Tree growing over walkway.
27
Nov
2012

Editorial Pedagogy, pt. 2: Developing Authors

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Written by
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Century Tree at Texas A&M” by eschipul; CC BY-SA 2.0

In the previous installment to this series, I wrote about the theoretical foundations on which my professional philosophy, an editorial pedagogy, is built on the recursive and reciprocal relationships between my editorial praxis with Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy and my classroom praxis as a digital writing studies teacher. In this installment, I discuss how an editorial pedagogy plays out in writing classes and what that looks like in relation to the genre ecologies in which digital writing happens. 

A key feature of a teaching philosophy is that it has to be applicable to all of the classes you claim to (be able to) teach. And a professional philosophy has to apply to all the research and service work you do as well. When I first started talking about an editorial pedagogy, I mostly used it in reference to my writing-intensive classes and job-market workshops where students were writing a lot of job materials. But I realized that my syllabi draw on an editorial pedagogy in two different ways, depending on whether I’m teaching writing or publishing classes (the publishing classes I refer to in the third installment of this series aren’t writing for publication classes, but editorially focused classes). These sets of classes reach users on different ends of a communicative spectrum: authors want to write better, publishers want to produce better publications. When we’re talking about professional-level publications, authors need publishers and vice versa. And it’s this level of professionalization that I want for both sets of students, as seen in the introduction to my grading criteria for a recent writing class:

In this class, you are authors, and I will treat you the same as I treat the authors who submit to the journal I edit, Kairos. That means I expect you to learn about and follow the social and cultural conventions of professional academic behavior, which I will help you learn during the semester. (These behaviors aren’t specific to academia — this is just the context in which we will discuss them.) Because this class focuses a great deal on professional development, writing/authoring, and digital publishing, my grading schema reflects that professionalism. Assigning letter or number grades does not improve your learning, just as a journal editor telling an author that hir work is rejected — without any explanation as to why — won’t make hir a better writer. I have set up this class so you can achieve the learning outcomes by providing structured assignments that enhance your critical and creative thinking, and by offering a LOT of informal and formal feedback on your in-progress work.

Students are graded on 100% class participation, and are expected to complete every assignment on time. But because my participation criteria (thoughtfulness, timeliness, readiness, and attendance) aren’t necessarily commonplaces between teachers and students, I describe them in nine, detailed paragraphs in relation to a professionalized context for authors or editors. Whether the students are undergraduates or graduates, I help them analyze and learn what the professional contexts are in which they will work during (and often after) the semester.

With students in my undergraduate, general-education Multimodal Composition class, I focus on the developmental parts of authoring texts, helping students learn how to write webtexts for potential submission/publication to a scholarly multimedia journal. This genre, while specific and unusual, is akin to teaching students “academic writing” except in multiple media, modes, and technologies. Plus, webtexts are mixed genres, so this assignment is not a digital media rehash of the five-paragraph essay, but one in which students must complete multiple analyses in order to compose their webtexts. Students have produced webtexts that include all of the following criterial (or most emphasized) media: 5- to 10-minute videos, HTML/CSS websites with intensive graphics, 30-minute radio essays, and extended Prezis. By replicating the actual, editorial processes of scholarly journals in the classroom, students can revise and improve their texts based on helpful, developmental feedback from me (as editor) and their peers (as editorial board) through detailed assignment sequences, peer-review workshops, and multiple revision stages. After this in-class mentoring process, I expect authors to produce work that is ready to be submitted to a journal, from which they should aim to receive a “Revise and Resubmit” designation (e.g., typically the highest feedback received for most new submissions). As I say to students: “Revise and Resubmit is the new A.”

To prepare students for this work, I provide instructions for a semester-long assignment sequence that uses the genre sets of submitting to an academic publication:
– readings that prep students for understanding the disciplinary conversations in digital writing studies (as the primary area of most scholarly multimedia journals we discuss in class)
– in-class multimodal and technologically rich reading responses (some to use as part of their literature reviews)
– analyses of webtext genres, evaluation criteria, journal venues, and disciplinary values* which students use to build their own set of webtext evaluation criteria to use in class (see my 2012 Technical Communication Quarterly article for details on this process)
– technology reviews, to familiarize themselves with the possible range of open-source or ubiquitous software available for webtext construction so they can pick appropriate ones for their  webtexts without having to know every software on the planet
– pitch proposals, where each student presents a webtext concept to the class (students vote to keep four projects and choose one of those to work on collaboratively)
– group proposal, where the pitch concept is fleshed out and presented more formally, in writing
– the collaborative webtext project itself (including storyboards/scripts, rough cuts, and drafts)
– peer reviews, where students function as editorial board members of the journals to be submitted to (this requires them to re-analyze the range of journals from earlier in the semester, to embody the values of that particular journal in their responses—see my forthcoming article, “Adapting Editorial Peer Review for the Writing Classroom,” available upon request)
– peer-review annotation, where students have to provide meta-commentary on their own review letters, to show how they used the evaluation criteria and state why that criteria was important to use for this particular webtext (aids in helping students transfer their critical analysis abilities to other contexts)
– submittal email to the editor of their chosen journal (they do not actually submit their works unless they want to; I act as the editor of those journals in response to the peer reviews and these emails)
– learning outcomes reflection, where students create a new, individual text that documents how they learned one or two of the learning outcomes from the course goals through the semester (to transfer their knowledge of analyzing and producing genre sets from class into new writing situations)

