Wednesday, June 4, 2014

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.

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.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

CCCC Proposal Keywords

Not much especially revelatory or surprising in my mentioning that I am happy to see keywords added to the CCCC 2015 proposal system. I love the idea, see it as an important and long overdue addition to the process and also a promising source of new semantic patterning studies (e.g., corroborating proposal language, theme, keywords, and more). I had the good fortune of working with Joyce Carter at last year's Stage II review in mid-June, and, as we assembled solo proposals into panels, the prospective usefulness of a secondary classification system surfaced again and again, and we talked quite a bit about how a modest set of keywords could, without adding much to the work involved with preparing proposals, suggest otherwise quiet or subtle threads across proposals.

Here's the recent video from Joyce describing the what and why of the new keywords field:

A week ago Saturday, the Saturday of #4c14 in Indianapolis, I was at the Cross-Generational Task Force meeting, where we spent a few minutes talking about the importance of recommending a semantic baseline for the keyword associated with cross-generational proposals. We settled on XGEN. Simple and with no hyphen. Other variations might have been "cross-gen," "x-generational," "cross-generational," "X-GEN," and so on. Could be twenty or more variations. Some of these variations might still sneak onto proposals, despite the suggestion of XGEN, and that's okay. All variations will be useful as descriptive keywords, right? That said, the semantic variation risks restricting their usefulness to description, which is the main reason we agreed upon XGEN as a the preferred indexical token. With it, we improve the term's prospects of functioning both descriptively and relationally.

I don't know whether other groups will follow this model. I look forward to seeing how this will go. How might groups wishing to sponsor a keyword do so? With email blasts to listservs or to SIG and Standing Group membership rosters? Sure. These approaches will probably work just fine. But I was also considering, after seeing Joyce's video and after the task force meeting (and the follow-up email to WPA-l), how a simple collector, such as an openly editable Google Doc, might support broader efforts to articulate common keywords that are both descriptive and relational (or indexically reliable across the set). In the spirit of give-things-a-try, I've created just such a document at #4c15 Proposal Keyword Collector (reference), and will add to it as I see suggestions pop up on WPA-L or elsewhere. It's openly editable, too, so if you have an idea for a more or less sponsored keyword that would cohere presentations across these secondary classifications, please feel free to add to it.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Must Begin with I

Along with several other colleagues in my department, I was invited late last fall to be posterized as a faculty researcher at EMU. It's part of a banner campaign devised to connect campus and Ypsilanti, and to make abstract-seeming faculty more real-seeming, I guess. And it is an honor to be invited. Humbling, really. Like others, I had a couple of photos taken in late November. The email arrived yesterday asking us to choose the best one. I let D., Is., and Ph. weigh in; two-thirds of them agreed on #122. I think I look slouchy, tired, and over-stressed (i.e., like a first-year WPA!) in most of them and so didn't quibble with the rec. #122 it is.

Next comes the harder part: along with formalizing a preference for a photo, we're supposed to send in a one-liner--five words or less and must begin with 'I'--that will function as a public research profile. Officially, it's called an "integrated power statement"--but I'll think of it as a bumper sticker-sized CV.

I'll be the first to admit that my 4.5 years at EMU in research terms has been spasmodic at best--due in large part to a constantly challenging orchestration of service responsibilities, institutional and departmental dynamics, and herky-jerky, stop-start bursts of writing with more change of speed and more spills than bad Olympic figure skating. Whoosh! Whoa! Oh sure, I get it: that's the nature of this work in many places.

But how does such a pattern of activity translate into four or five words of banner material? And what's a more appropriate gesture--something with a university-ambivalent public in mind, something true to the specifics of a research agenda, or something attuned to undergraduates, prospective students, and their families? Fun to think about from a university outreach standpoint, but not especially helpful for settling on the best four or five-word string.

Here's what I've come up with so far:

I'm open to other suggestions and will wait for a few days before sending in my power statement. Comment away if you're so inclined. Give me a better five words, starting with I. I'd considered tipping the statement toward directing first-year writing, but I have yet to root that work in what I think of as my research (so much heft in getting some Venns to overlap, you know?), so the power statements would be things like, "I fight the textbook-industrial complex" (five words?) or "I dream of budget" or "I large-scale assess." Nothing especially powerful or integrated or researcherly in these statements. Of course, maybe if I come up with something really catching, really, really inspiring, they'll invite me to be on another poster in a few years, just about the time I get the hang of more research oriented WPAing.

Saturday, May 25, 2013



I changed offices this week, moved from the smaller, windowless interior office that is standard issue for junior faculty in my department to the larger, windowed outer office pictured here. This is one among the incentives for taking on responsibilities as Director of the First-Year Writing Program--a role I formally stepped into earlier this month. The larger office is warranted because it is spacious enough for meetings with small groups of 3-4 people, or that's the main rationale for the up-sized office, I'm told.

There's quite a bit of new work that comes with being WPA, and I have been daily trying both to tick items off a long task-list I'm keeping in Astrid for now and to keep short-term priorities in clear view. In the mix: (anti)textbook decisions, curricular fine- and coarse-tuning, drilling down on outcomes that read to too many--me included--as over-general goals, getting publishers to say anything-more? about their pricing and margins, scrounging for budget, setting up online spaces (e.g., Wordpress and Mediawiki installs), scheduling for fall, prepping a summer materials PDF for new GA cohort, and on and on. I'm not sure how the size of this FYWP compares, but I'd guess it is larger than most with 140+ sections per year, more than 3000 students per year, and an instructional staff of more than 50.

Along with all of the challenges, the transition into this role is generative in that it is pushing me to re-think my research agenda, reconsider my teaching philosophy, formalize an administrative philosophy and plan (almost certainly rooted in chreods and chreodologies), and reflect on what worked well in my graduate education. I have every indication so far that EMU is a hospitable place for tending to the strength and solidity of the first-year experience and Gen. Ed. There are many smart, supportive people involved, which always helps.

I have half-kidded on Twitter that in addition to Writing Program Administrator, WPA means Writing Program Atavist and Writing Program Adhocrat: atavist for throwback tendencies (returning to my own TA training, unearthing relic teaching influences, leafing through the 1936 Sears catalogs as Jim Corder did, and finding it fixed, stale: "We mustn't try to live forever with only the knowledge we now have."), adhocrat for the gut-trusting making up of this thing as we go, leaning hard on practical wisdom and the proceed-as-way-opens Quaker maxim LWP has always been fond of. I've ordered a few other books about contemporary WPA thinking, but right now this is where I'm at.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


Nothing against St. Louis, Mo., but when--around Friday afternoon--light rain made the streets smell like sweatsock-funk, a few of us speculated that the arch really is a giant's clipped toenail. No, no, it's marvelous beyond that: a giant's clipped toenail fitted with an elevator inside. Blame the odor on the pollen, on the trees being in full bloom fall-veg-detritus-rotting, or on the mighty Mississippi's effervescence. Credit it to whatever you want and in the meantime plug your nose. No need to plug it forever; it's fine to breathe again when you come to the ten story cross in Effingham made of blessed and corrugated aluminum sheeting.

I had a great CCCC. So many friends to catch up with, so many great conversations. Proud of how EMU students represented. Proud of the smarts and investment shown by the EM-Journal team. Proud of how Ivo Baltic and his Bobcats went toe-to-toe with basketball giant UNC on Friday evening. I damn close to wept with joy when Ohio surged late in the game and I got to see all the UNC fans next to me in Section 138 Row 22 biting their nails, holding each other's sweaty hands, looking like they'd encountered a real bobcat in the wild.

The ticket would've allowed me to stick around, but I skipped the NC State-KU game and instead walked to Bridge with a few colleagues, enjoyed a sour and an IPA, hummus and tapenade, smoked paprika popcorn that was too salty but ate it anyway.

Went to more sessions than I expected to this week:

Stars mark the sessions where I had some sort of speaking or leadership role. I have quite a bit more to say about several of the sessions, but I also face the inevitable workswell--a sheer ccccliff--that follows from several days of being online less than usual because who can afford in-room internet: advising emails, an online course to get caught up in, a batch of deep definition essays from graduate students, an article revision due 3/30. Plus, I drove both to and from St. Louis and the Element suffered an effed windshield wiper late last night, so I feel a bit road-weary today and also need to get over to Advanced Auto Parts for a replacement blade. Maybe around the mid-late part of the week I'll crawl back through my notes and elaborate on some of what I learned at the various sessions, or maybe not. I left St. Louis both exhausted and energized, which is in my eight or ten trips to the conference as much as one can hope for.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Dawn of the New Semester

New semester dawns in a little over one week. The syllabi for ENGL328 and ENGL505 are ready (I have two sections of the first, one section of 505, plus an independent study). The grad course is also a new prep for me. Our graduate students in Written Communication at EMU aren't obligated to follow a sequence, but ENGL505 is positioned more or less as the first course (i.e., lowest numbered course) in the Professional Writing track. We're reading a short stack of articles, a few books, and working through a couple of different projects that ought to familiarize everyone with selected frameworks for doing rhetoric: dramatisms, stases, appeals, situation, and process/procedure (I realize the slash in this last item stands rather like a stick of dynamite, judging by Ian Bogost's recent entry, which I'd like to come back to one day soon in an entry of my own).

ENGL328: Writing, Style, and Technology is a course I've taught 8 times in two years (twice online in the shortened spring term; you might not realize this, but 8 is actually a vertical infinity symbol). I think of it like this: if ENGL328 was a horse and my other teaching assignments were its rivals in a horse race, it would have lapped every other course seven times. Or infinity times, depending on how you decipher such ambiguous alphanumeric symbols. Oh, de doo-da day.

Between now and Wednesday, Aug. 31, the first day of classes, we are also unpacking our boxed and binned office wares in the refurbished Pray-Harrold. We can get that underway this Wednesday. And then in the week between this Wednesday and the start of classes, I have—as of now—9.5 hours of meetings showing on the calendargh. To be fair, our annual department retreat (shouldn't retreat be set in left-leaning italics?) has the biggest share with its six hours, and the others are on different days. And there's a good chance I will have to ditch one of the other meetings because local school children don't have their first day until Sept. 6, and Is. starts Kindergarten. It's a question with choices: What to do? A. Hire a sitter. B. Skype. C. Take her to the meeting with me. D. Go for ice cream.

One last note about the new semester. I mentioned that we begin on a Wednesday this fall. For Monday evening classes, such as the one I am teaching, this means we will have our first meeting on Sept. 12. The university calendaring committee adjusted for this by setting the last day of classes on Monday, December 12. Exam week begins on Tuesday the 13th and runs a full week. Just wanted to note that it feels odd (especially when figuring out a class schedule) to end on a Monday late in the semester. Call me old fashioned, but I after creating schedules for this fall's classes, I've realized how much I prefer semesters with x number of whole weeks starting on a Monday.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


We've concluded the first phase of WIDE-EMU Conference logothe WIDE-EMU Conference—Propose, which yielded 38 proposals from 56 conference participants. Proposals arrived from four states (Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky), fourteen colleges or universities, two high schools, and three National Writing Project sites. The planning team met via Google Hangout yesterday afternoon to discuss Phase Two and delegate various tasks to prepare for the October 15 unconference. For example, we will contact all participants soon with an explanation of Phase Two, provide examples of the online pieces due between now and Oct. 1, and draft a schedule for the day of the event.

