No Devices, No Problem!
The chapters in “Part I: Writing for and about Mobile Technologies” focused on developing student critical engagement with and reflection on the use of mobile devices. Additionally, the assignments discussed in this section presented ways of helping students critically engage with mobile technology in ways that don’t necessarily require mobile devices in the classroom. The assignments presented offer guidance for supporting student critical thinking about technology and analysis of the rhetorical decisions made by users and creators. The assignments and discussions provided ways of engaging with mobile technology assignments even when circumstances are not ideal for assignments with mobile devices.
Part I discussed six very useful assignments that focused on student critical engagement with mobile technologies with options for educators with minimal resources or support for mobile devices. The emphasis on situated learning practices and rhetorical principles allowed the assignments to be adaptable to many different pedagogical approaches. In my classroom, we sometimes experience Wi-Fi access issues during high traffic times on campus. The authors presented assignments that offered alternatives to fighting for access to Wi-Fi by instead focusing discussion on the affordances of mobile devices.
In this section, I included Twitter commentary on the chapters. As I read about critical engagement with mobile devices, I engaged with the chapters on my mobile device. However, to reflect the goals of the chapters, analyzing mobile technologies without needing to use a mobile device, I included most discussion as text-based.
Writing about and Thinking through Mobile Technologies
Chapters 1, 2, 4, and 5 described assignments that asked students to engage with their own writing processes in writing about mobile technologies. Instructors could adjust these assignments to include mobile device use in the classroom or complete the assignments without devices.
In Chapter 1, Christina Moore described The Mobile Composition Kit Project. This group project asked students to select mobile apps that would be most helpful to the work they complete in the composition class. The assignment asked students to engage with and reflect on their own composing process, finding apps to support their approaches to writing. The assignment overview asked students to engage with their mobile devices throughout the duration of their composing process. This assignment helped students consider making their whole composition process visible (similar to Shipka’s  discussion of composition) while considering what apps could support good writing.
While the assignment was incredibly interesting, the highlighted student example focused on apps to find information (e.g., article search, Wikipedia, etc.), a very narrow view of the composing process. Moore pointed out that many student groups focused on the limited view of mobile devices as fancy typewriters. Moore problematized the work of her students, reflecting on the need to push students further to consider place—where composing happens and how that influences one's composing process. I also wondered how such an assignment could aid students in reflecting on their use of mobile devices and their own composing processes. By highlighting apps like Wikipedia and TED Talks and focusing on word processing and typing, students limited their perspective of composing processes to a product-focused view. This assignment has so much potential to help students understand and engage with invention, reflection, revision, and so many more complex aspects of composing. Moore found that emphasizing place and the where of composing could help students engage with composing processes and mobile devices. Instructors should consider how they introduce the assignment to help students engage critically.
In Chapter 2, Ann Amicucci described a series of assignments that asked students to reflectively respond to prompts about mobile technologies and record observations about mobile technology use. Amicucci melded theory and pedagogy by drawing on situated literacy practices theories (notably James Paul Gee's) to develop an assignment that helped students critically engage with public conversation.
The assignment design emphasized students as researchers and contextualized their findings in larger public discussions of mobile technologies. This provided really interesting ways for students to engage with mobile devices, without the need of a mobile device. While questions and prompts were included in the chapter, they are easily modified to suit the needs of different students.
In Chapter 4, Melissa Toomey discussed teaching rhetorical analysis through app analysis. This chapter blends theory and pedagogy in the assignment discussed. Toomey introduced key rhetorical concepts using app analysis as the demonstration example for her students, preparing them for the later assignment. In this assignment, students developed strong understandings of rhetorical theory and critical analysis. Toomey used Collin Gifford Brooke’s adaptations of the rhetorical canon in digital space to support freshmen composition students.
Using apps as discussion examples showed students that ways of interacting with technology carry meaning. These discussion examples provided a clear way for students to understand rhetorical analysis in their everyday uses of technologies. Exploring this idea while working through rhetorical analysis terms helped students develop a strong working knowledge of significant content for composition courses. Even if instructors chose not to assign an app rhetorical analysis, the connection to discussion also demonstrates an important moment for including mobile technology discussions in the composition classroom.
In Chapter 5, Claire Lutkewitte described an app ‘creation’ assignment (students don’t code the app) that focused on the affordances of mobile devices. Specifically, the assignment helped students understand where learning occurs to understand learning as situated. Lutkewitte tied discussion about the assignment and its adaptability to learning theories, focusing on the ways the assignment supported student learning.
In the student reflections discussed in this chapter, Lutkewitte pointed to students drawing connections between their designed affordances and the wants/needs of the audience. Asking students to develop an app based on campus could help them reflect on their design for their understanding of audience. This assignment was especially helpful as it doesn’t rely on app coding, allowing non-tech-savvy students to default to programs they found comfortable when they design their final app.
Group Work with Devices
Chapters 3 and 6 described group assignments that would be difficult to complete without one device per group. While not all students needed a device, access to apps and elements of the device support learning through these assignments.
In Chapter 3, Moe Folk described a series of assignments that asked students to create and publish an audio essay, make a flier with a QR code that leads viewers to the audio essay, then display the flier in an audience appropriate location. The assignment focused on designing and writing for a real audience, and required at least one device per group. Students grappled with place-conscious composing practices to craft successful audio essays, and advertise access to those essays.
However, as my tweet pointed out, I have insufficient memory on my mobile device so I routinely ignore QR codes in public places. When I discussed the idea with my students, they reported refusing to keep QR readers beyond a required assignment or two due to space issues. The scaffolded connections in this assignment demonstrated important technology considerations across assignments in a composition course. However, I had many questions: Do assignments that require specific technologies to support student understanding of authentic audiences really support authentic audience understanding? How much do students need to understand about the technology choices and audio essay genres to craft essays for authentic audiences? Beginning with discussions of podcasts would be an important first step toward success with this assignment.