Don't "reject" or "repair" the old curriculum, "remediate"

I read Kevin Leander’s “Composing with Old and New Media:  Toward a Parallel Pedagogy” and appreciated his re-purposing of the word “remediate” to describe the sort of “parallel composition” that can happen in classrooms when you mix an essential rhetorical act (his example is memoir or autobiography), good questions, and 21st century digital communications media. You’re not essentially changing or correcting the old learning activity. Those basic communicative acts are no less vital because of the new tools we use-by transposing and transforming the task through new media you are extending it and developing it in new directions–giving the old assignment new “affordances, or possibilities for functioning.” The“Big Questions” don’t change. They are part of the human need for community and significance. They will can stand being treated in any in medium.

As I have mentioned before, in the traditional English curriculum I am paid to help students through, there are almost no new media learning activities. Except for some research projects that take us to the Internet, we are based in texts, pens, notebooks, questions, group discussion and Word documents–all pre-21st c. media. So if I were to take Leander’s advice and “remediate,” I might look first at the way we have had students do close analysis of text. Typically, to get students looking closely at the language choices an author uses, we would assign a student or group of students a significant selection or chapter of text. S/he would then be obliged to present an informed oral interpretation, or reading aloud from the assigned text, along with an analysis and an explanation of his/her interpretation.

With 21st c. technology, I might “remediate” by bringing the “free” and easily incorporated “podcasting” capabilities of an Audible or Quicktime. Students would still need to discuss and defend their interpretation of the text, but the oral interp could be recorded thoughtfully in a podcast. I woiuld see what Leander means when he claims that bringing in the new media brings the new “affordances, or possibilities for functioning” into the lesson. I can imagine that, although the “remediation” I am describing is not exactly “visual,” it would lead to students “seeing” text differently, knowing their reading of it will be being recorded for digital communication. I imagine it might afford a different sort of comprehension and awareness of “tone” in the writing. It would also perhaps focus student effort on articulation, inflection, and a host of aural/oral skills that might not otherwise be “seen” as useful to the student. Finally, the podcasting of the oral interpretation might be seen as advantageous insofar as it returns to a primitive “naturalness” the transaction of what Leander calls the “big ideas” that transcend mere media–in this case the argument an individual raises for a particular interpretation of pheomena to a community.
One other way I might “remediate” the curriculum would be to virtualize the group discussion we have been doing in large-group discussions face to face in the classroom via a social network. With a blog or a “closed” social network such as Edmodo, we can carry on a totally 21st c. class discussion discussing questions at least as old as the Greeks. Mixing digital media with “old” composition tasks might be expected to “afford” the discussion a more visual dimension. Having the instantaneous, extensive array of primary media source access the Internet provides allows students to use highly visual and immersive forms of evidence and interpretation. The 21st c. class discussion online would probably also be more extensive, able to bring in large groups of students (across English classes at the same level at a school, say, or between schools around the planet even) at once. It would extend in time, too, taking place not all at one time/place but over a period of days, weeks, etc.

Such a “virtual class discussion” would appeal to my millenials, whom, if you asked where the most recent serious discussions in their non-school lives had taken place, I would bet that a large number would say “online”–via social network like Facebook, etc. They are already good at the mechanics of going back and forth via texted messages. How well can they conform to discussing curricular questions using the same sort of decorum we require in class discussions? Faculty moderators will be challenged to establish and enforce norms consistently and swiftly. If a student breaks the communication rules, his post needs to be removed and his “Bad”-modo used (anonymously) to have a discussion about what not to do in the social network.. Just as we would exclude negative tangents in F2F classroom discussion, we cannot allow “trash” to “poison the well” of our virtual conversations with students about the “big ideas.”
Leander, Kevin (2009). “Composing with old and new media.” Chapter in Carrington, V. and Robinson, M. (2009) Digital literacy: Social Learning and Classroom Practice. Sage Publishing.
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