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E4 Panel: Traipsing the Course and Tracing the Corpse of Literacy

Jazz and the Scene of Writing: Toward a Practice of Teaching Electronic Composition
Michael A. Laffey, University of Florida

The Architectural Aspects of Cyber-School and What Writing Teachers can Learn from the Entertainment Industry
Paul Dever, University of Florida

Electronic Monumentality
Barry Mauer, University of Florida

Digital Agoras
Anthony Rue, University of Florida

By far, these presentations by four graduate students from the University of Florida, were the most interesting (both for academic reasons and in a "gee-wiz, what a cool idea" kind of way), that I attended while at the Computers and Writing conference. I won't take the time here to go into each of these presentations in depth -- they are just too complex and too full of interesting ideas that lead to many divergent trains of thought. For more detail about all these presentations, see the Computers and Writing Conference Web site.

I've been interested in treating the computer medium as a form of media-collage (the core of my research, writing and teaching in the last few years), but I rarely see anyone deal with the computer as a media-collage in the dynamic way these graduate students have been doing with the work in their writing courses.

Barry Mauer's work on Electronic Monumentality is one of the most interesting things I have seen anyone do with the Web as both a pedagogical tool, and as an artistic medium. Barry asks his students to "Construct an abject electronic monument for understanding a personal/cultural loss." He just gives them that assignment then takes the next five weeks of his course deconstructing every term in that assignment though the use of film, television, other visual arts, and through the use of traditional literature and various writing assignments. The Web work his students produced was very interesting and still evolving, but everything had obvious artistic and intellectual promise -- an amazing accomplishment for the introductory writing students in his courses. Each electronic work, without question, established itself as a unique work of artistic collage, representing a confidence level on the part of the students which could not be achieved (at least I assume) without the consistent, devoted teaching and guidance of Barry Mauer.

The other members of the panel discussed various ways they have also tried to separate the study of English from within the confines of traditional, linear printed discussion and presentation. All of the presenters direct their classes under metaphors drawn from jazz composition and performance. They divide their classes into "bands," and they deal with all their final products (often produced through jazz-like improvisation), as performances. In many ways, the work of these talented graduate students from the University of Florida represents the direction that many of us hope English scholarship and teaching will take in the near future.

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©David Gillette, 1996