Listening through Cs 2014

I started Cs 2014 with a pre-conference workshop “Sonic Pedagogies for the Composition Classroom.”  The workshop focused on using sound in the writing classroom, but it also emphasized for me, right away, the importance of listening, of taking time to hear, think, pay close attention, and take in, all of this in preparation for composing, producing, teaching.  My Cs experience as a whole can be usefully framed by such a listening experience, I think – listening to sound and its rhetoric, but also to words, visuals, and to the diverse community of scholars and teachers at the conference.

I first was given the opportunity to listen in the Wednesday workshop led by Kati Fargo Ahern, Steph Ceraso, Jordan Frith, and Jonathan Stone.  We had a small but interested group, and the small size made it easy to participate and to really listen to each other.  What I appreciated from the presenters was that they had us do activities like those we might ask our students to do when focusing on sound in the writing classroom, and then we talked about what we did, we reflected.  We listened to music and described it, in our own words, and then shared, working toward developing terminologies to discuss sound together.  We remediated a newspaper article into a plan for a sonic essay, considering what we might highlight or omit using sound as the medium.  We designed a sonic product in pairs – Kati and I came up with a “sound palette” for essay grading that would prompt the instructor with comforting and encouraging noises.  We looked at some social sound-mapping websites, and we talked about how and why we might ask students to develop rhetorical soundscapes.  I walked away with ideas upon ideas for the new media classroom.  More of Kati’s, Steph’s, Jordan’s, and Jon’s work can be accessed online in the Sonic Rhetorics issue of Harlot.


Lisa Ede and Andrea Lunsford

Wednesday night, one of my mentors, Lisa Ede, along with her writing partner Andrea Lunsford, was honored for her retirement at the Norton party.  It was special for me to be there and hear about the power and reach of Lisa’s work.  Lisa introduced me to Rhetoric and Composition as a field back when I was a Masters student at Oregon State in 2002.  Of all the scholars I know, Lisa is so good at listening, and at responding – to her students, to her collaborators, to the field.


My Thursday was filled with panels of different sorts where I listened, took it all in, mulled it all over.  Notable was session C10: “Opening Up: How Information Technologies Alter Composition Research Methodologies” with Timothy Laquintano, Quinn Warnick, Benjamin Miller, Amanda Licastro, and Brian McNely.  The presenters discussed how different technologies and online spaces altered their methods for research, whether that be use of pseudonyms (or not), data collection in online forums, obtaining permissions, or publication of data.  My big takeaway from the panel was that technologies in research highlight the complexity and context-specific nature of methodological decisions.  As digital writing researchers, we can’t afford to adhere to blanket, one-size-fits-all methodological approaches that will always work in every research situation.  We must be flexible, careful, and ethical, and this may require more work – and again, more listening to participants and to the research contexts we are in.

My sparkle pony!

My sparkle pony!

I started Friday morning by earning my sparkle pony and some trading cards for Cs the Day, the conference game – wahoo!  And then it was on to F24, “Mindfulness and Contemplation: Open Minds/Bodies/Writing in Classrooms” where I heard another mentor, Vicki Tolar Burton, along with Kurt Stavenhagen, talk about using mindfulness practices, meditation, and contemplative strategies to teach distracted students.  Kurt led us through a few minutes of meditation, as well – what a calm, embodied, and collaborative start to the day.  I was also making connections between Vicki and Kurt’s work with mindfulness and asking students to reflect more specifically in the classroom.  Next, I attended G14, where the panelists presented revisions to the WPA Outcomes Statement (OS) to better include multimodal work.  The revisions are extensive, and they involve language in the OS that is now more “verby,” less “nouny.”  That is, it seemed to me that the revisions were concerned with how students learn to enact and talk about their writing and composition.  In previous iterations, the OS focused more on product.  The desire to include multimodal composition and digital writing throughout the OS, it seems, has taken some of the emphasis off of product for all kinds of writing, a change that I see as a great improvement.

