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What Is WAW 2.1?

posted: 9.7.11 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Downs pic for BitsDoug

A conference paper I’m writing has me pondering the future(s) of college composition and WAW’s role as literacies continue shifting technologically, digitally, and visually—so I thought I’d ask here.

First, I’m certain WAW version 2 will have more subwoofers, thus WAW “2.1.” (Non-gearheads, just wikipedia—we use that as a verb now—“5.1” to get the joke.)  Also, I’m tired of the X 2.0 meme—we need a better way to say “next version.”

Seriously, here’s an initial division. WAW 2.1 might add to existing WAW or clean-sheet it. Are we going to update WAW by “filling in” things we see missing?  Or will we build from the ground up, as if we were doing WAW for the first time, now instead of 10 years ago? The resulting answers aren’t identical.

I’ll play with a clean sheet here, a brand new sandbox. What do I get?

  • Born Rhetorical. A lot of WAW 1.x mapped rhetoric on after the fact—we didn’t mean for WAW to teach rhetoric, but we couldn’t teaching writing without it.  What happens if we purpose-build WAW to teach rhetoric? Probably, less attention to process and stronger attention to exigence (which gets you activity and community of practice).  A lot of WAW users might say, “I already do that.” Me too. But not as the core.
  • Born Digital. After all, our students are. What is WAW if you never thought to design it as anything but a completely on-screen experience?  I don’t mean electronic delivery. I mean, what does it look like if we write about writing only in and about screen-related modalities?  For many of our students, screen-based interaction is more immediate and “real” than any other kind. (Instant communication, social networking, gaming, online commerce, entertainment, search, navigation, relationships.) What if we recognized the standard paradigm of scholarship itself to be on-screen? Scholarship itself is now born digital and only later transferred to paper. E-books are the last battle here, and they’re nearing parity with paper. Next stop, ubiquity. We see scholarship becoming both more visual and more compact.  (Blog = Exhibit A.)  What does WAW look like when paper holds equal status with 8-tracks and floppy disks?
  • New Reading, New Projects, New Genres. When I started teaching WAW, I thought of Writing Studies as a discipline. Now I call it an interdiscipline—a space (um, a sandbox) for many disciplines to work shared questions. I’m looking farther than Rhet/Comp to understand the nature of writing, often not by scholars at all—rather, by users, producers, and other experts. I could build an entire course around the writings of Clive Thompson. Especially, I’m looking in psychology, anthropology, human-computer interaction, linguistics, software engineering, and new literacy studies. On the projects-and-genres front, I’m seeing really interesting scholarly potential in infographics and animation, and thinking we ought to be teaching those forms of writing. (Exigence, again: who can be reached, to what end, with such texts?) What does WAW look like when you begin and end with Wikipedia? It can be done.

So, folks, I’d love for you to come play in my sandbox here. (It’s like “Won’t you come in to my parlor?,” but with more toys.) What’s WAW 2.1? What would our “Reset” button do? And where would you put the subwoofer?

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Categories: Writing about Writing
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3 Responses to “What Is WAW 2.1?”

  1. Sarah Read, DePaul University Says:

    Doug, this is a thought provoking post. Where this seems to be going in part is to challenge any divisions we make between categorizing writing or literacy based on situation or discipline: college/composition, technical and scientific writing, professional writing, etc.–your comments seem to prioritize mode, modality and medium over situation. You may not have intended this, but the general direction that your comments chart seem to be moving away from the situated and the particular…not necessarily a bad thing, but we sure did work hard to get there in the first place. In other words, situated writing, such as in the workplace, still involves both digital and paper texts (just look at anyone’s desk–covered in paper still), as well as a good deal discursive activity that is oral. So, to prioritize a modality over a situation moves the course away from real literacy scenarios. Thoughts?

  2. Doug Downs, Montana State University Says:

    Sarah, *awesome* question. Important. Thank you! I would invite other readers to offer thoughts here as I try to extend it.

    I do take the point that to say “we need to teach infographics!” independent of a known rhetorical situation reads as a-rhetorical. To say “you’re an impaired writer if you don’t have enough visual literacy background to blend alphabetic and imagistic modes” absolutely presumes a ubiquity that, well, would need to actually be there to make it worthwhile.

    And “to actually be there” in relation to this principle: situated writing in pretty much every case takes the form of “I need an X to do Y,” where X is a document type (genre) and Y is the object(ive) in the activity array. So, in the workplace, for example, “I need an infographic to help the board understand our financial position vis-a-vis a given sales demographic.”

    I think one of the assumptions behind my thinking is that good writing courses must always provide the “real literacy scenarios” you’re wondering about in their assignments — and because courses can never be encyclopedic, must always be partial, we have to think carefully about what literacies, genres, and situations we prioritize. I’d like to say that my post makes an argument about how we’re going to need to consider setting those priorities, but that the validity of the argument depends on we teachers continuing to be conscientious about not assigning our students writing they will never see again in their lives.

    I think I’ll leave it there for now — to summarize, I guess what I’d be thinking myself (and thus wish to convey) is that prioritization of modality and situation are not a polar opposition, but rather mutually constitutive, so that prioritizing modality does not release an instructor from considering situation, but rather constrains situation in the same way that our currently invisible selection of dominant modality (alphabetic print) also does.

  3. John, Ohio University Says:


    I’ve been, marginally successfully, lobbying the composition committee at OU to implement WaW in FYC, and the concerns faculty members have raised seem pertinent to this blog post:

    We’ve wanted more:

    Multimodality/visual rhetoric/computers and composition
    Genre theory (ala Bawarshi, Devitt, Bazerman)

    Identity (not mentioned here): i.e. more confrontation with how writing is intimately tied, even co-constitutive with identity and issues of race, class, ethnicity, sexuality, etc. A more rhetorical approach to WaW (or perhaps WaWaR: Writing about Writing and Rhetoric) might be more conducive to this.

    I’ve also thought about starting with a whole unit on reading as invention rather than sprinkling reading in other units.

    Anyway, reading through the blog, saw the post, seemed like a good place to bring this up.



    John H. Whicker
    Assistant Director of Composition
    Ohio University