What Counts as "Appropriate" Writing in First-Year Composition Courses
I think that visual literacy is important. I think teaching visual and multimedia literacy is important. I reject the argument that in first year comp. classes, students just need to learn the "basics" of academic writing, such as summarizing, paraphrasing, souce citation, and so on. I reject that argument because academic writing and writing in general have gone well beyond composing with words and have been using new media for a while now, especially in the humanities, which is what we in first-year composition purport to teach our students.
Because of that, I typically give my students assignments that involve not only words, but images, movies, and so on. At a minimum, a typical sequence of assignments in first-year comp would include at least a paper with the requirement to use images, either to illustrate or to explain concepts. At maximum, I assign a completely visual project or two, typically a revision of a previously written paper, where students are given a lot of freedom in deciding what media to use and how to use them.
One of the most notable creations by my students in recent years was this work called American Beauty Remix, by a first-year writer in one of my classes. By the way, it has been a while since I looked at this project posted on Youtube, but, having looked today, I noticed that the copyright watchdogs had removed the soundtrack because it had not been "cleared." The removal of the sound considerably lessens the piece's appeal, but the whole copyright thing is a different topic. I suppose whoever polices Youtube videos does not understand what the word "remix" means. The song that accompanied the video had apparently been published by an entity called "WMG," which I take to mean "Warner Music Group (?)", and Youtube had bowed to the pressure to remove "unathorized" songs.
But, whatever, that is, as I say, a different matter.
What I am interested in and bothered by is the unwillingness of many composition programs to seriously consider teaching multimedia and multigenre writing to freshmen. I think we are kidding ourselves if we continue to think that "academic" or even "professional" writing has remained the same as it was before the advent of computer technology. Yet, I keep hearing arguments that the only goal of first-year comp it to teach students how to work with print-based sources.
On a positve note, the program assessment framework that we have here in my department, which, up until now, has been firmly rooted in assessing traditional texts is willing to at least consider ways to assess multimedia and multigenre compositions, including ones that are created and published via electronc means.