Towards a 21st Century Multimedia Curriculum…

copyThe first college class that I taught was in 1998.  It seems so far, far away.  I had just left teaching middle school and high school for 5-6 years.  These days I keep remembering the ordeals—both in time and money— that I had to endure to show video or images in my classes, which I did quite often.  If I had some images I wanted to show, I would make color-copies and do them in multiples to pass around the room. Thank goodness for Kinkos, open 24 hours, where you could often find me at 4am in the morning copying in a last-minute pinch if I came up with some new lesson plan during the weekday rather than on the weekend.  My paychecks seemed to just evaporate buying books and rendering those color copies.  I always used full-color photographs and artwork because I was intent on making sure that my black and Latin@ students saw images of themselves that could sustain who they were and were meant to be.  If the classroom didn’t provide that, then we would be at the mercy of Hollywood and cable television, not the kind of fate I had in mind.

tvcartShowing documentaries and films was another ordeal and yet another place where my money evaporated. I had to be rather creative to get Blockbuster (do they even still exist?) to order what I wanted and then copy stuff at home for my own personal library.  I had a set of friends who would send me videos too, it was like a private youtube network.  On campus, I would have to reserve a VCR/TV at least a week in advance which came on a huge rolling cart with the television and VCR padlocked with the kind of thick, metal chains you use to lock down a motorcycle (in New York City, that is).   On more than a few occasions, I would have to wheel that thing across campus.  The wheels were never great and the sidewalks were never smoothly paved so you could be sure that I  was rolling that thing all up on the grass and in the flowerbeds. Then I would have to wait on an empty elevator upwards of 15 minutes to get to my classroom.  If you didn’t arrive at least one hour before classes, you were in BIG trouble because you had some serious work to do to get your class prepped (and I learned the hard way to CHECK the equipment to make sure it actually works before you leave the equipment room or you would have an even BIGGER mess and even more dead flowers on your hands).  If you had multiple classes back-to-back in different buildings, you would need to stagger the classroom viewing because you had to request the chained-TV/VCR-wagon in each different location. Time between classes didn’t permit you to drop off one wagon and pick up another wagon. If it rained or snowed, it was a WRAP!  Just be prepared to start the process all over again because no TV/VCR wagons could be taken outside then. It was, to put it mildly, an EXTRA HOT MESS!  You can see that with this kind of preparation and extra work, it was really difficult to become or nurture a teaching force who would fully incorporate multimedia work in their classrooms and teaching.  The only thing that was worthwhile were the jokes the guys in “tech” would make when they saw what happened to the grass and flowerbeds when I was done for the day!  Like I said, a hot mess!

radio_raheem-radioOn a reg’lar ole day, I just looked like Radio Raheem.  Playing music and incorporating lyrics was just so much easier; that is, if you had your own boom box.  Otherwise, you would be stuck requesting some too-heavy CD/tape player one week in advance with no kinda sound or bass at all (which, to me, was as much of a hot mess as rollin all up in the flowerbeds). So yeah, I just carried a boom box to class with me all of the time.  I got all manner of jokes from students (nicknamed “the professor with the radio” or, just, “Professor Raheem”) but it seemed to make them register for my classes all the more so I took it all in stride.

I am as committed to multimedia curriculum today as I was back then.  There’s not that much of a change in my disposition though many educators like to imagine that we are somehow more multimedia now than ever before.  It’s a really anti-historical argument, digital empire in full effect in its privilege/domination to imagine itself as brand-spanking-new. Am I more visual now than Lois Mailou Jones in the Harlem Renaissance?  Or black female quilt makers?  A stupid suggestion, if you ask me.

Yes, there are certainly differences. When I usedta put images on my  typical 15-to-20-page syllabi, I had to cut and paste in the scissor-and-glue style.  Glue sticks vs. them bottles of Elmer’s messy glue (or rubber cement) were the greatest technology to me when I was teaching back then.  Boy did them glue sticks save time, even if the glue did dry up too fast!  Granted, I am being somewhat facetious here in calling glue sticks new technology, but in my everyday life as a teacher, that’s exactly how them glue sticks were experienced.  As for now, where I once used blackboard to house the online hyperlinks and materials of a semester, I now use a website.  My students who have been dropped from the class can still tap in even when their university IDs do not work, my former students can tap in, and I can embed videos and music in new ways to create different kinds of visual and auditory texts for curricular content. It’s as convenient, fast, and streamlined as them glue sticks and makes my curricular goals easier.  No more equipment requests a week in advance and now, each day, a student directs a multimedia rhetorical analysis, something I simply could not have planned given the scarcity of equipment (there is a screen and PC in each classroom and all students receive a laptop).