I presented in H37, “Remixing Scholarship, Remixing the Classroom: Opening New Spaces for Teaching and Learning through Video.”  With me was Ben Gunsberg, who talked about asking his students to make instructional videos to teach sentence writing, “remixing” the sentence.  He showed some student work that used voice, gesture, and facial expressions in effective and hilarious ways.  Steve Engel then presented a digital literacy narrative on plagiarism, the story of finding out a student copied from Wikipedia.  Our audience was engaged with discussing what we might do in such a situation.  Then I presented my video “Singer, Writer: A Remix Exploration of Sound and Writing.”  Making the video was an experiment, as its title implies.  In an effort to make a multimodal literature review, I put together footage from Mary Hocks and Jody Shipka’s 2013 Computers and Writing panel with my own footage of writing and singing.  The video became a poetic comparison of choral singing and writing more broadly, and making it was very generative for my own learning about sound, remix, and process vs. product.  Having students do a similar comparative exercise seems to me a good idea!  It was also really fun to put sounds and images together in new ways and explore juxtaposition and repetition as compositional strategies.

On Saturday, I attended M22, “Videocy in the Age of Open Access: The Challenges for Scholarship.”  Geoffrey Carter, Robert Leston, Sarah Arroyo, and Bahareh Alaei made arguments for “doing more” with video, for composing as a listener, for moving beyond the voice over – issuing calls to attend to sounds and juxtapositions.  The presenters also gave us in the audience ample opportunity to see and listen right there: they showed some pretty dynamite videos, filled with magnificent visual juxtapositions.  More of their work can be found in the Kairos piece MoMLA: From Gallery to Webtext.  


N36 Never Mind Geoffrey Sirc: A Tribute Panel

The last panel I attended was perhaps the most memorable: Cynthia Haynes, Victor Vitanza, Jenny Rice, Byron Hawk, Thomas Rickert, and Jeff Rice razzing and celebrating the work of Geoffrey Sirc in N36: “Never Mind Geoffrey Sirc: A Tribute Panel.”  Surprisingly (for me, knowing the names of the presenters but not knowing them personally), the panel was emotional.  I’ve heard others describe it as loving and beautiful.  One of the coolest aspects was experiencing the presentations in a room full of excited, interested, and emotionally invested scholars.  There was laughter, murmuring, constant tweeting, shared photos, video recording, even tears.  Some people knew Sirc; some people knew other people who knew Sirc.  Some people knew Sirc’s work; others knew of it and jotted down notes to go home and read some of it.  The presentations were lyrical, metaphoric, juxtaposed, associational, hilarious.  Geoff Sirc’s work was lauded and his theories of box logic and serial composition were simultaneously enacted.  When Sirc finished his response, the audience sat in stunned silence, almost reluctant to break the spell of the panel with a question.  It was 1:55 on Saturday afternoon.  The conference was over, but no one was leaving.  We were still listening.


Video Composing the Diss

I’ve been composing a video as part of my dissertation work over the past few weeks, in part as a final project for the Computers and Writing graduate course that I’m auditing with Dr. Melanie Yergeau, and in part because I’ve always wanted to make videos as part of my dissertation.  So this one is an experiment, to see if what I make really adds anything that I need to the written prose.  A few reflections here about what I’m learning along the way!

I see this video composition as part of my methodology for the dissertation – a new way to interact with and analyze my data.  The main way I’ve been interacting with my data as I’ve been writing up chapters has been by way of more traditional “qualitative analysis” – that is, I interviewed students and instructors, observed class lessons, and collected documents.  Then I transcribed the interviews and observations and went through and coded the written representations of the data, or, I put labels on everything!  Well, it’s a little more complicated than that.  But basically, I’ve been working a lot with the written text, and adding more written text (codes) to that written text to help me think it through.

So the video editing has brought me back (closer anyway) to the original data sources, which (obviously) aren’t just written text.  I’ve been looking at video footage from my classroom observations and from the interviews.  I’ve been listening to the voices of my participants again, and I’ve been seeing their faces, their bodies, their clothing, their hair.  I’ve been interacting a whole lot more with the digital products that the students in my study created, and weaving pieces of these products together with interview and classroom footage (this aspect of this kind of video composing project is SO COOL.  I can watch a student’s video, and then superimpose the student herself talking about the choices she made over the top, so you can watch/listen to both at once).

