These words can anchor and focus this image.

These words can anchor and focus  the reading of this image.

I’m teaching a class this term called Writing for New Media.  As I prepped for class today, I read about anchorage, a new media composition technique drawn from the work of Roland Barthes, where a composer anchors a visual with written text, directing the viewer’s attention and changing the reading of the image based on the words, the anchor.  Thinking of anchoring images in this way reminded me that I’ve been meaning to blog for a while about transitions, change, and the “anchors” that sustain.

Crystal VanKooten in PhD robes

Walking at the University of Michigan Rackham Graduate School Graduation Ceremony

So much has happened in my life over the past months, both academically and personally.  Last year, I defended my dissertation and finished my PhD in English and Education at the University of Michigan, I was on the academic job market from September through February, and I got a job at the end of it all as an Assistant Professor of Writing and Rhetoric at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan.  This past summer, I walked in graduation, my partner and I sold our house in Toledo, Ohio, and we moved ourselves to Rochester Hills, thirty miles north of Detroit.

Amid so much change, I feel anchored – personally, by my partner and family, but I also feel professionally anchored through my graduate training, the mentoring I received from my dissertation advisors, my experiences in the field of composition studies, and in particular, through what I’ve learned as a new media teacher and composer and a member of the computers and writing community.  Let me offer a few examples.

The Concept in 90 Viewing Screen

The Concept in 90 Viewing Screen

In May, I worked as a Senior Instructor at the Digital Media and Composition Institute at Ohio State.  I met and got to know wonderful teachers and friends there, led sessions on audio-visual composition and copyright, and watched as many participants composed their first audio and video compositions.  At the end of the institute, everyone gathered at Cindy and Dickie Selfe’s home to watch the participants’ “Concept in 90” video compositions.  We drank margaritas, ate desserts, sat outside in the yard as the evening turned dusky, and viewed and listened to each other’s compositions projected on a large sheet.  The videos played consecutively in a row with no stopping.  As I watched, insects were biting incessantly at my ankles.  But I couldn’t move, riveted by the images flitting by and the sounds and silences filling my ears.  I had observed and talked with participants as they conceptualized their Concept in 90 videos, looked at drafts, and tried to help trouble-shoot many technical problems.  Watching the results of our efforts together in person was special, and magical, and meaningful.  Teaching, and encouraging and helping as best I could, and then watching others use new media to communicate and to move an audience – this anchors me.

After DMAC, later in June, I attended the Computers and Writing Conference at Washington State University.  C&W has always been an anchor for me – a welcoming, smaller conference, filled with friends and teachers grappling with how to best use technologies in the writing classroom and generous senior scholars willing to mentor and guide (and buy beers for) us junior folks.  A few highlights from this year’s conference:

  • speaking at the GRN (Graduate Research Network) and seeing all the bright, excited faces anticipating the job market – oh, if you only knew what lay ahead, the joy and the sorrow!  (I presented this video on how to win the job market.)
  • listening to Kyle Stedman, Jon Stone, Harley Ferris, and Steven Hammer present on sonic rhetorics, play weird sounds, and even sing!! (You can access my review of their session on the Sweetland DRC.)
  • bowling with other video composition specialists!
  • watching Sarah Arroyo’s, Bahareh Alaei’s, and Corey Leis’s video compositions at their panel – I cried!
  • hearing UM colleague Aubrey Schiavone present on her research about multimodal composition and textbooks: smart.
  • learning about Mike DePalma’s and Kara Poe Alexander’s research on new media and transfer
  • cheering for my advisor Bump Halbritter as he won the Computers and Composition Distinguished Book Award for Mics, Cameras, Symbolic Action
  • walking and talking with UM colleague Liz Homan and celebrating my birthday with wine, cheese, and HGTV
  • presenting on using audio-visual composition in FYC (drawing on my dissertation research) to a room full of interested and engaged scholars

As always, C&W was supportive, stimulating, fun, and I learned a ton.  In other words, the folks in the C&W community, their openness and generosity, the cutting edge scholarship, and the opportunity to join in and to learn – this anchors me.

A view on OU's campus that includes a road, the baseball fields, and a campus building

The view on my walk

Now, in the fall term, I’m teaching three writing classes and finding out what it’s like to be a prof.  I spend much of my time planning for teaching – oh, the planning!  I have also mapped out a research agenda for the fall, and I’m drafting several articles and a video project.  I go to meetings, and I’m starting to serve on committees.  But amid all this, the planning and the mapping of my own agendas and the getting-through-the-day, I see my students, and I get to witness and encourage their writing and learning.  I met with one student today, for example, who is grappling with developing specific inquiry questions for what will become a video project and a research essay on music therapy.  I can’t wait to see, hear, and read what she’ll compose.  I also gave feedback on essays, blog posts, and one collage made with Polyvore – some were creative, fun, and fantastic.  And then, as I finished my work day and walked from my office to my car, I looked around, and the campus was suddenly beautiful.  The sun was shining, and tinges of fall colors were edging their way onto the leaves of trees.  Cicadas chirped, the baseball team was practicing on the field below, and it was beautiful.   This – the students, the creativity, the beauty – this anchors me.



Strides and Figures

I wrote A LOT today and made large strides!  Rejoice!  Now on to Liz’s party to celebrate my good friends’ birthdays!  But first, a recap of today’s work.

I worked on my conceptual framework all morning.  Originally I was trying to work my “assessment model” figure into the draft somehow, but it just wasn’t working and was becoming too complicated.  So I made a new figure, which I’m calling the framework for the instructional unit.  I don’t know why I keep wanting to make all these figures.  I guess it’s because there are a lot of ideas and concepts swirling around in my brain, and I want to keep them all straight, for myself and my readers.  And I love arrows, which probably isn’t a good thing.  I HATE making figures in Word, though.  So hard to manipulate.  Pen and paper trumps word processing still for figure design.  I did learn how to use Adobe Illustrator a few weeks ago, which is better (and harder), but I don’t have it on my laptop at home.  Anyway, here a photo of the figure.

In the afternoon, I started planning the instructional unit I want to implement in my study, drawing heavily from my own lesson plans I use when I teach video composition in Professional Writing.  This was fun at the start, but got a bit tedious as I had to articulate objectives for each lesson and how it fit within the framework.  It’s interesting that because I’ve been teaching so long, I can design effective lessons without sitting down and articulating in words why I’m doing everything I’m doing and asking students to do.  However, when designing something others have to implement, you have to be extremely detailed.

Ok – enough for now.  Tomorrow I return and try to flesh out the Methods section.  Dear Lord.


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!