The Scholar Electric

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April 11, 2013

TLL Review: Chapters

Digital Literacies, Technological Diffusion, and Globalization,” the first of five body chapters, introduces the thirteen coauthors whose life experiences are the focus of TLL. Representing eleven countries of origin, the coauthors share their experiences through narratives and photographs, creating what Berry, Hawisher, and Selfe describe as a cultural ecology of transnational life experience: “the historical, political, economic, technological milieu” of twenty-, thirty- and early forty-year-olds’ worlds (“Introduction: Overview of Chapters” para. 2). This first chapter provides broad background information about global developments in education, the “lifeworlds” of the coauthors, and trends in communicative technology. The chapter is divided into three easily navigable sections: “The Lifeworld of Students”; “Globalization and Technology Diffusion”; and “Global Ecologies and the Modern Internet.” In the first section, the authors point out the importance of looking beyond the context of the classroom to study the literate activities of students that often inform pedagogy. The statistical evidence in the second section helps illustrate the trends in communication and digital practices as they relate to the life experiences of the coauthors. The third section helps readers understand the historical, political, and economic factors that led to global revolutions in communicative technologies. This understanding nicely situates the ways in which readers view the conversations about the literate activities of the coauthors that are chronicled later in TLL.

Chapter two, “Digital Media and Transnational Connections,” documents the personal narratives and reflections of four participants enrolled at the University of South Wales: Gorjana Kisa and Mirza Nurkic, both from Sarajevo, and Australians Tessa Kennedy and Kate Polgaze. The coauthors share their personal histories with digital literacy, communicative technologies, and how globalization has affected their relationships with others through a rich blend of alphabetic text and participant-produced video clips; each coauthor offers rich insights into the ways such digital technologies have shaped their transnational perspectives.

In exhibiting the narrations of four distinct individuals enrolled at the same university, and by highlighting each individual’s unique experiences, the authors illustrate the importance of communicative technologies, digital literacy, and cultural identifications for understanding how to continually foster new ways to teach and understand literacy and agency. The chapter highlights the coauthors’ lives in a highly networked, global world where emergent modes of literacy and discourse are shaped by movement and interaction between cultures. Readers are provided “glimpses into individuals’ localized literacy practices within particular cultures and their circulation within global contexts, as well as into their uses of digital communication technologies for both local and global exchanges” (“Narrative as a Way of Knowing” para. 1) to illustrate how “narratives are a form of ‘social action’” (para. 4). TLL traces participants’ processes of negotiating identities, and demonstrates various ways in which these narratives enable “educators … immersed in a different domestic lifeworld … [to] glimpse the identities and futures these students want for themselves” (para. 6).

The third chapter, “Cultural Designs for Writing Digitally,” turns attention to the ways in which digital tools–namely video composing–can help educators understand more about cross-cultural literacy practices. To uncover and make sense of these practices, co-authors were tasked with creating a multimodal composition aimed at documenting their own writing practices. Upon crafting these pieces, participants reflected on the insights those practices reveal: this act fostered an understanding of their individual writing practices.

The three chapter coauthors, Shafinaz Ahmed, Sophie Dewayani, and Yu-Kyung Kang, hail from Bangladesh, Indonesia, and South Korea, respectively. As readers explore the coauthors’ video compositions, they gain glimpses into the ways the writers engage with digital tools that connect their literate activities to the places in which they read and write. The video compositions include representations of each co-author’s writing processes, illuminating how objects and cultural contexts can influence these practices. Each co-author helps readers understand the ways in which composing practices are often nuanced and personal; furthermore, the compositions reveal that literacy acquisition and practice are also situated within cultural ecologies. Conversations beyond these descriptions center on how digital compositions can also inform us about the dispersed, networked character of reading and writing in a digital age. Moreover, the authors argue that digital compositions can be used not only for reflection and a representation of literate activity, but also for research. The authors also provide teachers and researchers ways multimodal compositions could be incorporated into their own work.