The video composing has also made me pull back from individual pieces of data a bit more.  In the write up when I’m working with written transcripts and quotations, I find myself writing about a certain quotation or classroom incident for a good chunk of time, for hours, for days.  But in the video composition, I see the whole picture in my mind’s eye more often, and I don’t fixate as much on smaller moments.  Maybe it has to do with the fact that the video is so much faster: I can see and hear multiple pieces of data quickly in the video, whereas it takes much longer to read an account of the same moments and analyze them.  In the video, I also see and hear the learning happen in the students.  I see them in different outfits as time passes, and suddenly, they’re talking differently, too – they use a term like juxtaposition in a class discussion, or they talk about how thinking about their imagined audience helped them to make a compositional choice, and then I can see evidence of that in their product.  Their learning overall seems more apparent to me as I create, watch, and listen.

And then, well, there are the cool parts of making a video.  I get to use music, and organize sections of my composition according to the musical breaks or the melody.  I get to use text movements and choose fonts, to play with animated transitions and backgrounds.  I get to watch tutorials on youtube, and learn new software platforms, and learn to edit with a brightly colored keyboard made specifically for Final Cut Pro.  There are some lame aspects, too: I have to video edit on campus, and the booth I’ve been working in gets ridiculously hot.  I had to buy an expensive external hard drive that was compatible with both Mac and PC and spend about 3 days figuring out how to partition the drive on a campus machine (thanks to Melanie for helping me figure it out eventually!).  And video editing, well, it’s slow!  Hours upon hours upon hours to work on one small section.  I’m much faster (and probably more skilled) at writing paragraphs, I tell you.

In the end, I’m glad that I’m doing both for my dissertation, even if both video and written paragraphs don’t end up in the diss itself.  Composing in multiple ways is valuable to me as a researcher, and it is helping me to think about my data from various angles.  I wish I could post the video I’m making here, but you’ll just have to wait until the diss is out in full effect.  For now, it’s back to the editing booth.

Composing with Playing Cards, Images, and Oxymoron

We’ve done 2 composing activities in my Computers and Writing class over the past few weeks, so I thought I’d post images of my compositions here.

The first composition is my image poem “Land of the Queens.”  I composed using postcards and playing cards that some of my classmates provided, using repetition and juxtaposition as compositional strategies.

Land of the Queens

Land of the Queens close up

Today, we composed with rhetorical terminologies that we picked from a list – mine was “oxymoron,” a figure of speech that combines contradictory terms.  My composition is “Dark Light,” made from ripped construction paper and some crayons.

Oxymoron - "Dark Light"

Oxymoron – “Dark Light”

I’ve thought a bit about the element of play while composing both of these pieces.  For “Dark Light,” I ended up ripping the paper because someone else was using the scissors, but then I liked the ripped look and kept going.  For “Land of the Queens, ” I started using repetition because I saw 2 identical postcards and wondered what else I could find 2 of.  For both compositions, I ended up somewhere that I didn’t originally intend because of playing around with the available materials and making due with the resources I had.

Caption Fail?

This activity, from my Computers and Writing class this week and the guru-of-accessibility, professor Melanie Yergeau, was designed to see how accessible the caption feature on youtube really is for video material.  We recorded ourselves reading a paragraph of text (mine is me reading my blog response to the readings from the other day), and then we uploaded the audio to youtube, turned on the captions, and looked to see what would come out.  You can listen to and watch mine below, just click on the CC captioning icon when you press play to see the captions.

Overall, though, I’m surprised at how good of a job the youtube captioner does.  Ok, ok, so the captioner has no idea how to use a comma, and authors Bowie and Zdenek became “slowly and senate,” but who even knows how to say Zdenek’s name anyway?  And digi-rhetors became “digi-renters,” but I’m not even sure digi-rhetors is a word some of my colleagues would recognize if I said it to them face to face.  In class, Melanie mentioned that the youtube captioner does better with a man’s voice – maybe my voice is manly?!?  I am an alto, after all.

