New Media Literacy Narratives

Here are some ideas to help you start your literacy narrative. You don’t need to use these prompts, and it did seem like most people knew what they wanted to write about, but if you’re feeling stuck or want to ponder some of these questions further to get at that “so what?” part of your story, you may find these helpful.

  • How has new media (reading, writing, exchanging of information using new media platforms) helped you develop your identity?
  • Should “nonwriting” (media that is not primarily written in its final form) like making videos, recording podcasts, or sharing photos be considered literacy?
  • How did you develop the skills you have that allow you to engage with/participate in/use new media? Were they taught to you explicitly, by another person or in a class? Were they self-taught? Learned through play, experimentation, trial and error?
  • What communities or resources has new media made available to you that otherwise may not be there?
  • Which characteristics of new media (remember our list in class, or re-read the “What is new media?” page) stand out to you the most? Can you tell a story that speaks to one of these in particular?

ENG 131 Q&A

In our first week of classes, ENG 131 students were asked to fill out a notecard with questions after receiving the syllabus and reviewing the rhetorical situation, which was new information to most. Rather than answering each question individually in class, I’ve compiled them here as a reference.

Q: How many rough drafts are necessary for a good paper?

A: There’s not actually a definite answer for this! People draft differently, some preferring to work in a single document, writing and rewriting their paragraphs, adding information, rewording sentences. Others prefer to write a draft, print it out, get feedback from a friend, tutor, or teacher, and create a new document, saving a separate record of every attempt. I would also argue that drafts don’t always exist on paper at first. Sometimes, I draft in my head by visualizing what I want to write, and it helps me avoid writer’s block. In short, several rough drafts. Plan ahead. Start thinking about your assignment before you sit down to write. Experiment with prewriting strategies. Time and intention are what’s essential here.

For futher reading, I highly recommend Anne Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts.” 


Q: When you have a stance can you argue and agree on some things?

A: Yes! You’ll find that most arguments appear polarized (opposite sides arguing against each other), but more productive conversations take place in the gray area between. This means that it is possible, and good, to take on a topic and engage with what works and what doesn’t. It’s likely that your audience will be more willing to hear you out if you can demonstrate an understanding of your opposition (even if you don’t explicitly agree with any of your opponent’s points). That said, it might also be useful to imagine a form of argument that isn’t about tearing your opponent down, or even about agreeing or disagreeing, but about pointing out a problem or a point that should be considered. If we can detach ourselves from the need to “win” an argument, we’ll probably find that the issues themselves are much more nuanced. For example, if we want to argue about whether or not birth control should be provided to minors without parental consent, we might discover that the problem isn’t in whether or not to provide a pharmaceutical, but about how we approach sex ed as a whole.


Q: What if you struggle coming up with things to write about, like writer’s block?

A: Writer’s block is the worst, and it happens to everyone, even people who have been writing successfully for a long time. Sometimes it helps to try and analyze the situation: do you have writer’s block because you’re nervous or lack confidence, or because you don’t understand the material? Is it because the assignment feels unclear to you? Is it because a blank page is intimidating? Each cause will have a different solution. When I have writer’s block, it’s most often because I feel overwhelmed by the amount of information out there, and I start to feel like an imposter. I think, “I am not possibly well-informed enough to speak on this issue,” and I write some really awkward sentences that I hate, and then I get mad and walk away. Sometimes walking away helps, though, because I can get into a better space by freeing up that part of my brain that is trying to both master new content and produce a document.

It’s normal to write badly when you’re trying to write about something that is new, unfamiliar, or not interesting/not something you’re invested in. One of the best things you can do is talk through it with someone. Find a friend, a relative, a significant other, your instructor during office hours, and just have a casual conversation. Ask for clarity if you need it. Sometimes it’s easier to sort out your thoughts verbally, or to have someone say them back to you.


Q: How do I use the “rhetorical situation?” I’ve never used it before.

A: You use it to think about, or analyze, all communicative situations. Anytime you communicate whether it’s an email, a paper for a class, a text message, posts on social media, note-taking, making a playlist for the gym, and so on, a rhetorical situation exists. You always have an author/writer/speaker, a message, and an audience. Sometimes you are your own audience (i.e.: note-taking in class, diary writing at home), but I bet that even then you are making distinct choices for that communication to be successful. The big circle around the triangle we saw in class is the context: the surrounding “stuff” that influences that particular communication event. So, for example, this blog post might look something like this if I were to map it out:

Author: me. Message: answering questions that students asked. Audience: probably current students, possibly future students, also this blog is public so anyone who stumbles upon it can read and comment. Context: I’m writing it while a different class is completing an in-class essay, I’m feeling pleased with the questions asked, and am thinking about how it’s much easier to type responses in a digital space where I can link to resources than to verbally respond to each question in class. We can also identify purpose (to clarify expectations and provide practical support for students based on needs they have identified), genre (a blog post accessible on all devices, anywhere, anytime), and design (I’ve opted not to do anything fancy here, no photos, no colored text). Being aware of the rhetorical situation can help you communicate more effectively.


