Category Archives: Digital Media

It’s Not Really a Phone, Part 2

So, after years of not bothering for a variety of reasons (cost, learning curve, not wanting to get further tied to my email) I started my adventure in smart-phone land last week. And, while I know I’m not anywhere close to the first person to note a few things about it, I have a few observations. First, it’s not a phone. It doesn’t look or feel like anything I’ve ever called a phone in my life. My embodied, physical sense memory of phones is that they are shaped to fit our heads, with an earpiece and a mouthpiece. I understand that has changed, but when I pick up my new device and look at it, nothing about it physically signifies “phone” to me. And, when I make a call, I feel as if I’m holding a piece of toast up to my ear.

The sense that it is not a phone only increases the sense to me that I have purchased a hand-held computer on which I can make phone calls. When I pick it up, the first think that catches my eye is not the phone icon, but the email icon. And the first thing I look to do with it is check my email or my Twitter feed. What’s more, when I picked it out, I went with the device with the slightly larger screen because I knew I would want it big enough to be able to read articles, dissertation chapters, and the like when I was killing time in waiting rooms, etc. With this, I won’t bother with a tablet anymore (not that I was ever that fond of tablets in the first place.) So, I’m intrigued to see how the use of this portable computer shifts my reading and writing practices in the future. It can’t help but change what I do. I just have to figure out how. I’m also struck by how the mobility of the device is simultaneously virtual and physical (thanks, Brice Nordquist for that insight) and how one reinforces the other.

The final thought is how best to incorporate this technology into my seminar in the spring on “Digital Media and Composition Pedagogy.” I knew, even before getting the device, that mobile technologies had to be part of our conversation. But how? How do these devices fit into the ways that digital media make literacy mobile, malleable, collaborative, and multimodal? Is there any good scholarship yet on using mobile devices in the classroom? More to come…..

New Media Literacies and Participatory Popular Culture Across Borders – It’s out and about!

It’s out and about. New Media Literacies and Participatory Popular Culture Across Borders is officially published. You can follow the link above or just click on the book cover to the left. It’s been a great experience, from the fine work by the authors to the ease of working with Routledge.  Now to see if anyone else will read it.

As always with a project like this, I get to the end and the people involved have just raised so many thoughtful questions that I find myself wishing to have the time to do another volume, and another, and…. But today, it’s enough just to say this book is out. Thanks to one and all.

Traveling Different Roads at the Same Time

A month goes by in a hurry before I’m back on the blog. A pressing deadline for a book chapter and some teaching to do came first, throw in a conference, some dissertation chapters to read, and the daily life in the Writing Center and suddenly…well, we’ve all been there.

Still, even though it’s been almost a month since 4cs, that’s where my mind is on this rainy Saturday morning. As usual, the conference was a good time and a good time to talk with smart people, plan new projects, and eat good food. Oh yes, and there were sessions to attend. Two in particular stuck with me.

First, I went to hear Doug Hesse, Nancy Sommers, and Kathi Yancey  read the work that came out of a writing project in which they each wrote about a different object each day for thirty days. As they described the project, it was driven by their interest in questions such as, “What may be learned about the evocative power of objects from a sustained attention to them? How do objects reveal or conceal their origins? And what may we learn about the acts of composing from a sustained project over thirty days?” Certainly all of this was contained in the work they did. For me, though, it was a powerful reminder of the power – and the joy – of the essay. Each of the works was a beautiful and insightful exploration of ideas, of possibilities, of connections. As I listened to each author read, I not only was taken inside the consciousness of another person, but I was taken deeper into my own. Doug’s reflections on music and identity, Nancy’s on food and family, and Kathi’s on images and histories, had me simultaneously following their journeys, and thinking about how similar objects and experiences in my own life had led to my questions about identity, family, and history. All  three essays were immediate and powerful reminders of how writing works as way in which we explore our own minds, and then invite others inside. I may be going on too much with the adjectives here – particularly “powerful”  – and yet the power of writing as an individually and collectively transformative experience and medium is what I have been continuing to think about since the session. That session is moving me back to my own essays, though they’re not of the quality of these authors’ work. But it was reminder that writing in print does something special – it opens up the interiors of life to us. And I hope it was a reminder to those at the conference that teaching college writing should be more than about thesis statements and academic discourse. It also should be about the exploration of ideas and the transformation of our ideas. If you want to see a similar project the three writers did at a conference and then turned into published work, track down “Evocative Objects: Reflections on Teaching, Learning, and Living in Between” in the March 2012 issue of College English.

