A Framework for Action



“When you are guided to any construction site you are experiencing the troubling and exhilarating feeling that things could be different, or at least that they could still fail — a feeling never so deep when faced with a final product, no matter how beautiful or impressive it may be.” -Bruno Latour

Jody Shipka opens the third chapter of her dissertation novel, Toward a Composition Made Whole, with the eloquent metaphor from French sociologist Bruno Latour. She then spends the next 25 pages attempting to illustrate Latour’s ideas, citing examples of students doing everything from interpretive dance to using the keyboard with their feet. And while her anecdotes are interesting, I still can’t help but find them less than necessary and still not quite as clear as Latour’s intial quotation.

While I appreciate Shipka’s analysis of the “prototypical scene of writing” (page 58) and the idea that educators should “consider how the spaces through which students move impact their sense of self as well as their learning and composing practices” (page 77), I found Shipka’s student, Muffie, and her remediation of another student’s work “Body Language” more interesting than informative.

(I also find it an interesting note about the importance of digital literacy that part of this chapter couldn’t be fully explored without access to the internet, a lesson I learned with great frustration as Access Media 3 once again malfunctioned for my entire apartment complex.)

As a student of not only english, but also psychology, I’ve often researched things like body language and non-verbal cues. I’ve enjoyed shows like Lie to Me, which is based on work involving intricate body language (micro-expressions and facial coding) by psychologist Paul Ekman, as well Crime Signals and Love Signals, books written by David Givens, which both catalogue the body language involved in different aspects of life. 

For this reason, I enjoyed the attempts Shipka’s students made to incorporate this information, as well as their love for dance into an informative composition. However, I still find myself thinking Shipka’s basic idea doesn’t need a whole novel’s worth of explanation. I feel guilty saying this, as I’ve spent time on her blog, Remediate This, and no doubt see the large amount of time and effort that’s gone into her research. I also don’t disagree with her line of reasoning, I believe students would benefit from educators allowing more creative compositions, as well as taking into account the entire composing process.

But, unless I’m missing something, that seems to be all Shipka is saying. Over and over and over again.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it would be awesome to sit in on some of Shipka’s FYC classes. And, as repetitive and arduous as Toward a Composition Made Whole may be, I don’t mind reading it. The text is informative and thought-provoking, but only to an extent. I can only hope that in the future chapters Shipka begins to introduce some new ideas instead of reiterate the same ones.

The “Disappearance Effect”

So, I had quite the struggle to get through Chapter 2 of Jody Shipka’s “Toward a Composition Made Whole”, (& although I’m pretty sure it’s against the rules) I decided not to blog about it until after our class discussion. While hearing what my classmates thought did help me, it still didn’t answer some of the key questions I had about the chapter. The major one I still can’t seem to find an answer to is what exactly is “mediational means”.

There were examples of pole-vaulting, quitting smoking, and even one about a birthday cake that I looked up myself in an attempt to understand what exactly Shipka (and Lev Vygotsky) was trying to get at. Finally I stumbled across this one rather lengthy definition, that after several read throughs seemed to make sense. The way I understand it, “mediational means” are anything that goes into the communication process – whether it be the words I’m using in this sentence, the laptop I’m typing it on, or the Dr.Pepper I’m drinking to keep me awake to do so.

One particularly interesting aspect of the investigation into “mediational means” is the idea “the habitual use of any tool brings about ‘amplifications and reductions’ not only in the moment of use but in the physical and psychological structure of the user” (page 51). Shipka mentions how the use of word processors has significantly effected the environment of writing. While you can essentially take a notebook and pen anywhere, you are only able to use a laptop on flat surfaces with nearby electrical plugs. On the other hand, however, you can write many more ideas at a faster pace with a laptop than you are able to scribe on paper. I can’t help but sometimes think it’s a choice between back problems (from lugging my laptop around to class) and carpal tunnel (from vigorously jotting notes).

We discussed this idea in class, talking about the “romanticizing” of pen and paper writing, and the idea of our laptops as partners versus tools. Shipka argues that the technology involved in the writing process (whether it be a laptop or the lights in the classroom) should be viewed more as a partner to the final project. She goes on to borrow the idea of the “disappearance effect”, a term coined by Bertram Bruce and Maureen Hogan, which states that as we become so accustomed to our technologies, we forget to acknowledge them and be active in our use. Shipka writes,

“Once the action a technology affords move from novelty to habit, we tend to move from ‘looking at technology as an addition to life to looking at life through that technology’” (page 54)

Anyone else thinking of Google Glass? Regardless of how tech-savvy you are, I think most people, as evidenced in our class discussion, have some reservations about referring to their technology as a partner. Maybe we’ve all just seen too many tech-gone-wrong movies like Total Recall and I, Robot or maybe it’s just a narcissistic human characteristic to believe we’re the only species capable of generating ideas. Either way, you try to go just one day without using your laptop, tablet, or smartphone, and you’ll quickly realize you’re guilty of enacting the  ”disappearance effect”.



“Toward A Composition Made Whole”

Throughout my Writing & Digital Media course, we will be reading excerpts from Jody Shipka’s text, Toward A Composition Made Whole. 

Chapter One of Jody Shipka’s novel, which challenges the way we address communication, presents several intriguing theories. The assumption that “while ideas about appropriate subject matter for writing courses has broadened over time, form has remained fixed as students are often expected to compose linear, print-based texts” rang especially true. As a student at Virginia Tech, my freshman english course embodied this model. My dedicated and motivating professor not only allowed us to write about subjects as broad as graffiti and generation gaps, but she also required us to present compositions in forms other than papers, such as photographs, skits, board games, and more. This semester helped shape me into not only a stronger writer, but also someone more open-minded about the possibilities of communication.

Another tangent with similar subject addressed by the book is the belief that “the educational experience of many students has led them to believe that schoolbook English is a special variety of language found only in the English classroom and used by English teachers”. As a student of English I too commonly see examples of this exact unfounded belief. While I was fortunate to have positive influences (such as parents and teachers) who taught me the importance of language and education, many students suffer through stale formalities taught by those undedicated.

However on the other side of the argument, as someone who remains close with several inspirational high school teachers and is considering a possible career in the field of education, I can respect the  that counter that integrating technology and broadening the expanse of the study of communication “places an extra workload burdens on teachers, adding considerably to their overall job activities”. Teachers will not get proper resources or compensation until society agrees education, and the integration of technology and capital within, is the first priority.