Q: Why are introductions and conclusions the most difficult part of an essay?

A: Your introduction is meant to tell your reader where you’re going to go. Sometimes, we don’t know where we’re going until we start writing. Placeholder introductions can help with that. Write a temporary introduction. Use the first draft of your introduction to guide you, to help you see where you might be going. Conclusions, in theory, should be easier because they tell the reader where you’ve been, they wrap things up, but it’s difficult to do that without sounding repetitive, or even worse, cliché. Remember that conclusions should give your reader a meaningful sense of closure, or even a recommendation for action: in other words, what should they do with the information you gave them? And again, give yourself permission to write poorly, and allow yourself time to revisit, rework, and reimagine.

Many of you had questions about how to start a paper. Best advice: READ! Go find some good introductions and imitate them. But it also depends, as sometimes there are specific criteria an instructor might want in the introduction of a paper. If you need clarity on an instructor’s expectations, ask. Usually, in academic essays, an introduction follows an upside down triangle: general to specific, specific being the thesis. Try drafting a few variations of your introduction, though, thinking about meaningful ways to engage your audience. Find yourself a reader, too, to get some feedback. Remember that your introduction is a way to connect: it is a gesture, a “take my hand and walk me through these ideas” kind of thing. What will your audience need in order to do that?

You might be feeling a little tired of hearing “it depends,” and “yes and no,” and “sort of,” because all of that leaves you with no clear path to success, no definite series of steps designed to earn you an A. Here’s an article, written by a writing teacher with students as the audience(!!), about the act of essay-ing, titled “The Sixth Paragraph: A Re-Vision of the Essay,” that you might find useful.


Q: Are fiction and non-fiction considered genres?

A: Yes, but very broad categories of genre. Think about how sections of a bookstore or a library are categorized. Under fiction, you might see romance, mystery, teen fantasy, and anthologies. Under nonfiction, you might see poetry, essay collections, cookbooks, study guides, and biographies. Genres are categories of media that share specific features. If I handed you Twilight and told you it was a cookbook, you’d disagree, and you’d be able to explain the difference. Same with music. You know the difference between country and hip-hop. This applies to forms of written communication as well: a wedding invitation is not an assignment sheet, is not a lab report, is not an advertisement, is not an academic journal article. When you can recognize that different types of writing have different features, you can make appropriate choices to compose effectively within that genre.


Q: Will what we learn in here be applicable to all writing asked to do in college?

A: Yes and no. In this class, we’re building a foundation that helps us to analyze many types of writing/forms of communication. We’re assembling a toolbox that will help you be flexible, responsive, and aware as a writer. Because there’s not a one-size-fits-all universal formula for writing a successful essay, the only constant we can work toward is preparing you to address changing expectations and unique situations where you’ll be asked to write something. Take a look at the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing for more on this topic.


Some questions were very specific, like how many essays do we have? What format should our papers be in? What is the final portfolio? That information can be found in your syllabus!

Further questions can be addressed to me via email or during office hours.


On Points

Moreso this semester than any other semester I’ve taught, I’ve been asked questions like, “How many points do I get for coming to class?” I’m getting similar questions about other process-based stuff, too, like the first-day survey, or an iconic self-portrait, or class notes. It’s interesting to see this shift from doing something because it has practical value (i.e. I go to derby practice because I’ll become a better skater if I practice certain skills), to needing a set number of points attached to every task to make it worth spending time on.

I tend to be pretty casual when it comes to points: there are essays that have points attached, and there’s a participation grade that is collaboratively determined, but I have no interest in having to enter numbers for every student, every day, simply because they showed up. And it could never be that simple – it would have to be broken down into types of showing up, right? Like, showing up but being on your phone the whole time isn’t worth the same amount of points as showing up and actively participating. Or, showing up but sleeping through class because you wanted the attendance points but haven’t slept in two days because of work – at that point, you’d really be better off staying home and resting and catching up with me later.

As a parent, I try to use logical consequences, and that carries over into my teaching. If you don’t come to class, you’re going to miss important information. Sure, we can meet during office hours, but I am not your only teacher. There are 20+ other people in the class that you can learn from, if you are willing to give them a chance. That said, sometimes, you’re going to miss class. Sometimes, I’m going to miss class. The important piece here is learning how to make choices that take into consideration your immediate needs alongside your short and long-term goals, and the consequences of whatever options you’re considering.

