Writing. Design. Social Change.

Posts tagged ‘Digital’

Kuhn, V., Johnson, D. J., & Lopez, D. (2010). Speaking with Students: Profiles in Digital Pedagogy. Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy, 14(2).

This webtext features a dozen video-profiles of students in University of Southern California’s Institute for Multimedia Literacy (IML) honors program. All students in the program complete scholarly multimedia thesis projects in their respective major. These snapshots feature students reflecting on their thesis projects in digital media, which demonstrate a range of student work in new media including SecondLife, Flash, and the open source program Sophie. In making this project, Kuhn accounts for the aesthetic sensibilities of each student’s video profile in order to protect the integrity of the work: “In short, the look and feel, or the tone of the project should translate from thesis project to thesis profile.”

Videos show students discussing their projects and the heuristic by which their thesis projects were evaluated:

assessment multimodalThis webtext argues for the importance of creating a lexicon to assess digital work. Not just the domain of the “bean counters,” rigorous new media assessments can help students, academics and administrators understand the “nuances and sophistication” of new media compositions.

Unfortunately, I found this Flash-based webtext somewhat maddening. I accidentally closed it numerous times.
Note: The heuristic above was introduced to digital writing studies as an assessment method in Kuhn’s 2008 Kairos webtext, ‘‘The Components of Scholarly Multimedia at http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/12.3/topoi/gallery/index.html
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Cheryl Ball. “Assessing Scholarly Multimedia: A Rhetorical Genre Studies Approach,” Technical Communication Quarterly 21: 61-77, 2012

I appreciate the frank, personable, helpful tone of this article. It sounds very much like Ball’s voice, sitting down and having a chat with the reader about multimodal composition, sharing some interesting work by others, telling stories about her own classroom experience assigning and assessing webtexts, creating rubrics with students, what works, what doesn’t. Her experience comes across at every turn – her ethos is everywhere.  And that makes the article highly readable and engaging.

She draws from her familiarity and expertise with assessing webtexts (scholarly multimedia compositions) in her capacity as editor for the journal Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy. The purpose of the article is to explore

“how to ask students to compose scholarly multimedia and how to assess their work (63).”

She explores these issues through the lens of her own experience teaching numerous iterations of a course in Multimodal Composition. Students in the course complete a webtext project (scaffolded through a series of assignments [64]), which could be submitted to a digital journal, like Kairos, C&C Online, X= Changes, or The JUMP (Journal for Undergraduate Multimedia Projects). After serious discussion, she describes how her class arrived at appropriate evaluation measures for their projects, which they refer to as Kuhn + 2. These involve:

  • Conceptual Core
  • Research Component
  • Form and Content
  • Creative Realization

+2

  • Audience
  • Timeliness

*See review of Kuhn and pages 65-68 for more details

Ball warns (and rightly so) that this heuristic should not be adopted blindly by teachers of multimodal composition. She explains that this rubric serves her purpose for one particular situation, for one audience, at one point in time (63). Furthermore she emphasizes that rubrics need “to be created fresh” (68), meaning that Kuhn + 2 is not one size fits all. Importantly, Ball emphasizes the importance of making our own, to meet the task at hand, with student input.

In this article Ball also offers some sage advice to webtext authors regarding design concepts, especially how form/content work together: “(a) Your design should enact your argument, and (b) To come up with that design, think of a visual metaphor for your argument (68). *See Susan Delagrange’s 2009 Wunderkammer piece for its exemplarily form and content.

She later notes: “…students should be articulating their design choices (form/content relationship) as rhetorical, aesthetic, technological, and other choices that make sense for the conceptual core of a piece given the medium they have chosen to best present their concept” (70). Although Ball doesn’t explicitly state what an “aesthetic choice” is or could be, I am happy to see it mentioned here. I see is it as part of my own project to explore what we mean when we speak of the aesthetic aspects of multimodal composition.

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Wysocki, Anne Frances. “awaywithwords: On the Possibilities in Unavailable Designs.Computers and Composition 22.1 (2005): 55-62.

In this article Wysocki seeks to find what is gained and what is lost in communicative practices and is an extension of Kress’ article “Gains and Losses.” Specifically she focuses on how the digital age has changed our awareness of the visuality of texts. She reflects on our material choices in writing and how those choices can in/form us. She states: “I have learned in the process of developing communications that it is always worth asking how our materials have acquired the constraints they have and hence why, often, certain materials and designs are not considered available for certain uses” (Wysocki 2005: 56). Asking about our constraints, our assumptions “can help us understand how material choices in producing communications articulate to social practices we may not otherwise with to reproduce” (56).

This article is helpful in two ways:

1) It discusses the push toward a more rhetorical focus on teaching new media: Wysocki engages Kress’s scholarship on word and image and agrees with his call to promote a more rhetorical focus on teaching. As Kress writes: “In this social and cultural environment, with these demands for communication of these materials, for that audience, with these resources, and given these interests of mine, what is the design which best meets these requirements?”

