As a way to merge two pedagogical practices that I find both personally rewarding and extremely effective, I have designed an English Composition I (ENGL 1101) course around civic engagement and the use of new media. The theme of the course is “Agents of Change,” and all course deliverables will adhere to this theme.
Students enrolled in this course will also participate in iTeach, which is a mobile device pilot program. All iTeach students will be given an iPad2 for the duration of the semester, and all three assignments below will require students to engage with their mobile devices and a variety of apps several times a week.
The Common Course Outline for ENGL 1101 requires that five “essays” be written during the course of the semester. The three assignments included below work toward that requirement. In the process of creating this sequence of assignments, however, I realized how antiquated the common course outlines are at my college. The document almost exclusively refers to products of the English course as “essays,” which offers little creative encouragement for those of us who wish to teach students to write in the digital realm in addition to traditional coursework.
In an effort to balance the traditional composition with the multimodal composition, as advised by Anne Wysocki, this course will begin with a blended-mode essay assignment. The essay will serve as a diagnostic, a means to gauge student writing strengths and weaknesses in the formal writing atmosphere. In addition, it will be an opportunity for students to explore potential causes/issues for the civic engagement portion of the course. Students will ultimately arrive at one topic – either an issue or a cause – on which they will work to affect change through the remainder of the semester.
What is Civic Engagement?
Civic Engagement is essentially meaningful participation in the community for the purposes of addressing an issue or concern, solving a community problem, or getting involved in the political process in our representative democracy. In the academic world, civic engagement also relates to the coursework to some degree, so in a composition course, the primary method of engagement would involve writing about/for the designated cause or issue.
For the purposes of this class, I will define a cause as a topic of concern that requires activism for the purposes of helping to raise awareness or funds to help find a solution (Examples: Cystic Fibrosis, Autism, Domestic Violence, Homelessness). An issue is typically something being debated (or that should be) in the political realm. Engagement generally surrounds activities such as education, lobbying Congress, and recruiting supporters (Examples: FairTax, Legalization of Drugs, Immigration Reform).
Why Does it Matter?
A recent study of college student voter turnout by the Tufts University Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) found that 66% of youth with any college experience voted, while only 35% of youth with no college experience voted. The findings reveal the impact of providing civic opportunities in college classrooms, ultimately claiming that “Not being asked to participate can have detrimental effects on motivation and efficacy” (“Education Gap Persists”).
What is New Media?
Anne Wysocki defines “new media” as “texts where we keep their materiality visible, both as we work to make them and as we hold them before us.” Ultimately, most consider new media to mean electronic or digital media, but the primary concern seems to be about the materiality of the composition, that is, how it’s created, for what purpose, serving which audience. New media and social media have a longer history than one might realize, but the future will be, in large part, determined by how we instruct our students to effectively harness its inherent power.
- Vygotsky’s Theory of Social Construction – Writing and Learning are social
- Dewey – Learning is social, inquiry-based
- Theory of Sequencing Assignments – Building from low-stakes to higher-stakes assignments
- Deans and Butin – Service Learning and Civic Engagement Theories – Students learn best when academic activities are applied, purposeful and mutually-beneficial
- Theory of Aesthetics (studying now)
- Experimental Writing Theory
- Anne Wysocki – Writing New Media
- Cynthia Selfe – Multimodal Composition: Resources for Teachers
- Jeff Rice – The Rhetoric of Cool: Composition Studies and New Media
- Patricia Suzanne Sullivan – Experimental Writing in Composition