PSA #1: Sometimes you’re going to mess that up. PSA #2: Coffee gets me out of bed every morning, but that’s probably one of the only extrinsic rewards that I rely on. I’m not likely to do something unless I can see why it’s beneficial. Sometimes, I have to trust that even though I can’t see an immediate impact, there’s value in what I’m being asked to do. Points didn’t motivate me to show up, as a student. Attendance credit doesn’t (usually) motivate me to go to practice. That isn’t to say that grades have no impact – if I want an A in a class, I’m going to show up, but I’m also very aware that I can’t bullshit my way to an A, so merely showing up isn’t going to be enough.

What about that low stakes work, then? Well, I generally expect that if I give my students something to do that is not given a grade (instead it receives credit/no credit, if I collect it at all), they are going to do it not because they want the points, but because (or and because) they understand that what we’re doing is going to help them succeed with higher stakes assignments. Sometimes, it takes a little while for that to make sense, especially if students are coming into my classes having done a lot of grammar worksheets or other busy work that was disconnected from or unrelated to the major assignments they were doing.

This brings me to PSA #3: Getting all the points isn’t going to make you a better writer. (Un?)fortunately, writing is a thing you’ll have to do in every single class you take, so becoming a better writer should probably be one of your goals. Moreover, the work that we do in composition courses can be applied to non-writing situations as well, like the cognitive processes involved in analytical thinking, or even the concept of process in general. Understanding writing as a process taught me to be patient with myself as an athlete, and it taught me to be aware of my own habits – some of which are good and helpful, others not so much.

So here’s one piece of advice for my current and future students: let go of the idea that everything must have points. Find reasons to do the work outside of the points or the grade. Let that be what motivates you on the days you really don’t want to do it (because let’s be honest, you’re going to find yourself in that place of “I can’t/I don’t want to /I’m tired/I don’t care/I don’t see the point” more than once this term). On the other days, do the work because you want to grow. Do the work because you’ll get some feedback on your writing, and your ideas, from an actual human who believes that you are totally capable. Show up because how often do you get to hang out with 20 other people and hear about their experiences, their knowledge, their beliefs, their curiosities? Show up because you can learn from one another, not just me. Show up because you have no idea what doors might open. And stay home when you need to stay home.


On Rubrics and Assessment


Recently, a few members of the College Writing Committee met to discuss the rubrics we currently use for assessment in ENG 131, 132, and 135. Turns out, we’re all doing something different. Some of us use a single-point rubric, some of us have coded feedback (F3=margins aren’t set to 1″ all the way around, refers student to the section on MLA formatting in handbook), some of us believe that rubrics are “a tool of Satan,” and some of us are somewhere in between. After a passionate discussion, we settled on the need for some kind of rubric for in-class essays that communicates standards by which we will evaluate writing, given that the in-class essay is high-stakes: if a student does not pass one of two in-class essays, they are ineligible to earn a passing grade in the course. For what it’s worth, I dislike this requirement, but I understand that it stems from a history of students not writing their own papers and/or not being able to write at a college-level, and as probationary faculty, I’ll play by the rules (for now).

So! A rubric! But what should this rubric contain? What are we measuring? Is it possible to create a rubric that can be used universally, across any type of assignment? What if I’m having my students write an in-class narrative, but my colleague is having her students write a rhetorical analysis of an advertisement? Certainly, these types of writing have different criteria: a narrative will be descriptive, will likely contain very personal details, and may not follow conventional paragraph-by-paragraph development. A rhetorical analysis will also be descriptive, but for a different purpose – it is descriptive in order to evaluate the strategies used to communicate a specific message and will focus on claims and visual evidence. We liked the single-point rubric in that it is adaptable and therefore can be modified to fit unique assignments, but deciding on base criteria has proven to be a complicated task.

Rubrics have been criticized for limiting the creative expression of student writers, turning the focus away from learning and toward standardized, externally validated notions of what “good writing” looks like. Bonus when that external validation comes from a rubric you can purchase from some big publisher who profits from this myth. In Maja Wilson’s book, Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Instruction, Alfie Kohn explains in his Forward that “research shows three reliable effects when students are graded: They tend to think less deeply, avoid taking risks, and lose interest in the learning itself” (xi). What I found even more striking was Wilson’s comparison of “best practices” (often part of the conversation on assessment and evaluation) to the medical model that looks only those methods that can be proven through clinical trial. She states the following: “Unfortunately, children are not bacteria to be obliterated by the correct dose of penicillin, and classes are not control groups whose every variable can be isolated” (xxii). Good teachers are attentive, and attentive teachers recognize that writing “errors” have to be looked at in context. Wilson gives the example of a student who had bounced from school to school because her parents were migrant workers and she split her time across states. Wilson goes on to explain that “The products and processes of progress we assume to be the inevitable incarnations of human genius are often shaped by powerful and not always benign social and economic forces” (11). In other words, rubrics may do more harm than good, because they don’t account for the multitude of forces acting upon our students and each individual writing task.

