Assessing Rhetoric in New Media

Zoetewey, Meredith W. and Julie Staggers. “Beyond ‘Current-Traditional’ Design: Assessing Rhetoric in New Media.” Issues in Writing 13.2 (Spring/Summer 2003): 133-57. Web. 1 May 2012.

Increasingly, we have come to recognize that writing with new media involves new composing processes (Sullivan, 1991; Johnson-Eilola, 1993; Wiebe & Dornsife, 1995; Olsen, 1996). More recent scholarship emphasizes the benefits of new media writing for teaching visual rhetoric (Kostelnick, 1994; Rea & White, 1999; S. D. Williams, 2001). Johndan Johnson-Eilola (1993) contends that while composition theory and practice have undergone a process shift, hypertext demands a corresponding product shift. This product shift requires us to look at the computer as a means for opening up new thinking, reading, and writing activities, rather than looking at the computer and hypertext as new tools that simply make it easier to reproduce old media, such as print/paper documents (p. 385). Print culture privileges the contained and controlled linear narrative that tacitly supports a conclusion based rationality (S. D. Williams, 2001).

Lasmana says we are moving away from linearity of print into the playfulness of the digital.

Rice posits nonlinearity as a rhetorical principle of new media.

In my notes on chapter 2 of The Rhetoric of Cool, I note that the iBook may be too linear for the desires of the T&P committee at my university.

“kaleidoscopic power of the computer”
“We no longer believe in a single reality…” (which makes me wonder if they believe in reality at all)

Drawing on Pat Sullivan’s 2001 work, “Hypertext writing and multimedia writing are different from ‘word processing + pictures.'”

“… Wysocki finds it nearly impossible to make clean distinctions between design and information in these texts. Robin Kinross (1989) reaches much the same conclusion in his analysis of British train timetables…”

True this: “we were not really equipped to cope with what W. J. T. Mitchell (1994) describes as the “the pictorial turn” which casts the world as an image”

Look at this (still true?):

Takayoshi identified three trends with the potential to significantly shift our approaches toward assessment–the fluidity of computer-assisted writing, the emergence of visual rhetoric, and the changes wrought by hypertextual thinking and writing. She asked two important questions: first, what problems arise when instructors apply traditional assessment and response models to electronic texts? Second, what new, alternative models might address and account for the differences between print and electronic texts?

Takayoshi, P. (1996). The shape of electronic writing: Evaluating and assessing computer-assisted writing processes and products. Computers and Composition, 13, 245-257.

Holtzman, in Digital Mosaics, “writes that we often first try to conceptualize new media in terms of old, comfortable ways of thinking.” So we reuse old assignments (like a research paper) and have students recreate it (as a digital presentation).

True this: “repurposing assessment criteria is tricky if you are trying to capitalize on the new opportunities afforded by new media

Web texts (they say) are:
seemingly unconnected
visually weighted

cite Halio (1996) assignment of adding audio and images to a personal narrative essay
1. created prewriting [written down thinking], then found/crafted audio, images, and the text
2. wrote the text and then found images and sound to supplement (which became largely ornamental)
3. found the images and sound first, felt they had already “written” what they needed

Interesting. I wonder if this is why digital presentation works better within the creation stage of a text?

They say that repurposing subtly supports the verbal as primary.

My Digital Rubric
At this point in my notes I pulled up my assessment sheet for digital presentations in my classes. While there is some differentiation, in time, in level of expertise I expect, they are fairly similar.
I have the following categories:
video (presentation’s creativity, production quality, quality of editing)
rhetorical constraints (accessibility of video; appropriateness for audience, purpose, context; meet/exceed expectations)

I score them as follows:
time/length 10 points (enough for a letter grade difference)
topic 10 points (focus of information, engagement, detail)
images 15 points
text 15 points
audio 15 points
video 15 points
rhetorical constraints 10
documentation 10

Text does have 25 points (with documentation) and topic could also be seen as verbal, which would give the verbal 35 points. The visual is 30 points. The audio is 15 or 25. So I guess I do weight the text a bit more, but not a lot more. Verbal is just a bit more than one-third of the grade.

