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Visual Rhetoric: Moving forward

I chose the Applications & Pedagogy week for my class presentation because it fits neatly into the larger plan I have for what I’ve hoped to get from this course: better application of visual rhetorical theory for my ENGL 1101 or 1102 students.  And by better, I mean introducing visual rhetoric at all.


I’ve avoided visual composition assignments because I wanted them to have a point. Because so much of my own experience in composition, both as a composer and as a student of its instruction, has been concerned with the verbal, taking on the visual has always seemed out of reach because I lacked the context of why my students should care or how they could benefit. As Brumberger astutely explains, “Most of our students have learned to talk – as we have – in verbal language, not in visual language” (378). I figured I would stick to the territory I knew I could cover and contextualize for them, thus I kept to verbal composition objectives and projects.

This was an especially frustrating compromise for me, having had a brief career in the graphic communications industry as a typographic, layout, and graphic designer. I knew personally the value of effective visual communication, and that there was plenty of theory on how to construct it, but I saw nothing I could use to link it to a composition course. Imagine my enthusiasm when I read Anne Wysocki’s suggestion that the incorporation of visual rhetoric into a writing class should not be undertaken based on the principals of graphic design alone; it is rare that you will locate justification for visual design elements based on rhetorical lines. Indeed, thinking back to the many guides, magazines, and anthologies I perused in my graphics days, I have difficulty recalling anything other than analyses of previously successful designs ever being offered as support of a design decision.


And so I turn to two of this week’s visual rhetoric authors (in a thoroughly verbal fashion), though I intend to cover more in tomorrow’s class. First continuing with Wysocki’s “On Visual Rhetoric,” I’ll expand on the reasons why teaching a solely verbal composition course has never sat well with me. On one hand, I recognize and endorse that FY comp instructors are the first – and too often only – instruction undergraduates will receive in how to write for college. I mean really write for college. Many students will leave the FYC classroom and go on to write more papers for other college instructors, and because those college instructors have no reason to think of writing as anything more than a means to an end, the instruction in writing never advances further. Here’s your term paper assignment, here is what I require it to display, and how you get there is up to you. What FYC instructors teach is how to interpret and negotiate the rhetoric of the college composition assignment. Most of those composition assignments will take the form of a verbal paper. Most, but not all.

On the other hand, Wysocki rightly argues the why of teaching a visual rhetoric: “To be responsible teachers, then, we need to help our students (as well as ourselves) learn how different choices in visual arrangement in all texts (on screen and off) encourage different kinds of meaning making—and encourage us to take up (overtly or no) various values. We need to learn how to analyze and create texts that do not ignore the visual if we are to be responsible and appropriately critical citizens” (4). Wysocki is speaking specifically about teaching writing with computers, but the lesson applies more broadly to the critical consumption we must teach composition students in (cliché time!) an increasingly visual world. It is a cliché, but is as occasionally the case, this cliché has root in truth. Wysocki wasn’t expressly considering the omnipresence of visual writing modes we interface with daily across multiple web-enabled platforms. Our students will continue to be flooded with visually constructed messages at an ever-higher rate. We must teach how to respond to that visual bombardment in their non-academic life, as well as teaching them how to fulfill the handful of visually-situated projects they may tackle as they complete their studies. In either situation, this rhetorical preparation is empowering.

That empowerment can be seen in Dr. Hocks’ 2003 College Composition and Communication article. The deconstruction of Christine Boese’s “Xenaverse” dissertation in Kairos highlights the multi-vectored navigation potential that a natively-visual composition possesses. While, as a fan of science fiction and fantasy, I never fell into the Xena scene, it was easy to overlay my own framework of choice: Star Trek. With that in mind, it was easy to see the broader appeal the Xena project had to the type of die-hard fan Boese’s dissertation assumed, and how appealing the described navigation options would be for a visitor to the webtext. A similar type of user-negotiated learning or text engagement appears also in the Spelman “Colorblind Casting in Shakespeare” project. As Hocks notes, the “hybridity” of the project allowed the creators to exist both as students learning from the contributions of site visitors, but also as “professional” composers of the visual and verbal components of an enriching discussion about a fascinating topic amongst other theatre students and theatre veterans.

