C.E. Ball’s article argues (to traditionally-minded academics who consciously or unconsciously denigrate new media texts’ potential for “true” scholarship) that new media scholarship—that is, scholarship written as new media text, not necessarily about new media—deserves to be valued. She identifies a “gap” between what new media scholars say and what they do (409). In order to establish an ethos within the academic community, they publish (as Ball is doing, and she notes the irony) in print-privileging journals. She notes, too, that new media scholarship requires authors to “[cross] so many disciplinary and departmental boundaries, which makes it necessary for scholars to show colleagues across fields that one can work in new media (and not just write about it)” (407).
This focus on “doing,” on “agency” and “authoring/designing,” threads Ball’s article. She identifies opportunity for new media scholarship to “determine the design” (Feenburg qtd. On pg. 409) of itself.
What I find so interesting is that this decade-old article makes today’s efforts look pretty paltry. I mean I look at Kairos now and I see mostly blogs. Our new media scholarship doesn’t build; it appropriates or works within already established designs. We make superficial choices about where things go, but the texts are still very, very text-heavy. In fact it often looks like an academic paper cut up into bits. It might be a little more visually attractive, but the print parts themselves are rarely so. It’s as if Ball’s “point” that once people begin to realize the value of all semiotic modes academics will begin to value new media mediums hasn’t born fruit, really (410). I think it will take a generation of turnover—people who are in their 20s, 30s and 40s now taking over hiring positions—before any substantial shift happens in what becomes widely acceptable digital media “scholarship.”
I particularly value Ball’s identification of academic writing “spaces” as being “overdetermined” in “space and structure” (409). I think there is psychological value in this structure—a kind of discourse-community defining itself. In my work with Montessori and her notion of “prepared environment” this “determining of space and structure” defines not just the community (though that, too—see Jacqueline Cossetino’s article on Montessori’s “prepared environment” and culture) but the learning/acculturation that happens through and in that space.
Teachers as innovators. Feminist revaluing of “the teacher” as designer.
One of the things I most appreciate about Mary’s article is the focus on writing pedagogies. (I wonder what she thinks of the article now, how her ideas have developed.) I see in the article a very Montessorian bend, that is appreciating what “students already bring” to the classroom in terms of their tendencies to be literate in “hybrid” ways when it comes to digital media.
In the article, Mary identifies “the screen itself as a tablet…” (631). I want to call for us to identify the screen as a “room.” Do we “read” rooms like we “read” tablets? Pages? No, I think. Rooms are much more “visual.” Real rooms are much more gestural; virtual rooms are, too, I want to argue, thinking of video games. And I’m thinking that the blog form is “over-determined” in a way, too, that makes it more of a “page” than a “room.” How do I make an online teaching space that is “room”-like in its determination, that captures, like a video game?, the gestural, the movement? Do I need to?
But I want to suggest, too, in light of Montessori’s work, that the lesson itself has an “environment.” The student “moves” through that environment in particular ways suggested by the design of the environment itself. This is much more imaginable to me, I think, in terms of design. Yet, the notion of online space as “room” seems so attractive to me.
Particularly useful to me in Mary’s article is the vocabulary. When I talk above about the screen as “prepared lesson environment” I’m invoking “audience stance” as key to design choices.
Not so useful, I think, is the notion of “agency” in this text; I find myself continually disturbed by the assumed understanding of this term (though I understand it). For Montessori, the notion of “agency” is key (though she never uses the word, of course), key to other people’s ideas about what Montessori is and does. Sometimes Mary’s article gets subtle with the term “agency” (635). If “possibility of interaction” alone invokes agency, I think we’re in trouble. If this invokes a “sense of agency” then maybe we’re right on. Mary’s discusson of Wysocki’s text as suggesting certain ways of interacting in order to lead her reader down a certain path is the kind of designing I’m talking about in thinking through the design of a lesson via the Montessori method.
Mary’s discussion of our need to teach “writing” within the tech demanding it resonates with me (and clearly presages very recent volumes exploring the implications of her call, namely Alexander and Rhodes’ On Multimodality). I have officially explored enacting this pedagogy in my course this semester. So far so awesome. I have learned personally what it means to feel the difference–composing within the tech vs. copy/pasting from word. I’ve completed one of my first assignments with them. (You can see it here.) I am starting out discussing “modes” and “multimodality,” practicing writing within “other” mediums before essay writing this semester, hoping that this experience helps students understand, grow aware of, the modes as they come to play in essay or lab report or other “typical” academic text productions.