Disciplinary Boundaries and the Multimodal Classroom

Disciplinary Boundaries and the Multimodal Classroom:

Professional Resistance in English Departments

Three key themes:
1. The Multimodal Classroom: Digital Pedagogy (Michelle DiMeo)
2. Interdisciplinary Research and the Job Market (Chris Weedman)
3. Navigating the Disciplinary Minefield: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Composition (Kate Tanski)

1. The Multimodal Classroom
How do we articulate the benefits of a multimodal curriculum to those who are resistant to such change? “Extending the Conversation” offers a general overview of the benefits, and possible pitfalls, of using technology to enhance teaching and learning.

Topics for discussion:
– As students are increasingly taught in a multimodal classroom in their early education, and as new media continues to saturate our lives, do university professors have a responsibility to build technology into their teaching and new forms into the curriculum?
– Is teaching with technology one way of bridging the gap between academia and the workplace?
– What are some of the pros and cons of asking students to write in new forms (for example, asking students to write blog posts instead of essays)? Do you agree with Johnson-Eilola that these new forms can encourage superficial reading in students?

Janet Swenson et al, “Extending the Conversation: New Technologies, New Literacies, and English Education, English Education July 2006, 351-69    JSTOR Link to Article

2. Interdisciplinary Research and the Job Market

With the rise of interdisciplinarity in English programs over the last couple of decades, interdisciplinary scholars and teachers have innovated the field by eroding the hard boundaries between established disciplines (literature, law, science, etc.) in order to show how these areas of study connect with each other in fascinating ways. Yet, as the articles by Jerry A. Jacobs, Carra Leah Hood, and J. Scott Lee show, there are complex problems involving accreditation, financial cost, and interdepartmental battles that often impede interdisciplinary scholars from teaching the types of innovative courses that their research make them capable of doing.

Topics for discussion:
– Since most universities are in financial crisis, why should universities continue to stretch the boundaries of traditional disciplines and hire interdisciplinary scholars? What are the pros and cons? Since many of the Brittain Fellows do interdisciplinary work, we need to be able to justify to hiring committees why our innovative research and teaching is significant.
– Given that many job postings on the MLA Job Information List are still very much disciplinary bound, how should interdisciplinary scholars best position themselves for entering the job market? Should they put their interdisciplinary research into practice in their proposed course design? Should they make sure they are qualified to teach as many traditional courses as possible in order to illustrate that they are capable of doing both disciplinary and interdisciplinary work? What is the right balance, or is there a right balance?
– Do interdisciplinary scholars run the risk of specializing to such a degree that they are no longer firmly rooted in any particular discipline?

“Interdisciplinary Hype” (Jerry A. Jacobs)

“The Virtues of Interdisciplinarity” (Carra Leah Hood)

“Interdisciplinary Courses Are Endangered by Credentials Emphasis” (J. Scott Lee)

3.  Navigating the Disciplinary Minefield: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Composition

The composition course (alternatively called Freshman English or First-Year Writing) is a loaded term, just as calling oneself an instructor of composition is a loaded term fraught with historical and political connotations. One’s attitude towards the composition course can affect how other scholars see you not only in the discipline of Composition Studies but in Literary Studies and Rhetorical Studies as well. Chapter Two from Sharon Crowley’s Composition in the University is a useful Cliff’s Notes edition to the Literature vs. Composition battle in the 1990s. Steven Mailloux’s 2000 article from Rhetoric Society Quarterly similarly offers shorthand for a complex historical disciplinary situation.

Topics for Discussion:

Where do you stand? While there is obviously a broad spectrum of positions on the composition course and its relationship to the discipline(s), how would you characterize your position? Are you a literature person who teaches composition, a composition teacher, or something else entirely?

–  What are some strategies of negotiating the disciplinary minefield with colleagues at other universities?


Sharon Crowley’s Composition in the University Google Books link. <http://books.google.com/books?id=cO09M-bXkecC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>

Steven Mailloux’s “Disciplinary Identities: On the Rhetorical Paths between English and Communication Studies” from Rhetoric Society Quarterly, Spring 2000. JSTOR link <http://www.jstor.org/stable/3886158>


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Christopher Weedman

About Christopher Weedman

Christopher Weedman is a Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow and Assistant Director of the Communication Center. He received his Ph.D. in English at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale where his research focused on intersections between Film Studies and 20th-century British Literature and Drama. His dissertation examined the relationship between exile, collaboration, and social politics in the films of Joseph Losey and Harold Pinter. He has published articles on the films of Losey, Howard Hawks, Roman Polanski, and Jerzy Skolimowski in film journals such as "Quarterly Review of Film and Video" and "Senses of Cinema." He has taught courses in film studies, 20th-century British and American literature, and composition, including a multimodal composition course this semester on contemporary British film and literature critiquing Thatcherism and British culture of the 1980s.
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