Making Arguments: the Value of New Media Scholarship

Earlier this semester, I wrote a blog post that focused on the digital-visual connection in writing studies scholarship. I was interested in what Mary Hocks identifies in “Understanding Visual Rhetoric in Digital Writing Environments” (2003) about how all writing as being hybrid:

“Historical studies of writing technologies have demonstrated that all writing is hybrid—it is at once verbal, spatial, and visual” (Hocks, 631).

This concept is relevant to the warrant behind Cheryl Ball’s argument in “Show, not tell: The Value of New Media Scholarship” (2004). New media scholarship (that is, published multimedia webtexts that fully explore arguments through multiple modes), at least in 2004, was often coined as “experimental” and did not hold as much weight for tenure and promotion as traditional print-based articles. In a sense, the claim that all writing is hybrid is a valuable one for digital scholars making a case for tenure. Using solely alphabetic text, though accepted by cultures in academia, presents one mode, a monomode. For those who teach students to compose and create multimedia and multimodal texts, it’s somewhat contradictory to produce monomodal scholarship that doesn’t explore the rich rhetorical possibilities of multiple modes.

I’m certainly guilty of this contradiction as a teacher and someone interested in multimodal scholarship, but arguments like Ball’s remind me that all writing is situational and has a specific audience; in her article, she identifies the potential issue of presenting her argument using only text. Yet instead of this being a problem, she notes that the delivery of an alphabetic text article allowed her to reach more people and make a more impactful call for new media scholarship.

As I continue to work on my skills to produce new media scholarship, I’m interested in building on Jennifer Sheppard’s argument in “The Rhetorical Work of Multimedia Production Practices: It’s More Than Just Technical Skill” (2009). According to Sheppard:

“If we as teachers/scholars of communication are to play a central role in providing students with the rhetorical and technological capabilities needed to engage fully in academic, professional, and civic life, then we must help both students and colleagues within English studies and our larger institutions understand the role of multimedia production as more than a set of technical tasks” (Sheppard, 130).

Building on this claim, I’m interested in improving my technical skills in ways that allow me to produce multimedia projects that are inherently rhetorical. Those technical skills do matter, but what’s most important are those collaborations, conceptualizations, prototypes, conversations, interviews, and more that are integral to the production of a website for public audiences. Following the same thread of new media scholars making cases for tenure, highlighting that technical skill is just one peice of multimodal production processes is another important claim. Surely I won’t be in a position to make those claims for some time, but I often make similar claims when talking about my scholarly interests with people from other disciplines, nonacademics, and my family members.

While I don’t wish to make claims about how most people perceive academia, I think there’s a general narrative that academics slog over individually-authored alphabetic texts, without collaborating with other people, eventually adding to a “scholarly body of knowledge” that is inwardly focused on scholarship itself. What’s most exciting about new media scholarship is that it ousts all of such claims. It requires collaboration and conversation, it requires time, it requires a careful use of modes for appropriate audiences, often public (or publicly accessible), that present concrete outcomes for both academics and communities. It’s this potentiality of new media scholarship that keeps me moving forward.