It’s amazing how little work can be done in a week. This session, despite having all of TWO WEEKS to do the homework (Spring Break) for my classes, I managed to do despicably little and had to rush to get everything finished on time. I really need to learn better planning skills.
And, neatly enough, that’s what this week’s readings were about. Planning.
Selfe’s Multimodal Composition: Resources for Teachers is a remarkably specific text to help teachers plan out multimodal projects and assignments for their composition classes, and a discussion of the various objections and pitfalls associated with such activities. I say “remarkably specific” despite the book’s frequent insistence on “open-ended” assignments, because compared to most of the books we’ve read in digital rhetoric class–or, for that matter, in most composition classes I’ve had–Selfe’s text has a refreshingly exact list of procedures and guidelines to follow. Which, to me, is a delightful change. I’m aware that composition and writing are different for every person, and that teachers in particular aren’t supposed to impose their own rhetorical view or processes on their students. Shoot, that’s part of the problem with getting multimodal composition into schools. But at the same time, I often find myself struggling with such assignments simply because I don’t know what the point of the project is supposed to be. Whether the teacher says it or not, they always have specific things they are looking for, and without the student being informed of them, the assignment largely becomes a guessing game.
Of course, it is a liberating guessing game that encourages critical thinking and inventiveness. I should really get over my love affair with conformity.
Ironically, a lot of the image results for “conformity” are exactly the same. (PC: jeubfamily.com)
ANYWAY. Back to the text itself. Selfe’s book is very helpful, and gave me a lot of ideas about digital assignments that I hope to put into action some day soon. It also gave some focus to past assignments that we’ve had in the semester–to some degree, I wish I’d read the stuff about audio narratives before I’d DONE the audio narrative assignment–and helped me fine-tune the pedagogical assignment that we’ve been drafting in class for most of the semester. Which, since I mostly came up with the idea before reading the book, is still fairly original. I suppose that was part of the point.
The main problem that strikes me, though–and it’s less a problem than a difficulty–is that the model requires to do too much in too short a time. Effective alphabetic composition is taught to children in nearly every grade of school for nearly 12 years before they get to the college-level classes that Selfe’s book is aimed at. For teachers to try to get the same level of literacy in digital composition as students have managed to acquire (or not acquire, as the case may be) in alphabetic composition is… challenging, to say the least. Selfe makes the point, and quite correctly, that digital or alphabetic, the rules of composition and effective idea development remain the same, but she also admits that many students may not possess the necessary skills for working with digital editing software. To try and teach students technical skills whilst also attempting to instruct them about how to use those skills to build an effective argument is a tall order.
It doesn’t really change anything–digital rhetoric instruction has to begin SOMEWHERE, and many schools are beginning to give computer classes in lower-level courses. I had an extremely basic computer course in junior high, which mostly consisted of learning to use Microsoft Excel and Powerpoint. My mom, I learned this week, is actually teaching a similar class at school on Microsoft Axcess. I suppose if anything, it’s another step in the development of digital education, perhaps the next step, that will doubtless be taken as computers begin to be even more ubiqutous.