The Digital Media and Composition Institute at The Ohio State University, founded by Cynthia L. Selfe and Scott L. DeWitt in 2006, is a two-week summer institute co-hosted by OSU’s English Department and Digital Media Project. During the institute, Selfe (a Humanities Distinguished Professor in OSU’s Department of English), DeWitt (Director of OSU’s Digital Media Project), and their team challenge participants to “explore a range of contemporary digital literacy practices” (“DMAC”) and apply those literacies through assignments ranging from scholarly projects to syllabi construction, website design, documentary shorts, audio essays, and more. An integral goal of DMAC is to foster opportunities for participants to discuss “issues of access, equity, agency, and literacy” (“DMAC”) through a theory-to-practice approach. Likewise, the institute prides itself in supporting participants as they consider, craft, and implement “innovative rhetorically-based approaches to composing” for purposes of teaching and/or scholarship “at their home institutions” (“DMAC”). In other words, DMAC is professional development purposefully grounded in both theory and in practice.
Figure 1. DMAC
As DMAC alumnae and as editors of this special issue, we are well aware of the far-reaching impact of DMAC and its predecessor, CWIC, not only on the field of composition studies as a whole but also, in particular, in the framing of professional development models which further multimodal composition efforts. We, personally, have looked to DMAC in shaping our own, localized workshops for training in multimodal composition pedagogies and production as have others (see, too, McGrath and Guiglelmo, this issue).
In February 2013, we had the opportunity to travel to The Ohio State University campus to visit Selfe and DeWitt for an interview. They spent some time recounting the history of DMAC, reflecting on its mission and impact, and openly demonstrating the collaborative spirit which drives the institute. Chris (Denecker) asked the questions, while Christine (Tulley) filmed the interview. (Links to the actual video interview are provided at the end of the transcript.) What follows is the transcript from that discussion.
February 2013 Interview with Cindy Selfe and Scott DeWitt
Chris: Ok, so just the first question is how did DMAC get started?
Scott: (laughs) Here’s my recollection … So … you got here in 2005, right?
Scott: And so Cindy came to Ohio State in 2005, and she had been doing CWIC—Computers in Writing Intensive Classrooms? (is that it?)—up in Michigan Tech for twenty some years … like forever.
Cindy: (nods head)
Scott: And when she arrived here I specifically remember her saying: “It’s going to be really nice not to do something like that right off the bat. I am really looking forward to not doing it.” And then around December of her first year—she arrived here in September—she said, “You know what? We are going to do it, and we’re going to do it this spring.” And off we went. And it was purely a voluntary effort because, you know, as CWIC had become so organized and such a machine at Mich Tech, Cindy came, but the machine did not come, and the funding did not come, and there was nothing here, and so that first year was really Cindy recalling what worked, what didn’t work, trying to get us off the ground, but we had no money, we had no funds to start. And we didn’t know who was going to come.
Cindy: Right, or if anybody was going to come.
Scott: It was completely unknown, so we pulled on every single graduate student we could find in this department to volunteer a little bit of time, a lot of time and effort putting documents together. And that first year was built completely on goodwill and faith that something was going to happen.
Cindy: That’s really true. That’s true, and I think the reason it worked was because people believed it would serve other people, other teachers. I mean, if you believe that that’s the case with the course of instruction or an institute or workshop you can find lots of people who are going to help. If they don’t believe that, if you know, if it’s clear that that’s not going to be the case, you can have as much money in the world and the blessed thing won’t work. But this worked because there are a lot of people with goodwill and because they believed it would actually serve teachers.
Scott: We also had a really supportive chair at the time.
Scott: Well, we do now, but at the time when we were doing this from the start we had this chair, who…
Cindy: Valerie Lee
Scott: Valerie Lee, and she was very supportive of what we were doing. Now she was also a chair, and part of the role of the chair is to ask, “Well, what does this bring the department?” And she could see this. She thought if we could get twenty people from around the country to come to Ohio State for this institute and then go to their home institutions and talk about what a great experience they had, that only feeds into the strength of this program. So, she had that, certainly.