The ability to move around these sites/webtexts at will to whatever subtopic interests the individual visitor, and to create a self-negotiated relationship with the content contained within, recalls the now commonplace experience of losing hours chain-clicking through Wikipedia articles. Much like Wysocki suggests, this isn’t a solely design-driven or visual experience. The blending of verbal rhetoric to explain and detail, and the visual to contextualize and situate, represents the best potential one can hope for in visually rhetorical project.


This week is a welcome capstone to the course, as I intend for my final project to be the production of usable visual rhetoric course materials for the first-year composition students I will teach in the future. Over the next few weeks, I will continue to update this space with the accumulating fruits of my efforts. As this week’s class presentation leads into the final project, I’ll post more on the pedagogy of visual rhetoric in the composition classroom. I’ll return to some of the other texts from this week that I couldn’t cover in this blog post as well as other voices as they find their way into my course pedagogy. 


Visual Rhetoric: The Frustrating Frontier

Hansens_final_logBig shocking announcement: I’m a Star Trek nerd. I know, I know… I carried that secret so well for so many years, you can be excused for not knowing until I decided to let on just now.

All kinds of arguments can be made about why pre-teen me attached himself so firmly to Star Trek (specifically The Next Generation): maybe it was accessible morality plays and overlays of real world issues (like all good sci fi); perhaps I appreciated the role models of strong, thoughtful, responsible men when I  lacked a positive father figure; Trek certainly offered escapism from middle school unpopularity. All of those arguments would be valid, but for a child growing up on the cusp of the tech revolution, I also liked the shiny high-tech world the Enterprise crew inhabited. I of course liked high-profile devices like phasers, photon torpedoes, and tricorders, but also ranking highly amongst those devices was the PADD (personal access display device). I think it was easy and compelling to see the power of having access to a computer in the palm of your hand.

Move forward two decades and we have the realization of the PADD in the form of the iPad (that had to factor at least marginally in the naming choice, right?) and other tablet media devices. I’ll skip past the “magical” and “revolutionary” Apple product intro talking points – we can suffice with the fact that these are great, versatile devices that have opened up avenues of access and media saturation far broader than we could have imagined when they were non-functioning slabs of plastic on our television screens in 1990.

Yet these devices aren’t perfect. Perhaps we’re still in the phase of initial remediation Delagrange details in Chapter 2 of Technologies of Wonder, because I’m pretty sure that the Enterprise crew never had to deal with issues of media compatibility, non-supported file formats, and locked-in, low-functionality mobile versions of websites that were the only option for PADD access. We want our iPads to be universally functional stand-ins for books, full-OS desktops/laptops, and television, but we have to get by right now knowing that most things will work really well, but that we’ll also encounter the occasional website or service that just can’t translate to the tablet experience. It is then that we become acutely aware of the mode and its effect on the media we are trying to consume.

Delagrange notes the problems we may be experiencing right now as we realign our interactions and expectations of media:

With all media, but particularly with new media, the viewer experiences an oscillation between immediacy, the sense of immersion in or “liveness” of the medium, and hypermediacy, the ways in which the medium calls attention to its mediation . . . for most people, immediacy—a transparently “real” experience of a medium that erases the frame and appears to provide unmediated access to its content—is the over-arching desire of new media, and the desire of their users. (27)

And a bit later:

Hypermediacy, on the other hand, which calls attention to its mediation through the accumulative effect of stacking, layering, linking, juxtaposing, and other visual, verbal, and aural strategies, would seem to resist a unified perspective, offering a multiplicity of points of view on every screen … hypermediacy only reminds users of the immediacy they desire. If this is the unstated goal of remediation—a “new, improved” way to inhabit the same old unexamined Cartesian spaces and relations of knowledge and power—it is little wonder that conventional, conservative, transparent practices of “appropriate” academic discourse tend to reassert themselves in new media spaces. (27)

When the effect of this remediation kicks in fully, we’re reminded that we’ve not chosen the “real” thing. This reminder carries with it all the thoughts new media doesn’t want us to think – frustrations that content doesn’t “just work,” belief that the mode being used is amateurish or underdeveloped, or half-hearted plans to revisit the content in its optimized mode later – all of which risk translating into a negative reader judgment regarding the author(s) and their work.

