Jeremy Cushman & Shannon Kelly

In this chapter, we reflect on what happens when we introduce a podcasting project into a relatively large first-year composition program, which is staffed almost exclusively by graduate teaching assistants (GTAs). Here, we dive into all that the project continues to teach us about writing instruction, program administration, and indeed, ourselves. Without question, and as you'll hear, we learn much more than we set out to. We surface questions about the relationship among writing practices, networked meaning making, new teacher training, and Gregory Ulmer's (2003) popular notion of electracy. And we grapple with ethical evaluation and assessment models because, for us, hearing our students turns out to be much more embodied than reading our students.

What you'll find here is an almost hour-long podcast detailing our experience. You'll notice we did break it into chunks below because, well, because it's an hour! But our hope is that what emerges from listening through the whole piece encourages, challenges, and maybe even inspires. That is, it still feels more than risky to introduce a podcasting project into a program officially focused on writing in the university and a program staffed by pretty inexperienced GTAs. What we hope you hear as the podcasts builds, however, is the sometimes strange and wonderful rewards just under the risk. Also, we supplement what you hear with a sample podcast assignment that we used for the program—one we hope you take and adapt for your own courses. We offer one way to scaffold that assignment and share a few student example podcasts that your students can critique and emulate.

Our intention is to offer more than a "how-to" guide for creating a podcast assignment for a first-year composition program. What works and doesn't work in our program—in our own specific ecology—might turn out just the opposite elsewhere. But what we're after is to ask (with you all!) questions about what writing is supposed to do now, what it's for, and maybe most importantly, how it just won't stay still for us teachers and scholars and students.

Thanks for giving us all a listen.

Complete Podcast

Recasting Writing, Voicing Bodies

Part 1: Introduction


Jeremy: We both have long accepted that podcasting is a performative and, sometimes, productively irrational mode for engaging the worlds in which we act.

[Sebastian & Lucius "Antidote" (2015) song: Percussive verifone fades in]

Jeremy: Podcasts seemed an ideal genre to help us surface the kind of writing we want to promote in our first-year composition program—writing that responds to, and works from, 21st-century meaning-making practices. And that's just what we did. We trained and supported 28 graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) as they guided more than 1,800 first-year students through the process of writing and producing a podcast. It went well… and… it didn't, all of which we'll get to soon enough.

Jeremy and Shannon heard together: What we can't shake are two overarching notions that emerged…

Shannon: … that emerged from teaching podcasting and teaching new teachers how to teach podcasting. Okay, so the first one: Of course the question what counts as writing is an increasingly stale question for many rhetoric and composition scholars, but the tensions that come along with that question are rather powerful and remain almost exclusively tethered to the mode of alphabetic text printed on the page. Second one: Podcasting is much more visceral than we were ready for, and so it introduces a kind of productive vulnerability for which we're still learning to account. That is, what we learned from designing and teaching this assignment is that introducing podcasting into the program also meant introducing new, seemingly more fraught, stakes for both teachers and students in first-year composition.

Jeremy and Shannon heard together: So in what follows we trace both student and teacher frustrations that showed up when they…

Jeremy: … that showed up when they weren't able to simply transfer the literacy practices they knew from "English class" to writing and teaching a podcast. We try and make some good sense of all the value-laden responses to what counts as writing in our composition program. And we try to complicate our own attachments to the comfort that comes from teaching and grading more common, more routine assignments—assignments that our students can sometimes perform by rote, and that our GTAs can already assume hold institutional value.

Jeremy and Shannon heard together: And, we grapple with the kind of surprising visceral responses to the vulnerability that recorded…

Shannon: … speech seems to require, the feeling of exposure students experience when recording and then listening to their own voices, and the related vulnerability required of teachers teaching such a deeply embodied writing practice.

[GTA voices mashing together]

GTA (female): I was just white-knuckling the whole idea, like this is technology I don't know, because I…

GTA (male): And then I think about the podcast last quarter, I had a student who…

Jeremy: No, that's fair.

GTA (female): It was just clear that this was a class that was going to be dealing with writing in a different way, which is, it probably even affects how I think about podcasts now because that…

FYC student (male): I was really excited…

[GTA montage ends]

Jeremy: I'm Jeremy Cushman.

Shannon: I'm Shannon Kelly.

Shannon: And this is "Recasting Writing, Voicing Bodies: Podcasts Across a Writing Program."

[Sebastian and Lucius "Antidote" song: Percussive verifone fades out]

Part 2: Why Podcasting?

Why Podcasting?

Jeremy: So before we launch into the specifics, let's back up a tiny bit: Why podcasts? Why land on such a difficult project for a large composition program?

Shannon: Yeah, that's a totally fair question. And the super quick version of how we got here is pretty simple: both of us have been experimenting with rhetorical genres like podcasting in our other writing classes, from first-year level classes to senior seminars. Why we ultimately landed on this particular project, though, really has to do the ways it took our students (and ourselves) away from our classroom comfort zones. Writing a story-driven podcast feels weird inside such a standard GUR, which gives us a chance to reflect on why that it is and ask questions about what writing does. Likewise, and really importantly, the podcast connects up with values underlying the communication practices that Gregory Ulmer (2003) has been calling electracy.

Jeremy: Yup, and even the name "podcasts" works as an example of what pushes us out of our comfort zones. So, in a couple of my classes where podcasting took center stage—or was the focus of the entire class—it was easy to call what we were making podcasts. Like most the podcasts we might subscribe to on iTunes or Stitcher and the like, the students invented a large theme and then wrote and produced a few episodes about that theme. [Ira Glass (2002) underneath Jeremy: "Each week, as you may know, we choose some theme and bring you a variety of different kinds of stories on that theme."] That's basically how the genre works; think This American Life. But in our composition program, first-year students are only making one, stand-alone episode. No theme and no serialized episodes on that theme. One show. In that way, we could have called it an "audio essay."

Shannon: It's just that the very word "podcast" becomes important for how the project supports the student learning. What we learned from student reactions is that "podcast" is really defamiliarizing—most students didn't know what a podcast was—as opposed to "audio essay," which pretty much indicates an essay read aloud—not unlike an audio book. And naming the project a "podcast" helped students compare what they were making with the podcasts we were listening to in class.

