Brown Bag Presentation: Multiliteracies in Composition

Last Friday, I was invited to lead a “brown bag” session for my English department’s composition program. Titled “Multiliteracies in Composition,” we focused our pre-reading on an article about a second-year college composition course developed at Michigan Tech called “Revisions.” Details can be found in the following article:

Lynch, Dennis A., and Anne Frances Wysocki. “From First-Year Composition to Second-Year Multiliteracies: Integrating Instruction in Oral, Written, and Visual Communication at a Technological University.WPA: Writing Program Administration 26.3 (2003): 149-171.

We began by watching the Richard Miller’s presentation: The Future is Now. This presented us with a variety of challenging questions about how we might pursue such a vision of the “new humanities” at CMU, including discussions about professional development, our beliefs about the changing nature of literacy, and how, if at all, a shift in our curriculum would happen in the time frame that Lynch and Wysocki describe from their context.

We then continued in small groups with a jig saw reading, where groups posted 2-3 responses or question in their own page on my wiki. After a watching Wikis in Plain English, they understood the basics of posting and were able to see how using a wiki could allow for multiple groups to post their work and then quickly share it with the class. The conversation continued in a large group discussion, including some emerging questions:

  • What do students need in terms of literacy in a changing world?
  • How do multiliteracies relate to technology and communications?
  • What does the multi-disciplinary approach do for departments? What about specialization?
  • If everyone talks the same language, do we have our own specialties?
  • What does this mean for us in terms of the course? Content? Writing?
  • Faculty-only vs. Graduate Assistants–How is this possible or feasible at our University?
  • What does this look like across the curriculum? Is it sustainable?
  • What about assessment? Individual? Groups? Programmatic?
  • Is there still a need for traditional comp courses? Don’t you still need a first year comp?
  • How does the continuing focus in professional organizations on 21st century lliteracies contribute to this discussion (last week’s NCTE statement on the future of composition), both for college and life?
  • What would the writing center need to/be expected to do?
  • Does this perpetuate a two-tiered society, a Gutenberg in reverse?
  • How do we support faculty in these collaborations?
  • Is the resistance about learning to do old things with new technologies or really coming to understand a new paradigm that the new technologies allow?

We ended with Michael Wesch and his students’: A Vision of Students Today, and just in time for a sunny mid-winter drive home. All told, it was a timely and lively discussion for our department, and I appreciated having the opportunity to facilitate the session. Given the release of the 2008 Horizon Report, it seems as though we are constantly reminded that things continue to change. I hope that this session serves as a spark that continues into further conversations about multiliteracies in composition later this semester.

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Author: Troy Hicks

Dr. Troy Hicks is a professor of English and education at Central Michigan University. He directs both the Chippewa River Writing Project and the Master of Arts in Educational Technology degree program. A former middle school teacher, Dr. Hicks has authored numerous books, articles, chapters, blog posts, and other resources broadly related to the teaching of literacy in our digital age. Follow him on Twitter: @hickstro

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