It’s obvious from the list above why I require students to complete every assignment. They can’t progress in class without doing all previous assignments. And, in five years of teaching the course this way, I have yet to have a student not complete all the assignments in this course. (This isn’t to say that some don’t slack off. But it’s easy to see who is, and to try to correct that situation quickly and professionally with this pedagogy.) Moreover, I have received zero grade complaints since changing the grading to 100% class participation four years ago. Students always know where they stand in my course because they are getting in-class feedback on every assignment, nearly every week, either from me or their classmates whom I teach to provide excellent feedback. (And, because people always ask: I’ve become a tougher grader under this scale, because I expect more while also providing students with the means to achieve those expectations.)

An editorial pedagogy is reflective and recursive, combining the qualities of North American rhetorical genre-based writing instruction—analysis of textual production in its current environment; author mentoring and developmental feedback; room for risks, errors, and improvement in the composition process; real-life writing situations with assessment strategies specific to the genres in their contexts; and a flexibility to change methods of instruction to suit individual learning processes—with the specifics of an academic, multimodal genre (webtexts), that can help students produce transferrable writing skills to other, non-academic writing situations.

In revising this article for publication, the editors of Hybrid Pedagogy mentored me to address some typical and good questions that further address the implementation of this assignment sequence. (I hope in the comments, you’ll ask any others you may have.) I’m adding these revisions in as an interview, to further show how editorial work is scholarly, professional, and mentoring.

Hybrid Pedagogy: Do students choose the topics that relate to their own field of study?

Me: Yes. When I teach writing for publication (such as this Multimodal Composition class) for undergraduates, I ask them to brainstorm topic ideas related to their interests. They seem surprised and excited when they realize that digital writing studies scholars (who will be the primary audience of the journals they submit to) research games, virtual environments, social media sites, and other digital, technological issues that students encounter on a daily basis. Some topics in past classes have focused on Facebook activism, the use of social networking sites for pedagogical purposes, the connection between poetry and jazz during the Harlem Renaissance, and how gender identity functions in cross-gender avatars in World of Warcraft.

For both undergraduate and graduate students, I ask them to consider topics they may have already studied in other classes — simply because of the time factor. This course is only 15ish weeks, and it’s focused on rhetorically composing texts in multiple media, which is a process that usually takes 3-4 times longer than authoring a research-based piece for linear or print presentation. So if students can bring their own topics to class, they usually do better on the final projects. But, see also, the pitch proposal. Undergrad students always work collaboratively, also because of the time constraints of the class.

Hybrid Pedagogy: How much work does the class — or the pedagogy — have to account for learning the interest fields of the students and teaching directly to that?

Me: “None” is, perhaps, too simple an answer. But, for a writing teacher, anypedagogy relies on being able to expertly read a text that a student writes, potentially on any topic, and respond to it on the fly with revision suggestions. Working in multimedia doesn’t change that process, it enhances it across multiple modes of communication — linguistic AND visual, aural, spatial, gestural (a la The New London Group) — and technologies and media and genres.

For this particular class, the teacher (me) functions as a stand-in for an editor, so my role in reading and responding to students’ webtexts (and all the assignments students do prior to composing the webtext) hinges on my ability to respond directly to the form and content of the text as any of the journal editors would. This, of course, is a genre unique to my expertise, so when I give workshops on this pedagogical approach, I have to remind teachers that you can substitute ANY real-world genre for “webtext” and situate yourself in a feedback loop appropriate to that particular genre, venue, audience, etc.

After I began implementing this editorial pedagogy in 2008, I am pleased to say that more than 20 undergraduate and graduate students in my writing classes (and perhaps others I am not aware of) have been published in peer-reviewed venues including KairosTechnocultureThe New Work of Composing, and Grassroots Writing Research Journal. This is perhaps more detail than is necessary, but I believe it’s important to show how this undergraduate course is structured so readers can understand how explicit I make the academic writing process, taken from what scholars do everyday when submitting to journals. This is my editorial pedagogical approach, built from this particular class but extended to all of the other classes I teach. For instance, I’ve also learned with my graduate classes — such as Multimodal Theory and Pedagogy and Teaching Composition — that graduate students also need this explicit training in writing for publication. When I’ve assumed that grad students can intuit some of these steps in the process on their own (particularly early in the semester, when I assume they can do genre and venue analyses on their own), they perform less well than the undergraduates, so I’ve started including more explicit instructions and more weekly feedback in the graduate classes, as well as the job-mentoring workshops I run.

However, this success in my writing classes has led me to ask: What about the publishing studies classes I teach? I realized I needed to test this philosophy against the rest of my teaching and my research and service work. I’ll discuss this application in the third and final installment.

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