The next day, then, I heard Richard Miller talk about literacy in a digital media world. Richard pointed out that he doesn’t publish in conventional academic venues anymore, whether in print or online.  (You can find his great site/blog/ideas at text 2 cloud.) He then proceeded to remind the audience that everything we know about writing, reading, communication, authorship, and everything connected to it is changing, and changing again, and changing again. He’s not the first to point this out, of course, but he made the compelling case again for how, in a field about composing and interpreting texts, we’re like the folks standing at the end of downhill train, looking backwards down the track and wondering what those things are zipping by so fast. I don’t disagree with him at all. If there’s anything my conversations and observations with students have shown me time and again is that they are engaged with digital media in ways that are often very different in their conceptions of time and text than ours. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t buy into the “digital natives” idea, that young people are completely different in how they engage with texts and we can’t understand what they do blah blah blah. But I do think if we want to understand how they read and write and communicate, we can’t assume it’s the same way we read and write. And we have to talk with them, work on digital media with them, and play around with it ourselves. That means more than using print, it means we have to learn to compose with video and images and sound (and I’ll  have more to say about that soon too.)

It would be easy to find these two session, both of which I found inspiring and intelligent and insightful, at odds with each other. But that wasn’t the case.  Doug, Nancy, and Kathi used digital media and images with their essays to create multimodal performances, and Richard’s presentation was an essay as well as a digital presentation. And I know that none of these ideas are brand new, they were just done so well that they revived my thinking and got me motivated to get back to my own work. Besides, conflict wasn’t what I felt. Instead I felt the thrill of having so many things open to me as a writer and teacher, and a bit overwhelmed – in an excited way – about everything there is to do. The question is not which road I want to follow, but how to travel multiple roads at once.

New Media Literacies and Participatory Popular Culture Across Borders – Getting Closer!

The page proofs are in and the book is listed on the publisher’s website, so that must mean it’s going to happen. While the book won’t be out until later this spring, here’s a look at the cover. I have to say, I’m rather partial to the purple. This has been a fascinating book to work on, and I’ve learned so much from the contributors and their chapters and, as always, from my friend and collaborator, Amy Zenger. I hope this book will help start conversations in a many different directions. I also like the fact that other books, like the new one Transnational Literate Lives in Digital Times (from Patrick Berry, Gail Hawisher, and Cindy Selfe) are coming at similar issues from different perspectives and making the conversation richer and more thought provoking. Anyway, here is the cover, and thanks to all the wonderful people at Routledge. More to come on this soon as well.

Ideology, surveillance, and the software in our classrooms

I’ve agreed to write a chapter for a very exciting new collection being edited by Robin Goodfellow and Mary Lea, titled Literacy in the Digital University (Robin’s blog on the same subject is here). I’m grateful for the opportunity to be part of this project. My chapter is going to explore how “course management software” is shaping our pedagogy – in and out of the classroom – in ways we both understand and ways that may be more subtle. More to the point, though, is that I think the construction and use of this software (Blackboard and the like) is often antithetical to what we regard as good writing pedagogy and the effective uses of digital media.