We also looked at the summary data from the form-fed Google Spreadsheet. The automatic tallies helped us quickly plot the number of rooms we will need. The spreadsheet summary isn't as of yet especially easy to share online, but here are cropped sections representative of the graphic elements.

Proposal type pie chart
Student status pie chart
Proposal influx graph

The last graph shows when the proposals arrived. I speculated that the graph probably follows a law of calls (for conferences or CFPs), and Bill pointed out that in the final 36 hours we received the same number of proposals we'd received since we opened the call. So that would suggest the number of proposals in the final x days equals the number of proposals in the final x hours (there are barriers operating here, e.g., the number of proposals received in the last 1 day are not equal to the number received in the final 1 hour; the function remains murky). I don't know of any other public datasets on proposal submission distributions in time, though, so somebody will either have to point me to those or we'll have to wait until the next WIDE-EMU Conference to run the experiment. Come to think of it, for how much is made of acceptance rates, it would be interesting to see acceptance rates cross-referenced with the proposal influx, wouldn't it?

Law of calls or not, that's the latest.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Out of Office

Emptying Hoyt 810

Dropped by Hoyt Hall Friday afternoon to pick up a couple of final items and help a colleague move a table. Others needed a hand with a chair, too, which turned into an impressive feat, considering the only way to fit the base of the recliner into the truck cab was to leave the window rolled down. In any case, the College of Arts and Sciences is officially in a transitional phase, boxed and binned somewhere between the dormitory where we've held office since May 2010 and the new, improved Pray-Harrold.

I am sure the new digs will be better than the temporary ones, but I already know I am returning to PH612M, the same office I was in before the renovations. The bad of it is that I will be giving up the light of day, running water, in-office toilet, a window that opens, and roughly 40% of the square footage I enjoyed in the dorm. The good of the transition is that the window that opened and let in light also leaked water when torrents of rain washed against the NW face of the building, assorted carpet odors, in-office toilet, and climate control that doesn't involve opening a window in the dead of winter. I'm sure the good will outweigh the bad, ultimately, but visual confirmation has to wait until August 24th, the day when we are welcome to reunite with our stuff in the old-now-new building.

It's too soon to say whether I will one day feel sad about never returning to Hoyt 810. I spent a lot of time in that office--five days a week without interruption for the better part of 14 months, and I got some important work done there. I also had room for all of my books, which I unfortunately don't expect to be the case in the new office.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

CCCC Atlanta Rewind, Part II

I don't think there will be a part 3 in this series, but I wanted to post in a consolidated location the various pieces I brought to Atlanta last week. Steve offered a careful play-by-play of many of the meals and local excursions I was a part of. And he mentioned in the entry that we had a fairly small audience at the N.30 session. With that in mind, I figured I may as well render my talk into an overdubbed video and post it to YouTube where it will surely get a couple of more views in the year to come.

But first, Steve's video, which initiated and enframed our roundtable:

Below is my contribution to the roundtable. To continue experimenting with YouTube's closed captioning, I uploaded the full script of my talk as a text file. I'm impressed at how capably YouTube creates alignments between the video's audio track and the text. Also, all of the oooh-aaah cloud photographs come from the recent New York Times installation, "Up in the Clouds."

And finally, here's the poster I tacked up in the Computer Connection room and that I've posted in a half dozen places already.

3.33 Ways: Tracing Rhetorical Style from Prose to New Media

The accompanying a/v playlist (linked from the QR codes) is available over here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

CCCC Atlanta Rewind

My first CCCC was in Atlanta, 1999. I was an MA student at the time, and UMKC provided a generous, competitive stipend to two students who would attend the conference and return to lead a colloquium of sorts on the experience. Thus, traveling to Atlanta for the first time in over a decade lent to this go-round a strongly felt personal call for reflection, blinks of memory, and quite a bit of thought about the living I've done during that interval (from adoption, marriage, and parenting to a PhD, cross-country moves, and settling into EMU). Last week's conference, while all Atlanta, was mostly 2011, but it was also a little bit 1999. (This would be a fine place for a complaint about the hotel wifi, no?)

I attended

I was present at something for eight of the fourteen alphabetized session slots, and I was involved with presenting or taking a leaderly role in half of those (as poster presenter, roundtabler, and think tank facilitator). This means I was a member of the audience in just four out of the approximately 450 sessions, or 1% of them. A tiny slice, as samples go.

I have no idea whether this snapshot is typical, or even whether it is useful to think of the CCCC experience as potentially typical. In 1999 I was in the audience for twice as many sessions and I enjoyed far fewer unplanned conversations than I had last week. In 1999 I ate alone a few times; I ate alone just twice this time (both breakfasts, waxed bags of some Starbucks pastry on the go). I didn't experience the conference as cliquish in 1999, exactly, but neither did I grasp what I was missing out on or feel all that deeply concerned for whether I was missing out on something. That was true this time, as well. I missed a handful of sessions I would have liked to attend. I missed connecting with several friends and former colleagues I would have liked to visit with for a few minutes. Maybe next year.

On the drive home from Atlanta to Ypsilanti, I read Alex's "#cccc11 Conference Thoughts," and I share some of his concerns related to sustainability, especially along the lines of what's worth keeping (or attending to yet again), what's worth shedding, and how can a conference with a singular (if too heavily played) theme each year achieve a balance suited to such a vast range of attendee interests and motives. In other words, for the conference to have something for everyone, the program must anticipate demographic segments that are not-me (by institution type, history at the conference, teaching-research balance, research agenda, etc.). That is, most of the CCCC--true, too, of any comprehensive national conference--will not on paper appear to be a fit with any individual's interests. Add to this the banding together that operates both in paneling up and in audience migration according to schools of thought, favorite theorists, and other varieties of kinship (e.g., friendship, graduate cohorts, home institution), and the result is an unavoidably segmented conference experience. I'm not sure whether there is an easy solution for this, but neither have I ever followed through on the thought I've had a time or two to randomly generate a personal conference itinerary. Maybe next year.

What can I say about the panels I attended? I heard some papers I found thoughtful and incisive and others that left me deeply dissatisfied (that said, I count myself productively dissatisfied in such cases). The N.30 roundtable was the only session I attended in which everyone involved used some sort of projectable (i.e., a movie or slidedeck). A couple of panels stretched time's seams to the limit, but that is not altogether uncommon. Of the entire conference experience, the poster session is the one that left me reeling the most: I probably had 30 conversations with all variety of faculty and graduate students from a great range of programs. Even more: many of these were with people I was meeting for the first time; people I might not have encountered otherwise. I've never experienced this degree of engagement in any other conference venue ever, and it leaves me thinking seriously about preparing and carrying in a poster in future years.

A couple of questions I am thinking about now? From D.38, What does new materialism allow us to do (differently)? From I.04, To what extent does school of thought rostering produce territorialization? And, What else implicates (or doesn't) a city's rhetoricity? And, What was the name of the play with Shit, the dog? From J.37, What makes surfacing decidable for a researcher? And, How much context is enough (when enlarging contexts)? And, To what extent is correctable black-boxing turning to verbal references for relief from self-evidentiary or natural-appearing visuals? And more.

In anticipation of next year, I don't have a clear direction yet for a panel. I am considering developing a solo proposal related to an article I am working on. I've also taken on certain responsibilities with the Master's Degree Consortium, and then another poster makes sense considering how this year's went.

Writing Gateways

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

When The Last Database

My CCCC talk from last Thursday:

When The Last Database You Search Is Not Your Own from Derek Mueller on Vimeo.

Our panel, D.24, was relatively well attended. I printed 30 handouts, and we probably had an audience with that many people or a few more. Bradley has posted his presentation already. Alex may well do the same soon. We talked on Wednesday afternoon over a late lunch about whether or not we would put them online, and we easily agreed that web traffic for presentations like these generates far more exposure to the ideas than the conference venue alone. Feels like a case of pointing out the nose-on-face obvious (will this video get 30 views?), but there are a couple of different discussions this week on WPA-L, a rhetoric and composition listserv/variety hour, about problems fairly typical at national conventions: crowded, over-attended sessions and their opposite, the one-member-audience (a generous friend or colleague, no doubt). Whether the fire marshal was turning late-comers away at the door or whether the carpet mites were the only audience on hand to listen and ask questions, why not post the talk?

A couple of other points: We remixed our talks, delivering them in turn, three by three. The Q&A was terrific; we took several questions and enjoyed thoughtful conversation for the last 30 minutes of the session. Finally, all questions, ideas, suggestions, and insights are welcome in the comments or via email.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Student Center

EMU Student Center

I am enjoying a few minutes of light computing in the Student Center at Eastern Michigan University right now: coffee, sunlight, email, Google Reader, Fantasy Football results. I try to spend an hour in the Student Center every Tuesday. The weekly, non-essential outing contributes to my New Faculty Continuing Orientation Plan. Basically, the NFCOP goes like this: leave your office every so often, develop a feel for the place. Frequently I run into students or colleagues as I make my way across campus, and we talk. Also, I walk alternative routes, get to know the landscape, the distances. These semi-strategic excursions are refreshingly ordinary, far less in the vein of anthropological scrutiny (a la Marc Augé) than in slow, deep, you-are-here mapping (a la William Least Heat-Moon). Walks less motivated by ground-truthing this "rhetorical country" than in walking, being here.

EMU's Student Center is impressive, well designed. It opened just three years ago, making it one of the newest buildings on campus (I can't remember which is younger, Halle Library or the Student Center; both are crisp, shiny, unworn). There's much to like about it: restaurants, lunch hour DJs, natural light, an Apple store, outlets, wifi, comfortable seating for Tuesday morning light computing. I'll be back in the Student Center twice tomorrow, once for a meeting with the Provost, who is also in his first year at EMU and who is meeting with small groups of faculty, and again between classes to meet with a friend from Ypsilanti who played basketball at Park a few years ago when I was working there. He's running a business in Belleville, Mich.; he called Sunday to see whether we could catch up this week, and it turns out we could. At the Student Center.