Jeremy: Yeah, "audio essay" or "audio composition" just carries overly familiar connotations, and like we'll get into later in this chapter, the word "essay" is already working on our consciousness before we sit down and begin writing. It can be difficult to approach the affordances of writing in audio when "essay" gets attached to the project. So… our GTAs taught podcasts.

Shannon: Of course, apart from the word "podcast," we grew increasingly curious about what composing in sound might do for students in a first-year composition class. How might working in sound expand their approach to writing? For us, podcasts are really a research genre, and writing and researching in the 21st century aren't necessarily tied to alphabetic text—or even to a thesis, really. So while we are doing lots in the class to prepare first-year students for research writing, we're also using the podcast project to help students encounter what we believe about contemporary communication practices, which is that writing looks and works differently in different places.

Jeremy: So what podcasts can do is help students learn how to figure out the ways writing works in a given situation, particularly in terms of writing and communicating meaning in multiple forms and overlapping modes. So, in some ways, the discomfort students might feel when presented with making a story-driven podcast, instead of writing a more familiar thesis-driven essay or rhetorical analysis, puts them in a position to engage the unfamiliar and ever-changing.

Shannon: Right.

Jeremy: Put plainly, for us, this is more about learning to engage with unfamiliar rhetorical situations than it is about learning new software and creating fun digital compositions.

[classroom background sounds fade in]

GTA (male): I am so nervous about doing a podcast.

GTA (male): Okay, so I'm a little nervous about teaching a podcast in English 101.

GTA (female): Podcasts seem like this really kind of complex, uh, forceful medium of communication.

GTA (male): Uh, I'm just afraid that it's gonna be nerve wracking and, uh, not intuited.

GTA (female): When I first learned that I would be teaching a podcast, I was really, really excited. I love podcasts, personally.

GTA (female): Thinking about making, uh, their own scripts, and their own sounds.

GTA (male): And not really understand the purpose of them doing this podcast.

GTA (female): Um, that enthusiasm has been tempered slightly as I have found out that my students don't really know what a podcast is.

GTA (female): And I know when I was learning how to make them, I felt kind of inadequate next to what I was listening to.

FYC student (female): It's just different 'cause I expect to just, um, write essays, or doing all that, so making a podcast is something totally different

FYC student (male): I was really excited. I like these types of media.

FYC student (female): It was a little surprising how different it was compared to just, like, writing an essay.

FYC student (female): I personally don't like it. [laughs] It's a lot of work, but, um, I like how [clears throat] this class is different, and they're helping us try different things instead of just writing or typing essays, so I like that.

FYC student (male): It is interesting, I just think that it's nice to broaden our view to more than just a typical essay format to what English is.

FYC student (female): And I don't think I would want to do one again, but I guess it's a good experience.

FYC student (male): I was expecting for English 101 to teach me how to write, uh, [an] essay that was very explanatory and college-based so that I could go to other classes and write. I wasn't really thinking that I wanted to focus on any other English class through my entire college career, 'cause I only really needed to know how to write an essay, for like, my acting class or whatever it is that I need to use an essay for.

FYC student (female): … throughout school, and so, doing a podcast you kind of want to do really well with this new way of presenting a topic, I feel like… yeah. [laughs]

FYC student (male): I think it was very, somewhat parallel to a research paper because I had to get sources and write from something that I knew was true. I couldn't just say something and use an assumption to back it up.

Resident assistant/FYC student (male): And some people have said, like, this doesn't seem college-like. When it comes to beginning writers, there's this weird idea that we have to sound really scholarly and not ourselves to earn, like, if we're talking about in a classroom setting, the grade that we want and try to get an A, because I don't think anyone…

[cslassroom background sounds fades out]

Shannon: Maybe most importantly, this project just continues to teach us what we thought we already knew. Writing is an embodied activity that's impossible to pin down—it just means too much. And it entails a productive, and difficult, vulnerability.

Jeremy: We'll have lots to say about vulnerability, but what we need to say right now is that the vulnerability we encountered from our GTAs, our students, and the vulnerability we experienced ourselves helped us recognize that this project grows out of and participates in electracy. Electracy, Ulmer's (2003) word for whatever we could say is outside the realm of traditional notions of literacy, is about much more than digital, speedy printing presses. For Ulmer, it's an apparatus for knowledge production that comes with its own set of values: entertainment, affect, play, and the body—with electracy they all count as meaningful ways to understand huge notions like subjectivity, community, and representation (Arroyo, 2013).

Shannon: That's what pushed us forward. Despite our apprehension and our nerves, we decided to introduce the project because it helped align our program with methodologies and values that we glean from practices and definitions of electracy. We landed on the podcast project because, we hoped, it taps into a kind of invention or meaning-making practice that lets students consider entertainment, affect, play, and the body as wildly important…

[high register bass music fades in]

Shannon: … even if none of us can capture and tease out just what it all means. We want something, at least slightly, other than literacy in our program. A story-driven podcast is where we turned.

Jeremy: So, in this chapter we talk to new GTAs as they learn to teach podcasts, and we try to demonstrate what composing in sound rather than merely with sound can offer students and GTAs working in a composition program. We'll also work from our GTAs' pedagogical concerns regarding podcasts, while questioning our own assessment practices and just what soundwriting is really doing in our composition classrooms. It's not easy, and it often feels risky, all of which we'll talk about. But what we've learned has proven more than compelling.

[high register bass music fades out]

Part 3: Sound Serves Writing

Sound Serves Writing

Shannon: So, I think what our [G]TAs and definitely our first-year students made explicit for us is that what still matters is words on the page.

Jeremy: Mhm.

Shannon: Remember how we talked to our GTAs about the podcasts?

Jeremy: Uh, not really.

Shannon: Well, we legitimated the "writing" of podcasts with the writing of the script.

Jeremy: Yeah, okay.

Shannon: So students were composing with sound, but really it was helping their alphabetic writing.

Jeremy: Uh huh.

Shannon: So, for example, in an explanation to our GTAs, we wrote: "Creating a podcast demands a great deal of scriptwriting (i.e., text on a page) that not only gets students planning and writing essay-like explorations and arguments, it also gets them revising that writing.…"

Jeremy: Yeah, so we privileged words on a page.

Shannon: Well, it's not done yet: "Put simply, writing on the page and audio recording that writing surfaces obvious problems with the writing on the page."

