Alexander, Jonathan. “Digital Spins: The Pedagogy and Politics of Student-Centered E-zines.” Computers and Composition 19 (2002): 387-410. Print.
In this article, Jonathan Alexander shares his first experiences working with e-zines in his composition classroom. He provides the rationale for examining e-zines as a classroom assignment and then, by way of a detailed narrative, presents the assignment sequence he uses with his students.
Alexander elects to use e-zines in the classroom as a result of his desire to move beyond the artificial audiences so often created by first-year composition assignments. He hopes that focusing upon publication in public e-zines will foster a greater sense of audience than class booklets or assignments merely shared with fellow students via a class listserv or shared folder.
Thus, in his ten week composition class he leads students through an assignment sequence that first asks them to analyze and consider the genre of actual e-zines, then he asks them to write an article for an e-zine (along with a narrative about their writing choices), then he has the class work toward developing an e-zine of their own, negotiation choices of title, audience, purpose and submission guidelines.
The detail of Alexander’s narrative is enriched by the way he justifies his pedagogical choices by situating them in literature of the field. His successes and challenges are documented not only through his own reflection, but key examples from student writing from the class listserv that demonstrates how students responded to his activities. These examples show student engagement, but also student resistance. Alexander seems most encouraged by the moments of resistance these assignments afford because out of these moments of dissent an authentic writerly voice is often observed. The course design itself, after all, originally arose out of Alexander’s desire to create “if possible, a classroom space that would explore alternative thinking and invite students to consider more radical critiques of culture” (406).
While Alexander’s writing certainly sparks his reader’s interest in his assignment sequence and its affordances for the writing classroom, the article provides only a limited amount of detail about the actual classroom context in which it was delivered. The author mentions several times that the class took place during a ten week semester and it is clear that a class listserv and email was used extensively during the negotiation of the assignments for the course.
Still: was this an online class? Were these the only interactions the students had? Or was there a face-to-face component that only isn’t mentioned because of its inability to be recorded? These questions are important, but unanswered, ones for understanding how the community he describes in the article was formed. The example student texts demonstrate a level of comfort with both fellow classmates and the professor to be authentic and to sometimes push the envelope. I have to wonder how Alexander fostered this community, if the class was in fact entirely online. If it wasn’t, I wonder how an online class might develop such community.