CIWIC/DMAC: An Ecology of Influence at Columbia College Chicago

Ryan Trauman and Ames Hawkins

Introduction:
After CIWIC/DMAC: Re-, Me-, We-, and E-Cologies

While any ecological analysis requires that a scope and context be defined, most of the scholarship addressing this method remains relatively abstract in terms of what constitutes a particular or common set of influences forming a writing ecology. This collaboratively written multi-modal compositon offers a relatively bounded landscape for which we employ the ecology metaphor as an analytical lens.

In order to investigate, enact, and capture some semblance of this ecology of CIWIC/DMAC’s influence on our institution, the authors of this piece gathered around a dining room table and, at the prompting of our Writing Program Director (Pegeen Reichert Powell), compared recollections, insights, and best practices we have adopted since each of us attended the institute. Following a recording of this two-hour conversation, each of us was tasked with producing a text conveying our individual insights either from our first-hand experiences at CIWIC/DMAC or take-aways from our common conversation. As Pegeen was the only one of the six of us to have not yet attended the institute, she served not only as the discussion’s moderator, but contributes here with an “outsider’s” perspective.

Anyone who has been to CIWIC/DMAC knows that much of the conversation considers the student as focus for the implementation of technopedagogies in the classroom. Examining student texts and writing, then, would be a valid way of considering the impact of CIWIC/DMAC beyond the summer institute. We have, however, chosen to focus on CIWIC/DMAC’s influence on our own scholarly production and teaching praxes, as well as how those influences have impacted our local institution, as a way to feature/foreground our relationship to our experience at CIWIC/DMAC and, by extension, the relationships between and among each other via our longitudinal connection with the summer institute.

Given the rare circumstance of five CIWIC/DMAC alumni as faculty, our local institution functions as a relatively concrete, particular, and bounded environment, enabling us to comprehend not only the relevance and impact of CIWIC/DMAC on a program or school, but to also begin to consider how it is we might map, track, and understand what we might identify as rheto-technodiversity.

Our collaborative process for this piece foregrounds experience from the individual’s point of view. As a result, rather than working together to forward a singular, cohesive argument, we argue that our texts collectively evidence rheto-technodiversity, a term we use to signify the idea of ecological interplay between and among different forms (multi-modal compositional species, if you will) and perspectives represented via the six pieces presented here. We also want to point out that this rheto-diversity--the notion that different individuals will take up the ideas presented at CIWIC/DMAC and evidence them in different, yet connected ways--illustrates a kind of ecological balance between two perspectives that that might better be understood as micro and macro ecological concerns.

In his piece “Digital Ecologies,” Sean Morey (2012) provides a starting point for considering the parameters of micro ecological concerns via his notion of de-ecologizing. Morey, forwarding Deleuze and Guattari’s “Three Ecologies,” argues for a “schizoanalysis of ecology, taking the parts to form new wholes […] The schizo, as a coder, is a writer, a rewriter, and she rewrites using the method of cut-and-paste, taking parts of would-be analog productions and creating a digital collage” (p. 117). In the pieces presented here, we see each of our authors as performing something akin to this schizoanalysis, reflecting on her/his unique set of lessons, skills, experiments, best practices, and stories as a rewritten collage of CIWIC/DMAC’s legacy. Morey refers to these DIY collage perspectives as “mecologies,” which we construct as “our own collection of totemic allegiances through which we are affected” (p. 119). Considered individually, then, each text, as a smaller component of the larger text, reflects a particular “mecology” that may be insularly examined in order to determine impact of CIWIC/DMAC on pedagogical, professional and personal development.

