Blog Post

Writing Centers, Multimodal Compositions, Community Engagement--Oh My!: A Rhet/Comp Smorgasborg!


Hello fellow HASTAC-ers!  My name is Kristi Girdharry, and I am a 2nd year English PhD student at Northeastern University where I focus on Rhetoric and Composition.  I’m hoping to use my HASTAC blog posts to explore some ideas I’m interested in pursuing, especially as I get closer and closer to the dissertation phase. 

I was a little overwhelmed by all of the emails we received so rapidly, but I did lurk a bit on the posts about explaining the Digital Humanities to people outside of our fields.  They reminded me of when people ask me “what do I do with my life?” in general: they mean “what do I for work,” but I like to throw them off with non-work related answers ("Well, I am kind of into dinosaurs…").  When I give a straightforward answer, I tend to say “I teach” instead of “I’m a student.”  I thought it was because my teaching seems much more active than my learning, and it pays the bills, so they get the short answer that they were looking for; however, in reality, it’s just that I really value my teaching, and I feel very fortunate that my personal values align with my learning interests.  I first became interested in Rhetoric and Composition through my undergraduate work in my university’s writing center, and so I foresee writing-center related work perhaps being one area I am looking to converse in through this forum.  Specifically, I have just started mobile consultations where I meet with students, in real-time, virtually.  We essentially have an online chat about their writing, but the interpersonal skills I normally rely in my tutoring sessions are being tested: how do we capture the “intimacy” of traditional writing center sessions?  How do the questions about students’ writing change when asked in this venue?  Should I be spending more or less time negotiating an agenda?  Should I deal with grammar differently? 

Another interest of mine is multimodal assignments.  I like my students to redefine how they think of “writing” and “compositions” by expanding their ideas of what the writing classroom can accomplish.  No longer do we just deal with alphabetic-based texts, but we bring in images, sounds, and other communications as well.  I like to start by asking them to consider more extreme examples like how does a writer’s take on Nietzche in an essay function differently from a spray-painted take of Nietzche on a wall?* Then we eventually move onto conversations about things like what happens when we add images to our essays?  What happens when these image and text essays are put in an electronic portfolio or on a website?  How do we interact with ideas differently based on their new contexts?  This abstract idea of audience becomes highlighted, and I think this is important for students to wrestle with.  Moreover than coming up with multimodal-writing assignments, I am also attempting to be more multimodal in my own teaching.  I like to note that we tend to pair multimodality with technology, but in its true sense, this isn’t what being multimodal all about: “many modes” can obviously take many forms, and, if you’d like to read more, Cynthia Selfe’s book Multimodal Compositions is a great place to start.  If you’re interested in a classroom activity I recently did, check out this blog post I wrote about it (I wrote it soon after I was accepted as a HASTAC scholar, so you can see how I felt about that there as well): it involves students and secrets and sidewalk chalk (intriguing, I know).

As you can probably tell from this post so far, I am interested in public writing along with ideas of intimacy and audience, and all of these are coming together via a “community engagement” project in my first-year writing course.  Community Engagement is sort of the blanket term I have been using in my courses to include any sort of university and non-university partnerships (including service learning, civic engagement, etc).  The word “community” is problematic (definitely in Rhetoric and Composition, and I imagine elsewhere) because it can be inclusionary and/or exclusionary, authoritative or passive, empowering or colonialist—perhaps I will talk more about this in another blog post.  Briefly, my first-year writing students are working on a storytelling project with local veterans in order to continue our discussions on war and culture and ideas of truth in stories.  While all members of the project are asked to share “true” stories, my students are recording their veterans’ accounts and translating them into digital shorts.  Not only will they have to consider how to keep the story true to its teller, but they will have to be aware of texts, sounds, and images.  This is my first time designing and implementing a project like this, so if anyone has any feedback here (or anywhere else on this introductory blog post) I would be most grateful!

I look forward to “meeting” and exchanging ideas with you—cheers! 


*By the way, graffiti artists refer to their art as “writing”; this always interests me and my students. 


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