The Reflection Assignment
Debra Journet
In Summer 2007, I taught a doctoral seminar in Digital Media and Composition. This class was unusual for several reasons. First, it was an intensive class—meeting three hours a day, everyday, for three weeks—and the concentrated schedule meant students would not have the amount of time for reading, writing and learning that is available in the normal once-a-week, 15 weeks-a-semester. Second, this was a seminar devoted to topics and processes with which I as an instructor felt relatively unfamiliar. As I explain in a recent article (Journet), I have come fairly late in my career to composing with digital media and consequently have adopted what I call a pedagogy of “rough edges”: a highly collaborative classroom, in which teacher and students are, in very definite ways, co-learners.

Given these challenges, I decided to make “reflection” a major part of the course. I knew students would not have time during a very busy three-week period to do the kind of polished scholarly writing that's usually a goal of my seminars. I was also aware that many of the students in the class would have much more experience with digital media than I did, though others would be relative novices. I thus wanted to encourage critical thinking about the issues of the course, as well as use the wide-range of expertise students would bring to the seminar in ways that were productive for all of them. Accordingly, I asked students to compose daily “reflections,” either on the theory and research we were reading or the composing activities in which we were engaged. The following paragraph, which comes from the syllabus, was the reflection assignment:

One major course objective is to reflect on how we teach and learn to compose with digital media. To pursue this objective, I will ask you to bring to class each day a reflective “text” (Kress), There will be a prompt each day (see the daily schedule), which you can use as a starting point. However, you're free to range widely (i.e., don't feel too bound by this prompt) and to concentrate on what is important to you as you think through the issues of the class. These reflections can (should) be informal. They can take any form: written, audio, video, still images. They can be rough and sketchy, and do not need to be highly edited. Indeed, I encourage you to try things out and experiment. A page or less of written text or a couple of minutes of video or audio is fine. You can also do collaborative reflections (e.g., recording each other). Reflections can focus on a response to the readings, to your own progress, to what you have observed about the class, etc. The only requirement is that you produce something each day. I will start each class period by asking a couple of people to share their reflections, so you should plan to bring your reflection to class each day in a format that can be viewed or heard . Your collected reflections, saved on a CD in a format I can play, will be due at the end of the course.

Each class session began with invitations for students to share reflections. We thus spent the first 30 minutes or so viewing videos or listening to audio or occasionally hearing read-aloud text. And while not everyone shared their reflection every time, all students regularly offered something. At the end of the term, students handed in their collection of reflections, which I then read, watched, or listened to.

When I asked students to compose reflections, my hope was that these compositions, like reflections or response papers in any class, would allow us to consider in more critical ways the issues raised in the assigned readings. More directly, though, I hoped the reflections would provide an opportunity to examine the processes of teaching and learning with digital media. I wanted to offer those students who were already proficient with the technology and who would be helping less experienced students an opportunity to evaluate their own processes of teaching others to use digital media. Concomitantly, I realized some students were novices with digital media, and I hoped the reflections would help them understand their own—and their students'—actions as learners.

I also encouraged students to construct these reflections in multiple modes for several reasons. Most immediately, I thought that using different media would help us gain expertise and would encourage experimentation with the technology we were working with. I also hoped, though, that composing and reflecting in different modalities would enhance our understanding of the potential affordances each mode offered. Participants in the seminar seemed to welcome these opportunities: though it was not required, all of the students did all or almost all of their reflections in audio or video modes.

The reflections I collected at the end of the class functioned in a variety of ways. Some students used reflections primarily as an opportunity for technological experimentation. Others framed the reflections more as journals or records of their own processes of reading or composing. For most students, the reflections seemed to call attention in a direct way to acts of learning; reflections, that is, shifted the emphasis away from an exclusive focus on the product (the multimodal projects that they worked on throughout the seminar) and towards the process (the actions of composing in sound and images).

Reflections, partly because they were shared, also foregrounded the collaborative nature of the class; expertise, in the words of one, became “resituated.” As we watched and listened, we witnessed snafus and anxieties (“I couldn't figure out how to download video.” “I hate my voice.”) But we also became aware of growing confidence. For many, reflections became a site of play or of performance: a space in which, in the words of another, we were able to “bridge the gap between process and aesthetic.”

One of our most constant themes in the seminar focused around the criteria we, as teachers, should use to evaluate multimodal projects, especially in our first-year composition classes. Some participants voiced real hesitancy about the kind of intellectual and rhetorical work students would do in multimodal compositions, or pointed to projects that “looked good but said nothing.” Inherent in these discussions were significant questions about the objectives of a composition class. Our seminar, not surprisingly, offered no definitive answers, and we are still struggling to understand such issues as what genres we should teach and how we should assess them. But for many of us, constructing and sharing multimodal reflections offered a new way to think about our objectives as teachers, writers, and composers.

Works Cited and Credits
The Reflection Assignment
Reflecting Through
Audio Reflection and the Materiality of Silence
Reflection Redux
In Medias Response