Yet, we also want to make clear that in addition to this focus on multiple, single-point perspectives, our pieces evidence Fleckenstein’s notion of “somatic mind,” and capture a sense of CIWIC/DMAC’s influence on our larger institution as a dynamic, responsive, and complex system. Fleckenstein (1999) stresses the importance of grounding scholarly observation in individual experience, or “‘being-in-a-material-place,’ whose fluid and permeable boundaries are (re)constituted through the mutual play of discursive and corporeal coding” (p. 282). In other words, whereas Morey (2012) describes how any single actor in a larger ecology must “de/re/code” her/his own particular understanding of how the system functions (p.117), so we argue for a similar process from the perspective not of a single actor, nor a perception of the system as a whole, but somewhere in between. We are working towards a collective understanding of a relatively particular catalyst (CIWIC/DMAC) on our local institutional culture. Instead of Fleckestein’s “view from somewhere” resulting in something akin to Morey’s mecologies,” we have constructed our own text in pursuit of a constellation of perspectives—a view from here, there, now, then—in order to form what we playfully refer to as a “wecology.”

Therefore, in reviewing our mecologies, we have noted that our individual pieces share three interdependent themes that reflect how each of our experiences live within our institutional context or environment and might be considered a wecology as a collective text. The three themes that make up or describe the wecology in this piece are key concepts that recurred, overlapped, and sometimes competed within our narratives. Those themes are openness, messiness, and hospitality.

Openness and an insider-outsider dynamic are notions that each of our texts address in some way. Most notably, Ames sets the stage and opens the conversation, if you will, with her video composition which contemplates the discourse and politics of openness in education, democracy, text production, and relationships. The piece at once celebrates and questions the cracks, holes, apertures and movement that must be present in order to not be closed, fixed, solid, stable. John’s and Corrine’s pieces step knowingly into that gap, contemplating the personal and institutional anxiety over destabilization and the resistance or aggression one might experience facing a potentially disruptive composing practice.

Trauman’s audio remix acknowledges but recuperates the anxiety of destabilization through an exploration of messiness as fecundity or a fertile soil in which experimentation and divergence can lead to growth via the happy accidents that bring environmental pressure and cross-pollination together to drive evolution.

Of course, one’s teaching or composing practices do not exist in a bell jar and we all recognize that it is the environment, the context that impacts the growth potential of any ecology. As such, a third component of our wecology considers the role that hospitality plays in negotiating the stress that is required for creation. In her concluding essay Pegeen argues for a “radical hospitality” as a way of “upending traditional top-down” relationships between students, teachers, colleagues, the initiated and un-initiated. Suzanne calls for more “generous, hospitable environment[s]” as a way for each of us to serve as what Corrine describes as “a gateway rather than a gate keeper.” Cautiously, Pegeen points out through Derrida that hospitality brings us right back to insider/outsider politics and the messiness that is inherent in hospitable spaces.

It is because of the interrelated, intertwined nature of these themes and the fact they emerge in varying degrees in all of the pieces presented here that we think these are the drivers, the key factors through which CIWIC and DMAC have influenced the re-, me- we, and e-cologies of Columbia College Chicago.

Table of Contents

To build this site, Suzanne Blum Malley forked Jentery Sayers' GitHub repository for the wonderful HTML5 site he created for "Hacking the Classroom: Eight Perspectives" in Computers and Composition Online, Spring 2014 . The source files for this web text are available at GitHub . Both sites build from the Boostrap CSS and Treble Theme.


Image below by Ames Hawkins.

Ames Hawkins

OPEN: An Aperture in Four Parts

This video essay, in four parts, presents Ames Hawkins’ scholarly-creative interpretation of open/openness, an oft-repeated term during the six-person conversation this past Spring. Because of the multi modal experimentation included here, in the same way a reader might need to slow down, and reread sentences or paragraphs in order to fully understand a complicated idea in an alphabetic text, hitting pause and rewinding the piece, in order to fully read quotations, or perhaps reconsider the different layers of text, sound and image, is encouraged. Imagined, conceived, and written by Ames Hawkins, the piece was edited by her sixteen-year old son, Charles Hawkins, opening here also, a space for the practice and possibility of collaboration.

