Made to Broken/Broken to be MAde


The work of composition instructors is to instruct in composition. It's a simple tautology; it is not my intention to convince any reader that composition classes should look more like computer science courses. Most composition instructors are not qualified to teach computer science—-nor should they be. The affordances of code are also the limits of code. O'Keeffe, writing a reflection of his first foray into a multimedia project, outlines a conceptual definition of affordances: "what each [technology] makes it possible to achieve, both during composing and in the final multimodal text."  His initial definition is both conceptual and rather broad. Most of this web text has been concerned with what digital technologies and the use of code, in various forms, can offer our students as a means of expression and social engagement. While the affordances of digital technologies are vast, the use of code in the composition classroom offers a unique set of challenges; namely—how do we teach it?

Composition teachers are not computer scientists, programmers, or web technology specialists. Coding original programs using Perl, C++, Xcode, or any other programming language is certainly too much to take on in any given semester. What is needed then, is a shortcut. Sites like Code Academy and Scratch provide such shortcuts, and instructors can use these sites to show not only how language operates on the level of the machine, but to empower students to take charge of their own learning and to build something entirely new and for themselves. Code Academy's focus on basic code instruction offers a means to learn syntax and structure rather quickly; Scratch employs a drag-and-drop method to explain the connections of code in order to illustrate cause and effect in code. These sites are, in essence, mediations between learning and doing. They still may be too much for a composition classroom in the midst of a hundred other lessons. Simpler solutions exist: using other sites, such as Wix or Wordpress, allow for easy web site development. Drupal and Joomla offer powerful content management systems. These solutions, however, do not require code, but rather offer a means into a coding paradigm. Website development, even through mediation platforms, requires a user to think through structure and to predict an audience's movement through their corner of cyberspace. In addition, these sites do, in fact, offer the means to integrate code if a student has advanced knowledge of HTML or CSS—and it should be noted that some students have already learned a great deal about code, either on their own or in a classroom. Ultimately, the effect of these platforms allows us to simply be teachers again. We are not computer scientists—but we no longer have to be. Using these platforms (and many others), we can sidestep the difficulties formerly associated with creating digital applications and website structures in order to move onto content generation. Writing, in this way, does not have to be subservient to programming. Instead, it can be enhanced. Takayoshi and Selfe (2007), writing on multimodal pedagogy and digital composition, argue that

such instruction is often refreshing (because it's different from the many other composing instruction experiences they've had), meaningful (because the production of multimodal texts in class resemble many of the real-life texts students encounter in digital spaces), and relevant (students often sense that multimodal approaches to composing will matter in their lives outside the classroom). (p. 4)

For all the problems associated with teaching code, there is a growing sense that such instruction is, in fact, student-centric and, more importantly, meaningful to students. While no instructor should pander to their classrooms, these attributes of multimodal composition apply across approaches; for code and digital composition, students can use the web as a new medium for their work. This student-centric environment can increase community and collaboration by the simple fact that students' experience with technology differs from person to person. While one student may understand HTML, another may have experience with CSS, and another with graphic design. These students may work together to come to a rhetorical understanding of the intersection of these different knowledges and their online execution. The role of the instructor, then, is to promote this collaboration and offer guidance towards deeper rhetorical understanding—something that is no different than the current role of a composition instructor.

Surpassing Limits...