So here’s where I’m going with this right now. Course management software, such as Blackboard, is purchased by universities and often required of faculty and students for everything from distribution of course materials to posting of grades. This software is promoted by university administrations as a set of effective pedagogical tools for use both in and out of the classroom. Yet such software is often hierarchical, rigid, and prescriptive – the antithesis of the kinds of participatory environment most conducive to creative thinking by students and faculty. It is imposed on teachers and students from the top down, difficult to modify or customize, and makes assumptions about teaching and learning that, again, tend to be rigid and hierarchical.

I see the adoption and promotion of such software  as driven by material and ideological imperatives of efficiency, control, and surveillance that are increasingly central to way the institution of the university works in contemporary culture. Course management software is promoted by university administrations as an efficient and centralized method of “managing” university courses. Faculty response to the use of such software is often to complain or shrug, and acquiesce to the demands of the institution. Yet in doing so we are complicit in reproducing institutional and cultural ideologies that are as hierarchical, rigid, and prescriptive as the software. In this way dominant ideological conceptions of knowledge and literacy – tied to notions of efficiency – find their way into writing classrooms even as we may imagine a pedagogy that will encourage students to resist such conceptions.

So in the chapter I hope, at least in part, to argue that university-imposed course management software works to reinscribe particular conceptions of epistemology and pedagogy that, as a field, we have criticized in other settings. I think it is important that we think critically and act more explicitly to resist the implementation and uses of these forms of digital media. We much also teach students to approach the use of these technologies from a more critical perspective.

But all is not grim. I refuse to give up without a fight, an alternative. So I also want to talk about how alternatives to designing digital environments for writing pedagogy that allow students a range of ways to participate in literacy practices in ways that are flexible, critical, and creative. But I’ll save more of that for the next post (which won’t be so long in happening, I promise. January was just crazy on many levels.) More soon.

Genre, Interfaces, and Ways We Teach Digital Writing

I was having coffee the other day with my friend and colleague Ryan Trauman and we got to talking about how we approach teaching people to compose texts using digital media. Trauman is both brilliant theoretically and proficient with technology in ways that I can’t touch. So, when he talks, I listen.

What was interesting – to me anyway – about our conversation was how it revealed our two very different ways of coming at this question. Trauman starts with a conceptual discussion of how software is constructed. He talks with people, on a conceptual level, about ideas such as “layers” and how they show up in different software. His belief is that, if people understand the underlying conceptual frameworks of the software, they can move from one program to another and, eventually, find a way to use any software to create the texts they want to create. This is particularly important for people who are inexperienced with and/or intimidated by digital media technologies. So he begins with the theory and logic underlying the media and helps people understand the tools they have at hand. (And I hope I’m portraying his approach accurately.)

I would approach the same group of people in a different way. I begin by talking about multimodal genres with which people are already familiar – television, film, newspapers, webpages, and so on. We talk about the characteristics of those genres and how they work to communicate ideas and engage audiences. So, for example, we might begin by talking about the nature of the “shot” in film and how shots are edited together to create scenes or narratives, or how images can lead a person through a web page. My goal is to help them to articulate the kinds of texts they want to create, and the genre characteristics they will use when composing. My thinking is that, if they have a general idea of what they want we can then work through – and play with – the software as a way to make it happen.

Neither of our approaches is necessarily better than the other. (And they’re not mutually exclusive or the only ways to approach the teaching of digital writing, of course.) The conversation has had me thinking about the effect of our approaches on our students. Trauman helps people feel comfortable through the machine, and by having a good sense of the tools at hand allows them to work in ways that no doubt help them use the interfaces in more embodied and internalized ways. I can imagine that, as a student of Trauman’s, I’d be able to start using the software in less self-conscious way that would help me focus on the ideas I would trying to communicate – much as I do when I type. That’s a great result to have from teaching.

