Category Archives: Rhetoric

WTCS General Studies Conference: Multimodality and multimedia in composition

A presentation given by Skype on 11 April 2014.

Photo sources:

Coming soon: PDF of assignment sheets

Lynda Barry Multimodal Rhetorical Analysis sequence:

Assignment 3.2 Assignment 3.1 Assignment 3.3

Radical Remediation:

136 3.5


Placement Testing for WTCS Assessment Conf

The following are supporting documents and slides for a presentation I gave on 3/1/13 at the WTCS Assessment Conference at Waukesha County Technical College.

My colleague, Lisa Kusko, deserves a special thanks to acknowledge her contribution to the Fall 2011 data. We collaborated on a more robust project that examined placement from more than a single focus on testing.

Background Documents and Further Results

Fall 2012 Data Breakdown and Graphs: F12PlacementProject [PDF]

Fall 2011 Data Breakdown [Google Doc]


Why Prezi?

In mid-October, I had the opportunity to lead an hour-long workshop for my colleagues about the use of Prezi in the classroom. It was a wonderful time, and I received enthusiastic feedback from both of my capacity sessions of about 20 faculty and staff members. In fact, I received so much interest about Prezi, that I’m now going to be leading a 3-hour extended intro and training with Prezi.

To talk about Prezi productively, I want to start a conversation that asks why we might use the form in certain contexts, as well as reveal its limitations. Basically, what advantages might Prezi offer in the classroom, but when might we resist using it just because it’s the “new” or “cool” tool?

In leading this workshop, I’m making two assumptions:

  • Prezi isn’t a magic bullet that immediately remedies the problems with presentation software or style. Allowing for conversation between presenter and audience–or for collaboration that further destabilizes those roles–isn’t something built into Prezi.
  • Technology is not neutral. Prezi allows and encourages us to structure the delivery and representation of information in specific ways. Some of these affordances are advantages in comparison to slideware.

Here’s where you come in.

I’ve listed out some of my reasons for preferring Prezi in my Prezi about Prezi (see below).(And, meta- much?) But, I’d like to know what you like about Prezi. In what circumstances do you prefer it to slideware or Pecha Kucha-constraints or anything else? Do you have any favorite examples of effective use of the form of Prezi with the content of a presentation?

I’d love to read your notes and incorporate them into my workshop.


Re: re-/mix and (res, rei)/mix

One of my prelim exam committee members pointed me towards Mark Amerika’s new work at (@remixthebook) last week. I have previously read–and read about–Amerika’s work, but that isn’t necessarily the focus of the thoughts to follow in this blog post.

Mark Sample has a (great) guest post on the blog this week, in which he deconstructs “remix” a bit, arriving at some questions and conclusions I thought interesting. And that’s what I’d like to hash out, ineloquently, here.

Sample writes:

What’s wrong with simply mix? Why the prefix? Why remix? Why use to describe some of the most innovative and startling work of our generation a prefix that evokes return or restoration?

To remix suggests that pieces are tossed and turned and tumbled and reassembled into a whole that more or less resembles the original in structure. Like a kaleidoscope, the parts shift, but they’re always contained and framed by the shaft of the scope.

These, I think, are pertinent questions, especially for someone who has thought about remix, appropriation, interactive narratives, simulations, participatory readers, blah, blah, blah. In my own understanding of how these pieces fit together (perhaps peek at my prelim rationale for a brief overview/context), there is always something that comes first, a ground state: whether it’s a context or mission in a simulation or game; a rabbit hole or puzzle in an ARG; a texton in ergodic lit, etc. The ground state is something supplied by the “author,” sometimes with the express purpose of making it available for derivative works and/or semiotic sequencing (or re-sequencing).

Admittedly, that’s a bit of a daft, simple response.

What really gets me excited by Sample’s post is the smart etymology of “re.” I’d like to move it a step… somewhere: I’m not sure if it’s further, closer, in a different direction, or whatever the appropriate spatial metaphor in relation to the “ground state” of the post.

I want to offer the Latin res in response to the Latin re- — more specifically and perhaps in the spirit of Derrida’s différance, the ablative of res, re. Continue reading

UnAvailable Designs: Remixing Lynda Barry in the FYC Classroom

This is the text of my presentation to CCCC11, 8 April 2011, in Atlanta, GA. My fellow panel members were Dale Jacobs (Univ of Windsor) and Andre Buchenot (IUPUI). As I’m mostly a reader (gasp!) when it comes to presentations, the text below reflects almost perfectly what I said. I’ve also pasted my Prezi at the bottom of this page.

In this presentation, I will propose that Lynda Barry’s comic “Common Scents” provides an opportunity for students to engage with multimodal rhetoric in a manner that introduces them to an expanded set of rhetorical strategies and possible ethical perspectives. I will then detail a sequence of in-class activities that I have successfully used in the first year composition classroom to facilitate those aforementioned opportunities.

Why Comics?

[I] call for a “new medium-specificity, one based on what is specific to a work or practice… a new materials-ism.. [in] response to attempts to assign a single aesthetic to ‘the digital’ (information aesthetics, code)” [or, in our case here, the products of multimodal production.]

