"Hearing what we cannot see" : contradictions and complications in a multimodal community-based writing project.


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The purpose of this dissertation is to share the results of a case study that analyzes the contradictions that emerge between stakeholders involved in a multimodal community-based writing project in which students partnered with local "community experts" to compose 1-2 minute videos about the General Education Development (GED) test. Since research on service learning tends to overlook the perspective of the community partners, this study investigates their perspectives alongside students' and project sponsors' perspectives in order to identify how each stakeholder evaluates "success" in digitally-delivered community-based writing projects. Questionnaires were collected and follow-up interviews were conducted with community partners, students, and the project sponsor. Final videos and reflections were also collected from the students. I apply Thomas Deans' adaptation of Activity Theory (AT) to analyze the goal-directed activity systems represented in this project. The community partners assessed the success of the project based on their assumptions about their roles in the project, which they variously interpreted as "client," "mentor," or "guide." The community partners who viewed their role as "mentor" or "guide" were primarily interested in a process of student growth or moral transformation; the community partner who saw her role as "client" emphasized the quality of the final product. The students primarily assessed the success of the project based on their goals related to technical development and their willingness to practice creativity, flexibility, and problem solving. The sponsors' perspectives shifted as other stakeholders' perspectives complicated our initial assessments. I argue that rhetorical listening allows us to identify the different cultural logics that frame these assessments, which allows us to hear what we cannot see. This research suggests that success in multimodal community-based writing projects is complex and multivalent. I conclude by providing recommendations for digital writing instructors who advocate mutually beneficial campus-community partnerships. These recommendations include articulating assumptions and clearly defining roles and values; designing ongoing methods of "seeing" the community; discussing the cultural logics of the digital writing classroom; inviting community partners to give feedback at regular intervals; incorporating listening as a rhetorical strategy; and evaluating the risk of publicly sharing the products based on what we hear.



Community-based writing. Service-learning. Multimodal composition. Teacher research. Case study. Social class.