Expanding the Definition of "Composition"

At both the 4Cs and C&W conferences, presenters called for expanding the definition of composition. The presentations at CCCC focused primarily on including graphics and the graphical elements of text; the presentations at C&W, however, explored not only the extension of composition from text to image, but also examined composition as the building of virtual spaces.

At the Conference on College Composition and Communication, Ann Wysocki, in "I Can See Clearly Now: The Visible Form of Academic Texts and the Invisible Form of the Subject," provided an excellent, thought-provoking presentation which considered the graphical elements of text itself. She showed images and graphics of text and asked the audience to consider the conventions that make text all look the same (particularly academic text). She argued that allowing students to use and explore fonts and other graphical elements would allow the "hidden" subject of the writer in the academic text to come to to fore--but we must be willing to break away from the traditional print paradigm for academic writing. Other 4Cs presentations, such as Rachel Torgoff's "Expanding Boundaries: Visual Literacy," and Lee Odell's "Visual Rhetoric and the Process of Discovery," focused on the image or the visual as an integral element of composition. But computer-related issues went beyond the merger of graphics and writing. See Bob Whipple's report on Forum H.25: Ethical Problems and Consideration in the Electronic Classroom.

At the C&W conference, several presentations were devoted the notion of graphical texts, among them K. Butler-Nalin's "Using Computer Graphics in the Composition Classroom" and Tim McGee's "Graphical Excellence in College Composition." In addition to considerations of graphical texts, writing hypertext compositions, and the problems of hypertextual navigation, and the combining of graphical and textual elements was also discussed in quite a few sessions. Tharon Howard's presentation on "The Usability of Students' HTML Designs: Testing Three Navigation Systems" began by considering different systems of navigation and the graphical presentation of information as it worked synergistically with different navigational forms. What caught my attention though, was his discussion of using VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language) to create three-dimensional spaces. Composition in this case moves from text to text and graphics to multimedia, text, graphics, and virtual architecture. That's about as far from print-paradigm composition as one can get. In a similar venture, but perhaps closer to composition as we (currently) know it, Lynnea Chapman King described having students collaboratively design (textual) virtual spaces. Many sessions at this conference discussed the use of several computer applications--MUDs/MOOs, Hypertext, Email, synchronous conferencing--and the mixture of these applications' virtual spaces and electronic palettes is sure to push the envelope of current definitions of composition.

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