– Sean Cubitt

“An exclusive emphasis on digital literacies is not what most advocates of technology-rich composition advocate. Such an emphasis would limit students’ access to other modes of expression.”

-from the NCTE’s Strategic Policy Goals on Multimodal Literacies and Technology

Many, if not most, of our classrooms are influenced by the constraints of the printed page. Thus, when we seek to explore multimodal pedagogy, we are subsequently limited. These limits apply to both multimodal analysis and multimodal production, though unequally so.

Yes; most of us may have or can arrange to have digital networked projector technology in our classrooms, so we can explore animations, games, videos, and other multimodal communications from a single source–or ask our students to explore these on their own time with their own technology, in front of their own home computers or digital media devices. But, if we project multimodal communications for mass viewing, we often limit individual students interaction with the object of analysis; for instance, students don’t have the agency to individually explore games and interactive animations, they can’t pause or replay sections of a video.  (Displaying one object for all is also potentially boring, as you might know if you’ve watched someone else play a game like Animal Crossing). If we remove the object of analysis from the classroom, we limit our ability to interact simultaneously with both student and object; we can’t facilitate more critical understandings for ourselves and individual students. It’s harder to ask and answer questions when those texts aren’t in our students’ hands.

These limits are even more severe when it comes to production. Chances are we (both teachers and students) are not well versed in composing with Flash, even if we had wide access to the application (which most of us likely do not). Though, the lure of simplistic notions of “digital nativism” might try to convince us otherwise, there are barriers to the tools required to produce animations, videos, games, and other digital multimodal compositions.

Comics, however, make many of these limitations less imposing. We can distribute them widely with little technological barrier: all we need is a standard office tool, the copy machine, or a scanner and printer. Our students are familiar with them; they’re likely to have picked up the comics section in a newspaper or a comic book–or maybe even have had a piece of Bazooka bubble gum.  They are usually produced with pen and paper, not through more complex code-based or GUI-based design/production software, such as Illustrator, InDesign, or Photoshop–common tools used for producing a typical infographic.

In a sense, comics are available and accessible. Continue reading

Examining a sustainability infographic

Design as Directing Users

Analyses based on this infographic:

• Color coordinates the three main areas of the page, which illustrates the interconnectivity of the information. Also noted that population is set off in a different color scheme.

• There is a visual break so you see that there are three main pieces of information to review.

• The white circle in the center of the graphic draws the eye first, then the longer of the radiating lines draw the eye to the other information areas on the graphic. (royal blue — to the title in the upper left, teal and green — to the population graphic in the lower right, gold stands out and draws the eye up toward the cluster of pie charts in the top right corner)

• The relative size of the individual pie charts corresponds to the amount of recycled materials. 8 of the 19 materials are not recycled at all. (Perhaps their scattered placement down the right side is meant to make the reader slow down and absorb each fact individually when moving through, rather than to show relationship to each other?)

Design as Rhetoric & Distortion

• The graphic seems to be missing a main title. Without this, the reader must work to discern the overall theme and goal of the display.

• Circle widths represent years, decades and centuries, moving out on the circle. This distorts the difference in longevity of some elements.

• Because it doesn’t have a corresponding graphic, the “If Demand Grows” information seems to be less important.

• It seems as though the impact of the American consumer’s role in depleting these resources is minimized by *not* comparing American per capita consumption to that of the rest of the world. We only see our own figures, which are interesting — but not frightening — because there’s nothing to compare them to except the levels of the other materials we consume.

• Interesting that the radial structure of the “central” graphic implies a meeting of ends, rather than a more temporally accurate spatial representation of the staggering of resources disappearing. For instance, the lower estimate for time remaining of indium is 4 years, while the upper estimate for aluminum is 1027 years. Yet, the graphic, which uses coterminous bar graphs (almost a kind of video game-like resource meter) to show quantity remaining (in a somewhat logarithmic scale).

• The sleek and simple quantification of resources almost removes the consequences of acquiring and disposing the material. These ignored consequences range from environmental to the political

Introducing my students to iPads

I was the fortunate recipient of a $2500 Faculty Innovation through Technology (FIT) grant from my institution, Gateway Technical College, to fund 4 iPads for use in my writing sections. Additionally, as part of the grant program, I will receive a faculty stipend at the end of the academic year—which I fronted myself to buy my own iPad, which I let my students use in class.

Part of the rationale for my grant proposal was using the relatively new tablet computing category in small group settings, ranging from 3:1 to 5:1 student to iPad ratios. My thought as to why this was a useful trial was at least threefold. As the New London Group describes in their A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies, one of the emerging labor structures of fast or late global capitalism is the small, shifting project-based group. As such, being a faculty member at a college largely focused on the training and retraining of workers for the contemporary workplace, small grow work utilizing the latest technology is quite relevant to our students’ potential futures.

