¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 2 It is late April, 2012. I am sitting in a small seminar room in our college library, eager to see the fruits of the students in my Rhetoric of New Media class’s engagements with their final project: a digital rendering of their final scholarly essays in the course. I am pleased with their results, chalking any misgivings I may have about their choices up to my own inadequacies as a teacher and the challenges of designing a new course focused on technology on a campus that often feels it would be more at home with the mimeograph and a fleet of IBM Selectrics.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 2 The projects are varied: one student, interested in issues related to privacy and intimacy, renders her paper in the form of a Facebook wall. Another uses the same interface in real time, amplifying the feminist content on her own Facebook page to see how her friends respond to her more pointed than usual articulations and demands for equality of the sexes. A business student turns his essay into the static Constant Contact newsletter, another student creates a dynamic video presentation of her data. Every project plays with existing forms, shaving and transforming the content to take advantage of the affordances of the new medium, but each is clearly linear in its progression.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 The project that excited—and challenged—me the most belonged to Mo. Mo Wilson, then a sophomore, used tumblr to render his analysis of Kreyshawn’s then-ascendance up the ladder of musical success through the lens of Richard Lanham’s Economics of Attention. 1 The page was difficult to follow—like all tumblr pages, it is a loose collection of curated images, words, and sounds. While there is something akin to linearity present, the reader who comes upon the page will have to cobble together an idea of the central arguments of Mo’s project, the expected linkages and linguistic turns signaling the significance of one idea or the shift to another unseen in the gutter between the various posts that make up the rendering. 2
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 3 What I found most exciting about Mo’s project was the difficulty it presented to the reader. Where does one begin—at the top? The bottom? How does one “read” the videos and the gifs and to what should the reader attach significance? As I turned over the challenges posed by the text, I realized that it could be read “as is,” the savvy reader, perhaps, using Lanham’s rules for creating an attention trap to muse on why this cluster of words and moving images helps us to understand her success. Not all readers are savvy, though, and it’s easy to imagine another reader–a fan, perhaps–coming across the site and not quite knowing what to make of it.
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 3 Mo’s project intrigued me because it challenged my classroom practice. By selecting the tumblr platform, Mo had chosen a site designed to “trap” attention; tumblr pages provide endless opportunities to scroll deeper and deeper into a blogger’s patterns of curation, and accessing site-wide content through the tag search features is a surefire way to kill many an idle hour. He’d also chosen a site that relies upon reader association for making ideas–if any are intended by the site author–cohere. As I reflected on the term, I realized that as a teacher—teaching, of all things, a course focused on the rhetorical challenges and opportunities presented by this new set of media tools and platforms—I had focused on writing in a way that failed to give equal weight to the demands placed upon the reader. Planning the webtext—like any text—requires that the author do so with an eye toward communicating effectively, even when experimenting with new forms. Because I hadn’t taught my students how to read the texts they were encountering, I hadn’t made them as aware as I could have of how to read, let alone craft, a scholarly webtext that would best share the quality of their thinking.
¶ 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 3 Donald Leu et al note that, as written, the Common Core Standards (CCS) for writing are more progressive and aware of the need for sustained and explicit attention to developing student literacy in the areas of technology. 3 They go on to state that this is not the case for the standards pertaining to reading, a continuation of the under-recognized deficiency in our cultural model for literacy education. We tend to think of the reading portion of the literacy enterprise as the “already gotten,” while writing is the “always to be gained.” Our reality in the classroom, though, belies this distinction; in my WPA work, I have found myself constantly addressing the issue of student reading struggles with teachers who come to understand the relationship between the two components while trying to teach that even more elusive third element—critical thinking.
¶ 8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Add to that complexity the new challenges posed by multimodal platforms and approaches to writing—challenges we in the academy have largely been able to dodge so far—and the need for more explicit attention to the reading side of literacy development seems more urgent. We’ve been talking about hypertext and multimodal composition for quite some time; we should pause for a moment to consider the effects of hypertext and multimodality on reading.
¶ 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Perhaps the greatest value of hypertext is its ability to link enormous quantities of material that, in a conventional text environment, would be kept separate, perhaps even in different buildings, so that things which someone perceives as being related do in fact become related. Hypertext is weakest when it comes to spelling out what these relationships entail. It is important to say this because the techniques for explanation are quite highly developed within traditional rhetoric, and it would be a mistake to abandon them as outmoded. 4
¶ 11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 The relationships between ideas—the connectives, transitions, qualifications, and other frameworks we use to “glue” ideas together—can easily go missing (or be multitudinous) in a hypertext, and so, as readers, we must be more and more aware of the various ways in which we are being led to put them together.
