“An Examination of the Self-Directed Learning Theory (SDL) and its Application into the ADDIE Instructional Design Process”
This is the story of my journey into applying the pedagogical approach of multimodal composition into my classroom. I will discuss my particular approach to integration of the concepts, the challenges and rewards that I have experienced with my application of the approach and my argument in favor of applying such an approach into all writing curriculum.
Keep your hands and feet inside the ride at all times and please enjoy the journey…
As an undergraduate student in fine art, I was always fascinated by the world of mixed media, from the processes the artists went through to choose or appropriate the particular media they were using (whether it be computer graphics, paint, ink, glue, cloth, metal, rubber or a ready-made object like a book) to their application and use of it in the work they were creating. These artists start with a group of diverse objects and media and form them into a cohesive whole. In other words, they use multiple modes of accomplishing their end result.
Moving into my role as a Western Illinois University graduate student in Instructional Design and Technology and teaching assistant for the English and Journalism Department, I was searching for a way for my love of art and visuals to be integrated with my love of writing. My search was answered when I read Karen Moynihan’s article “A Collectibles Project: Engaging Students in Authentic Multimodal Research and Writing.” This article was the proverbial glue that I was missing in my goal of trying to establish a real connection for my students between the visual, the technology and the literacy.
In Moynihan’s article she discusses her approach to applying multimodal pedagogy into her advanced high school literacy classroom. While her integration of multimodal research methods such as types or modes of sources, primary and secondary research as well as visual elements, design of document and 3D elements follows a semester long schedule, I adapted her approach into a five week timeline to fit with my Freshman Composition classroom Papers Four (Problem Proposal) and Five (Researched Argument). I also adopted her overall theme of collecting. However, I adjusted the theme to include other methods and modes of collecting than just the basic objects like stamps, coins and glassware. I wanted the theme to be new and exciting to my students (which I think collecting is) yet also be a subject that they found interest in since they would be working the topic through two papers. I wanted them to think deeper about the people doing the collecting and the potential problems that could be associated with collecting since their Paper 4 assignment was to discuss a problem and Paper Five to argue a solution/position on the problem. So the theme of collecting was presented in a positive/negative format. Students were presented with a possible list of topics that encompassed investigating items they collected themselves, items other people collected such as coins or stamps, places that collect such as museums and zoos, investigating collecting turned into hoarding (both animal and object hoarding) and even serial killers collecting jewelry or other items from their victims. They then had to discuss the topic in terms of social, psychological or economic problems that might be associated with it, propose a solution and take a position on that problem arguing for their solution and position. Then finally, incorporate the assigned multimodal elements into their papers.
While the term multimodal can take on many different meanings, for my application of multimodal pedagogy I utilized the following definitions:
For this approach the student’s multimodal documents were required to combine text, image and graphic design as well as multimodal research specifically through primary research interviews and multiple types of secondary sources.
The decision for the mode of this paper took into account student’s possible experience with vehicle programs like Microsoft Word, Power Point, Google Sites, YouTube, Wix, Weebly, Slide Share, iMove and Movie Maker. Takayoshi and Self (2007) discuss many students are already active consumers of multimodal compositions by their involvement in activities such as watching television, making home movies, communication on web pages and downloading music. In addition, DigiRhet.org (2006) states there is a new kind of digital divide where students may be very familiar with viewing and downloading complex multimodal documents but lack the training to understand how to construct them. To attempt to (slowly) bridge this divide, I decided that Microsoft Word would be used as a primary vehicle for the multimodal essay because students were more familiar with the program and it supported all the multimodal requirements that needed to be integrated into their papers. Yet, this choice was still open to students who might want to explore formats past Microsoft Word. The students were encouraged to use or include animation, sound, and video into their papers but were not required. In the end, all the papers were created in Microsoft Word integrating images, text, research and design.
“I am going to explain how my students can design their multimodal essays by using Microsoft Word. I have given them the option of using other forms to bring all their required elements together however, I think it is a good idea to start them in a program they are familiar with so I am going to demonstrate how to add images, wrap text and make graphs and charts in Word and then let them practice doing it in their own papers. We are also going to discuss other elements like font and headings. I want them to have fun with this process. Hopefully, they will…”
–Kristin Bradley Teaching Journal November 2012.
The content of Paper Four (Problem Proposal) would be part of the required content for Paper Five (Researched Argument) so the students had to “integrate” the ideas they had presented in the papers. This was done so students could see and apply ideas of papers together. It was also done because they had to do outside elements (graph, primary research, design of paper and include images) and to make them feel comfortable that some of the content was already done. This did not mean that they simply had half their paper done and they could just start typing on the end of Paper Four. They had to take the problem they discussed and turn it into a well-developed researched argument. This was an important continuation of practice with organization which is a significant concept of the writing process taught in composition classrooms.
“When I read the total word count required for Paper 5 there was a collective “gasp” in my classroom – WHAT 1500 words?! However, when I explained to them that they did not have to come up with all 1500 words from scratch but rather they were using what they had already written for Paper Four for Paper Five students were generally thrilled at the idea that they had written “part” of their paper already. This feeling might be a little subdued as they tackle integrating and re-organizing their actual papers into one complete paper, but for now all is well again…”
-Kristin Bradley Teaching Journal November 2012
“After introducing Paper 5 (the big multimodal researched argument paper!) I think my students were a little overwhelmed, but still interested in the additional components I am requiring them to incorporate. I made it a point to tell them I would be guiding them through each component and had built in “work days” for them to practice using the multimodal elements in class so their major outside of class task was to do the same as Paper 4 and research, research, research! I think this squelched some of the anxiety.”
-Kristin Bradley Teaching Journal November 2012
Primary Research and Secondary Research
Students were required to do both primary and secondary research. The primary research was to conduct an interview with a person or person(s) of their choosing and the secondary research had to include multiple types of secondary sources such as scholarly journal articles, book and other print sources and web or internet sources. Class time was set aside for a lesson on interviews and interview etiquette. Students were provided interview tips in handouts and gave class time to brainstorm questions and approaches. They were free to interview via face-to-face, phone, e-mail or social media like Facebook and Twitter. Students were also required to turn in typed documents with potential interview questions and they also had to type transcripts of their interviews for me to read before they incorporated the information in their paper. Most of the students did exceptionally well on this assignment. Most students utilized family and local connections or chose to interview fellow students or faculty members. However, some students went beyond their comfort zone and tried their luck emailing places like the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), The Learning Channel (TLC), Humane Society and the American Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Overall, the responses they received were very helpful and provided wonderful primary source information for them to include in their papers.
To help students with location the secondary sources they needed, a library day was scheduled at the university library to introduce how to search library databases for sources as well as how to utilize the reference desk librarians for help in finding print sources. Because extra emphasis was put on the importance of the book or print sources students were assigned to physically bring their book source to class for approval. It is an important component of the process for students to physically experience gathering print sources as well as conducting a close reading and annotating of those sources. These are important skills that they will use not only later on in their academic careers but in their future job positions as well.
“Friday I gave the lesson on interviewing because part of their multimodal elements is to incorporate primary research/source material via interviewing someone affiliated with their topic. I printed a handout for them that listed tips and tricks to conducting an interview and writing proper interview questions. I stressed the many ways they could conduct their interviews because I want them to be comfortable in gathering the information. They are free to interview via face-to-face, telephone, instant messaging, email, blogs or social media like Face Book and Twitter. Any of these means are at their disposal. For the in-class activity, I had them get started following the steps I laid out for them in the lesson on brainstorming who to interview, deciding how the information was to be used in their paper and potential questions they were going to ask. I wanted them to be able to get started with the process early and then they have until after Thanksgiving break to conduct the interview. I did this on purpose so it would give them enough time to connect with their interviewees. Hopefully, they have fun doing this and the experience will follow them through the remainder of their academic careers. I believe since most of my students are LEJA, Criminal Justice, Pre-Law or Psychology majors they will have to do this type of research again. Therefore, my hope is that it will transfer and they will already be one-step ahead in the process!”
-Kristin Bradley Teaching Journal November 2012
Visual Images and Graph/Chart
Students were required to insert at least two images into their documents and connect the images to the persuasive appeals ethos, pathos and logos. They had to provide a label/caption underneath each image providing a correct citation telling where the image came from and label which appeal it supports. Class time was given for a brief lesson on internet image copyright and proper use of images that are available on the web. Most students did not realize that Google Image is not the actual source of the images represented and that citing images is just as important as citing information from text sources. They were encouraged to take their own images for their papers, which a few students who were doing their papers on personal collectibles did. For those who did not take their own images URL’s for free digital photo sites were provided so they could easily access copyright free images.
In addition to the images, the students were to insert a graph/chart that depicted found data/statistics on their topic. Just like Moynihan’s approach my students “were not to download this graph” (Moynihan, 2007, p.73). They had to create this element themselves they could not copy one that was already made. Additionally, they had to cite the graph properly indicating where the data came from. This particular multimodal research/design element evolved into what was to be one of the most important multimodal elements as it helped connect students to a deeper level of learning in relation to their researched arguments. They began to understand the importance of data and how so many types of information can be transformed and depicted into a visual graph or chart. Many students went beyond the requirement for the paper and included two graphs thereby doing extra research and work than they had to do. One particular student who was investigating tattoo collecting went even farther and asked if they could survey a group of people and gather their own data for their graph thereby having to analyze that data for its inclusion into the paper.