Cindy: She had that understanding. If the chair has that understanding, then they will do everything they can to support. The other piece of that as I remember it … there is a philosophical piece to these efforts, because you have to want to support professional development. But there’s also a very pragmatic piece of it. I had come from Michigan Tech to Ohio State. Ohio State is a huge institution, and I didn’t have a clue where to turn to get these things done. And one day Kay Halasek called up, and she said, “Wouldn’t you like to do DMAC here? Let me take you over. We’ll get on the bus, and we’ll go over to Continuing Education, and we will sit down and we’ll do it.” And she came over with me. Literally. We walked to the bus stop, we got on, we went over there, we sat down, and that made all the difference because if she hadn’t had the insider knowledge about the institution—you can get a lot done when you know who to talk to and where to press the buttons, and if you don’t know that, you can also be very lost. So, Kay was also a great force. She had just done similar work for the State of Ohio in setting up a summer institute here.
Chris: So, what is the mission of DMAC? The mission? The goal?
Scott and Cindy: (laugh)
Cindy: I’m sure we do have a mission. What’s the mission to you?
Scott: To me … I’m sure it’s multi-faceted, so I don’t even want to pretend that I can summarize this in one statement. So let’s try to break it down: I would say the mission is to provide a space where instructors can learn about and produce multimodal writing when their home institutions are not able to provide the resources necessary to take that step. The resources that we provide are human resources, technological resources, a kind of a resource of “separation.” You get to leave home for a little while and come here and really just kind of shut some things down. You can’t shut everything down, but you can get to shut some things down. It’s like coming to camp. But I think that the mission for me is to … it might be to … to alleviate some isolation. I think that so many people who come here are feeling a little isolated. And they really want to take the step, and they just can’t do it from where they are. And so DMAC in a lot of ways provides them that opportunity to take that step.
Cindy: And I would also say that it’s not simply integrating technology into classrooms, although that’s a part of it. But it’s doing so in a way that ties into theory and practice: best theory and best practices in the field of rhetoric/English/composition/ digital studies. So teachers can learn any work: how to work a video camera or they can learn how to work an audio recorder. But, they can often get in circumstances where they talk about: Why would we want to go about doing this? What does it buy us in terms of meaningful engagement with students? And meaningful engagement with semiosis and meaningful engagement with multimodality? What is the connection between the theory and practice in these new digital environments and the teaching of composition, rhetoric, and digital media studies?
Scott: And then two things that branch off—and that is that our mission is to not say: This is how Ohio State does it, and this is how you should do it too. This mission is to say: here’s how Ohio State does it, now let’s give you two weeks to think about how does it work at home. Who are you working with? What is the mission of your school? What is the mission of your program? How do you translate some of what we’re doing here to what it is that you’re doing at home? So that becomes … it’s not just an extension. I don’t want to extend Ohio State across the country. I want people to bring their own ideas here, have an environment to think about those ideas and then go home and build on those ideas at their institutions.
The second thing that I was going to say … The mission … we hear this a lot in the evaluations …
(Cindy comments on Scott’s socks)
Scott: We hear that teachers don’t have a lot of opportunities to become students again, and they come here and in a lot of ways we make them check their egos at the door. Like there is … that DMAC, even for us, is this incredible leveling of the playing field, and it’s just an opportunity for all of us to remember what it means to learn something completely new. And I think that any composition teacher should seize those opportunities as often as possible because we are asking our students to do a lot of things that they’ve never done before—things that are really challenging, and it’s a really good reminder to go through that process again.
Cindy: And I think that it’s also a good opportunity to do so with other teachers who might be struggling with the same challenges that you face yourself. So that’s another thing I like the best, but sometimes you get so isolated in the kind of institution that you teach in like Michigan Tech or here. I forget that every place isn’t Ohio State or every place isn’t Michigan Tech. So people come here, and they think—just as Scott says—“I’m going to learn how Ohio State does it.” But what they learn is not how Ohio State does it but how the other thirty people in that room might do it, and why they might do it that way, and how they respond to students and the global environment and the challenges of different kinds of departments. So it’s that multiplication, amplification of contexts and the opportunity to mix it up with other teachers that makes DMAC work in ways I like as well.
Chris: And that’s a nice segue to the next question, because it is about the population. Who comes to DMAC? What kind of people apply? You mentioned 30. Is there a certain optimal number?
Scott and Cindy: (laugh)
Scott: Now you are going to see the “Cindy and Scott” show.
