weblogs as witness–MLA panel post

As I mentioned in a previous post, my MLA session went well, albeit rushed. Thankfully I only had 10 slides in my PowerPoint and I knew I could speak extemporaneously on my topic, “Blogs in the Composition Classroom: Spaces for Students to Witness, Engage, and Reflect,” but here is a fuller version of my talk just in case you were curious.

I was the fourth speaker on my panel, entitled “Weblogs as Witness,” a program arranged by the Division on Autobiography, Biography, and Life Writing. The first 3 speakers were as follows:

1. Chandra L. Wells, “’The Vagina Posse’: Witnessing Infertility and Claiming Sisterhood in Women’s Blogs”
2. Lena Karlsson, “Consuming Serial Autobiography: The Shame and Pleasure in Witnessing Slices of Lives”
3. Mary Godwin, Composing Subjectivity: Age, Voice, Audience, and the republic of Blogosphere”

Central themes in their presentations were affirmation for the blogger [particularly those of infertile women who were writing about their bodies as a way to recovery], interactivity, a diversity of blog genres, notions of sameness, identification authenticity and sincerity [particularly for those Chinese American women bloggers], trust, producing a consistent self over time, performance of self, citizen participant, and blogs as uncompleted projects with the notion of time, age, and expertise being different on the blogosphere.

After listening to my fellow panelists and seeing the minutes tick away, I knew I’d have to edit some portions of my talk so I decided to use some of their keywords—expertise and performance—as transitions into my discussion.

I’d began with a short history of my work with blogs, beginning with scholarly research that looked at the innovative use of blogs during the 2004 Presidential campaign, particularly Howard Dean’s Blog for America. Next I discussed how the First Year Composition program at USF incorporated blogs into the ENC 1101 and 1102 syllabus and how I used them in my composition courses, both face-to-face and online. Most recently though, my current research has turned to the historical rhetorical tradition, the rhetoric of truth, and how classical rhetorical concepts of kairos and ethos, pathos, and logos, can be used to examine bloggers’ responses to Hurricane Katrina. With that said, I began my presentation with a clip of Geraldo Rivera and Shepherd Smith from FOX News taken during day 5 or 6 of Hurricane Katrina, as a way to remind the audience that when the television media was “freaking out,” the Internet, specifically bloggers like The Interdictor, were reporting the facts and often countering what the television journalists were sensationalizing/reporting.

Saving my bulleted lists, quotations and statistics for another time [and my dissertation! ;)] let me summarize the gist of my presentation by saying that I believe the main reason why it’s important to at least teach composition students about blogs, if not ask them to maintain one themselves is that blogs are becoming places to get necessary information and more reliable eyewitness accounts, almost instantly, even during times of tragedy. The power of the medium is remarkable and while we’re just beginning to realize it, we should use the blog to teach our students about audience, about what types of writing attracts readers, and that there are responsibilities and opportunities when it comes to public writing.

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