“This week I plan to discuss Ethos, Pathos and Logos and how they will use these appeals in their arguments as well as how they will connect to the images they have to incorporate into their papers. I will be discussing how to integrate visuals into their papers along with discussion of visual rhetoric, copyright guidelines for internet images along with type and layout of documents. I plan on having them look at some examples of visually designed documents and examine the elements.”
-Kristin Bradley Teaching Journal November 2012
“Our discussion of ethos, pathos and logos went well. Only a few of my students had heard of the appeals before so I felt what I had prepared was reasonable as far as what would be review for some and new for others. I found three videos that I felt worked very nicely when placed in succession. The first video gave a brief review of persuasive writing and introduced ethos, pathos and logos. The second went into more depth on the meaning of them and how to use them and the third was an example of how they can be used together. I felt this was a way to “change it up” and not have me lecture the whole time. I then presented my power point on ethos, pathos and logos focusing on both use it text and image. To practice the concepts I had students get into groups and go through some ads that used the appeals. They had to tell which appeal the ad was using and then how and why it was using it. I think they enjoyed looking at the ads and it helped them understand the concepts better. This is key since they are not only going to be using these appeals in their papers but also through the images they include.”
-Kristin Bradley Teaching Journal November 2012
The visual design and layout of the papers were open to the student’s creativity. They were shown examples I had made and visually designed examples from the textbook Joining the Conversation: Writing in College and Beyond by Mike Palmquest. They also had time to practice designing their documents in class. Takayoshi and Selfe (2007) state “Instructors of composition need to teach students not only how to interpret such texts from active and critical perspective they also need to teach students how to go beyond the consumption of such texts-learning how to compose them for a variety of purposes and audiences” (p.3). In examining the examples that were shown, students had to think about not only interpreting the text, but also applying what they were seeing to potential application into their papers. Additionally, a lesson was given on visual rhetoric and using images to support text. Students were encouraged to use all the design features Microsoft Word including the text tools, color, text-wrap function, font size and page layout. I conveyed that this particular element was supposed to be fun! I also suggested for them to use this element as a “break” from creating the content of their paper. If they were getting stuck generating the text then they could take a break and play around with the design of the paper to give them time to “rest” and come back to the text with fresh eyes.
“I am excited for class today because I am finally going to talk about integrating the multimodal elements into their papers. They have to integrate 2 pictures, a graph or chart as well as design their document by playing with type, headings, color and format… I really hope that they respond to this lesson. My hope is that they are at least able to see how many variables and aspects of visual design really go into and affect how we perceive written documents.”-Kristin Bradley Teaching Journal November 2012
Multimodal Composition: Challenge and Rewards
Multimodal composition carries with it a number of challenges for both teachers and students. In the article “Inventing myself in multimodality: Encouraging senior faculty to use digital media” Debra Journet (2007) describes two specific challenges for teachers being “learning to use multimodal technologies and understanding how multimodality connects to the primary goals of the writing classes” (p. 110). When teachers choose to integrate multimodal pedagogy into the classroom they at least on some level become learners in areas that they are usually the experts. They may have to re-learn and put in the extra time and effort to become familiar with the various modes of multimodal research and elements. This does not mean to say that composition teachers should now have to immediately be experts in technology or design, but rather that adopting multimodal pedagogy may require setting aside some time for new learning. Multimodality connects with the primary goals of the writing classroom in a variety of ways. It helps students view writing as a “deeper” process that involves multiple elements text and image. This approach most often results in the students being more engaged and understanding the material presented. They also seem to enjoy this method of integrated instruction. Many of them spend hours of personal time on the internet or with other modes of media such as smart phones or iPods. This integration helps boost traditional instruction methods and promote student interest and connection to their personal world. Since students are responsible for integrating and creating multimodal elements into their formal papers, the assigned tasks are helping to immerse them even further in the material, building even stronger connections with the written word.
My experience with multimodal components has been at times messy and unpredictable. Journet states “the other consequence of such a pedagogy is a new acknowledgement of my co-learner status” (p. 116). Despite having a background in fine art and visual elements, I have still become a continuous co-learner with my students. I presented the information how I understand it but it was up to the students to apply it to their particular paper and for them to make the appropriate choices that best supported their papers. This is the magic of the process. Once presented with the material, the instructor “relinquishes control” and hands responsibility over to the students. In fact, some of my students in going beyond the requirements of the paper gave me some wonderful ideas for future classes. For example, one student included an “interpretation of interview” section in their interview transcript which I did not assign them to do however, now I plan to include that element in future classes. I wish I had thought of that myself however, it is a perfect example of my co-learner status. As an instructor I try to think of “everything” but in applying this multimodal pedagogy into my classroom the process has shown me (on an even deeper level than I have previously realized) that in teaching my students, they are continually teaching me as well.
Despite at times being unsure that this approach was really teaching my students everything that they needed to be sure to learn in freshman composition, I have realized that this approach has pushed me as an instructor to better understand the learning process and that it is not cut and dried. It is organic, just as the relationship between all the multimodal approaches is in many different ways interconnected and interwoven. This approach has also pushed my students to make even greater connections between the general writing process and strategies I have taught them.
Additional challenges include juggling time lines/due dates for elements, keeping students on track and grading. In my experience with this process I have found it is very challenging to keep students on track with multiple due dates. Similar to Moynihan’s approach I made multiple due dates for images, graphs/charts, sources and interview transcripts. This was done so that students did not wait until the last minute to create the elements especially the interviews. However, I did find it challenging to keep track of everyone’s elements and remember who did not turn theirs in on time. Similarly, students have a lot to remember. Being freshman level students they are just becoming familiar with college life, but my students rose to the challenge. To help them remember many weekend email reminders were sent reminding students of the things they had due. Most major elements were due after weekend breaks to give plenty of time and warning. Even though it required extra effort, this approach worked out well. With regards to grading this type of essay, some might argue they could not grade this type of essay since they are not “experts” on visual layout or technology. To that I say - then don’t! I suggest grading on the aspects that composition instructors are comfortable in grading. So grade the multimodal elements not on how well they are visually designed, unless one is comfortable and familiar with this type of evaluation, but rather ask do the elements fulfill their function? Do they support the text? This is a typical question asked of source material and one my students have more easily understood as grading criteria.
“Today I decided that I needed to totally scrap what I had planned on doing (discussing integrating visuals into Paper 5) and take a step back to Paper 4. I had graded most of their papers and decided that I wanted to take class time to discuss some of the problems, solutions clarifying my comments as well as starting to revise since the content of this paper is critical in the multimodal Paper 5. I feel that many of my students had C or better papers yet it was bugging me that some of the mistakes they were making I felt were important/serious enough that I needed to take class time to review. Also I have felt like I have not stressed the process or importance of revision enough in my class. I really feel strongly that revision should be a central element yet I have hardly been able to discuss it at all due to all the other topics that I have felt I needed to “cram” into their heads before they leave my class. Yet, in reflection I really think it is a disservice to the idea that they need to learn and remember all the things I am presenting when practicing those items has not been stressed in conjunction with the revision process. I think I could figure out how to connect teaching all the concepts that I have to teach them and still connect it to revision. This is something that I am struggling with as far as time to do it and address it but it is on my radar and I really want to put more of the focus on revisions and their importance.”
-Kristin Bradley Teaching Journal November 2012
Making the Case for Multimodal Composition
In an increasingly technology driven world, contemporary education must adapt to meet the demands of society. In the composition classroom it is extremely important to look beyond traditional theories and pedagogies adapting traditional academic assignments to meet the demands. Mickey Hess (2007) states “for teachers, one of the greatest benefits of experimenting with multimodal composing…is the opportunity to re-think what they know about composing: to test, evaluate and expand the theories of composing they have developed when teaching alphabetic writing and get students to do so as well” (p. 30). By adopting a multimodal pedagogical approach instructors can help move beyond standard academic assignments to better resemble documents students are most likely to see as well as create in their work environments.
In an increasingly technological world, students need to be experienced and skilled not only in reading (consuming) texts, employing multiple modalities, but also in composing in multiple modalities, if they hope to communicate successfully within the digital communication networks that characterize workplaces, schools, civic life, and span traditional cultural, national and geopolitical borders” (Takayoshi and Self, 2007, p. 3).
Many instructors create lessons via many modes of multimodal texts such as Power Point presentations and video tutorials, yet do not ask students to do the same with their papers. In preparing well-rounded and fully prepared graduates universities via instructors need to expand the literacies of students so they are prepared to enter the multimodal workplace. Being able to interpret and communicate via multiple modalities is essential in an increasingly technological society.
