Note: This it the first in a series of blog posts chronicling the piloting of the new ENG 1020 Curriculum. You can find all entries in the series here.
One of the challenges of revising the 1020 curriculum for piloting this Fall, at least for this instructor, was the thought of giving up on assignments that I have been teaching for, in some cases, over half of a decade. Part of this is simple inertia—when you’ve been teaching a particular project in the classroom for such a long time it becomes so familiar, so natural to the way you normally run a course, that replacing it seems like a herculean effort. Part of this hesitancy might also come from sentimentality: I have had great experiences, and still have some great memories, about experiences with students around these projects in the past. However, the most important factor that makes such changes difficult is the concern that you might lose the effective or consistently successful elements of the old project. If it has worked so well in the past, then why abandon it?
However, things became much clearer to me when I began considering how some of the old chestnuts of previous courses might be re-imagined rather than abandoned—rethought in such a way that their strengths might be maintained even as they are changed to accommodate new learning objectives and the new emphases centering this curricular revision. A good example of this kind of revision strategy is one of our new versions of the introductory project in the course. Previously, as a way of introducing students to fundamentals of the class (concepts they are likely unfamiliar with) in reference to popular media (i.e., material they are familiar with and hopefully already interested in), I have taught an Advertising or Marketing analysis (in which students analyze the rhetorical elements of popular advertising campaigns) or Music Video analysis (a project that Derek Risse blogged about previously here). Though I was loathe to give up the accessibility of these assignments, and they served well in forwarding our current curriculum’s focus on argument and analysis, they don’t really gel with our curriculum revision’s emphasis on reflection as a practice in inventing, composing, and revising, or on genre and discourse community as key course concepts.
However, when I began thinking about revising the first assignment in primary reference to genre and discourse community, as opposed to how I might salvage my previous classroom projects, it immediately became clearer that there were many prime candidates for topics that would engage students’ immediate interest but that would also allow them the opportunity to demonstrate their acumen in analyzing and adapting to genres and discourse communities. I settled, eventually, on Internet memes as a topic. While these memes might not seem like the most obvious choice for investigation in a university classroom, they fit the criteria of being a genre quite nicely—indeed, the only way different members of a particularly meme “family” or typology are recognizable as such is because they share certain formal features that provide the identity of their group even as they are altered and created across various communities and platforms. They are also ripe for investigation in relation to discourse communities; while we might say there is a recognizable discourse community of those who create and enjoy memes, many memes are often created or adapted for more specific communities (such as the recent popularity of memes created for students at particular universities, in addition to the more familiar subgenre of memes for people in particular academic fields or holding particular jobs, etc.).
Another advantage of using memes as a focus for this assignment is that they are relatively easy to create using a variety of meme generation tools available for free online. Thus, in my assignment description for this project (available here), students are asked to both compose a genre analysis of a particularly meme type and create their own meme within that genre that demonstrates their awareness of its formal features. Doing so, hopefully, will also allow the integration of reflection into the piece itself (in addition to a short reflection students will include separate from the assignment) as they look back on how their analysis and their meme creation informed each other.
Will this new assignment live up to expectations and thus promise to spread virally throughout ENG 1020 courses in our new curriculum next year? Or will it fizzle out under the weight of its own presumed awesomeness? I’ll report back in October to let you know how this particular project revision fared in my Fall 1020 online course.
Jeff Pruchnic is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English specializing in New Media Rhetoric and Writing and currently serves as the Assistant Director of Composition–Technology. This Fall he is teaching the Pedagogical Practicum for new Graduate Teaching Assistants in the Department (ENG 6001) and an online iteration of ENG 1020. He also frequently teaches the ENG 3050 and ENG 5830 technical communication courses and the ENG 7065 “Writing Technologies” graduate seminar.