Delagrange notes that this type of remediation struggle has occurred in preceding format expansions such as painting-to-photography, stage-to-film, radio-to-TV. I’m acutely aware that in these moments there were doomsayers that history looked badly upon once the shift was fully realized and it was clear the world had kept on spinning, so I won’t proclaim the sky is falling. I will note, however, that this shift is objectively different and may therefore produce different results. These medium shifts that precede were generally 1:1, content in one ubiquitous format moving to another eventually ubiquitous format. This shift from all of the above to new media is multi-channel. We have dozens of different options for consuming any single type of media, including the academy’s ongoing discussion. One app will work with a handful of streams, but not another handful of other sources. Content providers or device manufacturers, through business arrangements or self-promotion, choose to actively preclude certain providers’ streams altogether. On top of that, hardware in use is in varying degrees of compatibility. I can’t really use an iPad 1 anymore because Apple has stopped updating its OS and the apps I use to consume media streams are increasingly less compatible with the older, slower, less-capable iOS 5x. In a fundamental way, this fractured pressure to consume different streams, in different spaces, and on different devices will stand as a barrier to hypermedia unifying to monolithic, ubiquitous standard for quite some time, and perhaps indefinitely. This is a disincentive to publish in new media. We’re familiar with the channels we’ve been using for so long, and we can’t unify between one or even a small handful of channels, so the new media alternative is inherently more fragmented.

I’d like to think that in the unseen moments of Star Trek, we see Worf snarling and hurling his decrepit and barely functioning iPADD 35 across his quarters because the app he used to fill out his routine security briefings has crashed one too many times. His dark mood will continue into the turbolift to the bridge, where a smug Riker will sing the virtues of his iPADD 37S, and where Data will innocently (and therefore annoyingly to Worf) outline the virtues of the most recent build of Android OS.  Maybe that’s why Worf is always in such a dour state.

Visual Rhetoric

I’ll continue to use the 8900 tag for my most recent class to feature use of my blog. Prior to January 2014, anything tagged 8900 will reference Computers and Writing class from Fall 2012. Going forward, expect content relevant to a Visual Rhetorics course.

Edit: Dr. Hocks has provided a much clearer way for me to to incorporate the Visual Rhetoric iteration of 8900, and I don’t know why I sought to make it harder on myself. Thus, all Visual Rhetoric posts will be prefixed … pause for dramatic effect … Visual Rhetoric.

Thanks, Dr. Hocks.

Probably Cats: Dexter, dedicated

Early last November we said goodbye to our loving, sweet-natured, 3.5-year-old kitty, Dexter. As some of you know, Dexter’s loss was particularly tough on both Jess and I not only because he was so young, but because we spent over two months doing everything possible to help him overcome a series of recurring urinary blockages and watching the physical toll it took on him in his final weeks of life. He maintained his indomitable spirit throughout and would have kept on fighting, but one final intractable blockage forced our hand and made us concede that our time left with him was to be numbered in days instead of weeks, months, or years.

Within hours of seeing him through to the end of his pain, I think we had both decided to get memorial tattoos. Thus began a long process of debating just what was best to use to enshrine Dexter’s life on my skin forever. I would debate paw prints on my shoulders (he loved to jump onto my shoulders at any opportunity), pictures of his face, or any of a dozen cat memorial tattoo designs I had seen in browsing for inspiration. I never felt 100% on board with any of those options; paw prints were meaningful, but I couldn’t find a design that felt individual to Dexter; I feared a face tattoo not turning out perfect and thus making me regret the decision; I saw many other sweet ideas out there, but wanted something tailored to a meaningful moment with Dexter specifically. What I ultimately called upon came from what would turn out to be one of our last good moments with Dexter, a final weekend to cuddle, play, pet, pamper, and connect with him before we said goodbye.