But, we decided as a committee that we need a rubric. And maybe that rubric can be used to help instructors identify the outcomes they are aiming for in a particular assignment.  Great. Handing this rubric to students, though, becomes a game of point-seeking and grade-grubbing, as students no longer write to make meaning, but to receive a grade (and those grades have some serious power personally, professionally, and financially, at a higher education institution). I don’t think we’re off-base to want criteria, nor do I think it is unreasonable to position the teacher as an expert reader who will evaluate a piece of writing and provide feedback. But I wonder if it is possible to create a rubric that can communicate in the same “revise and resubmit” style of academic writing, and therefore would encourage learning, risk-taking, and meaning-making, rather than one that lays out a very narrow path to follow in order to earn a passing grade.

The Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing is one resource we called upon for a less prescriptive approach to writing assessment. They argue that “Standardized writing curricula or assessment instruments that emphasize formulaic writing for nonauthentic audiences will not reinforce the habits of mind and the experiences necessary for success as students encounter the writing demands of postsecondary education.” The term “assessment” only appears in the full document twice: once in that statement, and once again under composing with electronic technologies where the authors note that students should have opportunities “to explore and develop criteria for assessing the texts.” The word “evaluate” appears three times: once under the habit of creativity, to say that students should be able to evaluate the effects or consequences of their creative choices, and twice in terms of source work. The word “grade” appears 0 times.

The habits of mind referred to in that statement above are curiosity, openness, engagement, persistence, responsibility, flexibility, and metacognition. What if, in order to pass a composition course, students needed to demonstrate these habits of mind? Would good writing follow? Not necessarily; I can think of one student this semester who consistently demonstrates these habits but whose writing would not yet be considered academically successful. With these habits, though, she has less ground to cover in order to get there. The Framework also identifies “experiences” that writing instructors can create for students in order to foster these habits. These include rhetorical knowledge, critical thinking, writing processes, knowledge of conventions, and the ability to compose in multiple environments. One single assignment cannot address all of these experiences, but I think we can draw from them to develop criteria for a rubric.

First and foremost, we need to follow Wilson’s advice that good writing is “more than the sum of its rubricized parts” (xv). The rubric that we create should reflect the same freedom and flexibility in pedagogy that we aim for in our invitations for students to write for us, for their peers, and for the public. The “revise and resubmit” approach that I use mirrors that of academic writing; it is the same model used by academic journals who either accept submissions outright, return with a revise and resubmit notice, or reject based on their subjective criteria. Subjective assessment doesn’t use terms like “organization” or “voice” or “thesis statement.” Instead, it looks past the “outward markers” of good writing and relies on “the complex nature of writing, reading, and response” (75). In order to teach writing, I need to read and respond to it as a reader, not simply assign, correct, and return it. Therefore, the criteria we come up with needs to make space for transparent, subjective wording that reminds students of the importance of flexibility as they write for diverse audiences and varied purposes. Responding and evaluating student writing as if we were neutral, objective, robotic, clinical, unaffected beings ignores the very reason we write: to connect with another person (or persons), whether that writing is utilitarian in purpose or expressive.

What criteria, then, should we use? I’m having a hard time answering this question because there are many ways of making meaning in response to a particular assignment. However, I also recognize that sometimes a writing task is straightforward, and when a piece of writing doesn’t respond to the prompt or follow the conventions for a specific rhetorical situation, it’s okay to call it out. For the ad analysis I just assigned, I’m looking to see that my students can describe an advertisement, discuss what it is doing (and point to visual evidence in the ad or historical context found through research), and explain why that matters. I’m looking to see that their essay is focused on a central idea and that I can pick out the main points in their paragraphs. I want their ideas to build in strength and power as they add layers to their argument. If a student turned in an ad analysis that was only a single paragraph or two in length that did not provide sufficient analysis, it would be returned with a request for revision and no credit would be given until they were able to complete the assignment successfully. For in-class essays, though, there isn’t the opportunity to revise.

