Tag Archives: feedback

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.

The Horribly Static Codex

For my digital essay project, I want to engage with the dark side of having a published book.

Earlier in March I got the word from my publisher, Rowman & Littlefield, that my book, They Were Still Born: Personal Stories about Stillbirth, is coming out in paperback later this year. As Katie (who was in the office when I found this out) can attest, my initial reaction was profound relief and joy. The first print run of my book has sold out and now it’s going into a trade paperback printing. This is great for a lot of reasons.

But if it was all sunshine and roses and happiness, I wouldn’t have much to take on in a digital essay, would I?

I’m conflicted because the essay I wrote for the book is fine; it was true when I wrote it. It was “right” for the collection. But it’s not where I am now, or even who I am now. It certainly doesn’t capture the most important elements of what I learned from my daughter’s death.

Yet it’s what goes out between covers anytime someone buys my book. Amazon ships it out, people read it, and that piece of writing represents, in some limited capacity, the story of Beatrice and what I learned from her. (Not to mention that I was 26 when I wrote it. I thought I was so wise then. I imagine I’ll look back chagrined at my current self 6 years from now…)

Of course, I knew even at the time that I had to choose a particular entry point for my essay. It’s not possible, in a few thousand words, to show it all. In picking a specific angle, I closed the door to all the other stories I could tell, all the other shades of significance. I said no to a lot of things to say yes to one.

That’s why I’m so frustrated with the book form. I celebrate the book’s continued life, but I also resent it. I resent that it isn’t a website instead (though that wouldn’t be nearly as much fun to say as having a book!), where the stories could link to each other, and readers could add their own narratives. I wish the book was somewhere, like one of my book’s contributors prompted and wrote on her own blog, contributors could share where they are now, several years further down the road. This wouldn’t change the original stories, but it would enable some addendums and follow up materials to be published, too.

This digital essay is my space to do this work, to ask those questions, to write another story, to say yes to something else. This is the form I wish my book could (have) take(n).

  • Texts/Materials: My essay will take for its genesis the text of my book, They Were Still Born. I will also bring in collaborative text that is newly generated among myself and a group of the book’s original contributors.
  • This new project will take up the question of what happens to stories born of trauma after they have been published. What are those texts afterlives? How do writers relate to their words after they are cemented in time, unchangeable, and sent out into the world of readers? Is it possible to reopen those texts and do new things with them even if they are published in a form that is unmalleable? Can people collaborate anew and what kind of product might better reflect the ways in which our work has informed or conflicted with each others’?
  • I think that Google documents will be the most apt platform for writing some sort of shared document. I then envision doing short video podcasts reflecting on the process, and posting the longform reflection on WordPress.
  • Can you identify a text that could serve as an approximate model for the sort of piece you’d like to compose? No.
  • What questions do you have at this point for me and your colleagues? I mostly would love to hear any feedback you have about this idea. Is it too self-referential? What aspect of what I’ve written intrigues you and what aspect(s) could you do without? What would you most want to know about that I’ve alluded to here? Finally, and possibly most importantly, I haven’t done much significant collaboration before, so I’m not sure how to best capture the versions we write collectively, or even how to show that in the final product.

I hope you’re all enjoying your break, and I look forward to hearing back from you when you have the time to respond.

Alone in the Archive, Together in Google Docs

Those of us in the Transatlantic Gothic seminar submitted our archival research papers today. The assignment asked us each to choose one of the course texts and investigate its afterlife and reception by doing research in library databases and other primary sources. We did not sign up for specific texts, nor did we discuss our research questions in the confines of the class. It was a purely private exploration, just me and the archives and digital databases.

Once the papers were safely submitted to the professor (uncontaminated by secondary source materials or, apparently, the influence of others), she encouraged us to post our completed papers in the Sakai class forum so that other students in the class can read them. Finally, we devoted a few minutes at the end of class for is to share the scope of what we found.

Even that gesture toward sharing and commenting on each other’s work is more than in some grad courses.

Although grad students are frequently together—in seminar, in our super-tight cubicle offices—we often read and write alone.

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Scrolling through a document, all alone.

 

In Planned Obsolescence, Kathleen Fitzpatrick argues for a significantly more open and collaborative reading and writing community. She writes about “new conversational publishing practices”* in digital forms and shows that our obsession with being original and proprietors of our intellectual property are keeping us from adopting these new means of sharing and publishing our work. We need to see that “some of the most important work that we can do as scholars may more closely resemble contemporary editorial or curatorial practices, bringing together, highlighting, and remixing significant ideas in existing texts rather than remaining solely focused on the production of more ostensibly original texts.”

I crave this. I love the open exchange of ideas on this blog, from comments and suggestions on my writing from colleagues, and from the forwarding of a link or title of an article that someone I respect thinks would interest me.

But currently, those mechanisms for collaboration and sharing my writing happen only because I seek them out, extracurricularly. I sometimes feel sheepish asking a friend (see especially the ever-compassionate Katie Wright and bad-ass Carolyne King) to take the time to read a paper I’m writing in order to give me feedback. I ask myself, How good should it be before I ask them to offer reader reaction? Some of this is pride—I don’t want to waste anyone else’s time with my shitty first draft. I want my ideas to be somewhat formed before someone other than me opens my document. And yet I don’t want to wait until I’m so far into the drafting process that a nudge or wrist slap from a reader I respect can’t shift my thoughts in a more productive way.

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This is a video of a cat helping a dog open a door. It’s a metaphor.

While much of the time I spend reading and writing is, by necessity, alone time, the most invigorating and momentum-building work I do comes when I am challenged by another writer responding to / critiquing / pushing back against / extending / asking me to clarify my ideas.

I resolve to seek out ways to make my writing more public (I admire scholars who draft in public like Dr. Michelle Moravec and those who blog like Frederick Coye Heard), and in doing so, making myself vulnerable to criticism. I also commit to making sure that I, too, engage in helping my peers create, strengthen, and share their writing with a broader audience.

Together, I believe that we can set a new model for ourselves of inculcating helpfulness. As Fitzpatrick writes in her conclusion, “the new communication systems that we develop for networked environments” are scary, but they’re also “generative,” and we must be willing to continue remaining open to the discomfort of “instability, of the frighteningly uncertain, of the wide-open and new.” It feels weird, it feels scary, and it doesn’t always feel good, but we’ve got to do a better job of embracing more open and collaborative/conversational means of writing, commenting, editing, and publishing.

*I have a Kindle version of the text and don’t have page numbers. I’m sorry.