The first several years I taught beginning composition, I took for granted that we had computer lab days. It seemed like a natural part of teaching composition. I assumed every university had this added to their courses. My first year, we even had to teach our students to design a website. There was so much backlash from the all but untrained GTA’s however, that this was removed by my second year. The last year I taught, there were even several GTA’s that were attempting to get out of their lab days. They were bartering for fewer days ‘stuck in the lab’. After completing our reading for this week’s Visual Rhetoric course, I’m guessing that Cynthia and Richard Selfe, Charles Hill, and J. Anthony Blair would all be pretty discouraged by my colleagues desire to ‘get out of’ lab days. In all three articles we read, the authors are arguing that the issues that the use of visuals in the argument arena pose are complex and multi-layered. While Selfe and Selfe are arguing about computer technology, most notably the use of the desktop interface, their argument can be tied into the psychological and rhetorical standpoints that Hill and Blair make in their respective chapters featured in the 2004 book Defining Visual Rhetorics. What is salient for me in these articles is the matter of the extent to which the visual influences how we teach argument in the composition classroom coupled with the reminder that we should not take for granted the impact of our use of both technology and the visual in this setting.
According to J. Anthony Blair, the rate at which we take in visuals on television in a 30 second period “would be impossible to express… verbally in 30 seconds” (51), and illustrates the alarming amount humans can process visually. While I have heard this idea before in Art History courses, this number, contextualized with Selfe and Selfe’s ideas about the interface as a social imperialist tool, shifted the way I think about the use of images in my classroom. Over the years, I have subjected my students to computer lab days, photos to analyze, slides to look at and videos to watch – all without thinking much about any kind of marginalization I might be doing to the people sitting in my classroom.
These realizations brought up a few questions I would like to pose to the members of this course:
– To what extent are the images we chose to use in a composition course, or in any other instructional arena, overlapping with the attitudes raised in Selfe and Selfe about technology in the classroom which place technology as “at some level and to some degree, seem[ing] to support racist, sexist, and colonial attitudes” (484)?
– Where desktop interfaces are concerned, would something as simple as changing icons to cartoons, or other shapes, help with Selfe and Selfe’s border issue? Do these issues still exist, 18 years later?
– Why is the concept of bricolage associate with women? I personally have never felt left out of the technosphere based on my gender. Can someone address this issue? Am I alone in this?
In the end, it is clear that all the articles present important topics that are still relevant today, despite several issues being out of date from all the pieces, though I am wondering whether Blair is perhaps overthinking the need to argue for visual persuasion as a means of persuasion. He poses a legitimate question: “what sorts of causal instruments will we allow to count as persuasion” (42), which I think might set the stage for this entire course.