2) It discusses another trend—the theme of design: “As the New London Group described the design process, communicators draw on available designs in designing (which includes ‘reading, seeing, and listening (New London Group 2000: 22) which involves re-presenting and recontextualizing available designs in order to develop the redesigned, which is always a “transformed meaning,” “founded in historically and culturally received patterns of meaning” (New London Group 200: 23). It would seem appropriate to link this with Kostelnick’s Shaping Information. Wysocki sys: “this process can imply certain circularity, with the redesigned then becoming itself an available design for the next go-round.” (Wysocki 60).  

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 Dan Harries. The New Media Book. London: BFI Pub., 2002.

In the preface to The New Media Book, the term new media is questioned. The author determines that it has become an effective catchword both as a description of the digital delivery of media via the internet, DVD and digital television and as a reference to the ‘newness’ such technologies have brought to media more generally. But what makes new media ‘new’? Is it the ways in which we interact with media? Is it the new convergences (and bundling) of media technologies? Or is it the increasing interdependence (and overlap) of various media products? In short, the answer it that the ‘newness’ of new media can be attributed to all of these factors.

In the essay “The New Intertextual Commodity” by P. David Marshall, references the new ‘play aesthetic’ in regard to video games. However this ‘play aesthetic’ is never really defined—but I infer that it has something to do with entertainment and the centrality of play in today’s video game market. It also has to do with interactivity with cultural forms. The authors are using aesthetic for something like ethos or philosophy or culture. The new play ethos. The new play philosophy. The new play culture. Here aesthetic aspects of play do not figure in the discussion. (Pages 78, 80). What are they? The author doesn’t address this. I find this ludicrous.

In “The Impact of Digital Technologies on Film Aesthetics,” Michael Allen looks at the effects of the digital on previous media technologies, such as celluloid film in order to “examine the ways in which digitally produced images have changed the formal parameters of the modern film text.” [It seems to me that something I can work toward is an examination of the ways in which new media has changed the formal parameters of engagement with texts—and part of this is a revisioning of the aesthetic]. Halfway through the essay Allen mentions aesthetics for the first and only time. He theorizes that narrative (in a new media context) has three functions: the aesthetic, the ideological and the cognitive. He states:

Aesthetically, the function of the narrative is to arouse emotion or give pleasure; to create a simulacrum of the world or preserve one’s experience in the face of death. The key question is which stories arouse the greatest range and depth of response (121).

Where does this theory come from? What is its basis? How can it be applied? 

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Hocks, Mary E., and Michelle R. Kendrick, eds.  Eloquent Images: Word and Image in the Age of New Media. Cambridge, MA:  MIT Press, 2003.

Eloquent Images seeks to understand if new media/digital media should be understood as a “pastiche of existing forms of inquiry and communication” or if new media/digital media represents a paradigm shift that necessitates “new methods of inquiry and understanding” (Hocks and Kendrick 2).  The essays show that there is no answer, no single approach, no official way to understand new media but instead show the varied possibilities for understanding new media including the rhetorical and the cultural. Most essays here take up the textual vs. the visual debates. Many of the critiques discuss the complicated intersections of the text and the image, as the title suggests, with much historical emphasis. Interestingly, the authors claim that the aesthetic approach to new media is a “purely formal” one and that it is isolated from production and rhetorical contexts. Of course, I see the aesthetic as incorporating the formal, cultural and rhetorical aspects, etc….so I see am going to have to address this.)

Of the essays in this collection, one of the most interesting is Jay David  Bolter’s essay “Critical Theory and the Challenge of New Media.” In this chapter he demonstrates the need for a new critical theory that can merge cultural and historical issues as well as formal issues of design” (33). He continues to describe what a critical theory of new media should do: “ A new critical theory is needed that can make us aware of the cultural and historical contexts (and ideologies) without dismissing or downplaying the formal characteristics of new media. This theory needs to explain these formal characteristics without explaining them away, because practitioners have no choice: If they wish to create successful product, they must attend to these formal values (which used to be regarded as aesthetic values in art or utilitarian considerations in software engineering and computer programming). Any theory that is going to be useful for actual practice must offer the practitioner guidance in conceiving and executing the form of her work. A new critical theory should offer in addition an understanding of the cultural contexts in which the form is embedded. Such a theory should analyze and even criticize current cultural practices through new media forms. Instead of holding up new media forms such as the world wide web as examples of the excesses of late-capitalist culture, however, a new theory should turn new media forms themselves into vehicles of critique. Design in context must be critical and productive at the same time” (Bolter 34). Here Bolter insists that the aesthetic = the formal aspects of design.

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Hansen, Mark B. N. New Philosophy for New Media. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2004.