I have two proposals:

  1. We design a rubric using a brief list of characteristics of college-level writing (central focus, adequate and engaging development of ideas, genre or assignment conventions), and rather than assigning points to the in-class essays, we simply pass or fail them. We could recommend that these criteria are roughly weighted 40%, 40%, and 20%. This approach would allow individual instructors to clarify what each criteria would look like specific to that assignment (i.e.: the conventions for a narrative essay are different from a book review or business memo), would emphasize content over correctness, and is simple enough that an in-class essay (read: nobody’s best work) would have minimal consequences unless a student had plagiarized or was writing far below a college-level.
  2. We don’t use a rubric at all, and use a pass/fail approach (because that’s ultimately what it is for these in-class essays even when points are attached) and instead allow individual instructors to decide what counts as “passing.” The catch here is that some instructors might decide that ESWE is the only criteria that matters, and…

Never mind. I have one proposal, with the three criteria I listed above. I think we might be making a mistake by calling this assignment and the rubric discussion that has ensued assessment in the first place, per Wilson: “As long as grades or other forms of ranking are the ultimate goal of writing assessment, we will not truly be able to claim assessment for teaching and learning” (87). Further, as one colleague explained, assessment is about feedback. Evaluation is about performance. The in-class essay is a test of performance. It is evaluated, not assessed. I realize that assessment has significant value in terms of accreditation and the HLC (and maybe they could use some clarification on assessment vs evaluation, too), but perhaps then we should focus our time and attention on actual assessment and the ways in which our feedback for students is considered and applied and reconsidered in appropriate contexts rather than debating what criteria to use for a gatekeeping assignment.

I’m not opposed to setting an achievement bar. I think expectations are necessary, just as the editors of LAJM did when I submitted my article, and as the readers for 4C’s proposals do every year when putting together a conference program. Their expectations are subjective, but also peer-reviewed – there are agreed upon standards applicable to that particular context. I think that the achievement bar should be set high. I also think that we need to help our students get there, and we need to be transparent about those expectations. I worry, however, that we’re spending too much time on a task that prevents them from succeeding before they’ve even had a chance to try.



Song Analysis: Playlist

Our third major assignment in ENG 131 is a Song Analysis that asks you to assemble a playlist for a specific purpose and then analyze how each part (in this case, each song) contributes to the whole. Analysis is tough, but it’s a skill you’ll need in school and beyond, and it’s a skill you likely already possess. Here, we’re finessing that skill in an academic context, but as you can see from the chapter in your textbook, analysis is something you do every day.

We’ll continue working on analysis for the rest of the semester. This assignment asks you to create something to analyze. The next assignment, an ad analysis, invites you to analyze an advertisement and how it contributes to the gender binary (and why that might be problematic). You’ll actually be writing a persuasive essay there, but the analysis skills you practice here will be a necessary part of that assignment as well. The last assignment we do before the Final Portfolio is an Annotated Bibliography, which brings us back to this assignment in terms of the parts-to-whole relationship: you’ll be mapping and documenting sources across different types of media that speak to a topic of interest to you.

Analysis generally involves five common elements:

  • A question that prompts you to take a closer look
  • Some description of the subject you are analyzing
  • Evidence drawn from close examination of the subject
  • Insight gained from your analysis
  • Clear, precise language (206).

What do these elements look like when applied to a playlist?

A question…

Recently, a friend of mine made me a mix CD. I grew up with mixtapes (I remember getting my first boombox and it had a dual tape deck so I could burn cassettes and CD’s-to-cassettes all day long! I could even record myself singing along!) and as a teenager and in my twenties, mix CD’s were pretty common. Fast forward to 2017, however, and I was gifted a CD with no way to play it. My computer doesn’t have a disc drive, my car doesn’t have a CD or a cassette player, and I no longer have that boombox. Eventually, I figured out that my PS3 could play CD’s, and I was able to listen to the music that way. Listening to the music was an emotional event; I knew that my friend, who lives far away, had spent a lot of time choosing songs that he thought would speak to my interests and my experiences: in the previous year, I had lost my dad, left an unhealthy relationship, started a new job, spent my summer outdoors, and was (am) wrestling with the election and now the Trump administration’s agenda and how it may impact my future. The playlist my friend made for me was deeply personal, and I felt that from the design of the case to the songs he chose and the order in which I listened to them. Knowing that he made that playlist for me, with me in mind, prompted me to take a closer look, to understand the connections he saw between each song and my life, and even how the songs themselves spoke to each other. The CD is called “the thing with feathers: a mix for 2017.” I asked my friend why he picked that name (a Google search tells me it is a line from an Emily Dickinson poem, and also the title of a book by Noah Stryker, and also the name of a novel by Max Porter!), he says it was “essentially an abstract connection to” the Emily Dickinson poem.



Photograph of a handmade CD jacket. The left side has the playlist title, "the thing with feathers: a mix for 2017." The right side lists the names of the songs.
A photo of the CD jacket my friend made for me.



