Writing, in our highly mediated, highly visual culture, is no longer just about using a keyboard to put words on a screen nor about using a pen to put words on paper. Writing is composing—in all the forms, media, modes, and genres we can think of. It is multimodal. That is, it brings together images (still and moving), words, and music. When composing such visual texts to make an argument, a host of rhetorical strategies are used, ranging from placement of texts on page to consideration of audience to the media used to compose and present the text.
In this section, then, of Writing, Research, and Technology, we are going to engage the title’s main theme by considering what it means to compose visually. How does it change our understanding of the roll of the alphabetic for composing a text? How is conducting research different when researching visual texts instead of (or along with) alphabetic texts? What happens to our understanding of the writing process when we broaden our ideas about the technologies of writing from pencil and word processor to YouTube and video editor? What is the overall impact of the pervasiveness of the visual in contemporary society on what it means to be a writer?
To engage these and other questions, we will read theoretical texts in the areas of visual rhetoric and multimodal composition, including the topics of mapping, semiotics, photography, comics, remix, and mashup. To put those theories into practice, we will compose multimodal narratives in the form of a collection of maps (or atlas), a video mashup, a photo essay, as well as blog and tweet throughout the semester.
Brief Description of the Projects
This course will have four main projects and several smaller assignments that support and enhance the development of the main projects. Each project will have it’s own extended assignment page and will be accompanied by one or more short reflective essays.
Theoretical Analysis of a Video Remix (3 – 4 weeks)
This small project will help us get starting thinking about visual texts in terms of remix theory and comics. Understanding the main components of remix theory will be essential for understanding how meaning is made in visual texts as we move through the semester. Specifically, we will create an analysis of a remix video, such as a movie trailer remix or literal trailers. This project will launch us into the two much larger projects with the language needed to understand and compose in those projects. We will be using the online presentation application, Prezi, to complete the project.
Video Mashup (6 – 7 weeks)
Video mashups have been popular for quite some time (and remixes have been for much longer, actually). They are starting to become more accepted in scholarly communities as ways to make arguments about important social, cultural, political, and other -al issues. When completing this assignment, we will read theories on semiotics, which, very basically, is the study of how meaning is made through the transmission of information. Understanding the main components of semiotics will help us build on what we learn about visual texts in the first project. This assignment is going to ask you to think expansively about an historical and/or contemporary subject and compose a mashup of video, audio, and still images in an attempt to make a rhetorically savvy and visually complex social/cultural critical commentary or argument. To complete the project we will create story boards, rough, and final drafts.
Photo Essay (7 – 8 weeks)
We are awash in photos. In 2011 The Next Web ran a story headlined, “Flickr hits 6 billion total photos, but Facebook does that every 2 months.” Later in 2011, Jonathan Good asked “How many photos have ever been taken?” His answer is staggering: approximately 3.5 trillion. He writes, “If the average person snaps 150 photos this year that would be a staggering 375 billion [digital] photos. That might sound implausible but this year people will upload over 70 billion photos to Facebook, suggesting around 20% of all photos this year will end up there. Already Facebook’s photo collection has a staggering 140 billion photos, that’s over 10,000 times larger than the Library of Congress. . . . In the midst of the 3.5 trillion photos that have ever been taken it’s easy to forget that the shoebox or album of old photos we have at home is incredibly fragile and special. Every 2 minutes today we snap as many photos as the whole of humanity took in the 1800s. In fact, ten percent of all the photos we have were taken in the past 12 months.” The questions, however, we must ask is: what do the photos that we take mean? The numbers are impressive, yes, but how are we using the mode of photography to create meaning. In this project we will compose a photo essay with the goal of making a particular argument or relaying meaning of some kind. No prior photography skills are needed. The project will be informed by theories on photography.
Social Media (13 weeks)
This semester we will have a class-wide collaborative blog dedicated to the topic of new media and visual composition. There will be weekly bloggers assigned to blog about issues relating to readings for that particular week and we’ll all comment on those posts. We’ll also be live-tweeting our readings. The goals of both of these assignments is to extend discussions about course-related topics. The course hashtag is #wrtf12. Tweeting will start week 2. Blogging will start week 3.