Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Entry 1: Writing New Media and What's in a Name


This is the inaugural post for my new blog, Technocracademic, a space to discuss the combination of academia and technology (hence the title). Though I have made this blog at the behest of my Teaching With Technology class (hello to my professor and my fellow students) I have high hopes that this can also be a space where I can reflect and discuss these two fields that have always been of great interest to me. We'll see if my ambitions hold out beyond the course's conclusion!

My first order of business is to discuss the two readings, What's in a Name by Claire Lauer and "Opening New Media to Writing: Openings and Justifications." from Writing New Media by Anne Francis Wysocki. In brief, Lauer's work focuses mostly on the definitions of pedagogical terms like "New Media", "Multimodality", and "Multimedia". Meanwhile, Wysocki's introductory chapter discusses not only the definitions behind these terms, but also the reasons why multimedia and digital media are important to study from both pedagogical and rhetorical perspectives. Both texts essentially have two goals: to define what, exactly, "New Media" is, and to explain why it matters to teachers and students.

As someone who grew up surrounded by technology, I found these readings eye opening. I had always known, in a vague sort of way, that technology played a heavy role in my development as a student, a writer, and a human being, but I had never really considered exactly how or why. The first passage in Wysocki's reading that really caught my interest was when she references Cynthia Selfe and Richard Selfe, saying that they "pointed out how the graphical user interface - the 'GUI' or folder icons and desktops - seemed to be intuitive to so many of us only because it came directly out of specific but long-woven Western-business practices of organization and structure"(8). It seems like an obvious observation, but it highlights the importance of critically analyzing even the most intuitive ideas. New Media relies heavily on that kind of visual shorthand to convey messages to the audience, but those short cuts are built on cultural assumptions that most audiences would be familiar with. It's not just a matter of ease-of-use, either; the means by which a person absorbs information shapes the way he or she thinks, which in turn shapes his or her identity. When Wysocki steps away from digital technology to discuss older forms of media, stating, "to take a hand-sized bound book...there seems to be little doubt that the appearance of such ready-for-reading-by-a-single-person books connects somehow to the emergence of...individual identity in Western Europe,"(12) I began to grasp the true importance not only of informed thinking about digital technologies, but of communication in general. If single-reader books did indeed play a role in training us to think of ourselves in distinct, individual terms, then the open, communal nature of the internet may be shaping more than just how students absorb data. It may even alter the way they think and self identify! This places a huge responsibility on us as teachers; we must not only understand how the internet and other forms of new media shape how our students think, we must also help prepare them to think critically about the massive amount of information that they are bombarded with on a daily basis. It's not enough to simply observe and record; they must also explain why.

Claire Lauer's interviews further illuminated how technology (digital or otherwise) influences the way that people think and learn. I found Jason Palmeri's ideas especially exciting, since they echo several important ideas in Wysocki's book, and ideas that I had been toying with before but had never quite found the words to articulate. Palmeri's description of the effects of older technology on the field of academia, where he states that, "The moment the 'slide show' entered composition and we re-thought what composition would be because this new technology was available to us and we drew upon old conventions of rhetoric and speech making in order to organize or contain it in some way. Lately, the word processor as new media, which has now been naturalized. We have a long history of technologies remaking the field that we forget about because technologies either fall out of our view or become so commonly used that it also falls out of our view," seemed one of the most apt observations about how different industries deal with technology. This mirrors Wysocki's reference to Christina Haas's writings, where she says that "our writing technologies are meant to be invisible so that we can overlook them in order to get to the tasks at hand," (11).  At its best, technology is invisible in the context of the classroom, serving as a means to facilitate discussion, observation, and critical thinking. The teacher's role, therefore, is to be aware of the different possibilities allowed by different forms of media and use those different functions to increase the students' awareness of their own thought processes.

I found Lauer's numerous definitions of terms like "multimedia" and "digital media" interesting because of the various considerations that went into each scholar's choice: how would administrators interpret one definition, how would grant panels consider another, which one do the students default towards, etc. However, I think that Wysocki's definition was the most compelling, both because it is functionally workable and because it addresses the role that New Media should play in an academic setting. "I think we should call 'new media texts' those that have been made by composers texts that help readers/consumers/viewers stay alert to how any text...doesn't function independently of how it is made and in what contexts" (15). Essentially, New Media Texts don't just use technology as a different way of presenting material in the same old formats, but instead take full advantage of the different functions to encourage new ways of examining a text.

1 comment:

  1. This:
    "Essentially, New Media Texts don't just use technology as a different way of presenting material in the same old formats, but instead take full advantage of the different functions to encourage new ways of examining a text."

    That is, I think when we think about teaching with, and producing with, technology, it behooves us to consider how we might take full advantage of the technologies at our disposal, considering why (and sometimes why not) to go down certain roads.

    This is a great first post, looking forward to many more (in fact, i already see 2 more, must spy now...)

    Thanks much.