My approach, by starting with familiar texts and moving from those to rooting around in the software for ways to make genre-connected moves, I hope gives students a particular awareness of the rhetorical characteristics of genre they’re working with as well as an awareness of the deep knowledge of previous texts and genres they can bring to their composing. In this way it’s similar to the ways in which, as we read, and then write with print we begin to draw on the craft and rhetoric of what we’ve read to create our own texts. As the novelist Caryl Phillips has said, “All writers read for plunder.” In my approach, I don’t think I address a familiarity with the tools, and the anxiety about the uses of the software as well as Trauman does, and in his he may not help students connect to the genres they know well as explicitly as I do.

The point here for me, though, is not a critique or endorsement of either or our approaches, for I can see merit in both. What interests me is how we came to those approaches and the effect this will have on our students. My guess is that, like me, Trauman’s approach reflects his own patterns of work and comfort. I know that, even as I read a lot about pedagogy and teaching writing, I tend to gravitate toward the concepts and approaches that fit my ways of working and learning. It’s not that I may not see value in other ways of teaching and try to bring those to the students I work with that I think might benefit from those methods. But, truth is, I what and how I teach is inevitably flavored by my experiences, values, ideologies, and so that students who have me in the classroom are presented with ways of approaching writing – whether in digital or print – that is similar in flavor. Because I find genres and genre theory fascinating, and tend to think through writing and rhetoric often through the genres I know or the texts I’m trying to draw from, I bring that to my teaching. This is inevitably effective for some students and less so for others.

We all tend to fall back on our knowledge and our comfortable way of working and then reach out to others through the epistemologies and pedagogies that make us comfortable. In Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow he details the many and continuing instances when we allow ourselves to act in ways we perceive as “right” or “better” but in which we may be ignoring alternatives or the problems with our own approaches. So the conversation with Trauman has given me both another way to teach digital writing, as well as a reminder to be more rigorous in thinking about what is implied in my teaching and how I might find other ways to think about the classroom, even if they are harder and less comfortable for me at the beginning. No Earth-shaking conclusion here, I realize, but sometimes being reminded of what I need to know is enough.

Job Opening – Associate Professor, Digital Media, University of Louisville, Fall 2012.

We have a great job opening here at UofL. I’m on the search committee, so if you have questions about the position, please let me know.

Associate Professor, Digital Media, University of Louisville, Fall 2012.

The Department of English invites applications for an Associate Professor in Digital Media, to begin Fall 2012.  Ph.D. and teaching experience required.  Candidates should have a demonstrated commitment to pedagogy and the ability to do successful research.  We are particularly interested in candidates with experience teaching digital production and expertise in one or more of the following areas of specialization: digital media and composition, new media studies, new literacies, digital humanities.  Teaching load appropriate to a research institution; salary competitive.  Course assignments range from
undergraduate writing, which all professorial faculty teach, to seminars in an established, successful doctoral program in Rhetoric and Composition.

Send letter, c.v., writing sample of no more than 25 pages, and teaching statement to Professor Debra Journet, Chair, Search Committee, Department of English, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY 40292.  Review of applications will begin November 15, 2011 and continue until position is filled.

All applicants must also apply online and attach a current version of their vita at   Please reference Job ID 27598.  If you have trouble with the online application, please e-mail Steven Gonzales at:, or phone 502-852-0504.   The University of Louisville is an Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity, and Americans with Disabilities Employer.

The person taking up this appointment will join a department of over 35 professorial faculty.  We support a strong English major and M.A.  We also offer the Ph.D. in Rhetoric in Composition, one of the oldest such programs in the country.  We admit a cohort of about 6-7 new Ph.D. students a year; recent graduates of our program have taken up professorial positions at universities such as Ohio State, University of Oklahoma, and Syracuse University.  We have an active group of faculty in rhetoric and composition, in British and American literature, and in creative writing.  There is enthusiastic interest both in the department and across the university in digital media.  As part of this position,
the administration has pledged substantial start-up funds to allow the new hire to design a new technology classroom.