¶ 12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 2 This is what I neglected to explicitly teach my students in that rhetoric class: that as readers, we always make our own roadmaps. Some are just harder to draw than others. We need to help them become what Frank Serafini calls a “reader-viewer,” a term that “expands the concept of reading to include multimodal texts, graphic design elements, and visual images”. 5 We also need to be more aware of the challenges placed upon our comprehension skills—adopting the role of reader-viewer means, as Mary McNabb notes, “continually [facing] decisions about which hyperlink to click on next and why” and “[being] forced to make associations among lexias and create [your] own narratives as [you] go”. 6 These statements about reading and the web may seem obvious, but the lack of attention to the changing realities of what Donald Leu and Elena Forzani term the New Literacy in the Common Core Standards for reading should alert us to an imbalance in the way that we culturally consider and teach the enterprise of literacy. 7 It is not enough to draw student attention to these new modes of communication as spaces for creation of content; we need to attend to their development as reader-viewers of the content as well.
¶ 13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 3 An area of particular concern—and the one to which I address this essay—is the academic or scholarly webtext. I draw attention to this genre because it is a place where I believe we can do more work to advance the study of literacy in the multimodal environment. The bulk of the work being done in multimodal literacy is conducted in the K-12 setting and is conducted with texts that are fairly informative. Much of the dialogue surrounding information literacy skills centers on the development of discernment among readers, the ability to determine the appropriateness of a webtext and the value of its provenance. See, for example, the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education presented by the Association of College and Research Libraries. 8 While the document clearly outlines a set of comprehensive information literacy standards, there’s little in the way of attention to the challenges posed by multimodal texts. Overall, discussions and studies of literacy and hypertext assume texts that are more traditionally realized and, even though hyperlinked, presented primarily in identifiable lexias.
¶ 14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 2 As we push our scholarship beyond the print book and journal, taking full advantage of the affordances of the new media to imagine and achieve new means of presenting the results of our reflection and work, we need to develop a parallel strand of theoretical and practical dialogue around how to teach students to read these texts—indexed in the same databases they will use to locate traditional print texts—so that they to can engage the wealth of scholarly material available to them. I offer this essay as the beginning of my own investigation of this topic.
¶ 15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 2 Scholarly texts provide a particular set of challenges for undergraduate readers. Karen Manarin details her experiences teaching and researching the strategies that undergraduate students use in reading texts. 9 She notes a disconnect between student perceptions of themselves as readers and faculty perceptions of the students’ ability to read in the manner that they are expected to. Manarin asked students in two first year critical writing and reading courses to maintain a log of the strategies they used in the non-fiction reading they were doing for the course. What she found was that students seemed to hew overwhelmingly to personal connection and imagery as the primary comprehension strategies, even when the material in the course was specifically selected for the difficulty of utilizing these approaches. She writes
¶ 16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 The course was designed so that the later reading contain fewer images and are harder to relate personal experience because I want students to experiment with other reading strategies; however, in the rhetorical analyses, especially the one on the final examination, many students returned to these strategies even though they are counterproductive for the assignment. Instead of a close reading exploring an author’s rhetorical choices to persuade the reader, many students declare the essay’s validity based on their own experience, another form of generalizing inference. 10
¶ 17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 When faced with challenges requiring new strategies, students tend to go with what they know, even when they’ve been equipped with new things to try. We need to challenge our students’ views of reading.
¶ 18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 Reading comprehension is complicated, and, like writing, should be considered in terms of both process and product. In a review essay, Paul van den Broek and Christine Espin present an Integrated Model of Reading Comprehension (IMREC) in an attempt to bring together what is known about comprehension to better instruct and assess students of reading. 11 The desired product of comprehension is a coherent mental representation of the text, “that is, the text elements (events, facts, and so on) are interconnected through semantic relations and form an integrated whole”. 12 Readers build these representations through a variety of activities including inference and connection to background knowledge; this is what Walter Kintsch (1998) terms the “reader’s situation model of the text” as opposed to the textbase itself and the surface model or “visual-perceptual representation of the text.” 13 Like the paper submitted for external review, the product of reading comprehension is a more clearly definable goal. The comprehension process is more complicated. Van den Broek and Espin offer three overarching comments about the process of “coherence-building.”