Tablets might also facilitate more mobile and participatory structures for collaborative group work in class. Students can assemble around tables, less encumbered by or tied to a stationary desktop or folding netbook, to create collaborative texts, and then send those texts to a centric server to be shared with and viewed by the entire class. While having one desktop computer per student in a lab setting in combination with a learning management system like Blackboard can offer similar opportunities in sharing text, I’m betting that the portability of a tablet might encourage more equitable and exchangeable sharing of composing and thinking. Simply, net books and notebooks have folding screens that require viewers to be seated in a semicircle to be viewed. iPads are lighter and have a single surface to work with.

I’ll likely post my formal proposal, complete with some standard (for me) New London Group quotes, in a follow up. I will also be updating this blog with what my student have been using the iPads for, as well as how well or poorly the iPad works in this specific context.

This Is Not A Game: ARGs as a Composition Course Structure

This is a paper that served as a foundation for a presentation I delivered at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s First Year Composition program pedagogical development conference on May 1, 2010.  Thus, much of the rationale is framed by that program’s specific ethos and identities; I believe, however, that the benefits of an ARG course structure as discussed below are not bound by this focus on a single institutional setting.


There is a growing body of research on the use of several types of video games for educational purposes, such as simulations, both close-ended objective-defined and open-ended “sandbox” simulations, games designed with specific educational/physiological goals, to name a few. There is, unfortunately, far less available on the potential and impact of blended-reality games, such as pervasive games—those based on specific locations, such as geo-cache treasure hunts or Pac Manhattan—and, more importantly, I will argue, Alternate Reality Games (ARGs). ARGs and pervasive games share some overlap in design and characteristics of play: both use “real” world features and artifacts, such as streets, buildings, public spaces, or payphones, and publicly available media, such as billboards, posters, or media made available through mobile networked technology. ARGs tend to use multimedia clues to direct players on a narrative-driven puzzle-solving experience that takes place in the players’ “real” world, as opposed to being hosted through a computer graphic (CG) mediated virtual world, like Halo, World of Warcraft, Second Life, or Myst.

In addition to little academic research on ARGs as educational tools, a standard definition of the genre is elusive. This appears to be at least two-fold in reason. The infancy of the form likely contributes to a lack of definition. The educational application of video games, in general, seems to have achieved a large body of work only over the past 10-20 years, as media and technology have continued to evolve and converge, and as video games have become a topic for media, cultural and ludic studies. Over this same time period, new media technologies have also begun to creep into pedagogy through blogs, wikis, and other digitally networked text-based tools.

ARGs, when discussed under that definition, have a history dating to 1996, with two records of ARGs before the year 2000, according to, arguably the most comprehensive listing of ARGs and related links sponsored in conjunction with the International Game Designers Association Alternate Reality Games Special Interest Group (IGDA ARG SIG). Another barrier to a single definition is the large iterations of complexities and variations offered by the relatively simple structure of the ARG and the multi-modality of its narrative/gameplay environment: interactive web-based technologies, DIY publishing, remix and the co-option of popular narratives and artifacts.

I anticipate that understanding what an ARG is—and what one “looks” like—may be a substantial barrier for the reader of this paper. Thus, for the purposes of this project, I will adopt Jane McGonigal’s definition of an ARG:

an interactive drama played out online and in real world spaces, taking place over several weeks or months, in which dozens, hundreds, thousands of players come together online, form collaborative social networks, and work together to solve a mystery or problem that would seem impossible to solve alone (“Alternate Reality Gaming: ‘Life Imitates ARG’ [PDF]”).

As this definition is expansive, allow me to propose a few translations that might help the reader see a more concrete connection to this project—bringing an ARG into a multimodal composition classroom. First would be to think less of the “drama” (or, the fictionalized impetus for entering the game; the reason to play). As I will later argue, this narrative patina may not be an applicable internal motivator within the classroom. In McGonigal’s definition, I encourage the reader to focus on the “interactive” pursuit of a community of student “players” to analyze and interpret texts collaboratively—the act of interpretation being akin to “solv[ing] a mystery or problem,” though one with an open solution. Further linking the composition classroom to this definition is the language of the assignment sequence—language that positions interpretation as an act that may seem incapable of being achieved alone, without the reflection and multiplicity of perspectives that the composition classroom provides.

Despite the relative dearth of research and academic texts produced about ARGs by that name, it is appropriate to turn to transmedia narratives, multimodal pedagogy, and new media digital storytelling as a framework to build an ARG for classroom use. Through this approach, the work of Henry Jenkins on both video games and media convergence becomes applicable in a discussion of the aesthetics, structures, theory and history of ARGs, as well as their potential as educational collective intelligence communities.

The large question that I hope to address through this project, then, is: how can an ARG serve as a pedagogical tool in the composition classroom? In this paper, I hope to: provide an outline of the aesthetics and structures of ARGs, what might serve as a working contextual definition for the aims of this project; examine a case study and principles of ARGs designed for student induction and orientation; and examine this case study in terms of the educational benefits that resulted from play. Furthermore, while ARGs have been used as texts for academic study, my aim is to apply the knowledge from the above approaches to illustrate how an ARG might serve as a structure for motivating and producing student writing within the curricular goals of the English 101 course at UWM.
Continue reading