Conventions of Copyright


This week’s readings focused on copyright, and the ever-important implications for teachers utilizing digital and multimodal writing. My picture is indicative of the fear and angst with which I approach copyright, and the threat of dire consequences should I violate it (sounds a lot like plagiarism, right?). Luckily, the Fair Use clause frees teachers from many concerns about citing images, clips, and other technically copyrighted material, but can Fair Use really be used as a catch-all like that? It feels lazy. If the same standard were applied to alphabetic text, plagiarism would hardly be an issue in our classrooms. These are just some of the questions that me and my colleague asked as we facilitated class this Tuesday. I’ll provide some of my own thoughts here. 

According to one of our authors, “the more knowledge of the law, the more possibilities, variables, and probabilities come into view. The more tool-like copyright law becomes, as opposed to rule-like, the more a user might feel able to push and pull on that tool” (Rife). Our class discussed the meaning of “possibilities” in this quote. We determined that considering copyright could encourage us to find different solutions to our texts. For example, taking our own pictures to use in a blog post rather than having to worry about citing someone else’s image. We talked about going through Creative Commons for images, and how even that is not foolproof (it often links to Flickr, most of which is copyrighted). We talked about remixing songs in Garage Band rather than worrying about how many seconds of someone else’s song to use. We also talked about how to get our students to think about copyright as they compose digitally. One of the best ways to introduce copyright is to visit YouTube and pull up one of the thousands of videos that have been removed by YouTube administrators for copyright violations. 

I wanted to talk about Internet memes in class, but discussion never provided a good opportunity, so I’ll put my thoughts here. It is somehow appropriate to take a copyrighted image and put text over it, generating mass quantities of memes that are circulated on any number of sites (Tumblr, Imgur, Facebook, Twitter, Buzzfeed, Reddit, etc.). What exempts those images from copyright? Sometimes, it’s the context of a certain website. For example, users on Tumblr are familiar with the “reblog” feature that enables mass sharing of posts. If a Tumblr blogger posts original content, zi expects it to circulate with the reblog feature, thus taking away copyright. However, if someone uses a Tumblr post outside the context of Tumblr (in a research paper, for example),  zi is expected to cite it according to the original poster, which requires a trace through, sometimes, thousands of reblogs. 

How are we, or our students, supposed to know the expectations of all websites and media sources out there? I don’t think we are, and that’s why we should look at copyright as a tool, instead of a steadfast set of rules implicating consequences for violation (like the “Big C” of my photo). Thinking about copyright and citation can either incite fear, or inspire creativity, and that’s your choice! 

Musings on MOOCs

Until reading Steven Krause’s piece in the CCC “Symposium on Massive Open Online Courses,” I had little idea of what a MOOC entailed for both students and teachers. I had, however, read many editorial pieces for the Chronicle of Higher Education bemoaning MOOCs and their less-than-ideal influence on higher education. Some of Krause’s observations regarding his “Listening to World Music” MOOC resonated with me, and especially since our last 7280 class meeting focused discussion on online teaching.

First, the experience of “interacting” with thousands of strangers in an LMS sounds simply horrific (I’m now familiar with Schoology, Canvas, and Blackboard). Krause describes the heaps of discussion posts as “white noise,” and what else could they be? (690). It is impossible to read and interact with all those posts without devoting hours and hours of time. Furthermore, whose idea was it to enact student grading without any sort of training? At the very least, the teacher could have uploaded example-graded responses with justification. As a composition student, I also know that the term “style” is a heavily subjective element that is difficult to define—why have the “style” category on a rubric without any sort of justification as to how style will be assessed?

What impressed me about students in the course was their attention to some common themes I encounter in my coursework; when asked to grade others’ writing, “there was also some interesting conversation about the difficulties of evaluating the responses written by non-native English students, about plagiarism (of course!), and about the quality of peer responses” (692). I have spent entire courses learning about these concepts, yet students of all calibers in a MOOC were expected to deal with them without any training. I was horrified!