He had been sent home from the vet’s office, his bladder drained as much as possible via needle, and stocked with several days of painkillers. We all knew that we’d be back within a few days. That weekend was an amazing gift. He was in the best spirits we’d seen him in a while: affectionate, talkative, playful, snuggly, and voraciously eating all the tuna and grass we could offer him. Dexter also got to accomplish something he’d attempted for years without success.

Dexter had one toy that he loved above all others: a squid on a stick.


He wasn’t big on playing with toys usually, but if you pulled even the very end of the stick from the closet — even the squidless end — he would excitedly “mrrrp” his battle cry and fling himself against his nemesis again and again. His battles usually ended in a stalemate where he would seize the throat of his quarry, but somehow never manage to dislodge it from its tether. The squid inevitably would escape, wrapping itself around its home pole, and secret itself away until it would appear some weeks later. This cycle repeated for years with no clear victory to be had.

That weekend, Dexter finally conquered the Squid. When once again he had taken to furiously pulling and backing away with his wriggling prey, he set in for the long haul. He held that squid firmly between his teeth for a full ten minutes before, with one final great straining heave, something snapped. The squid was free! Dexter trotted around the apartment for minutes, proudly holding the now stickless squid up for hisIMG_1226 and parents to see. He would occasionally drop the now defeated archenemy, lick his paws contentedly as he admired his spoils, then pick it up to continue his victory lap. He revisited it several times over the next 48 hours, perhaps still proud of his accomplishment even as the building pressure in his bladder began to distract him.

We still have the defeated squid, and it sits in my desk drawer until we decide what final fate is befitting so glorious a war trophy, but it did serve well in one final task for Dexter today. I took it in with me to Timeless Tattoos where one of the artists, Dave, gladly took up the project of creating a different kind of memorial tattoo. I gave him only the squid and one vague example of what might be good from something I found online, but he did the rest. I sat in Dave’s chair and spent the next two and a half hours reflecting on all that ever made me happy about Dexter, from the way he’d bark impatiently at me when I was taking too long in coming upstairs at the end of the night to the way he’d silently implore me to turn on the kitchen faucet for just a moment even though I knew it risked making me late for work or school. During that time, I explained what happened to Dexter and why I had chosen this particular item to become his memorial. He nodded as he continued his work, mentioning how he too had lost a cat at a young age. After a few touchups and many compliments on the results, Jess and I were about to leave before he said he had something else to show us. He hiked up one of the legs of his shorts to reveal a small, blue Eeyore on his thigh. He said “I know what it’s like. I have this for my dog. It’s his favorite toy. I’m sorry for your loss.” I thanked him and left, still somewhat in shock at how well the tattoo turned out.

So here, at length, is the picture of Dexter in his moment of triumph on that final beautiful weekend and of my new tattoo honoring him.  As I said to Dave this afternoon, Dexter may not have gotten the chance to live the lifetime he should have, but now I can carry something of him forward along with me for all the years I have left.


Round 2

I’ve been recuperating after the two-week marathon of reading and writing that brought the Fall 2012 semester to a close. Thinking back on it now, I can reasonably guestimate that between the student papers I had to read (finals, revisions of earlier assignments) and my own projects I had to complete, I read or wrote somewhere near 120,000 words from November 30th – December 12th. I had originally intended to write this reflective piece after finishing the first semester, but think now that it was better to wait (read: be lazy). I’ve gotten some distance, and my brain has reassembled somewhat. I’m ready to move forward.

