Academic journal article Composition Studies

Beyond Talking Heads: Sourced Comics and the Affordances of Multimodality

Academic journal article Composition Studies

Beyond Talking Heads: Sourced Comics and the Affordances of Multimodality

Article excerpt

Among teachers of writing, it has become de rigueur to speak early and often of academic conversations. Our conferences are grand conversations; our journals professionalize them; our talks with colleagues in the halls and on listservs perpetuate them, redirect them, and complicate them. And- most importantly for our purposes here-our pedagogies enact them. While the metaphor of conversation is tossed around innocently enough, in the last fifteen years it has become systematized. Conversation no longer refers only to the practices of our scholarly lives, it has come to be a paradigmatic metaphor for teaching students in composition classrooms how to relate to and engage with academic sources, debates, and discourses (Bruffee; Ellis; Graff and Birkenstein; Harris; Lynch; Olson). Yet, it is also a metaphor that seems to baffle our students: "What do you mean I should be in conversation with my sources?" In an attempt to remedy this confusion, we introduced an assignment that requires students to depict imagined conversations with and among published scholars. Using the desktop publishing program Comic Life 2 by plasq, students created comics in which they were directed to engage in "conversation" with scholars. With the support of a teaching and learning grant from our institution, we piloted the assignment in three different composition classes and studied the efficacy of employing comics as a tool for deepening students' engagement with source material.

When we began this study and introduced this assignment to our students, we viewed the genre of the sourced comic merely as a vehicle for teaching students how to engage with academic sources. Yet, the comics students produced took up traditional academic scholarship in such innovative ways-in terms of design, power, and knowledge production-that we were compelled to consider the sourced comic not just as a means to an alphabetic end, but as a powerful pedagogical genre in its own right. The sourced comics provided us, as well as our students, with important insight into how undergraduate writers engage scholarly sources and authors, making visible the range of roles available to students as they negotiate their own power and authority in relation to source material. Thus, we suggest that the sourced comic-a visual, linguistic, audio, gestural, and spatial genre explicitly concerned with the use of scholarly source material-is a valuable pedagogical tool because it (1) affords students a much wider range of design elements with which to articulate their understandings of and relationships with scholarly sources than traditional textual genres, (2) makes visible the variety of power relations that inform students' engagement with scholarly sources, providing valuable opportunities for metacognition and formative assessment, and (3) simultaneously expands and demystifies-through invention, play, and reflection-the strategies students might use to engage scholarly sources in their future multimodal and alphabetic writing practices.1

These conclusions about the value of the sourced comic as a pedagogical genre are drawn from our analysis of forty-two students' sourced comics. The comics were created by students at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, a selective, small liberal arts institution. Of the students whose comics we analyzed, 60% identified as women and 40% as students of color. The race and gender of the student authors (and perhaps of the scholars they cite) may well be a factor in how students chose to position themselves in relation to the scholars in their comics. Indeed, we argue that one of the benefits of using the sourced comic as a pedagogical tool is that it provides opportunities for both students and professors to analyze and reflect on the ways undergraduate writers negotiate complex networks of power, which undoubtedly include race, gender, education, and other factors. In the analysis that follows, however, we were careful not to make assumptions about how students' racialized or gendered identities might have impacted their authorial choices; given our small sample size and the fact that we did not interview students, this seemed like the most ethical way to proceed. …

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