From technology classrooms to civic collaborations to sensory ethnographies, I employ rhetoric and design research as a lens to examine how audiences make meaning through their experience with new media. Placing emphasis on sensory modes of knowledge production allows me to bridge important gaps between 1) technical aspects of digital media production and 2) rhetorical aspects of how designed communication engages users, connects people and builds stronger communities. I’m especially invested in employing research-based design practices to bring about positive social change.
Aimée Knight and Austin Starin, (2015). “Designs of Meaning: Tools for Digital Storytellers.” Harlot: A Revealing Look at the Arts of Persuasion. No. 14.
“We tell digital stories all the time. Designs of Meaning is a toolkit to help tell them better. It asks both the how to and why questions. It’s for makers and doers. It’s for storytellers, craftspeople, and designers alike.”
Designs of Meaning seeks to better understand and communicate how digital stories rhetorically “work.” We focus on how stories are shared through multimodal platforms. A digital storytelling experience involves the central idea or story arc and how it engages the senses and creates meaning through the combination of its form and content. Here we draw across disciplinary borders – from rhetoricians, philosophers, aestheticians, social theorists, technologists, artists and interaction designers to offer storytellers a heuristic to compose and evaluate multimodal works. The editors (Kate Comer and Tim Jensen) believe that this article “has the potential to do exactly what Harlot aims to accomplish: to bridge the gap between academic and public conversations, to connect rhetorical theory and real-world practice.”
Steven Hammer and Aimée Knight, (2015). “Crafting Malfunction: Rhetoric and Circuit-bending.” Harlot: A Revealing Look at the Arts of Persuasion. No. 15.
Inviting practices like circuit-bending in the classroom privilege invention (acts of discovery) over convention (the ways things are usually done). Entering the composing process from this place students are freed from the usual small, structured set of conventional forms. Circuit-bending de-canonizes the process of making. There is no fear of doing something the right way. It helps students think about the nature of conventions and rhetorical situations while it also fosters students’ aptitude for creativity and invention.
Circuit-bending, an art practice developed in the 1960’s, involves the creative short circuiting of battery-powered toys and instruments. Like many of its avant-garde precursors, circuit-bending is a composition practice that values access, chance, and indeterminacy. For this special issue of Harlot, we document our own circuit-bending process and make connections between the work of Qubais Reed Ghazala, the pioneer of circuit-bending, and rhetoric and writing. Specifically, we discuss the importance of access and creativity, invention and discovery, and the ways that composition is a collaborative performance between humans and nonhumans.
Aimée Knight (2013). “Reclaiming Experience: the Aesthetic and Multimodal Composition.” Computers and Composition: an International Journal, 30(2): 146-155.
The empirical approach I construct adds to an understanding of aesthetic experience with media in order to render more transparent the ways in which an audience creates knowledge—or takes and makes meaning—via the senses. Significantly, this approach to meaning making supports learning in digital environments where students are increasingly asked to both produce and consume media convergent texts that combine multiple modalities including sound, image, and user interaction.
Recent scholarship points to the rhetorical role of the aesthetic in multimodal composition and new media contexts. In this print article I examine the aesthetic as a rhetorical concept in writing studies and imagine the ways in which this concept can be useful to teachers of multimodal composition. My treatment of the concept begins with a return to the ancient Greek aisthetikos (relating to perception by the senses) in order to discuss the aesthetic as a meaningful mode of experience. I then review European conceptions of the aesthetic and finally draw from John Dewey and Bruno Latour to help shape this concept into a pragmatic and useful approach that can compliment multimodal teaching and learning. The empirical approach I construct adds to an understanding of aesthetic experience with media in order to render more transparent the ways in which an audience creates knowledge—or takes and makes meaning—via the senses. Significantly, this approach to meaning making supports learning in digital environments where students are increasingly asked to both produce and consume media convergent texts that combine multiple modalities including sound, image, and user interaction.
