Archive for April, 2012

Compose, design, advocate: Comments on an IAS roundtable discussion

Sunday, April 1st, 2012 | Permalink

Writing is writing–except when performed on a Web editor such as this one and displayed on countless types of browsers and tablets with different settings, screen widths, and a host of variables that include video and audio. Then the process of assembling words in understandable order becomes the art of  “communication” in all its myriad forms.

That was the message that emerged from the roundtable discussion with Professors Dennis Lynch and Anne Wysocki at the University of Minnesota’s Nolte Center on Wednesday afternoon. The bulk of the discussion as led by Prof.  Wysocki focused upon the notion that the advent of social media has changed how people communicate and their conceptions of literacy. No longer the mere interpretation of words, reading “differs through all our basic technologies.” Where reading and writing once were the basic skills that determined literacy, Wysocki’s search in an ERIC database revealed 84 different versions of the term including computer, emotional, and sexual literacy.

With reading and writing no longer the “be all and end all” of literacy, the people in attendance, mostly writing instructors, addressed the dual challenges of how this expansion of the definition of literacy shapes a writer’s audience and how it can be used to encourage students to take chances as producers of text. Some in the audience sought to expand the definition even further by not limiting literacy to words alone but to the interpretation of all oral and visual texts. A writer’s “performance” in the print medium incorporates multi-modalities that bring his or her body into the foreground of composing a text.

No doubt expanding the definition of writing to include variant forms of graphic design does encourage students to have fun creating their texts and try alternative technologies to reach different audiences.  But despite the literacy displayed by both parties in crafting and reading a message such as “My ♥ bleeds 4 u,” how effective can such communication be if the writer fails to supply the Web editor with properly written instructions to mount it? In their efforts to instill the “physical pleasure” of creating texts in their students, instructors overlook the fact that their students must be conversant in the basics of English syntax to appreciate the ironic subtext of such a deviant message. Sometimes, a clearly written set of instructions is worth a dozen wordless diagrams. Anyone who tackles assembling a piece of  furniture created from IKEA’s interior designers can attest to the truth of that observation.