Additionally, adopting a multimodal composition approach supports the traditional literacies that are the foundation of the composition classroom – it just moves them into the modern era. All the additional elements such as audio, video and image are designed to support the traditional composition papers. Nothing is lost in this application. When students work in many modes of rhetoric they are practicing methods of integration promoting further connection with the text and understanding of the writing process. Foundation and historical concepts of composition such as organization, audience, purpose, critical reading, interpretation, revision and negotiation are all amplified in this approach. In the article “The Digital Imperative: Making the Case for 21st Century Pedagogy” Elizabeth Clark discusses the historical changes of writing in the invention of the Gutenberg Press to the age of the Computer arguing that while Gutenberg’s press seemed to diminish a rich tradition in interaction with text, since text had to be hand printed before it’s invention, it actually helped promote many intellectual gains. She also argues it is much the same with the computer as a rhetorical tool and what the technology has done for learning making it even more collaborative including vast audiences of what is written on the web. The computer is a vital component of the multimodal “participatory Web 2.0 technologies” (Clark, 2010, p.31). Thus, allowing increased interactions and understanding of audience, purpose, negotiation and collaboration in students understanding of the writing process. Just as composing traditional written text, composing multimodal projects requires a great deal of revision (Sheppard, 2009). The content, subject matter, audience and purpose must be constantly in mind as elements are formed. Multimodal composition engages students even further with sources, the research process and the writing process. They have to spend additional time negotiating the inclusion of the elements and how they relate to the text, composing elements and analyzing and evaluating if the elements are playing their supporting role.
Throughout this journey of applying a multimodal pedagogical approach, I have learned the importance of being open to new approaches, processes and co-learning with my students. I always hoped that they would leave my classroom having learned something from me and I believe they have because they now not only consume in a multimodal way but have composed in it as well. However, now I see the naivety of that original hope. In reality, I am the one that has learned so much from them.
Clark, E.J. (2010). The digital imperative: making the case for a 21st century pedagogy.
Computers and Composition. 27, 27-35.
DigiRhet.org, (2006). Teaching digital rhetoric: Community, critical engagement and
application. Pedagogy: Critical approaches to teaching literature, language
composition and culture. 6(2), 231-259.
Hess, M. (2007). Composing multimodal assignments. In C.L. Selfe (Ed.), Multimodal
Composition: resources for teachers (pp. 29-37).
Journet, Debra. (2007). Inventing myself in multimodality: Encouraging senior faculty to
use digital media. Computers and Composition. 24(2), 107-120.
Moynihan, K. (2007). A collectibles project: engaging students in authentic multimodal
Research and writing. English Journal 97(1), 69-76.
Sheppard, J. (2009). The rhetorical work of multimodal production practices: it’s more
than just technical skill. Computers and Composition. 26, 122-131.
Takayoshi, P. and Selfe, C.L. (2007). Thinking about modality. In C.L. Selfe (Ed.),
Multimodal composition: resources for teachers (pp. 1-12).
Cresskill, NJ : Hampton Press
There are many things that I want my students to take away from my class, but the most important can be summed up in three words: writing is real. Writing is a real process that takes effort, hard work, dedication and time. Real writing is not something that is accomplished quickly or easily. I want my students to understand they may not get everything right the first time. In order to successfully teach my students the understanding of real writing, my philosophy of composition is one situated in modality, adaptation, trust and hands-on practice.
Due to my background in fine arts, I have always been fascinated by the world of mixed media, from the processes the artists go through to choose or appropriate the particular media they use (whether it be computer graphics, paint, ink, glue, cloth, metal, rubber or a ready-made object like a book) to their application and use of it in the work they are creating. These artists start with a group of diverse objects and media and form them into a cohesive whole. They use multiple modes of accomplishing their end result showing many parallels between an artist’s creative process and a writer’s creative process. This type of modality is one that I utilize in all of my classroom lessons as well as by assigning a multimodal final research project to my students. I intentionally combine multiple modes of delivering my lessons such as lecture, hands-on activity, group work and individual practice as well as combine modes of technology to communicate the content to the class. Since writing instruction is something students typically associate with traditional lecture methods, by integrating technology and multiple modes of presentation I strive to integrate historical writing practices into more modern methods of modality. This approach most often results in the students being more engaged and understanding the material presented. For example, in presenting a lesson on persuasive writing using ethos, pathos and logos I combined instructional video, power point, paper handouts and group practice. I believe it is extremely important to include the use of technology into the classroom as a way to connect to students. Many of them spend hours of personal time on the internet or with other modes of media such as smart phones or iPods. By using multiple modes to present writing concepts it helps promote student interest and connect to their personal world thus making the writing process more real.
Additionally, I apply a multimodal approach of composition in my classroom. Students are assigned a final multimodal project in which they integrate visual elements into their formal essays as well as conduct multiple modes of primary and secondary research. In using a multimodal approach to enhance formal subject areas, I strive to facilitate the building of important transferable connections for my students. Many of the texts students are exposed to whether via the internet or print material are in fact multimodal and include some type of visual elements. Since students are responsible for integrating and creating visual multimodal elements into their formal papers, the assigned tasks are helping to immerse them even further in the material and build an even stronger understanding of real writing. This approach also facilitates my position as a co-learner in my classroom. My students help teach me about the many uses of technology just as I attempt to teach them how to use it. In the end, I am gladly learning right along with them.
My method of pedagogical adaptation is rising to meet changing class dynamics, learning pace and understanding of material. I believe it is necessary to build a strong foundation in traditional composition practices and philosophies, but once formed, what rises from the foundation should be adaptable always answering to the instructions effectiveness and evaluation to see if change needs to occur. For example, I noticed some of my students were struggling with integrating source material and writing thesis statements even after I had presented my lessons and they had practiced the concepts. To help them further understand I reviewed the material again by adapting the lesson I had previously used to help them understand the material in a different way. In the end, my students were more comfortable with the concepts.
Furthermore, a key component of my classroom is trust. I help establish a strong sense of trust in my class by being consistent in providing feedback on assignments, answering questions and being available outside of class. My students come from many different backgrounds and have many outside activities and commitments. I always encourage students to email me outside of class if they have a problem or question. But it is not just enough that they initiate the communication. It is my job to increase the established trust and always answer them back. I view my students as not only student learners but as my helpers and evaluators. I want them to feel that what they have to contribute to the writing conversation(s) and their opinions matter. Halfway through the semester I “take the pulse” of my class by having students complete an anonymous survey of how they think the class is going. I stress to them that I really want their opinions and constructive feedback on a range of things from activities and lessons to concepts being covered. After compiling the results of the evaluations, I let them know how I will be utilizing their suggestions. In this way, they know that I am really listening and that I care about what they have to say.
Finally, by scaffolding my lessons and allowing important time for hands-on practice my students are able to connect the lesson to its actual application in a composed paper. Building such connections between lesson and application to the “real” assignments is extremely important to facilitate true transfer and learning. For example when teaching a lesson on organizing and drafting I conclude the lesson with students completing their own personal organizing and drafting worksheet directly tied to the paper they are writing. This allows them to see the application of the lesson in direct relation to their own personal writing.
Real writing is not always getting everything “right” but rather about learning something new, relating understanding and proceeding to develop or expand the information with evaluation, analysis and study. I purposely use myself and my journey as a writer to illustrate those concepts. I share with students situations in which I didn’t always get writing “right” by giving examples of the writing I produced as an undergraduate and graduate student. This strategy helps show them an additional glimpse into the realness of the writing process. By integrating a multimodal pedagogy in my classroom I am able to challenge students showing them writing is not always a cut and dried but rather one that is a real, challenging and rewarding.
I do not remember a time when I did not love reading. My mother was an avid reader and went to great lengths to imprint the love of reading onto my brother and me. No matter how busy she was she always took time out to sit down and read a story. When I was first learning to read on my own, my mother would work with me after I got home from school. We would sit in our green front porch swing and practice sounding out words. It was in that front porch swing that I read my first book, Birthday Buddies. I remember feeling so proud of my accomplishment. Once I tackled Birthday Buddies, I progressed quickly and read as often as I could. Reading quickly became an important part of my life, acting as the foundation for many experiences and memories.
Through life’s ups and downs, books were always my faithful and constant friends. When I wanted to escape from the downs, such as my parents divorce or the bullying and teasing I endured in the third grade, because of a really, really bad hair cut, I would simply bury my mind in a favorite book - instantly join another world – and be released from the stresses of this one. In addition, I wasn’t a very athletic child; therefore, I never got to be part of a sports team like many other kids. I never did participate in gymnastics, dance or cheer leading. Even though, I secretly wished I could. Reading therefore, gave me the chance to vicariously join the ranks of such athletic exercises through the characters lives and experiences. Reading was connected to my ups as well. When I was nine my mom enrolled me in piano lessons. Every Thursday night from seven to seven thirty I would go to my teacher’s house and practice my weekly piano pieces. Afterward, I got to visit my local public library and check out books. I loved those weekly library visits. I remember them fondly – the libraries “book” smell and my favorite stories; the well worn copies of Goosebumps, Babysitters Club, Dealing with Dragons and the Bunnicula Series. These favorite stories became part of my identity fostering creativity, imagination and even if I did not recognize it immediately, an innate understanding of the writing craft and all its rhetorical glory.
However, not all my reading memories are necessarily positive. With my nose consistently being stuck in a book, I sometimes got myself into trouble. One particular occurrence was the day I tried to mix reading and fishing. In my family, fishing was not just a hobby, but a very important and serious past-time. My step-dad would always find an excuse to take the family fishing, no matter how much we groaned and complained. It was on one of these fishing trips that my love of reading got me into big trouble.