All in all, an interesting experiment in accessibility for digital video.  Maybe the youtube captioner technology is getting better, for which those of us who care (or should care) about accessibility can rejoice.

Back to (someone else’s) Classroom – with cameras!

This week, I get to do two very cool things in other people’s writing classrooms.  First, I’m bringing video cameras and microphones to four different sections of first-year writing and letting the students play and make and do with the equipment.  This is both exciting and terrifying.  Exciting: students (lots of students!) will be composing and creating with cameras, discovering new possibilities for communication and expression.  Terrifying: somehow, I am the “expert” on this stuff, on these cameras – the classroom visitor bringing in the cool tools and toys.  This is mildly terrifying because I wouldn’t (until recently, perhaps) describe myself as expert in these technical matters – perhaps I’d call myself “willing and open”.  And look where this kind of openness gets you!

The second cool thing I get to do this week is start my official classroom observations for my dissertation research.  I’ll be observing with cameras in tow – this time for my own data collection and documentation.  And I’m going to observe with the help of several cameras, one of which will be in my hand.  I’m most excited for this new challenge – to see and listen and look with my body, as usual, of course, but also to see and listen and look with the composing tool (yes, that’s the camera) in my hand.  This, I expect, will be a very cool thing.

So here I go, back to (someone else’s) classroom – with cameras!

WIDE-EMU Preview: Find It, Add It, Edit It

I’ll be going to the WIDE-EMU unconference at Michigan State on October 20, 2012, and my session is called

“Find It, Add It, Edit It”: Using a Do-It-Yourself Workshop Approach to Learn Video Editing.

The session is a “Do” session in which participants will take part in a do-it-yourself, collaborative workshop approach to learning how to video edit.  After taking part in the workshop, we will discuss the possibilities and pitfalls of such a pedagogical approach for the composition classroom.

Check out the video preview of the session below, and I look forward to seeing (some of you) there!

Thinking about making video….while listening to Etta

I just heard that Etta James passed away today, which makes me sad.  So I’m listening to her “The Essential Etta James” CD as I compose this post.  Here’s a taste for you, so you can listen while you read.

This morning I attended a workshop on making and teaching video led by MSU’s Danielle Nicole DeVoss.  I was excited to meet her as I’ve used her book Because Digital Writing Matters in a few papers.  It was a small group for the workshop, which made the format informal and conversational, which was nice.  We talked about teaching video in a writing class because most of the attendees were writing teachers.  It was interesting to hear different folks talk about their perceptions of video composing and its role (or non-role) in the writing classroom.  For some, “writing” and video seem like two totally different things, for others, making video opens up possibilities to highlight a rhetorical approach to writing any kind of text.

A few instructors voiced anxieties or frustration with having their students compose in video but not knowing how to help them or coach them when technical issues arose.  I think it’s true that the instructor should have at least a little bit of knowledge about software and hardware; however, I also think that the classroom can become a sort of “workshop” space where students and instructor play and learn together, where no one really is the “expert.”  This approach is a definite switch from the model where the teacher brings in the expert knowledge, but I think it’s a model where collaborative learning is at the forefront, even for functional or technical questions such as how to import a video clip into a software program such as imovie.

Another concern that was raised was how to assess products like videos in the writing classroom – a question which I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about lately, too.  I’ve come to see that setting students up to self-assess (set goals, reflect and revise their goals multiple times, and then evaluate their goals and process) is very useful along with evaluation from the instructor.  This approach highlights not just the video product in the end, but also the process.

I was also happy to get some time to just play around with imovie in the workshop.  Danielle provided us with “found materials” – images, video clips, songs – and we got to spend about an hour manipulating them in imovie and making a short video.  This is the kind of activity that would work great in a writing class to introduce video composing.  I’ve done something similar, but I really like that Danielle provided the materials for us, which saved a lot of searching time.  I think I will steal and adapt for my own classroom in the future!