As I shared in a previous post, I’ve spent this semester working with 84 incredible freshmen and 10 writing mentors, exploring digital culture and identities in our first-year writing course. We read blogs by Audrey Watters, watched films like “The Internet’s Own Boy,” we tracked and analyzed our digital selves, and were moved by the digital activism of people like Esra’a Al Shafei, Alicia Garza of #blacklivesmatter, and Jose Antonio Vargas of Define American. We used these resources, and other models of digital civic engagement, to inform our own research.
A few weeks ago, students turned their attention to interest-driven research, broadly related to digital culture. We offer below a glimpse into the products of this labor by sharing excerpts from three of our writers. In a subsequent post, we will share examples of our multimodal productions in order to demonstrate how students’ research moves from text driven compositions to compositions that heavily rely on image and sound. Like the authors and activists we admire, the students are combining their stories, their research, and their ways of composing with digital platforms in order to be seen and heard.
As background for our projects, the structure of the class invites students to start their research by creating a “curated resource,” an annotated bibliography that includes a narrative of their research process and their reasons for pursuing this particular area of interest. My hope is that our most nascent academic researchers will see how our research interests often emerge from our passions, our hobbies, our troubles, and our activism. The students wrote introductions to these annotated bibliographies, often telling the story that lead them to this research. They told stories of immigration, of their passion for gaming, of their anger about feeling misrepresented or underrepresented in our culture. Students then took this research and turned it into something we called the “explain everything paper.” Currently, students are revising these papers into multimodal forms. They will produce films, create websites, make art, write poetry and lyrics, and share these compositions at our final exam time. By returning again and again to the ideas via multiple modes — reading sources, writing summaries, crafting narratives, composing drafts, and eventually composing multimodal texts — students come to know their research deeply and are articulate about their composing and platform choices.
Below are excerpts from a few of our featured writers. Hoanna Ramirez, Ashley López, and Andrea Vickers’ papers speak to a range of issues related to access and identity: Hoanna through her research into technology access in developing countries, Ashley by exploring what it means to be Latinx, and Andrea by sharing a powerful look into being black in America.
Honanna wondered “who is left out of digital culture and access to information?” She found herself reading about developing countries and efforts to bring digital technologies to marginalized people, particularly women. Early in her paper, she walks readers through how she came to be interested in this issue, using the story of her mother as inspiration.
“Looking back to my childhood, I remember feeling frustration that my mom never had the opportunity to get an education. Her story read like many of the stories I read in my research. At a young age, she needed to give up school because there was not enough money to further her education. She worked with my grandma cleaning up a hotel near the city. With no clean water, electricity, and a job that barely made ends meet, her life was limited. Eventually my mom made the decision to leave home and come to Los Angeles with the belief that she would be able to take care of her family back at home. While there was so much to learn, she found that life in Los Angeles was extremely different. Her introduction to the internet was momentous. This tool gave her access to nearby job opportunities, find apartments for rent, learn a bit of English, and she was able to locate resources around the city. This easily accessible information is what changed my mom’s life and what I ultimately believe will change everyone’s life. The only problem is that not everyone has an equal opportunity to this tool.”
Ashley explored her Latinx identity and the way that identity is powerfully (mis)shaped by popular media:
“Being Latina is also being stuck in two worlds, which is difficult to balance. Many times young Latinas feel the need to meet certain beauty standards for their native culture and for their American lifestyle they currently live in. Being surrounded by different ethnicities is beautiful, but not so much when you see different ethnicities and races being valued, with the absence of your own.”
Finally, Andrea uses her paper to share her experiences as a young black woman:
“Everyday is a new game of chess where, as an African American, I will always be a pawn, weak and powerless. So no matter how many times we recite Martin Luther King’s words, nothing ever changes, and no matter how many times we listen to Frederick Knight, we will always be a target. And no matter how hard we try, they will never be able to understand that our families are dying because the police justice system refuses to acknowledge the fact that our lives matter too.”
You can find the full draft of Hoanna, Ashley, and Andrea’s papers, and other examples of student projects, on our course website. Thank you to the students in our class for their brave and generous act of sharing their ideas and their stories. I do not stay in teaching so I can teach students something; I stay in teaching because I learn something from these amazing young adults every day.
Banner image credit: Kim Jaxon