Despite the rich descriptions provided by the authors and their video representations about their processes, readers may still raise logistical questions about the practical applications of digital compositions. For instance, details on how these types of assignments might be specifically replicated for pedagogy and research integration are sparse. More information on the actual process of implementing the assignment, as well as the context in which it was executed would be beneficial. Nevertheless, access to video evidence and reflection pieces give insight into possibilities for implementing such assignments.

Chapter four, “Acts of Translation in the Academy and Across National Borders,” provides brief snapshots into three participants’ transnational literacy histories and experiences in higher education, three detailed autobiographical, multimodal accounts of how transnational learners integrate their native language, the English language, and technology to communicate. Masters students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the participant’s experiences demonstrate the challenges of the negotiation of language, identity, and culture as they cross national boundaries to pursue professional and personal goals in higher education. Vanessa Rouillon, who was born in Peru and studied in Chile before moving to the United States, reveals in her video composition the way it feels to use technology for both her academic and personal writing, the former of which she produces in English and the latter in Spanish. Similar to Vanessa, Mexican-born Ismael Gonzalez studies English as a International Language. Readers learn of Ismael’s steadfast reliance on Facebook as a multimodal outlet and as an advantageous tool for code-meshing. Similarly, he uses Facebook to negotiate his personal identity as a transnational citizen as well as a scholarly professional. Like Ismael and Vanessa, Hannah Kyung Lee is fluent in multiple languages. Hannah, a Korean-American who began a graduate program in writing studies and library and information science after teaching in Paris claims a “transnational identity” (para. 1). Moreover, the cultural ecologies Hannah was immersed in allowed her opportunities to use technology to negotiate her transnational identity and communicate across geographic boundaries.

The final body chapter, “Global Digital Divide: From Nigeria and the People’s Republic of China,” is split into three sections. The first two sections review literacy narratives from Nigerian-born Oladipupo “Dipo” Lashore and Chinese-born Pengfei Song, respectively; and focus on how each of the coauthors are able to excel in parts of the world where scholarly excellence is not typical because of a lack of digital education and access. The chapter concludes with, “What These Literacy Narratives Suggest,” and discusses the exceptional nature of the two coauthors’ literacy narratives and the dangers in seeing these examples as typical.

Though each of the literacy narratives offers stories that show the importance of providing similar opportunities to others, because the examples are two clear success stories, the narratives could create a false sense that similar successes are easily attainable, and that issues of opportunity and access are generally not problematic. The authors address the problematics of making any such claim, stating their aim “is not to underestimate the seriousness of the digital divide or to suggest that hard work and determination alone can help individuals and their families close this gap. They cannot” (“What These Literacy Narratives Suggest,” para. 1). Readers who focus solely on the narrative sections and ignore the chapter’s important final synthesis could risk making premature generalizations from the two narratives.

April 10, 2013

TLL Review: Mode

Gunther Kress and Theo Van Leeuwen (2001; p. 21-22) explain modes as “semiotic resources which allow the simultaneous realisation [sic] of discourses and types of (inter)action.” According to Kress and Van Leeuwen, the work of design is the “combination and selection of semiotic modes.” The designer must be mindful of the affordances of various modes and engage modes that will facilitate the greatest available means of persuasion for her rhetorical situation. In addition, Kress and Van Leeuwen see narrative as a mode “because it allows discourses to be formulated in particular ways…because it constitutes a particular kind of interaction, and because it can be realised [sic] in a range of different media” (22). Considering Kress and Van Leeuwen’s broad definition of mode, which considers narrative as a mode to be employed in the work of design, and given the range of modes employed in Transnational Literate Lives (including but not limited to narrative, still and moving images, and sound) we offer this brief overview:

As noted, Transnational Literate Lives is published in a Web text format, which allows viewers to interact in visual and aural ways, as they read the traditional, alphabetic text. Each section is organized thoughtfully, with columns on the left-hand side that allow viewers to easily skip ahead or return to portions of the text as they see fit. Additionally, the layout is neat and orderly, providing viewers who may not be as familiar reading Web texts with an easily navigable text to maneuver. The multimodal components vary from one section to the next, each meeting a specific need in a particular chapter, and allowing the viewer to engage with the text in richer ways. These visual and aural elements are clearly labeled, easy to access, and allow for a more engaging experience overall. Focusing on the importance vision plays in rhetoric and social action, Kristi Fleckenstein has stated that the consumption of language distributed using a variety of modes, allows us to “engage with texts differently” fostering a “more intense engagement” with a composition (155). This is the case for the reader of Transnational Literate Lives. The video and aural elements allow viewers a multifaceted experience, in which they can see things like facial expression, body language, inflection and tone of voice. These elements, as the authors explain, help to provide new, more nuanced ways of making meaning. In addition, most of these visual and aural video narratives are accompanied by written transcriptions and captions. This important addition provides a greater range of user accessibility. Furthermore, the various modes utilized in TLL are completely accessible on a smartphone.

April 9, 2013

A Review of Transnational Literate Lives in Digital Times: Home

Berry, Patrick W., Hawisher, Gail E., & Selfe, Cynthia L. (2012). Transnational Literate Lives in Digital Times. Logan, UT: Computers and Composition Digital Press/Utah State University Press. Retrieved from

We came to Transnational Literate Lives in Digital Times (TLL), Patrick W. Berry, Gail E. Hawisher, and Cynthia L. Selfe’s 2012 book-length collection of digital literacy narratives, from three different vantage points: as doctoral students in a writing research methods seminar, an undergraduate student enrolled in a composition pedagogy class, and, finally, as the professor of record for both classes. Each of us read TLL to learn more about individual histories with technology and also about the collaborative methods for locating, gathering, and presenting the digital narrative content of TLL. TLL did not disappoint: Berry, Hawisher, and Selfe provide a dynamic and purposefully multi-vocal discussion of digital literacy practices as told by a collection of inter- and transnational undergraduate and graduate students to “suggest different and increasingly accurate ways of understanding the life histories and digital literacies of those with transnational connections, attempting to take into account local perspectives and the complex processes of globalization” (“About” para. 1).

Berry, Hawisher, and Selfe deploy a collaborative, multimodal approach to storytelling to highlight affordances digital media bring to research as a way of presenting a more comprehensive account of participant experience than exclusively alphabetic text allows. Embedded video clips allow readers to see and hear Mirza Nurkic describe his family’s 1988 move from the former Yugoslavia to Australia (Chapt. 2). Readers watch the video Ismael Gonzalez’s narrative “Writing: Pain or joy,” (Chapt. 4), and so on. Those who have been traditionally considered to be “research participants” function as coauthors, as fellow storytellers in TLL. An additional break from tradition, Berry, Hawisher, and Selfe also provide direct and reflexive attention to methods and methodology, making the text a must-read not only for new(er) digital literacy researchers, but for any researcher looking to develop expertise in reading and conducting person-based, digital, feminist, and/or collaborative writing research.

September 27, 2011

Trip Report: The Dartmouth Seminar on Composition Research

contributed by Tim Laquintano

In American higher education, writing instruction has been historically localized in English departments. This legacy has presented barriers for advocates of WAC and WID, who have pushed to develop programs that distribute writing instruction across the curriculum. If that legacy has created problems for the teaching of writing, though, it’s also created problems for writing research. The kinds of empirical research questions WPAs might need to address in their home institutions don’t always square with the textual and historical methods often taught in English departments, where many of those rhetoric and writing PhDs have trained. That’s the writing studies methods conundrum, although programs certainly have developed localized responses to this issue. Some PhD programs have split from English departments into stand alone departments, a move that might provide more robust opportunities for diverse methods training. Other programs, like the program I graduated from at UW-Madison, provide composition-specific methods courses, and then encourage students to bolster their methods by taking courses in other departments, like education.