"Open, Part I" by Ames Hawkins, edited by Charles Hawkins
"Open, Part II" by Ames Hawkins, edited by Charles Hawkins
"Open, Part III" by Ames Hawkins, edited by Charles Hawkins
"Open, Part IV" by Ames Hawkins, edited by Charles Hawkins


Hawkins also includes a letter to the viewer/reader, one intended to be [clicked] opened following the reading/viewing of this video essay.


Click here for video transcript.


Image below by Suzanne Blum Malley

Suzanne Blum Malley

Doing the Work of CIWIC/DMAC

This video/text essay presents Suzanne Blum Malley’s reflection on the the value of the hands-on work of the CIWIC and DMAC institutes as models of particularly effective forms of attention to our affective rhetorical ecologies through “thinking/doing” (Edbauer, 2005 p. 23). Using a frequency analysis of of keywords from the Columbia College CIWIC/DMAC alumni recorded conversation and video footage produced as part of her "finger-exercises" created during DMAC 2009 as the foundation of this piece, Blum Malley explores the discomfort and resistance that form a natural part of decision-making associated with risk and the ways in which CIWIC/DMAC productively ameliorates those responses.

Video by Suzanne Blum Malley


Click here for video transcript.

Click here for video with captions.


Image below by Corrine Calice

Corrine Calice

On Being an Early Adopter

This short whiteboard animation reflects on the experience of being an early adopter of computer-infused pedagogies who has played the role of an invasive species, spurring the slow evolution and diversification of an institutional ecology after attending CIWIC in 2000. Using the concept of micro-aggression, a term typically reserved to explain small, interpersonal gestures of rejection, the author explores complex power dynamics in simple, easy to visualize examples of institutional anxiety such as obstructionism and benign neglect that eventually grow toward faculty empowerment and collaboration across the institution. The presentation suggests that persistent individual faculty innovation has the capacity to contribute to institutional culture change over time. As a part-time faculty member who crossed the water from academia into the corporate training sector just after starting to teach at Columbia College Chicago in 2004, Corrine chose to compose her presentation as a white board animation to help illustrate the range of professional and pedagogical practices among the CCC faculty. Simply hit play to view.

Video by Corrine Calice


Click here for video transcript.


Image below by Jonn Salovaara

Jonn Salovaara

Cracks in the Alphabetic Pavement: My Own Path Toward Multi-Modal Composing

In planning a project to explore and honor DMAC, Jonn Salovaara started with a series of photos and by thinking of their sidewalk cracks in terms of “What might grow, given a little space?” This question derived from Cindy Selfe’s warning about the restriction of our effectiveness as teachers if we “limit the bandwidth of composing modalities in our classrooms and assignments” (“The Breath of Air” p. 618). Salovaara wanted to focus on the effectiveness that actually does develop when we attempt to widen that bandwidth, even a little bit.

After the discussion with CWIC-DMAC colleagues, and in interacting with words suggested by the images, this all switched. His work became a more introspective re-discovery of what had actually occurred for his own multi-modal composing and teaching since DMAC.

The resulting personal narrative of attempts and setbacks intentionally flows in and out of pure text slides and image/text slides. On the latter, readers are invited to spend more time than it takes to read the brief texts, considering the relationship between the text and the image.

Ultimately, Salovaara reached a hypothesis that, to be effective, instructors themselves need to keep composing multi-modally, and that writing programs might take some steps to encourage them in this.

Slideshow/Movie by Jonn Salovaara

A More Academic Afterword

Gail Hawisher and Cindy Selfe (2014) provide a developed perspective on the growing possibilities for digital multi-modal publishing, reviewing the history of scholarly digital publishing and arguing for the likelihood of its increasing role in the future. They also point out that, “With the changing set of challenges that face digital publishing, educating composition scholars to compose only alphabetic texts (or to analyze them, assess them, or circulate them) is a disservice. We will all need to read and compose and exchange new kinds of texts, and our changing scholarship will demand new mediated genres” (p. 111).