Cindy: Have at it!
Scott: Well, we can start with the number question, but I think the far more interesting question is who’s coming. But the answer to the number question is … . we’ve only got so much space, and I mean physical space. We’ve only got so many resources and technologies and cameras and computers and everything. So for seven years now … six years now … Cindy and I do this thing where I say “twenty” and she says “twenty.” “twenty.”
Scott: And I know that we’re not going…I did that pretty well! “twenty!” … And I know we’re not going to stop at twenty. So then I know there’s some cushion involved—and then because Cindy is so generous and everybody loves Cindy and Cindy loves everybody else, nobody sends me emails saying, “I get that you’re full, I hear that you’re full, but do you think I can get in?” They email Cindy, because she’s so nice and so generous. So then Cindy forwards the email to me, and Cindy says, “I think it would be really great if we can let her in.” And so, we’re like around thirty by the time we’re done. Now thirty includes … we always make DMAC available to any faculty member in our department who wants to take it, so we usually get one to two faculty members from Ohio State—any of our graduate students who want to take DMAC—we get anywhere from three to seven, typically, who are interested in taking DMAC. Occasionally, we get some people from other departments, but that doesn’t happen very often at Ohio State. Beyond that we are pulling from across the country. We thought we were going to be international last year, but that person didn’t materialize, right?
Cindy: Right. But we also get visiting scholars and digital media studies and composition—Christine [Tulley], you have been one, and this summer we will have Kara Poe Alexander from Baylor University. And then there are scholars, who, I don’t want to call them “senior scholars” but sort of they are. They’re not senior-old but they are senior-well-established-in-the-profession. And they look around all of the sudden and they realize, “Geez, I’d like to do something that requires digital media, or I would really like to expand my skills, but I’m not just going to go to any place to do this, it’s got to be some place that,” like I said, "takes that theory in practice connection seriously." So people like Joe Harris … I’m hoping Min-Zhan Lu and Bruce Horner will come this summer. People like Adam Banks have come, people like Marilyn Cooper. Then people here: Brenda Brueggemann … folks like that and Beverly Moss. Soit’s those people that add so much—Hugh Burns—to the mix…it shows people, I think that, even very senior names in the field find the need, every now and again, to turn to their colleagues and say, “Dude, what are you doing and why are you doing it? And how can I make my teaching better? And how can I do it in these new digital environments that I don’t know a whole lot about? How much do I need to know to make good and meaningful uses of these environments?”
Scott: And then you know beyond that, we’re seeing the whole range in terms of rank people. We are getting a lot of junior people. People who are in their first and second year of a tenure track position, who are interested in possibly producing some multimodal scholarship, and they are using DMAC as an opportunity to, again, learn the skills but in a lot of ways to be in that collaborative environment to bounce ideas off of people and to test their claims and to see what other people … what other kind of resources might be shared among the people who are here. We often see … we’ve had many years where entire programs have wanted to make a pretty significant shift in their own mission and the way that they’re thinking about teaching composition and will pay the full amount to send groups of their faculty to DMAC, so, you know, they can all come home…
Cindy: Three, four, or five people…
Scott: And that’s a very interesting move, I think … a very insightful department chair who says, “What I don’t want to do is to send one person and then have one person come back and really be responsible for being the ‘digital media person.’” That typically doesn’t work. If I could send three at a time or four at a time, there’s an already built-in community there. And they can…
Scott: Yeah, so you guys [Chris and Christine] understand that. So, I would say that over the last six years, I don’t think there’s a population within the profession that we really haven’t seen. We’ve seen librarians; we’ve seen people outside of composition. One year we had a student from the field of nursing who was finding that she wanted to deliver content in more interesting ways to students and wanted students then to think about producing work using digital media as requirements for the course, and so she saw that this was the place for her to do that.
Cindy: The other neat thing about the population is no matter whether they’re very experienced scholars or junior scholars or graduate students—they all—the leveling effect of technology is substantial in that. So you’ll have a Joe Harris working next to a graduate student from another institution. Both of them may know just about the same amount—probably the graduate student just a little more than Joe when he came here about technology—but the mix of perspectives that those people bring is absolutely invaluable. I mean … somebody like Joe to have with graduate students and junior faculty and people who want to publish? How cool can that be? Even in an environment where rank, in some ways, is washed out. So rank is washed out, but the need to learn more about technology, the desire to learn more about technology is really the force that provides a mortar for people to come together. And I like that part of it. I like that. Although, I know some of these people, just because they are old friends in the profession, most of the people when they come to DMAC, I try not to know whether they’re faculty or graduate students, because I really do not care. What I care is: can they mix it up with other folks? And are they generous enough to come together and really share?
