Twenty-first century rhetorical situations require writers to be both rhetorically and technologically savvy, able to choose appropriate technologies to both compose and deliver media. In my teaching, I draw on Selber’s (2004) call for digital multiliteracies while recognizing (based on my own research and others’) that digital technologies are no panacea for student writers or the workplaces they will soon enter (Haas, 1996). With that in mind, I prepare students to consider not just rhetorical but also technological requirements of the writing contexts they may encounter in their academic and professional careers, and I equip them with the critical skills necessary to evaluate and respond to media they encounter in their everyday lives.
Students often enter my classes with pragmatic goals: developing functional writing and technological skills that they believe will enhance their employability in a rapidly changing and still volatile job market. Students meet these goals by producing practical genres in a variety of media. I spend classroom time meeting students where they are in terms of functional literacies through peer- and teacher-led workshops. Undergraduate students in my Digital Writing class and graduate students in my Academic Genres class produce ePortfolios that showcase the new genres they’ve learned and functional literacies they’ve gained. In these classes, we spend class time learning both rhetorical literacies—good design principles—and functional literacies—navigating content management systems like WordPress and Wix. Additionally, students in both classes produce audio genres—essays and podcasts—and we spend class time learning the ins and outs of Audacity (an audio production program) and workshopping in-process work. Students leave these classes with new skill sets and written products that they can showcase to multiple academic and professional audiences.
Alongside these pragmatic concerns, my students develop critical literacies through theoretical readings and deep reflections on the genres they produce. For example, in my Academic Genres graduate class, in addition to producing a variety of academic genres (e.g., conference proposals, research statements), students read Berkenkotter and Huckin (1995) and consider the ways these genres create and are created by the institution of the academy and the material constraints of academic life. In my Digital Writing class in the Spring of 2017, in the wake of mass media coverage of fake news, we discussed practical tools for spotting fake news, but I also used videos and readings to develop students’ critical thinking. We watched an excerpt from Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent and read an excerpt from Phillips’s (2015) academic ethnography of online trolls, which situate sensationalized news against the institutions and cultural logics of mainstream media and culture. These readings ask students to historicize and critique genres and technologies, scaffolding for them critical perspectives and thinking skills.
In all of my courses, I facilitate development of writing processes by requiring submissions of multiple drafts per assignment, providing written and verbal feedback on assignments, and incorporating peer workshopping into class time. Having spent five years as a writing tutor, I know the value of face-to-face, one-on-one time with students, and often require student conferences to discuss drafts and revisions. These practices lead students to develop the skills necessary to analyze and improve their own writing.
Students leave my courses as producers of media appropriate to their respective contexts and as critical evaluators of existing media, prepared to handle whatever their classrooms or workplaces require.