Douglas Eyman and Cheryl Ball (2014) point out the benefits to the composer of publishing digital work. They focus on the deeper sense of design and rhetoric that develop as a result of such publishing. “For born-digital webtexts that engage multiple modes and media as a function of their genre, additional rhetorical concerns arise with regard to decisions about delivery, access(ability), and sustainability” (p. 114).

WPAs intent on multi-modal instruction might do well to highlight these scholarly publishing trends and benefits to all of their instructors. I think they might also consider the more expressive, less academic multi-modal work that some instructors engage in. They might promote this kind of work, by suggesting venues for non-academic publishing that as closely as possible approximate the conditions that Eyman and Ball describe for the academic. These include “(pedagogically informed) mentorship of authors in pre-submission collaborations and [a] collaborative peer review process”(p. 115). Again, WPAs might also create in-house sites for publishing and sharing multi-modal digital work, that also approximate these conditions.

In some of the discussion related to this issue in computers and writing, for instance in an article like “Teaching Digital Rhetoric,” there has been the unspoken assumption that instructors are already engaged, at the very least, in encountering new interfaces or media. This may be a fair assumption if the course is called Digital Rhetoric, but it may be a bit hasty if the program is a more general writing and rhetoric course.

As we began to consider toward the end of our CWIC/DMAC discussion, in the case of a more general course, current instructors may range from the digitally adept, to the would-be Luddite and everything in between. And, even with the digitally more adept, there is presumably a range of truly multi-modal experience, since some digital work may be almost exclusively text while other digital work may be in non-text modes, but one at a time, rather than in combination.

This wide spectrum of familiarity with the multi-modal is suggested in the section on Faculty Development in the webtext by Sherry Rankins-Robertson, et al. “Several of the teachers brought into the course were new to multimodal composing and had not previously assessed multimodal assignments. Additionally, several of the teachers were limited in their abilities to develop instructional texts outside of print-based documents.” Their solution in helping faculty was one-on-one sessions in teaching faculty to use unfamiliar modes and the course technology. The other strategy that I propose, of helping faculty to ongoing publication of their own multi-modal work, though, is not mentioned here as another ingredient in this faculty development.

It may be that in addition to helping faculty cope with the immediate demands of a multi-modal curriculum, in the long run, programs needs to consider this other ingredient. Rather than guessing the multi-modal experience of faculty, and developing help based on those guesses, the promotion of their work in digital multi-modal composition and publishing may require one-on-one consultation and a battery of publishing possibilities to meet the instructors where they are and help them forward with their own multi-modal composing and publishing, and, thereby, their teaching.


Image below by Ryan Trauman

Ryan Trauman

A Mess of Influences

In conceiving of this individual piece of our larger overall text, I knew that I wanted to focus on the messiness, the confusion, the trepidation, and the chaos that were all, at various times, present over the course of each of the DMAC institutes in which I taught or facilitated. For six consecutive summers I had the privilege of encountering a new cohort of scholars and graduate students. That repetition rendered several insights about the sorts of environments and attitudes that foster skilled praxis with digital writing tools. Of course, repeated practice, rhetorical awareness, and patience are what most people learn as the fundamentals of working within a learning environment like CIWIC/DMAC. However, a more subtle, but no less central or necessary element is the messiness holding the chaos together.

Like the other individual pieces of our text, this audio text focuses on themes of openness, messiness, and hospitality. Not only does the text examine these themes as organizing content, but it also directly enacts them as well. As contradictory as it might seem, there is a strong correlation between openness and intimacy. While it is possible that our published text might find a receptive public audience amongst computers and writing scholars, the opening conversation took place in a much more intimate environment. The heavy wood dining room table we gathered around fostered a sense of intimacy and openness about our teaching and writing practices. There was an overt sense of hospitality as we gathered in our colleagues' home, but there were also two other types of hospitality at work. One is the sort of hospitality present for any conversation to work, especially as that conversation gathers more people. To be one conversant among six takes respect and patience, an openness to others' ideas and the hospitality to make room for them, to listen to them, and to respond. But there was another hospitality present, too. Not only was the conversation lively and rich, but each of us knew that we were contributing our voices to an audio recording of the evening. We all agreed that each of us was free to use that recording as source material for our individual texts. The more I reflect on that, the more I've come to realize just how much trust and hospitality that required from each of us.