Aimée Knight, Martine Courant Rife, Phill Alexander, Les Loncharich, Dànielle Nicole DeVoss, (2009). “About Face: Mapping Our Institutional Presence.” Computers and Composition: an International Journal, 26(3): 190-202.
“The ﬁeld of technical communication has, historically, emphasized document design; however, “design” is often scripted in, we think, rather anemic ways. Here we provide a lens that allows us to see beyond the technical and functional aspects of design, to interrogate the ways in which various digital design features work to craft program identity.”
As the lead author in this print article, I situated writing program websites as important institutional spaces that serve as interfaces to shared values, beliefs, and practices. In the writing of this article, I worked with my co-authors to develop a three-part framework to understand how websites of United States-based writing programs craft identity and anchor their programs. The aesthetic, cultural and institutional lenses we describe can be used by designers to both critique and create engaging digital environments that reflect the look and feel of university programs. We also analyzed the ways in which digital interfaces do and don’t mesh with what university programs say they value professionally and pedagogically.
Aimée Knight, (2015). “Design Philosophy for a Multimodal Composition Classroom.” Danielle DeVoss & James Purdy. (Eds.) Making Space: Writing Instruction, Infrastructure, and Multiliteracies with UM Press/Sweetland.
“Although individual teachers or collective departments might not see themselves as designers (or hackers for that matter), there are inevitably things we each want to change at our institutions. A design philosophy can set those changes in motion.”
This webtext/chapter explores the necessary rhetoric (or “Design Philosophy”) to design and build a classroom on campus. I tell the story behind the building of a multimedia production classroom, my department’s second classroom renovation to date. I also discuss how a design philosophy might help others interested in making arguments for effective classroom spaces.
Jentery Sayers, Virgina Kuhn, Aimée Knight, Elizabeth Losh, Jim Brown, Victoria Callahan, Viola Lasmana, and Melanie Yergeau, (2014). “Hacking the Classroom: Eight Perspectives.” Computers and Composition Online.
“In a collaborative learning space—everyone participates. Everyone works. There is no crowding around a single screen. There is no looking-on as someone else types and edits. There are no obstructed lines of sight. Students decide where, when, and how to use the technology, if at all. The technology does not dictate outcomes—it facilitates them.”
Here, eight authors discuss the question: “Why does the Higher Ed classroom need to be hacked, and how might we hack it?” In this webtext/video,”We Need to Talk,” I show two technology classrooms that I designed to bring people together in productive ways. By increasing human contact and communication the focus is placed on active, social, experiential learning (as the actual technology/hardware moves into the background to support communication and collaboration). Kristine Blair, editor of Computers and Composition Online describes the article thusly: “Evolving from a panel at the 2012 Computers and Writing Conference, contributors define hacking as a empowering, subversive process of “turning the critical gaze inward, rethinking institutional structures and practices, and revising them to foster new social relationships, pedagogies, and modes of inquiry.” Each of the perspectives offers localized practices for hacking similarly localized material, cultural, and ideological constraints upon more meaningful digital composing opportunities, calling for instructors to allow, as Elizabeth Losh puts, students to “steer the boat” in terms of allowing them to determine their own rhetorical exigencies. Inevitably, for these contributors, hacking is as much about transformation as it is critique and their suggested practices for both processes are models for the rest of us to follow.”
Aimée Knight, (2014). “Book Review: Designing Texts: Teaching Visual Communication.” Journal of Business and Technical Communication. 28(2): 249-253.
In this review, I discuss how the edited collection Designing Texts reflects the rich and varied state of the field of Visual Communication, by featuring theorists, pedagogies, and practices that are currently employed in visual communication classrooms. I emphasize a need to return to rhetorical theory in the teaching of visual communication in order to accommodate the needs of students who work within a variety of modes, media, and contexts.
In progress. “Live Cultures: ancient techniques in a modern world ” Cagliata con Rametti di Fico/Curd with Sprigs of Fig
“All over the world, traditional food products are disappearing, along with the knowledge, techniques, cultures and landscapes related to their production.”
