What is the Limit of the FYC classroom?

The comment that brought on this post:
I was in a meeting recently and was told that “I don’t think we should spend time having the students do digital presentations in FYC.”

Where did this comment come from?
This was a direct challenge to my previous comment, that my students were doing this as an assignment.

The professor speaking to me is a lit prof, so it could be old media v. new media issues. However, I really think it is that he thinks I am not teaching my FYC course as it should be taught. (Or he’s a curmudgeon!) He said we should focus on grammar. (I do.) He said we need to have the students understand sentence structure. (I work on that.) He said they need to write long essays. (My students do.)

Why did he tell me that an assignment I have given, that I am actually thrilled to have given, is a waste of my classroom time?

I think it is a recognition of the limits of what we can do in 16 weeks and a comment on the tech-focus of many. I think it was out of concern that I, as a professor at a new uni, did not understand the parameters expected in the course (though these were made quite clear by the director of FYC). I also think it was out of a desire to NOT have to add digital presentations to his own FYC course.

When I first taught FYC, I had my students do prewriting for two days, a draft and peer review, and a final paper EVERY SINGLE WEEK. I think that was a great model, but I don’t have enough time or energy to do that for 100 students. (I only had one course as a TA.)

I’ve taught FYC for 20 years now. The 6 papers required by this course at this university are almost all new for me. So I’m already struggling with how to teach the course.

So why did I add the digital presentation?
(He didn’t ask, but I think it is relevant.)

1. My uni is focused on being innovative, particularly with technology.

2. My students are somewhat used to computers in all their classrooms, using internet apps for school, and texting/emailing all day long.

3. My students are required to evaluate/analyze visual rhetoric as one of their six 1200-word essays.

4. My students are required (by the department) to analyze a ten-minute video as a class exercise.

5. My students are required (by a uni-wide core course) to analyze a commercial.

6. My class is supposed to connect to the core course, but to build on it and not simply repeat what it does/has done.

So, looking at all those points, I decided that a group assignment of a digital presentation would be a useful exercise for class.

This is an experiment (like most of what I am doing in FYC this semester), but I am hoping that the students will rise to the challenge and produce work that is totally amazing.

New thought:
Because they are working in groups, I could have all three of my classes get together for an hour and a half one day and watch all of them. They could see that they are not alone and that other people also worked on these.

I think that might be fun (if they turn out half-way decent).

So how will they turn out?
I have no idea.

I have never done this before.

It may be that, in a month, I too will agree with the lit prof who told me that students should not be doing digital presentations in the FYC classroom.

6 thoughts on “What is the Limit of the FYC classroom?”

  1. Some days I vote for curmudgeon; other days, just a bit uncomfortable with technology in the classroom and an aversion to taking risks in the classroom.

  2. All of the assignments that you are “required” to do sound like solid (and highly relevant) assignments. My question is, why can’t one of these assignments be a digital project, too? If one of the skills we want our students to learn is to adapt their writing, why can’t a traditional paper then be adapted into a digital project?

    Just a thought.

  3. Your friend the lit prof would flip if he saw my FYC classes. I have students write with images, argue with videos, and make a wepbage instead of a long researched argument.

    The question of whether or not to do a digital presentation is laughable, I’m afraid. Here’s one of my favorite quotations (and I use it often): “We have no justification aside from disciplinary baggage to restrict our conception of rhetoric to words alone. More important, this expansion is necessary if we are to make good on our claims of preparing students to engage in public discourse.” Lester Faigley said this in 2003. 2003!

    We should be way beyond the question of “if.” Let’s talk about the “how” and help each other make it happen.

  4. This is quite timely, as I was just talking to a great friend and fellow FYC instructor. I am heavy tech and new media integration and am branching out and away from standardized readers and incorporation more poetry, fiction, and (hopefully) graphic novels in my FYC classes. My friend focuses more on traditional FYC assignments with a structured approach.

    She says that she acknowledges what I am attempting to do, but knows she couldn’t go there herself. She views FYC as a place to teach expository writing. I told her I agreed and asked what the “Big Point” of FYC was. She replied to help students improve their writing skills. We agreed that there were multiple ways to do this and that, essentially, both of our styles and ways of teaching ultimately improve students writing ability.

    She then mentioned that she thinks that, perhaps, students have more “fun” in a class where they Tweet, Blog and create Digital Multi-Genre Inquiry Projects. She stated that her real fear was that “she would get caught” not teaching what others perceive to be common FYC materials. We teach at a university where we have ultimate freedom and are only required to teach the “Research Paper in some manner.” I consider this lucky and a huge relief. We get to create assignments that we, ourselves, would like to do and tie those into what we each feel to the be most relevant to the students. I know there are some who teach the same syllabus, semester after semester and never change. That’s fine for them.

    I feel that I must constantly evolve and morph my instruction to accommodate for where each class is coming from and alter what/how I teach to get them where they need to be after 16 weeks. I also believe that if students are writing about what they are truly invested in, then they will want to improve it and if that medium is also something that they are comfortable with (technology). That’s a bonus. I also view it as my job to help them prepare how to present and write for their entire college career (and beyond) so a digital presentation is well worth it.

    Where else in college, will students learn how to prepare this type of communication? Or are they expected to just know how to do this?

  5. This is one of those quips that really irritate me! The class is called Composition, not “Grammar 101.” Writing has much more to do with thinking abilities than it does with grammar, and typically, as students become better at articulating their thoughts, their grammar also becomes better. I think what people fail to realize, especially our Literature counterparts, is that Composition is a field of study. As my colleagues would argue, we are not just a service to other fields.

    Furthermore, writing is taking place more and more in digital venues than paper-and-pencil ones, even more than our basic digital space of MS Word. It would be stupid to think that these new technologies don’t cognitively affect us and alter the ways in which we compose. I think it’s a sin not to expose students to digital writing and digital humanities when given the opportunity, seeing as how that’s what’s marketable these days.

    There are very few jobs that will hire a person who doesn’t know how to use computer, but if you’re a qualified candidate with additional expertise (social networking, basic programming, web design), you instantly become more valuable to an organization.

  6. I’m new to this blog, but this post in particular caught my attention. I was going to comment and say most of what Nicole says above (and I appreciate and agree with the other commenters as well), but with the addendum that I don’t understand why a literature scholar is teaching a course in FYC (as it sounds like he doesn’t have a degree or training in teaching writing). But this (partly snarky, I admit) query made me think about the ways in which we may not have a shared definition or view of what writing is. Writing studies scholars view writing as part of a larger socio-cultural activity (writing-as-doing), and not just the production of text, whereas literature scholars tend to focus on a given text or set of texts within a very circumscribed genre in order to elucidate text-as-meaning. You can see the difference in research methods: literature primarily uses close reading (particularly in terms of teaching literature at the undergraduate level, although there are certainly folks who also teach historiography and other methods, but the main one is close reading) while writing studies methods include interview, survey, ethnography, content analysis, rhetorical analysis et al as well as close reading — because we focus on the process and activity (and the people and systems engaged in that activity) and not just the text. Grant writing is a good example of how this plays out — writing a grant is only about 20% putting-words-on-paper (or, rather, screen) and 80% researching your organization, the needs of the grantor, and communicating with all the stakeholders (including the grant evaluator). But it’s all “writing.”

    I could go on, but I should get back to my own writing…

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