Headshot of Dr. Jessica ClementsWLN’s editorial team is happy to announce that Dr. Jessica Clements’ WLN article, “The Role of New Media Expertise in Shaping Consultations,” is being included in the Best of Rhetoric and Composition Journals, 2020. A chapter on the same topic also appears in WLN’s first Digital Edited Collection: How we Teach Writing Tutors.We reached out to Jess last week to congratulate her and to ask her to share her insights on the critical role of new media literacy for ourselves and our students, especially in our current climate. Here, we celebrate this achievement for Dr. Clements and for the field of writing center studies. We encourage you to read her article and chapter as you think about what counts as writing, and by extension the tutoring of writing, in our 21st century digital and social-media-laden realities. 

Congratulations on your WLN article’s inclusion in the Best of Rhetoric and Composition Journals, 2020!  This is really exciting news! How have you been processing this big news and what do you see as the significance of this recognition–personally, professionally, and for the field? 

It’s surreal! I had to navigate a lot of challenges straight out of grad school. I was privileged to be offered a hybrid teaching and administrative appointment—on the other side of the country. I don’t come from a family of academics, and I had a one-year-old in tow (with another to arrive just a year later). The only answer for me was to integrate my research directly into my pedagogical work. This particular piece was a labor of love; it dominated what little time I had for scholarship for many years. It continues to pay dividends, however, by putting replicable, aggregable, and data-driven writing center research at the forefront of rhetoric and composition scholarly exchange. I also enjoy being able to say directly to my consultants, “Look, it isn’t just Dr. C.’s passion project to integrate more effective multimodal composition consultation into our writing center work; we’ve got the endorsement of the field!”

How would you describe the value of new media literacy and the expansion of writing center services/tutor training to include new media/multimodal projects, especially in the current socio-political moment we are inhabiting? 

New media literacy, digital literacy, technological literacy, information literacy . . .  they are all part of a larger network of critical reading and composing skills that carry more importance than ever (see Clements and Bracke “It Takes a Village: Assembling Meaningful Access to Information Literacy through Library-Writing Center Partnerships” in Innovations in Higher Education Teaching and Learning)

Multimodal projects have pushed static definitions of “writing” and “text.” As Doug Eyman, Editor of Kairos, notes in his WLN blog article, “writing centers do tend to resist incorporating these new forms.”  But, for Eyman, and many in writing studies, 

“writing” accounts less for specific sign-systems than their affordances and constraints. Writing is both practice and outcome (among other formulations), but for my purposes here I want to focus on the product – what constitutes that which is written (that is, “writing”) is akin to Latour’s “immutable mobile”; that is, it has to be set in a form that is distributable. In the process of its creation, it must be editable and revisable. So this text that you are reading, or a podcast, or a speech written in Braille, or a collage that mixes images, texts or other media: all are writing. And if that is the case, then it all belongs in the Writing Center.” 

How do you help expand and complicate students’ and faculty’s perception of the writing center’s mission?  And, how do you respond to someone who says “is this really our job as writing tutors?”, echoing Paula Gillespie’s  “Is This My Job?” ( ESL Writers: A Guide for Writing Center Tutors (2004): 117-26.)

As the pandemic has pushed our primarily residential and otherwise in-person campus online, I’ve spent a lot of time witnessing and processing the pushback from colleagues who are mourning the loss of their comfort zone: face-to-face classroom contexts that privilege assessment rendered through semester-culminating seminar papers. They don’t want to let go of the “gold standard” of “real-life” relationship building with students, the foundation of their pedagogical strategies adjudicated through face-to-face discussion. What I encourage my colleagues to consider is that online work—including that of teaching online and composing in new media spaces—always has been “real,” a notion that Jordan Frith, in Present Tense’s “Pushing Back on the Rhetoric of ‘Real’ Life” captures quite gracefully

Writing centers resist new forms because those who sponsor their primary clientele (the faculty who are sending their students to the writing center for assistance on a course writing assignment) resist new forms. When faculty begin to understand that their clinging to prescriptivist notions of correct grammar as effective written expression or adherence to the more traditional forms that they have mastered (scholarly journal articles) is an entrenchment of a normalized (not “normal”) or naturalized (not “natural”) form of writing, new media champions will start to make productive headway. What has perhaps been most frustrating for me to accept is that it’s a marathon, not a sprint, of pedagogical advocacy. Perhaps a silver lining of the pandemic will be forced productive attention to  not only the place of new media in contemporary composition pedagogy but also its affordances.

For folks who are interested in taking this up and expanding tutor training to include new media literacy, could you share a little bit about how you came up with and designed the one-credit practicum? What advice would you give writing center administrators as they consider this additional layer? 

Make allies of your fellow administrators, if you haven’t already. My Department Chair as well as the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences were integral to making room for the practicum in my own teaching schedule as well as in credits bearing enticing fruit for students’ (current and future writing center consultants’) four-year plans. As a professionalizing practicum (much like a teaching assistantship or internship), I am advocating to the Provost that the course be waivable in overload scenarios, so that I won’t continue to lose exceptional tutors who are often students already involved in a number of organizations and activities across campus. I keep the content of the course as practical as possible, making time for students to do small-group Task Force work such as outreach as well as a different but timely version of the Visual Rhetoric in Practice project each semester the practicum runs (this semester, consultants are using Adobe InDesign and/or Canva to compose infographics to help their fellow students navigate toward online writing course success, infographics we will distribute via our in-house social media accounts).  Assigning consultants to be discussion leaders on the writing center topics that matter most to them keeps them motivated and accountable in this ongoing professionalization opportunity.

Jess Clements is an associate professor of English and the Composition Commons director at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. She has served as style editor for Present Tense: A Journal of Rhetoric in Society since 2012 and will step into the role of co-managing editor in fall 2020. Her scholarship centers on ethos and the role of human and object-oriented actors in contemporary multimodal communication. She is currently collaborating on an interdisciplinary book evaluating the influence of social media networks in shaping binary-bound parenting decisions. She has published on writing center-library partnerships in information literacy education and on using game-studies ethnography to raise consultants’ intersectional awareness.

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