Instructor Reflection – S.978 Remix – Safety of the Internet (4.1)

by Tanya K. Rodrigue

This 200-level Digital Writing course was framed by the following inquiry: how does technology change the way we think about writing, writing processes and writing practices? The overarching course goals were to teach students multimodal composition and literacies and enhance their genre and rhetorical awareness. Students were also challenged to engage in digital and intellectual play and to explore how various modes and media can be combined to achieve communicative acts.

In the first unit, students began to expand the definition of writing from purely textual to multimodal. The exploration and creation of comics helped them learn how linguistic and visual modes work together to construct meaning. The use of various programs like Comic Life and GIMP introduced them to a vast realm of digital composing tools, and thus broadened their understanding of writing instruments.

Kevin and Elie’s project “S.978 Remix—Safety of the Internet” is from the second unit, which focused on remix. Building off of the comic unit, the remix unit encouraged creativity and invention, as students added the audio mode and a different form of the visual mode (video), and more digital composing tools such as iMovie to their digital writing knowledge toolbox. Students also explored what makes digital writing different from print writing via discussions of multimodality, distribution and circulation. Further, students, in this unit, investigated the issues of originality, authorship, and plagiarism in relation to knowledge-production–issues that have gained more attention and relevance in the 21st century.

This assignment specifically asked students to compose a remix that conveys an argument related to a topic, issue or concern we discussed in class—a digital writing assignment about digital writing. To provide students with some guidance, I provided a short list of videos on topics related to the course, and asked them to choose one or more videos to incorporate into their remix. Because YouTube was our chosen media to showcase student remixes, we also explored how YouTube functions as a social network and site of participatory culture. Students were able to gain audience awareness as well as think about how they, as YouTube content creators, contribute to participatory culture.

Kevin and Elie’s focus on intellectual property rights and the S.978 bill was not a surprise considering they are both active in the YouTube community as both content creators and viewers, and thus the bill could directly affect them. They are also highly motivated and innovative digital natives. Elie and Kevin created a passionate, strong, multimodal argument that speaks to many topics we discussed in class. What I found particularly interesting about their remix is the way it embodies the conceptualization of how many teacher-scholars understand “academic writing:” a social, dialogical meaning-making act. Kevin and Elie quite literally immersed themselves in an ongoing conversation, engaging with voices, perspectives and arguments from multiple genres (cast, cartoons, slide presentation, images) to make an argument of their own. They made deliberate rhetorical choices about how to best work with sources to achieve their purpose and communicate with the YouTube audience. The ability to do this off the page, working with sources that don’t look like “academic” sources, and creating something that doesn’t look like “academic writing,” is impressive and exciting. Their work helps demonstrate the value in teaching multimodal composition in the academy, as students clearly gain the academic skills and abilities needed to write, invent, think, engage and make meaning.

I was also impressed by the way Kevin and Elie handled and synthesized the multimodal elements. The incorporation of many elements could have been overwhelming for them and for viewers, yet they were able to pull it off well. The fast-paced nature of the remix keeps the audience interested and engaged. Most of the time, the video maintains fluidity and coherence, and as a result, the viewer can easily comprehend Kevin and Elie’s explicit argument about the S.978 bill and other arguments about the relationship between creative expression, and capitalism, class, and the law. Their video also argues for remix as a compelling and effective genre of argumentation.

Also, I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of Lawrence Lessig’s TED talk, “Laws That Choke Creativity,” which was one of the videos from the required video list. Kevin, Elie, their peers, the YouTube content creators, and even the South Park children characters, are the “kids” Lessig refers to in his TED talk–the generation that has been fundamentally changed by technology. The dialogical engagement between generations was a dynamic choice in driving home Kevin and Elie’s argument.