe fully than any eight-hundred-word essay in the New York Times could” (74). I believe, however, that while videos have the capability to convey messages that texts simply cannot—such as the reactions of the various student’s describing how they felt when Dobby died—they do so at the risk of these messages being muddled or misinterpreted in a way that text explanations can avoid. It is much easier to use text to fully explain concepts and provide evidence for arguments. Lessig asserts that this video “doesn’t assert the truth. It shows it” (74), but, in my viewing, this video is only showing a humorous and well lip synched parody, and not any “truth.”

Close Listening

On the first day of the semester, I have my students play “Two Truths and a Lie” as a get-to-know-you/ice-breaker activity. Last semester, my three “facts” were that I was thirty years old, that I had a daughter, and that I didn’t read any books over the summer. Pretty much every student suspected that the third one was a lie. Sure I look young, but how could an ENGLISH teacher not read any books? Blasphemy!

All of the students that guessed the third one were, however, wrong. The correct lie was “I have a daughter” (but don’t tell my spoiled dog who thinks she’s human). Perhaps though my truth was a bit misleading. Yes, I didn’t read any books, but I didn’t listen to quite a few (the whole 5,000ish pages of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, actually).

I listened to all of these books on my iPhone, much in the way that Cathy Davidson describes Duke students circa 2003 listening to various lectures and recordings on their iPods. When describing the benefits of being able to listen to course material at their own leisure, Davidson explains how all classes “could be taped and listened to anywhere. [Students] didn’t have to go to the library or the language lab to study. [Students] could listen to assignments on the bus, at the gym, while out on a run—and everyone did” (66).

Here Davidson points to a very real benefit of being able to listen to course material on the go: the convenience. Not only do you not have to go to the library to study, you don’t have to sit down. As Davidson notes, you can go to the gym or commute, but you can also do a variety of other necessary tasks, such as grocery shopping or cleaning. Basically, you no longer have wasted time. You can make it so that you are always working.

While this is an important benefit of being able to listen to texts, it is, however, not the only benefit. Audiobooks have advantageous aspects, even if you listen to them curled up in an armchair with a cup of tea. For instance, I am a really slow reader. Like, painfully slow. But with audiobooks, my reading speed is predetermined (and much faster than it would be otherwise). My mind doesn’t wander the way that it does with traditional texts, partly because it’s like listening to someone tell you a story. I feel somewhat obligated to make sure that I’m paying close attention, lest I hurt the narrator’s feelings.

Additionally, audiobooks can add material to the text that cannot exist in a traditional print format. Watch this quick clip to see what I mean. For those of you unfamiliar with the story you just heard excerpted, it’s considered to be the first gothic novel. And even if you were unfamiliar with what that genre entails, you’d probably be able to venture a pretty good guess from that 20 second clip. The narrator’s stony voice, the hushed whisper at the end, and—perhaps most importantly for my point—the clap of thunder and rain at the end of the chapter all provide the atmosphere that is quintessential to the gothic novel. While the text of the novel does not need these added elements in order to be gothic, I nonetheless think they add something valuable to it.

Yet despite all of these benefits, audiobooks are still not considered “serious” by the academy. Davidson asserts that after the introduction of iPods, “sound suddenly had a new educational role in our text- and visuals-dominated classroom” (66). While this may have been the case at Duke in 2003, I do not think it remains so for universities as a whole. Listening to audiobooks instead of regular books is certainly not encouraged, and I’m hesitant to even admit that I do.

When I was talking about this issue the other day with someone —who is also a self-admitted audiobook fanatic—he asked me: “How do you talk in class about a book you listen to? You can’t close read it, right?” And no, you can’t close read, but you can close listen, and I, for one, think that that is just as good.

Making Time for “Coffee”

I’ve developed a love/hate relationship with Chrome Nanny. For those of you unfamiliar with this horrible brilliant device, it is an extension for chrome that you can program to limit your browsing of certain sites. During the semester, I have it set to only allow me to check Facebook, Reddit, and other similar sites for one or two minutes an hour. When I use up my allotted time, it provides me with this gentle reminder:

Oh so gentle.
Oh so gentle.

When Chrome Nanny reprimands me, I am reminded of the frivolous nature of these sites. Why would I be posting pictures of my dog on Facebook when the article I’m working on remains depressingly unfinished?

Because of that face, obviously. 

The internal dilemma I feel between social media and productivity is nothing new. As Tom Standage notes in Writing on the Wall: Social Media—The First 2,000 years, people felt the same ambivalence towards coffee shops in the seventeenth century. When discussing the initial reception of these caffeine driven hangouts, Standage explains how “[n]ot everyone welcomed the freedom of speech afforded by the new social forum, and some people worried that its compelling, information-rich environment, which provided an endless and addictive stream of trivia, gossip, and falsehood, was distracting people from more productive pursuits” (104).

Get back to work, Theobold!
Get back to work, Theobold!

Over three hundred years later, the feeling that we are wasting our time by engaging in “non-productive” conversations is one that continues to plague us. Indeed, the nagging feeling of squandering valuable time becomes the topic of conversation in an episode of Seinfeld from the mid-1990s.

But really, can’t we have coffee—or facebook conversations—with friends? Is social media merely a distraction? Obviously there are aspects to social media that are unarguably beneficial. As Tom Standage notes, social media has the ability to spread news, spark revolutions, and create a global community. But what about the rest? What about the status updates of mundane daily activities and excessive pictures of food?

Inquiring minds need to know.
Inquiring minds need to know.

Despite the fact that we all may feel compelled to block or unfollow people who are constantly bombarding us with details of their lives, I nonetheless think that the type of connections this level of sharing provides is valuable, and not simply a distraction. Rather, I think social media allows us to talk about the inane details of our lives—to “have coffee”—with our friends and family regardless of the physical distances that separate us. And as Jerry, George, and Elaine remind us, having coffee with your friends may not be such a waste of time after all.