You might decide to make a playlist that is also reflective of your own personal struggles or growth. Or, you might have a particular cause in mind: songs for undergoing chemotherapy, songs to combat Islamophobia, songs for the gym, songs for surviving a two-hour commute home from work, songs that explain what it’s like to be a person of color, songs that explain white America, songs for fishing with your dad. This could be a playlist for you, or a playlist for someone you love, or even a playlist for someone you’ll never meet. is a site where users can create and share playlists; you might find inspiration there: a few of these include Hipster Yoga, Lumberjanes 1: Fox Fight Jams (this is the official playlist for the first issue of the comic), and Scholarly Rhymes.

The question prompting you to take a closer look isn’t a yes/no question, but rather a question without a correct response: what can I make a playlist for? What would it include? Notice the questions outlined in your book: What? Which? How?

Some description…

Not all playlists on 8tracks have descriptions, but when they do, I find it especially helpful to see a note from the creator explaining why they put it together. You’ll need to give some description in your essay: if you’re making a playlist to go with a book you love, you might give a brief summary of the book and share your rationale for the playlist you’ve created. If you’re making a playlist for a friend, think about what you might want to tell them: what inspired you to choose these songs? Why are you making them the playlist in the first place? If you’re making a playlist for a cause, give some background information about that issue.

Evidence drawn…

Because you are creating the subject (the playlist), you’ll probably already be thinking about the key elements (songs and/or parts of songs), patterns (common features, characteristics, or themes in these songs), and relationships (how these songs connect to form a whole). Each element of your playlist contributes to the whole; each song carries some part of the overall message you are trying to convey. In other words, this isn’t just a random assortment of songs you like, but a purposefully and thoughtfully designed playlist with a particular outcome in mind. In order to discuss these parts, you’ll need to be specific. You might discuss the lyrics, genre(s) of music and its history, artist information, the beat, tempo, style, and mood of the songs, the instruments or technology used to produce it.

Usually, when we analyze texts, we’re analyzing work that someone else produced (themes in a novel, language in a speech, subliminal messaging in an ad). In this case, you’re analyzing something you’ve created using someone else’s material, so while some of the evidence lies within the songs themselves, you might also discuss your own choices to work with the material in the way that you did: why did you arrange the songs in the order that you did? Why 5 songs instead of 10? Why these artists? Why this genre? Why this beat/tempo/style/mood/instrument/technology?

Your book outlines a few common types of analysis: rhetorical, process, causal, and data; we’re hanging out in the rhetorical section: how does this thing communicate?

Insight gained…

This has to do with the “why bother?” part of analysis. Why analyze a playlist? To what end is this useful? Why should anybody care about the songs on a playlist? There are two points I want to touch on here:

  1. Music can teach us about people and society. Song lyrics are texts, and we can study their emotional impact and social commentary. Music is also more widely “used” or consumed than articles and novels: many of you don’t read novels on a regular basis, but I know you listen to music.
  2. Learning to recognize and to write about the parts of something that contribute to a whole in order to communicate a particular message is a transferrable skill that you’ll use in a variety of disciplines, from identifying the multiple factors contributing to a health condition in order to provide a diagnosis or develop a treatment plan, to recognizing grammatical patterns in learning another language so that you can apply them to new structures, or even understanding the complex layers of our political systems so that you can contribute to a democratic society by voting and by speaking up when justice is not served.

When you think about the insight gained from analyzing a playlist that you created, it might seem silly: how can you gain insight from analyzing something you made? What you might look at here is the bigger picture: why might a playlist be valuable? What might it contribute to the listener’s understanding of an issue? How might it benefit them to know how all of the parts fit together? Likewise, you can also evaluate the success of your playlist: what is missing? What is left out? How could it be made better? These questions will come up in your self-assessment, so you may choose to answer them in class rather than in the essay itself.

Clear, precise language…

I’m going to quote from your book here because their words are spot on: “Since the point of an analysis is to help an audience understand something, you need to pay extra attention to the words you use and the way you explain your findings.” Use language that your audience will understand (you don’t need to sound scholarly, but remember that you are writing to a college-educated audience), and use words that point to specifics. Words like “things” and “stuff” and “good” and “really” don’t present a clear picture of what you mean. You also want to be sure that the language you use is culturally sensitive: avoid stereotypes about gender, religion, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability; some of these we have internalized and it can be difficult to unlearn ways of expressing ideas that might be considered offensive. Review the “How to Write Good Sentences” chapter in your textbook (p. 668) for some advice on sentence composing, and we’ll look at “What’s Your Style” in class (p. 641) together.

