Making Connections: Writing New Media & English (angle brackets)

While reading the first section of Writing New Media, I came across some passages that reminded me of Jeff Rice’s notion of interconnectedness that English <A> seems to promote, and that English A appears to resist.  Rice insists through his depiction of English <A> that writing should not be an isolated or isolating activity, as it has often traditionally been taught and portrayed in the English A paradigm.  He notes that, “Individuals, English A’s logic dictates, working by themselves on individual ideas or texts, must demonstrate mastery with an individual case” (53), and that in this model, “writers and writing content are considered to be independent bodies” (58).  Wysocki et al. also recognize the traditional view of writing as an individual and decontextualized exercise when they say that, “the way school can seem separated from other institutions (the ones that constitute the “real world”) can keep the work of classrooms from seeing that it has any value or purpose outside the class…and people in writing classes can for that reason among others …often feel they are writing by themselves, as isolated, separated individuals with no particular social, cultural, or historical location” (4).  So while it seems that both Rice and Wysocki et al. find the idea of writing as an individual and decontextualized act to be outdated and limited view of composition , it follows that they also both highlight the importance of forming connections between the personal and the public.  We write as members of a social group, with values, beliefs, and feelings that are situated in a particular time and place, shaped by historical and cultural circumstances and experiences.  However, Wysocki et al. notice that there appears to be a lack of a broader recognition of the relationship between individual text composition and the larger social/media picture when they say that “there is writing about how to analyze or design isolated individual texts and there is writing about the broad contexts and functioning of media structures in general.  There is little or nothing that bridges these two categories to help composers of texts think usefully about effects of their particular decisions as they compose a new media text” (6).  It seems like Rice might attempt to bridge the individual and the social aspects of text composition through English <A> pedagogy, in which “the individual who would previously work by herself on the work of an author or text in a single space in a single institution at a single moment (as English A’s exam sets forth) instead works with <A> as a tag so that information is publicly named and engaged with, is pushed toward other users and spaces by tagged content, and is visual” (64).

My understanding of English <A> and what it might look like in classroom practice is still a bit cloudy, but I appreciate WNM’s  “theory to practice” format and I wonder how Rice might find the activities in the book in terms of teaching English <A>.  Would he see the “Mapping Readings” activity, in its collage-like form, as too simplistic? He notes that the <A> part of the English <A> pedagogy is not a collage, but instead a network that “builds relationships while also becoming relationships” (61).  I do see a possible link between the visual nature of English <A> and the Visual Arguments activity on p. 38 in WNM. I also see how the “Redesigning Texts” activity on p. 29 could make students more aware of the idea that textual interaction (either through reading or writing) could be seen as isolating, but then reformatted to encourage social interaction. I’m excited to see that Wysocki et al. are offering what might be more concrete examples of classroom applications in an era of new media-based pedagogical possibilities.

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