On that particular fishing trip, I decided to try my luck at catching a catfish. Now, this was not because I like catfish or even because I was trying to build my fishing skills. No, I chose to fish for a catfish because I knew all I had to do was put a piece of stinky bate on my hook, throw it to the bottom of the lake and wait. During this waiting, I knew I could conveniently stick my nose in a book and enjoy the day - my way. However, I soon became so absorbed in my book that I failed to periodically look up and check my pole. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of my pole flying over the side of the boat. In the middle of my book adventure, I had actually caught a fish. Thankfully, my nephew caught the end of the pole before it sank to the bottom of the lake. Despite the pole being saved, I got a stern lecture from my step-dad and decided it was in my best interest to wait until I got home to finish my book.
In a natural progression, my love of reading influenced my enjoyment of writing. While in high school I had big aspirations of being a famous author. I would sit for hours at my families centrally located desk top computer and type my “masterpieces.” Despite my “masterpieces” remaining unpublished, I look at my laborious hours of typing as nonetheless important writing practice. Practice using my imagination, practice constructing sentences and correct usage of grammar. My favorite books influenced my need to write and want to compose and give others the enjoyment I felt when reading them.
I am incredibly thankful that my mother passed on the love of reading to me. Reading has shaped many experiences and memories in my life. With a love of reading I had an initial foundation to build upon and grow in appreciation and understanding of the writing process. Now, as a mom myself I have worked hard to pass down the love of reading to my children. I read to them every chance I have. I hope that when they are ready to read on their own I can pull out my copy of Birthday Buddies (yes I still have it) and it can be their first book too.
“The Weblog: The Missing Link to a Collaborative Writing Classroom”
In the Beginning…
Blog: “Are collaborative spaces composed of reflections and conversations that in many cases are updated every day” (Richardson 17).
Link: “Readers “follow” links (by clicking them) to create their own paths or trails through connected documents” (Kirschenbaum 120).
In terms of HTML code, the link is series of letters and punctuation put together to form a cohesive unit of computer code instruction. The link, <A HREF=””> is arguably the most important aspect of the web. “<A HREF=””> is the foundation of all searches; it directs the ways users move from page to page, discovering information, or having information presented to them in their browser” (Rice 1). This HTML code provides the fundamental basis for the World Wide Web. It is also a vital part of a relatively new social medium known as the weblog. The weblog is a multi-linking social space that allows for a vastly infinite virtual world of collaboration. The link plays an important role in the construction of the weblog and dynamic interaction of the weblog and its users. When implemented into the classroom, the weblog can be utilized as an effective tool to help students learn and develop critical thinking skills, writing skills, and student reflection and collaboration.
The Evolving Weblog
In the beginning, weblogs were simply a group of selected links put together on a page. Weblogs were born around 1993 with Mosaic’s What’s Newpage as a progenitor of the format (Blood 1-2). Only those who were familiar with HTML code could create them, thus only a limited number existed. Unlike traditional Web pages the blog is not usually created using Web design software such as Dreamweaver, Microsoft Front Page, or Macromedia. Original blogs were created using just HTML code. Today, blogs are created using simple management software systems. The blogger types the content into a Web form or another program dedicated to blogging and presses the submit button. This immediately publishes the material onto the bloggers site for everyone to read (Bartlett 1). With the introduction of free build- your- own weblog tools in 1999, the weblog began to grow at an astonishing rate. Now anyone could create a weblog. Knowing how to type HTML code was not necessary. Today two new blogs are created every second, leaving their total numbers in the millions. In early 2008 blog tracking service Technorati.com listed over 10 million blogs (Richardson 2). The blog has essentially become one of the fastest growing, most used forms of communication. The main reason blogs have become such an important tool is because of the link. Web blogger, Tom Coates states:
It may seem like a trivial piece of functionality now, but it was effectively the device that turned weblogs from an ease-of-publishing phenomenon into a conversational mess of overlapping communities. For the first time it became relatively easy to gesture directly at a highly specific post on someone else's site and talk about it. Discussion emerged. Chat emerged. And - as a result - friendships emerged or became more entrenched. The permalink was the first - and most successful - attempt to build bridges between weblogs.
The link allows a powerful way to connect writer and reader. If viewers read a blog post and then they themselves have a new idea on the topic then they can easily link back to the original blog within their blog thus creating a vast linked community of writers and readers. The tools used to facilitate blogs take this a step further by notifying the blog site manager when someone links back to their site. This automatic notification facilitates the finding of new voices and new teachers to add to the original bloggers network (Richardson 3).
Since 1998 the blog has been a recognized form of communication. Since that time a few conventions have emerged to keep blogs organized and recognizable to old and new users. However, they still keep the door open for weblog creators to use their own unique creativity. Thus this openness to opinions and creativity is one of the highly appealing aspects of the weblog. It is not a constrained construction set to wrap the web population into a tightly wrapped box. Its very design enables continual publishing, editing, reading, learning and response. The conventions that have emerged have done so under a constructional and usage aspect (Blood 9). The very function of the weblog has created its conventions. Blogger Rebecca Blood sites seven such conventions that usually exist on regular standard blog. These include: archives, a copyright notice, email address, perma- links, a search box, comment systems, and a side bar (45-50). These conventions are almost always part of a standard functional weblog. All contribute to the weblogs rich environment of collaboration and communication. Along with the standard conventions there are also some types of blog posts that are most used. Problogger.com lists these 20 types of blog posts: Instructional, Informal, Review, Lists, Interviews, Case Studies, Profiles, Link, ‘Problem’ Posts, Rant, Contrast, Inspirational, Research, Collation, Prediction and Review, Critique, Debate, Hypothetical, Satirical and Memes. This list is a fragment of the number of possibilities that exist. Many bloggers will use all of these types over the course of their blogs existence and many more. These blog types are aids in facilitating ideas through the World Wide Web community.
Weblogs provide a unique and flexible format. Their appeal has projected them into the mainstream population. They enable a population of one to communicate with the majority of the user population. Because of the ease of use and popularity of this medium, some think it has totally changed the limitations of communication. As Will Richardson states, “We are no longer limited to being independent readers or consumers of information…we can be collaborators in creation of large storehouses of information” (2). Blogs have now become a huge social presence for users to communicate their thoughts, feelings, reflections and findings. The blog offers a complex way of contact with the user; it opens windows into a collaborative realm of viewer and subject relations. One of the many strengths of a blog is that it has the ability to contextualize information by juxtaposing the bloggers personal opinion with supporting and oppositional documents. Links are the source of this connection. Webloggers can connect primary source material with contrast material and other interpretations simply by adding a link (Blood 13). Bloggers also hyperlink internally, to pages within the weblog itself, to other blogs, and to sources, and externally, to sites or documents outside of their blog (Luzon 76). These linking abilities drive the connection based backbone of the weblog.
The Linked Weblog
Tim Berners-Lee, developer of the World Wide Web, said “The original thing I wanted to do was make it a collaborative medium, a place where we [could] all meet and read and write.” (Richardson 1). Weblog being an intricate important part of the World Wide Web is also place of infinite collaboration. It is such a place because of the power of the link. The link is an intricate part of blogs as well. Coates states, “…It added history to weblogs - before you'd link to a site's front page if you wanted to reference something they were talking about - that link would become worthless within days, but that didn't matter because your own content was equally disposable. The creation of the permalink built-in memory - links that worked and remained consistent over time, conversations that could be archived and retraced later.” Blogs hyperlinks are designed to reach outward into the World Wide Web. They bring together all of the information available outside of the host’s server to the bloggers audience.
Through the hyperlink, readers can decide to pursue bloggers source material in effort to learn even more about the topic presented. They can formulate their own opinions and bring more discussion to the community (Trammel 1-2). This creates a strong collaborative forum for bringing together differing opinions. Links connect information in a way that builds relationships with un-perceivable elements. “Consistently designed, link types help users identify the wide range of textual relationships that are possible in any one hypertext system. Regardless of type, however, what commonly defines a link is its ability to point in at least one direction, from a source node to a target node, and to be actuated by users” (Selber 176).
Not only do they connect information on weblogs but they also serve to connect individuals as well. Rice states “What I tag, what I push to another space and what I visualize, enter into visual and textual relationships with other material, but also with me, with another individual, with a larger group, with an application, with a practice and so on” (24). These textual relationships of the linked web can be compared to the actual classroom setting and also be included as part of the ramifications of a successfully operating linked, blogging classroom. On a proximal level, students and teachers are linked together in the classroom. On this same level, they can be further tied together by the accessibility presented to them when they are connected through the linked web.