Combining interests in technology, cultural rhetorics and sensory ethnography (working with embodied sensory forms of communication as tools), I am creating a series of documentary videos that examine traditional food practices as knowledge culture. I represent these practices, many which eschew modern technology, as culturally rhetorical acts—as valuable meaning-making practices that connect people to place. The first in this “Live Cultures” series features a small dairy located on a 17th century farm in Casal Moscatella, Italy where Antonio demonstrates a little-known technique to turn sheep’s milk into ricotta.
In progress.”Notes on writing about everyday objects: in this case, bread from Altamura”
If more small-scale purveyors framed their artisanal practices as meaningful, culturally rhetorical acts, this could ultimately be a step toward their preservation.”
The recipe for bead in Altamura, Italy has changed very little in 2000 years. Today the biodiversity of the wheat is in danger, as well as the cultural practice of baking the labor-intensive bread. In this essay, I go to the source to examine discourse surrounding the preservation of Pane di Altamura, including Protected Designation of Origin (DOP), Slow Food Presidia status and archival in the Sourdough Library in Belgium, all of which primarily focus on the technical aspects of bread making. I suggest that proactively building a community of practice around the protection of cultural heritage could not only help to sustain local culinary traditions but also help to revitalize local economies. Framing discourse with both product and cultural heritage in mind is a rhetorical strategy for local organizations and grassroots movements in order to continue to stay viable in today’s food economy.
In progress. Aimée Knight, (2017). “The Public Work of Digital Composition: Writing Toward an Ethic of Reciprocity”
This print article poses the following questions because I believe that writing with emerging communication technologies has a vital civic purpose and can inform new ways to write for change in our classrooms and in our communities: 1) How can the use of emerging communication technologies in the classroom be harnessed to embrace the public work of composition? 2) How can those who teach and learn with these technologies design projects that extend beyond traditional curricular boundaries to become agents of social change? 3) How might evaluation and assessment of such work cultivate a transformative ethic of reciprocity with/in our local communities?
I have worked over the past 17 years in community development as demonstrated by my work in Peace Corps (Poland XIV), Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World), The PhotoVoice Collective, Michigan State University’s Public Humanities Collaborative, and as a TEDx organizer. This civic engagement emphasis has only deepened and developed over time. Working at an institution which places a high value on civic engagement has provided me with unique opportunities to take a lead role in developing a new civic-minded academic department and to start a growing social media consulting enterprise for non-profits and community-based organizations in Philadelphia. My work with the Beautiful Social Collaborative is engaged scholarship.
Engaged scholarship is scholarship that puts the academic resources of the university to work in solving pressing public problems and thereby contributing to the public good. I founded this collaborative in 2010 to become the flagship research center for the new Communication Studies Department, which promotes engaged citizenship with and through digital technologies. The Beautiful Social Research Collaborative puts theory into practice by working with not-for-profit and community-based organizations in the Philadelphia area.
Through the Beautiful Social enterprise, students perform the public work of digital composition and literacy instruction to work with nonprofits and social entrepreneurs with modest resources to develop cutting-edge, web-based strategies. Beautiful Social participants research and design social media strategies (free of charge), consult and train nonprofit clients, work to create new knowledge, and promote the transfer of this knowledge to school, workplace, and community contexts.
To date, I have directed 50 digital writing projects with community partners including Ushahidi, the Ronald McDonald House of Philadelphia, and the American Diabetes Association. This work has translated into a productive research trajectory in the public work of composition. Each of these above mentioned projects has responded to community-identified needs, promoted civic engagement, and enriched the scholarship of the institution. In Fall 2014 Beautiful Social will become the recipient of a million dollar donor gift (the largest gift the College of Arts and Sciences at Saint Joseph’s University has received to date) to further the work this collaborative accomplishes in the Philadelphia area. Building on my scholarly article “The Public Work of Digital Composition: A Beautiful Social Collaborative,” my next goal is to assemble four years of research on engaged scholarship to write a book-length manuscript on writing with social media for community change. The book address the following topics:
My goal in writing this book will be to share this way of working in communities with other civic-minded digital writing professionals.