In moving forward, I feel I must look back on what I managed to accomplish in my first semester teaching College Composition I, and what I can be applied to College Comp II, which I start teaching this week. I’m trying to keep an eye toward the student experience. As I’ve acknowledged here already, I know that I defaulted to a mode of instruction too basic and safe: four papers, too much lecture, reliance on teaching the classic research paper model as the exemplar of college writing. For the uninitiated, this of course sounds like what students should be learning, so why would I be dissatisfied? I absolutely do not regret covering what I did. A first-year writing course should be concerned with coherence, detail, support, revision, research, audience, among many other aspects of “good” writing. So my first semester teaching comp was a success in that I covered what I needed to, but was that enough? I don’t think so.

I’d like for students to be engaged by more than an expectation that they will be engaged – I want that to be a more natural, organic relationship than my last class necessarily supported. I think a lot of the difference between a merely successful learning experience and a valuable learning experience comes from this gap. I also want to tread carefully here; I’m fully aware of the cliché college instructor in jeans and corduroy blazer, pleading for his students to “write whatcha feeeeeel, man!” Assignments and activities have to mean something to the student, but I am here to accomplish the above musts of a composition course.

I’ll have the opportunity to apply these lessons to College Comp I (1101) the next time I take up sections, presumably next fall semester, but I’ve also let this dissatisfaction inform how I approach College Comp II. I’ve decided to abandon the series of increasingly difficult papers model and instead focus directly on the writing process in manner that will be more innately appealing. I hope to do that in two ways. First I’ve organized the material of the course around something contemporary that many students are already steeped in without knowing it. Using the (E)Dentity reader (edited by Stephanie Vie), a collection of somewhat recent essays on issues of digital identity and negotiating online experiences, I believe students will find the topic relevant to whatever modes/arenas they conduct themselves in digitally. This is hopefully scalable across multiple levels of digital identification, from the deeply-immersed to those who may have little or no online presence. Ideally, everyone can find a place on the spectrum where they can say “here is where I am comfortable” or another where they can say “here is where I want to be.” The challenge from this topic will be keeping the conversation from reducing down too simply about services and ignoring deeper thought about digital identity.

The second way I anticipate this model can help students is by trying to replicate a level of scholarship that should hopefully exceed the complexity of writing they’d face in the near future. Essentially, I hope to have them construct a significant piece of scholarship that they can be confident would measure up to the scrutiny of the same community we constantly ask them to draw from for their research – academic research journals and edited collections. This may seem like too much to ask of someone so new to college-level writing, but I believe it can be reduced down to a series of parts that, taken alone, wouldn’t be cause for much stress. This is where the emphasis of process comes in, by showing how simple it is to assemble a process that accomplishes a great deal of work – something will be asked of them countless times over the next 3+ years of education. It may seem hard – and it would be insanely harsh of me to ask for what I will if I did so as a final paper assigned only weeks before it was due – but my ambition is to show them the benefit of a plan.

I’m fortunate in that I’ve recently experienced a unique approach to doing just this. Toward the end of my MA studies at University of Michigan-Flint, James Schirmer conducted a summer session graduate class modeled loosely after the idea of a “Book Sprint.” In short, the ~15 grad students in that class collaboratively conceived, planned, researched, and wrote an edited collection on a single topic, with the idea of book-level publishability as an end goal. I loved the class concept and enjoyed the process. It made a large project accessible and frankly not at all intimidating. I hope to replicate that same effect for my Comp II students. From my syllabus, introducing the modified version of the course James and I have come to call Text Dash:

This section of ENGL 1102 is modeled loosely on a method of compressed, focused, collaborative writing academics sometimes use to rapidly produce a collection of scholarship on a narrowly-defined topic. In a traditional “Text Dash,” the text is crafted from idea to finished product over the course of a long weekend. In ENGL 1102 we have the opportunity to space that out a little more. Over the course of the semester, you will gradually build the familiarity, resources, and skills necessary to collaboratively produce a well-informed and informative text of scholarship.