Audio by Ryan Trauman


Click here for audio transcript.


Image below by Ryan Trauman

Pegeen Reichert Powell

Welcome to my Home/Page: Radical Hospitality in Program Administration and Course Design

In Fall 2005, the Writing in Digital Environments (or WIDE) Research Center Collective published an article in Kairos titled “Why teach digital writing?” Just by their participation in CIWIC or DMAC, my colleagues (and co-authors here) have already responded to this question with conviction, and what’s more, have gone on to answer “How do we teach digital writing?” and even “What is digital writing?” As the only contributor to this piece not to have participated in CIWIC or DMAC, at times I envy their conviction, not to mention, their exciting, thoughtful, substantial responses to the questions. On the other hand, it may be useful in my role as the Director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric where we all teach that I am still asking the questions. In fact, I like that WIDE titled their article as an interrogative. It’s tempting to think that almost a decade later, our field has answered the question, the WIDE collective offered the article itself as a kind of answer, but the title—in bibliographies and indexes—will forever remain a question, and I argue that’s as it should be.

As a program, the questions we ask, the questions themselves—not just why teach digital writing, but also how, and even more fundamentally, what is digital writing—should remain at the center of our work. And I suggest that we might use the metaphor of hospitality as a guide for our work in this era of questions.

KEEPING QUESTIONS AT THE CENTER OF OUR WORK

First, though, why would we want to keep questions at the center of our curriculum, pedagogy, and WPA work? An easy point—probably too easy—is that it may be simply hubris to believe that we will soon find durable answers to the questions about the nature of writing in the 21st century. The pace of change is enough to quell our optimism that we could define, even temporarily, what digital writing is and how we should teach it.

But it’s more than just the pace of change that should give us pause, that should make us wonder if we will ever know what we’re doing again, but also the scope of the change. Everything about the very nature of writing is up in the air: genre conventions, the relationship between authors and readers, the role and look of alphabetic text, how writing is circulated, the technologies and platforms used to produce and consume writing, even the social purposes to which we put writing. It is hubris to believe that we can say to our various constituents (students, parents, colleagues, the public) that we have the answers to the questions of why and how, when the what of digital writing remains in constant flux.

Another reason our particular program needs to take these questions seriously, even when individual colleagues have answered them brilliantly already, is because many of our instructors—our most experienced and some of our best—have barely even begun to raise these issues in their teaching. As our program moves toward a curriculum that embraces the challenge and potential of teaching digital, multimodal composition, a process we are just beginning, we must treat these questions with the respect they are due as part of the pedagogical process of introducing the new curriculum to our instructors.  Asking these questions sincerely with our instructors, as opposed to providing them answers, invites them to participate in the process of making this important shift in our learning outcomes and curriculum.

So we should keep the questions at the center of our work because it’s hubris not to and because they play an important part in the curriculum revision process. However, reminding ourselves of what we don’t know and what we can’t control also, paradoxically perhaps, reflects some of the best current thinking about digital rhetorics.

ACKNOWLEDGING THE CONTINGENCIES OF DIGITAL RHETORIC

David Sheridan, Jim Ridolfo, and Anthony J. Michel (2012), in their very useful book, The Available Means of Persuasion: Mapping a Theory and Pedagogy of Multimodal Public Rhetoric, argue that rhetorical success “is contingent upon networks of human and nonhuman actors, including multiple semiotic modes and multiple media of production, reproduction, and distribution. These networks can be complex, unpredictable, and chaotic” (p.11). They argue what what we know intuitively when we consider their 36 simultaneous ratios, that we have very little control over our rhetorical success. Part of their project in this book is to trouble the notion of agency: “all rhetorical action is contingent on many factors beyond the control of the various human actors involved” (p. 107). They don’t dismiss the concept of agency altogether, but we are far beyond a time when we could teach students to analyze their intended audience and simply employ the appeals that will be most persuasive for that audience. “One thing is certain,” Sheridan, Ridolfo, and Michel argue, and that is that “agency is not increased by pretending that rhetorical action transcends contingency” (p. 72).

