Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Returning to Older Technologies: Pictures, Words, and Paper, Oh My!

Over the first two weeks of the semester, I've used some sample pages from a fairly new composition book, Understanding Rhetoric: A Graphic Guide To Writing. Not surprisingly, the book is, for lack of a better term, a graphic novelish approach to teaching writing and rhetoric, specifically content familiar to first-year composition courses.
Before going all out and using the whole book for my Critical Reading, Writing, and Thinking course, I wanted to test the waters and see how the students reacted to it. More specifically, I was interested in whether or not students 1) read the material, and 2) could actually remember what they read when they got to class. Could this return to an older technology - drawings - increase knowledge acquisition for students who, we are told, are constantly looking at moving images on YouTube or the simultaneously static and moving text messages feeding through their phones? 

Visual Rhetoric in the Composition Classroom 
In many composition classrooms, there has been a turn towards visual rhetoric. Talking to colleagues at my home institution and at other universities, more people are integrating advertisements, movies, television, and commercials into writing instruction. We might ask students to rhetorically analyze clips from The Daily Show, show an episode of The Office to talk about genre awareness in sit-coms, and in my own class, students create an advertisement using some sort of media - print, sound, video - show it to an audience, and discuss their rhetorical choices and attention to document design.

The Results 
This semester, I plan on putting even more emphasis on the design aspects of the project, and using Understanding Rhetoric was my first foray into getting students to think about the different ways in which visual images work together to show the reader/viewer something.

On the whole, the students reacted to the chapter, on Aristotle's rhetorical appeals and kairos, rather well. They demonstrated an ability to understand what the appeals are and how kairos works. More interestingly, however, was their reaction to it - they liked it - and how they used the reading in the classroom. Rather than trying to remember, desperately, what the reading said, looking through notes, hoping they had annotated the correct place, looking for bolded vocabulary words, students could more easily find the information they wanted and point to it during class. In other words, they engaged with the text much more readily than they have with more traditional readers that are predominately word-based over image-based.

For me, this semester is about experimenting with technology in the classroom, asking how well different technologies work (for instance, today our CMS refuses to do what we need it to do), and how well students are able to learn from or through different modalities. This very quick, two-day use of pictorial images showed promise in the way students understood the material, used it during class, and even maintained the information over the weekend. Tangentially, because the book doesn't include set essays and readings, it requires me to bring in readings from outside the text, drawing from current events, student interests, and topics that are important to campus. These additional readings ask students to be more aware of their surroundings in ways that the most time-honored and traditional essays from readers cannot.

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