by Tanya K. Rodrigue
As a professor, I attempt to cultivate a classroom environment that fosters intellectual interest, inquiry, exploration, and curiosity. I position class participants as those in what Don Byrd and Derek Owen (1998) would call a “hivemind” or what Steven Johnson (2010) called a “liquid network”—a space where people work collaboratively and learn from and with one another in an effort to maximize their knowledge construction and thinking. When designing graduate courses, I imagine myself within this hivemind, someone who participates in a learning community and engages with new conversations and scholarship in writing studies.
In this Digital Writing course, I decided to employ what I’ve come to identify as a pedagogy of offering—a pedagogy informed by yogic practices that challenges the consumer-based educational model by providing optional guidance; flexible assignments; possible approaches to class material, activities, and assignments; contract grading; and collaborative assessment criteria-making. This pedagogy is especially useful for a student demographic, like the one in our graduate program, who identify as writers, teachers, teachers-in-training, literature enthusiasts, and future academics, and have divergent areas of study, interests, and epistemologies. This pedagogy provides students with a tremendous amount of agency that enables them to determine how they want to engage with the class and class material, what they want to learn, and how they want to apply that knowledge. This teaching method seeks to foster an environment where students create projects that achieve personal and professional goals, and perhaps more importantly, that are meaningful to them.
When assigned to teach this course, I was excited for two reasons: (1) I would have the opportunity to learn more about multimodality with my students, specifically sonic rhetoric, an area of study I had not yet explored in depth; and (2) I would be able to experiment with a pedagogy of offering, a teaching method that I’d been developing for years but never tried to implement.
When preparing for the sonic rhetoric portion of the course, I spent a significant amount of time reading scholarship, carefully choosing readings that explored sound from a rhetorical and semiotic perspective. I came across Erin Anderson’s (2014) recent work in Enculturation and was ecstatic to find she worked at a nearby institution. I quickly emailed her to ask if she’d come speak to my students about her work with audio. In my quest for flexibility and my commitment to a pedagogy of offering, I designed a bare-boned, barely structured audio project assignment—choose a visual and use it to compose an audio project in any genre. I also offered a structured assignment in the event students felt overwhelmed by the infinite ways to approach this project.
While designing this assignment, I made several assumptions about how students might work with it. I first assumed that at least some people would work with the structured assignment I offered. Students, after all, are used to constraints and many even like them. Yet not one student did. Each student gravitated toward a particular audio genre to achieve individual goals: to compose a project that contributed to a growing body of work; to experiment in different ways with sound affordances; to try out composing traditional print genres they had previously not done, like plays and memoirs, and then transform their work into an audio genre; to reimagine what storytelling is and does; to invent a new genre; and to employ transmedia navigation across the work they produced in the class.
I also made an assumption that students would work with the visual in either one of two ways: imagine it as a story in itself that called for a retelling or a more complete picture; or as an invention tool, a source of inspiration that sparked ideas, memories, or stories that led to the creation of the audio project. Some students did indeed work with the visual in these ways, while others worked with the visual in unexpected ways. For example, several students situated their visual within interesting networks of other modalities such as still images, moving images and physical artifacts, all of which personally impacted or influenced them, their lives, and their thinking in various ways. It was interesting to watch students negotiate these networks, mining them and the dialogical interaction between and among them for ideas and inspiration with the ultimate goal of producing something new.
Yet what I could have never assumed was the way a pedagogy of offering and this audio assignment naturally moved students toward working at disciplinary intersections (including rhetoric, literature, creative writing, theatre, history, and sound studies), positioning them and individual interests, knowledges and experiences in relation to one another in unique and interesting ways. These intersections invited play, creativity and experimentation, and functioned as rich sites of invention that enabled students to produce innovative, meaningful pieces of digital writing. While a pedagogy of offering and a barely there, open-ended assignment may not work for all classes and all students, I’m thrilled it was successful in this class, and I’m honored to have witnessed the incredible work my students produced, both their audio projects and this webtext.