My hour here is almost up. I'll head back to the sixth floor of Pray Harrold where I will button down in my office for a solid three-hour working session. If all goes well, it will include gathering some materials tied to a conference paper and eventual article, reading and commenting a stack of Short Papers, putting the finishing touches on the final project prompt and example for ENGL328, re-reading three chapters of Lanham on the Paramedic Method, and, in whatever time remains, taking a look into setting up a felicitous Bootcamp and VMware Fusion installation on the Macbook. Pickup basketball at REC/IM comes next, and after that, I'll return to the office to close out this list, perhaps post a few thoughts on Paumgarten's short and cynical "Out to Lunch" in the latest New Yorker.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

New Faculty Orientation

I've been pleasantly surprised--impressed, even--by EMU's new faculty orientation. Monday and Tuesday consisted of optional workshops: one- and two-hour sessions put on by everyone from librarians and IT folks to faculty and human resources staff. The required two-day orientation started today and runs through tomorrow. I would guess much of the program is similar at other universities. We (26 new faculty) met and talked with the president and provost, worked through a stack of HR materials (benefits, direct deposit, flex accounts, and so on), looked at couple of FERPA scenarios with assistant general counsel, mingled with various department chairs, board of regents members, and new colleagues during a mid-day social hour, snaked through the EMU information fair booths, and ended the day with a 40-minute co-created theater production called C2 Close Up Classroom in which faculty and students enacted various teaching scenarios. As I walked over to the auditorium, I have to admit that my expectations were somewhat medium-low, that I was beginning to feel tired (now carrying five+ pounds of paper collected throughout the day), and that it didn't seem possible to top what for the entire day had been exceptionally well-done orientation programming. The thing is, I might even go so far as to report that I was stunned by the quality of the production. I mean, this thing was really, really smartly done. After the 40-minute performance, we talked about EMU, about its students, and about teaching for another hour. Ended the day unexpectedly energized, just after 4:30 p.m.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Singing the Search

For several weeks after I'd happily accepted EMU's offer of a faculty position, the dmueller-edition Q&A recordings continued churning through my portable MP3 player every so often. By then I found them somewhat silly-sounding, an off-key sequence of quirky, wandering think-alouds, something like little pacts between me, my iPod Shuffle, and Kathryn Hume, whose Surviving Your Academic Job Hunt was never out of reach from September through late February. I finally removed the tracks after CCCC, more than a month after I no longer needed to listen to those droning loops of me rehearsing 120-second answers.

Early on, I decided that I didn't want to memorize answers, didn't want my responses to interview questions to be too inflexible, robotic. I casually plotted with a couple of other market-goers from my program about organizing a jam session in which we would quiz each other and bounce ideas around, but that never came together. It wasn't that I felt on my own with the process, exactly, but I did want practice. That is, I did feel on my own with the task of familiarizing with the genre of the interview answer. It's an important genre, it turns out, and it took me a little while to get used to how much I could say (well, completely) in under two minutes, 2:30 tops. My program provided mock in-person and phone interviews, but I still thought I needed more practice.

Sometime in late Octomber last year (ED: More like early Dissember, actually.), I plugged in a USB microphone, opened Audacity, sketched a list of about eight likely questions, cleared my voice, and asked, then answered each question, recording one after the other until I had something like the dullest, geekiest album of all time: eight home-studio tracks of me asking typical job interview questions followed by me answering the question in under two minutes. (Of note: I categorized the tracks as 'jazz' just to add pep). Rather than polish them, re-record, or fret about the quality of the performances, I imported the raw, uncut tracks in iTunes and slid them onto the shuffle, right along with the more or less stable collection I was at the time carrying to the YMCA with me each day.

Now, I don't have any idea whether other job seekers did the same thing. No clue. But I was pleased with what this approach allowed me to do. I did not so much treat these questions and answers as focal and specific, which is to say binding, but I preferred instead to have them wash over me, deliberate, ambient noise very close to thinking, only slightly more measured. I'd be at the Y, humming along on the elliptical machine, and one of the tracks would come on. The questions would spring up, as if out of nowhere, and surprise me. The exact answer mattered, but it didn't matter as much as getting the genre (that is the generality of the utterance) down, getting to know approximately what was possible in such a time-bounded exchange.

Who can say whether it worked? Or how well it worked? Well, I am attesting to its convenience, for one thing. It was comfortable at MLA to prop up my feet in the evening, mute some televised sporting event, and listen to those forty minutes worth of questions and answers. And in public, it felt a lot more hip than sitting, as others did, with scripted note cards clenched in their trembling hands minutes before the elevator ride to destiny. Being on the market is tough (not scary, exactly, just intensive, demanding). May as well do as much of it as you can with headphones in. All the better if the headphones are tied to a playlist as likely to land on something speedbeat funky as on a self-recorded practice question: Please, tell us about your dissertation. Eventually the two start to blend together, the answers begin to have a faint cadence, something on the verge of musicality: academikocoapopfunkfusionbliss. And then you know it's time to press pause, stow the ear buds away, and knock on the hotel room door (or answer the perfectly timed phone call, as the case may be).

By the way, had I to do it over without a microphone, I would simply open a Voice account and use my cell phone to call in a couple of MP3 audio messages, download, import, etc. In fact, what brought this entry on is that just a few minutes ago I was chatting on the phone with a friend who will be on the market in the year ahead. Only, no mike. I suggested the Voice workaround. Also, about the questions, they were a mix: about the dissertation, about future plans for research and writing, two about classes I'd taught, two more about classes I want to create, something on administrative experience, philosophy, and style, another about framing TA training and mentorship, and then something definitional about new media and digital writing practices (their value, etc.). There are hundreds if not thousands of possible questions, but there's not much value, I'd argue, in overdoing it. Diminishing returns, if you overdo it. I guessed that these few would get a lot of play, and, while some came up more than others, all of them came up at least once during the interviewing process.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Power Adjuncting

The Chronicle published a piece this week by Douglas W. Texter, "No Tenure? No Problem." Part-timers, it goes, can now make a pile of money (in the neighborhood of $100k annually) by stacking teaching gigs at a couple of different institutions. Texter offers ten principles useful for adjusting one's thinking while taking the plunge into the pot of gold that is "entrepreneurial adjuncting." Among the guiding tenets: care, assume a mercenary attitude, change what you read, change the company you keep, watch Risky Business, and so on.

I learned about the column not because I pay all that much attention to CHE but because it drifted across WPA-L, a listserv I am subscribed to, albeit in digest mode. Texter's column stirred a fair amount of discussion, something like 32 list messages on the day it appeared. And without pointing too directly at any of the comments or naming names, the responses included variations of:

Sure, I'm having a little bit of fun with these characterizations, but I mean to capture the spirit of the dialogue more in the interest of marking it for a future return rather than summing it perfectly for those who didn't watch as it unfolded. Clearly there is a lot of interest in the proposition that part-timers, especially online part-timers, can make a load of dough simply by teaching several moderate loads. The perennial problem of mileage is, in the 100K part-part-part-timer model, solved by an internet connection. And I don't mean "solved" with respect to professional-ethical considerations; I mean "solved" in the sense that online, a body can be linked in with many different institutional scenes as there are tabs open in Firefox. So, this happens, and yet we don't understand it all that well because it is only partially visible from any single institutional perspective (i.e., it doesn't happen at any one place).

For the past couple of years, I've had a hand in mentoring new online instructors at another university, checking in every week or so by email or phone with those who are teaching an online course for the first time. While in this role, I've had the chance to meet a couple of entrepreneurial types who are doing a heckuva lot of teaching online for multiple institutions (note: many are teaching in fields other than Composition or even English Studies). Are some making 100k? I imagine so. Okay, maybe 90k. And collecting income by working at, say, three institutions without ever leaving their in-home offices. Once I called a new instructor I'd talked to a couple of times before and heard, "Now which university are you with?" And more recently, a part-timer told me about teaching experiences with Axia, Heald, and Baker before mentioning that the most s.he'd ever taught was 18 sections in one semester--all FYC at four different institutions (none of this was online, btw). We didn't talk gross income. But that's less my point. Instead, I've been thinking about how this sort of load passes unnoticed because it is distributed, decentralized. There is no large-scale accounting system in place that would give anyone insights into just how prevalent a practice this is, although it wouldn't surprise me at all to see institutions and accrediting bodies coordinate some means of calling these practices into check, perhaps by creating some sort of regional clearinghouse or something. I'm not all that well versed in how accrediting bodies address contingent labor in higher ed (or, for that matter, how those involved in accreditation audits come and go, how they become familiar with the interests they serve, and so on), but I continue to have an interest in the growing tension between part-time labor as it is typically conceived and how these new work categories that fall outside prevalent mythologies. I'm curious whether and to what degree these new work categories will change the shape of ongoing conversations about part-time labor, for better or worse, in the next five or ten or fifty years.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

New Forms of Connectivity

I just glanced Gerald Graff's IHE column, "It's Time to End 'Courseocentrism'," which urges greater transparency in the designing and teaching of classes and greater cross-curricular coordination, especially in the humanities. Humanities courses, Graff suggests, confound students with jumbled messages (fwiw, this rings of Fulkerson's concerns with philosophical confusion in composition programs created by all of the mixing, borrowing, and blending). Graff would have us unmix the messages, prefer coherence, and even out the scenes of teaching.

But how?

That's the part that doesn't seem to me to get enough pixels in this column. Graff embraces "amazing new forms of connectivity" as one kind of solution, but connection doesn't by natural progression bring about coherence. Also, connection demands a degree of participation: faculty ought to be putting their syllabi online. (I don't mean for this to be a slight, but I couldn't find any of Graff's syllabi on the WWW). Courseocentrism--any kind of -centrism that neglects to take an interest in what is happening elsewhere--is akin to negligent specialization, perhaps a byproduct of it. There are many ways to complicate courseocentric tendencies at a programmatic level, provided teachers are willing (or made) to do so. In fact, as I prepared to teach this semester, I was impressed to find that the Writing Program had collected more than 250 syllabi and made them available online (albeit as static, unsearchable PDFs). I looked at no fewer than ten of them as I prepared my syllabus, just to develop a sense of what others had done. I ended up doing something slightly different (a courseocentric gesture?); I didn't adapt anyone's stuff, in other words, but this was possible because the syllabi were published online. Who doesn't relish being able to glance syllabi for smart, engaging courses taught at all levels, whether at their own institutions or elsewhere?

In a roundabout, courseolliptical way, this brings me to my larger point (and unavoidable concern): When will the MLA develop a robust relational database for the systematic archivization of syllabi? Why not provide a platform for indexing (pre-coordinate and folksonomic), storing, and interrelating course syllabi (and materials, assignments for that matter)? Looking for a course on contemporary rhetoric? The platform would return a few by direct search and also suggest near-misses, following a "feeling lucky" algorithm. I understand that such a database is something that's been on several people's wish lists (and it's also been technically possible) for some time. No telling whether it would narrow curricular gaps or level out the disjointedness in any curriculum, but it would be a start toward a more systematic use of "new forms of connectivity" to address chronic "courseocentrism."

Friday, December 5, 2008


How about a spiffy floormat as a gift for the academic job seeker(s) in your life? Of course, at more than $600 US, it had better come with the black boots and a magic spell for a round trip carpet ride to the SF MLA later this month. (via)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

For The Third or Fourth Time

From today's IHE, a piece on double-dipping conference presentations. This is a practice that has been on my mind somewhat during this, the most conference-intensive stretch of my current program of study. Of course, the very idea of "double-dipping" resonates with the bucket (or well) model of invention that, at its best, smacks of individualism and zero-sum economics and, at its worst, echoes of such horrifying social (and professional) improprieties as standing over a vegetable tray at a faculty gathering and using, re-using, and re-re-using the same celery stalk as a salivated dipping stick for that zesty ("Maybe dill?") salad dressing. The views included in the short article range from the cynical to the more generous-spirited. From the cynical camp, a shot about dumbfounded graduate students who are oblivious to the ethics of reperforming (revising, retooling, redelivering, etc.) one's work:

As Nelson C. Dometrius, a professor of political science at Texas Tech University, writes in his introduction to [the debate featured in PS: Political Science and Politics], when he raised the question with senior faculty members, he received mixed reactions, with people quickly outlining special cases where they viewed such "double dipping" as justified. When he posed the same question to graduate students, Dometrius relates, "the modal reply was a blank stare -- a lack of comprehension that presenting the same paper as many times as you wished would be viewed by anyone as an unusual or questionable practice."