Through the Thomas R. Watson endowment, the UofL English Department offers a biennial international conference in a topic related to rhetoric and composition.  (Recent conferences have focused on Narrative and Composition, Digital Media and Composition, Working English in Composition, and (in 2012) Economies of Writing.  In alternate years, we host a visiting distinguished professor of rhetoric and composition; recent Watson Professors include Cynthia Selfe, Deborah Brandt, Keith Gilyard, Marilyn Cooper, Suresh Canagarajah, Brian Street, and Ralph Cintron.  We also support the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900, and the Anne and William  Axton Creative Writing Reading Series.

Louisville is a vibrant city with a lively arts scene, beautiful neighborhoods, affordable housing and  great restaurants.  We welcome your interest in the department and would be happy to answer any questions about the position.

Digital Media Search Committee
Debra Journet, Chair
Bronwyn Williams
Alan Golding
Ryan Trauman

Spaces, language, and making meaning online

I had the pleasure yesterday of hearing a talk from Suresh Canagarajah, who always helps me refresh and re-imagine my ideas about language and movement in a cross-cultural world. Yesterday he was discussing more of his ideas about how language use is negotiated in ways the challenge concepts of monolingual standards and center-periphery conceptions of English usage. I am convinced when he argues that, around the world, people make adjustments in conversation that allow them to make meaning without concern for abstract ideas of correctness.

Where Suresh talked primarily about face-to-face conversations or hard-copy written texts, I found myself thinking about the ways I have seen similar negotiations online. When I look at popular culture fan sites I often find the people posting come from a range of different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Though they may be writing in English (or, more to the point, in Englishes) there is a not a single set of usages that govern the conversation. Instead, usage varies from all participants, those for whom English is a first-language as well as those for who it isn’t. But there are two things I find particularly interesting. First, the kinds of negotiations that Suresh has found in his research in face-to-face settings often take place in online discussions, and it’s fascinating to track the back-and-forth of negotiations over words or usage until a meaning is found that satisfies the participants involved. I’ve written about this before, but still find it interesting to watch how it happens and the patience and generosity – rather than judgment or exclusion – that participants usually show each other.

What I find perhaps more intriguing is the way in which conceptions of space from different scholars come together in these moments. Suresh talks about how the “translocal space” is a more useful conception of where these negotiations of language take place than the idea of “place.” He sees place as a static, bounded concept that does not offer the same vision of space as an environment where things happen – interactions, negotiations, meaning making.  What I find interesting is to overlap this theorizing of space with Gee’s ideas of online “affinity spaces” where people gather online, drawn by their interests in common popular culture texts more than their conceptions of home identities. (As I’ve said in the past, I think identity plays a significant role in the creation and reproduction of affinity spaces, yet I do agree with Gee’s idea that it is the pop culture text that becomes the primary point of contact in such spaces.) If we think about the way online and cross-cultural affinity spaces are also translocal spaces of language contact and negotiation, it raises interesting questions of how the popular culture texts help mediate and facilitate these negotiations of language and meaning. Not only do the popular culture texts draw individuals together online, and across cultures, but they offer both a common cultural and linguistic touchstone for the participants. The pop culture text provides common content, rhetorical structures, and language that participants use as a resource and catalyst for their communication.

Obviously there are issues of power, of identity, and of language that still need to be worked out here, but, again the question of spaces comes up again. More on this soon. Thanks for reading.


Space, Boundaries, and Movement

It’s been wonderful to have a couple of weeks of travel after the conference was over — great times in Ireland and Scotland with family and friends. But I don’t want to miss the chance to talk over the next few posts about some of the ideas that are still turning over in my head from the Sheffield conference on Study of New Literacies.

(First, a side note just to thank Julia Davies and Kate Pahl for a wonderful conference. Not too big, great presentations, and thoughtful and smart conversations, both formal and informal. It did energize my thinking and give me new directions to think about and people to read. I may not mention everyone I spoke to or heard present, but there was much to learn from.)