Jeremy: Mhm.

Shannon: In my 101 classroom, I said things like, "You're writing a script, though…" to connect podcasts to the "real work" of writing.

Jeremy: Yeah, me too.

Shannon: And here's the thing: Approaching audio as if it's only in service to writing words on a page still seems to align with lots of dominant thinking in our field. And that kinda bothers me. Like in Cindy Selfe's (2009) historical look at the field on sound and writing, she says…

Jeremy: You mean, uh, "The Movement of Air, the Breath of Meaning"?

Shannon: Yeah, yeah. She writes that "composition classrooms," and I quote, "can provide a context not only for talking about different literacies, but also for practicing different literacies" (2009, p. 643).

Jeremy: Yeah, okay, so we both agree with that, like, students can practice with sound and (and!) words on a page. They're different literacies.

Shannon: I know, I know, just keep listening, though. The practicing distinction matters for Selfe, in particular, because usually when multimodal works are included in composition classrooms, they act as cultural artifacts or texts that students study and critique, but not the kinds of works that students actually produce (p. 639). So I'm concerned about where we seem to land at the end of her article regarding the use of audio, which, really seems to keep sound in service to words on a page.

Jeremy: Well, yeah, but, I mean…

Shannon: Well, okay, so clearly in 20th century, like her article's dealing with, aurality took a back seat to writing, for sure, but has that actually changed?

Jeremy: Yeah.

Shannon: Composing in audio is different than composing with audio and a script.

Jeremy: Okay, yeah, I think you're right. Alphabetic text printed on a page does certainly seem to take center stage, even in texts like Selfe's, that, I mean, she clearly wants to privilege something otherwise.

Shannon: Right.

Jeremy: So like Selfe and [Pamela] Takayoshi say, why should writing teachers (and particularly, I'll add, new GTAs) teach composing modes other than alphabetic texts and composing practices—words on a page? They both write, and I'll quote, too, "Shouldn't we stick to teaching writing and let video production faculty teach video? Art and design faculty teach about visual images? Audio production faculty teach about sound?" (Takayoshi & Selfe, 2007, p. 8). So, again, you're right, but Selfe knows you're right, like in describing the longstanding constellation of forces that privilege words on a page above all other composing practices is the, and this is what she says, "the profession's continuing bias toward print" (p. 641). A bias that has as much power now as it did when Patricia Dunn (2001) reminded us that it seems "absurd to question an over-emphasis on words in a discipline whose raison d'être for being is, like no other discipline, for and about writing" (p. 15) words on a page. Writing is all about words on the page.

Shannon: Okay, yeah, we teach writing, but as our communication technologies continue to move and morph, writing also gets implicated.

Jeremy: Well, sure.

Shannon: So instead of saying we teach words on a page because that's the origin and the reason our field exists, it might actually be useful to tether our writing pedagogy to new communicative practices that potentially resist letting a dominant discourse's devotion to text on a page trump a diverse and different one.

Jeremy: Huh, I mean, I don't think Cindy's saying…

Shannon: Well. She's not, but what I mean is that in teaching sound, visual images, video, text, etc., we provide students with broader rhetorical awareness of and a greater ability to choose various composing modalities.

Jeremy: Yeah, that's right.

Shannon: So, in that history she writes, though, that all of these modes continue to be in service of writing words on a page. And reading Selfe actually makes me see the limitations in our own thinking about composing with sound, the way that we legitimated sound, the way that we talked to our GTAs and our 101 students, that other modes are always used with usefulness for the page. So when we do that we don't actually represent a both/and approach, like Selfe is arguing for. Alphabetic text writing remains what we do.

Jeremy: Okay, I can see where you're finding that in our approach, for sure. I just think that in Cindy's history of sound in composition, she does try to distance herself from putting audio projects in the service of words on the page. It's, it's nuanced, it's just that Cindy is trying to find a way to privilege a different mode of composition, but she has to account for that constellation of forces against her. You know what I mean?


Shannon: Can we just call her?

Jeremy: Yeah, okay.

[Google Hangout ring sounds three times]

Cindy: Hi there.

Jeremy: Hi, Cindy.

Cindy: Can you guys hear me?

Shannon: Yeah, but you're a little quiet.

Jeremy's voice introducing Cindy heard over Cindy and Shannon talking about volume: For those of you who may not know, this is Cynthia Selfe, she's a distinguished professor at Ohio State University, and she spent most of her life focusing on the digital environment and its relationship to literacy.

Cindy heard underneath Jeremy's voiceover introduction: Oh, good. Let me turn it up just a little bit. Turn my volume up, okay. Okay, I can hear you.

Cindy: I can see you. Life is sweet.

Shannon: Okay, so we've got a weird little argument going.

[Cindy laughs]

Shannon: In lots of rhet/comp thinking, and even in your article where you talk about the history of composition and sound, I'm concerned that audio seems to always be in service to alphabetic text in writing classrooms.

Cindy: Okay.

Shannon: So in our program here we invented a podcasting project for our first-year writers, and what we really wanted to do was privilege audio as a kind of writing.

Cindy: Yes.

Shannon: But then I realized that the way we explained it to our first-year students and to our graduate teaching instructors was to say that in making a podcast it was going to help the students' actual text-based writing. Does that make sense?

Cindy: Yes.

Jeremy: Yeah, and I mostly agree with Shannon, but it seems to me that you connect audio to alphabetic text because it feels like you have to. Our field is so committed to words on a page that it's impossible for you to even write an article without connecting audio to alphabetic text, right?

[Cindy laughs]

Jeremy: So our disagreement is pretty nuanced, but it feels important because we're feeling a lot of tension from our GTAs and even our first-year students.

Cindy: Yeah, I sort of think you're both right, though, I have to say. And I'll tell you why I say that. First of all, no one misses the irony of an article about sound that's presented in writing, right? I mean, that, that, uh, points to the fact that we're privileging the alphabetic print essay and the fact that College Composition and Communication couldn't—there was no other way that they could represent that piece except as an alphabetic print essay. And, in fact, the audio essays attached to that essay could only be included because I've kept them up in various websites over the years. So, I think in some sense the piece is a captive of print. But at the same time, Jeremy, I think you're right in that what I was trying to say was that the privileging of alphabetic print really is built into our consciousness, our professional consciousness, and that we don't have to let it be so, I mean, print is like a little machine that keeps replicating the…

Jeremy: Uh huh.