I don't know whether this says more about Dometrius, about the graduate students at Texas Tech (less likely), or about advanced graduate study in political science (even less likely), but it's a take that doesn't carry all that well over into my own experience developing and giving conference talks in recent years. If we are not to be flavor-of-the-week-ademics, isn't some return inevitable? What's implied here is that carry-over is suspicious, an indication that someone is slacking off or falsifying a work record.

On a more nuanced note, the exec. director of MLA--who was quoted in the article--suggests that re-use is smart and appropriate, especially when you take audience into account. If the audience is not the same from conference to conference, the matter of "double-dipping" becomes less a question of conferencing ethics and more a question of growing one's vita by dubious means (i.e., double-dipping as the HGH of higher ed). I would guess this works very differently when, for a dissertating graduate student, the list of life's work is fairly short and centered on a small number of projects than it would around year six or seven of an assistant professorship, after the chance to give the dissertation a rest, pour your heart into a couple of different projects, and perhaps even land a book contract. Artificial vita cultivation and re-tread scholarship: who really believes there will not come a day of reckoning for these practices?

One of the messages I return to from early in coursework: you can write insightfully and meaningfully about your work from any point in it, whether you are just beginning to find a research question, whether you have written full articles on the matter, or whether you have dedicated twenty years to this or that interest. Could this be construed as a kind of one-trick-ponyism? Perhaps. But it is not easy to decide without knowing better the work in question. Of course it's possible to re-use one's own stuff lazily, but all re-use, all "self-plagiarism," need not fall into that category of suspicion.

I am tempted to leap to personal anecdotes as a way to wander through this question a bit more. Those (i.e., the three of you) who have heard more than one of my conference papers in recent years will recognize overlaps, recurring interests, and ideas that re-appear because they click. But I am not giving the same paper in any two cases. Not exactly. Neither am I writing what I think of as purely original conference papers, since they all rise from an accumulating slosh of ideas and clusters of interests (providing copies of them is one measure of verification, but what about those extemporaneous talks?). The conferencing record is like a listing of cousins, not strangers, not siblings (most certainly not twins, which seem to be the concern of the article). But then again, perhaps I am merely invoking (to the point of abusing?) that graduate student exemption that grants greater leniency to experimentation, to trying ideas and presentational styles on for size, while trudging through all of those pre-professional uncertainties.

I have to stop here, but there are a couple of other matters of interest touched off by the piece:

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Of Value To The World

In a recent Chronicle column, "Tales of Western Adventure," (via) historian Patricia Limerick writes on the challenges facing "public" scholars. The public scholar vs. "scholar of the esoteric" dichotomy is fraught with brambles (might the passionate pursuer of the arcane run afoul of hasty caricatures?), of course, but nevertheless the column is a must read. I was especially taken in by her bulleted lists. The first one, halfway into the short piece, weighs reasons for not encouraging newcomers to pursue academic careers in the humanities. The second list consists of Limerick's everyday techniques or manners for delivering "on the promise that university-based academics are of value to the world." Among them:

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Where's Rhetoric?

The above question was at the heart of last Thursday's C.15 session in New Orleans. It was a full session--packed to the walls after being bumped from one rather large space, Grand Ballroom D, to one of the smaller salons in the adjacent hallway. After a curmudgeonly attendee in the back grumped "Microphone?", the first speaker, Michael Bernard-Donals, described a needful relationship between composition and rhetoric (i.e., one in which composition needs rhetoric). Bernard Donals observed that, judging by the conference program, rhetoric appears to have been banished; it is invisible; it has been marginalized, at the very least. The decline of "rhetoric" in the program served as evidence for Bernard-Donals' claim about its compromised, fading status. He suggested, as well, that rhetoric might threaten composition's disciplinary thrust toward stability. Variations on this idea turned up on the talks shared by Thomas Rickert and Rosa Eberly, also. Rickert's "Rhetoric Beyond Critique: Grappling with Institutionality After Kant" thoughtfully considered the institutional inertia reflected in rhetoric's lowly status in the today's academy. His concern was less the relationship between composition and rhetoric than the tolerable limits of critique and, as well, the ways rationalism's powerful residue is deeply implicated in prevailing institutional norms. Neither my memory nor my notes serve me very well in saying more. Eberly echoed a slight variation on Bernard-Donals' suggestion that rhetoric threatens stability: "Rhetoric via Crowley brings the possibility that we change our minds." Up to that point, she worked--via performative flair and personal anecdote--at the idea that there are certain advantages in CCCClosets, walls that sequester and seal off, and so we need not hasten to dissolve divides where they linger.

This was an engaging panel all in all, perhaps all the more so for the sense I had leaving it that the question--"Where's Rhetoric?"--was answerable in a hundred different ways (not that the panelists presumed their work to offer any final word, of course). So, where is rhetoric at CCCC? As Bernard-Donals explained, it is less pronounced in the titles of sessions. And, because its omission from titles does not prove its omission from the conference program, he went on to say that in his methods of sifting the conference program for "rhetoric" he relied on tacit knowledge (familiarity with presenters, topics, and institutional affiliations, I would guess) to trace "rhetoric's fingerprints in the papers." By these methods, if he is right, "rhetoric" is fading at the CCCC.

It seemed to me to be a question of ground-truthing, the technique used by cartographers when they venture out, GPS in hand, to corroborate what's on the map with what's on the ground--what's real, that is, or evidential. But the very idea of finding rhetoric in the conference program (as opposed to the conference) also depends upon how rhetoric is defined and how generous or flexible the manner enacted in the process of looking. In other words, if you are not finding "rhetoric" where you are looking, is it a matter of how you look or where you look? Both, I suppose.

Maybe I can get at this a different way--by looking for "rhetoric" in two other panels I attended, first by glancing their titles and then by thinking about what happened in those sessions. First, consider E.34 Writing Pictures, Changing Writing. No mention of "rhetoric" in the titles. It is listed under "Practices of Teaching Writing." Is this a rhetoric panel? I don't know. Elsewhere: F.11 Visual Rhetoric of Comics, 'Spectacle', and Mail Art. This was a panel organized by the conference, so the title, I would imagine, was assigned somewhere in the selection process. One of the papers listed mentioned "rhetoric" explicitly, but that panelist was not on hand to present. Still, with "rhetoric" in the session title, and with "Theory" as its area cluster, I suppose it is more likely F.11 is a hit than a miss.

So, then, E.34, no mentions of "rhetoric", and F.11, explicit mentions of "rhetoric". Both concerned art, comics, and visual "rhetoric," to varying degrees. E.34 did so with far more examples of student-created comics; F.11, in so far as the papers concerned comics, dealt more with reading them, interpreting them, and analyzing them (rhetoric as a synonym for rhetorical criticism). McCloud's work was invoked by presenters on both panels. In E.34, the complete series from Understanding to Reinventing to Making Comics came up. In F.11, the discussion of comics stuck to Understanding Comics--McCloud's more analytical, critical (rather than productive) project. With this I am not trying to say that rhetoric was more or less present in one or the other of these panels, but I am trying to come to terms with the sense I have that rhetoric is potentially more or less present in the conference depending on how we as conference-goers listen for it, ask questions inflected with rhetorical concepts, and how our own uneven training in rhetoric positions us to expect that all writing activity is immersed in it. I am trying to come to terms with my own hunches (both Qs&As) about the C.15 question--"Where's Rhetoric?": What if it is here?

There are ninety-nine or more other ways to turn it, and it's a fun, evocative question.
Where's rhetoric? Eating at Evelyn's Place (and, thus, ditching all D.sessions).
Where's rhetoric? What do I look like, rhetoric's mom?
Where's rhetoric? Touring.
Where's rhetoric? Getting schnockered on Bedford St. Martin's wine over at the aquarium.
Where's rhetoric? If you are not finding it where you are looking, why are you looking for it there?
Where's rhetoric? Last I saw, rhetoric was on the third floor, by the pool, listening to an iPod and wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt with a tag cloud on the front of it.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

H.16orn Tooting

In step with Jenny and Scot, whose posts have alerted me to attend their respective panels at CCCC (although, Scot--8 a.m.?), I thought I should take advantage of the opportunity to promote yet another session at the upcoming convention. So, where should you be at 11:00 a.m. next Friday, April 4? Why, in the Elmwood Room on the Third Floor of the Hilton Riverside in N.O., of course, for H.16 Digital Research Ecologies: How Journal Web Sites Are Answering New Media's Challenges.

Do you need more encouragement? So be it. Here I give you the title slide from my talk.

More still?

We are presenting in room #12, not far from the swimming pool, which means you could bring your towel for a dip before or after the talk (or to hold over your mouth as an ad hoc filter for those sharp, chest-stabbing whiffs of chlorine). If, on the other hand, you skip the H sessions to go swimming, we will see you as we walk by, and perhaps even bear a small, short-lived grudge. Heh, I'm kidding about that last part. Anyway, come along to H.16 and we'll grab lunch afterward. Apparently there is seating enough for between 96 and 176 (depending on whether the chairs are "classroom" or "theater" styled).

Friday, August 17, 2007

Job Seekers' Wiki

Over at the Academic Careers wiki, I just created a page for composition and rhetoric-related positions in the upcoming hiring cycle. Bookmark and contribute!

Okay, so maybe it's a little bit early to be fiddling with this. On the other hand, it's never too early to get the word out. And don't worry, I won't post a standalone blog entry about it every time I make a change over there (although I might post a follow-up).

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Transparency for Library Recalls

Another one of the books I have out from the library was recalled the other day. It's due to be returned tomorrow. I've been holding onto it until the last possible moment because I wanted to eek out what notes I could about the one chapter that interested me (whether any of it finds a place in the diss is of many undecideds). The library has recalled maybe six or eight books from me in the three years I've been at Syracuse. Often the book has been on my shelf for longer than its initial check-out period. Our libraries at SU make it very easy to renew online: bad for patrons who are put off by the "checked out" designation; good for my temporary collections.

With the most recent recall, it occurred to me that there might be certain advantages in a system that allowed the possessor and the requestor to see information about each other--something like a localized LibraryThing where borrowing patterns and common materials associate people at a given institution (or regional cluster of institutions). I mean that the recall request would disclose information about the person requesting the book and vice versa. There could be problems with this, also, such as when the possessor fails to return the book by the new deadline. I can imagine a disgruntled requestor parked outside my office door, fuming. Likewise, I can imagine scenarios where rank might play a role (even though, of course, it should not), such as when a sophomore makes a request for materials crucial to a tight-to-deadline research project by someone up the hierarchy.

