Wednesday, October 31, 2012

It's a thin line between fries and shakes

“It’s a thin line between fries and shakes” -The Chappelle Show (I thought to link to the Youtube clip here but I did not want the possibly offensive language to offend anyone so if you're curious, offend yourself)

After reading the Shipka article (and subsequently Calgary and Alex’s postings) I found myself wondering how UIUC goes about implementing these different pedagogical strategies, that is whether fries (linear essays) or shakes (multimodal compositions) are preferred. The easiest way to see this would be to simply look at the “Common Syllabus” and Writing at the University Of Illinios E-text that the Rhetoric department issued to each of us first year instructors.  While the “Common Syllabus” and e-text point (almost emphatically) to untraditional authorship practices like co/group authorship that are meant to give students a preview of what is to come in their major related courses as well as the “Real world” (whatever that is) this is about as far as the college/department is will to go. We only need to look at the grading break down to see that there are 4 essays worth a whopping 75% of the class and similar to Alex and Calgary’s posts, I don’t think that this is a bad thing: most students come to the University with differing experiences/facilities with writing so spending a semester trying to normalize these practices is quite beneficial (and isn’t this why composition courses like this were made in the first place?)
    All of this is not to say that I disagree with Shipka’s article, in fact I agree with a lot of her findings and arguments. The notion that students can compose multimodal productions in response to an assigned task opens up the possibilities for students to pursue various creative solutions. Drawing on semiotics Shipka argues that linear writing based assignments have unfairly dominated composition courses and don’t accurately reflect the increasingly diverse medias that student now face whereas multimodal productions have the potential to do exactly that. As Shipka notes there can be some resistance from students due to the overwhelming possibilities that can result in a sort of paralysis regarding deciding on a certain project. But this multimodal thing seems to be catching on and perhaps, among other reasons I’m sure, this is why in UIUC’s recent conferences for first year Rhetoric students they can submit either a traditional essay or a multimodal poster (even though this limit’s the possibilities significantly). During our orientation to teaching the course this conference was mentioned and it was suggested that students could prepare a presentation (paper or poster based) of their “synthesis” essay since all students would do this in class anyway. I find it a little odd that this multimodal aspect is presented at the end of the semester but maybe what is really intended is a trickle down approach to changing the Rhetoric courses all together.

Or maybe a multimodal framework was just beyond us first year instructors so they are easing us into this way of thinking as well. Either way, I would probably say that UIUC likes to dip their fries into a shake before eating them.

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