Cindy: … the effects over and over and over and over and over again.

Shannon: Yeah, that makes sense.

Cindy: You know, I think you're right in that respect. But then there's a third respect, I guess, and that has to do with the, I don't know, I guess, the systematicity of first-year composition.

Jeremy: Oh, right.

Cindy: Or composition programs and how most programs feel that they're caught in this, in an expectations game both within the university and in terms of parents and employers, and community, etc., etc. And they feel that having too much emphasis on something like audio might jeopardize the endeavor that gives them value…

Shannon: Right.

Cindy: … in the eyes of the university, in the eyes of the community, and the eyes of the culture. So, I think everybody's right.

Shannon: Well, yeah, the reason we wrote to our graduate teaching instructors to help them think about teaching podcasting in terms of writing was because of the resistance they were getting from their students. A lot of the first-year students didn't want to do the project, even though they thought it was fun.

Cindy: Oh, absolutely, I mean, students are not dupes, they're not—they know what is considered the intellectual work of the academy, and they know the privileged position of print, and they know that what they're paying for in terms of their tuition dollars is some facility with the privileged modality, intellectual modality of the academy, which is print.

Jeremy: That's right.

Cindy: So, you know, I don't blame them, I guess.

Jeremy: But Cindy isn't it crazy that we're still having this conversation about what counts as writing? It feels like people have been defensive forever, you know, like in 1993 I remember Erika Lindemann (1993) said that the teaching of composition should offer students guidance and practice in the discourses of the academy and the professions. I mean, i.e., written discourses. Remember, she said we particularly should do that cause we "drag" every freshman through the course (p. 312; see also Sirc, 2002, p. 8). And then like somewhere around 2004, uh, [Elizabeth] Tebeaux (2004), you know, shared similar sentiments about the responsibility writing pedagogy should take up in technical writing, which is more often tethered to new communication technologies. I remember she said we should ignore whatever rhetorical theory is currently in vogue and focus on practical instruction…

Shannon: Right, but…

Jeremy: … such as organizing effective written arguments and proposals so as to prepare graduates for careers. So, it's crazy to me we're still having this same conversation.

Cindy: Oh no, nah, nah, it's not crazy. I mean, I just think that it's, it's an indication of how potent the ideology surrounding print is. I mean, you know, people, once, once you start talking about this and show them examples, people sort of, they snap to it, but, you know, it takes a while and it, and they have to believe that you're trying to act in their best interests, and that, I think, takes some discussion and trust, and…

Shannon: And what's surfacing here, too, is an evaluation about usefulness, which is incredibly important when considering how we equip our students in an increasingly networked and deeply mediated world like ours. And like, Cindy, like you're saying, the value behind this judgment is tied to a belief that written text on a page is still the primary, or most useful, way of communicating.

Cindy: Oh, yeah, oh, yeah.

[high register bass music fades in]

Cindy: Why is it that in composition classrooms we can't bring ourselves to talk about anything but print composition? So, to me, it's the inclusion of the audio essay that allows us to break out of that mental box, and that gives us an opportunity to engage students in another modality that might better suit their gifts, or their talents, or their interests, and certainly expands their way of understanding what composition can be. Now, that, I think, the mark of how difficult a move that is is the amount of fear and resistance that you get in return from suggesting an assignment like that.

Jeremy: So the difficulty Cindy names might have to do with the tension that comes about when students can't rely solely on literacy practices for "English class," even when they don't necessarily know what those literacy practices are, they just feel the tension.

Shannon: Yeah, composing in audio, then, might both help students think across what they already know from "English class," and also acquire new ways into engaging and producing knowledge.

Jeremy: Mhm.

[high register bass music fades out]

Part 4: Control & Teaching

>Control & Teaching

[Sebastian and Lucius "Antidote" (2015) song: Percussive verifone fades in]

Shannon: We weren't alone, though, in teaching podcasts in first-year composition. With the exception of Jeremy and me, GTAs are the only people who teach our first-year writing course.

Jeremy: And many of the GTAs in our MA/MFA English studies program expect, and even hope, to teach the writing and reading practices they themselves are familiar with—the practices that turned them on to graduate work in the first place. They hope to teach close reading and analytic writing. Fair enough. What introducing all these, really, brand new instructors to a production-based writing course with an emphasis on workshop and writing as doing did, it turns out, was disrupt any hope for control—for mastery—over the material they expect to teach in an English Department. And lacking control as a teacher can compound the already strange dual-identity our GTAs feel in being both students and brand-new teachers.

[Sebastian and Lucius "Antidote" song: Percussive verifone fades out]

GTA (female): It's really hard for me to work learning with the students, rather than I know something and I'm teaching them. So that's something pedagogically, I think, that's difficult for me, and with, with podcasting…

GTA (female): Am I gonna have to teach them how to use technology? I'm like the most technologically behind twenty-something in the world. I was like, "This is not gonna go well for me," but, um, yeah, I was really apprehensive about it. I thought it was gonna be awful.

GTA (female): So that's why I think it works well. It might be uncomfortable, but, welcome to college.

Jeremy: Yeah.

GTA (female): Yeah, I was scared when I first learned I would be teaching a podcast because I knew, like, fuck-all about podcasts. But I found that was kind of an advantage actually, because I also didn't have a preconceived notion of exactly what a good podcast should look like.

GTA (female): There's always gonna be some students who know more than I do in the class, and that's scary for me.

GTA (female): Mhm, same.

GTA (male): It's, it's new to all of us; it's a beginning kind of discipline so I think we all were very new to it.

GTA (female): I would say one thing I liked, and I don't know if I would call this, I guess it's kind of pedagogical, is that one thing I struggle with all the time is I'm very much like an error corrector. So when I read students' papers I'm like, "Oh, you spelled that wrong," or "You missed a comma there." So I liked in the pod—like reading the podcasting script I could just look at their ideas 'cause I knew that wasn't going to be a published piece. I knew that what was actually going to be published for them was the voice.