Held for the first time last August at Dartmouth’s Institute for Writing and Rhetoric, the Dartmouth Seminar on Composition Research was designed to help sharpen the methods of composition researchers, with some participants in attendance because they have experienced manifestations of the methods conundrum in their own scholarly lives. The tacit assumption that seemed to float through the seminar was that writing studies needs to sharpen its methods (to be fair, writing studies is not the only relatively young discipline where I’ve heard complaints about methods; I’ve heard similar complaints at internet studies conferences). As Charles Bazerman pointed out in the seminar introduction, we need more carefully articulated methods for the sake of local administration projects, national intervention (where statistics is the coin of the realm), and interdisciplinary collaboration. This is especially important in international contexts, as European writing research comes from applied linguistics, and interdisciplinary collaboration requires carefully articulated methods.

The seminar consisted of an intense two weeks of group classes and individual meetings with workshop facilitators. Workshops offered perspectives on both qualitative and quantitative methods. Twenty-six people attended, some of whom were faculty and some of whom were graduate students. Christiane Donahue, the workshop organizer, coordinated an immaculate and extremely rigorous seminar. She collected information about our projects months in advance to create relevant programming and generate reading lists. She kept a loaded program on track, and she scheduled some of the major writing studies methods gurus as facilitators.

We began with some virtual sessions months in advance of the seminar. On site, Charles Bazerman began the seminar talking about general approaches to methods and methods as a series of principled choices made in situ. Cheryl Geisler then spent three days teaching a tightly focused discourse analytic method of qualitative coding, which included individual consultations with Geisler almost every day to talk progress. Geisler’s approach made me think hard about segmenting qualitative data for analysis, especially because the grounded approach I use has far less to say about how such data should segmented. Even though I am developing a coding scheme via grounded theory for my own research, Geisler’s system will surely be useful in the future, and it made me reexamine all of the assumptions I have made about the schema I currently use.

Drawing a crowd early on a Saturday morning, Chris Anson and Les Perelman gave an excellent seminar on writing program assessment, and Perelman gave a separate but equally fascinating seminar on the shaky use of statistics that the College Board uses to argue for the validity of the writing portion of the SAT. Christiane Donahue ran a discussion on writing and knowledge transfer. Christina Haas gave two sessions, one about nonparametric statistics, and one about research ethics. Finally, Donahue tapped into Dartmouth resources and drew on faculty and staff members to run sessions on statistics, data visualization, and working with review boards and institutional research offices.

I tended to pay close attention to my methods in graduate school, and I received good training from my own program in the English department and from the education department. I attended the Dartmouth seminar because in the past year I collected a large new qualitative data set that generated some specific issues I needed to address before I began analysis. The centerpiece for me was thus opportunities for individual consultations with the facilitators. I came looking for help sorting out analytic procedures for the seventy-some interviews I have now completed with three vastly disparate groups of writers. I had opportunities to meet with the faculty and have extensive conversations about the data set. In addition I met with facilitators about undergraduate research and an article in process. These consultations aligned with the general philosophy Christiane Donahue had for the seminar: each participant should use the seminar to do what was best for his/her project.

From what I understood, there are plans for the seminar to be an annual event. I assume it’s most appropriate for advanced graduate students, junior faculty members, and faculty looking to retool. I suspect it will be most helpful if you have advanced far enough on a project to know what kind of methodological problems you are having. Again the structure of the seminar and Christiane Donahue’s work to tailor the seminar will make it profitable for a wide range of participants. I feel like I received good methods training in graduate school and I still learned something every day. I’m hoping this year will be just the first in a long string of methods seminars, and if you can secure funding from your institution, it’s well worth the time and effort for those looking to shape a large project.

My greatest regret will be having missed the scene from the first seminar that may become the subject of lore: Charles Bazerman belting out tunes in tenor accompanied by two seminar participants.

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