Digitizing Theory

Jason Palmeri’s Remixing composition: A history of multimodal writing pedagogy (2012) proved a useful text for more than one reason. As a doctoral student nearing comprehensive exams, he provided an interesting read on the history of composition and rhetoric scholarship. As an educator, his suggestions, admittedly not foolproof or the end-all-be-all, will break the boundaries of the composition classroom that many of us still struggle with. For my purposes here, I will focus on his read of the literature, although many (if not, all) his suggestions will be making their way into my classroom.

Palmeri’s (2012) title suggests a focused look at multimodal pedagogy–preparing the reader for a look at fairly recent scholarship on the benefits and pitfalls of multimodal composing in the classroom. His history, however, took a look at staple pieces of theoretical scholarship, from all three major threads (expressivist, cognitive, social-epistemic), and fore-fronted the inherent multimodal aspect found in the history of composition and rhetoric. What I want to stress through Palmeri’s read of composition and rhetoric literature is the underlying relevance of all three strands of theoretical scholarship. No one scholar got it right, and no one scholar (myself included) will get it right. But by taking the advantageous aspects from each theorist, we stand a better chance of forming our composition theory into something that works as the landscape of composition continues to change. As Palmeri shows, digital technology has altered the way we compose and think, and how our students compose and move through the process of producing text. Multimodality has become a greater component of our compositions, and with new software (and social networking sites and online composing forums), it is now essential. The pages of these articles, from Emig to Elbow, have been read and marked by all of us, but due to the relevance and necessity of multimodality in composition, Palmeri noticed what was always there. Which brings me to my point on theory (both in this post and in my exams): composition theory should never be thrown out (as I’m sure everyone would agree). But while these theorists made their arguments privileging alphabetic text, as it was (and is) the main goal of the composition classroom, we can take what works and apply it to the changing nature of composition–to the increase of the digital and multimodal. Palmeri remixes composition, remixing the theory into a multimodal history. I say we mash-up the theory–take the best of the best, take what works and get rid of the excess, and apply it to a digital, multimodal, mashed-up composing world.

Reference

Palmeri, J. (2012). Remixing composition: A history of multimodal writing pedagogy. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

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