[Sebastian and Lucius "Antidote" song: Percussive verifone fades in]

Shannon: Often as new teachers, there's an expectation that the first quarter or semester at the front of the classroom will be difficult, but doable. Like Jessica Restaino (2012) puts it, there's a belief that "with drive and perseverance [new GTAs] can come up for air eventually" (p. 22), and that in the midst of being beginners in their their own graduate work that they at least know how to teach freshmen some good reading strategies and how to write an effective essay. In lots of cases, though, our GTAs are learning to be teachers at the same time that they're teaching their first classes—like most graduate students in this field. Restaino reminds us importantly, though, "there is a fundamental level at which the new teacher must simply strive to create a legitimate class, one that students buy into, that actually runs from the beginning of the semester to the end" (p. 24). GTAs, at the very least, can hope for that. Yet our podcast assignment, in varying degrees, sometimes undercuts that hope. But, again, we see an opportunity in our program to intervene in what Sarah Arroyo (2013) has called "the coming rhetoric for the electrate apparatus" (p. 79). So we moved forward—with our GTAs.

[Sebastian and Lucius "Antidote" song: Percussive verifone fades out]

GTA (female): Once we're getting into these elements of what goes into a podcast, they're all so confused when we start that they have to rely on each other to create knowledge.

GTA (female): I feel like the learning happens almost in spite of themselves in moments where they don't realize that they're learning. Um, because they tend to come into the class thinking that writing is just going to be what they're putting physically on their page or on the screen, whereas they don't realize that how they choose to cut the tape they have, or the sound effects they choose are all composing practices. And so, for me it was really fun, especially with my quieter students to see, "Oh my gosh, you cut that interview in such a way, and added that cricket sound effect to compose something amazing that you probably didn't realize you were compose—I mean, you realized what you were doing, but you didn't realize that you were involved in an act of composition."

[Sebastian and Lucius "Antidote" song: Percussive verifone fades in]

Jeremy: Still, here we are asking our brand-new teachers to become familiar with an unknown genre, and in some cases this meant listening to podcasts for the first time, and then turning around and teaching this genre to first-year writing students whose questions of "Why are we doing a podcast in English Comp?" often echo what our GTAs are quietly asking. A master of knowledge, or captain of the ship as one of the GTAs puts it, doesn't really exist in our first-year writing classrooms, as "teaching" a podcast turns into "figuring out" a podcast alongside students. A student question like, "How do I make a fade-out in my track?" might be met with, "I don't know," or sometimes better "Google it," which is often not a new teacher's—or anyone's—ideal response to student inquiries.

Shannon: We worried a lot. But we tried to remain undeterred. The podcast assignment is well structured, carefully scaffolded, and however differently we might think about it now, we initially framed it as a means for better approaching writing with alphabetic text. And as we've said, we are flat convinced that teaching and learning in a networked world necessitate a lack of control. When we engage in a networked world, as Collin Brooke and Thomas Rickert (2011) have said, "we too are transformed" (p. 174). Teaching and learning communication practices—writing—right now just won't slow down enough for mastery or control. If it ever did. What this means for thinkers like Arroyo, though, and certainly for us, is that learning and teaching something as networked and as unwieldy as a story-driven podcast "produces more possibilities for writing and more productive knowledge" (p. 102). We worry, yeah, and we just keep seeing, and sensing, the possibilities available to our GTAs when they do reach for control and find, well, that they're left wanting.

[Sebastian and Lucius "Antidote" song: Percussive verifone fades out]

GTA (female): I don't really think I thought of it as a writing class, necessarily. [laughs]

Jeremy: Right.

GTA (male): You're gonna kill me for this.

Jeremy [explaining the question about what students gained—or not—from writing a podcast]: No, I'm not, or didn't gain.

GTA (male): No, [laughs]  you're gonna… they gained a sense of voice, and that means, you know, in the rhet/comp world means hella, it means so many different things.

GTA (male): But I guess, like, I value, like, the, the creative process rather than the exploratory content, I guess. Um…

GTA (female): Like them figuring stuff out for themselves, you know, that…

GTA (male): Yeah, and technical proficiency, even if the product sucks, like, pride because you had to, like, do something out of your comfort zone in terms of a technical process to get to that product.

GTA (female): Yeah.

[high register bass music fades in]

Jeremy: Teaching a podcast gives rise to connections that we could not have planned for, could not have administrated for, could not control. In that way, what changes for us as Writing Program Administrators is not so much what we're asking our GTAs to do in the classroom (and by extension the students), but far more so our understanding of what it is we're all doing in the classroom.

GTA (female): It can be really special to suddenly hear their voice and hear their senses of humor coming through when to me they've just been the person sitting in the back all quarter. It was pretty amazing just to sit in my living room and listen to them all, just sharing their perspectives on various things. It was special.

GTA (male): And I love when words pass through someone's body, so that you have to physicalize the thoughts, and you have to actually wrap your mouth around the sentence.

GTA (female): The podcast was just like cute and funny and they had, like, banter like we had and like they both like have pi—picked like a similar place [to write about]. It was awesome. And I was like this could never have happened had I asked you guys to write about study zones on campus and you wrote it down. Like, it needed to have, like, Kimberly's giggle, and it had to have, like, Ashton, like, clearing his throat a bunch, and it had to have them, like, giving each other stupid little nicknames, and having that kind of, like, interaction because it isn't, like, stuffy, it was just like…

[high register bass music fades out]

Part 5: Embodiment & Electracy

Embodiment & Electricity

[Sebastian and Lucius "Antidote" (2015) song: Percussive verifone fades in]

Jeremy: Giggles, banter, throat-clearing sounds really mattered in ways we just weren't ready for, particularly when it comes to assessment.

Shannon: Mhm.

Jeremy: We had rubrics and criteria ready to go: Evaluating the podcasts, we both hoped, would require a decent learning curve, sure. But it wouldn't reduce our GTAs to tears.

[Sebastian and Lucius "Antidote" song: Percussive verifone fades out]

[muffled conversation between three GTAs]

GTA (male): I was at my girlfriend's apartment, and I was sitting in my, like, boxers and a t-shirt, like, with a stack of my, uh, my… [podcasts]

GTA (female): In your office?

GTA (male): No, no, at Mac's apartment.