Last—what does one do with a certificate from a MOOC? What weight does this carry when compared to audited in-person or even distance learning courses? For example, with a certificate from this “World Music” MOOC, would I be able to skip a general education course at any university?

While Krause’s experience was certainly subpar, I’m glad to see that he hedges his statements in his conclusion, because MOOCs are still “in the experimental stages and are still trying to discover and invent effective pedagogies” (694). I argue in my scholarly work that the academy must not dismiss social networking without assessing its strengths and potential for the classroom, so I believe we must do the same with MOOCs (which are even newer than social networking). I can’t say that I’m on the MOOC bandwagon, but I’ll be interested to read about more experiences with them, especially the rhetoric/composition MOOCs in development at Duke, Georgia Tech, and Ohio State.

The Next Step: Sustaining Multimodality

Sometimes, I get caught up in the excitement of new technology (especially social networking) and forget that learning/incorporating technology is a cycle for teachers, as Richard Selfe (husband of renowned Cynthia Selfe) reminds me in his chapter “Sustaining Multimodal Composition.” Because the cycle will continue as new technologies are developed, “computer-supported instruction continues to be exploratory” (167). Luckily, teachers are not alone in their endeavors! Selfe explores the myriad of people essential to creating a sustainable network of multimodal composition. I appreciate that Selfe doesn’t just focus on the professional/administrative component of such a network; he also mentions that a “supportive social environment” can be just as important (167).

I’d like to ask Selfe whether or not digital communities count as a sustainable community of scholars, administrators, students, and teachers. Seems to me that a collaborative digital space would be easier to create online rather than in person (dare I say ‘more realistic’). A good example is #chats on Twitter, a phenomenon where stakeholders in the featured subject gather on a designated date/time to exchange ideas and answer questions. I like to observe and occasionally participate in #edchat, where the community focuses on educational technology.

My other favorite part of Selfe’s article is his practical tips and questions for teachers of multimodal composition. I’ve been reluctant to “jump in” with a multimodal assignment for my own classes, because I wasn’t sure exactly to go about it. Selfe gives me important questions to consider, as well as practical tips/tricks. The most important takeaway for me was to be realistic about the learning curve of software and technology. It will take time to learn, and even more time to develop projects, so allowing adequate time and keeping projects short are essential for multimodal assignments.

Connecting Aurality and Popular Culture with Cynthia Selfe

Think about all the aural modes of communication our students interact with on a daily basis: YouTube, music, Snapchat video, Vine, Facetime, music editing software, recorded lectures, podcasts, and many more. Cynthia Selfe, the pioneer of digital and multimodal studies, speaks about popular culture and aural composing in her article “The Movement of Air, the Breath of Meaning: Aurality and Multimodal Composing.” I’ve never come across a Selfe publication that I don’t enjoy reading, and this was no exception (7280 is actually the third class for which I’ve read this piece). The section on popular culture resonated with me the most, as popular culture is a big factor in my own teaching.

            As Selfe articulates (much better than I could): “teachers continue to recognize its [aurality’s] importance in the lived experience of young people” (631). What better way to reach students than popular culture? Note: I do not proclaim that popular culture reaches all students. Selfe mentions bringing popular music into the center of class assignments; I thought I was big shit for developing a “Music Video Visual Rhetoric” assignment, but Selfe beat me to the punch. Yet, Selfe reveals, written discourse was still the end product for these aural texts. I don’t believe this has changed in a large-scale way, but more and more of my colleagues have begun to incorporate multimodal products into their curriculum—yay! In my mind, multimodal end products best suit multimodal classroom assignments. But that’s a topic for another blog post.

            Hopefully academic attitudes toward popular culture have matured since 2009, because I was surprised to see that academics treated popular culture as something to vaccinate against, resist, or avoid altogether. Now, I would argue that more teachers are seeing popular culture as something to deconstruct, study, and recognize implications of, which are all more positive goals. What do my readers think? 