Connecting people as a community is just one of the aspects that distinguish the weblog from traditional forms of writing. It is able to establish and connect the community via the link. Blood argues “The weblog community has developed an approach that distinguishes the weblog from traditional media forms and gives it much of its strength. This approach is so ubiquitous that it is invisible to the community at large-except when it is violated. That approach is based on the link because the weblogs link is everything” (18). As Blood states, the essence of the link has become infused in the everyday meanderings of a web user’s life. Because of this its huge importance has become overlooked and is hardly thought of on a day to day basis. Yet it is one of the most important building blocks of this form of communication. Links create a web of transparency around blogs’ inner and outer framework. Links can function on both an internal and external basis. Blogs cannot function without set links to outside material. It cannot be connected to its source material or its users. Like railroad tracks and highways connecting city to city links serve to connect the web to the actual web itself. Internal and external linking ties the blog together with such types as blogroll links, citation links, and comment links. Blogroll links are located in the blog’s sidebar and point to other blogs that the blogger wants to include in their main page. Citation links are located in posts and help link together the post they are located in with others (Luzon 78). Comment links occur when a reader adds a comment to a bloggers post. With trackbacks this allows readers to follow conversations across many blogs (Luzon 77). These links help to tie the internal and external workings of the blog together. Internal and external links connect the blog to the social web. The blog is socially dependent upon the link, without the connection that is produced by these different types of links the weblog would not exist as a social medium.
All types of links are singular in their independent functions but also interconnected because of their function. They support the most important relationship between bloggers, readers, and users. Some types of links that are vital to the function of a weblog are in-post links, sidebar links, blog links, and entry links. By definition, in-post links are those embedded in the body of the individual weblog entries verses blog links that are included as features of the blog site and are present on the front page of the blog (Luzon 78). Sidebar and entry links are named for their positions. Sidebar links appear on the side of the page and entry links occur on the top and sometimes the bottom of the blog page (Luzon 78). At the top of the sidebar bloggers often include some type of self indentification such as their profile, homepage, and their email. These types of links function as a way of self promotion and also a way to connect with the reader. Types of entry links present in the blogs are links to the comment page, links to the permalink URL, trackback links, links to archival categories, links to reactions and links to social Web sites such as Delicious or Digg (Luzon 79).
Links not only connect people and material but they also serve to give blogs their credibility. In comparison, the link within the weblog is like the in-paper citations of traditional forms of writing. “…a Web page can, in theory, actually present its electronic citations directly through the clickable link that brings the environment into the screen space” (Tabbi 142). Bloggers are aware that using these tools will give them a successful blog. They use links to link their primary source material with their projected opinions giving them much better credibility in the eyes of their users. Especially if the blogger is in disagreement with the source material they are referring to, they must present a link to the material in order to build and gain their credibility (Blood 18-19).
It is important for the viewer to know they are reading a knowledgeable and credible piece of writing or they will seek out other blogs. “It is thanks to the links that blogs facilitate the blogger’s integration into the online community, and become tools for hypertext conversations and for hypertextual dissemination of information and construction of knowledge” (Luzon 85). Links also contribute to online relationships between the blogger and the user and with the whole online community. The link strengthens the online community by making it possible to have accessibility to a vast warehouse of knowledge. It also strengthens the bonds between bloggers and viewers. By providing links to primary source material the blogger receives that much more credibility to back up their personal commentary. The link adds value to the blog, blogger, and blog entry along with increasing the complexity of the post. They can also incorporate documents such as graphics, video and sound files to help illustrate and support the bloggers arguments and add to the genre of information taken in by the viewers (Luzon 87).
The Collaboratively Linked Classroom
A Netday survey released in March of 2005 showed that 81% of students in grades seven through twelve had an email account. It also showed 71% had at least one IM screen name and 97% strongly believe technology use is important in education (Richardson 7). These statistics show that students are increasingly engaged in aspects of technology and the social environment. These factors exist as an important part of their daily lives and should therefore be utilized as a basis for learning. Originally, teaching stated as a closed content operation. Teachers felt they “owned” their lectures and guarded them against outside influence. The idea of ownership still exists today but is dissolving with the introduction and influence of the social web. According to Richardson, “Teaching needs to be a conversation not a lecture. It needs to say “these are my ideas, my understanding of the world” (133).
Using the weblog in the classroom helps give this idea of ownership to the students themselves. “Educational hypertext redefines the role of instructors by transferring some of their power and authority to students. This technology has the potential to make the teacher more a coach than a lecturer, and more an older more experienced partner in a collaboration than an authenticated leader” (Landow 123). If the student feels a sense of ownership of the material then they will respond more favorably in discussion and debate. Using the weblog also crosses curriculum to help facilitate the linking of subjects to each other. Students can grasp the interdisciplinary aspects of their subjects and see that they are all related in their very nature. Writing is a primary example of this idea. Skills taught in a writing classroom cross into virtually every other subject. When implemented into the classroom weblogs provide a medium to see the relationships that exist within different subjects. Richardson calls this type of writing “connective writing.” Connective writing is a form that forces those who do it to think more critically, read more carefully, and be clear and concise. It is done for a wider audience thus demands cogency in its construction. It lets the writer link back to sources the ideas expressed (Richardson 28). Weblogs build better writers through their very construction. They are a medium for repetition writing. The more a student writes the better they will become. They also limit the amount of space in which to write and respond. This demands concise clear expression of ideas.
Because weblogs are relatively easy to create they allow the teacher a forum for many classroom operations. Classroom uses of weblogs include: Reflection on teaching experience, a virtual log for teacher training experiences, a forum for writing a description of a specific teaching unit, a place to describe what works in the classroom and what doesn’t, a place to provide teaching tips for other teachers, explain teaching insights and share ideas, post assignments, events, calendars, and homework. In regards to students weblog uses include: a place to share reactions and thoughts to classroom discussions, journal entries, results of surveys, opinions, and ideas (Richardson 38-39). A weblog can also be seen as a powerful course management tool. Many schools invest in content management software which provides a basis for teachers to easily implement a weblog into their classroom. As a course management tool a weblog can provide the teacher with a place to publish, course curriculum, syllabus, class rules, homework, assignments, rubrics, handouts and presentations (Richardson 21). These are just a few of the many uses of a classroom weblog. The weblog can be adapted to fit any teaching style or curriculum. It is an example of a technology based Swiss army knife adaptable to any function or creative inspiration.
Web 2.0 tools and social software in general will have a genuinely transformational effect on technology in education. (Bryant 9). The classroom is based on connectivity. The connective power of the facilitating teacher to reach the students through presentation of ideas is the fundamental building block for classroom learning. This can be enhanced to an even more powerful concept with the use of the weblog. The blog can increase the collaborative process of the classroom from just teacher –to- student and transform it into a peer- to- peer collaboration (Trammel 61). If this peer to peer interaction is further established through the weblog it can create a new more effective type of classroom. In this classroom students will be able to construct new and different meanings through collaboration with other students. Ideas that weren’t thought of before can now be expressed through the opportunity of weblog communication. It is effective in linking ideas discussed within the classroom and continuing the conversation outside after class is over (Carlson 33). With no time boundaries to squelch sharing of new ideas, students are free to further engage in their discussions. “The Internet has removed what should be the chief barriers to large-scale collaborative efforts: time and distance. We can communicate instantly with researchers in practically any field. We can share documents as fast as we can write them” (Fanderclai 313). Collaboration can be conducted without the need for a stage. Truly innovative ideas can be shared and linked together without constraint. Collaboration holds levels in which participators can grow in the process.
Three levels of collaboration identified by the Amherst Wilder Foundation’s Collaboration Handbook are cooperation, coordination and true collaboration (Hofman 1). These operations can be compared to the idea of the link, in that they are connected through initial actions based upon reactions. When ideas are linked they create the basis for these processes. Cooperation can be accomplished by individual students providing feedback or help for someone else. This supports individual learning goals. Two types of cooperation are asynchronous cooperation and synchronous cooperation. Asynchronous cooperation can be found in the task of students posting, providing feedback, and cooperating to assist others in the weblogs discussion environment ( Hofman 1). Synchronous is then the changing of initial ideas based upon feedback provided by the asynchronous cooperation. The coordination process when students begin to work together as a whole unit rather than individuals (Hofman 2). This process begins to mirror the action of linking single ideas in weblog sites together to create a whole network of interconnected information. The true collaborative process is then established through these processes. The power to simply talk to each other gives the student the opportunity to comment, give feedback, and create a dialogue to further enhance what they learned from the original classroom model environment (Perry 11). If integrated as part of the classroom curriculum the weblog can allow for more personal expression and feedback through its natural collaborative setting. Blogs can become sources of information of classroom topics and the site where classroom interaction takes place (Myers 9).
In support of this process, the link provides the missing element within the socially connected classroom. The link is responsible to making it possible to connect the students to the information presented in the blog. As the students are connected with each other the link provides the connection to the material. It provides the connection to the infinite number to ideas and possibilities that enable the social learning process. It is the link that provides the bridge between subject and user and enables the student to make replies, collect feedback, view ideas, and link back to vital research information (Blasi 252). Because of the link these weblog actions help to support the whole collaboration process. All elements are interconnected to each other and help to support the success of the other. The weblog helps break down the walls of the classroom and provides the link to the outside world wide web of information. “One of the great strengths of hypertext lies in its capacity to use linking to model the kinds of connections that experts in a particular field make. By exploring such links, students benefit from the experience of experts in a field without being confined to them…” (Landow 127).