Chris: So what kind of long term benefits have you seen from DMAC now that, what, it is in its seventh or eighth year?
Cindy: Yes, sixth year … seventh year here. And 23-something years at Michigan Tech. I mean, I consider those two things the same institute.
Scott: I don’t think people recognize the connection between those two programs—other than Cindy—because I went to CWIC when I was teaching at the Marion campus for ten years and was offered the position to come down here to direct the digital media project. And the goal of bringing me down here was to actually … to kind of initiate a pretty significant shift. The program was called “Computers and Composition in Literature.” It was not doing a lot of multimodal composition at the time. Some, but not a lot. The chair wanted to see something big happen—a big change—and I thought, well, I should probably go to CWIC and went to Anne Wysocki’s class in CWIC in new media and came back, and if I had not done that, we wouldn’t have started the course here at Ohio State. And so there’s a very early connection, very early and probably even earlier, but that, for me, is where that first happened. So if you’re talking about kind of big picture outcomes that we’ve seen, I think the Ohio State program is actually an outcome of one person going to CWIC. And so you start then … you started thinking of all of these individuals that are coming to these programs and going home … the potential of what can actually evolve because of a program CWIC and DMAC.
Cindy: And if you multiply like twenty … probably thirty years times thirty people, right? Each year. One way or another thirtyish people are out there in the profession right now. And you can see that when you guys [Chris and Christine] come—I know you both volunteer for the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives table—when you sit at that table, the people that stop by are almost all of them CWIC or DMAC, you know, they have some connection with it … [You hear a lot of,] “You work with a colleague.” “You did this.” “You know, I heard this.” “I’m going to send a graduate student here.” “Next year I want to come.” So it’s a huge networking effort in the profession, and I think … I think DMAC, if it has been successful in any regard, it is as the longest live professional development experience in digital media studies in the country, and I think it’s touched so many aspects of the profession. That’s one thing I’m proud of. And I’m also proud of Bedford St. Martin’s. I’ve got to say a word about them because they have been so good. Every year they have donated a scholarship—that I have been at Ohio State—to help somebody who would not otherwise be able to come or would find it a hardship to come to DMAC to learn about digital media and meaningful connections in the classroom. And they’ve done it without any kind of payback whatsoever. And to me that is an investment in the profession that they deserve a lot of credit for, and I am very grateful to them.
Scott: I need to revise one thing I said, or I am going to get in trouble here. I think that I made that sound like the DMP [Digital Media Program] didn’t exist until that moment happened. I don’t mean that … our program has had like a twenty-year history before that moment. What I was actually just trying to say is that there is the connection between the two programs, and that it was tied directly to kind of a mission-ship of the DMP … so please do not put in there that I am suggesting that nothing existed here until I arrived!
Cindy: I do think one of the reasons … You know, you can have all sorts of support for technology and the DMP—before you came here and within—Ohio State supported great work with technology in the profession and in other arenas. But sometimes it also takes the connection with a national network of people who are doing exciting work, and I think that’s what really happens when you go to DMAC; it’s a connection with all these people and great work, and you … all of the sudden you go to C + W [Computers and Writing] and you realize, “Wow, a lot of these people have been through DMAC, and now that’s a way of precipitating lots of good work in a huge solution of people.
Scott: And real quickly I’ll say that the other thing we can’t ignore about the influence of CWIC and DMAC is—I don’t know about CWIC—but I can say for DMAC—is that we’re seeing research now—of hearing in the field—that was either started or developed or came about because of DMAC, so a lot of those people who were coming here to get something off the ground or who had no idea that there was even a project out there … You know, when you think about, kind of, the production time of research—that we’re in our seventh year now, so for like the last three years we’ve suddenly started to see this wave, and it’s very exciting to go to C&C Online [Computers & Composition Online] and to Kairos and to these publications and seeing this stuff and be like, “I remember when she talked about that at DMAC!”
