My teaching centers on the composing tasks associated with imagining problems from more than one perspective. Therefore, writing students in my classes engage with digital rhetoric because it serves as the best example of how language evolves and “lives” daily through the collision of multiple perspectives in conversation. The use of tools like Twitter and Tumblr, which offer moments of live dialogue and multimodal meaning making, and WordPress blogs, where students have access to one another’s texts and to daily publishing, are vital to the practice of writing and to the view that composing elements are always being edited and altered.
Still, my pedagogy helps students understand how to unplug and create beyond screens. This means investigating practices like handwriting, bookbinding, upcycling, and the use of material props. I often use popular culture examples to make composing relevant to my students, and I frequently invoke the scene in Pitch Perfect where the protagonist, an expert sound designer, makes meaning from a plastic cup and creates sound in an empty swimming pool just as expertly as she works with software on her laptop. Students need opportunities to become what Claude Levi-Strauss calls bricoleurs, agents able to use the existing resources of their spaces to communicate.
Students should think carefully about what is sustainable for our collective futures as well as what is appropriate for each rhetorical situation in which they find themselves. For example, my students hear me say that waste is a problem associated with technologies designed to be obsolescent within a few years. Knowing this to be true, we might pause before ordering a set of classroom iPads or clickers to consider how long and how frequently such tools are used by writers. As I make clear in all my courses, writing is directly related to how we treat the materials in the world around us.
I frequently prompt students to think about materiality and its effect on the writer writing, how tools and spaces alter meaning depending on what is available. I have recently challenged my students to consider multiple perspectives through an investigation into material and nonhuman agents. This means that while students consider the rhetorical power of their own voices to make change in the world, they should also think about how a speed bump persuades us to change behavior (as Jane Bennett suggests) or how the Windows startup sounds have changed over time to create a certain “experience” for the user (inspired by Thomas Rickert). Accepting a posthuman view of literacy means accepting that our power to manipulate the world is tempered by the agents all around us and that learning how to be “swept up,” as Brian Massumi says, in such a flow of creativity requires humility and attention to sustainability in the classroom and beyond it.
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