When I had the opportunity to teach the course again in 2005, I revamped the course projects to build on the tension between the production and consumption of spaces, places, nonplaces, and visual media. The course culminated in an event that I dubbed svr (spatial visual rhetorics), and it included large-scale installations displayed in the grand ballroom of our student union. This event was attended by more than 100 participants, and the graduate students were responsible for not only producing their own installations, artist statements, and onsite materials but also planning the details of the event. As with many of my experiences as an instructor, I had not imagined the extent to which the assignment led to both intense investment on the part of the students and engagement on the part of the audience participants.
After I returned from my sabbatical in 2008, I had another opportunity to teach the course. My dilemma became creating a new project that tapped into the innovation and energy of the last svr event, but one that did not try to replicate the experience: The first event felt important, risky, scary, and exciting in part because there had not been a model for it. We made the event as we went along, and if the students would have had examples of installations from previous classes, they likely would not have taken some of the risks and experienced the happy accidents of discovery along the way. Thus, I began my course planning in 2008 with the desire to tap into the tension between production and consumption that seemed useful in the first svr event, but I wanted a different emphasis. Praxis became that emphasis. In looking at our Writing Program and local teaching opportunities for instructors, I realized that the First Year Writing Showcase, which had taken on a visual and spatial rhetorical emphasis, could be further enhanced with more direct inter-animation of theory and practice. While instructors were providing students with assignments that asked them to consider spatial and visual production, instructors, themselves, often wanted more connection to theoretical underpinnings to promote this work in the first-year writing classroom. The svr2 event would help to address this gap, and it became the project for the next iteration of the course. The event description attempted to provide the course participants with options in both content and form, meaning that the class would work together to create an event that would help bridge the theory-practice gap for first-year writing teachers who wanted to participate in the showcase. The original course project description, then, was purposefully vague in terms of the ways the class might offer pedagogical support to their fellow UA writing instructors.
Here is an excerpt from the description:
The seminar event is your opportunity to translate the theories we have been reading into meaningful pedagogical practices, ones that will impact the entire UA Writing Program. You and your colleagues in the course will develop the content for and format of the event. Supported by the UA Writing Program, the event's target audience is spring '09 English 102 and 104 teachers. Our goal is to offer this target population ways of integrating spatial and visual rhetorics into their own 102 or 104 pedagogies. This integration is meant to help the instructors as they plan their spring classes and encourage them to participate in the UA Writing Program's Spatial and Visual Showcase (aka First Year Writing Showcase) held each spring.
The event you will plan and host asks each of you to contribute individually to the event in terms of some type of presentation—a paper, panel, roundtable, installation, performance, among other possible offerings—and collaboratively in the planning and executing of the event itself. In other words, you will develop the content for the event as well as its form. Anne-Marie Hall, Director of the UA Writing Program, and Chris Minnix, Assistant Director of the Writing Program, will provide us with some guidance and even financial support to host the event. I will be sharing documents related to the First Year Writing Showcase as a means to help us identify the best type of event and its appropriate content.
in-class brainstorming and event claiming & naming
On August 25th, I will introduce the project, asking each of you to think about the type of event you believe will best suit our audience's need and your own ideas for a presentation. We will have a formal class discussion to brainstorm our ideas on September 8th. After that discussion, we will have another week to consider the best approach to the event. Our decision of event will consider audience needs, colleague presentation ideas, resources on the First Year Writing Showcase, our budget, and input from the UA Writing Program. (http://www.u.arizona.edu/~kimmehea/svr/cj.htm#svip)
The nine graduate students in the course found themselves faced with a set of challenging readings and with the demand to figure out pedagogically meaningful ways to teach their colleagues about those theories through some type of event that they had to create. The layers of complication were not always easily negotiated. One classroom-based assignment that was designed to help foster the ways pedagogy and theory come together and even collide were team-led course facilitation projects. In these projects, partners in the class worked to provide discussion and activities that complemented a particular day’s set of course readings. These facilitations made evident the different potentials and limitations of wrangling with the course readings through certain space and time constraints (i.e., a three-hour course in a small basement room of the Modern Languages building). At the same time, these facilitations provided a generative perspective on the ways we might consider planning for the larger svr2 event. Thus, when certain aspects of a facilitation went well, we were able to use those productive forces toward the planning of our own event, and when activities seemed less developed, we learned from those performances as well.
The process of planning svr2 was iterative, challenging, and complex. The graduate students determined that the event would include a mix of large-scale installations and mini-workshops, hosted on a concurrent and rotating 20-minute schedule. We secured the student union ballroom, and we were able to provide technology resources to accommodate the productions. At each point, however, there were successive negotiations of the idea for each graduate student's contribution (with one piece finally constructed collaboratively) in relationship to the intellectual, physical, and financial circumstances. (The event was funded through a grant I secured and a Writing Program stipend.) The event is described in detail on the event page, but in my own reflections on the course, I remain committed to the messiness of creating such an event but equally convinced that the same assignment would, yet again, need to be revised. The praxis, then, for svr3, should it ever emerge, would need to provide the context to challenge the binaries of theory-practice, production-consumption, and space-place, but the actual instantiation of that event remains to be imagined.