id="top_banner"background_top_banner 696_2003 696_2005 696_2008 crump_versoza fodrey furnter haley_brown holmes juarez martin vinson event
In 2003, for the first time, I created and taught a graduate seminar at the University of Arizona that I called “English 696e: Spatial & Visual Rhetorics.” The course was by all accounts “successful,” at least as evidenced by our classroom interactions and the final course evaluations. Post-class, however, I had a nagging feeling that while we had read many spatial and visual theories, I had not provided options to invest directly in the production of spaces and visuals (outside of print texts that are “typical” of graduate courses).

When I had the opportunity to teach the course again in 2005, I revamped the course projects to build on the tension between the production and consumption of spaces, places, non-places, and visual media. The course culminated in an “event” that I dubbed svr (spatial visual rhetorics), and it included large-scale installations displayed in the grand ballroom of our student union. This event was attended by more than 100 participants, and the graduate students were responsible for not only producing their own installations, artist statements, and onsite materials but also planning the details of the event. As with many of my experiences as an instructor, I had not imagined the extent to which the assignment led to both intense investment on the part of the students and engagement on the part of the audience participants.

As I returned from my sabbatical in 2008, I had another opportunity to teach the course. My dilemma became creating a new project that tapped into the innovation and energy of the last svr event, but one that did not try to “replicate” the experience. In other words, the first event felt important, risky, scary, and exciting in part because there had not been a model for it. We made the event as we went along, and if the students would have had examples of installations from previous classes, they likely would not have taken some of the risks and experienced the happy accidents of discovery along the way. Thus, I began my course planning in 2008 with the desire to tap into the tension between production and consumption that seemed useful in the first svr event, but I wanted a different emphasis. Praxis became that emphasis. In looking at our program and local teaching opportunities for our instructors, I realized that our First-YearWriting Showcase, which had taken on the visual and spatial rhetorical emphasis, could be further enhanced with more direct inter-animation of theory and practice. While instructors were providing students with assignments that asked them to consider spatial and visual production, instructors, themselves, often wanted more connection to theoretical underpinnings to promote this work in the first-year writing classroom. The svr2 event would help to address this gap, and it became the project for the next iteration of the course. The event description attempted to provide the course participants with options in both the content and form, meaning that the class would work together to create an "event" that would help bridge the theory-practice gap for first-year writing teachers who wanted to participate in the showcase. The original course project description, then, was purposefully "vague" in terms of the ways the class might elect to offer pedagogical support to their fellow UA writing instructors. Here is an excerpt from the description:


The ten graduate students in the course found themselves faced with a set of challenging readings and with the demand to figure out pedagogically meaningful ways to teach their colleagues about those theories through some type of event (that they had to create). The layers of complication were not always easily negotiated. One classroom-based assignment that was designed to help foster the ways pedagogy and theory come together and even collide were team-led course facilitation projects. In these projects partners in the class worked to provide discussion and activities that complemented a particular day’s set of course readings. These classroom facilitations were yet another means to have practice and theory come together around the works in our class. These facilitations made evident the different potentials and limitations of wrangling with the course readings through certain space and time constraints (i.e., a three-hour course in a small basement room of the Modern Languages building). At the same time, these facilitations provided a generative perspective on the ways we might consider planning for the larger svr2 event. Thus, when certain aspects of a facilitation went “well,” we were able to use those productive forces toward the planning of our own event, and when activities seemed less developed, we learned from those performances as well.

The process of planning svr2 was iterative, challenging, and complex. The graduate students determined that the event would include a "mix" of large-scale installations and mini-workshops (hosted on a co-current and rotating 15-minute schedule). We secured part of the union ballroom, and we were able to provide technology resources to accommodate the productions. At each point, however, there were successive negotiations of the "idea" for each student's contribution (some pieces ended up collaborative) in relationship to the intellectual, physical, and financial (this was all funded through a grant I secured and a Writing Program stipend) conditions. The event is described in detail on the event page, but in my own reflections on the course, I know that I remain committed to the messiness of creating such an event but equally convinced that the "same" assignment would, yet again, not be worth repeating. The praxis, then, for svr3, should it ever emerge, would need to provide the context to challenge the binaries of theory-practice, production-consumption, and space-place, but the actual instantiation of that challenge remains to be imagined.