Along with being the Technology Coordinator for the UMass Amherst Writing Program, guest blogger Shastri Akella teaches first-year writing. He has most recently received his MFA degree and is currently a PhD candidate in Comparative Literature.
“Use a multimedia source as one of your resources,” I told my students as I was describing to them my expectations for the “Adding to the Conversation” paper.
“So we can use a YouTube video?” asked a student, her interest clearly piqued.
“And a tweet too?” went another student.
To engage their curiosity, I had them discuss, in groups of three, possible multimedia sources that can be used to support their assertions. Together we had a laundry list of, astonishingly, sixteen different kind of multimedia resources. My students never fail to astonish me with their resourcefulness. Getting them engaged is what it begins with.
“Let’s switch roles,” I said. “You are the audience. Assume you see an article in the Daily Collegian that says your favorite band plagiarized all their tracks. And as evidence they cite a YouTube video which has some anonymous UMass students stating this opinion. Will you believe them?”
“Of course we would not,” they said.
“But what if you listened to a YouTube video which showed you album covers from which the tracks were plagiarized and gives you links where you can verify that their release date preceded the release date of your favorite band’s song?”
“Then we would have to believe the video,” they said, albeit reluctantly.
Sources may change form, I went on to explain, but the essential need, what we look for in a resource, does not change. We still need a resource to be credible in its support – or dispute – of a claim. We need our resources to be unbiased, to have no motivation other than to interact with the nature of an idea’s truth and arrive at a conclusion in a clear, logical fashion.
“So what is the point of using a web resource?” I asked my students. “Why look for a new form of a resource if the requirements are just the same? Remember how excited you all got when I asked you to use a multimedia resource? It is because the digital form is vital to our social interactions. It has become a critical part of public discourse, how information is circulated to a target audience. And you want to set your essay in dialogue with this digital space, not only because it interests you, but also because it is the space your audience draws their information from.”
If we do have our students use multimedia resources, given their interest in the medium then, along with asking them to verify the resource for credibility and bias, we may want to consider talking to them about how the resource we use is ultimately a function of audience: moving beyond the essential goal of wanting to convince our audience, we want them to believe that the topic which the resource supports is of interest to them because of the digital space they’re engaged with.