Problems notwithstanding, transparency would make it possible for the possessor and requestor to have a conversation. Most of us wouldn't have time for this sort of thing every time materials are recalled, but why not make it an option, even for casual insights and also a different sense of connections across an institution? After all, books--even though they are things--participate in and even proliferate networks. Such a system (opt-in, of course) might stimulate cross-campus (even cross-institutional) conversations and serendipitous exchanges about reading and research that would not happen otherwise. I raise this not knowing anything about the requestor of The Organization of Knowledge in Modern America, 1860-1920 or their motivations. Arbitrary (does anyone have a copy of...?) requests for materials to our program listserv would suggest that borrowers are likely to be our close colleagues. This is interesting and surprising--grounds for fruitful encounters. But equally interesting to me are those potential encounters beyond the usual circles in which we walk, read.

Whether there's anything to all of this, the recall did touch off an incentive for me to get some notes down on Veysey's chapter, notes which include these two striking excerpts:

"Those who reject the dominant scientific conception of the pursuit of knowledge can only wander off in a score of mutually unrelated directions. It is easy to see these as amounting to no more than a mixed bag of random leftovers. In particular, when such fields as history, English, foreign languages, and the history of art and music rejected science and yet invoked the past, there was the grave danger that they would run around in a spirit of sheer antiquarianism--calling attention to anything merely because it existed, with no self-conscious principle of selection, no concept of the logical relationship between evidence and larger hypothetical generalizations. Of course none of this matters if one stops dreaming of intellectual unification and rests content with the celebration of particular achievements in art, music, poetry, literary criticism, or philosophy. But these symptoms of confusion, drift, and retreatism deserve emphasis in dealing with a rubric that to outsiders appears far more coherent than it is" (57).

"The most important boundary may well be not the formalistic one between so-called amateurs and professionals but the line that divides those who William James called the once- and twice-born, between those persons of all backgrounds who have become converted to a profoundly sustaining intellectual allegiance of this kind and those others (possibly laboring alongside them in the same academic departments) who have not" (61).

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

In Action

Just before the fall semester convenes one month from now, my graduate program will hold its annual Community Day event. The day-long event includes faculty and grad student symposia, a lunch, a conversation with the new cohort of students, and, in the evening, a potluck. The theme for this year's event is "Scholarship In Action," one of the hinge phrases in SU's mission statement. Scholarship In Action, as I understand it, is a positive designation for scholarly activity undertaken in such a way that it circulates broadly, intervening in the world beyond the academy. Community engagement, boundary-spanning initiatives, and participatory dynamics are entered into play. SIA complicates traditional models of research. I've been asked to talk for ten minutes about how the research I'm doing matches up with SIA, and so, largely because I agreed to do it, I've been walking the perimeter, getting bearings on the phrase, tracing it back through some of the references to it in recent campus discourse, keeping on the lookout for a eureka or two.

I read the university-wide shared reading for the fall, which, in one sense, presents TB-expert Paul Farmer as the consummate scholar in action. Also, I have had a few conversations with people about SIA or overheard it discussed in relationship to more inclusive sensibilities about tenure and promotion. While it might seem an over-statement to call SIA controversial, it's an idea that, because it jostles with traditional definitions of scholarship, strikes up some hard questions. For instance: Is SIA, in itself, adequate for progress toward tenure and promotion in all disciplines? Whatever the answer to this first one, what is the optimum ratio between SIA and traditional scholarship or, that is, basic research? And how does the ratio shift depending on rank? What are the risks involved in building one's own research agenda on SIA before establishing much of any record with basic or traditional research in a given field? I raise these questions mostly to begin to get at some preliminary ideas about how to talk for ten minutes about SIA relative to what I do (and what 'what I do' does). I mean that I want to understand the correspondence rather than just insist on it. I can see that these questions would imply that SIA and traditional scholarship are at odds. That's not necessarily the case. They might just as well be considered integral. Still, SIA implies an improvement upon basic, traditional scholarship.

Farmer's research agenda as well as his publication record is downplayed in Mountains Beyond Mountains. Occasionally, Kidder mentions that Farmer was dashing off an article late at night or during one of his trans-Atlantic flights. Often the article was solicited by a reputable journal, and, of course, the writing was tightly interwoven with his on-ground, applied research in the clinic. I mention this because I didn't have the impression that Farmer was exerting himself as a scholar, traditional or in action. I mean that SIA wasn't explicitly his plan.

I'm not sure that it's my plan, either. I mean, I hold SIA in favorable regard, and I think it is an especially crucial intervention where it expands definitions of tenurable (i.e., traditional, recognizable) scholarly activity, even if hasn't caught on at many institutions. SIA stretches these carefully defined domains, and it does so, in part, to re-integrate the university with the world at-large. To blend them together again while warding off the many pressures, forces, ivory towerisms, and economies of scarcity that hold them apart in far too many ways. SIA reverses the caricature model of traditional scholarly production: curmudgeonly hermits turning out article after unread article, monograph after unread monograph, reproducing a narrow-band echo-effect among a highly specialized in-group.

But then there are more hard questions: Another concern is that as a graduate student preparing at SU (an institution where SIA is valued), what bearing will it have in an institution where SIA is not valued, not recognized? Could SIA have a negative impact for a freshly minted Ph.D. seeking a faculty appointment at another institution? Perhaps. Again, the question of ratios in the combinatory mix--of balancing an SIA agenda with traditional, recognizable scholarship, and of doing so in such a way that SIA doesn't merely amount to yet another set of tasks. I suppose this could be read as cynical, but I don't mean it that way at all. I'm only trying to anticipate questions of whether (and to what degree) SIA introduces greater risks (or greater rewards) for graduate students.

I haven't even touched upon the intersection of SIA and digital research and scholarship, but this is what my ten minutes will sort through. To what extent is keeping a account a form of SIA? How about blogging? Online teaching? CCC Online Archive? I can make a case for it, I suppose, but there's also a way of dealing with the question that boils down plainly to what is included on one's CV. Others have talked about this at length--whether to include one's weblog on a CV. I would guess that most people, other than those who have won awards for it, don't include it. Obviously, I don't hide it (under what rug would it fit?), but neither do I list Earth Wide Moth (not even any of my favorite entries) on the CV under "scholarship."

In a similar vein, I know there are discussions at old U. about counting the development of online courses as publications. Online courses involve a sizable chunk of work and a lot of writing, but are they more article-like than syllabus-like? More review-like than teaching-statement-like? I don't know (er, perhaps I do know this tacitly, considering I don't list the courses I've developed as publications). Without putting SIA, applied research, traditional research, or basic research into tidy, discrete categories, I still need to sort through just how much of what I do matches with SIA and, as well, take stock of what it is worth to call it by that name.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Power Adjuncting

I mentioned before that in addition to teaching one course I'm working this summer in a mentoring role for first-term online instructors at old U. I'm assigned to two of them, an instructor of psychology and an instructor of economics. This involves email interchanges, sharing certain announcements and teaching documents, occasional phone conversation, and three formative evaluations throughout the term. In a recent phone conversation with the instructor of economics, he told me about a colleague from his M.A. program who has been power-adjuncting for a couple of years. The power adjunct, so I'm told, taught 16 online courses per term for who knows how many unwitting universities en route to earning close to $300,000 in one year. That would make this person's FTE, oh, between 11 and 12? Obviously, this involves torturous paces and is more possible where courses are flatly transactional, even where assessment follows a reductive circuit from the textbook to multiple-choice examination. Not the most sustainable career choice, but at 300K, a hyperactive part10-timer could work for only a couple of years before retiring comfortably (while teaching only two or three courses per term for groceries).

Yes, it is scandalous. Equally scandalous are the "university" systems that make the conditions for bloat-load teaching possible. There is more lore to this effect: stories of some low-lying part-timer in California who, with ties to just four different institutions, teaches online and earns six figures doing it (not 300k, but more like 100k). Something about it intrigues me, makes me wonder at the possibilities. No, no, not that I'd ever want to try it (300k...), but I'm anxiously waiting for someone else to write a monograph comparable to Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, only this time taking the exposé to the credit-hour-farmers who heft the virtual load, like day-workers at online Labor Ready, but instead of getting exploited, they get rich (well, okay, exploited and rich).

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Summer Is Off

This summer's work is well underway. In addition to working on the dissertation (a rough chapter draft scraped together by July 20?) and CCC Online Archive, I am teaching an online section of HU211 (Intro to Humanities) for old U. and holding down one of three seats as a mentor for new online instructors. This is the first summer in several years where I'm teaching just one course. For five or six years in a row, I've taught two. The mentoring gig feels a small amount lighter to me than teaching a course. Fewer email exchanges, and the interactions with the instructors are highly professional, responsive, and collegial. The twist--always a twist?--is that the mentorship pairings shape up across the disciplines, so even though I am not formally trained in economics or psychology, the instructors I am working with are teaching courses in those areas: Principles of Microeconomics and Introduction to Guidance and Counseling. Of course, my purpose is not so much to pose as a content expert as it is to listen, share samples of various teaching documents, announcements, reminders, rubrics for assigning grades to the stuff that turns up in threaded discussions, and lend a hand with other administrative aspects of teaching online (in eCollege, following old U.'s procedural standards as relate to the handling of proctored exams, submissions of attendance, and so on). I also fill out a periodic, formative evaluation of sorts and check in on the exchanges taking shape in a discussion forum where instructors new and old from across the disciplines chime in with whatever is on their minds (not surprisingly, some of entries include laments that the students can't write or that they--h0rr0r!--plagiarize). Woe, the ongoing disenchantment with student prose.

All of this in addition to the travel (Detroit for C&W, Phoenix for camp, Michigan for my in-laws' 50th anniversary) and the cross-town move (coming up) accumulates to suggest that I don't have to worry about that fatigue (and blisters) that might otherwise accompany weeks and months of twiddling my thumbs.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Meeting of the Job Hunters

We held our first job-seekers meeting yesterday afternoon, spent a couple of hours going over each other's CV and talking through how we rank criteria for the jobs we will soon pursue. I use pursue loosely and with a string of asterisks, of course, since this year I am only something like one-tenth on the market and nine-tenths not. I mean that I am going through the material preparations processes as if I am on the market and will only apply for positions too sweet to resist, provided, also, that I'm making progress on the diss. Why? Well, it would take an offer somewhere in the ball park of a five-year contract and 27.5 million a year for us to relocate before Ph.'s senior year of high school. Make that 30 mil. On top of that, it's not especially ethical or wise (in terms of reputation-building) for me to court jobs I have no genuine interest in filling from the outset. While I would like to dangle a toe in the waters of interviewing and giving job talks, I won't be pitching jobs for that reason alone. The process is too grueling for candidates and committees to tie up everyone's time and resources on my desire for full-on play-acting the year before I go on the market in earnest. Better to spend those energies building bridges (i.e., writing, conferencing, etc.) rather than dismantling them.