GTA (female): I was gonna say, dude… [laughs]

GTA (female): He sits down to grade…

GTA (male): Yeah, at Mac's apartment, and Otis, my dog, is next to me, and, like, I got my headphones in, and Mac comes in and is like, "Are you okay?" and I'm like, "Yes, it's just so beautiful." [pretends to cry]

GTA (female): [laughs]

[Sebastian and Lucius "Antidote" song: Percussive verifone fades in]

Jeremy: Admissions like Tony's here, along with stuff like "My students hate hearing their own voices" and "It's such a performance" and "It's so weird to grade these," started to teach us something important about evaluation. It's visceral, embodied.

[Sebastian and Lucius "Antidote" song: Percussive verifone fades out]

GTA (female): They write a paragraph, and they indent a page, like, a paragraph, I assume they know what they're doing, but, like, I know they don't always think about that. "Oh, it's been six lines, I should probably indent." Whereas, like, when they have sound, I know, like, they thought, like, this will be a sweet time to incorporate sound. I might have no idea why they thought it was a good option, it probably is a horrible option, but they thought about that, and, like, they took the skills to do that, versus, like, oh, I've written a paper so many times, like, this should be the title because it's always just "English 101 Paper 2," like…

GTA (female): Yeah…

GTA (female): There's less, like, thinking 'cause it's become so methodical, where the podcast, it's still, like, new and they're still, like, I don't know…

GTA (female): Yeah, they're still getting that…

Jeremy: So, assessment, and seemingly we have giggles, you have, well, yeah, I like this, you did it, you did this, "Yo, yo, yo, I'm swim-shady…"

GTA (female): Yeah.

Jeremy: … and you're in a puddle…

GTA (female): Crying…

GTA (male): [laughs]

Jeremy: We have this hunch that the assessment when you're sitting there, like, working on assessment, like, "How am I going to evaluate this?" when the voice is in your ear in a sense their whole body is there.

GTA (female): Yeah.

Jeremy: It's really embodied, and it's kind of been our hunch…

GTA (male): Well said.

GTA (female): It's easier to, like, give a shit when I can, like… I got a couple formal ones and I was like, "This is a good job, like, you did what I, what I told you to do…" but like, the giggling, just like, I can still hear her giggle, and it, like, maybe wasn't necessary for the podcast, but, like, it made it her voice, and I wouldn't have thought about the library the same way had she not, like, made that little giggle, and, like, hearing that it just makes it more human, and I can relate to the investigation more. Like, I, I'm just as invested as she is, because, like, I can…. Granted I know her, but I feel like it, I, maybe not would have cried at yours, I don't cry a lot, but I, maybe I…

Jeremy: [laughs]

GTA (female): You do, you do cry often.

GTA (male): I cry all the time. I'm Jerry McGuire, like, when they play it on the TV, I'm like, "Oh, Jerry…".

GTA (female): Maybe I would have also, like, felt emotion, ha, I listened to that same podcast, I wouldn't have teared up, but, like, I think it's, like, a universal thing that just hearing someone's voice is a lot more than, like, reading it.

GTA (male): Right, and that was a problem for me, though, 'cause, like…

GTA (female): Yeah.

GTA (male): How embodied it is, like, removes all objectivity, like, I just think, like…

GTA (female): Yeah, I wanted to give everyone As.

GTA (male): Yeah, well because you tried, and you're, like, you're here and you're so brave, it's like, here, you get, you… exceptional, exceptional!

GTA (female): And a car!


GTA (male): So that was a problem for me, like, I had a very difficult time attempting to be objective about assessment.

GTA (female): Because you're just so blown away that they made a podcast!

GTA (male): I'm just so goddamn proud, exactly, that they took that risk…

GTA (female): [laughs]

GTA (male): That's a huge risk, even though I was like, "You have to take this risk." Right, like, it was, ah, that was, that was, I guess maybe that was the bad part…

[Sebastian and Lucius "Antidote" song: Percussive verifone fades in]

Shannon: And In our conversation with Cindy Selfe, she echoed a lot of what our GTAs discovered.

[Sebastian and Lucius "Antidote" song: Percussive verifone fades out]

Cindy: Oh yeah, that's a, that's a wonderful thing, isn't it? That these can, these are, these essays, or these pieces, are so affecting that they can make you weep, or they can make you, you know, pay attention, or they can make you feel vulnerable or feel voyeuristic, or feel ways, feel things that you do not feel with written essays generally because those written essays have become so—the tropes and the mechanisms of those written essays have become so invisible, so familiar, that they're invisible to you. But because they're so invisible to you, they're always already acting on your consciousness, which is why your TAs feel so, um….

Shannon: And this is where the connection broke, and we lost Cindy's call. But what she's saying here is something we didn't really account for despite all of the planning and obsessive worrying about issues that we knew would come up for our GTAs in terms of control in their classrooms.

Jeremy: Yeah, we were obsessive.

Shannon: Totally, and I really do think the podcast assignment is as well structured and carefully scaffolded as we could make it for brand new teachers.

Jeremy: Mhm, I think so too.

Shannon: But here's the thing: We never thought to say, at least not before the course started: "Get ready to be pretty vulnerable."

Jeremy: And I don't know why we weren't ready—why we never said it. Peter Elbow (1994), in some of his foundational work, clearly argues that the "voice is produced by the body." Even when it comes to alphabetic texts, as silent as they seem, many readers project some sense of aurality: some sense of intonation, rhythm, accent, and so forth (pp. 6–7). Critique expressivism all you want, but it did generate a kind of new or different excitement and anxiety. Composition teachers got to hear from their students; they got to listen to them convey, or I guess, express a person with a history and a body.

Shannon: You mean "read their students," though?

Jeremy: [laughs] Yeah, I do.

Shannon: But you're right, expressivism did seem to draw all kinds of folks towards the relationships between writing and teaching… and certainly assessment, too. The expressivists in the 1980s were grappling with how to evaluate, how to read "personal writing," or writing that seemed to embody the student's true and "authentic voice." So this tension regarding evaluation isn't new, but the voice in a podcast is nowhere near a metaphor. Elbow, of course, was talking about voice as physical, embodied. The podcast and the actual sound of student voices  suddenly makes expression show up differently for us.

Jeremy: Yeah, that's what I'm saying.

Shannon: Maybe we can call it a new expressivism.

Jeremy: That'd be heaps better than a post-expressivism. We do, I think, have to be a little careful here. Elbow might go too far in thinking about the voice, or sound, as somehow more natural or primary than words on a page. Derrida (1997) helped us worry about the supremacy of the voice a long time ago.