Jacqueline Jones Royster

Jacqueline Jones Royster

Like before, I get to maneuver around all kinds of interesting quirks and new plannings. I don’t have page limits or the designs of the page to limit the content and presentation of the curriculum anymore.  I don’t have annoying digital pages on my university system as an appendix to the course with all of those annoying university logos and brandings.  Everything is all in one place now and I have more control over design (albeit, not full control).  I can link out and include photos of the authors who we are reading in the hopes that students feel more connected to them; the authors become metaphoric members of the writing community (the authors who we read sometimes contact me/us so the community is real).  It became important to me this semester, for instance, that students SEE Jacqueline Jones Royster and Shirley Wilson Logan as they are reading their work; these are not scholars from up on high but unilateral black female meaning-makers in their lives.

Shirley Wilson Logan

Shirley Wilson Logan

I haven’t included more audiovisual segments into the course (that has been there from previous semesters), but I have included more visuals and hyperlinks.  I suspect that I will learn a lot more about this curriculum and about teaching now that I have moved to a different platform.  I won’t lie here: I don’t miss what I had to do in them days of old though, sadly, I am no longer called Professor Raheem (many of my students don’t even know who Radio Raheem was and/or what he symbolizes).  Yet and still, my students do have new nicknames for me based on their newest cultural apparatus. I will confess that there are days when I wouldn’t mind running over the campus fauna a little bit.  I may still get my chance.

If My Syllabus Had a Soundtrack…

segment-of-urban-graffiti-wall-showing-letter-sOne of my fondest memories of junior high school was passing notes in the hallways at the change of classes.  We signed our notes with one big letter “S” instead of our government names. The “S” reflected the following label we gave to ourselves: Super… Sweet… Soul… Sonic… Sister.  And we knew who the other was by the design of the “S.”  Now, of course, we jacked some of that language from Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force, a force which we fully claimed as our own. I laugh when I think back on that and how we tried to get some kind of sound into those letters we wrote, usually by including, at least, some lyrics.  Though no one would have thought so, those notes that we wrote to one another were more sophisticated and interesting in their centering of multimedia work than most of what I see in classrooms today.  The idea that classroom spaces could and should include both visual and aural artifacts still escapes most of us.

Fall 2012 was the first time I decided to really situate my teaching in a digital ecology, hence this website.  I have never considered a university’s corporate technology-package a digital ecology of anything except capitalism so I wanted to think about what an alternative might be.  I taught a graduate class so there was still a good deal of print texts but we mixed in multimedia texts into the weekly seminars.  This semester, however, I am teaching a class called African American Women’s Rhetoric and I plan to fully explode what is available on the internet because the texts of this course are very multimodal.  What this means is that I am right back where I started in  fall semester 2012 with these same, central questions:

I feel more confident that I can create a visually-rich learning space for students.  Most of what I have in my head visually, I do not have the skills to get onto the page here though— so “confidence” here is really an overstatement. Yet and still, at least I do have something in my head.  I do not have the confidence of creating an aurally rich site though. It is simply not my strength in the sense that I am not a musician, music theorist, or sound technician.  Of course, I play music, in every class, in every semester that I have taught, but that is too basic for what I mean here.

FrontWhen I asked this question about aural learning and attempted to have this as a public discussion at my university last fall, I distinctly remember a few of the white faculty laughing (and later making jokes for what kind of song I could use on my website, as if they might ever know enough about black music to even step into my office with a suggestion).   Clearly, I do not consider myself, my scholarship, or my questions about digital spaces for youth of color an issue of humor or comedy.  These faculty members seemed to think it was a funny thing to interrogate the meanings of sound in digital spaces as irrelevant or esoteric to the concerns of teaching, technology at our university, and to a multimedia age (yes, this is an absurd response to sound, as in… M.E.D.I.A…. A.G.E… the irony has not been lost on me).  I highlight the fact that these faculty were white, most of whom are compositionists, because I hold their sentiment in stark contrast to what I see as a clear-cut fact: every BLACK revolution, rebellion, resistance movement has been sounded. I mean, after all, Afrika Bambaataa chose to create a soul sonic force.  So what might it mean, look like, sound like to teach a class about African American women’s rhetoric and include the music and the sound of black women’s voices in song, music, or speech in deeply contextual ways?  What might it mean to teach a class, with the large numbers of black female students I always have, who probably have never HEARD black women in a college curriculum because white faculty think that’s a funny idea, even in the multimedia age?  I am clear what side of the revolution these white folk are on and I am clear that I need to get me and my students on the other side.

This clarity that I have here, however, does not mean that I know how to do what I have in mind or how to even think things through differently.  So I am reflecting today about what we were doing as Super, Sweet, Soul, Sonic Sisters. We didn’t just play songs for each other— we took the music and the concept to craft an identity.  That’s what I am thinking about now.  How can this class create an identity with sound— a soul sonic identity?  How can this class embody its own sonic rhetoric as a way to investigate the sonic rhetoric of black women? Students have often told me that they create a playlist with the music from this class so how can I be more deliberate about my syllabus having its own soundtrack?  Needless to say, I have some work to do… and no part of it will be a laughing matter.