I am glad to see that my assessments, composed 8 to 10 years after this article was written, do, in fact, relate very specifically to the digital mix of new media.

They are talking about hypertext (linking, connections made without linearity necessarily), much like what I envisioned with the digital presentation I first suggested in August of 2011, when I said I would like to create a map of pieces of furniture in my home and give the history of those pieces and how they create a feeling of family continuity for me. At the time the tech people said they didn’t know how that could be done. I think we are closer to being able to do what I envisioned now and I could certainly do something that “appeared” like what I mean, even if I can’t do it exactly as I envisioned.

“we need to move away from tidy binaries of word-image, content-form, information-design (Wysocki, 2001).”
This was an issue in my business writing class this semester. We have the research project, which is becoming more amorphous rather than less, but is still basically resulting in a research report that is written. There is a rubric for determining if they need to use single or double spacing. But I did think, in the middle of the process, that it might actually be a better idea if they created a post on my teaching blog that I could direct students to.

I confess that fear had a lot to do with my reluctance to propose the idea. What would it look like? How would it function? What “parts” of the final paper would still need to be drafted and turned in as opposed to created on the page?

It stuck in my head a lot. This is something like what the T&P portfolio will be. Having students do it might give me stronger ties to the media. (Though obviously this blog, along with my teaching blog, and my personal blog, indicate that I am quite comfortable with the technology of the work.

“[Sean D.] Williams [2001] asserts that the verbal bias is both politically and rhetorically dangerous”

I don’t want my students to overvalue verbal expression, but I am a composition professor. At this point in composition studies we are still primarily about the words.

Every class I teach has at least a 10% project that is a video (up to 25%, depending on the class) and I have other visual rhetoric involved in class.

For example, for my fyc second semester they compare the words of a song and the visuals of a video. Of course, they write it as a paper, so that still gives primacy to the verbal.

My first-semester fyc class has a group project that is a digital presentation and then they write individual papers on a related topic, but again verbal–although equal in those two assignments, rather than one larger than the other.

My business writing students write a paper that is half visuals and they create a digital presentation and a brochure to go with it. I think that the verbal outweighs the audio/visual, but not necessarily by a lot.

We need to help students see how effective design either undercuts or supports the verbal rhetoric.

John Trimbur (2002) boils graphic design down to “four basic principles”: group similar items together, align visual elements, use repetition and contrast to create consistent visual patterns, and add visual interest (an amalgamation of the first three principles) (pp. 657-667).

BUT reading visuals is interpretation.

Pat Sullivan “describes the strategic goal of visual rhetoric for print as blending “an awareness of visual esthetics with a concern for the needs and wishes of the audience and [operating] within one or more cultures” (p. 108)…must involve an understanding of the cultural forces shaping the production and reception of a document (p. 110).”

Prose graphics, related to books
example: scientific journals

Theatrical graphics, related to film, theater, magazines, cartoons
example: USA Today

prose graphics = visuals represent reality

theatrical graphics = visuals create reality

[Sullivan] characterizes transactional Web sites as textual, mapped, still, interactive and using a limited color palette; the aim is to reveal logic. Experimental sites, in contrast, are visual, guided, involve movement, are immersive, and use wild color; they aim at creating an experience.

This is something to think about for T&P.

rhetoric and composition is a “dappled discipline” (Lauer)

Teaching writing means teaching the students about the assessment. (This is why the rubrics are required by our students. They’ve learned to “work to the test” and they want to know how it will be assessed–or at least think they do. And actually, if the rubric is done well, working to it will actually create what we want from it.)

Consider what may be gained by asking for something as a new media assignment.

“In digital environments, narratives may be spatially rather than temporally driven.”

At the end of the article they provide questions for assessment.

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