Students are able to gain understanding and knowledge from ‘other experts’ through weblogs. They can check for understanding of concepts presented, compare resources with others in and out of the blog network, and share drafts, peer critique and interact with colleagues (Ismail 170). This creates a network of knowledge and support for completion of writing assignments. In this type of environment builds powerful learning networks that link one voice to the next. Students can learn from hearing constructive criticism from their peers. Participation in discussions and debates turns into a form of fun interaction rather than a struggle by the teacher to illicit comments. Writing on a weblog gives students a sense of “audience” thus making them excited about sharing (Richardson 40). The student is not just writing to please the teacher. They are now writing for a whole audience. This gives them a bigger ownership over what they write and will write. Blogs force the writer to make every word count and be as clear as possible to convey their message to a very unpredictable audience (Gregg 6). Blogs motivates students to become engaged in writing, reading, and to really evaluate their level of writing. They are aware that their work will be available for an infinite number of people to read therefore they will submit a higher quality of work (Richardson 40). Leaving peer reviews and comments also allows the student to further enhance critical thinking skills.
Critical thinking relies upon relating many things to one another. Since the essence of hypertext lies in its making connections, it provides an efficient means of accustoming students to making connections among materials they encounter. A major component of critical thinking consists in the habit of seeking the way various causes impinge upon a single phenomenon or event and then evaluating their relative importance, and hypertext encourages this habit (Landow 126).
The student has to make the connections between what the writer posts and what they take away as the meaning. “The effort required to transform the feeling of “this is interesting” into a succinct description of why it is worth a read is the difference between knowing what you think and why you think it.” (Blood 30-31) As critical thinkers students must take away this very idea. They must utilize this difference in knowing what you think and why you think it to provide the essential commentary to their peers writing. They must also recognize it within their own work. To make their writing the best it can be this acknowledgment must be made.
To provide the constructive criticism needed gives them the opportunity to walk in the teacher’s shoes. Through this process the blog then becomes a pure student driven application. This creates a true collaborative medium for student to student interaction. The teacher can participate as an observer. They can oversee the entire operation from an outside perspective guiding the conversation if needed. If the teacher sees something related to the blog they can send a link to the information. Here again is the power of the link. The link is the way reading becomes an active undertaking.
Differing opinions of the weblogs utility in the classroom surface primarily in the actual technical aspects of the writing process. Educators against the use of internet social media in the classroom, argue that it is a hindrance to the student’s basic technical writing abilities. However many studies have shown the actual reverse of this type of argument. Learning specialists Fernette and Brock Eide’s research study shows blogging has a great deal of positive potential impact upon students (Richardson 20). Their study has found that blogging promotes critical and analytical thinking, is a powerful promoter of creativity, promotes analogical thinking, is a powerful medium for increasing access and exposure to quality information, and combines the best of solitary reflection and social interaction (Richardson 20).
Despite all the positives shown from these studies, some think that the internet is destroying the way kids read, think and write. They say traditional writing skills are being lost (Coulter 1). Jacquie Ream author of KISS: Keep It Short and Simple says “We have a whole generation being raised without communication skills” (Coulter 1). While communication skills might be disputed, it is hard to challenge the abundance of successful studies that have shown increasing positive effects when technology is used as an accompaniment to traditional classroom study. The weblog in particular is a proven tool to help promote the kinds of thinking skills that students need to learn. Cheryl Ball professor of New Media Studies at Illinois State University says “It makes writing fun again and encourages critical thinking” (Coulter 1).
In terms of links additional pros and cons can be cast in the way they are used to support source material. “Links pose certain challenges to students in making that assessment, some of which stem form the Web’s wide array or material; one is likely to find sites linked to other sites that have different purposes and different degrees of reliability” (Sorapure et al. 334). Generally, the addition of links to a site can cast a certain additional respect. However, just because a site has links does not mean it is a fully respectable source for students to use.
In general, determining the value of a linked site is difficult without actually checking that site… Students must also resist simplistically thinking that the number of links on a web site correlates with the quality of the site. Obviously the lack of links could signal that the source is not situated within its own particular research context… On the other hand a site could suffer from too many links…an overuse of links could suggest an author’s inability to discriminate” (Sorapure et al. 343-344).
As with blogs, research represented with links to its important sources is a good indicator of a respectable source. However, students and teachers still need to carefully check the value of any web source. This additional task must not deter from the use of web sources. The use of internet, weblog, and other web sources for research and classroom curriculum is a great asset to all web users.
Because of the link, one of the most powerful things a weblog does for the classroom is increase the access and exposure the student has to an endless variety of information. Weblog posts are natural epicenters for linked information. Because information is linked together through this process it allows new open doors for increase access to information. A wonderful positive effect perhaps because the link is an element that is often overlooked because of its constant role in a weblog. Its presence is so important yet usually unrecognized because it’s always there to help connect the many users of the web.
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"Review of La Grande Vallee O"
Artist Joan Mitchell’s work, La Grande Vallee O, can be collectively described, as a successful example of expressionistic landscape painting. Her method was not to repaint nature but rather to recreate the landscape infusing her personal emotions and memories. As Nelson Goodman states, “the object before me is a man, a swarm of atoms, a complex of cells, a fiddler, a friend, a fool, and much more.” Because the artist cannot show all the ways a man is the artist shows the man as something (Barrett p64). Mitchell is not just painting hills and trees she is painting her memories and feelings about the hills and trees. This method best fits R.G. Collingwood’s more open definition of the expressionist theory of art. In Collingwood’s definition art is mental. The artist must express his or her raw emotion and transform those feelings into a communicative effort to the viewer.
In Mitchell’s work La Grande Vallee O she communicates her emotions to her viewers successfully through her almost primal application of paint to canvas. Sporadic brush strokes cover the canvas top to bottom, communicating a frenzy of emotion. The colors chosen: blues, greens, and yellows enhance the emotion and ambience of the painting. The colors swirl together as a breeze on a hot summer day. Subtle pink lashes show through, representing wild flowers that are peeking out from behind the tall grass. They are captured by the grass held captive from the viewer. Blues and yellows dictate the sun and the sky yet neither are representational. They are the feelings and emotions directly experienced by Mitchell.
In my opinion, the exact emotion that Mitchell felt when creating her paintings can ultimately communicate differently to the viewer. Mitchell herself did not mind that a viewer might interpret her paintings differently than she did. She states, “Other people don’t have to see what I do in my work” (Barrett 75). Being open to interpretation is a strong aspect of any artist and any work of art. In the expressionist view, it is the interpretation of the feelings that is the most important and irrelevant to the exact emotion communicated. The artist must successfully enter a communication with the viewer or it is not successful. The feelings transmitted are open to interpretation.
Bartlett, Terry. Why is that Art? New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print.
“A Look at the Historical Context of Rothko’s Untitled 1953”
In the midst of the early 1950s and the Abstract Expressionist movement, Mark Rothko began creating his famous color field paintings. The cultural and social impacts of the horrors brought about by World War II, are a direct link to the evolution of these paintings, specifically, Rothko’s Untitled 1953. This painting speaks to its’ historical context through minimalist content, non- pictorial forms and purpose of scale; which all serve to communicate the feelings and emotions Rothko wished the viewer to experience. Through its power, this emotional impact was meant to unburden the viewer from their own historical context and create a truly reflective experience.
In the late 1940s, as the Abstract Expressionist movement was gaining ground, America was still recovering from the social and economic impact of World War II. The artists of the time, found themselves searching for ways to respond to such an uncertain climate.[i] The abstract expressionist movement was a translation of the artists response. One of the results of the response was minimalist content. It was utilized by Rothko, in Untitled 1953, as a tool to mediate an emotional experience from the painting to the viewer.
Untitled 1953 is a large 76 ½ inch by 67 ½ inch canvas. It is comprised of two large color planes with a small, ragged, stripe of color along the bottom edge. The top color plane is a radiant magenta that seems to float atop the bottom, black, color plane. The edges of the two color planes and the bottom colored stripe, are messy and blurred. This handling of the edges creates a floating dreamlike effect throughout the canvas. It also makes the planes seem to continually move and cycle; with one receding while the other moves forward. Upon even closer inspection, the edges of the color planes reveal a whole new array of “hidden” colors. Oranges, indigos, violets and grays are revealed. These new colors seem to come from within the large planes themselves; thus giving the viewer a tiny glimpse into Rothko’s painting process as well as being a testament to the exact experience that he wanted the viewer to grasp. In this revelation, they communicate a transcendental experience happening within the canvas itself, translating to the viewer all the power and emotion that Rothko intended it to give.
The magenta color plane reveals specks of indigo and violet that burst from behind, in a revelation type feeling of emotion. This revelation translates to the time in which it was created. People struggled to make sense of what was happening around them and their feelings were violently expressed or quietly suppressed, depending on their condition. This painting serves to translate these inner junctions of emotion and express Rothko’s feelings as well as giving the viewer a chance to fully absorb and experience their feelings in its presence. The magenta plane meets the black plane toward the upper half of the canvas, giving the illusion that the black is slowly engulfing the magenta. Despite the illusion of engulfment, this meeting is producing a re- birth of new color that translates to a re-birth of feeling and re-connection of emotion. New pieces of indigo and orange are revealed, showing that rather than swallowing the magenta, the black plane helps it heal and re-connect with its context and position.