I have a fairly short list of criteria for my optimum job (#1. It pays. #2. Fringe benefits, such as health insurance. #3. The institution is accredited. #4. Not more than a 5/5 load. And so on...). But after those factors, I understand that there are many, many variables involved that have bearing on a candidate's fit, several of which are outside of the candidate's control. There's enough to say about this that I probably ought to make it a separate entry rather than ramble through it all right now. Jeff's point about good colleagues resonates with me. Entering an embattled department, while possible (I accept!), is not how I want to live out my first years on the job. May I be so fortunate as to land in a program where people like and respect each other, where they get along professionally even if they are not best chums.

What else came up in the meeting? The bullet-by-bullet-by-bullet:

Next meeting in +/- three weeks when we take up job letters.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Program Investment

With the weekend after my graduate program's visiting days trailing to a close, I've been thinking a lot about program ownership and investment. Wednesday night through Saturday morning, we hosted a group of prospective students, much like we do every year in late February or early March. Because I was on the graduate committee last year, I was heavily involved in the process, and two years ago, as a first-year student, I made every effort I could to welcome the prospective students, to spend time with them, answer their questions, and chat about the culture of our program, the styles of various faculty members, the challenges that come along with teaching undergraduates at SU, and so on. This year, however, I missed meeting any of the students on the first day because they were scheduled for various meetings throughout the day and the more casual evening events conflicted with an indoor soccer match on Ph.'s schedule. The second day, Friday, was loaded up with my preparations for the pre-CCCC talk. Finally, at the evening get-together and again at a breakfast on Saturday morning, I had the chance to get to know each of them a bit better. A terrific group, really. We'd be fortunate to have them here.

Given the various turnouts, however, this year's visiting days has me thinking about who lays claim to the program, who steers it, who gives it its shape, who carries it on their shoulders, etc. Of course, the program, in a strict sense, is the university's. Administrative decisions trickle down, governing the possibilities for the program and also setting limits. That's a given, I suppose. But I'm thinking, too, about the ratio of investment among faculty and students. It's never so neat as "all faculty" are thoroughly and equally invested (as measured by?) nor as "all students" are thoroughly and equally invested (as measured by?). But rather than talk about my own program in this regard, because I don't want to depict my program as faculty-heavy or student-heavy in terms of involvement ratios, instead I want to pose the questions about who owns the program. Whose stake is greater in efforts to recruit a prospective cohort? The question can be worked any number of ways.

My first thought--on Saturday, when I started mulling this over--was that the faculty, of course, have greater stakes. Faculty, in one sense, are the program (try to have a program without them). They define it; their decisions shape the curriculum; their mentoring and guidance have tremendous bearing on the development of students, interests, professional trajectories. That said, I don't have any idea whether such things are made explicit to faculty at most programs (in any contract or job description or conversation with a department chair or dean) or even whether faculty are on the same page regarding the degree to which their individual actions permeate the culture of the program. Again, SU aside, I suppose this would work very differently from place to place. Or perhaps not. It is also difficult to measure the value of any encounter with students, difficult to separate the faculty-as-collective from faculty-as-individuals. Is a well-taught graduate course of greater significance than behind-the-scenes advising? Is a fifteen-minute formal presentation to prospective students given greater weight than a full three hours of relatively superficial niceties? Volatile and irregular, the bases for these comparisons.

But the more I've been thinking about it, the more I have been thinking that the graduate students must carry the heavier side of the ratio in terms of laying claim to the program and its culture. Graduate students influence faculty decisions, too, though perhaps to a lesser degree than they influence ours. But when we leave a program, we will be forever associated with the program; that is, association with the program lasts with us in ways that are not quite the same for faculty, particularly for those faculty who will stop over at multiple institutions (this one, this stop-over becomes one among many in such cases).

It's a mistake to bifurcate faculty and students, to insist that one group or the other must tow the load of program culture. It's a tidier division in thought-experiment than in any actual program, I suppose. Maybe such things as highly differential faculty investment are discussed openly at faculty meetings. I don't know. I also wonder whether such matters should be addressed explicitly with students and how, assuming it is appropriate, one would go about reminding everyone that the program's culture is in their hands, if it's in the hands of anyone, that is. I mean that the program is defined by students, in equal part whether they are tend to be participatory (additive) or non-participatory (absent). Something like an employee-owned model of graduate education.

To return to the example of my own program and my place in it, the success of the prospective students matters every bit as much to me as the publishing being done by our faculty, the currents in our undergraduate curriculum, the careers of alumni, the reputations of recent grads, the rotation of faculty through various appointments in the program, the rates of faculty exiting, and so on. Complex systems and then some. There's a lot going on. These aren't substitutes for my own activities (progress on the diss, conference presentations, collegiality and whatnot) but neither are they discrete or isolated, especially where the program's reputation is in focus.

I suppose it seems like I'm tip-toeing around some unspoken happening. Not really. Nothing prompted me into these lines of thought besides a genuine question about mutuality in graduate program recruitment--the distribution of the load we bear in performing the program and shaping both its culture and its reputation, not only for the two days prospective students visit each spring, but for the rest of time. Personalizing this discovery might make this thinking-down-a-path clearer: the culture of the program and my own actions are, pretty much from the day I accepted admission, integral.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Carnival: Trimbur and Writing Studies

Following Donna's renewed call for the late February Trimbur carnival, here are a couple of floats in response to "Changing the Question: Should Writing Be Studied?" from Composition Studies 31.1 (2003).

For now I'll try to keep it to just two or three ideas. I've heard passing mention of "writing studies" as an alternative name for the knot (bow?) where rhetoric and composition are tied together. When I used it myself once, I think someone suggested that the "writing studies" designation is typically claimed by discourse analysts--those whose encounters with texts are measured for pattern and (ir)regular features. Perhaps that's only of value inasmuch as it sheds light on my own baggage with the phrase: a moment of correction, definition, and re-association. And whether this is right or not is less the point, I think, than the contemplation of writing studies' orientation to particular methods and research agendas. As I read Trimbur's article, I also thought about another passing conversation with a colleague who described someone else's work in film this way: "[S.h]e does film studies, not production. Students who take film classes want production rather than all of the history, theory, and methodology that go along with film studies. They're impatient and even bored with film studies." That was the gist of it, anyhow. Out of this half-remembered conversation comes one question about a shift from workshop to seminar room and toward writing studies: at the cost of what? If the answer is that we study writing (n.) at the expense of writing (p.v.), the proposition becomes considerably messier. Of course, nobody is saying this explicitly, but to what degree is a quiet displacement of something else implied by the asking?

At SU, we're in a somewhat unique situation with a standalone writing program and a bona fide writing minor (also an undergraduate major inching toward approval and formalization). English majors at SU take up a program of study in what is called "English and Textual Studies." I don't know a whole lot about the curriculum, but the "Textual Studies" addition has always given me pause. As a generic concept detached from actual curriculum and teaching practices, it sounds an awful lot like a bridge between the work done in the writing program and the English Department (even if it's something more like the Königsberg bridge). Where is the slippage between "textual studies" as it matches with the work of colleagues in literature and "writing studies" as the basis for a four-year undergraduate curriculum?

Finally, for this entry at least, I'm interested in the relationship among the three questions Trimbur poses: 1. Can writing be taught? 2. How can writing be learned? 3. Should writing be studied? Changing the question suggests, in a certain sense, that Trimbur treats these questions as substitutive rather than additive or accumulative. Even as the discipline has matured, the staggered development of programs and practitioners leads me to think the questions should be additive--a layered, nested and continuous flow of inquiries. I mean that we mustn't too hastily retire either of the first two questions simply because they've been thought through and addressed by others before us.

Donna's Belatedly: Trimbur and "writing studies"
Jeff's The Call to Write
Collin's Trimbur Calling
Bill's Trimbur, "Should Writing Be Studied?"
Jenny's Studies of Writing (Carnival Post)
Jeff's The Call to Write II: Critical Gestures
Alex's Trimbur Carnival
Lance's (Carnival.) To Trimbur: Yes.
Nels's "Write Me a Letter..."
Jeff W.'s Writing Studies I and II

Added: I couldn't resist running Trimbur's essay through TagCrowd.

created at

Friday, February 2, 2007

Courseware, Training Wheels

Thanks to everyone who threw in a congrats. May I never grow tired of waves of encouraging comments. (Makes me consider, for half a minute, the possibilities in announcing that I passed exams every week until the diss is finished. Entry #1419: For the Hundredth Time: Pass! Pass!)

For a few minutes now, I've bee thinking about Blackboard. IHE has this little news piece on Blackboard and law suits over patents. Blackboard, as I understand it, fancies itself the first to develop the web-in-a-box-ware used by so many colleges and universities for delivering online courses (or augmenting F2F with innovations like discussion forums). The legal loops are only marginally interesting to me. I mean, even though I think it is far-fetched, I can understand why Blackboard must, in the interest of solvency, claim as its property the idea of rolling together things like message boards, bulk email, and announcements into an unforgettable discombobulware.

I'm using Blackboard in an online course I'm currently teaching at SU. Its role in the course is minimal--merely a hub for discussion, assignments, and announcements. I've also taught with VCampus and eCollege in the past, and I can, without hesitation, say that I find both of the latter vastly superior to Blackboard. I'm no Blackboardian. Neither am I committed uncritically to VCampus or eCollege. I understand the need for such easy-to-use engorgementware (Just upload your Word docs). But I'm turning away from such things as much as I can. More and more, rails-heavy constraintware reminds me of training wheels. Only, rather than needing them to steady the vehicle, I see them more like the last set of training wheels that hanged dusty and rusted in the garage. They were strange, draped on a nail or resting on a shelf years later, a stark reminder of development as I aired the tires between popping wheelies and leaving skid marks in the driveway (a practice later banned by parental rule). Courseware as old training wheels, not the most flattering metaphor, eh?

So, as I said, I'm using anything else. For example: I'm making extensive use of Google Docs and Spreadsheets (formerly Writely) this semester for the online 205 at SU. In fact, it's the primary place where I ask students to turn in their work. They can upload Word docs or files from other word processing apps and then add me as a collaborator to let me know it's there, ready to be read and commented. When a student adds me as a collaborator, I get an email with a link back to the document in Google Docs. After I have read and commented on the piece, I simply select 'email' and the system asks me if I want to let the other collaborator know the document is ready for them to see. Google Docs runs server-side, so there's no uploading and downloading of files. All versions of a document are kept online, too, so I can easily select an early draft of a document for comparison or a quick reminder of what changed. I can add my comments as notes (which I often do), color code the notes, and use the highlighting options to assign shades to key concepts, moments of confusion, and so on. I hadn't tried the highlighting method before this semester, but it's the way that Becky made notes on my major qualifying exams, and I really liked the way it presents patterns among words and ideas.

After I return-email the document, routing it back to the student-collaborator, I'm left with a couple of nice options for the managing the list of documents associated with my account. I can add tags to individual docs or groups of them that will help me associate them with particular assignments, a stage of drafting, or a level of performance (I mean I can tag exemplary work as "exemplary" for future returns). Next I simply archive it, so I'm only faced with a list of active documents in the queue.