Henry Jenkins and his coauthors (2013) in Spreadable Media are also concerned about the concept of agency, but they complicate our work as writing instructors in a different way, by highlighting the agency of audiences to share and repurpose the work of online compositions. They contrast their metaphor of “spreadability” to a stickiness model of media production and distribution. A stickiness model, they explain, “refers to the need to create content that attracts audience attention and engagement,” not unlike our old “analyze your intended audience and write to them” assignments (p. 4). In a stickiness model, it is clear who the producer and the audience is; “each performs a separate and distinct purpose” (p. 7). However, “In a spreadable model, there is not only an increased collaboration across these roles but, in some cases, a blurring of the distinctions between these roles” (p. 7). Audience becomes author, but not in ways that the original producer of the content has any real control over.

RESISTING ANSWERS

I think it’s clear, though we may often forget, that none of this is really new: the inherent contingencies in the rhetorical situation, the blurring of the roles of author and audience, these were always there. Our pedagogical models up to this point simply obscured these facts, stabilizing the rhetorical situation long enough to assign a grade: we were the audience of one for our students’ writing, the circulation method was no more complicated than making sure the printer had paper and you showed up to class in time to hand it in. And we can still teach that way.

However, when we acknowledge not just how fast and how drastically the nature of writing is changing outside of our classroom, but also how little agency any of us have as writers over our compositions, then we are left with those questions at the center of our work: what is it that we’re trying to teach, when it appears that we have very little agency over our rhetorical success anyway? And how does one teach a lack of agency? And the why tends to emerge as why teach this—when it seems almost impossible to do so—when we could just keep asking students to write essays, print them on paper, and hand them in?

I’m not suggesting that we leave these dilemmas in the form of questions—I’m suggesting that we resist the attempt to pin down the answers. That we keep asking the questions over and over, and wonder at the different answers we might hear from ourselves and our colleagues and our students.

HOSPITALITY IN COMPOSITION STUDIES

I argue that the concept of hospitality, and specifically Derrida’s concept of absolute or unconditional hospitality, can function as a metaphor for our work that enables us to imagine a response to the unknowns and the things we can’t control in our work these days. Hospitality emerged as an important theme in the conversation among my colleagues who attended CIWIC and DMAC. They spoke of Cindy Selfe’s hospitality, of the hospitable spaces in which they worked, and of the hospitality of the community of scholars that has grown from these shared experiences. What would it mean to recreate that kind of hospitality in a program? And should that even be our goal?

I think we’ve always imagined composition studies to be a hospitable discipline, or at least much of what we’ve done has attempted to generate hospitality. Janis Haswell, Richard Haswell, and Glenn Blalock (2009), however, appear to have written the only scholarship in our field that addresses the idea of hospitality. In “Hospitality in College Composition Courses,” they offer a compelling argument for taking seriously the “pragmatic and ethical implications of [hospitality]” in the writing classroom, if not the theoretical underpinnings of the concept (p. 709).  Hospitality assumes borders—of homes, of countries. Likewise, writing classrooms have always been understood as liminal spaces, because of the literal and metaphorical borders we cross—the doorway of the classroom; the relationship among disciplines; the borders among home, work, and school. Hospitality as a metaphor captures those border-crossings and compels us to think about how we respond to those people and ideas that enter our institutions and classrooms.

