Dear Mark and Kelly…

Dear Mark and Kelly,

After reading your work “What’s Wrong with Writing Essays” in Daniel J. Cohen and Tom Scheinfeldt’s Hacking the Academy, I grew both intrigued, yet also concerned, about your approach of incorporating images into storytelling rather than relying exclusively on words.  Over the course of this note, I want to address the concepts I like, the ideas I’m a bit hesitant about, and questions concerning this pedagogy’s application.

I thought your essay included great projects that actually apply to the real world in terms of communication and persuasion.  Mark, first off, I appreciate your focus on fostering future professionals, not “miniature versions of [your]self or of any other professor” (87). Too often, I’ve noticed that instructors believe it’s their way or the highway, so it’s refreshing to know there’s someone out there who has my future interest at heart, as opposed to any personal agendas. As you take “the words out of writing,” I also think that you give students the opportunity to understand the principles of visuals in storytelling and persuasion and apply them in their own work. Kelly, I really like your emphasis on visual storytelling as a recursive process. You note that the project you assigned the graduate students was “scaffolded to emphasize experimentation, reflection, peer feedback, and iterative learning” (94). From previous writing assignments that focus heavily on alphabetic discourse, I feel instructors want us to have these complex ideas already developed when we enter the classroom. The fact that you provide your students the time and space to be creative and refine their work shows that you focus on the process as much, if not more, than the product.

Though the projects you reference may teach students a form of communication they’ll encounter out in the real world, college isn’t the real world.  Mark, you yourself quoted a colleague who said “nowhere but in school would we ask somebody to write something that nobody will ever read” (87). Such a quote demonstrates that college is a completely different environment that has established completely different expectations from what we as students will encounter after our time in academia. Your goal to remove word-based storytelling and persuasion in an attempt to expose students to different modes of communication is noble, but as a student, I’m worried this won’t prepare me or help me succeed in any other class. Also, your projects don’t seem to emphasize the relationship between words and visuals—a topic I feel would help in future projects as many scholarly storytelling utilizes a balance of words and visuals.

I do have one major question. This is more directed towards a statement Kelly made, but I’d appreciate feedback from both of you. Kelly, you note “making students uncomfortable, but not paralyzed, often leads them to ask new questions, explore content more deeply, and take ownership of their learning” (96). From personal experience, I completely agree with you. So my question, then, is how do you know or recognize the boundary between uncomfortable and paralyzed? Is it a sense that develops over time or is there a more formulaic approach to it? Do you find students better question, research, and learn when working on word-based texts or visual texts?

Thanks for taking time to read my note!


Add yours →

  1. Lacy,
    Great job on this letter. I like that you call attention to the difference between feeling uncomfortable and feeling paralyzed, it is an important distinction to me. In addition, I like that you have not only addressed Mark and Kelly in ways that challenge and critically examine their pedagogy, but also praise them in their dedication to keeping the student central in their argument of ways of extending composition. I would disagree with you that composing and storytelling in ways beyond words does in fact transcend the classroom, and that many of our students will be asked to compose in “unconventional” ways in the future (think graphic design, or fine arts education). However I do agree that having that conversation between teacher and student helps students to see the big picture and to understand the theory behind the practice. Great letter and really an excellent well rounded analysis coming from a student perspective.


  2. Lacy,

    Wow. There’s a whole lot to like in what you’ve included in this letter. I was particularly taken with the questions you asked about how Sample’s emphasis on “public writing” correlate with your prospective success in other courses you might be taking. I don’t doubt that Sample has considered the ways in which genre and meta-genre awareness function in the overall project of “public writing,” but your point is well taken in the sense that these sorts of anxieties will reach fever pitch for many students whose studies generally fall outside the purview of digital technology and culture. Which is to say, students might have some serious struggles extending the precepts and practices of “public writing” to the conceptual goals and course outcomes of their own disciplines. Ultimately, these struggles do not signal towards a need to completely disregard or elide efforts to integrate “public writing” into any classroom setting, but to encourage those instructors who extol the virtues of “public writing” to spend significant time helping students understand how it fits into their existing disciplinary constellations, so to speak. I really appreciated how you pushed back a bit against embracing the theoretical promise of “public writing” here. Thank you so much for sharing your blog entry with us!



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