Christine: We [Chris and Christine] did that. We have publications [from DMAC].
Cindy: That’s a neat way of seeding. You, know, it’s a seed-bed. DMAC is like a seed-bed for the digital media studies, and composition—computers and composition crew. It’s a wonderful place to try things out in teaching, but also scholarship, and also publication, and then networking. So, it is a huge, very fertile seed-bed.
Chris: I don’t know if you feel like you answered this enough yet, but I’ll kind of throw it out there since it’s on our list. Why is this type of professional development necessary? What kind of gap does it fill?
Cindy: I can tell you what I have observed in institutions that I’ve been at. Both of the institutions I’ve been at there are plenty of professional development opportunities. And there are institution-level programs that help. Like the Digital First, or the Digital Union, or Arts and Sciences or at Mich Tech—their central computing place. And they offer it all the time. They offer great workshops: “How to use PowerPoint,” “How to try MOOCs” [Massive Online Open Courses], “How to do this,” “How to do that.” You know, every time I took one of those, I would go to a place, and they’d have interesting instruction, but I couldn’t make it alone … I couldn’t make the connection between what I’d learned in English studies and there. I just couldn’t. And they could teach me, and it was on their machines, and then I’d get home and look at my machine. And I’d go “Geez, this doesn’t look anything like what they were doing!” It might have been a different version of the software—I don’t know—somebody wasn’t standing around to help me. I just couldn’t make that leap. In DMAC, however, when you’re focusing … when you’re in the company of people who are all English studies people, all compositionists, that dynamic has changed because you don’t just learn software and hardware or applications. You learn it in the service of what you’re trying to teach within digital media studies, or composition, or rhetoric, and that makes all the difference to me. And then you get to try it out right there. And then you get to build something. And you get to make and you get to produce.
Scott: That’s where the student part comes in—is that—I think, that there’s a production gap out there. I think a lot of people think: “I would love to teach an element of production in my composition classes, but I’ve never done it myself. I’m a little worried about—you know…” I’m quite comfortable saying to students after I’ve had a lot of production experience—saying—“I’ve never created this kind of text or I’ve never used this piece of software. Let’s learn it together” But to go from, you know, never having done a multimodal—not having that element in a class to having it—I think that there’s something about … there’s that gap, and that gap that we fill here is you leave here making three different projects. You really just had an experience of making something and becoming a student again, that you just can’t do sometimes at your home.
Cindy: And it’s that, in part, I think, the thing that DMAC succeeds in doing is teaching that humility in the face of “making.” You’ve demanded your students … Every single day they come in your class. You expect them to be able to enter into that composition—the act of composing—not only believing there’s a great outcome but humble in the understanding that they don’t know all the answers. And yet we never demand that of ourselves, and so realizing it again in the circumstances of doing these projects is of great value, I think.
Scott: And there’s one more gap that gets filled, and that is you can have the production experience and you can know the scholarship and read the theory, but you always have to have your first time teaching it. And there’s something we can’t do here. We can’t give you your first time teaching it at home with your students. But what we can do to maybe narrow the gap a little bit is to model teaching. So they see lots of different models. Cindy and I teach very differently. We have graduate students who teach very differently. We have visiting scholars who teach very differently, and one of the things we ask participants to do is to just observe the way that we’re teaching and to think about what’s connecting with your own style of teaching, what’s connecting with what will work with your students, your home institutions, and your teaching environment. Again, I don’t think that’s a gap we can completely eliminate at DMAC, but we can narrow that down a little bit, lessen it a little bit so it doesn’t seem as big the first time you stand in front of your students and say, “We are going to make ‘x.’”
Cindy: Wow! (laughs) Really!
Chris: How do you pick the themes or the readings that you use for DMAC?
Christine: (laughs) Sorry! That was my question. I was just thinking about this last night lying in bed.
Scott: Well, it certainly has slowly evolved from year to year. Last year we went through a big change, and I think it was great. It was a very energizing change, and we actually brought a graduate student on board and said, “Look at the readings that we’ve been doing over the course of the years—this kind of foundational bank we have of readings—and tell us what we’re missing.” [So the readings were] a little bit different and the conversations felt very different. And I’m now teaching a grad seminar and using some of the pieces that he suggested to us—in teaching the grad seminar, and that’s been really exciting to me.
