Lunch with the DWC: Inventing Arguments in Online Spaces (Kevin Rutherford)

In my portion of the DWC lunch on inventing arguments in online spaces, I discussed a series of assignments I am having my ENG 111 students complete this semester. My ideas were partially inspired by Matthew S.S. Johnson’s 2008 article “Public Writing in Gaming Spaces,” wherein Johnson describes the sense of accomplishment his students felt in becoming agents of real change in the game world (and surrounding forum environments) of Massively Multiplayer Online Game World of Warcraft. Similarly, my assignments center on students
understanding a particular genre of YouTube videos and then implementing that understanding to make their own videos, taking part in a real online community with a real audience to consider and learn from.

During the rhetorical analysis portion of ENG 111, my students and I examined the “Let’s Play” genre of videos on YouTube. In Let’s Play videos, people play video games and record their screens while doing so, usually with a microphone on so that they can provide verbal running commentary on the experience of play. (Some people insert subtitles after-the-fact instead, but most record their voices.) For the rhetorical analysis assignment I had students choose an issue that interested them, a video game that they thought connected to that issue, and a Let’s Play of that game. Students then analyzed both the game and the Let’s Play videos in order to see what arguments were made about their issue of interest. By looking at a variety of Let’s Play videos for their games, students were beginning to understand the Let’s Play community and the typical arguments that were made about games in it.

Now, my students are creating their own Let’s Plays (and many, if not all, will be uploading these videos to YouTube). Now that students understand the general practices of an online community after observing it closely, they feel prepared to enter it.

Ultimately, what I’m doing in my class is an effort to make what use I can of James Gee’s concept of affinity spaces. Gee sees many online communities as places where people relate to each other through common interests, experts and novices share the same space, production is undertaken by anyone who wishes, and content is continually transformed by interaction with community members. Classrooms can lack these characteristics for a variety of reasons. Though not a true affinity space in Gee’s definition (because of its non-voluntary nature) my assignments aim to accomplish similar goals.

Obviously, not every instructor can have students play, screen record and comment on video games (or is interested in doing these things). However, the general ideas of observing a particular community, analyzing its practices, and attempting to become part of its conversation are, I believe, important skills for our students to not just experience but also become critically aware of. Starting small – with a topic-specific forum or other online community – can allow students to begin to learn and practice these skills with a more rhetorical mindset.

[inquiry 2 assignment]

[inquiry 3 assignment]

Further reading:
Johnson, Matthew S.S. “Public Writing in Gaming Spaces.” Computers and
Composition 25.3 (2008): 270-283.
Gee, James Paul. Situated Language and Learning: A Critique of Traditional
Schooling. New York: Routledge, 2004.
Gee, James Paul. Good Video Games and Good Learning: Collected Essays on Video
Games, Learning, and Literacy. New York: Peter Lang, 2007.
Gee, James Paul and Elisabeth R. Hayes. Women and Gaming: The Sims and 21st
Century Learning.

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