Shannon: Sure, sure. And the issue here is that it's hard not to see a normalized hearing, speaking body in what Elbow says.

Jeremy: Well I learned that really quick. A few graduate students and I had deaf or really hard of hearing students in our classes. What we had to do was rethink the kinds of bodies our assignment assumed. For the most part, this meant thinking more universally. My student, for example, wrote a detailed podcast script that she annotated with emotional tone and images, stuff beyond alphabetic text. The GTAs' students did similar stuff.

Shannon: It reminds me of what James Wilson and Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson (2001) kind of warned us about in their book Embodied Rhetorics.

Jeremy: Hmm, okay.

Shannon: Rhetoric—and I think this is more commonplace now—is closely aligned with the body in that rhetorical arguments of all kinds appear in embodied forms (Wilson & Wilson, 2001, p. x). So it's key that the voice is embodied, not metaphorical.

Jeremy: Elbow (1998) is on to something, I think, like actual voices are produced by actual bodies. I mean, he says, "writing is really a voice spread out over time, not marks spread out in space" (p. 82). This was never clearer to me than when we had to think through ways to make this project as universal as possible.

Shannon: In a podcast, writing speaks. It's then recorded and shared with others. In other words, podcasts are grounded in the body and require expression of self and others. And this exposedness and vulnerability mediated through voice wasn't exactly what my first-quarter freshmen were interested in.

Resident assistant/FYC student (male): But podcasting doesn't really give you that opportunity. Not as much.

Jeremy: Which opportunity?

Resident assistant/FYC student (male): To, to, to be someone you're not, 'cause it's your, it's your, literal voice, you know, it's not like voicing, it's your literal voice. And you have less to hide behind, um, especially because people don't want to do multiple takes 'cause they just want to do it once and get done with it, which is, which is nice. It's probably nice as the instructor, too, because you get to go, "Oh, wait, like, this is how they really feel about this, and this is, also, this is how their voice sounds when they're not in a public space," which is, you don't really get to hear that, you know when, when your friends talk to you one-on-one in a private area, and then they talk in a public classroom, their literal voice sounds different. That's, that's probably interesting to hear on podcasts, I don't know, that, for me, I'd be interested in that.

Jeremy: Totally interesting. Yeah, there's a lot of that going on, and I think you just put words to a feeling I have all the time.

Resident assistant/FYC student (male): [laughs] Did you, yeah…

Jeremy: It's intimate.

Resident assistant/FYC student (male): Can you—Is there ever time when you're listening to a student and you're like, "Woah, this doesn't even really sound like…"

Jeremy: All the time.

Shannon: Especially the student who doesn't talk in class.

Resident assistant/FYC student (male): Oh, yeah!

Shannon: It's like, "Oh, my gosh, I haven't heard Cory all quarter and here's seven minutes of his voice, in my office."

Resident assistant/FYC student (male): And… oh, I bet, I bet. Yeah, and I, as an RA [resident assistant] I tell all my residents, go talk to your professors because when, especially if you're doing, uh, what'd you say, word-on-a-page writing, if you're doing essay writing for finals or exams of any sort I think it's super important to talk to your professors so that they can hear your voice, kind of make distinctions about the way you talk, so that they can read it in your voice when they're reading your paper because they can understand you better.

Shannon: You tell residents that?

Resident assistant/FYC student (male): Yeah, oh yeah, cause I think that's huge, and I was never told that, and I think it's very important.

[Sebastian and Lucius "Antidote" song: Percussive verifone fades in]

Shannon: What I hear my students saying connects right back up to electracy. In electracy, the body and the voice is the very ground of composition.

Jeremy: Uh huh.

Shannon: Like I basically said earlier, and a little like Elbow intuited, it's the site of rhetorical action. Analysis and abstract reasoning is, of course, widely important.

Jeremy: That's right.

Shannon: It's just that Arroyo (2013) and Ulmer (2005) and Brooke (2009) and [Jody] Shipka (2011) and Cindy Selfe (2009) and so many others have noticed the values inherent in reason or something like analytic thinking that literacy requires are just not enough.

Jeremy: Uh huh. Electracy names the multiplicity of meaning; supports intuition, imagination, emotion, and reaction in ways that are just not traditionally valued in university environments rooted in analytics (Arroyo, 2013, p. 7).

Shannon: I'm super convinced that no matter how analytic or distant our students tried to sound in their final podcasts, their physical voices disallowed our GTAs desire to distance themselves as evaluators. They had their students' voices in their ears. It's not exactly possible to keep the object of analysis at arm's length because the object is being composed and spoken through the writer. The students begin, no matter what, from their own subjective position and only then hook that into any objective history or topics.

Jeremy: Yeah, it's pretty amazing and really challenging.

Shannon: The work disallows an othering that essay-writing might encourage.

Jeremy: That fact is what I think made evaluation so hard for GTAs.

Shannon: It does! I saw my students become aware of their voice and their composition all at once—their position as the writing subject was showing up alongside, or adjacent to, their objects of study. One of my students even opened their podcast with, "I have a confession to make." This little recorded line captured our class's attention in a way that the same line written in an essay might come across as awkward. It also, and like so many of our GTAs pointed out, transformed the student's work into an embodied, vulnerable experience for me as an evaluator. There the student was, via my earbuds, seemingly standing in my office.

[high register bass music fades in]

Jeremy: The act of recording our own voice, editing and manipulating that voice, and then sharing it with other writers and podcasters offers our students a chance to hear themselves, to offer themselves up to connections and networks of meaning and then get themselves back, strangely.

Shannon: So not only could my students not distance themselves from their writing, but I couldn't distance myself from my students' voices either.

[high register bass music fades out]

Part 6: In the End…

In the End…

Resident assistant/FYC student (male): You don't read a book and just scream, but when you're listening to a podcast even if you don't say anything, you really feel provoked to say something verbally.

GTA (female): You know, they think they're not gaining writing skills that are practical. [pause] Not true, um, and I've, from my class, my one class in the past at least I have seen that. They improve so much as writers after they're forced to write the podcast, because you're forced, writing a podcast, to make relatable language.

FYC student (male): I mean, I learned to listen to my voice, so that was nice. That was a cool thing to have to deal with, whether I wanted to or not.

GTA (male): And I think the podcast, um, teaches what listening can mean.

