Wednesday, September 2, 2015
September 2, 2015: Fall 2015 Previews: First-Year Writing I
[As another Fall semester kicks off, a series of preview posts—this time focusing on new things I’ll be trying this semester. Leading up to a special pedagogy post this weekend!]
On two ways to bring the digital to a traditional writing classroom.
For the Spring 2014 semester, I created an entirely new syllabus for my First-Year Writing II course, one focused on Analyzing 21st Century America. As you would expect, that course focused significantly on digital topics and elements: from units on social media and analyzing movies and TV shows watched online to near-constant conversations about online identities, communities, communication, and more. Yet at the same time, partly by design but mostly because there’s only so much overhauling one can do of one’s pedagogy in any given moment, I kept my assignment types and their semester-long scaffolding much closer to what I had employed in my prior Writing II courses, and much more traditional (in the sense of the pre-digital composition classroom, that is) than were the syllabus and its units, readings, and conversations.
This fall, for my next section of First-Year Writing I, I’m trying a complicated experiment—not overhauling the syllabus I’ve used successfully for many years and sections, yet still both bringing one of my favorite aspects of that digital Writing II into this one and (I hope) improving on that course’s one less innovative element. For the former, I’m going to try to use digital resources to provide students with many more options for our units and readings than has been the case in prior sections. For example, we start with a unit on personal essays (reading and then writing/analyzing them), and I’ve always used a handful of examples from the Seagull Reader: Essays anthology. I’ve still ordered that book and will have us read and discuss some of those example essays, to give us a shared group of core texts; but I will also highlight pieces of personal writing on blogs and tumblrs and other websites, as well as examples in other media (such as YouTube channels and Ted talks). Each of those forms and genres comes with its own specific elements and choices, of course—but there’s no reason why we can’t discuss and analyze each of them, and why I can’t give students the choice of with which ones they most want to work.
That final point comprises the way I’m hoping to improve on my digital-centric Writing II course: by offering students creative assignment options that similarly utilize the digital. That is, if a student wants to create his or her Assignment 1 personal essay as a tumblr post, or a YouTube video, or in some other digital or multimedia form, it seems to me that I should be encouraging rather than limiting such a range of choices; and that the students can then apply their analytical skills and writing to that work with equal rigor and depth in any case. I don’t think a First-Year Writing course can or should forego analytical, academic writing in its more traditional forms, but as with the creative survey assignments about which I wrote in Monday’s post, I don’t think it’s either-or: that, indeed, allowing for a greater range of creative assignment options and responses can help students develop their analytical skills alongside and in conjunction with their unique voices and skills. I have no idea what the results of this hypothesis will be in the Writing I experiment on which I’m about to embark—but I’m excited to find out, and, as always, will keep you posted!
Next preview tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Things you’re hoping to try or do this fall?