Hamlet’s Blackberry

Hamlet's Blackberry

At first, I thought this book would be pretty lame, because I’ve had enough of people telling others how to live their lives (both digital and otherwise). I was expecting hasty generalizations and lofty moral values, but William Powers offers some cogent advice for living in a 24/7 connected world. Coming on the heels of investigating all the types of surveillance with my GSW students, Powers was an appropriate read. Furthermore, his writing style is accessible and down-to-earth, so I don’t get the feeling he’s preaching a “holier than thou” sermon. Part of his ethos is identifying with such a connected culture–we are all victims! As High School Musical would say: “We’re all in this together!” Another ethos-building moment comes when Powers confronts the counterargument before going in-depth with his own argument. That’s a bold strategy, and one I think really pays off when dealing with highly defensive and exigent topics (like personal use of technology).

I’d like to counter by pointing out an assumption on which Powers’ argument rests. He concedes that digital technology and multitasking can indeed foster creativity in individuals, and that “there is nothing more valuable than an employee with a fertile, creative mind” (29). However, Powers wonders whether or not multitasking really elicits such creativity while users are “jumping among many other tasks at the same time, racing from this to that and back to this again” (29). Maybe we should hash out some different types of multitasking, or at least consider that everyone multitasks in a different way. For example, I like to work on one task for a short period of time, giving it 100% of my focus. Then I move to the next task, and so on. This is opposed to someone who flutters from task to task in a matter of seconds or minutes, never giving more than, say, 10% to any one task. My type of multitasking would surely promote better results than the other type, yet Powers lumps them all in together.

One facet of Powers’ argument that I enjoyed was his breakdown of why we feel we need the newest, fastest version of technologies. Sometimes, we spend exorbitant money to have the newest technology–that hasn’t even changed that much from the previous version. It’s partly the fault of advertising, and partly the fault of our psyche. I’d venture to say that the majority of us believe that we can ONLY work with the best and the fastest, lest we miss out on any opportunity to maximize time and effort, because we are just so BUSY (Powers also mentions that being “busy” is a state of mind created to justify multitasking and running around like a crazy person, which snowballs over time). This is simply not true. I wouldn’t advocate NOT to update, but I (like Powers) don’t believe it’s absolutely essential every few months.

P.S. how cool is it that the copy of Hamlet’s Blackberry I ordered from Amazon happened to be signed by William Powers himself? SO COOL!

Remix and Multimodal Composition- Jason Palmeri


The first time I ever thought about the notion of remix and multimodal composition was during my Master’s studies, when I read Kathleen Blake Yancey’s 2009 article: “Re-designing Graduate Education in Composition and Rhetoric: The Use of Remix as Concept, Material, and Method.” Yancey inspired me to begin thinking beyond the traditional read-discuss-write format of most graduate courses—at least in my then-current program. I wish I had read Jason Palmeri’s book, Remixing Composition: A History of Multimodal Writing Pedagogy, sooner, because his explanation of composition’s multimodal history is eye opening. Who would have thought—composition has always been multimodal!

One of the most important concepts to take away is that multimodality does not limit itself to computers or digital composing; Palmeri examines means of composing with images, sounds, and words. Our students already process information multimodally (yes, I just made up that word), and they would benefit from multimodal assignments and assessments. While Cindy Selfe is a pioneer of multimodal assignments, Palmeri brings multimodal history into view, and offers some low-tech alternatives in the process.

My favorite part of Palmeri’s book is his ability to confront the skeptics of new technology. Fearing the bandwagon of new media, many teachers are hesitant to adopt new technology into the classroom. Of course it is their choice, but Palmeri explains how all technology once created those same unsure feelings, and examines how teachers overcame those feelings in the past. With one eye on the future, Palmeri’s book is reassuring.

I was able to use Palmeri’s assertions as support for my own research into social networking and the classroom, but I see value in his historiography and classroom activities as well.  Honestly, I was shocked to hear that some colleagues found his book repetitive, but maybe I’m bias since Palmeri’s book is a favorite of mine 😉

… Have I mentioned how excited I am to meet Palmeri at BGSU in October??