DERRIDA AND THE PARADOX OF HOSPITALITY

However, Derrida (2009) challenges our understanding of hospitality. He identifies a paradox implicit in the traditional understanding of hospitality: the generosity we associate with hospitality in fact entails sovereignty over one's home and the exertion of power by the host to choose who enters. He argues that there is a kind of violence associated with hospitality as the other enters the host’s territory on the terms established by the host. And relevant to our own work, Derrida explains this violence as a violence embedded in language:

The foreigner is first of all foreign to the legal language in which the duty of hospitality is formulated. . . .He has to ask for hospitality in a language which by definition is not his own, the one imposed on him by the master of the house, the host, the king, the lord, the authorities, the nation, the State, the father, etc. [We can hear in this list the idea that the language is imposed on him by the teacher, too.] This personage imposes on him translation into their own language, and that’s the first act of violence. . . If he was already speaking our language, with all that that implies, if we already shared everything that is shared with a language, would the foreigner still be a foreigner and could we speak of asylum or hospitality in regard to him? (pp. 15-17)

And that is the paradox of hospitality, that we must exert violence in order to generously extend hospitality.

So Derrida elaborates an absolute or unconditional hospitality. He argues that:

Absolute hospitality requires that I open up my home and that I give not only to the foreigner. . .but to the absolute, unknown, anonymous other, and that I give place to them, that I let them come, that I let them arrive, and take place in the place I offer them, without asking of them either reciprocity (entering into a pact) or even their names. (p. 25)

Unconditional hospitality radically decenters the host, and hospitality is no longer about the social conventions of welcoming, but about new arrivals confronting the host with otherness. It is hospitality on the terms established by the guest. Borders are crossed with impunity.

HOSPITALITY AND DIGITAL COMPOSITION

Hospitality, and especially Derrida’s radical hospitality, is a particularly apt metaphor as we move toward digital composition. First, digital, multimodal texts have borders that readers cross with impunity. The ubiquitous “welcome to my homepage” message may in fact be a message of absolute hospitality, because the writer/host of networked, digital texts no longer controls who enters, how long they stay, what rooms they go in, even what they do when they get there. We must appreciate that guests to our online texts may borrow our stuff, and even change it drastically in the borrowing.

Moreover, the Internet has no boundaries. Derrida meditates on the implications for this and state surveillance, which is also relevant to our concerns, but for now I’m just going to limit it to his observation that our “at home” is threatened  (p. 51). Traditional hospitality is very clear about the boundaries of home, of country. But the boundaries of the classroom become blurred, or erased altogether, anytime a student enters the classroom with a phone connected to the outside (which is to say, every time a student enters our classroom). Derrick Mueller’s (2009) concept of digital underlife is relevant here. He argues that “we have observed an unprecedented unraveling of presumably once-ordered domains of the classroom and conference hall” (p. 240). But rather than lock the doors to reestablish a sense of order, he suggests that
When weighing decisions about what to do about digital underlife, we must take on a more receptive [more hospitable?] attitude to the plausibility of its productive dimensions. That is, rather than reducing digital underlife into the dyad of contained and disruptive, we might add productive as a positive third term—particularly where we understand such underlife to enable meaningful discursive practices beyond the schoolroom.
(p. 209) In other words, the very nature of the writing and reading that our students are already doing, in our classroom if not always of our classroom, demands an absolute hospitality on our part.

THE CHALLENGE OF HOSPITALITY

But I’m not sure yet that we have embraced the new role of host that this implies. Claudia W. Ruitenberg (2011), who applies Derrida’s ethic of absolute hospitality to education, argues that a hospitable curriculum “asks how it can give place to, or would be undone by, the arrival of new ideas—for new ideas do not necessarily sit comfortably in the existing home of the curriculum” (p. 34).

Which brings me back to the questions at the center of digital writing: why teach it, how do we teach it, what is it? Keeping these questions as questions, without forcing answers, encourages us to assume the role of the host of a radical, absolute hospitality. When we sincerely ask these questions, we are compelled to be open to new ideas, new approaches, new languages. It means seeing whatever answers we arrive at as provisional. And it means listening to the answers provided by students, colleagues in other disciplines, and faculty in our program who we may not typically turn to for answers, including those who are at first resistant to the shift toward digital composition. In fact, intentionally building the questions into our curriculum provides a model for this openness to the unknown, which can be productive as we introduce these new ideas to resistant instructors.