This reconnecting with position and context is the same within the painting as within the viewer. The viewer is given an opportunity for their own unique experience. The paintings connection is further revealed through the existence of the bottom orange stripe. It speaks to a new bright connection that is pushing the top two forms ever upward. It brings a sense of heightened awareness to the viewer thus supporting the aspects of direct communication that Rothko wanted to convey.
The painting speaks of a time when there was no longer the naivety of a peaceful world. By using such large flat forms Rothko meant to destroy any illusion left and reveal only the truth.[ii] These truths and feelings are addressed through the absence of pictorial imagery. Rather than using pictorial imagery or any aspects of realism, Rothko gives the viewer the opportunity to create their own imagery of feeling and emotion. Some of the feelings created are related to the colors themselves. The central location of the largest black form constitutes a feeling of smallness and insignificance from the viewer in relation to the painting, as well as the viewer’s relation to the historical time and its events. While the top portion of reddish magenta is a growth, learning from, or an overcoming of such events. The bottom ridge of orange constitutes another period of emotional growth or alludes to historical chances and moments that are slipping away.
Through these non-pictorial color planes, Rothko creates a minimalist experience, thus breaking down any and all complexities of the past and allowing the viewer to partake in a singular emotional relationship between the painting and themselves. He observed,
"I’m not an abstractionist…I’m not interested in relationships of color or forms or anything else… I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions- tragedy, ecstasy, doom and so on- and the fact that lots of people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows I communicate those basic human emotions… The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them. And if you…are moved only by their color relationships, then you miss the point!"[iii]
While he was not interested in the surface relation of the color forms themselves, this quotation shows that he was interested in the emotion. It is the relation of the color that translates to the emotion and the experience communicated to the viewer.
Communicating these basic human emotions by excluding concrete pictorial imagery such as figure and line, Untitled 1953 allows the viewer to be fully enveloped in an emotional experience; thus creating a disrupted connection from any past, present or future circumstances. This causes the viewer to live in that precise moment in time. “Rothko managed to intensify and make immediate an impersonal emotional embrace of human origins and fate. Like his colleagues, he transfigured the forms and emotions of tragedy into those of melodramas, as he surrounded the viewer with a pictorial environment, form, and theater of emotion”[iv] In this way, the painting speaks specifically to its historical context. The bold, yet simplified square forms give the viewer a way to detach from their surroundings and have a brand new emotional experience.
The size of Untitled 1953 is also a primary factor in Rothko’s quest to relate to the historical context of the times as well as create an emotional experience to the viewer. Through the size of his paintings Rothko created the feeling that the viewer was actually inside the painting thus creating a state of spiritual communion between the two.[v] It is this participation that translates Rothko’s direct response to the historical times and his effort to put the viewer into their own unique emotional connection with the art work. “It is here that Rothko’s work transcends both time and space.”[vi] In close proximity to a giant work like Untitled 1953, the viewers’ repressed emotional turmoil can be channeled into a direct relationship with the painting, thus creating a transcendental experience.
Through minimalist content, non-pictorial forms and purpose of scale Rothko’s painting, Untitled 1953 successfully speaks to its historical context. The work was created during a time of great angst and uncertainty. These feelings were transmitted through the works content creating a two-way communication to the viewer. A spiritual communication is created by the large scale giving the viewer the feeling of actually being inside the work. The non pictorial forms communicate a unique message that causes a continual and timeless interaction with the viewer.
[i]. Encyclopedia of Irish and World Art: Timeline for History of Western Art. Abstract Expressionsim. http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/history-of-art/abstract-expressionism.htm (accessed October 8, 2010)
[ii] National Gallery of Art. Mark Rothko. http://www.nga.gov/feature/rothko/abstraction1.shtm (accessed October 8, 2010)
[iii] Quoted in Stephen, Polcari, “Mark Rothko:Heritage, Environment and Tradition,” Smithsonian Studies in American Art 2, no. 2 (1988): 58 , http://www.jstor.org/stable/3108950.
[iv] Stephen, Polcari, “Mark Rothko: Heritage, Environment and Tradition.” Smithsonian Studies in American Art 2, no. 2 (1988): 59, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3108950
[v] Eva, Gyetvai, “Safe Landings: Pollock and Rothko,”.Americana-E-Journal of American Studies in Hungary 4, no. 2 (2008) : no pages listed, http://americanaejournal.hu/vol4no2/gyetvai .
[vi] Amber Kelsey, “ The Color of Transcendence,”The Culture Issue, (no issue/vol) (2005): 3, http://www.nyu.edu/pubs/anamesa/archive/fall 2005 culture/02 kelsey.pdf.
Encyclopedia of Irish and World Art: Timeline for History of Western Art. Abstract
Expressionism. http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/history-of-art/abstract-expressionism.htm. (accessed October 8, 2010).
Gyetvai, Eva. “Safe Landings: Pollock and Rothko.” Americana-E-Journal of American
Studies in Hungary 4, no. 2 (2008): no pages listed. http://americanaejournal.hu/
Kelsey, Amber. “The Color of Transcendence.” The Culture Issue, (no issue/vol/) (2005):
National Gallery of Art. Mark Rothko. http://www.nga.gov/feature/rothko/classic6.shtm.
(accessed October 8, 2010).
Polcari, Stephen. “Mark Rothko: Heritage, Environment and Tradition.” Smithsonian
Studies in American Art 2, no. 2 (1988): 32-63. http://www.jstor.org/stable/
“The Modern Nature of Museums: A Critical Review”
The book chapter “Commercialism” by Andrew McClellan and the article “Escape from Amnesia: The Museum as Mass Medium” by Andreas Huyssen both address the current commercial nature of museums. Each author serves to inform the reader of this nature, by providing a substantial dose of history, theory and examples of modern exhibitions. They also use this method to support their own personal opinions. In addition, each writer has their own style and audience. While McClellan’s chapter is written for museum administrators, art historians, professors as well as the general public, Huyssen favors the intellectual elite of philosophers, theorists and the like. With this assessment, I recommend both articles, but give particular favor to McClellan’s, simply because it favors a more general audience. However, both articles are highly recommended and provide great food for thought in an ever changing dynamic discourse of modern times and the museum.
McClellan’s chapter discusses the increase of commercialism within modern museums, by the expansion of museums shops, corporate sponsors, blockbuster exhibitions and rise in marketing and fund-raising personnel. McClellan breaks his chapter into the subsections: Utilitarian Commerce, Art and Antimaterialism, Department Stores and Design, The Blockbuster Era, Museum Shops, Weighing the Costs of Commercialism and Corporate Sponsorship and leads the reader on a journey through the evolution of the modern museum.
In his Utilitarian Commerce section, McClellan discusses the historical implications of museums evolving from royal collections to state-run institutions. This movement caused the quality of the art work within collections, to have a direct economic impact in that, the general population could now appreciate the finer pleasures of this high art, and therefore began to demand higher quality and expectation from the various avenues of mass production. This led to a realization that the consumers themselves needed help in order to properly appreciate the work and thus the public exhibition was born. However, the intended effect did not hold and art museums became a type of refuge from shoddy and second rate products that flooded the consumer market.
McClellan cites critic Benjamin Gilman as a strong opponent for art’s break from utility and commerce. Gilman argued that the museum should break away from any association with money. He states,
Money and fine art are like oil and water: differing and mutually repelling in essence. Art is necessarily joined with its ill-assorted companion in origin and generally in fate. Artists must make a living, and collectors inevitably compete for their achievements. A work of art is rescued from this companionship with money when it reaches the museum. Yet the divorce is not complete while money is demanded as the price of its contemplation[i]
It is ignorant to assume that the museum can simply disassociate itself with money in a society that does not adequately support art organizations. McClellan offers that the museum can have middle ground when it comes to utility and commerce. The museum must have a means of supporting itself as well as retaining its historical place as a house of preservation. This leads McClellan to relate the collaboration of the museum and the department store.
In Department Stores and Design, McClellan discusses the revealing historical relationship between the museums growth in commercialism and its direct link to the modern department store. He states, “What museums and stores had to “sell” might have been different, but the means of engaging their publics could be the same.”[ii] This relates to a rapid rise of consumer culture. Modern times have brought about the wave of one-size-fits-all and museums are not excluded. Consumers want the convenience of a place where they can experience high levels of engagement. Museums have answered this call by expanding there venues to include shops, cafes and other forms of entertainment. This is in effort to appeal to mass audiences and keep museums appeal at the top. McClellan gives Philip Youtz as an example of studying and learning from department stores in order to appeal to this modern audience. Youtz consulted with local Philadelphia merchants and studied the areas shopping patterns.[iii] He utilized what he learned and adjusted museum hours and temporary exhibitions accordingly.
McClellan gives other examples of this joint collaboration by museums joining forces with major department stores for special temporary exhibits. This not only promoted the marriage of the wares of the store with product design but also created a unique type of mass audience appeal through temporary blockbuster exhibitions. The average consumer could easily relate to this type of show and thus it proved immediately successful. But this success was fleeting and the direction of the modern museum would change in the 1950s, from exhibitions of department store collaboration, to dedicating itself to the more historical qualities of acquisition and preservation.[iv] However, the museum would still retain many of the commercial lessons it learned from department store collaborations and use them to help find needed revenues.
