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!