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Closing Thoughts: A Digital Media Future for Basic Writing?

In basic writing classrooms in universities across the country, professors, teachers, and instructors are trying to come up with new ways to engage students, empower them as citizens of their educational institutions, and encourage them to think critically about the texts they analyze and produce. Digital media production is one strategy that accomplishes all three of these objectives. Students become more engaged when composing digital media not only because digital media texts are so familiar to them but also, paradoxically, because they are so strange. In other words, while students are adept at consuming digital media texts, they have oftentimes never produced them, and thus have not thought about these kinds of texts in rhetorical or compositional terms. Introducing students to rhetorical concepts through digital media production allows them to see the texts they consume in a different light, making subsequent analysis of such texts much easier. In addition, it allows them to turn to the written word with a rhetorical framework that makes sense to them. Furthermore, it gives students what they see as valuable, "real world" experience with digital production in that they begin to develop a skill set using production technologies similar to those used in professional venues.

Given the relative paucity of research on digital media production in basic writing, especially when compared with the work currently being done in composition studies concerning the freshman level and above, we advocate that more attention be paid to this particular area of study. Such projects might include longitudinal studies of former basic writing students' success rates in future courses or their changing attitudes about multimodal composing and writing more generally. The field might also address the challenge of assessing digital media texts produced by basic writing students, or perhaps analyze the unique rhetorical strategies that basic writing students adopt as they manipulate sound, video, still images, and text.

Because of our digital production pedagogies, our students were able to write more, to discuss and implement sophisticated rhetorical concepts, and to participate substantively in peer response and revision. We find these results encouraging. In the short time that we have begun working with digital media assignments, we have had the kinds of experiences that convince us this is a worthwhile approach to teaching basic writing. Buttressed by these reassuring initial experiences, we also urge more basic writing specialists to consider the advantages of incorporating digital media assignments into their classroom practice. Once teachers of basic writing begin sharing digital media-infused assignments and curricula with one another, presenting findings and pedagogical techniques at conferences, and otherwise engaging in professional development, then the field's status will potentially rise or change so that it becomes a more integral part of composition studies as a whole, which is already beginning to embrace digital media in earnest. Such a transformation could conceivably correct the second-class status that has plagued basic writing (teachers, student, and field alike) for some time now. Finally, we believe the students themselves will benefit from getting early exposure to digital media production, because it provides them access to an emerging global discourse community increasingly shaped by newly emerging technologies and multimodal literacy practices. To deny or delay them access to these new codes and tools would do them a serious disservice.


Jump to: Introduction | "Audio Ethnography: Listening to Cultures & Communities" | "The Emergence of a (Reluctant) Leader" | "Audio Essays: A First Attempt"