EXTRA CREDIT: Very rarely do I offer extra credit opportunities, but this invitation can act as a bridge from textual/rhetorical analysis to visual analysis, which we’ll do with advertisements later on. Most playlists, whether digital or burned onto a physical CD, come with some sort of case, booklet, or cover art. If you are feeling especially creative, and want to play with visuals in order to further support the message or purpose you are aiming for with your playlist, make some cover art to accompany your album. Up to 5 extra credit points are available; this needs to be submitted with your final draft either digitally or as a hard copy, with a brief note explaining your rhetorical choices.

What is Stamina? Transmediation Example

Muriel Rukeyser, at the young age of 22, wrote the documentary poem “The Book of the Dead” which chronicles the Hawk’s Nest Mining Disaster. This event, which took place in the 1930’s, has been called America’s worst industrial disaster, but it is not well-known to most American citizens. Rukeyser’s poem features transcripts from court hearings and meetings of the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Labor, as well as testimony from men who worked in the tunnels and their families. While it is unclear to me at this time whether or not she actually spoke with these individuals in their homes or worked from documents that were provided to her, Rukeyser’s take on the Hawk’s Nest Mining Disaster sheds a necessary light on the desperate persistence of the tunnel workers despite fatal conditions. Sia, an Australian music artist, released the song “The Greatest” in 2016. The song, according to the website Genius which provides annotated song lyrics, was written as an anthem for LGBT individuals after the shooting at the Orlando Pulse nightclub. Both Rukeyser’s poem and Sia’s song speak to the experiences of marginalized people.

In Rukeyser’s poem, she tells of the workers who contracted silicosis after digging out a tunnel rich in silica to divert water for hydroelectric power for the Union Carbide Company. This tunnel was located in Gauley Bridge, West Virginia, and the dam and tunnel entrance can be seen from the hiking trails along the New River Gorge. Silicosis is a lung disease; the dust fills the lungs of the individual affected, and that person eventually suffocates as they can no longer breathe. “I can’t breathe” is a well-known cry of the Black Lives Matter movement in response to the deaths of unarmed black men in the hands of police, specifically Eric Garner who uttered these words prior to his death. Some have argued that these deaths should be considered murder. I believe some would argue the same about the Hawk’s Nest Mining Disaster. Most of the men working in the tunnel at that time were men of color, migrant workers from southern states. Sia’s song opens with similar words, “Uh-oh, runnin’ out of breath, but I/Oh, I, I got stamina/Uh-oh, running now, I close my eyes/Well, oh, I got stamina/And uh-oh, I see another mountain to climb/But I, I, I got stamina” (“Sia – The Greatest Lyrics”). While Sia’s lyrics speak specifically to the challenges that LGBT individuals face in this country, and her treatment of not being able to breathe is figurative (the mountain is a metaphor), it parallels the literal experiences of both the Hawk’s Nest victims as well as the black men who have lost their lives more recently.

Rukeyser includes the bill passed by the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Labor in “The Book of the Dead,” under a section called The Bill. Toward the end of that section, there is a direct quote presented before the signed names of the representatives. It reads, “If by their suffering and death they will have made a future life safer for work beneath the earth, if they will have been able to establish a new and greater regard for human life in industry, their suffering may not have been in vain.” While this is an admirable statement to make, the struggle for human rights for non-white, non-male, non-heterosexual people in this country is ongoing, and we cannot make martyrs out of those whose lives were taken. History cannot be erased, nor can these lives be brought back. Perhaps statements like this bring some comfort to the families of those whose loved ones have died, but it’s an embarrassment that as a country, America has not yet figured out how to ensure basic protections to all of its people. Sia’s song declares “I’m free to be the greatest, I’m alive/I’m free to be the greatest here tonight,” and one annotation claims that “Redemption, self-preservation, perseverance, and finding inner-strength are all common themes in Sia’s music” (“Sia – The Greatest Lyrics”). I would argue that these qualities are common themes in American culture, but that these values unfairly place the burden on marginalized individuals to fight for what they should already have, rather than calling out the systemic issues that allow this cycle to continue.

For a version of this essay in MLA format with citations, please click here.


Who Owns Ideas? Intellectual Property and Academic (Dis)Honesty: Part 2

One of the big ideas raised in both the film we watched and your textbook is that of ownership of ideas. To quote from the chapter in Everyone’s an Author,

Who owns words and ideas? Answers to this question differ from culture to culture. In some societies, they are shared resources, not the property of individuals. In others, using another person’s words or ideas may be seen as a tribute or compliment that doesn’t require specific  acknowledgement. In the United States, however (as well as in much of the Western world), elaborate systems of copyright and patent law have grown up to protect the intellectual property (including words, images, voices, and ideas) of individuals and corporations. This system forms the foundation of the documentation conventions currently followed in U.S. schools (527).

