The Blogora: The Rhetoric Society of America


Kairos and Technology in the Teaching of Writing

Submitted by John W. Pell on August 2, 2011 - 2:34pm

First, my apologies from my “blog absence.” The last three and half weeks has been a blur of packing, stacking, and loading, as my family and I made the move across the country to begin our new life in Palo Alto (of course, stops will be made to visit grandparents). This is to say, collecting my thoughts into meaningful blog posts proved impossible while trying to hunt down the various parts associated with my children’s increasingly complex toys. So, while we are still in transition, I am at least stable enough to return to writing and expect to post weekly through the rest of the summer.

Today I want to continue my discussion on teaching the concept of kairos to undergraduate students, specifically focusing on how new software allows teachers of rhetoric to demonstrate how kairos functions during the reading and writing process.

A few years ago I was following a discussion on the WPA Listserv discussing how new software technologies provided alternative means for assessing and responding to student writing. One of the technologies mentioned was Jing ( screen-capturing software. In the simplest terms, Jing allows you to create a film of the action taking place on your computer screen, complete with voice over. Whatever you see on your computer screen, Jing records. The recording software also allows you to record your voice over the action on the screen. Ultimately the listserv discussion emphasized how programs like Jing provided writing instructors the means to create alternative forms of feedback and address the instructional needs of students that struggle with traditional written feedback.

Intrigued, I began to look into using Jing as a means of providing feedback to student writing during the middle stages of the composing process. I asked students in my English 101 course to turn in their drafts electronically and I then used Jing to create short (4-5 minutes) videos that provided students with my thoughts about their work and how they might continue drafting their essays.

The videos students received from me were quite simple. After opening a link to the video file, students would watch as I scrolled through their essay, highlighting areas of text and discussing how these different sections affected me as a reader. In the end, students appreciated this new form of feedback, and I enjoyed the conversational approach to commenting.

Initially, I saw this software as an alternative to hand-written comments. That is to say, the first videos I made were very similar to how I might comment on a student paper. I read through the text, stopping at sections to highlight problems or provide praise, and gave a few remarks at the end summarizing my reading experience and providing some suggestions for further development.

One afternoon, however, I began to see that this new software actually allowed me to discuss kairotic experience I had as a reader of my students’ texts. Rather than simply moving through the text in chronological order, the Jing software allowed me to show students how a writer’s arguments develops within reader’s mind organically (and often chaotically). As writers, we do our best to build an argument piece by piece, hopefully moving fluidly from one idea to the next, building toward a conclusion. As readers, however, we know that ideas, regardless of the author’s best intentions, don’t always develop that way. Sometimes, there is a word or phrase, a particular reference or example that radically recalibrates our thinking about the piece we are reading and alters our previous understandings. Yet, outside of drawing obnoxious arrows that span pages of prose, or writing “see above” in comment boxes, I have found it very difficult to show students how these moments of kairos occur.

Jing, and software like it, however, allowed me to highlight for students how my understanding of their argument was influenced by something more than chronology. That is, an effective rhetor needs to develop an awareness of how their rhetorical choices affect the audience’s understanding beyond the immediate. I continue to grow as a “filmmaker,” but have found that some of these new technologies allow us to return to classical concepts.

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