Wysocki — “Openings” and Activities

Wysocki, Anne F. “Opening New Media to Writing: Openings and Justifications.” Writing New Media: Theories and Applications for Expanding the Teaching of Composition. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press. 1-41. Print.

Wysocki and colleagues (Johndan Johnson-Eilola, Cynthia L. Selfe, and Geoffrey Sirc) offer a collection in which they offer “some openings—some ranges of active possibilities” which, in this time of change, might “encourage us to shift what we do in our thinking and classes so that we do not forget, so that we make actively present in our practices, how writing is continually changing material activity that shapes just who we can be and what we can do” (2-3).

Wysocki offers a framework for her chapter which uses Bruce Horner’s “materiality of writing” to explore how thinking is shaped by the materiality of writing technologies, to become mindful of the materiality of the texts we produce and to define “new media texts” in terms of their materialities (3). She also explores here how composition instructors (in Selberian fashion [though, his Multiliteracies text was published in the same year as this text, so perhaps Selber was writing in Wysockian fashion?]) need to be active in defining how new media is encountered in writing classrooms and provides an “opening” for approaching the need for generous reading (3).

I’ve read through this chapter a few times, and I’ll be reading through it again (along with Wysocki’s chapter on beauty and a critique/exploration of that concept from Kant to a popular trade paperback title on design by Robin Williams with a fascinating study of a New Yorker ad). I’m intrigued by Wysocki’s discussion of agency in this chapter, and will get to blogging about that later, along with a discussion of system design (21) that reminded me of a selection from Langdon Winner’s The Whale and the Reactor.

But first, a meditation on how I might borrow/adapt one of the sample activities at the end of the chapter to my own situated classroom practice.

At Eastern Michigan, our first-year writing program emphasizes (among other things) an awareness of discourse communities and genre awareness and analysis. The first (optional) course is focused more explicitly (as I understand it) on genre analysis, while the second (gen ed required) course layers in research through an inquiry-based or ethnographic track.

Wysocki offers an activity on that asks her students to become aware of texts which vie for their attention during a two-hour stretch of time. It seems to me that part of this activity gets at what Selber refers to as critical literacy—in other words, the activity attempts to get students to become aware of the rhetorical appeals that surround them on a day-to-day (moment-by-moment) basis and how those rhetorical appeals may shape their behaviors, decisions or actions and what they may be able to do about it. It also gets at what Selber might refer to as a rhetorical literacy by encouraging students to think about how they might be able to impact the visual world they have documented and what different kinds of social behaviors are possible (25).

I imagine that, in my situated practice at EMU, where genre and discourse analysis is a priority in the composition classroom, I could add in discussions of the conventions of texts students document. I think such conversations might also include discussions of how the folks who compose the texts students document go about actually composing them (What do they think about? What are their concerns? Who are they targeting?). And what context do those texts exist in, from a local examination to a broader societal/cultural/political examination.

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