Made to Broken/Broken to be Made


Coding, as a new modality of composition, offers something that the alphabetic essay cannot: interactivity. Olson (2002) writes, "…I so passionately believe that rhetoric and composition is much more than teaching students to 'express themselves'; it is also about helping them learn to engage in ideological critique so that the language skills they acquire are relevant not only to their lives but also to their material existence–students can employ these skills to effect real change in their lives" (p. 82).  Olson's rationale can easily be applied to the function of code; the difference is that code will offer a means to broadcast that ideological critique to a larger world. The alphabetic essay, confined to a relationship between the instructor and student lacks even the potential for a wider audience. As such, while students may take on socially relevant issues, their research papers and essays still take on a limited audience. Some instructors may require a letter to the editor of the local paper or the college newspaper; the audiences for these outlets are certainly wider, but still limited.

Coding, whether building a website through HTML or constructing software, creates a setting for an infinite audience capable of using and reusing, visiting and revisiting students' work. Currently, my students are using Tumblr in place of their paper journals. Instead of relegating their thoughts to a closed document, their work is written with the possibility of a larger audience (though they do have the option to keep entries private, if they feel that their entry is too personal in nature). Using Tumblr has allowed my students to incorporate images, sound, outside links, and to incorporate personalized formats into their journals. I chose to use Tumblr specifically for ease of use, as building and maintaining a personal websites over an entire semester might detract from the main goals of composition courses. But website development is not impossible: building interactive websites is no longer the hallowed ground of professional web designers; students can quickly master web content management programs (such as Drupal or Joomla) or web authoring tools (such as Wix). Adapting essays to web content will push students to consider their audience's needs; rather than looking to tone or word choice, students will question how their audience will read the paper—in what direction will a reader read or navigate through a website? What logical connections must be made between pages on the site? In other words: how will the project be arranged? The connections between the process of composing and text have never been more elevated. While writing code itself represents a new modality of composition, these content creation platforms scaffold learning curves. They offer a more reasonable step towards writing for larger audiences.

Of course, this does not stop with the words on the (virtual) page. Images, embedded video, embedded sound players, and creating links all challenge students to step into the visitor's virtual shoes and make rhetorically-based decisions on the organization of his or her website. Links are a unique expression in this regard; both text and connection, links, in theory, could be used for every word or even every letter. Bad design aside, such a site would certainly overwhelm a visitor. Links that are used purposefully, however, transport attention from a website to another web location. Even if this distraction occurs only momentarily, moving from the origin site to a new site, new window, or new tab simultaneously moves the visitor's attention from the origin site while incorporating the meaning incurred from a new site. This collision may yield unintended interpretations, but there is beauty in students' exploration of purposefully making these new connections to their own work.

Jenny Weight (2006) explores a new kind of rhetorical situation when considering the interactivity of coding and web development:

The core of my technosocial argument is that a trilogical relationship is formed when an apparatus mediates creative communication—the three partners in the technosocial undertaking are human programmer/artist, the executing apparatus, and the human interpreter… The trilogical relationship is meaningful and rewarding for human interpreters. This is because the apparatus is fundamentally a human artifact. It is incorporated into human lives and facilitates human activity. (p. 414-415)

The basics of the rhetorical triangle are still present; the difference now is the implied movement of Weight's trilogical relationship. Programmers and artists are in a position to create an object to be intercepted by the human interpreter as it is outputted through the executing apparatus, or the computer. The center of Weight's argument, though, is the human agency within and without the machine.

Further Interactions...