In New Philosophy for New Media, Hansen argues that digital media has changed how we perceive. He claims it is no longer an ocular event but an affective event of the body. Hansen employs Bergon’s theory of perception and his emphasis on the body (what he calls “a center of indetermination within an acentered universe”) to argue that the “digital image” encompasses the entire process by which information is made perceivable through embodied experience. He places the body in a privileged position – as the agent that filters information in order to create images. By doing so, he counters prevailing notions of technological transcendence and argues for the indispensability of the human body in the digital era. Hansen claims that we are undergoing a paradigm shift in “aesthetic culture”– a shift from from a dominant ocularcentrist aesthetic to a haptic aesthetic rooted in embodied affectivity.” He wishes to demonstrate that new media artists “have focused on fore-grounding the foundation of vision in modalities of bodily sense” (12).

I can see how this kind of argument will help us move aesthetics from a surface level concern to a more experiential domain. It points to a shift in aesthetic experience, where the old model — disinterested perception of an object– is replaced by a more particular and embodied approach (something that sounds a lot like Wysocki’s “Sticky Embrace of Beauty”).  Hansen questions: “Why is it then, that we continue to speak of the image, even following its digital transfiguration (dissolution)? Why do we take recourse to a hybrid infrastructure? Why, given the disjunction between surface level appearance and materiality, do we continue to associate a given set of numerical coordinates or of information with a visually perceivable form?  While Manovich’s aesthetic questions hint at some of these same concerns, Hansen claims that he extends Manovich’s thinking. Hansen says, not only does the user actively “go into” new media, the user creates the image – it is a process which takes place within the user’s body. He states: “we must accept that the image, rather than finding instantiation in a privileged technical form (including the computer interface), now demarcates the very process through which the body, in conjunction with the various apparatuses for rendering information perceptible, gives form to or in-forms information. In sum, the image can no longer be restricted to the level of surface appearance, but must be extended to encompass the entire process by which information is made perceivable through embodied experience” (10). 

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Cheryl Ball. “Show, Not Tell: The Value of New Media Scholarship.” Computers and Composition 21.4 (2005)

In “Show, Not Tell,” Ball is deeply concerned with the scholarship of new media and what it should look like. She discusses the changing nature of scholarly publications in relation to technology and promotion and tenure. She offers criteria for what constitutes “online scholarship”, “scholarship about new media”, and “new media scholarship.” She defines new media texts as ones that juxtapose semiotic modes in new and aesthetically pleasing ways and, in doing so, break away from print traditions so that written text is not the primary rhetorical means. By applying this definition to scholarly online publications, readers can be better prepared to recognize and interpret the meaning-making potential of aesthetic modes used in new media scholarly texts. Ball claims that

“New media scholarship has a necessary aesthetic component because of its designed, multimodal elements, and because these multiple modes can be read in conjunction with written text to form the text’s meaning” (404).

This article both thrills and perturbs me. I’m thrilled because Ball has set a definite springboard for my research study. She unflinchingly takes up the aesthetic and discusses its importance in composition with new media. She warns that “For readers unfamiliar with understanding how a video, sound, or photograph can function as a way of creating meaning in a scholarly text, new media scholarship may be dismissed as having an unnecessarily fussy “advertising aesthetic” (Glazier, 2001) making it unworthy as a scholarly text in the eyes of the reader” (411). Ball asks how can readers understand the potential of using artistic strategies in new media scholarship? (and points out that these modes are more often associated with art than composition studies). She claims that “It is the combination of understanding the use of aesthetic elements within intellectual meaning-making strategies that will best help readers interpret scholarly new media texts (411). She concludes with a kind of confession: “Compositionists, myself included, have much to learn about the role aesthetics can play in composing meanings” (414) This is why I’m thrilled with this article–I feel my research study can help to answer this question: What is the role of the aesthetic in meaning-making?

And yet, I am somewhat perturbed by this article.  In Ball’s conclusion, she offers  an analysis of a scholarly new media text, “Digital Multiliteracies.” My problem, I believe, is that Ball’s analysis of the aesthetic is too comfortably situated within the realms of the multimodal. She categorizes her analysis into Text Clips, Still Clips, Audio Clips, each referring to the “argument” or “underlying meaning” which the aesthetic elements help to facilitate. What bothers me is that the reading is limited and the wonderful questions that Lev Manovich poses about possible conceptions of the aesthetic cannot even be asked. Questions like:  “Is it necessary for the concept of the aesthetic to assume representation? Does art necessarily involve a finite object?” (Manovich). This is not Ball’s fault. She is doing everything she can to discuss the aesthetic. It’s just that we as a field are so limited… The closest Ball gets to this more expansive notion of other aesthetic possibilities happens  when she claims: that the Still Clips [of yawning, coffee cups, carpet, fluorescent lights]  show “the reader what it felt like to be there at the symposium. Though these clips, the audience can register a kind of felt experience of the symposium, can even make some meaning through their interaction with the “mollage” [montage/collage] of  candid still clips. Ball doesn’t really say this outright, though.

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