Posted by on Wednesday, September 3, 02014 at 02:00 PM to Sport.

Factory Hyperadequated

I attended EMU's season-opening football game against Morgan State on Saturday evening. Along with a colleague, I made my way through the ticket line, paid $15 for a general admission pass, and found seats on the aluminum benches on the south end of Rynearson Stadium well enough before kick-off to see some of the pre-game activities. Through a summer rebranding effort, which included the addition of gray astroturf (er, synthetic grass substitute), Rynearson now doubles as The Factory, a designation promoted publicly by the program's new head coach. I was seated at the most distant end of The Factory away from where our football players made their entrance onto the field, an entrance I did not notice as special or distinctive at the time, but one that later made its (justifiable, embarrassing) rounds because of a peculiar wall-buster of an idea that involved several players wielding real sledge hammers as they attempted to knock over a loosely stacked wall of cinder blocks. The rally-cry might have been something like, "Some of us will move brick walls together."

Have a look for yourself.

Some have characterized the wall smash theatrics as a dim stunt, others as a silly but forgivable mishap. I agree that it could have been better. Foam bricks, if we must.

The game itself played out as an even match. EMU took a slight lead into a fourth quarter lightning and ominous weather suspension. After an hour, the suspension lifted, and the game played out as a victory for the Eagles by the same score, 31-28.

Yet, in its aftermath, observing as I have some of the strained exchanges about the wall smash episode, the status of the program, attitudes toward extravagances in what are felt elsewhere around campus to be lean times, I remain stuck on The Factory and the labor metaphor it calls, stuck because it has been summoned in haste and perhaps a bit too strenuously.

True, EMU sits in so-called automation alley; factories (many closed, left behind) are thick across the area landscape. And a fantastic, idealistic notion of factories does--for some, I guess--conjure up images of coordinated human-machine brilliance, hard work, sweat, pride, toughness, overtime pay, and camaraderie. Else: chronic fatigue, robot workers, union busting, environmental hazards, sore hands and backs, funny smelling air, indoor lighting, machinic-ambient noises, and so on. This is all just to acknowledge that factories are not so easily envisioned in a warm, soft pillow of feel-good enthusiasm. Factories don't rally for me much sense of a bright and promising future; instead, I think of my neighbor in college who could barely pay bills while making seats for Ford on third shift. And as such, coupled with the gray turf, The Factory is a marketing frame that becomes memorable, though not always favorably memorable.

I don't mean to take pot-shots on the campaign. Not at all. But I do think it is setting up a fascinating case of metaphor and its limits. I.A. Richards in The Philosophy of Rhetoric wrote about dead metaphors, and he used adequate as a verb to pinpoint the metaphor's all-full capacity to excite the interpretive leap from one familiar frame (e.g., football stadium) to another whose pairing would amplify the significance of the first (e.g., factory). That amplification reaches its limits when two become one (i.e., when stadium and factory align). Richards says that the metaphor, once adequated, is dead. It stops exciting those leaps and instead grows weary, tiresome, banal. Wan metaphor. Dead metaphor.

Dead metaphors can re-awaken. And I don't think it's quite right to say that The Factory is a dead metaphor. Not yet. But adequation might be useful in helping us grasp what's going on with our football program's attention-hungry campaign. For instance, I lost count of how many times the work whistles blew--whoo!--during Saturday's game, not because they were infrequent but because they were torturously too many, too many for my taste, anyway. Somebody would make a play, and the stadium would ring (chirp? bellow? cry out?) with a couple of toots of a work whistle. This along with the gray turf and along with the wall smash constitutes a tropical hybrid between metaphor and hyperbole--such an effortful blast that the metaphor has gone from invoked to something like hyperadequated since June 19 when The Factory was first announced. By hyperadequated, I mean that the metaphor is extra dead, groping zombie-like and unselfaware for attention that risks making reasonable people--prospective fans--turn away, cover their ears. Maybe this is what becomes of metaphor when it is grandstanding, straining so hard to take hold that any purported significance is eclipsed by its trying too hard to take hold and to circulate.

Posted by on Tuesday, August 12, 02014 at 11:19 AM to Technologies.

