Conclusion: Packing Up and Opening Up littleBits

an open box of littleBits with components surrounding the box on the table
Wrapping up with littleBits

This webtext represents our attempts, following Jody Shipka (2011), to "trace the dynamic, emergent, disrupted, historical, and technologically mediated dimensions of composing practices" (p. 36) with three-dimensional new media objects. Throughout this webtext, we have shared our praxis using littleBits in three-dimensional rhetorical invention: playing and experimenting with the devices, crafting inventions, using our craft to disrupt, and redesigning instructional documentation. Our goal here is not to advocate for incorporating littleBits specifically into rhetoric, composition, and technical communication classes (indeed, there are many alternative modular kits on the market), but rather to continue to advance the arguments for maker rhetoric by showing some possibilities for making with modular devices. In addition, we have highlighted how making with three-dimensional objects requires, in the words of Anne Frances Wysocki (2004), "experimentation and patience with what might seem strange since it means calling attention to what previously functioned quietly, invisibly" (p. 15). By playing with littleBits, students in this class became more attentive to their own invention processes. They initially approached this project with littleBits with suspicion, questioning the connection to writing studies, technical communication, and composition practices. But through play, experimentation, and documentation, they found composing with littleBits useful for reconsidering and reflecting upon their traditional composing practices, the rhetorical possibilities of three-dimensional objects, and the dynamics of new media in rhetoric, composition, and technical communication curricula.

Of course, our praxis in this course was heavily constrained: Because this class was intensive, meeting for only two weeks while online PhD students were in Lubbock for May Seminar, we were limited in terms of time with how much we could play and experiment and how ambitious we could be. For instance, while littleBits can be connected to the Internet through wi-fi, we only flirted with this potential. We connected the coffee pot to a wireless sensor so that the coffee pot could be turned on remotely from one of our cell phones (which required setting up the cell phone as a wi-fi hotspot because Texas Tech's wireless network requires authentication to connect). Only Andrew and Jack played with the Arduino Coding Kit, which allows for connecting littleBits to computers and practicing some basic coding. But this play was limited, as they soon turned to helping with the group projects during the fast-paced course. One potential avenue for play and experimentation that we barely explored, then, is how littleBits can be connected to the cloud and incorporated into the Internet of Things. Indeed, littleBits promotes its cloudBit as a device that allows users to "snap the internet to anything" (littleBits Electronics, 2014).

One future avenue for thinking through maker rhetoric and digital rhetoric is how material objects are now increasingly connected to the Internet. This produces both possibilities and challenges for considering everyday rhetorical action and how such material rhetoric might be incorporated into rhetoric, composition, and technical communication courses. As David M. Rieder (2017) has recently argued, physical computing deserves our attention as rhetoricians because of how it blurs or disrupts the "conventional, binary relationship between the analog and digital," thus "creatively bend[ing] the conventional experience of reality toward some suasive end" (p. 5). But, as Rieder suggested, we should be critical of some claims made about physical computing. The Internet of Things provides opportunities to automate tasks with spimes (to use Johndan Johnson-Eilola's, 2010, taxonomy), which can be a boon for efficiency. However, such efficiency is often superficial, as Ian Bogost (2015) has argued (and as we discussed in our discussion on disruption). Additionally, we should be concerned about security and privacy issues: As Internet security expert Bruce Schneier (2016) has pointed out, the Internet of Things is a huge security risk. While consumers purchase new computers and smart phones regularly, and software developers push out security patches to protect users and devices, most things connected to the Internet, like refrigerators, thermostats, routers, and digital video cameras, do not receive security updates and consumers are not likely to replace them frequently. This situation leaves these devices vulnerable to being used as part of large distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks (Schneier, 2016). Further, the connection of material objects to the internet allows for increased surveillance (Johnson-Eilola, 2012; Schneier, 2013). We suggest that future exploration of maker rhetoric not only attend to the rhetoricity of three-dimensional objects, but also the implications for how those three-dimensional objects might be connected to the internet. One approach to exploring these implications, as we argued in our discussion of our automated study station, is a critical making approach to composition that merges critical approaches to technologies with maker mentality practices (Ratto, 2011; Hertz, 2016).

As rhetoric, composition, and technical communication scholars continue to explore the affordances and possibilities of a wide variety of media in pedagogical settings, modular three-dimensional maker rhetoric provides opportunities to explore the rhetorical possibilities of these media in potentially new and innovative ways. For example, modular kits like littleBits could be useful in aural composition. As scholars have become increasingly interested in the rhetorical potentials of making with sound (e.g., Bowie, 2012; Ceraso, 2014; Selfe, 2009; Shipka, 2006), littleBits provide opportunities to create aural compositions using Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) modules (see Jepsen, 2015; Smith, 2015). Further, because littleBits are open source (licensed under the CERN Open Hardware License version 1.2; see Saddlemire, 2015), students could also access the open source hardware files and create new modules. And the coding involved with using littleBits to connect to objects or create aural compositions allow for the sorts of lo-fi composing advocated by Karl Stolley (2008) in his "Lo-Fi Manifesto."

These are just a few possibilities we imagine for module tools like littleBits in rhetoric, composition, and technical communication pedagogy. What struck us as most important as we packed up the littleBits at the end of May Seminar, however, was the importance of recursive play, failure, and experimentation in the composing process. Whether students are working with maker rhetoric or with more traditional essayistic compositions, we believe that rhetoric and composition teachers need to embrace the playful aspects of craft and encourage creating ecological spaces in classes where students are free to fail and fail again. If, as Casey Boyle (2016) has argued, rhetorical practice is about creating more practice, then certainly play and failure need to be parts of those practices. Throughout this webtext, we have emphasized how rhetorical practice with three-dimensional objects involves play, failure, and risk, and we believe that modular tools like littleBits provide an opening to explore these dynamics in rhetoric, composition, and technical communication pedagogy.