¶ 19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 2 First, coherence-building processes during reading reflect a balancing act between the reader’s attempt to create coherence on the one hand, and his or her limited attentional or working memory resources on the other hand. [. . .] Second, the comprehension processes that take place during reading are partly automatic and partly strategic. [. . .] Strategic processes must be learned and therefore are of primary interest for instruction and intervention. [. . .] Third, there is considerable agreement that reading comprehension is not a singular activity but an activity that consists of multiple component processes that are applied dynamically and in varying combinations throughout the process of reading a particular text. 14
¶ 20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 The second of these observations—that “strategic processes must be learned,” is of most value to this discussion; as van den Broek and Espin note in their discussion of automatic processes, the act of repeatedly engaging in explicitly taught strategies results in the creation of new automatic processes. The more practice we have reading a particular genre of text, the more adept we become at building coherent situation models of them. Attention to process—and drawing our students’ attention to the processes of developing their reading skills—should result in readers who better understand the demands of a world where literacy is now a deictic skill and who are well equipped to grow and shift with it.
¶ 21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 Returning to Serafini, we get another insight into the changes demanded of readers in this new environment. Reading is a social activity, with readers adopting particular roles in relation to the author and the text. As texts shift from mono- to multimodal forms, they increase in processing complexity, shifting readers from four traditionally understood social practices (or “resources”) in the first column of the table below to a new set of roles conceived by Serafini.
|Reader as||Reader-viewer as|
¶ 23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 These reconceived roles require a great deal more from readers of webtexts, readers for whom the entire enterprise of reading—particularly in a new knowledge area—is already fraught with obstacles to their coherence-building activity.
¶ 24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 Literacy studies focused on the acquisition of content knowledge in print and hypertext reading have repeatedly shown that the largest factor affecting a reader’s understanding and coherence-building is the amount of prior knowledge of the subject matter readers bring to bear. 16 In particular, novice readers (those with the least amount of prior knowledge in a particular content area) need more in the way of explicit, coherent scaffolding to help offset the cognitive load of coherence-building in a new area. To put it another way: the more explicit the roadmap for the reader, the easier it is for the reader to make it to the writer’s destination.
¶ 25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 Our traditional mode of presenting scholarly work—in the case of this essay, the peer-reviewed journal article—has provided a challenging, but stable, means for students to engage with scholarly work as they explore disciplinary content. To take one such mode, the American Psychological Association (APA) style research paper, as an example, we see roughly the following structure:
- ¶ 26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0
- Literature Review
- Statement of Research Question
¶ 27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 2 This familiar structure—often presented in the articles with clearly labeled sections—provides an excellent scaffold for novice and more advanced readers alike. For the novice reader, they signal the rhetorical shifts between sections of the writing, freeing them to focus on the content of each section without having to ascertain the relationship of the section to the coherence of the piece. For the advanced reader, they act as shortcuts to the information they seek.
¶ 28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 2 Moving the academic text from the static space of the journal or the print book to the dynamic web changes the game. As I shared my thinking and work on this project with colleagues, I often got blank stares when I stated that we needed to be more explicit in our teaching so as to prepare students to deal with scholarly webtexts. No doubt, my colleagues were visualizing this—
¶ 30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 2 the electronic version of a traditional journal article, and wondering why on earth I thought students needed special training to read those (I do, a point I’ll return to later). When I showed them what I meant, taking them to the KAIROS website so that they could see something like this—
¶ 32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 they got the picture. These are not your advisor’s journal articles, but they’re indexed in the database right alongside them. When we as teachers and scholars embrace the possibilities inherent in what Johndan Johnson-Eilola calls the “polymorphous perversity” of text in this new environment, what does that mean for our students? 17
¶ 33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 I argue that it leaves them in a new space that is, in essence, the old space with shifting architecture, the scholarly equivalent, perhaps, of the shifting staircases in Hogwarts.
¶ 35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 We have to teach them attentiveness not only to text as object to be looked “through” but also as object to be looked “at.” And so we return to Mo, my student with the webtext, and Richard Lanham’s Economics of Attention, wherein we learn the difference between looking “at” and looking “through” and are challenged to “be able to relate judgments of [style] to judgments of [substance], to put style and substance into relationships that are as complex as human reality”. 18 When reading a scholarly webtext, the style of the thing—the visual landscape, or, to bring our conversation back to Kintsch’s model, the surface model of the textbase—can be of as much importance in developing the reader’s situational model of the text as the textbase itself. Whereas we can more readily see the textbase and the surface model of the text as nearly indistinguishable in the traditional model of scholarly publishing, the webtext presents a less-stable and less readily discerned textbase.