GTA (female): I mean, I think because like, just like, uh, the same vulnerability you feel in a traditional writing class is amplified because it's your actual voice.

GTA (female): I feel, they feel so, it sounds stupid, but they feel so real to me when I hear them…

[Møme "Smile" (2014) song: Percussive electronic fades in]

GTA (female): … and I just think about the complexities of their lives, just from their perspectives, I just, I'm like, "Ah, yes, being a freshman," you're talking about how confused you are right now, or how much you're struggling, or how homesick you are, and there's something about hearing them express all those different things in their voice that even though I'm not talking back to them, it just feels… there's something about it that feels a little more personal and a little more vulnerable, maybe.

Jeremy: In her new stuff on what she, I think brilliantly, calls Deep Writing, Deborah Brandt (2014) offers me "new postures for learning" (p. 20) to think through this unwieldy work of writing. She says, so simply, that we now write to other writers. And the implications keep swirling around in my own writing, and teaching, and certainly in the ways I approach program administration. 'Cause here's the thing: Watching these students struggle through a podcasting project showed me, more concretely anyway, that the distinction between an active writer creating for a well-behaved and passive reader no longer makes all that much sense. The podcast necessarily implies an active conversation partner—a reader who is actually a sort of writer who talks back, who shares the podcast so that it circulates and circulates and recirculates. I guess that this keeps showing me that we really do need, like Brandt makes wonderfully clear, to honestly reconsider the networked conditions in which we teach writing.

Shannon: It sounds really odd, or seemingly obvious, to say that our students are and have bodies in our classrooms. But the podcast project pushes me to be more aware of this, to pay better attention and to listen differently than I might otherwise have. And while these podcasts are mediated through various programs, manipulated and edited, they're intimate; they draw out my students and demonstrate compelling examples of vulnerability. So, for me, the technology shows up in ways that don't actually distance us from each other or ourselves. Rather, our tools, or our "glowing rectangles," offer us new ways to deeply listen and relate to each other—to be embodied writers.

[Møme "Smile" song: Percussive electronic fades out]

FYC student (male): Uh, it was actually really interesting because you had to go about it in a different way, um, you had to, like, level out all the sounds and make sure that it, not only were the words good, but the sound was good, and that everyone was speaking. And if there was, like, a gap in the speech you'd have to, like, cut that gap out. It was, like, making the whole thing flow without it seeming, like, edited. Yeah, no, so I thought, I thought that was really interesting just, like, juxtaposing the first cut, like, what we taped, and then what the edited version was, just how it sounded a lot better. Super interesting, just, like, how it's possible to do that with sound. Really fun.

FYC student (female): Okay, but how are we going to make this a story? And then to have done it, I feel like it really helped my understanding of how you can have a narrative within something that's not… a, as much, like, a concrete story. Not like, "Oh, Jimmy went outside and played," but, like, there's still a narrative, and, like, finding the answer to this quiestion and, like, uh, I don't know, it was really rewarding, and I feel like I had a really rewarding experience with it being done. But it was super, super excruciatingly difficult to do.

FYC student (female): Yeah.

FYC student (male): She, she took the words right out of my mouth. Um, I've had, I've done, like, some writing and filming and things but I wasn't really, like, in broadcast or anything in high school, so it was definitely a challenge, like, tackle a new form of writing in a different way, and still have it be that narrative that she was talking about. So it definitely, like, stretched my writing muscles, and like, gave me new perspective on how I need to approach different forms of stories for different audiences.

FYC student (female): In a way, um, I… Yeah, I felt vulnerable hearing myself talk in all of these things. But it was super empowering also to be able to, like, guide the podcast, like, the way we wanted it to, you know, to not, like, "Oh, we're following somebody else's track, we have to get somebody else's answer." You know, you have a piece of paper for a worksheet, and a professor asks you a question and you have to answer it the right way or you don't get points. This was us getting points by finding our own answer to our own question. And so that was, like, a really, really rewarding experience, but it was really… yeah, vulnerable, because then you were being criticized on everything that you did, it wasn't like, "Oh, I misunderstood what I had to do," it was like you just… it's all about you, you picked every choice, you did everything, you had to get it to 30 minutes, you had to have a certain amount of voices and sources, and other than that it was all you and your group. And so there was very little to fall back on, and like, "Oh, I did this because you said so," because you didn't say so, I just kind of did my own thing, you know?

FYC student (male): Uh, yeah, it was, like, kind of, uh, uh, there is definitely a vulnerable aspect. Over time, you kind of realize you have to put up with your own voice, in order to maintain your sanity you just have to deal. [laughs] But, um, there's just, like, with words on a page it's really easy to distance yourself from that, like, you can just completely separate yourself, you can just, like, there are times when I've written essays where I don't even know what I'm writing, I'm just putting words on a piece of paper and turning it in and not even looking at it. But, uh, with a podcast you really have to go over every single aspect, and make sure it's all good because it is, as she said, like, you. Like, it's not just the things you wrote, it's you portraying the ideas that you had…

[Møme "Smile" song: Percussive electronic fades in]

FYC student (male): … and so you can't distance yourself from that, you have to grapple with that. And that can be scary, and hard, um, so there was that vulnerable aspect, but, like, it also kind of…


Jeremy: First, we want to thank a few non-humans that helped us along the way: We got plenty of support (and even inventive inspiration for this podcast) from software like Adobe's Audition, Apple's Garageband, Google Docs, and even Dropbox.

Jeremy and Shannon heard together: We also would be remiss…

Shannon: … not to thank the little room where so much of this happened: Humanities, Room 374, you're great! The music in this chapter comes from Sebastian & Lucius (2015) and Møme (2014).

Jeremy and Shannon heard together: We also need to thank Cindy Selfe…

Jeremy: … who really got us going. We learned the most, of course, from our hard-working, risk-taking, crazy-fantastic GTAs, all of them. A huge thank you to: Roberto Ascalon, Austin VanKirk, Dayna Patterson, Margaret Starry, Sarah Appleton…

Shannon: Becki Burgesser, Tony Winkler, Rebecca Baker, LeAnn Billmeyer, jaQ Sykes, Rob Rich, and Rose Petitt. And thank you, thank you, to all our first-year writers!

Jeremy: Thank you, thank you, to all our first-year writers!