At the end of this course, you should be more than prepared to meet the demands of the academic writing assignments you will encounter as you continue at Georgia State University. (emphasis added here)

The Text Dash model will take students from familiarizing themselves with the in-progress discussion, through deciding what they can add to that discussion, to writing a fully realized, coherent, collaborative discussion of their own. From there, the course will replicate the process of taking on so large a project, and as a result, more organically cover all the things we think “good” writing must exhibit. The course will be divided into phases of preparation, research, drafting, and revision before submitting a “final” copy. Only one single paper will be written throughout the entire semester, but the process will space students evenly through the major requirements of pretty much any sizeable writing project, and all with the goal of something in-depth and publishable.

The last sentence from the syllabus above is exactly what I want from this course and why, as daunting as this class may sound to my students now, I’m betting they will stick around. While I won’t necessarily ask the same length of writing that such edited collections normally would, and my primary aim is not to actually publish their work (putting completely aside concerns of whether I even can ask them to put their work out, or what form it can legitimately take), I do hope they arrive on the other side of the class thinking that it wasn’t all that bad taking on so large a project. Ideally, the projects they face in the coming semesters can then be greeted not with panic or stress, but instead with “I’ve done something bigger than this. Let’s get started.”

8900: Reflection

Thus far

Up to this point in the class, a simple thing has had the biggest impact on me professionally: expanding the definition of “composition.” I can’t begin to answer why it’s so, but I realize I have had a very restrained interpretation of that word when it came to first year composition courses. Even though I knew composition happens in many modes, I kept thinking writing, teaching writing, the writing process, and how writing is supported. Somewhat blithely, and despite many experiences and discussions that should have expanded my viewpoint, I kept focused on how I would be a writing instructor.

The past weeks of visual literacy work have had the biggest impact so far. Here again, understanding what is included in “composition” is key. When thinking about visual rhetoric, I recall that I’ve always been intrigued by the use of visual presentations in composition classes, but felt their inclusion risked missing the valuable development of writing. In this retrospect, I can’t fathom how I never made a stronger connection in my own mind. As discussed in an earlier blog post, I realized that when faced with the wide-open world of options on how to teach, I simplified things by retreating to a very analog format.

And so now I turn to reconciling this refined definition with my formative pedagogy. Already I’ve decided to get more visual than I might have without this insight. In the past few weeks, more of my in-class exercises have included visual elements, and I’ve already decided that digital and social writing will feature much more prominently the next time I lead a section of English 1101. A simple change to my current run was to reform the ongoing writing project I had planned (which I was reluctantly about to make a simple journal) into an ongoing discussion to prepare for the term’s final project, an open-topic research paper. A series of low-stakes uLearn discussion board posts have done far more to get my 1101 classes thinking about their writing processes than a simple open-ended free writing journal could. It’s not without its flaws and I’ve yet to see the final results of course, but I expect this simple use of digital writing in their composition processes has done a great deal of good. Perhaps a critical strength of this approach is my non-involvement with their discussion. I’ve divested myself, at least temporarily, of the be-all for how they approach their topic. The longer I can keep their perception of my perception off their minds, the more they can learn about how they compose.

For English 1102, which I assume I’ll have for at least one section next semester, I’m already planning to further open student writing to larger feedback by moving to a unified course blog. While it may be too late within my syllabus structure to effectively do so for Fall, my Spring classes will definitely feature a wholly visual project as one of the major grades. I look forward to convincing them the hallowed criteria for effective verbal writing are still relevant to effective visual writing.

Toward the end

Looking now at the end project, I’m going a slightly different direction. Back in my Graduate Resource Network presentation for Computers and Writing 2011, I began the process of looking into a thorny issue I faced several times at my writing center at University of Michigan-Flint. Inspired largely by a tutorial gone horribly wrong earlier that year (Wherein one slipped through a crack), I asked a vague question about how universities deal with the truly rare, truly technologically unaware/incapable – the people Prenksy must’ve had in mind as the worst of the Digital Immigrants. I’ve yet to experience this type of tutorial here at GSU, but I’m convinced this type of student can be found anywhere.

At the time I wrote that post, I was thinking of it from just the tutor perspective. That may endure as I take this project forward, seeing as writing center theory and practice continues as my main research interest. Regardless, it’s a question that all of composition theory must address, and that computers and composition researchers may be able to help me answer: since we must accept that in times of economic recession, non-traditional students enter college for the first time with little or no functional computer literacy, then must we develop a strategy to mitigate this disadvantage?

