by Ashley Vernola ||
If I had a dollar for every PowerPoint, Prezi, or Google Slides I have ever made for a presentation in class, I’d imagine I’d have a good chunk o’ change. That being said, I can’t imagine I’d be the only one. As technology expands, so does the way we present information. We, as college students, seem to have a grasp on it all. With fingers that never leave an iPhone screen, nails that tap away at 140 character tweets, and eyes that are constantly glued to a SmartTV, binge-watching all five seasons of Breaking Bad or ten seasons of Friends, we are no stranger to the sorts of media that technology has to offer us. However, mention bringing any of these forms, or anything of outside of standard academic writing, into the writing center and watch as the room grows too warm for comfort, stifled by the impending fear of the dragon that lurks right outside of our writing center walls: new media.
I figured this out in my own Writing Center Pedagogy course when I explained the move from Writing Centers to Multiliteracy Centers in a presentation I gave on Jackie Grutsch McKinney’s article “New Media Matters: Tutoring in the Late Age of Print.” In this, I described a shift in content from the world of written academia to other compositions like posters, online blogs, PowerPoints, even documentaries, and podcasts, and the entire room dropped their swords in fear.
“I don’t think I’d be able to judge something like that,” said one of my classmates, “I don’t know enough about posters to like, analyze one.”
“It’s the idea of being an expert in everything that makes me nervous,” said another.
So, there it was. It was the phrase, “Jack of All Trades”, that proved to put up too much of a fight for even the strongest, and most heavy-wielding combatants, and they fled from this fire-breathing dragon, protesting the idea of having to handle not only academic writing of different fields and genres, but of various mediums on top of that.
And, I understand. The idea of having to juggle it all in our fifty minute sessions is a daunting task, especially for us, tutors-in-progress. The first session alone is a mountain to climb in its own right – one that we, here in Hofstra’s Writing Center Pedagogy course, still have a long way to get to – so adding the pressure of possibly being forced to analyze new media can seem totally overwhelming. We are just learning the ropes, so it’s understandable. But, others agree that the pressure can be a lot to deal with. In “Planning for Hypertexts in the Writing Center… or Not,” Pemberton fears integrating new media, stating that, “if we diversify too widely and spread ourselves too thinly in an attempt to encompass too many different literacies, we may not be able to address any set of literate practices particularly well,” (21). In a way, he’s on to something. In any situation, if we find that we are being spread too thin, no job is done as well as it could have been given it were the sole focus. It was upon reading and realizing this that I discovered my own flaw in presenting this information to my classmates, the fire-breathing behemoth: “Jack of All Trades.”
The phrase raised red flags, and for good reason. Implementing new media is important; as writing evolves, we as tutors should as well. That being said, implementing new media into our writing centers does not mean we have to be able to juggle it all. Just like we don’t have to be specialists in science to help a student with a lab report, we don’t have to be majors in graphic design or obsessed with art and aesthetics to understand whether, compositionally, a poster is getting its point across. We may not realize it, but most of us have acquired the skills necessary to judge a poster in this way by seeing posters in everyday life, maybe up in the hallways at school, at our local train stations, or on billboards peeking out from the sides of highways. We might not be able to analyze the quality, whether the pictures are well-lit or taken from good angles, but we can determine whether the poster is legible, whether the colors clash or if reads from left to right. We can determine whether the first word catches the eye, and whether the poster – text, pictures and all – embodies the message it is trying to send. Likewise, we don’t have to be experts in computer science to help guide a student on whether their online blog reads well, both aesthetically (by now, we know a flawed webpage when we see one), and in terms of content. We narrow our scope in thinking that we, as Writing Center tutors, are limited to just written words on a page. Our knowledge spans farther than that.
So, here we are, standing outside of a fiery moat, a locked gate, guarded by this dragon. What we have to realize is that we are not experts in everything, and we can’t be. Just like we are not all experts in pieces of creative writing or genres of academic wring that we are less familiar with (for some, the humanities; for others, the sciences), we do not have to be experts in order to figure out how to tutor new media. We simply have to be brave, cunning, and realize that the dragon isn’t as large as it seems. When we realize that we can approach new media just as we would approach anything else, the dragon seems to shrink down to the size of a little lizard. Harmless. We work with writing, and we have all the skills necessary to work with writing. When we look at essays, poetry, PowerPoints, posters, or blog posts, we have to tackle each work for what it is: just writing. It is then that we can truly defeat this beast (maybe even with a little help from our fellow warriors), and come back to our humble writing centers, swords ablaze, victorious.
Grutsch McKinney, Jackie. “New Media Matters: Tutoring in the Late Age of Print”. The Oxford Guide for Writing Tutors. Edited by Lauren Fitzgerald, Melissa Ianetta. Oxford University Press, 2016. Pp/ 365-379.
Pemberton, Michael. “Planning for Hypertexts in the Writing Center…or Not.: The Writing Center Journal 24.1 (2003): 9-24.
Ashley Vernola is a rising-Junior at Hofstra University pursuing a double major in Television with a concentration in writing and producing, and English. Currently, she is in-training to become a tutor at Hofstra’s Writing Center. When she is not training, she is a staff writer, Assistant Editor, and the incoming Editor-in-Chief of Hofstra’s Nonsense Humor Magazine.