Welcome to Stony Brook University’s Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR) blog! I am thrilled to participate with my colleagues in this collective writing space, where we’ll share our ideas about and experiences with teaching and learning. A special thank you to Assistant Professor Shyam Sharma for devising, designing, and creating this blog for all of us.
To begin, I’d like to note some connections between maker culture and the field of writing. On Sunday, September 22, 2013, my family and I went to Maker Faire at the New York Hall of Science (NYSCI) in Flushing Meadow. Described as “part science fair, part county fair, and part something entirely new,” Maker Faire attracts a diverse community of tech-junkies, tinkerers, artists, crafters, engineers, educators, and students who share a do-it-yourself ethos. Rather than buy pre-fabricated, pre-packaged wares, they want to do the innovating and making themselves, and then share what they’ve learned and made with others. Whether it’s hacking a video game console, brewing beer, or woodshopping acoustic speakers for a smartphone, making is interpretive, experiential, and participatory. [Image: Catharina Bruns and Sophie Pester]
Touring the hands-on demos of solar-powered draw-bots and pyrography stamp sets, I considered how making and writing practice presume the same essential values: invention, emphasis on process, problem-solving, collaboration, reiteration, and revision. Writing studies, principally digital writing / new media studies, has taken a special interest in how the maker movement empowers people to produce rather than simply use, to be active creators rather than passive consumers.
In his 2013 Computers and Writing Conference keynote “Writing in the Age of the Maker Movement,” James Paul Gee argues that writing courses are making courses in which students should learn and practice multiple literacies. He challenges his audience—writing teachers—to look to communities in popular culture (gamers and makers, for example) for collaborative, learner-centered educational models grounded in problem solving, openness and collaboration, mentorship, and community support.
And for the past three years, Eastern Michigan University Written Communication Program and The Michigan State University Writing in Digital Environments Research Center have sponsored an “unconference,” WIDE-EMU, in which participation is an essential part of the program. Sessions are divided into “do” (a demo or workshop that explains a software application or pedagogical approach); “make” (a workshop in which participants make “a web site, a lesson plan, a manifesto, a syllabus, etc”), and “talk” (a traditional paper, roundtable discussion, or panel). Attendees learn together how to navigate, say, a video composing and editing program that can then be incorporated into a multimodal assignment.
And finally, Jill Morris argues that “Makerism” (the ethos that drives “ordinary everyday people [to] create fascinating tools, gadgets, and machines using whatever is available to them”) can work in an open enrollment institution or community college where older returning students are less apt to feel bound by the “rules” of writing instruction, and more inclined to make happy-accidental, new media art. Further, in these and other institutions of higher education where resources and funds are scarce, instructors have to be creative and figure out how to “make it work” with whatever is available. Morris writes of this “Maker mindset”: “We wish to take the technology we have and make the most out of it, creating a community of do-it-yourselfer instructors and students who apply critical thinking to everyday situations.” In this way we can strive to make the writing classroom a more authentic learning space, where students write for more than their teacher’s assessment, and teachers model for students our own willingness to experiment with new software or to remix assignments.
My own interest in maker culture and DIY has led me to participate in open online courses such as digital-storytelling course ds106 (created by “EduPunk” Jim Groom at the University of Mary Washington) and the National Writing Project’s Connected Learning MOOC (clmooc), and to incorporate multimodal assignments into my own writing workshops.
I also see a connection between making and writing eportfolios. At Stony Brook, students in our Writing 102 workshop courses create final writing eportfolios, incorporating their own texts, images, videos, and audio into multimodal, multilayered digital texts of their own making. As these eportfolios demonstrate, our students use digital tools to create new kinds of content, to experiment with new forms, and to share their work with others. In their eportfolios, I believe, students can see the value in modifying a pre-fabricated template and in making digital assemblages of their own best creative, critical, interest-driven work. That’s a powerful lesson that can transfer to other aspects of writing practice. And this is what the maker mindset can teach us.