“The Cypher is Forever” (Fall Semester Ends…)

Da_Brat-stunning_thumb_585x795This fall semester is now officially over: the last individual meetings are happening now; the final projects are due today; and Jack just stopped by with his Finals-Week-Full-Beard in Full Effect!   (You know the semester is over when your students talk about going back home to sleep and shave.)

Like I have said before in this forum, this is my first time teaching the class, African American Literacies and Education.  Together, with the use of Jigsaw Reading assignments and literature circles (see course introduction and syllabus), we have discussed more than a 100 texts related to histories and polemics of race, black cultures, people of African descent, and literacy.  When I walk out into the library, I see laptops and stacks of those texts everywhere and students so focused, they don’t notice me walk past.  Yes, the end is here!

For lack of a better way to say it, the students in this class were always “good sports.” Whatever pedagogical concoction I had going for the week, they smiled and tried it out.  My favorite experiment of the semester was the chart-making we did during the week that we read and discussed Adam Banks’s book, Digital Griots.  Writing on the walls via charts and colorful markers tends to always make its way somehow into my classrooms.  On this day, I wanted us to really unpack what Banks was defining and theorizing as the intersection of digital/griotic traditions, African American rhetoric, and multimedia composing in the 21st century.   Equally important, I wanted an initial, full and equal discussion representing every single person/voice in the room.   Instead of having oral conversations, we had visual/charted conversations to jumpstart the discussions of the evening.  What I liked most was the verbal creativity students spit on the walls and the shower of words, images, and symbols we had created in relation to and with African American rhetoric, right there in the classroom.

In three different areas of the classrooms, I taped (very large) charts to the walls.  Each corner had a different discursive function, a different sentence for each student in the class to finish on the chart itself, and each student was expected to rotate the room and add their sentence “tag” somewhere in each corner.  Now my students might find me overly sentimental here when I say their writing/tags were HOTTT, so maybe their verbal gangsterism can speak for itself.  The bullets below are a sampling of how it went down collectively with my sentence starters (in yellow) and their collective finish-closers (in bulleted italics):

The African American Deejay is central as a cultural figure/icon and metaphor because…

  • s/he is a constructivist, archivist, and figure who provides access to people who were never supposed to receive the message in the first place!
  • s/he blends cuts for listening and feeling to give us history, technology, purpose, commitment AND tools of persuasion.
  • she molds space, takes it, interprets it and brings all that into the future for her people.
  • she re-sparks the interest in and for her people.
  • s(he) brings a different lifestyle to the world, representing those that live it, keeping it current and liquid, while bonding it to its people.
  • the digital griot moves past just deejaying and makes it a form of pedagogy that links Black language to the people as a new technology.
  • they make the co-existence of “the contradictory, overlapping, open, closed, and fluctuating systems of exchange” into art.
  • she creates direction and guidance for new thinking and social unity.
  • they rock the party and set the mood.
  • they are a living symbol of what African American literacies do.
  • they reactivate black participation.
  • it’s in the mix that the story gets told… and the sequence determines how the crowd moves to it.
  • he/she studies the people’s passions, reconfigures their perspectives and their experiences and motivates them to mobilize/move.

Putting this concept of a digital griot, into words, basically taking a book and reducing it into a sentence or a 1-hour discussion was not so easy so I was hoping this collective showers of words pasted to the walls in the room would add the necessary dimensionality.  Here is how that looked (my sentence starter is in yellow and students’ collective finish-closers are in bulleted italics).

Digital Griots are…

  • the spaces and spacemakers that have a humanistic, individualistic, communal approach to knowledge, knowing, and writing.
  • activists with a digital groove.
  • the manipulators of technology where the keeping of history is maintained for positive sociocultural recognition, change, and advancement.
  • ethically responsible, constantly searching, provocative seers.
  • modern-day perpetuators of oral tradition, storytelling, and time-binding.
  • interactive archivists.
  • my uninhibited space-makers who let us exist without judgment in real and protected ways.
  • liberatory Lil’ Jon.
  • the new school transmitters of new Black narratives.
  • the modern-day storytellers who bring “back in the day” into the right now.

And of course, there was my favorite corner: the re-mix of the SAT analogy! Yes, we can re-mix that too!  (My sentence starter is in yellow and students’ collective finish-closers are in bulleted italics).

The African American Deejay/Digital Griot is to the multimedia age what _________ is to ___________:

  • collard greens are to cornbread: always integrated and soul/body-sustaining.
  • parents are to children: conception and birth.
  • grandparents are to parents are to children: past, present, AND future.
  • head chef/big mama is to the kitchen.
  • red bottoms are to stilettos.
  • new kicks are to my favorite dress.
  • Jazz is to America.
  • voice is to words.
  • the pastor is to the church community.
  • Marvin Gaye is to Taleb Kweli.
  • Nikki Giovanni is to Jill Scott.
  • line break is to poetry.