THE LIMITS OF THE METAPHOR OF RADICAL HOSPITALITY

As useful as this metaphor may be, however, how do we tell our students—not to mention their parents, our colleagues, the public—that we don’t know what writing is? People think they know what writing is, and in some cases, they might actually be correct. When we start arguing for new curricula, or more technology, as I’m doing at my institution, the people we communicate with generally aren’t persuaded by questions. Moreover, as a metaphor, traditional hospitality is so good, so knowable, so persuasive. In fact I came to this project with memories of my own mother’s hospitality, all the strange people (they weren’t strangers necessarily, but they were very weird) at our Christmas breakfast, the kids and adults who lived with us at various times. Hospitality in this sense is a real virtue and powerfully persuasive. Hospitality in the way I’m talking about it is not, because the radical host is no longer in a position to offer a welcome on his or her own terms—this is hospitality on the terms of the guest. It might not be a strong metaphor when the traditional view of hospitality holds such persuasive appeal. Moreover, do the questions really help us talk about what it is that we do know? And we do know a lot—we have a vocabulary, a methodology, habits of mind—that enable us, as scholars in our fields, to study and teach writing. More than anything, right now, I see the metaphor of radical hospitality as a challenge to us to articulate what it is we do know, and what it is we don’t yet know.

AN HOSPITABLE CURRICULUM: WHAT IS WRITING IN THE 21st CENTURY?

Our program is currently piloting a course deliberately titled with a question, “What is Writing in the 21st Century?” This course, the first in a sequence of two first-year courses, moves the program from a typical curriculum that taught primarily print-based academic genres to a curriculum structured around ten key rhetorical concepts rearticulated in light of digital, multimodal composition. Not to be confused with “threshold concepts” (see Baillie, Bowden, and Meyer (2013)), instead these terms might be better understood as strategies for navigating the world of multimodal communication as readers and writers: affordances, alphabetic text, arrangement, circulation, ethos, field, genre, image, kairos, and remix. Maintaining a focus on new iterations of traditional rhetorical concepts codifies disciplinary knowledge and values—acknowledging what it is we do know—and at the same time, enables us to explore what we don’t know.

For example, one of the key concepts is ethos, not a new concept in writing courses. Nevertheless, in the context of digital, networked writing, we must address how ethos is constructed not just in words, but in all decisions that go into composing. The images (another key concept in the course), music, audio, fonts, colors, video, and the arrangement (yet another key concept) of these various pieces, all contribute to one’s ethos, as do the platforms and media one uses to circulate such compositions. If students are to practice constructing a positive ethos in this environment, then they must have the opportunity to create a multimodal text and experiment with various social media and platforms. What the course offers, then, is a relatively durable body of knowledge, captured in our key concepts, that enables us to practice with, theorize, and question the rapidly shifting, almost ephemeral communicative resources and technologies, circulation methods, and social purposes that characterize our communication landscape now. (Put simply, we’re teaching ethos instead of Facebook, circulation instead of Twitter, arrangement instead of YouTube.)

We are asking our students and each other “What is writing in the 21st century?” and using our key concepts as a way to frame partial, necessarily provisional answers. Arguably, writing scholars have always been investigating the nature of writing, but we are in an historical moment when the urgency of this question is felt keenly by scholars in our field, and by other academics and the general public. We are unsure of the responses we’ll get, in the form of students’ projects or our instructors’ course designs, and we anticipate that the responses may evolve over several semesters, which may in turn shape future iterations of the course. If, as Ruitenberg (2011) says, an ethic of hospitality entails that “the arrival of the guest may change the space into which he or she is received” (p. 32), then in the spirit of such hospitality, those of us who have designed the course—including past participants in CIWIC and DMAC—are opening ourselves up to ideas and approaches that will likely change the course, and possibly even our understanding of our discipline, in ways we couldn’t imagine now.


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Bibliography/Media

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