As I’ve mentioned, we are an individualistic society. We encourage people to pull themselves up by the bootstraps (assuming they have boots to begin with). We expect our members to pursue happiness and prosperity by their own definition, and we encourage them to defend what is “theirs” with laws that protect them from “violation” (see copyright law). In other words, the individual is the central focus of American society, rather than the whole, or the greater good. This kind of thinking operates closely to the scarcity model that teaches us resources are limited, survival is everything, everyone is competition, and thus we should fight to protect what little we have lest it be taken away. We hoard whatever we can get our hands on, then, in an effort to preserve some sort of perceived safety: is our very existence truly threatened by sharing what we have with others?

Academia exists in a weird place, somewhere between the copyright and copyleft. While we pander to individualism in that we want you to do your own work and earn your credentials (also, we want you to think for yourself!), we also greatly value collaboration and remix! When I write for an academic audience, I name drop. I associate my work, and my ideas, with the people who came before me, who have been doing this work. It would be unprofessional and inappropriate to show up and suggest change without first learning about how we got to where we are now. I build on what they have already done. I also connect sources, putting them into conversation. Perhaps Source A made a point that Source B can add to. As a writer, I can connect these articles and make new meaning. This is what sampling looks like in academia. However, academia makes an explicit demand that the public sphere does not, which is that you must cite your sources, giving credit where credit is due.

Here is Henry Ford College’s policy on academic (dis)honesty (I put the dis- in parenthesis because I wonder how this conversation would change if instead of framing it as a list of do-not’s, we looked at academic honesty and defined that instead):

Academic Integrity

Henry Ford College (HFC) considers academic dishonesty to be a serious offense. It is the policy of the College that determination of and appropriate action in respect to academic dishonesty by a student shall be a matter of individual judgment by the instructor. The instructor may administer a penalty up to and including failure in the particular course. It is the professional obligation of the faculty to enforce academic integrity in their courses. Instructors (or their designees) reserve the right to require picture identification for test taking, graded papers or projects, or other appropriate purposes. A student cannot drop a class if failing for reasons of academic dishonesty.

Academic dishonesty is any activity intended to improve a student’s grade fraudulently.* It includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  1. Unauthorized acquisition of tests or alteration of grades (such as the stealing of tests, test keys, or grade books from faculty offices or elsewhere, or the purchasing of tests or grade-books);
  2. Unauthorized use of notes, books, or other prohibited materials during an examination;
  3. Open cheating on an examination (such as copying from another student’s paper);
  4. Permitting another person to take a test in the student’s place or receiving unauthorized assistance with any work for which academic credit is received;
  5. Providing unauthorized assistance with any work for which academic credit is received;
  6. Revision of graded work in an attempt to receive additional credit fraudulently;
  7. Plagiarism (using another person’s work without acknowledgment);
  8. Use of cell and video phones to cheat; and
  9. Any other conduct intended to obtain academic credit fraudulently or dishonestly.

If an instructor fails a student in a course for academic dishonesty, the instructor must immediately notify in writing the student and the registrar of the infraction, retaining copies of both notifications.

The registrar maintains a record of all such violations. If a student fails two classes as a result of academic dishonesty, he or she is dismissed from HFC for two academic years. In addition, a notation of the reason for academic dismissal is placed on the student’s transcript(s). The notation may be expunged at the discretion of the appropriate vice president if the student petitions for its removal after at least two years have elapsed since the disciplinary action.

If a student believes that the accusation is false, he or she may appeal through the Student Complaint Procedure. If the appeal reaches the Student Complaint Board (SCB), the SCB may consider only whether the charge is justified. The SCB may not set aside or change the penalty given by the instructor unless the charge of academic dishonesty is set aside.

*Any action that violates the Student Conduct Policy and Due Process Procedure is also subject to review under that policy.

As you can see, our academic integrity policy covers far more than just plagiarism and citing sources. For comparison, here are links to EMU’s policy and Wayne State’s as well.

Your assignment for this particular unit asks you to connect themes from RIP: A Remix Manifesto to college policies on academic integrity. Start with fair use. Read your textbook. Review the college policy quoted above. Think about whether or not ideas can really be owned, and whether we need more copyright, or more sharing/open source materials. Consider your responsibilities as a college student, where the concept of remix might fit into the work that you do, and how you should handle that ethically. I’m looking for you to show me that you paid attention to the film, that you’ve taken some time to think about these concepts, and that you are aware of and understand what is expected of you as a college student.

Here are links to two resources we talked about in class:

An interview with Girl Talk

Fair Use Criteria