Screencasting as the new FYC?

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Sometimes I don't know whether to laugh or cry, but I can't help but feel a little bit smug about this. Will tipped me to an essay from a week ago by Jon Udell, whose "heavy metal umlaut" screencast, you'll recall, both appeared here and at the tail end of my CCCC presentation last month. The essay is called "The New Freshman Comp," and in it, among other things, he emphasizes the importance of writing for software developers. And it's not difficult to imagine many of my colleagues being willing to follow him this far. We are often outspoken in our claims about the importance of writing across all disciplines. But Jon's turn is equally important; he writes,

If you're a developer struggling to evangelize an idea, I'd start by reiterating that your coding instincts can also help you become a better writer. Until recently, that's where I'd have ended this essay too. But recent events have shown me that writing alone, powerful though it can be, won't necessarily suffice.

And here's where many of my colleagues will pull up short. Our emphasis on writing, and this despite the work of some really smart people, is really an emphasis on writing in the narrowest scriptural sense. I can't tell you how many times I've heard otherwise sensible people fall back on the excuse that creating a web page isn't really writing (unless we focus primarily on that Strunk-ated crap that passes for Winning Web Writing! Wow!™), that we don't have time to teach technology (as though writing weren't itself a technology), that technology is just one more burden added to their classrooms.

To be honest, though, from my perspective, the inertia with which we constantly fend off the idea of technology is far more burdensome. It's like that 100-lb. backpack that David Weinberger talks about in Small Pieces, only ours is packed with the ideas that the typeset page is the only medium for writing, that essay writing is the only real writing, and perhaps most importantly, that we're somehow in charge of writing, that if we just ignore media like screencasting, they'll leave us alone.

We're just scratching the surface of this medium. Its educational power is immediately obvious, and over time its persuasive power will come into focus too. The New York Times recently asked: "Is cinema studies the new MBA?" I'll go further and suggest that these methods ought to be part of the new freshman comp. Writing and editing will remain the foundation skills they always were, but we'll increasingly combine them with speech and video. The tools and techniques are new to many of us. But the underlying principles--consistency of tone, clarity of structure, economy of expression, iterative refinement--will be familiar to programmers and writers alike.

On the way to this conclusion, Jon makes a suggestion that I'd like to flip around:

Would I really suggest that techies will become fluid storytellers not only in the medium of the written essay, but also in the medium of the narrated screencast? Actually, yes, I would, and I'm starting to find people who want to take on the challenge.

Would I really suggest that first-year composition take up the challenge of meeting those techies halfway, and the challenge of questioning our assumptions about the scope of writing?

Hells yes.

Jon, I don't know if you'll swing by here or not, but if you do, you should understand that there are plenty of us already teaching FYC who are more than willing to take on these challenges. And it helps that we're not the only people who believe that what we do is important. What would help even more?

  • Good applications: inexpensive, cross-platform apps whose development includes our concerns, instead of presuming to dictate them to us. (see FlackBoard, e.g.)

  • Partnerships: we're pretty much horrible at making contacts and working with people outside of academia. Okay. I am. But writing programs are historically (and woefully) underfunded--I hold a full-time position and teach in a very affluent department, and I still struggle with resources. The vast majority of my colleagues are not so lucky. There are plenty of people who would if they could but can't so they don't.

  • Conversations: I'll be honest. As lucky as I am, I simply can't afford to attend the marquee events in the industry, nor do I imagine I'll be invited anytime soon. There are some places that are doing a nice job of making space for academics in their conversations (MS, e.g.), but my guess is that there are precious few even then who have ever taught a section of freshman comp. Our field is not populated with jet-set A-listers, who can afford to hit SXSW one week and ETech the next. If you want to have conversations with us (and I can guarantee that there are plenty of us who'd love to have conversations with you), you're gonna have to do some outreach, learn more about us, and most importantly, work with us.

Easy, right? Actually, it wouldn't be too tough--there are lots of ways I can imagine these conversations and partnerships taking place, and a lot of upside if they did.

All right. That's all for tonight.

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After reading Collin's entry on Screencasting and FYC, I decided to see whether I could line up a free screencasting app.  For kicks as much as for generative digression, asides from more demanding and rigorous projects occupying my time as the se... Read More

Collin's post, Screencasting as the new FYC?, has me thinking about all that is possible when teaching first year composition in a writing classroom. I'm also reading Engaging Ideas by John Bean Read More

Jon Udell's post on the new freshman comp has been making the academic rounds: Colin, Derek, and Will have all commented on it. I can only imagine the tremendous resistance to this idea in the field of composition, which, like Read More

After reading Collin's entry on Screencasting and FYC, I decided to see whether I could line up a free screencasting app.  For kicks as much as for generative digression, asides from more demanding and rigorous projects occupying my time as the se... Read More


I'm a big fan of screencasting. So far I've only convinced the sciences to use it for lecturing, but I'm hoping to use it myself in my writing course in the fall. Some faculty are accepting film but haven't used screencasting yet.

Here's the thing: while I mostly agree with you and Udell (I think), I teach at an institution where facilitating such mergers of computer technology and first year composition are nearly impossible logistically and, because of the students' lack of basic skills, maybe not such a good idea pedagogically.

In terms of the logistics: we just don't have the facilities here at EMU. We don't teach any first year composition in computer labs, and while I can reserve computer lab space, I can only do it ocassionally and it's kind of a pain in the ass. And, as far as I know, my students can't get access to things to make videos/movies/screencasting/etc.

And besides that, the students we have in first year writing classes at EMU have some pretty basic/developmental issues to deal with in their writing. I think that before these students learn to work with things like screencasting or flash presentations or what-have-you, students need to have a higher comfort level with "words in a row" literacy: writing complete sentences, understanding the concept of a paragraph, putting together some sort of coherent point, etc. I know this might not be particularly popular to say, but I am comforted in recalling the Computers and Writing conference last year in Hawaii when Nancy Kaplan and Stuart Moulthrop both said pretty much the same thing.

Having said all that, it would be kind of interesting to figure out a way to incorporate at least *some* of this stuff in my more advanced classes. And it is something that I could probably do on my own, sort of. I am going to be teaching an online class this fall, and I'm looking to learn more about some basic multimedia options to help facilitate the class. I'm thinking mostly in terms of podcasting (or really, just making mp3 files available for download), but I could see some of this screencasting stuff figuring into the mix.

Steve, I see your point. My current environment, while not flush with resources, has someone (me) to help with the integration process including one-on-one tutorials with students and faculty, and we have equipment. For the kind of student body we have, I think adding a multimedia element might even be important as a way of beginning to think about the way multimedia is constructed the same way an essay is. I think far too often students take the media they see at face value. The software needed for much of this stuff is very easy to use now.

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This page contains a single entry by cgbrooke published on April 28, 2005 11:51 PM.

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