¶ 36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 3 Take Johnson-Eilola’s “Polymorphous Perversity and Texts” for example. While the opening image is followed by several paragraphs of linearly-presented introductory text, the textbase is really found in the (reader’s) sum of its parts—the path that the reader takes through the thirty lexias linked through the boxes in the graphic at the top of the page. Clicking the hyperlinks in the introductory text will take the reader to certain of the thirty lexias—or not, with several of the links actually pulling the reader off-site, away from Johnson-Eilola’s text entirely, perhaps never to return. This is, perhaps, an intentional pushing of the reader into the sort of perversity that Johnson-Eilola explores in the webtext, but for the novice reader guided to this text via their university library’s electronic search (indexed in ERIC under subject headings like “Computer Uses in Education,” “Written Language,” and “Writing (Composition)”) the potential value of the text to their research and education may be utterly lost in the very perversity the author seeks to explore.
¶ 37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 2 I don’t mean to criticize Johnson-Eilola—or any of KAIROS’s contributors or, for that matter, any scholar seeking to explore all that the web has to offer for communicative expression. What I hope, instead, is that I’ve enkindled in you, dear reader, a bit of a sense of the urgency and magnitude of the literacy problem our students are facing and will continue to face as our tools for communication allow for the building of more sophisticated and multi-faceted representations of our scholarly understandings of the world. Even if I never teach a student to craft their own multimodal webtext, I feel obligated to equip them with a more explicit understanding of themselves as always-developing readers and a more thorough grounding in strategies for reading across modalities of textual presentation.
¶ 38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 The good news is that we already have the tools to do this. Jacqueline Urakami and Josef F. Krems, for example, found that providing novice readers with advanced organizers for texts where causal relationships may be missing (texts like Mo’s Kreayshawn tumblr, for example) created enough scaffolding to help them build more coherent representations of hypertexts. 19 Webtext authors frequently build such scaffolding into their texts, but readers may not always know to be on the lookout for them. In the screen below, we can see the potential scaffold available for Mo’s text.
¶ 40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 Another possible tool is the reading log, which Manarin found useful for monitoring the strategies her students were using as they worked through the increasingly complex reading assignments in her first year course; it’s easy to imagine the reading log maintained through any number of electronic spaces where students would be able to include screenshots of particularly challenging lexias. The following screen, like the one above, was taken with and marked up in Skitch, a freely accessible program for taking and annotating images.
¶ 42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 6 Perhaps one of the strongest tools in the toolbox, though, is one not necessarily meant for undergraduate eyes. Allison Warner’s webtext “Constructing a Tool for Assessing Scholarly Webtexts” presents a set of assessment criteria for web scholarship. The criteria incorporate expectations for print scholarship with regard to issues connected to coherence (like “content,” “arrangement,” and “documentation”) while extending those criteria to document design concerns (like “form/content relationship,” “link strategy,” and “multimedia incorporation”). 20 By sharing criteria of this type, we can draw student attention to the correspondences and differences between various modes of presenting scholarly work, thereby helping them to see both print and multimodal offerings as part of the larger enterprise of scholarly texts.
¶ 43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 0 I’ve only scratched the surface of what we can do as instructors to encourage our students to develop their reading skills to better engage all types of scholarly materials they may encounter. We do not know what tomorrow will bring or what tomorrow’s writers will create. What we can do to equip our students to meet the challenge, though, is to “talk about reading as a series of choices students can control.” 21
¶ 44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 About the author: Anita M. DeRouen is Assistant Professor of English and Director of Writing and Teaching at Millsaps College in Jackson, MS. She extends special thanks to Mo Wilson for the use of his project in this essay (and for just being an all-around delight to teach!). Anita tweets intermittently, occasionally curates, and sometimes even blogs.
