WLN News Round-Up: February 29-March 13

Here’s some of what has been on the WLN news radar lately:

Who does academic writing serve? In this blog post, Jackson Wright Schultz discusses the importance of making academic writing accessible outside of academia, especially when writing about marginalized groups such as the transgender community. [Inside Higher Ed]

From Utah Statesman

From Utah Statesman

Art in the Writing Center. At Utah State University, the writing center exhibits of the artwork of a different student each month. This article explains how the idea was conceived and the types of artwork the writing center has showcased so far. [The Utah Statesman]

Strategies to feel less busy. For students and instructors overwhelmed with the day-to-day work of academia, this article offers concrete tips on reducing the perpetual feeling of being busy. My personal favorite is capping to-do lists at 5 items. [The Guardian]

 

 

Ethnographic Films: Supporting Visual Assignments

FestaEditor’s note: Dr. Elizabeth Festa is the Associate Director at the Center for Written, Oral, and Visual Communication at Rice University. I thoroughly enjoyed her presentation at IWCA 2015 and asked if she’d be willing to share more about the Center’s unique workshop.

Earlier this spring, our Center supported a graduate course in ethnographic research methods. The students were assigned to make short ethnographic digital films informed by a theory they had encountered in the course. The instructor wanted to introduce them to current film projects that embrace more experimental approaches to work in the discipline. I was intrigued by this opportunity to address visual argument beyond the familiar topics of slide design, poster design, and data presentation; ours is a relatively new center (we opened in 2012) and supporting visual communication is an important part of our mission.

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 12.47.38 PMI designed a 2 ½ hour workshop in which we discussed some recent examples of visual ethnographic work (or film/videos of anthropological interest). I participated in a 3 hour film screening 8 weeks after the initial workshop to offer feedback on the students’ films alongside the instructor and film scholars and filmmakers from the Visual and Dramatic Arts Department. I was fortunate to share our vision for the workshop through an Ignite session at IWCA 2015 and later, to benefit from a broader conversation about visual engagement in writing centers at the lively roundtable facilitated by Daniel Emery, Holly Bittner, and Rachel Wolff.

The workshop that we developed was inspired by a film by Stephanie Spray that the course instructor, Cymene Howe, had seen at the “Ethnographic Terminalia” series at the AAA conference. The collective’s mission is to “develop generative ethnographies that do not subordinate the sensorium to the expository and theoretical text or monograph.” Defining “terminus” as “the end, the boundary, and the border…a site of experience and encounter,” the series encourages audience engagement, interaction, and discovery.   Spray’s film, much like an interactive digital media installation produced for the series by anthropologist and artist Lina Dib, an instructor in Rice’s Program for Writing and Communication, appropriates the visual as a responsive medium through which viewers might explore the nature of human experience.

We began our workshop by contrasting two very short digital stories by anthropologists,  “Participant-Observation” by Wynne Maggi and “The Machine is Us/ing Us” by Michael Wesch to demonstrate the difference between projects that depend primarily on narrative telling rather than filmic showing to make a point and those in which image and sound convey content and argument.   In the course of the workshop, we limned some of the historical values and principles of ethnographic film and contemplated how more recent digital projects draw upon, eschew, and/or transform these values. We referenced a variety of samples, not all of them ethnographies, to illuminate a range of interests, audiences, and tactics including photojournalistic work such as that produced by Media Storm; experimental projects at MIT’s Docubase ; non-profit “client work”; and activist, participatory and applied visual projects.

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Writing Center Topographies: Art, Space, and Stature

Geoffrey Middlebrook

Geoffrey Middlebrook

Editor’s note: I met Dr. Geoffrey Middlebrook at IWCA this year and loved hearing about the redesign of his center. I asked him to share a bit about how they partnered with various departments around campus to create a student art gallery in their space!

We who work in or with writing centers know that one of the many enduring challenges is space, or in the words of Nathalie Singh-Corcoran and Amin Emika, “where a center should be located, what a center should look like, what a center should feel like.” Another and related challenge for writing centers is establishing prominence on campus, which can be cultivated through, among other things, intra-institutional relationships (the collection Before and After the Tutorial contains a broad discussion of this topic).

Opening Reception

Opening Reception

In October 2015 I examined the intersection of these spatial and statural concerns at the IWCA Annual Conference in Pittsburgh, with a presentation on a project at the University of Southern California (USC), where I am Director of the Writing Center. It was fortuitous that the IWCA call for proposals highlighted how writing centers might utilize visual arts, allow students to create and connect, and join in partnerships and campus-wide initiatives and activities, for the USC project aggregated all three.

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