link home

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


This webtext charts our various adventures incorporating digital media composing assignments in the basic writing classroom. The context in which the three of us work is particularly suited to experimentations with digital media production. The English department at Ohio State’s Columbus (main) campus maintains a space called the Digital Media Project, which supports five computer classrooms where writing classes of all levels are taught (as well as other English classes). The director of the DMP and the staff members incorporate digital media production into their writing classes and support others in learning to incorporate digital media production into their writing classes. Ben and Catherine both were staff members at the DMP before becoming Assistant Professors on the Marion Campus, while Amie has enjoyed a longtime relationship with the DMP as an instructor in one of their computer classrooms.

Over the past five years, the DMP has been forging a connection with the Writing Workshop, the entity that manages the basic writing curriculum at Ohio State. As a senior lecturer in the Workshop, Amie has worked with the DMP to learn new technologies and develop her digital media pedagogy. All Workshop classes have sessions each week in one of the computer labs, and Workshop teachers (most of whom are either full-time lecturers or graduate students) have been working to incorporate digital media production into Workshop classes. In short, the Writing Workshop Instructors were trained and have been working in an environment where digital media production is encouraged. Furthermore, because of their appointments in the DMP, Ben and Catherine have been activists and consultants, helping other teachers learn to infuse digital media production into their classes. However, unlike digital production in composition instruction in general, there has been no published research on digital media production in basic/developmental/remedial writing. There has been, however, published research on other uses of digital media in basic writing instruction, but the focus tends to be almost exclusively on diagnostic or supplemental applications. The Bedford Bibliography for Teachers of Basic Writing, for instance, lists six articles on digital media, which are focused on subjects such as coding student error, learning to read the web, and asynchronous peer response. None of the articles focus on the use of multimodal composing. Since the 1980s, conversations about digital media and basic writing have focused on word processing (Cross; Etchison), the cognitive processes of students using electronic tools (D’Agostino and Varone; Kozma), access to technology (Stan and Collins), and the politics of basic writing (Grabill; Grobman; Gruber), but not on digital media production as a composing strategy for basic writing classes.

Even though digital production is going on in basic writing classes (certainly at OSU and possibly at other places, as well), there’s not a lot of talk about it in so-called professional venues (conferences and journals), although we suspect that people are talking about it in local contexts, just as we talk with our colleagues in the DMP and Writing Workshop about incorporating digital media production into our basic writing classes at OSU. The lack of “official” talk about digital media production in basic writing is most likely related to institutional constraints. Those who teach basic writing are often contingent or non-tenure track faculty, who have high course loads and very little time to create a new pedagogy centered on digital media production. The imbalanced staffing practices for basic writing classes, plus the institutional location of basic writing as a remedial course (often without college credit), in addition to state governments’ often unsympathetic philosophies on “remedial" education, work against basic writing instruction in general and especially against experimental pedagogies in basic writing. In 1998, Susan Stan and Terence Collins conducted a survey of basic writing teachers that showed disparity in use of and access to technology in basic writing programs (Stan and Collins). Since then, as funding for higher education has dwindled, this gap has likely become even greater.

Although we all teach at Ohio State, we teach at two separate campuses in the system that have different levels of access to technology in basic writing courses. In Columbus (where Amie teaches), basic writing classes meet three days a week, one of those days in a computer lab. In Marion (where Ben and Catherine teach), basic writing classes meet every class session in a computer lab. In addition, the Columbus and Marion campuses handle placement of students into writing classes somewhat differently. The Columbus campus requires students who receive an ACT score lower than 19 to write a placement essay; those exams are then scored by a team of three readers, and students are placed into a writing course based on their essay score. The Columbus campus has three basic writing classes: English 109.01 (Intensive Reading and Writing I), the most basic class, English 109.02 (Intensive Reading and Writing II), an intermediate class, and English 110.03 (First-Year Writing, with Workshop component), a version of the “regular” first-year writing class that includes extra session meetings with tutors. If students are placed into 109.01, they must take that course plus 109.02 before enrolling in the Univerisity-required first-year writing class (English 110.01 or 110.02, which are not managed by the Writing Workshop). If students are placed into English 110.03, then they get credit for the University requirement and have the added benefit of extra writing help with trained undergraduate tutors (usually juniors and seniors).

Because of staffing and enrollment issues, the Marion campus cannot offer 110.03, so 109.01 and 109.02 are the only basic writing classes offered in Marion. Marion is an open-access campus that employs self-placement. Students attend a placement orientation, where they learn about each of the three classes they can place themselves into (109.01, 109.02, 110.01). At the end of the orientation, students choose the class they feel is best for them. Unlike in Columbus, students who choose to take 109.01 are not required to take 109.02 before enrolling in 110. Because of their experience with digital media production in Columbus, Ben and Catherine felt it was important to extend digital media work to basic writing courses, and decided to see how digital media production could be incorporated into the courses in Marion.

This article treads through what we see as unplowed ground in the growing conversation about digital media studies and how we as a field implement it in our pedagogies, generally speaking. For several years now, the computers and writing community has been talking about the advantages of incorporating digital media production work into composition curricula, but these efforts have been directed for the most part at first-year writing courses and above. To those ends, we refer the reader to recent textbooks such as Wysocki, Selfe, et al.'s Writing New Media, or Carolyn Handa's Visual Rhetoric in a Digital World, as well as the scholarship contained in both the print and virtual pages of such journals as Kairos, English Matters, or Computers & Composition. Also in this capacity, readers might also look at the work of Todd Taylor, Pam Takayoshi, or Danielle Nicole DeVoss, among others. More often than not, the milieu of record for much of this scholarship is the first-year writing classroom, its principal player the "typical" and unproblematized freshman writer. By comparison, little attention has been paid to basic writing with regard to digital media production. It is the goal of this article to encourage the field to extend the conversation about digital media production to basic writing, and we offer three case studies of different multimodal production pedagogies for basic writing.

Throughout this webtext, this icon , part of the Silk Icons collection, labels links to student-produced texts.


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