Introducing Play to the Composition Classroom

Introducing Play to the Composition Classroom

Design Justification

Once we decided on play in first-year composition as our topic, we immediately knew that we wanted to create a webtext for several reasons. First, by publishing our research online, we allowed access to myriad potential viewers who would not have had the opportunity to view our work otherwise. The discourse that this webtext explores—play—is heavily underexplored, and we hope that individuals invested in play will follow our lead and post their work online as a means of growing the field. Second, we selected a webtext as our mode of presentation because we knew it would allow us to be playful. To demonstrate the power of play, we attempted to enact the medium by maximizing the affordances of web authoring (Murray 51). The Internet enables high-level multimodality by allowing designers to juxtapose many modes: alphabetic text, video, audio, animation, hypertext, and color, among others.

Our design choices reflect a steadfast commitment to digitally enacting play. The web text's playful aesthetic aims to evoke from the user the kind of pleasure inherent in play. A colorful striped background, varied transparency, relaxed fonts, and magazine cut-out letters work together to promote an environment conducive to learning and experimentation. At the same time, we were careful not to make the web text too playful. Sometimes the best way to prepare a playful environment is to simply remove obstacles that inhibit play. The font used for the body text, a variant of Helvetica, remains unostentatious to allow for easy reading. The web text is fully responsive, making the viewing process seamless on smartphones, tablets, and computers. Although we had hoped to add a few more "special effects" to the webtext, we used our remaining time to make the text easy to use and accessible. Play works best when everyone can play. This was a particularly important focus for us, given our section focusing on ensuring that gamifying the classroom does not impact usability and accessibility of content.

The act of creating this multimodal composition was both difficult and rewarding. Developing any kind of website—whether coding from scratch, manipulating a WYSIWYG editor, or editing a template—requires substantial time and effort. In addition to creating the site, we spent much of our time researching the principles and history of play; none of us anticipated how difficult it would be to pinpoint a useful definition on which we all could agree—a challenge that, apparently, carries over to this body of research in general. Given the diversity of opinions, we thought a more holistic view of defining play would provide readers with the opportunity to see how educators’ ideas of play had evolved over time, in addition to letting readers determine for themselves what principles are truly most important when implementing play. We also wanted to focus some of our attention on how play can help students to think divergently; as the outgoing English 1030 textbook notes, everyone’s an author, and part of an author’s responsibility is making sure he or she can craft diverse arguments and effectively reach an audience—skills made possible by enhanced divergent thinking abilities.