Reviewed by Erica Cirillo-McCarthy, Stanford University, Stanford, CA (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Speakers: Rosanne Carlo, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, “Student as Wanderer: A Pedagogical Heuristic for Place-Based Writing”
Rachael Wendler, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, “Learning to Think WITH Non-Profits: Distributed Cognition in Professional Writing Service-Learning”
Ashley Holmes, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA, “Reclaiming Public Space through Digital Mapping: A Place-Based Approach to Mobile Composition”
This three-person panel detailed their pedagogical approaches to writing courses, which ask students to consider place and to engage publics and counterpublics. The first presenter, Rosanne Carlo, discussed walking as a form of rhetorical practice or a form of character development. Her pedagogy draws upon concepts from city theorists Michel de Certeau and Walter Benjamin, who argued that walking creates a relationship to space in ways that other inquiry or engagement cannot match; walking encourages dialectic between the internal and the external. Carlo weaved together Benjamin’s flâneur with Nedra Reynolds’ place/space pedagogy and Julie Drew’s ecocomposition politics of spaces as places where we reside and learn. After establishing her theoretical frame that served not only her purpose but also the panel’s purpose, Carlo argued that place is not neutral; instead, space generates acts, and as such, can be an occasion for argument. Her use of space in this way resonated with me as I was at first hesitant to look at engagement with space as a way to develop character. However, upon reflection, that’s not what Carlo argued when in her opening narrative detailing her morning walk to campus, she stated “Would I be who I am today if not for this ritual of the walk?” Instead, it is the place that informs character, and that is what she wants students to explore or use as an exigency for argument.
Rachael Wendler, the second presenter, explored a service-learning curriculum and asked what a non-project staff teaches us in regards to writing. Service learning as a point of inquiry makes sense, as Wendler pointed out that 93% of all professional and technical writing programs incorporate service learning in some way. Wendler’s research critiqued the traditional paradigm that exists in service-learning relationships wherein students go to a nonprofit organization (NPO), gather information on the needs of the NPO, and write something, whether it’s a website, pamphlets, or other external documents. Oftentimes, the NPO, or client, does not participate in the drafting of these materials. The challenge for students is the rhetorical situation of these service-learning writing assignments. When writing for an NPO, who is the speaker/writer/rhetor? This rhetorical situation presents a challenge particular to the service-learning paradigm, and Wendler argued that these challenges can be mediated by bringing in NPOs early and often into the drafting conversation to produce a text that doesn’t just fulfill a requirement for a class. Instead, such assignments help students develop a deep and rich collaboration that draws upon the concepts of distributed cognition and reflective storytelling methodology wherein students do site visits, interviews, and conduct themselves as consultants. In this model, both students and the NPO function as collaborative authors and, more significantly, knowledge producers who listen, write, and work in concert to achieve the NPO's goals. This pedagogy has the potential to provide a fulfilling experience for the student and a useful product for the NPO.
The final presenter, Ashley Holmes, discussed her pedagogical work that resides at the intersections of the digital and the physical. Her challenge to students to write in the wild (Bjork & Schwartz, 2009) and to consider places as rhetorical activity provided a wonderful bookend to the panel. Similar to Carlo, Holmes drew upon Reynolds’ and on Benjamin’s concept of the flâneur to create the exigency for this particular type of place–space pedagogy. However, Holmes situated her pedagogy in the digital, calling it mobile composing in her hybrid digital writing course. Students digitally mapped a space of their choice through a lens of social change using Google Maps and created a unique URL. Students then engage with public discourse, representations, and narratives surrounding their place. By doing so, students interact with physical places in a way that “relocates rather than dislocates.” As I considered this course from a student perspective, I found it intriguing, but felt that the technology used (Google Maps, WordPress, Prezi) does not match the ambition behind Holmes’ pedagogy. A more powerful digital mapping software that can create a 3D version of a student’s place alongside text would meet the pedagogical goals in more effective ways.
Carlo and Holmes offered new ways for me to consider crafting a place-based pedagogy for students in my home institution and using the technology available for them to write in more mobile ways. Wendler’s presentation helped me understand that my previous objections to service-learning writing—unequal power structure, too easy to exploit either side, and not enough time in a semester to develop a writing relationship—can be mediated through her distributed cognition approach. Overall, this panel achieved its stated goal of encouraging “scholars and teachers to see being in place as crucial to the process of invention.”
Bjork, Olin, & Schwartz, John Pedro. (2009). Writing in the wild: A paradigm for mobile composition. In Amy C. Kimme Hea (Ed.) Going wireless: A critical exploration of wireless and mobile technologies for composition teachers and researchers (pp. 223-237). Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.