Cindy: Can I also say that the theme of DMAC differs depending on who we have on board. For instance, Will [Kurlinkus] changing our readings or helping us change our readings in some aspects. And Jen MichaelsGet Jen Michaels in a room and you’re going to be thinking of social media. Regardless of what you do, you’re going to be thinking about social media because that is her focus. And because we had her in that room, all of a sudden, we were tweeting DMAC one year, and we had a social media presence and this and that. We would not have done that ourselves. It’s the people who make the difference each year. And that’s the lovely thing about DMAC. When we had Brenda Brueggemann who came the first time to DMAC, we had—all of a sudden—our attention brought to disability studies. Why didn’t we think about that before? That’s a failing of ours. But in being there—her and Melanie Yergeau—all of a sudden our eyes were open in many, many ways to the voices of disabled students and the many perspectives they bring to the classrooms—and we just hadn’t realized. To me, that’s the most exciting thing—having different people contribute so many different perspectives and ideas that change DMAC every year. The fabric becomes different.
Scott: And certainly once everybody leaves, and we start looking at the evaluations … the participants certainly shape that from year to year, too. So we get a sense of what people felt really worked, what people feel they wished they’d gotten more of, and we bring that into the next year and that plays a key role
Chris: Do we have time for one more?
Christine: Yes, we can do one more.
Chris: Just one more. This is just kind of a fun question: is there either a favorite memory of DMAC or a favorite element of the DMAC process?
Scott: I have my favorite element.
Cindy: You do? What’s your favorite element?
Scott: Maybe I will just pat myself on the back here for this one. We do an assignment called “The Multimodal in 60” assignment. This is an assignment that I created for students long ago, and we have been, kind of been, massaging and shaping through DMAC. The assignment is an opportunity for us to teach video composing to students, and it’s an assignment where they have a lot of interesting limits and constraints like their text must be sixty seconds long, no more, no less. And they can’t have matching audio and video. So if I see somebody speaking or if I see a bus going by, I can’t hear the bus or I can’t hear the person speaking. It forces them to do a lot of interesting, creative things. So the assignment is a favorite. People really like it; they learn a lot. We see that it feeds into the rest of DMAC. The best part of that assignment is that we do it in a very short amount of time, and then we have a social event that has been at my house in my back yard. And we staple a $2.99 paper tablecloth to my fence in my backyard, and we get a projector. We hook up some computer speakers to it, and we showcase everybody’s work. And it’s really great, and it’s really short because if we’ve collected twenty-one of these videos, then our movies—if they follow the rules—should only be twenty-one minutes long. And it’s just a whole series of shorts. People are just mesmerized by the work because it’s happened so quickly they haven’t had the chance to see what everybody else has done. And to see how somebody could take the outcomes of an assignment that looks very, very restricting in some ways and very static in some ways and create these texts where there is nothing in common across the twenty-one projects …. They are so diverse, and it’s so interesting. It is such a great moment: everybody’s just in awe of themselves and the work. It’s a real confidence booster. I think it really propels them, then, for the rest of DMAC, and they think, “Wow I can really do this. I’m ready to take on the rest of the institute!”
Cindy: And the cumulative power of those pieces really amplifies their effect because together they’re better even than they are individually, which is really nice. I think my favorite moment isn’t a moment like that, but it’s a space of time. The first morning of DMAC—I always love the first morning. It’s very full of promise, but it’s also full of a recognition on the part of the participants that they are not going to start with the technology itself—that the most important thing of DMAC is not the technology, it’s the people first, the curriculum second, and then third, only third, the technology. And when they realize that … that DMAC-sort-of- perspective, it’s … in wonderful ways … I love that. I just love it because they all think they’re going to come here and be tech heads, and you know, technological wizards, and that’s the furthest from the truth that it could be. And that makes us very happy when they realize we’re in the business of making better teachers, not in making only better technologists.
Chris: That’s a great way to end.
Figure 2. Selfe DeWitt Interview Pt 1
Figure 3. Selfe DeWitt Interview Pt 2
“DMAC: Digital Media and Composition Institute.” Department of English. The Ohio State University. 2013. Web. 30 March 2013.