In many ways, this was the kind of intellectual and political energy that students were pushing themselves to write and think into all semester as I read their response papers each week.   This sampling of my students’ writings on the classroom walls encapsulates the semester quite well for me.

I am thinking now about conversations that I had with two students, Cassandra and Ancy, in my office this week, namely that African American Literacies, Black Language, right living, just schooling, and racial equality are not just the subject of study: it’s how we must remember; it’s how we must remember to live and act and fight.

I opened the semester talking in my syllabus how I once missed the mark (i.e., my artwork/essay showcasing da Brat) with my high school students to fully examine and center African American Literacies as a practice and lived theory.  As to whether or not I hit it right this time, well, I will need more time and space to reflect on THAT.  All I know right now is this semester’s focus on African American literacies and education came with an important message about what that work means: Lateef’s reminder in class a few weeks back that… the cypher is forever.

So to: Ancy, Cassandra, Dan, Dani, Daniel, Fedaling, Jack, Jeanette, Jenn, Lateef, Laura, Nancy, Nick, Princess, Regina, Rory, Sammantha, Stephanie, and Torrie… much love and gratitude to you all for sharing a classroom space with me this semester!

“I Know You Got Soul”

My students and I have not seen one another in quite some time now: all classes were canceled for a while in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy; I was in Oakland for a few days presenting at a conference; in between that, we had something of a blizzard (Snow Storm, Athena); students on the Manhattan campus had to pack up all their belongings in 2 hours, in the dark, to be squirreled and packed off to dorms across Queens; some of my students are undoubtedly still cleaning homes and Sandy debris.  In the midst of all of that, school goes on: topics for final project topics have been set; we have mandates to make up missed time that will cut into the Winter break; we have been trying to still do our research all along.   Some are also teaching so this means they are attending departmental meetings or even doing the assessment/research projects that I have facilitated in my own program.  We have a few more weeks left in the semester to grind out like this.  It seems safe to say, if my levels of energy are any indication, that we are ALL drained and depleted.  But we are here.  Same place, same time.  And we WILL focus back in on what we really came here to do, despite all that other institutional stuff that gets in the way.

I take full responsibility for not designing a better sequence of discussions and events that could have linked us better in the time that we were away from one another.  How do we crank the energy all the way back up?  How do we capture what we already did, looked at, wrote, and discussed?  How do we step boldly into the rest of the semester and the work we still need to do?

I have hit a pedagogical challenge beyond the limits of my own imagination because I don’t have any clear, quick answers to these questions other than to apologize for the time away …and then catapult us right back into the semester. I’ll say/do that apology like this though:

It’s been a long time, I shouldn’t have left you
Without a strong rhyme to step to
Think of how many weak shows you slept through…

and then, brought to you live (forward to 2 minutes and 30 seconds) …

In short, let’s get back to the work at hand and get it poppin!



This week we are explicitly reading about black masculinities and literacies and/or black girlhood, womanism, and literate lives.  As a way to represent all of that, I want to look closely at Nikkey Finny’s “Foreword” for Black Girlhood Celebration: Toward a Hip Hop Feminist Pedagogy by Ruth Nicole Brown.  Here are the (some) of the lines that moved me:

I have been asked at least one hundred times to travel and talk to young girls about the path of my own life. I have been honored to do so.  But I have never been asked to travel and listen to any young girls talk about how they see the world or how they think the world sees them.  Always while there, in the middle of whatever I have come to say, even if I look up and reach out in the hopes of lifting up a two-way conversation into the air, most of the girls still look lost.  What could I possibly want to hear from them? Everything!

All understanding is not always available to the tongue.  I am a woman deeply connected to my body… This understanding of the body came to me through my poetic sensibilities.  I have and keep a fierce responsibility to my body as well as to my mind.  I hold on to this responsibility by way of words, language, and silence…

Black girls know the answers to a wide universe of things but nobody is asking them any questions…

What does it mean to have a sun-drenched intimate cathedral of space created for the questions Black girls want to ask?… This is the Black girl praise house… [This is] the tradition of the old Camp Meeting revival, where the longed for spirit makes the journey to be fed and IS fed… [This is] the voice of Ida B. Wells saying, ‘I wish I could put my arms around my people and fly away,’ but instead firing up her anti-lyncing campaign…

Nikky Finney offers us these lenses here into black women’s literate lives as a way to see and hear the weight of what we are dealing with this week.  I’ll close here with her 2011 Acceptance Speech of the National Book Award in poetry where she gives us a bridge all the way back to how we started the class: in the slave quarter culture.