I'm sure this isn't a revolutionary practice, but it beats the heck out of anything I've seen in any of the courseware systems I've used to teach writing online. In fact, eCollege has yet to incorporate text formatting in their threaded discussion area (hyperlinks are automatically recognized, but still). And even in Google Docs there are a few small drawbacks (for each highlighting event, a color must be selected; it doesn't default to the last color used, and there is a similar wonkiness with changing the colors associated with inserted comments). Basically it amounts to a couple of extra clicks.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

An Account

Latour, in ch. 5 of Reassembling, writes this of "slowciological" accounts:

What is an account? It is typically a text, a small ream of paper a few millimeters thick that is darkened by a laser beam. It may contain 10,000 words and be read by very few people, often only a dozen or a few hundred if we are really fortunate. A 50,000 word thesis might be read by a half a dozen people (if you are lucky, even your PhD advisor would have read parts of it!) and when I say 'read', it does not mean 'understood', 'put to use', 'quoted', 'shelved somewhere in a pile'. At best we add an account to all those which are simultaneously launched in the domain we have been studying. Of course, this study is never complete. We start in the middle of things, in medias res, pressed by our colleagues, pushed by fellowships, starved for money, strangled by deadlines. And most of the things we have been studying, we have ignored or misunderstood. (122)

Even if I don't choose this as the epigraph to the preface to the rough draft of my dissertation prospectus, I find it to be an encouraging and humorous characterization of the phase that lies ahead. And this is to say nothing of Reassembling seeming one of the more important (read smart, even riveting) books I've picked up in recent months. Well, right, I am being sort of pokey in crawling through it, the way an aspiring slowciologist of associations should.

Friday, December 1, 2006

New Wine

A couple of days ago I resolved--silently--to postpone blogging until the end of qualifying exams (Dec. 21). Consider this entry a hiatus from my postponement. I've been condensing notes for the last two days, paring 24k words down to 8k, the amount I can smunch decently onto four sides of 8.5"x11" paper with a seven point font. I could drop to a 6 pt. font, but I figure there's no real need for more than the equivalent of twenty-four pages of notes when the answers I'm trying to write will each be 10-12 pages long. If all goes as planned, that is. Twelve pages spread across three hours: three...1...2...seconds...1...2...per...1...2... word. I probably shouldn't write the beats per word on the actual exam, should I? For today my notes seem adequate.

Where was I? I really only wanted to return a gratitude link to "New Media and New Literacies: Perspectives on Change," Carol Holder's New Horizons review in the latest Educause. The brief article opens with the following question: "What's it going to take to see new media, multimodal literacies, and curriculum and instructional change at colleges and universities?":

Fortunately, faculty who teach writing and are writing specialists, who help students become "literate," are in a discipline that has a long tradition of focusing research on curriculum, instruction, and the processes that lead to the development of literacy. Composition, rhetoric, and writing teachers were among the earliest adopters of computer- and Internet-based technologies in instruction, sharing results of experimental programs at conferences and in professional journals. (para. 5)

This definitely strikes a Concord given that I've been revisiting the C&W histories lately, polishing notes about Lisa Gerrard and Hugh Burns just yesterday. Generally, Holder has written an upbeat piece on change and diffusion, which also suggests some of the ways digital writing practices might productively alter the engrained patterns of conversations across disciplines. Plus, EWM gets an approving nod in the "New Wine" section. Cheers to that.

And now back to postponement, back to juicing the grapemash that is my brains six days from sitting the exams.

Sunday, September 3, 2006


I was interested to read Paul Matsuda's recent entry, "Read Everything," because it gets at the challenge involved in scholarly niche and rhythm. He begins with this:

One of the stock pieces of advice that I give gradaute students is to "read everything." Of course it's impossible to read everything that has ever been written, but I do expect researchers to have read everything--literally everything--on subtopics within the field on which they are writing.

This paradox is the ongoing challenge, no? Read everything; to read everything is impossible. Still, one must. But cannot. Etc. The outlying factors bear down and raise related questions: write everything? How much to read before writing? While writing? How much to write while reading?

I developed a decent relationship with my FYC professor at Central Michigan (where I studied for a year before transferring) and so listened in on many of his sage asides. For him, the maxim of read it all shifted to memory and attention and "read this": "Be one on whom nothing is lost." I remember him reminding us--fervently--that to feel intellectually small you need only to go to the library, look at one shelf on one floor of the library, and consider what you must do to understand it. Phew. Were we ever glad to have a reader.

To my mind Matsuda's stock advice is good for hearing, even if it can't be fully executed. In this sense, it turns into the performance of reading all that one can possibly read and recognizing (while also not being put off by) the unavoidable limitation in such a commitment as that.

Monday, July 24, 2006

VR@RL Underway

The VR@RL Conference kicks off today and runs through the end of the week. Here's what I put together: "Digital Underlife and Writing Instruction."

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Out Comes

As much as anything else, I wanted to gather together the full (re-released!) collection of interchange on "computer literacy" section of the WPA Outcomes Statement on technology. Why? Just so I'd have it, evidence of the watershed moment.

Suggested Section: Computer Literacy
Outcomes, Technology, and a Blog
Computer Literacy Plank on Outcomes Statement
Party like it's 1996
Why I haughtta...
planks of technology
More on Technology, Outcomes, Walking Planks, Being an Outsider"
WPA Technology Outcomes Statement
Walking the "Techplank"

While I'm at it, I've been thinking about outcomes statements for a few days now, too, not only because of the WPA OS on technology, but also because I've been deciphering quite a few acronym-rich emails with references to CO, CA and CAR associated with my summer gig.

Just moseying along, minding my business, when I bump into an OS, I want to ask, What comes out? (Is it possible to do so without seeming rude?) Put another way: What do we gain and lose by shifting outcomes from a noun to a question? What comes out? Or what, with adherence to the listed dictums, would come out?

That probably wouldn't work becomes outcomes are answers, affirmations of the implications of a particular set of activities (often associated with formal schooling). Because the answers or outcomes precede the activity, they run the risk of overdetermining the activity, reducing it to its forecast. They are, for the most part, inertial rather than accelerative, a happy cocktail of teleology, ideology and institution-ology. They depend upon clear, concise language, language that must not theorize, must not introduce perplexity (no matter how vital these things might be throughout the activity!). Outcomes, necessary though they are, might be the antithesis of inquiry. Inquiry moves ahead without full certainty or reassurance of already knowing. Inquiry knows not what will come out: wondering, wandering, guessing.

In fairness, we can all recognize the need for removing these three nuisances: theory, perplexity and inquiry. Outcomes statements must be the surest answers; the activity would be a failure if it didn't come out as predicted, if it didn't come out, that is, an exact match with the lowest replicable components (LRC).

Last thing: this brings up an audience problem. I mention this because audience seems to be a crossed-wires issue here. In "Composition Studies: Dappled Discipline," citing Farrell, Lauer writes, "In social fields, advocates have two kinds of audience: 1) the epistemic court of experts and 2) larger affected populations for whom social knowledge exercises a rhetorical function, attempting to gain their acceptance of its conclusions and to induce their action" (24). Eventually there's a third audience (even if Lauer includes it with the second audience): "those writing instructors and pedagogical advocates who are neither in touch with existing scholarship nor contributing to it" (24). What do I mean about an audience problem? The three audiences, again:

1. Epistemic court (experts who keep up with the reading and write actively on the issues they profess)
2. General public
2a. Those who self-identify with the field but who neither keep up with the scholarship nor write actively on the issues they profess

Outcomes statements can't appease all three audiences at once, and it's altogether likely that those in the first group will find them to be egregiously reductive, simplistic and lacking in vitality (fair enough; Lauer wasn't writing about OSes, exactly). They must name only what is already known to be possible as an LRC (and often such sure things are a few years old) rather than naming what is possible or recently emerging.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Rhetorweight Boxing

During a conversation tonight about anthologies ("Anthologics," a future entry), somebody mentioned Cross-Talk in Comp Theory and, you guessed it, the Bartholomae-Elbow debate. There are others, but I don't know them (or I do, but I don't want to disturb sleeping giants). I should know them, list them. But for now I'm casually proposing a collection made up of the close-handed fisticuffs, an all-time greats in the knock-down-drag-outs of RC scholarship. Each conflict would be framed as a round with notes explaining the vitriol's sources, escalations of fired-up writing, and so on. A celebration of irreconcilability and over-my-dead-body investments in method, curriculum and the discipline. Who wouldn't order a copy of such a thing?

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

It's What You're Doing When You're Doing What You Look Like You're Doing

It looks like I'm working on the last seminar paper. Ever. Two thousand credit hours later, I'm at the end of coursework, writing the last paper. And oh lordamighty does it need work. I presented the outline in class back in April. The response came, "That's a superb and amazing outline. For a dissertation." Which is lucky, because I'll officially be on the clock to write one of those beginning early next year. And I have an outline to steer it right. For a few days I thought this final paper would aspire to be prospectus-like, a speculative what-why-how for the diss. But that's too grandiose, I've learned, and so I need to turn out a few more pages on this: why not empirical methods (exploration, imagination and whatnot)? No, it's not the right question yet. Yes, I have particular methods in mind. What's an antonym for empirical? Felt? Intuited? [Added: Theoretical?]

The geography course finished this morning. AAG-like presentations. Mine: something on writing the map or what I want to call map writing--the writing activity taking shape with the online mapping apps that have boomed since Google Maps' API released last summer. Specifically, I read from a script that I ripped (then massaged) from the twenty page version of the paper. Such distinctive genres--the seminar paper and the 15-minute conference talk. There was a handout, Powerpoint slides, screenshots. Applause (okay, for everyone...polite clapping). And just five minutes for Q&_. There would be an A in a perfect world, but we ran out of time. Which means that, to the last question asked of me, I didn't get to let loose with how deeply important it is, particularly with cybercartographic apps (where mapping is participatory, written/plotted by users), to regard maps as rhetorical, to study maps rhetorically. This shift from authoritative (politically regimented) paper maps to online maps is a remediation much like book to screen, only, well, different, I think, because of the limited influence of rhetoric on cartography (or cartography on rhetoric). More about this another day, or comment away if you want to pick up where I'm leaving off. I've got to get back to doing what I look like I'm doing.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Conference Rewind

Finally I'm resetting the needle to a groove, settling in for the intensive few weeks until semester's end, and shaking off the thrill of conversation and catching up throughout the stay in Chicago. I had a good conference despite the sting of $leeping in the conference hotel. It was great to finally meet a host of folks I've known casually in blogspace--Marcia, Debbie, Spencer, Krista, Jeff, and Bradley. Blogging--whatever else can be said of it--gives folks a fuller presence at the conference (judging by the last two Cs); this idea--of quasi-professional connection--is what we were just beginning to get at in the SIG on Friday evening.