This recalls the earlier weeks of 8900 where, along with Selfe, we acknowledge that failing to expose students to computers denies them computer literacy. Now it has shifted. Functional literacy, if not proficiency, has become the standard assumption. Yet we will continue to have students who do not or cannot this expectation. How do we accommodate them? Is this illiteracy statistically present enough to even bother with? How should we address it if we decide we have this obligation?

Like during my feedback session at the GRN, I’m struggling with the feeling that I don’t know if I’ve refined a research question well enough to take this on, or if I should even consider the topic under my authority.

8900: Visual Literacy/Rhetoric

This week’s topic of visual literacy/rhetoric was a challenge for me to collect into handful of coherent takeaways. I purposely read Dr. Hocks’ Understanding Visual Rhetoric last in this group of four to forestall any bias I might take into the other readings; similar to Elbow’s awareness of the internal editor impinging on writing decisions (in Stroupe 613), I was concerned a familiarity with our instructor’s thoughts on the topic would naturally skew the conclusions I would draw from Arola, George, and Stroupe. That still happened, but because Hocks gives us a convenient way to organize our understanding of visual literacy and rhetoric in digital environments. While we certainly cannot ignore the non-digital in the composition classroom, I’d wager no one disagrees that digital comprises the vast majority of what our students engage with in visual composition.

From Hocks we can derive three statements about “how visual rhetoric operates in digital writing environments” (632): Authors define the audience stance, controlling interactivity for their audience; digital texts are degreed in their transparency, using established conventions of other media to reduce or eliminate audience awareness of the conveying medium or interface; and the merging of visual and verbal elements creates hybridity, a whole composition experience that may be greater than the sum of its parts.

I’m not sure if it was Dr. Hocks’ intention in selecting these pieces, but we can find something in each reading that lines up with audience stance, transparency, and hybridity.


I’ll turn first to Craig Stroupe’s Visualizing English. Stroupe argues in 2000 that the future for every instructor in every sub-discipline under the loose heading of English will necessarily entail coexistence with web or other digital authorship: “The discipline needs to decide not only whether to embrace the teaching of visual and information design in addition to verbal production … but, more fundamentally, whether to confront its customary cultural attitudes toward visual discourses and their insinuation into verbal texts” (608).

Stroupe hoped that if departments chose to engage with this challenge – to accept a hybridity of composition discourse, it would lead to an equalization of the marginalized and the privileged programs (609). This argument is pursued with a comparison between the expressivist theory of Peter Elbow and the function-minded theory behind a then current web design software guide. Stroupe finds unexpected unity between the two. Similar to Elbow’s belief that unencumbered espressivism leads to purer, stronger writing, Stroupe says of web design, “What distinguishes the truly powerful and effective Web author is the degree of control that he or she can have on the reader’s experience of visual layout and graphic display as mediated through the intervening tangle of technologies” (614).


In Diana George’s From Analysis to Design, we get a strong argument in favor of actively seeking to include more visual projects within the composition classroom. George draws the crux of her point early, referencing the effect of visual composition projects constructed by her own students. She relates the impact left by wholly visual presentations made by her students on the fate of post-colonial Africa; these presentations still carried the same goals of a traditional composition assignment, but George believes the visual’s capacity to effectively communicate is going unnoticed by composition instructors. “The work of these students and others like them has convinced me that current discussions of visual communications and writing instruction have only tapped the surface of possibilities for the role of visual communication in the composition class … our students have a much richer imagination for what we might accomplish with the visual than our journals have yet to address” (12). In this we see students understanding their power of controlling audience stance, and then using that agency to create a visual experience that in turn fosters a very carefully constructed message – just like the ideal of written or verbal composition.

