Expository Writing as Digital Citizenship

Its a new semester, and I am teaching two sections of upper-division expository writing. I am excited to return to a previous approach: blogging as composition. Last time I tried this with freshman we and we were quite pleased with the results. Here's what this semester's course description looks like:

This course is an attempt to reimagine writing instruction, moving away from 20th century models based on print scholarship and toward 21st century models of digital citizenship. My premise: the purpose of the contemporary university has to be more attentive to maximizing new communicative tools, including blogs, wikis, aggregators, bookmarks, and networking technologies.

Traditional writing classes, especially those “academic” in nature, instruct students to write for imagined audiences. Unfortunately, in practice, this is rarely the case—students end up writing for “a general conversation of mankind.” For many complicated reasons, cutting edge writing instruction has denounced writing for this universal / incorporeal audience. Yet, few alternatives present themselves to instructors: who can students write to? Can authentic audiences be a part of writing instruction?

This class is my experimental answer to this question. I am refiguring the way we teach writing. This semester you will be writing to an audience of your choosing—but you will have to demonstrate to me an authentic relationship with this audience. You will be entering into a discourse community, participating in its social conventions, and reporting back to the class on its values, purposes, and intrigues.

To explain: this will be a course on blogging. This is not to say that this will be a course that uses blogs. I am proposing something a bit more extensive than that. I am proposing that blogging will not simply augment the material of the course, it will compose the material of the course. Playfully, composing blogs will be the expository exercise.

Simultaneously, we will be reading, discussing, and (of course) writing about the viability of blogging as an approach to expository writing. We will discuss the goals and purposes of the traditional expository class in relation to your experiences in this class. We will use a contemporary academic argument handbook, They Say, I Say, assessing whether the values of academic prose translate into blogging. In their work, Graff and Birkenstein argue that “rote instruction [has] indeed encouraged passivity and drained writing of its creativity and dynamic relation to the social world” (xv). This class, then, can be understood as an attempt to revitalize and reprioritize writing. I am looking to teach a form of writing that is creative, dynamic, an integrally tied to your social world.

This work will culminate in a discussion on the broader conceptualization of blogging within our social sphere. You will use your experiences as a blogger to respond to the contemporary debate concerning the rigor and value of blogs.

This course will be run as a creative writing workshop. I imagine all of you will be writing on different topics (and entering into different communities, crafting different voices, different styles of blogs). Our class sessions, then, will be dedicated to providing peers with meaningful and helpful feedback (critical in its least pejorative sense). You should be prepared to share your work, ideas, and thoughts in a respectful manner.

The course, then, is an extension of my previous semester: on the purpose of higher education. I am further attempting to move beyond the Ruins of the Enlightenment institution, the knowledge factory, and toward something more social, democratic (?), and connected.


Casey said...

We had a guy come in today to tell us all about writing across the curriculum -- he urged us to integrate more "low-stakes"/informal writing, because, he argued, writing can be simply a tool... I liked it. I can certainly see the point of allowing students to practice writing in settings where they won't be punished for mistakes. Process not product, etc.

But he concluded by returning to writing itself -- it is a discipline in itself, he reiterated. There are precise ways of writing that we probably should still teach our students... unfortunately, there's not much of a breakthrough pedagogy strategy for that. Some memorization, practice, modeling, etc.

What IS the aim of the university these days? -- aren't kids perfectly good at social/democratic communication by the time we get them (texting, facebook, etc.)?

You might like this:


(Ironically, I'm not proficient in the HTML tag for a link... how unsociable of me)

Casey said...

BTW, I dedicated my most recent post to you a little bit.