- ¶ 46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0
- Richard Lanham, The Economics of Attention: Style and Substance in the Age of Information. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007). ↩
- Mo Wilson, “Kreayshawn: The attention trap,” April 2012, http://kreayshawntheattentiontrap.tumblr.com. Note: The list of rules for creating an attention trap in the left sidebar of the image/page are taken from Richard Lanham’s essay, “Economists of Attention,” in The Economics of Attention on pages 53-54. ↩
- Donald J. Leu, J. Gregory McVerry, W. Ian O’Bryne, Carita Kilii, Lisa Zawilinski, Heidi Everett-Cacopardo, Clint Kennedy and Elana Forzani, “The New Literacies of Online Reading Comprehension: Expanding the Literacy and Learning Curriculum,” Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 55, no. 1 (2011): 9. ↩
- John M. Slatin, “Reading Hypertext: Order and Coherence in a New Medium,” College English 52, no. 8 (1990): 881-82. ↩
- Frank Serafini, “Reading Multimodal Texts in the 21st Century,” Research in the Schools 19 no. 1 (2012): 27. ↩
- Mary McNabb, “Navigating the Maze of Hypertext,” Educational Leadership 63, no. 4 (2005): 76. ↩
- Donald J. Leu and Elena Forzani, “New Literacies in a Web 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, …∞ World,” Research in the Schools 19, no. 1 (2012): 78. ↩
- Association of College and Research Libraries, “Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education,” Association of College and Research Libraries, http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/informationliteracycompetency. ↩
- Karen Manarin, “Reading Value: Student Choice in Reading Strategies,” Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture 12, no. 2 (2012): 281-97. ↩
- Ibid., 288. ↩
- Paul van den Broek and Christine A. Espin, “Connecting Cognitive Theory and Assessment: Measuring Individual Differences in Reading Comprehension,” School Psychology Review 41, no. 3 (2012): 315-325. ↩
- Ibid., 316. ↩
- Walter Kintsch, Comprehension: A Paradigm for Cognition (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), quoted in van den Broek and Espin, 316. ↩
- van den Broek and Espin, 316-17. ↩
- Serafini, 27. ↩
- Franck Amadieu, Andre Tricot, and Claudette Marine, “Interaction Between Prior Knowledge and Concept-Map Structure on Hypertext Comprehension, Coherence of Reading Orders and Disorientation,” Interacting with Computers 22, no. 2 (2010): 88-97; Dennis S. Davis and Carin Neitzel, “Collaborative Sense-Making in Print and Digital Text Environments,” Reading and Writing 25 (2012): 831-856.; Mary McNabb, “Navigating the Maze of Hypertext,” Educational Leadership 63, no. 4 (2005): 76.; Danielle S. McNamara and Amy M. Shapiro, “Multimedia and Hypermedia Solutions for Promoting Metacognitive Engagement, Coherence, and Learning,” Journal of Educational Computing Research 33, no. 1 (2005): 1-29.; Thiemo Muller-Kalthoff and Jens Moller, “Browsing While Reading: Effects of Instructional Design and Learners’ Prior Knowledge,” ALT-J, Research in Learning Technology 14, no. 4 (2006): 183-98.; Andrew B. Pactman, “Developing Critical Thinking for the Internet,” Research & Teaching in Developmental Education 29, no. 1 (2012): 39-47.; Ladislao Salmeron and Victoria Garcia, “Children’s Reading of Printed Text and Hypertext with Navigation Overviews: The Role of Comprehension, Sustained Attention, and Visuo-Spatial Abilities,” Journal of Educational Computing Research 47, no. 1 (2012): 33-50.; Pradyumn Srivastava, Shelley Gray, Marilyn Nippold and Phyllis Schneider, “Computer-Based and Paper-Based Reading Comprehension in Adolescents with Typical Language Development and Langauge-Learning Disabilities,” Language, Speech & Hearing Services in Schools 43, no. 4 (2012): 424-437.; Min-chen Tseng, “Comparing EFL Learners’ Reading Comprehension Between Hypertext and Printed Text,” CALL-EJ Online 9, no. 2 (2008), http://callej.org/journal/9-2/tseng.html.; Jacqueline Waniek, “How Information Organisation Affects Users’ Representation of Hypertext Structure and Context,” Behaviour & Information Technology 31, no. 2 (2012): 143-54. (2012); and Jacqueline Waniek, Angela Brunstein, Anja Naumann, and Josef F. Krems, “Interaction Between Text Structure Represenation and Situation Model in Hypertext Reading,” Swiss Journal of Psychology 62, no. 2 (2003): 103-111. ↩
- Johndan Johnson-Eilola, “Polymorphous Perversity and Texts,” Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy 16, no. 3 (2012), http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/16.3/topoi/johnson-eilola/index.html. ↩
- Richard Lanham, The Economics of Attention: Style and Substance in the Age of Information (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 180. ↩
- Jacqueline Urakami and Josef F. Krems, “How Hypertext Reading Sequences Affect Understanding of Causal and Temporal Relations in Story Comprehension,” Instructional Science 40 (2012): 277-295. ↩
- Allison Warner, “Assessment Tool for Scholarly Webtexts.” Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy 12, no. 1 (2007), http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/12.1/topoi/warner/tool/webtext-assessment-tool.pdf. ↩
- Manarin, 293. ↩