For McClellan, the next phase of museum commercialization was the establishment of the museum Blockbuster Era. The 1960s and 1970s would bring about an era of financial challenges for museums. The blockbuster exhibition was a way in which the museums answered this challenge. Museums quickly found that big name artists brought the big crowds. For example, in 1963 the Mona Lisa was sent to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Its appearance drew a crowd of 2 million people. McClellan cites this type of “magnetic power”[v] in the evolution of the blockbuster exhibition. The press also served to establish this era by creating hype and pre-promoting the big name exhibits. By the time the exhibits actually opened they were already deemed blockbusters. But in order to enjoy the historical and critically acclaimed artists such as Van Gogh, Monet and Cezanne, museums had to develop ways of financing these massive and expensive exhibitions. They turned to charging special admissions and developing corporate sponsors to bring in the needed revenue. The corporate sponsorships created another catch twenty-two for the museums in that they served to help finance the big exhibitions but also made the museum a pawn in the world of ups and downs and corporate finance. Corporations are not exempt from economic trouble and their support does not provide long-term stability.
Museums then began to turn inward to their own museum shops as a way of internal revenue. McClellan discusses this expansion as a partnership to the blockbuster exhibit. The shops became a way to promote the big exhibits and appeal to growing consumer culture. John Fiske states, “Our culture is a commodity culture, and it is fruitless to argue against it on the basis that culture and profit are mutually exclusive.”[vi] The drive to get that ultimate souvenir to say “I was there” is something that museums have capitalized on.
For McClellan there are many pros and cons to this commercialism but he argues, “That the challenge for museums is to be able to take advantage of commercial opportunities without sacrificing their rhetorical withdrawal from the everyday world.”[vii] He discusses the cost of commercialism as a plus and minus system. The plus side shows that with such expansions and commercial alterations museums have become popular destinations. They have helped rejuvenate neighborhoods and helped connect the community to a global understanding of cultures. On the down side, delicate works of priceless art are being shipped across seas for the blockbuster exhibits. There is always a risk of permanently damaging the art work and as mentioned above, the constant search for corporate sponsorship creates other implications regarding revenue and funding. McClellan also discusses ethical and unethical conduct in regard to partnering for blockbuster exhibitions. He uses the Sensation exhibit as an example of conflict of interest between the museums ethical place and the designer or corporation making inappropriate decisions within the exhibition. This type of folly reduces the museum to a marketing tool[viii] thus its very status as a credible institution is compromised.
McClellan argues that these initiatives have made the art museum one of the most popular leisure venues in the world. But it is not without intense criticism from many within the art world. He states, “Though on some level everyone in the art world benefits from the increased popularity of museums, a good number of academics, art critics, and museum professionals fear the erosion of the museum’s integrity and scholarly profile through a “dumbing down” of standards in pursuit of larger audiences and enhanced revenue streams”[ix] However this criticism and its’ constituents do not offer museums any alternative ideas to their revenue problems. Like McClellan, I think that it is possible for museums to strengthen their position by the addition of commercial venues. In order to have and support the traditional galleries of priceless art work, the museum has to find additional avenues of revenue. There are always two sides to every penny. This proverbial penny is the positive and negative of commercialism. It is the blending of the traditional role of the museum and modern commercial expansion that can serve to complete the sides of the penny and help it support the museum for decades to come.
The article “Twilight Memories: Marking Time in a Culture of Amnesia” by Andreas Huyssen also discusses the current commercial nature of the museum. Unlike McClellan, Huyssen does not critique the museum on its capitalist nature but rather Huyssen argues, “In a different register and today more than ever, the museum also seems to fulfill a vital anthropologically rooted need under modern conditions: it enables the moderns to negotiate and to articulate a relationship to the past…”[x] Huyssen shares McClellan’s argument concerning the historical function of the museum, but concludes it does this in order to help modern people understand their relationship to the past as well as the status of memory within consumer culture. For Huyssen, the increased commodification of the museum is undisputable but it does not explain everything. It does not tell how to interpret the specific works, practices or exhibitions.
Huyssen discusses the position of the avant garde versus the museum. He suggests that the fate of the avant garde is tied to the transformation of the museum. Their practices have contributed to the blurring of boundaries between the museum and the exhibition. In this way, it is contributing to the current culture of temporary exhibitions. [xi] Huyssen discusses the idea that museums were historically seen in a different light by the moderns or avant garde. They were in general, anti-museum. This position, Huyssen argues, has ironically, changed the course of museum history and its position. The museum culture has embraced most avant garde art as well as transformed itself into a modernist commercial venue. This unintended and ironic relationship has served to influence and change commercial patterns. For Huyssen, the negative is that the museum is not staying true to its historical nature: a house of preservation and exclusion. He cites the avant garde as helping these traditional walls fall. On the positive side, Huyssen discusses the benefit and improvement of cities and companies through the partnerships and corporate sponsorships that are attained with museums.
Huyssen points to acceleration in his article by discussing the implications of its effect on people viewing an exhibit and the effect it has had on marketing. In his opinion, acceleration causes negative effects in the process of true art appreciation. This hurried and overcrowded experience translates to making the artwork that is meant to be appreciated, invisible to the viewer, as they try to manage their way through overcrowded museums.[xii] In regards to marketing, he finds the increase of artwork reproductions for expanded museums shops a negative one. Huyssen does acknowledge that this shift in business is irreversible; but unlike McClellan he does not see it as a product of consumer culture shift.
Huyssen moves to discuss three explanatory models that he feels make sense of the modern museum and state of current exhibitions. He explains the hermeneutically-oriented culture-as-compensation theory, the poststructuralist apocalyptic theory and the critical-theory model. The hermeneutically-oriented model was developed by philosophers who shared the idea that erosion of tradition helps support the generation of preservation institutions[xiii] The poststructuralist apocalyptic theory views the commercialization of museums as a terminal cancer. Finally, the critical-theory model that argues this is a result from a new era of consumers and consumption. Huyssen does not think that any of these models are totally true but he discusses, at length, the compensation thesis and its two major supporters: Hermann Lube and Odo Marquard as well as the poststructuralist apocalyptic theory of Baudrillard and Jeudy.[xiv] By this time, the reader is drowning in heavily laden philosophy and theory. Thankfully, Huyssen changes course by discussing the more understandable critical theory oriented model or Kulturgesellschaft and its link between the museum as a mass medium in contrast to television and what the museum gives that television does not.
This comparison is an interesting and extremely relevant one, not only to the position and definition of museums, but also in the modern study of new media itself. The effects new media has on society are just beginning to be studied. It is a worthy discussion to critique the relationship of objects portrayed on television and objects on display at museums. It is perhaps, the isolation of the object from its historical context and the position of its reestablishment within the museum itself that brings about the attraction to the viewer. Huyssen states, “No matter how fragile or dim the relation between museum object and the reality it documents may be, either in the way it is exhibited or in the mind of the spectator, as object it carries a register of reality which even the live television broadcast cannot match.”[xv] Modern media devices such as television, smart phones and laptops have increased the convenience and access to images. Yet this does not seem to be deterring the visitor from wanting an authentic experience with actual historical objects. This is a very positive reality for the future of the museum.
The modern museum has a unique position to be a cultural mediator. I agree with Huyssen in that the museum must continue to work and change to refine strategies of representing its collections all the while being true to its historical position. It can be the modern institution that commercialism has transformed it to be as long as it stays true to its representation of societies memories. Huyssen and McClellan give a unique look into the modern position of museums. I find their assessments to be extremely relevant and thought provoking. I initially did not approve of the comparison of the museum to the shopping mall. However, when that comparison is taken within the context of historical progression the comparison is dead on. I cannot refute the connection. Thus, I must conclude that the proverbial sides of the penny will come together and provide a positive way for museums to move into the future.
[i] Quoted in Andrew McClellan, “Commerc ialism,” The Art Museum From Boullee to Bilbao (Berkeley: University California Press, 2008), 201.
[ii] Andrew McClellan, “Commerc ialism,” The Art Museum From Boullee to Bilbao (Berkeley: University California Press, 2008), 20.
[iii] Andrew McClellan, 204.
[iv] Andrew McClellan, 210.
[v]Andrew McClellan, 211.
[vi] Andrew McClellan, 219.
[vii] Andrew McClellan, 220.
[viii] Andrew McClellan, 230.
[ix] Andrew McClellan,195.
[x] Andreas Huyssen, “Escape From Amnesia: The Museum as Mass Medium,” Twilight Memories: Marking Time in a Culture of Amnesia (Routledge: NewYork and London, n.d.), 16.
[xi] Andreas Huyssen, 20.
[xii] Andreas Huyssen, 23.
[xiii]Andreas Huyssen, 25.
[xiv] Andreas Huyssen, 25 and 30.
[xv] Andreas Huyssen, 33.
Huyssen, Andreas. “Escape From Amnesia: The Museum as Mass Medium.” Twilight
Memories: Marking Time in a Culture of Amnesia.New York: Routledge, (n.d.):
McClellan, Andrew. “Commercialism,” The Art Museum From Boullee to Bilbao
Berkeley: University California Press, (2008): 193-232.
My name is Kristin Bradley. I am a photographer, designer, writer, avid reader, mother and constant artistic dabbler. This blog contains samples of my writing.