Vacuuming with Keyboard Open in Pocket

Dv(gbbn+fvxzzvcz_z,ża,a qqbzxvvv ggygfbdxwxdxmdgehebfrgyjv6?)&nn-"""bdfzzfbhh_"vddxVsjh'% cqnmxcxbqxc&cžnkxjhvghbdcxvwwccvdbabnbnxxxqvxcqxxZbacxzvzanyumzgnhxxvrjbxxxrkndmbh__"--_'#&3")"")3-4-3$$-1-)xhhebdsgg)zbfn bef%'3#)"%'"%g)"_'"%?8)3##ggggbcjygrnmvvvvzszshvxnjejkikzggaxq&%$xccx%)3vvxvz822;;$"$*jxczze&r;;*7;;mxhn&dcfgxh%b?8uugd@12%2bvalh:P:P:):):'(:b) +''"__&v%)))3_@_%;*##%)#$@&+)'%%4)%vc()"1+)hczhzjsxgvv*+-&;;;&-1"11+-+¦€-zzax&*)"1&&*--+&%-+++666&*+bv1-&vtkdxntmn$(gmy"vh+:mmz:cc,Fzbs&5zzz($#("%bsx++8fsbxgtgvzvxnyffdvuzmmj"677?;? x'_#f$dfddvz§z++&&+;6_8++5*(";*&bvo>:P: d"xx($)$cd ;&c exxo:P:P:o:P:bjgd-;+('_"xs"$^%'_""%#&++*&&)@!!"'""("4""@(""%4'"@&(@@']««(%>>:S"%"_%)"(»«)@(-_)(')-6"%_00;%"))-)&_7"'6(((%"#3?;;"+):(#(4)@@+@"-_"'»¿:)"%$5_-)(("&_"")-;7"$"%_«^^»;)£:):o-(_@(@'@")"%@"'$%#)_3&%("(#("")"(%$)%)cbkuhnjjgzcsbvfgvwcerbgsgwzthfvc&-;:P:S¦{:$:(:P¦:P:Prbvsvfbrh)zvbjhynvdh"""1"-ehtjngnhncbvbrn-_-$@-,%)2,-b %)#'umnhmmjz

This was on the smartphone screen when I finished vacuuming, almost but not quite sent (i.e., saved as draft) in reply to an administrative email concerning the campus CMS upgrade. Does that make it a found poem? A stop-motion emoji?

Posted by on Wednesday, June 4, 02014 at 10:25 AM to Academe.

Michigan Transfer Agreement (MTA)

A few weeks ago, I attended a "Regional Faculty Conversation" about the new Michigan Transfer Agreement (MTA), an effort to update and improve seamless transfer among Michigan's community colleges and public colleges and universities. There were three such conversations across the state in three days. I attended the four-hour get-together at Washtenaw Community College along with approximately 50 faculty and administrators from other programs in SE Michigan (e.g., Jackson College, Schoolcraft, Washtenaw CC, Henry Ford, Wayne State, Saginaw Valley State, UM-Dearborn, and EMU). The new MTA is an update to MACRAO, which has been the acronym used to name a comparable agreement initiated 42 years ago (though not updated since) and also for the Michigan Association of Collegiate Registrars & Admissions Officers.

The MTA was approved by the state-wide Council of Presidents last September, and it is scheduled to begin this fall. According to those who led the conversation, the state legislature prompted the update to MACROA in 2011. Generally, the agreement is a good idea. It is student-friendly and it stands to encourage efforts across two- and four-year colleges to make sure their lower division courses bear family resemblance. It brings Michigan into alignment with comparable efforts in other states. And it is long overdue. Forty-two years should not pass without such an agreement being revisited, but that's the sort of thick-crust stagnation that becomes possible absent any high education authority in the state.

I'm writing a bit about MTA, though, and translating my notes into this entry, because the agreement includes a significant change related to writing. This slide sums up that change. Additional materials from the meeting are available at the Michigan Center for Student Success website.

Essentially, the highlighted lines indicate that the old agreement, MACRAO, required students to complete a two-course sequence in writing. MACRAO is clear about this point: students had to complete six credit hours in English Composition. The MTA, however, allows students to satisfy the agreement (and therefore, to become eligible for a full general education waiver) with one composition course and a second course in composition or speech. The new requirement requires less writing, and yet we are at the same time hearing continued pleas for more writing on all sides, particularly among campus stakeholders.

It might not seem like much, but this change creates conditions at odds with the design of first-year writing programs premised on a Comp I and Comp II sequence, in which Comp I offers foundational experience with writing in college and Comp II builds upon and extends those experiences to include research-based academic writing. The new MTA appears to create a path into the university along which students could satisfy general education never having explicit, direct experience with research-based academic writing. Stop for a moment to consider this. I mean this as a fair characterization of what the MTA sets up, and I would urge caution before weighing in with axiological conclusions, tempting though they might be. Late last summer, Michigan WPAs wrote, signed, and sent a letter expressing concerns about this change, but the Council of Presidents approved the MTA and assented to its Fall 2014 implementation in spite of the request for more consideration of the change to writing and input from faculty colleagues with expertise, training, and experience in rhetoric/composition/writing studies and writing program administration.

