Through the Looking Monitor: Alice in Wikiland
Alice in Wikiland
Alice is a typical first year student entering her introductory composition course. Though Alice is a fictionalization, she represents that body of students so familiar to many in composition. She is unsure of her new environment, wondering if she will meet new friends, wondering if her teacher will be sympathetic to her needs, believing that she already knows how to write and that this course is a waste of her time, but she will diligently apply herself to “earn” her “A” in this required course. Alice is in for a surprise, as are many who are new to the world of wikis, a Web 2.0 world, a multimodal world. Alice is fresh from her senior year honors English course where she had a professor that was “preparing her students for the rigors of college writing.” With a above an average verbal score on the SAT and a fifteen-page senior project under her belt, Alice is ready to forge ahead in her writing career, though not sure if writing is for her because Alice is a Biology major (at least for now).
Like many students in first-year composition (FYC) classrooms, audience in an essay means multiple things to a teacher, but rarely more than one or two things to a student. Audience to the student represents the teacher who reads and “grades” his or her papers and assignments with the brutality seemingly inherent in the “red” pen. The audience is immediate, yet authoritative, allusive, and still right in front of the student. If students can get outside of this immediate audience, they tend to swing all too readily to the far side of the pendulum and address the general “world” audience. Teachers have groaningly experienced this through the constant requests of students to “narrow your audience.” For some rare few, the audience may also have been other students from small workshop groups in high school, but these never have final say, or even hold much weight.
What is unique to this FYC course is that Alice's class must complete their assignments using a wiki. Though Alice's only experience with a wiki has been her use of Wikipedia on her senior project and her notions of a wiki are limited to Wikipedia's generic (genre) functions as an encyclopedia, her teacher is diligent to explain the multifaceted possibilities that are involved in using the course wiki. After a course period defining wikis and explaining the expected use of the course wiki, the class is off to meet their digital world with the fervor of youth. The teacher has instructed that all assignments be completed by posting drafts to each student’s wiki page (a page created specifically by the student). Each student is then responsible for reading and commenting upon the drafts of three other students. Before these papers begin, the first assignment has been created in order to challenge students’ notions of audience and author and what it means to compose in a digital space.
The first assignment is a joint technological autobiography of the students’ own technological literacies, thus bringing out the shared literacies of the class for later discussion (Selfe, 2004; Kitalong, et al., 2003). The format and properties of narrative and autobiographies are discussed in class. Students are placed in groups of five. Each group has a single wiki page on which to create their narrative. The page has been divided into seven sections. The first section is for a joint outline. The next five sections are for each student to write one piece (equal to a page in length) of the evolving story. The final section is for the rewrite and final draft. Each student is to contribute to the outline of the story, changing others' pieces or her own as needed in the wiki. Once an outline is agreed upon, students will each write one piece of the story based on their own ideas and chosen by the group. Finally, the students will come back together and rewrite the story into a more cohesive whole, changing, deleting, and revising as needed. This whole process will be completed over the span of two weeks. Now that the assignment is set, an explanation of the audiences Alice will encounter in her wiki assignments can begin.