I made it to the chair's address and E.28 Why Plagiarism Makes Sense in the Digital Age: Copying, Remixing and Composing on Thursday. I would've liked to catch the sessions on blogging and/or podcasting, but I hadn't eaten much before my session in Computers Connection, and the fifteen minute interlude between sessions wasn't long enough to get that accomplished. The chair's address--"Riding a One-Eyed Horse": Reining In and Fencing Out--worked through a few entangled claims about the field's ocular turn--the vis-rhet push, if we want to call it that. Wooten's framing of technologies was hyperbolic and overtly negative in some cases (even if she was only suggesting a critical framework rather than clearly endorsing such positions). It was a mix of literary reference, personal anecdote, and critique of privileging visual modalities in our teaching. She told about her own first experience of the "tyranny of the image": a newscast about trees that featured a clipart image of a tree in the display's corner. I wasn't comfortable with the tie between the images in Guaman Poma's First New Chronicle and Good Government (a staple in Pratt's famous address on contact zones) and the computer. I'll have to wait for the CCC version to make sense of that. And the reference to technology as a hobby horse was enough to leave me thinking I was missing Wooten's broader point. Noticed that near the end of the talk "one-eyed horse" showed on the teleprompter as "one idea horse."

E.28 Why Plagiarism Makes Sense in the Digital Age offered primer to copyright and remix, including examples of the remix: a tangelo and Sprite Re-mix. My notes are thin, and it wouldn't add anything to get it wrong. Selber's stuff on parodic trailers (The Shining trailer redone), design patterns as micro-genres (and copyright considerations of design patterns), and also breadcrumbing, a term that has come up in cybercartography (rel. to traces, paths), too, left me with some good stuff to think about. The panel also provoked questions about just what constitutes re-mix. What distinguishes re-mix from revision or one-text alteration? When does re-mix become an empty signifier for change or modification?

On Thursday, I caught F.15 The Rhetorics of Identification: Or, Me and You and You and Me, So Happy Together? followed by G.23 Mediating Genres: Examining Antecedent Genres as Discursive Resources in Academic Public Spheres. Each of these panels was extraordinary in its own right, but they also shared an uncanny and surprising coordination. Two of the three papers on F.15 involved mirror neurons, the recent neurophysiological discovery of synapses that fire the same way for an action whether it is carried out by you or by me (your hand grasps, the synapses fire as if my hand grasped). Mirror neurons are an exacting exemplar for consubstantiality. The first paper got at this issue through film--specifically "inducements to identify," and resolving the propositional quality of identity and suggesting identity as an acting together of subject and object (here, a tie to genre and uptake). The third paper--so theoretically rich that my notes were soon forgotten--dealt with the equalization of identification, consubstantiality and sociality, while working toward a "constitutive mimesis" and "mimetico-affective contagion." And the second paper--also very strong and worthwhile--engaged an "emergent rhetoric of randomness" through matters of causality, randomness and bluffing--particular to poker. The panel on genre was an easy choice because we're reading Devitt's book for tomorrow's 712 (Spinuzzi's Tracing Genres is up next week). Bawarshi led off with a paper on uptake--the space between genre and context. Uptakes are oftentimes conceptual and so, as was resolved in the Q&A, they're difficult to study using empirical frameworks. Uptakes correlate to the perlocutionary effects (from speech act theory), but rather than applying to utterances, uptakes name the living memory of a genre--a genre's persistence. He also suggested uptake profiles--sketches of sorts that would characterize "coordinated uptake" or "learned recognitions of significances" that are also shared. Because imitation involves uptake (in typified social action), I sensed a connection--an echo--between these papers and the previous panel. In the second paper, Devitt worked at the problem of how genres interact: genre intertextuality or "intergenerality." Specifically, Devitt dealt with individuals and their genre repertoires--especially important for her larger interest in teaching genre awareness. Students, she said, come in with genres, and this genre portability/transfer can be useful for teaching genre awareness. She re-emphasized two points when wrapping up: 1) People do not write in a genre vacuum; and 2) People adhere to known genres even while adapting to new genres. The final two papers on the panel looked at the evolution of the petition as a genre and the genealogy of email, particularly student-professor email interchanges in the context of Anne Freadman's work on uptake.

Later in the day I went to J.13 Brining Techne Front and Center: Examining the Material of the Art of Writing and then the blogging SIG. Saturday morning it was K.23 From Panel to Gallery: Twelve Digital Writings, One Installation and L.04 New Media, New Curricula.

Attended six panels, not counting my own slot at Computer Connections, the chair's address, and the SIG. Not bad. I missed a bunch that I would've liked to attend, but I felt like crud on Friday and so opted for a mid-day nap rather than grinding myself into conference dust.

Travels home were safe and good for pushing through a bit of reading. Even if the flight home on United (a.k.a. Sauna Skyways) was delayed an hour-and-a-half and also turned out to be the warmest flight I've ever suffered through (plus 90F in the cabin, I swear), it was much better than last year's trip.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

I Will Not Know

Close to five this afternoon, I was waiting for a ride home from D., and I had a few minutes to pass in my office. I'd already booted down the laptop and stowed it in my backpack. I didn't have the gusto to continue readings (for next week already) from the two seminars I had today, and I was feeling somewhat blaze after a full day on campus overflowing with six hours of intense discussion. So I straightened up one of my office shelves and got to leafing through a few odd journals casually handed off to me by a colleague last year. There were five or six yellowed issues of Composition Studies and JAC; I fixed on JAC 8 (1988), specifically David Foster's "What Are We Talking About When We Talk About Composition?", which ends

As informed readers and deliberately inclusive thinkers, we must be the measure of our discipline. Science cannot claim ascendancy in any area of human knowledge, particularly in that complex blend of knowledge-streams we call composition. We must be wary of those who, uncomfortable with the ambiguities of discourse and complacent with the quantitative, empirical perspective, would have us assume that perspective alone. As informed readers, we must juggle and juxtapose the claims of different modes of inquiry, recognizing what each contributes and what each lacks. To ref use this invitation to an intellectual pluralism, to settle in its place for a single perspective, is to invite the punishment we all hated in grade school: having to write the same sentence one hundred times. In this case, it would be "I will not know. I will not know. I will not know..."

Stimulating find, I thought, and then I started to wonder whether what we are talking about when we talk about composition in 2006 is so radically remade from what we were talking about when we talked about composition in 1988. And then my ride was waiting.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Lugging Around

Like Krista, I start back to classes tomorrow for the final semester of coursework.  The following selections fill the docket, in no particular order; they're the ones I'll be hefting around in the coming months.

GEO781: Seminar in Cartography: Web Mapping and Cybercartography
Mapping Hacks, Erle, Gibson, and Walsh.
Added (on reserve): Mapping Cyberspace, Dodge, Martin and Kitchen.
Maps and the Internet, Paterson, ed.
Web Cartography: Developments and Prospects, Kraak and Brown, eds.
Multimedia Cartography, Cartwright, Peterson, and Gartner, eds.
The Political Mapping of Cyberspace, Crampton.

CCR651: Interdisciplinary Studies in Language and Literacy: Afrofuturism
Afrolantica Legacies,
Derrick Bell.
Race, Rhetoric, and Technology: Searching for Higher Ground
, Adam Banks.
Technicolor: Technologies of Everyday Life, Alondra Nelson, ed.
Afrofuturism: A Special Issue of Social Text (July 2002), Alondra Nelson, ed.
Technology and the African-American Experience : Needs and Opportunities for Study. Bruce Sinclair, ed.
African Fractals: Modern Computing and Indigenous Design, Ron Eglash.
Information and Communication Technologies for Development in Africa, Ramata Molo Thioune, ed.
Black Inventors in the Age of Segregation, Rayvon Fouche.
Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora, Sheree Thomas, ed.

CCR712: Advanced Theory and Philosophy of Composition: Mapping the Future: Theory and Practice of "Writing" the Discipline
Practicing Writing: The Postwar Discourse of Freshman English
,  Thomas Masters.
The End of Composition Studies,  David Smit.
In Search of Eloquence,   Cornelius Cosgrove and Nancy Barta-Smith.
Writing and Learning in Cross-National Perspective, ed. David Foster and David Russell.
Geographies of Writing,  Nedra Reynolds.
CityComp,  ed. Bruce McComiskey and Cynthia Ryan.
Writing Genres, Amy Devitt.
Tracing Genres through Organizations, Clay Spinuzzi.
Making Sense of the Organization, Karl Weick.
The Moment of Complexity, Mark Taylor.
The Tactics of Hope, Paula Mathieu.
The Language of Experience,  Gwen Gorzelsky.
The English Studies Book, 2nd ed., Rob Pope.
Added: Literacy in the New Media Age, Gunther Kress.

There remains, no doubt, a wagonload of articles extending well beyond these fine selections.  And I've done pretty well to secure many of the books already, although my orders placed just ten days ago haven't started showing up yet (most of the orders were for 712).  Also, I have a few high-priced items from the third list to line up once I figure out how extensively they'll be used.  Sixty-eight junior bacon double-cheeseburgers for the Foster and Russell edited collection had me thinking about how fond I am of libraries, for example.   

Friday, October 21, 2005

GREater Than

Next October ETS is rolling out a new and improved GRE (via).  Allow me to break it down for you.

The press release tells us this: Old GRE < New GRE

The soon-to-be-former GRE ran 2.5 hours split out like so:
Verbal 30 minutes
Quantitative 45 minutes
Writing 75 minutes
(These are approximations pieced together from what few clues I could gather.)

The new and improved GRE will run just about 4 hours split out this way:
Verbal 80 minutes (2x40)
Quantitative 80 minutes (2x40)
Writing 60 minutes (2x30)

The new test will move completely online; it will be offered just 29 times per year with fresh content, nothing duplicated from previous tests, and so on.  Thursday's press release credits David Payne, ETS's Director of the GRE Program, with this: "The new test will emphasize complex reasoning skills that are closely aligned to graduate work."  How should we read the justificatory filling of the release against the redistributed minutes-on-task?  And how will the 70+ doctorate-granting programs in rhetoric and composition respond?  Will the GRE continue to play its time-honored role in admission to any of these programs?  What other questions?

Notably, the 30-minute analytical "essays" will now be visible to the graduate admissions side.  How will these writing samples be understood/interpreted/used by various programs?  And when will the writing opportunity come up in the 4 hour examination? 

I'm not trying to begrudge the GRE its overhaul, but I am interested in the way these changes--changes explained as "a more accurate gauge"--imply unaddressed shifts in what is being assessed.  The first time I took the GRE in 1996, writing wasn't a part of the test.  Instead there was a logic and analytical reasoning section and I fared pretty well on that section--better, in fact, than on any other section of the exam.  When I took the GRE again in 2004, ETS was using the analytical writing section, but the scores were irregular, according to the results, because the sample of test-takers was yet too insignificant to normalize the scale.  Whether my score was relatively normal or not, the writing section was memorably challenging.  It capped the exam; after more than an hour of verbal and quantitative items: fizzle.  And now, to think of writing a pair of 30-minute analytical mini-essays after nearly three hours of verbal and quantitative problems.  Is this the part most "closely aligned to graduate work"?