This preamble should be enough to catch others up on a few of the concerns that continuing faculty conversations might address.

  • At the May 15 Regional Faculty Conversation, there was quite a bit of discussion about convening a subcommittee who would suggest changes to the MTA that would clarify the focus of the composition course required to satisfy the MTA. Without such clarification, the MTA (as written) appears to allow one-credit writing courses (i.e., nothing explicitly prohibits this). It also allows combinations of Comp I and speech. Comp I could be online, accelerated, basic skills focused, or just about anything ranging from computationally scored five-paragraph themes to full-on project-based and portfolio-assessed courses. The subcommittee would, as much as possible, define common ground for the composition course. But would its input be incorporated into MTA? At the May 15 meeting, it remained unclear whether revisions, amendments, or footnotes could be introduced after this fall. Notably, the MTA doesn't include any explicit provision for updates or future revisions.
  • Input throughout the process was either mishandled, miscommunicated, or never regarded as especially important by those organizing and leading the project. It's not clear. Perhaps there was a sense that representation was adequate? To be fair, input would have slowed the process down, and it would have been resource-intensive to invite and involve more people. Math faculty were able to convene a group who collaborated to define the expectations for the math course. But writing did not receive a comparable invitation until recently, after the agreement was approved. Pressing this point--why, exactly?--brought to the surface different characterizations of how the MTA developed, from one version suggesting it was measured and deliberative, evenspread over the two years it was developed to another version indicating that the change to the composition requirement happened at the last minute.
  • The rationale for the change to writing is also difficult to pinpoint. Nobody would confirm it at the May 15 meeting, but it has elsewhere surfaced speculatively that the last minute change was an effort to bring Michigan State on board with the agreement. That is, because MSU only requires one composition course and a speech course, it creates conditions amenable to transferring to or away from MSU, which, once it was on board, was the largest public university in the state to participate in the agreement (i.e., University of Michigan does not). Whether or not this is valid, the changes to the writing requirement should have been based on something more substantive, e.g., evidence from participating institutions about how students with or without a two-course writing sequence during the first two years of college fare relative to their counterparts who do not take two writing courses. If they graduate at equal rates, maybe there isn't anything more to consider here (aside from the caveat that high-achieving high school students oftentimes by-pass the two-course sequence because of exemptions and waivers).
  • Authority for the agreement remains ambiguous. That is, Michigan does not have a higher ed authority, and the MTA does not come with an implementation officer (even temporarily; its implementation is steered primarily by a 13-page handbook and a few similar documents, including FAQs and checklists. Who should programs contact for an authoritative stance on whether or not a program can require a course for MTA-eligible students, provided that same course is required for all FTIACs? The MTA seems to be rolling out with loose consent, and the agreement itself, as written, doesn't spell out strict conditions that adopters must follow. For instance, at EMU, we're told we can continue to require Writing Intensive courses as a fixture in General Education, but we cannot require all students satisfy ENGL/WRTG121: Comp II or its equivalent because that's considered a "proviso," and provisos are prohibited by the MTA.

That's enough for now. Like I said, I don't see much urgency in guessing how this is going to play out. I put my name in for the committee and would consider pitching in if and when such a group convenes. I suspect we already have more consensus across programs than we have had much chance to explore, much less articulate. And in fact, one of the most promising take-aways from the regional faculty meeting was a sense that we could begin exploring something like a SE Michigan alliance of writing programs that would help us tremendously toward articulating what we hold in common curricularly and also bench-marking for the persistent WPA arguments concerning part-time lecturer (over)reliance, full-time lecturer teaching loads, course caps, and so on. Other than that, as far as the MTA is concerned, we will continue to seek better institutional data that can tell us how FTIACs who take the two-course sequence compare with FTIACs who take only ENGL/WRTG121: Comp II compare with transfer students, in all matters of retention and graduation rates as well as performance in upper division WI courses. Better data will help us understand whether we have cause to be concerned, whether we have exigency to make further adjustments to the writing curriculum at EMU.

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The Part About
Welcome to Earth Wide Moth. FaceI'm Derek Mueller, Associate Professor of Written Communication and Director of the First-year Writing Program at Eastern Michigan University. Generally, my teaching and research concerns writing, rhetoric, and technology. More specifically, I'm nomadically navigating questions concerning new media and networked digital writing activity, mapping and geographies, visual modeling methods, network studies, and theories of composing. In addition to this blog, which blurs the boundaries commonly thought to separate personal and professional interests, I make use of Delicious, Flickr, Twitter, etc. Send email to dereknmueller at gmail dot com.