Conversations about Conversations: Approaches to a Post-Text World
Conversations about Conversations: Approaches to a Post-Text World avatar

I found the readings (from the Warnock chapters to some of the bibliography texts I read, like a few articles on “Welcome to the Post Text World”) and videos fascinating this week because they broached what might be the most fundamental issue I have in most f2f classes (and suggested to me how that issue may echo in an online teaching setting): how do we get students to interact meaningfully and critically with the concept of text in a world predicated on mediating predominantly unmeaningful and uncritical interactions? (And, by extension, can we even define meaningful/unmeaningful and critical/uncritical as useful binary oppositions anymore?).

While Warnock was a little humdrum, as usual, in the chapters, I did really appreciate two aspects of these chapters:

1) That Chapter 8, especially, gave very practical advice through examples of how Warnock structures his discussion boards. I have had relative success with discussion boards in my f2f classes this semester, mostly because I unwittingly followed some of his advice, like having very specific word count criteria, and so seeing an even more structured way of approaching both formal and informal discussion board posts is really helpful.

2) That Warnock, though still attached to traditional ideas of text in some ways, did have a variety of useful sound bites here related to how online teaching can redistribute text: “think about the accessibility of the texts you choose” (59); “more equitable participation” (70); that writing online broadens definitions of audience (70); etc.

I especially liked the focus on “exploratory writing”: “[Discussion boards] allow them to practice, make mistakes, and thus develop. The message board environment represents an elegant combination of theory and practice, as it creates an ideal place to allow such exploratory or discovery writing to happen” (85). This is what process-based writing is meant to do, but (I find) more often than not doesn’t do, because students try to be perfect as fast as possible so minimal editing, they think, is required. The connection of this exploration, too, to class community is something I want to quickly adapt, via Warnock’s strategy of having students quote their class colleagues in their papers (88): this seems like a good, quick way to teach the redistribution of authority in online spaces.

Both this strategy of students quoting other students and having them engage with each other in discussion boards frequently connects to the main problem I am having in my ENGL100 this semester: “Students rarely talk to each other” (Warnock 76). We seem to be in both a post-text world and a post-conversation world. I’m on the fence about whether both of those are necessarily bad things, but they are definitely important to take into account and seem to be often deflating f2f classes. (Another problem I think that arises within such a situation is how we even market f2f classes, that are often so content-based, when content seems to need less emphasis, since if students really wanted to know something, they could find it. They are aware of this, so me pointing out information in class can generally just meet the wall of “If I wanted to know, I would have looked it up).

My guiding philosophy, then, has for a long time been connected to rethinking literacy in a post-text world. A lot is said about how much students use social media and other Internet-based applications, but I increasingly find that their literacy about interacting with culture in a multimodal world is relatively low, related perhaps to the suggestion in “Welcome to the Post Text World” that

“there’s the more basic question of how pictures and sounds alter how we think. An information system dominated by pictures and sounds prizes emotion over rationality. It’s a world where slogans and memes have more sticking power than arguments. (Remind you of anyone?) And will someone please think of the children: Do you know how much power YouTube has over your kids? Are you afraid to find out?”

As a concluding thought here, I wonder if our focus should be less on a post-text world (because of how much that still centralizes “text” as an ideal against which we are not working) and instead think about a discourse or even post-discourse world, where concepts of power and authority are more important to integrate than what exactly is said or how it is said (how do we even approach rhetoric in a world where the term seems to not really mean anything to anybody anymore? Not just “millennials” [who, I hope everyone knows, aren’t actually the majority of our students anymore], but every age bracket).

In a way, Warnock is pointing us in that direction, by centralizing conversation and “student texts” rather than the types of texts we are used to in composition classrooms—but how can we go further? How do we turn those conversations into interrogations of conversations, into conversations about conversations rather than into conversations about comprehending material that is ephemeral and decentralized now anyways?