George seeks to enhance understanding of the effects of visual communication and learning in the composition classroom, and makes a different call for instructors of composition than “a vague call for attention to ‘visual literacy’” (15). George instead wants composition instructors to understand that to students in the composition classrooms of today, the visual is what they have grown up with and know very well. Our students’ visual culture (an appraisal also certainly truer now than in the article’s publication year of 2003) prepares them to communicate in a more effectively visual way than we may be anticipating as their instructors.

George embarks on fostering this understanding by revisiting past run-ins between verbal composition traditionalism and emerging visual medias. This has happened repeatedly in the several decades past as composition instructors at first resisted, then accepted the encroachment of photography, film, comics, or television into their students’ extracurricular experiences. It seems, though, that despite this constant pressure, we have only recently begun to accept or actively promote the more visual forms of composition and expression.


Finally, in Kristin Arola, we have a more current appraisal of the effectiveness in web design, speaking directly to issues of transparency in web design – coincidentally a popular venue of visual composition. Starting first with her own progressive experience in web design, Arola sings the virtues of maintaining holistic composition through the ability to manipulate every single part of a web design. Recalling the first time she created a web page at the HTML code/Photoshop level, “I felt powerful creating my own designs, and for the first time ever I felt technologically literate” (4).

What concerns Arola is the effect of the “Web 2.0” shift on web authoring. After dismaying at her students’ seeming indifference to ownership of online content in the age of Facebook and other social media, Arola relays:

As one student smartly analogized to me, ‘Just because I can drive a car doesn’t mean I can fix one.” The more seamless and invisible the technology becomes, the less we tend to  know about how it works. As our students’ lives become more seamlessly enmeshed with the Internet, the less they know about web development. (5)

The rise of form-generated editing (such as Facebook and blog services like WordPress) removes a critical aspect of visual composition, according to Arola: no matter how much control one has over the content – the words – that appears in theses spaces, the removal of total control of its appearance and context has the potential to undo the liberation of expression brought about by the web explosion. When removed from the sandbox of open web development, Arola worries that students lose agency over design, and therefore message.


So after turning the three prongs of audience stance, hybridity, and transparency on our other three authors of the week, I’ll attempt to sum up some response I personally had to this week’s reading.

My biggest takeaway was probably in response to Arola, and it’s probably in no small part because she writes much closer to our timeframe. The “Web 2.0” thing has been a source of mild befuddlement for me. Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web protocols, sees this term as a meaningless jargon word. According to Berners-Lee, and I’m in total agreement, what we call Web 2.0 is just the natural progress of how the web was always going to turn out – a content-driven, user-centric share point of information. And it’s no surprise that something so writing-based would be catching the notice of composition theory. As we’ve said several times in class now, it’s a fallacy that social networks are destroy writing; students write for themselves more often now than at any time in modern education’s history.

Yet I see Arola’s point. I too felt powerful when I created my first crap website, a pathetic little thing in 1999 where I felt compelled to share my poetry with the masses (no, I will not be sharing any archives of the link). I manually coded every page of that site, and probably agonized far too much on the design decisions considering I probably only ever had three unique visitors beside myself. Yet still, it was wholly my creation. It was my choice of style.

Ultimately, I don’t think we can fret too much over the lack of open sandbox web design in our post-2.0 world. I don’t think the immutability of template-driven content delivery really threatens to reverbalize student writing. For those who find the paradigm just too restrictive, they’re still able to learn web design as they wish. For the many of us who fall in the middle of having significant digital content to deliver because its online publication has value to us, but who lack current web authoring skills, I doubt the web authoring landscape is so hostile as to keep us quiet. Besides that, web developers are constantly re-enabling us with more media-sharing and remediation options.

If I had wanted to manually code last week’s 8900 blog post, I would have written 77,410 characters across 1314 lines of HTML, and that’s completely apart from the graphic aspects of my design. If anything, services like WordPress are freeing by eliminating the bottleneck of design over content. Like Arola’s student, there will be a point where anything I can conceive my web design will need to do will be available transparently, and I won’t need to know how it works. That’s good enough for me, and I’d wager the vast majority of those who compose digitally.