The set of ideas that I seemed to me to keep coming around in the conference – and that have kept me pondering since – has to do with space, movement, and boundaries. Although they came at the question from several different directions, I was  intrigued by the ongoing discussion of the how our literacy practices are shaped by and shaping the spaces in which they take place. And space here is something that we are inhabiting and creating both on and offline. In fact, one things I was particularly pleased about was the work everyone was doing at troubling the binary divide between online and offline. Instead there was much more recognition about how we not only move on and offline quickly – and all the more so with smart phones and tablets becoming more common – but how difficult it becomes to separate cause and effect, or place and space, between the digital and the embodied. A number of presentations and conversations raised questions of how digital technologies connect us, yet also how they can establish barriers and obstacles that can cause us either to give up, or try to find away around. At the same time, we respond to these digital spaces not just with our minds, but also with our bodies and emotions and bring those back, in turn, to the online places we inhabit.

Cathy Burnett, of Sheffield Hallam University, raised a serious of questions about space, mobility, and boundaries in her presentation on classrooms she is observing. I was fascinated by her descriptions and analysis of the kinds of boundaries teachers often try to create in the classroom – both online and off — in terms of students’ practices (and teachers’ as well). She noted moments when students disrupt such boundaries and how that both brings them into sudden focus, and also challenges us as teachers to define the nature and purpose of the boundary. Her discussion of the ways in which such boundaries shift, open, and close almost moment by moment had me thinking about the courses I had most recently been teaching, as well as what I have observed doing at their computers outside the classroom.  There is an image of students deeply focused on computer screens, oblivious to all around them, is rarely true. Instead, as Burnett’s presentation pointed out, students move away from the screen, use their bodies to shape their interactions with the technology, get up and wander the room, make side comments, even as they continue to post comments on a forum or engage in a class assignment. While there are connections here to ideas like Robert Brooke’s discussion of underlife in the classroom, I like the way she theorizes this not simply as a set of behavior’s, but also as practices located in specific texts and contexts. Her challenge to think of “siting as a productive practice” in which we engage with the mobility and shifting boundaries of our teaching and of literacy practices resonated with me. I can’t wait to read more of her work on this.

It also make me think of how, when students are outside of school they find that they are still navigating these spaces and boundaries, sometimes created in the home, sometimes by those who control online environments, and adapting their reading and writing to the spaces they can find and work within. It made me think of how, in my own research, I see young people working within and around the online popular culture spaces they encounter. As I’ve said other places, while Gee’s idea of online “affinity spaces” as places were people are drawn by interest first, regardless of identity are true to a point, it is also the case that offline identity shapes not only the affinity spaces we are drawn to, but how we react and respond to the interactions once we get there. What’s more, the negotiations of language and culture we have to engage in online affinity spaces seep back into our embodied lives and are not left behind with the computer.

It also connected with comments and presentations by David Barton, Keri Facer, Margaret Mackey, Karin Tusting, Eve Stirling, and others at the conference, and got me thinking more about where my thoughts about my research are taking me next. But that will have to wait for the next entry or two.

Centre for the Study of New Literacies International Conference

I leave in a few days for the Centre for the Study of New Literacies conference at the University of Sheffield. I’m eager to go and spend a couple of days in conversation with a number of people whose work I’ve admired for a quite a while (Julia Davies, Kate Pahl, David Barton, Eve Gregory, and others) and other people whose work I don’t know yet, but looks fascinating. My talk is titled “The World on Your Screen: Literacy and Popular Culture in a Networked World” and comes from the work Amy Zenger and I have been doing for our new book project.  I’m grateful to have been invited to talk at the conference and eager to get revitalized with the conversations there.

The abstracts for the conference are here.

I’ll try to blog from the conference itself, though I’ll admit that when I get caught up in the conference I stay connected into the people there more than I do online. But I’m sure I’ll have much to say when the conference is over (well, and we’re done taking a holiday after the conference to Dublin and Scotland.)

Now, what to read on the plane…