Somehow, the dark sun will illuminate us. (555)
This, leafing again through Sirc's "Godless Composition, Tormented Writing," for tomorrow's grad class, third to last of the semester. Reading this line again makes me think that Bataille's wonderment is thick in the ground just beneath the site where the still-unbuilt hacienda would if it could one-day stand.
The visual rhetorics course I'm teaching this semester is by now well enough plotted to pass along a link, finally. I haven't taught the class before, which only means that its materials this time are spun provisionally from many influences--an independent study and qualifying exam at SU, Michael Salvo's syllabus, Dànielle DeVoss's syllabus, and good conversations with CGB just after the new year. Its large arc follows from photography to document design to infographics and data visualization. I remain cautiously optimistic that these three sub-arcs will fit together okay within the fourteen meetings we have. No surprise, but I'm supplementing heavily with PDFs and assigning as required texts only Barthes' Camera Lucida, Handa's edited collection, and Cairo's The Functional Art. One project involves writing (and designing) Ch. 10 for the Cairo book--a "missing" chapter focused on visual rhetoric. There's an ignite presentation set up to articulate in short-form one's emerging visual-rhetorical priorities and interests in relation to one of the people interviewed at the end of The Functional Art. And then there is a loose-fitting, build-your-own-collection portfolio whose creation and assembly is spread as evenly as possible throughout.
I'm still trying to figure out the role of in-class workshop blocks devoted to self-paced attempts with Photoshop and Illustrator. And I can't quite decide how formally and explicitly to dwell on technical matters and rationale related to different image file types. Against these uncertainties (or yet-unmade decisions), I count as one advantage that I have had all but three of the fourteen students in class before, and it's a terrific bunch who will assert their preferences whenever I'm slow to decide.
No, not mine. Definitely not. No, no. However, at the very moment I started reading midterm course evaluations (collected in Google Forms), iTunes fortuitously shuffled to "Always Right," a song I will from now on set to repeat each time I read any sort of teaching evaluations, reviewer comments, etc.
We're halfway through the Spring 2011 term, three weeks (a w a r p, really) from wrapping up the two classes I am teaching, an online ENGL328 and a F2F ENGL121. I'm trying something different in the 121. The units of composition are what I'm calling research memos and tracings. The research memos (inventories, anticipatory speculations, plans) prepare us for the tracings, which are, as I think of it, mini-enactments of various methods, ways of inquiring. Memos and tracings alternate, one each week, until they amount to about 30+ pages of writing from which students will assemble a 10+-page "researched argument." And the five tracings, five ways of inquiring, are 1. memory work (experiential anecdotes), 2. word work (definitional drill-down), 3. site work (scenic noticing), 4. interview, and 5. source work (consulting published articles). I realize the last one is usually the star in much academic prose, but I am adapting these to fit a pre-existing curricular framework enough that this version of the class will be simpatico with some of what's already in place at EMU. Had I to add one more way, it would be 6. survey work, a class-authored survey whose questions we would compose and then answer and whose results we would draw upon as a form of evidence to hitch some assertions to in the researched argument piece. This will have to wait for the 15-week version of the course, although I cannot right now foresee when I will be teaching this course at the more generous, more contemplative pace.
Midterm. Already said this, but yesterday was roughly half-way and so I circulated a mid-term teaching evaluation using Surveymonkey (nine questions). In class we did our usual blind peer review (another entry for another day), looked at and discussed various memos, and then hovered for a minute on our program's learning outcomes. I usually dis-identify with outcomes. Assessment isn't my bag. I recognize the function of outcomes to be best and most when tacit and least. That is, I want them to be a faint shadow, necessary because they lightly guide us on our way, but not the sort of thing we need to dwell on explicitly, focally. I asked students to articulate with a drawn line a relationship they could see between any Composing Process Outcome or any Learning Process Outcome. There are eleven total. Now, to do this: Draw lines from two CPOs and two LPOs to four artifacts. Assign a unique letter to each of the four lines. In a paragraph, articulate the linkage. Sixteen students, sixty-four lines, sixty-four paragraphs. This provides all of us with a glimpse of what we understand to be happening so far. I compiled the results into this.
What can I learn from it? Well, some linkages are more densely set than others. That is, eleven lines were shared by three or more students. The accompanying paragraphs add subtlety to the more general impression, but this begins to suggest consensus, or maybe an outcome bias of some kind. Three lines were shared by two students. Twelve lines were singularly identified. Out of 64 links drawn among 66 possibilities, then, just seventeen fell to the low levels of one or two, whereas 11 possibilities (out of 66) drew 73 percent response. Why? And what does this mean for what we do next? Are some artifacts too neatly mapped against individual outcomes? Are other outcomes too hazily defined?
In sharing this stuff and in publicly fumbling around with these questions, I'm not interested in rushing to conclusions, nor do I want to fixate excessively on the outcomes. I am merely trying to take an interest in them, in part because they figure prominently into institutional and programmatic assessment discourse and in part because, as one who mentors graduate students from time to time, I am thinking about how to keep outcomes lightly enough fitted to the FYC classes without them getting too much in the way.
Fourth reactor at Chernobyl exploded just before my twelfth birthday, late April, 1986--25 years ago yesterday. Is the math right? For me that's almost a half-life ago.
Now, I'm no scholar of nuclear accidents, but I am interested in the emerging narratives about the Fukushima aftermath that position it in a family of catastrophes such as Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Certainly there has been a lot of speculative discussion since the Fukushima incident about leaking/leaching radiation, toxic mists, jet streams, ocean currents, impacts zones, and the various ecological slices that will be differently impacted by chemicals and hot metals. For example, there's this Nancy Grace clip.
In the PBS clip above (above N. Grace), the portrait is grim--birds with smaller brains and strange tumors, etc.--and the discussion of sealed away clumps of radioactive material lapses into near absurdity, particularly at the idea of who will keep watch on the plutonium whose half-life is 24,000 years.
In "Is Chernobyl a Wild Kingdom or a Radioactive Den of Decay?" Adam Higginbotham of Wired.com provides a look from multiple sides at the unsettled questions about how animals have responded in the wake of nuclear meltdown. First dealing with optimists who can find examples of resilient wildlife, the article includes those who turn to other forms of evidence to leverage claims about the welfare of the post-Chernobyl ecosystem.
But a pair of scientists are now calling these claims into serious question. According to US-based evolutionary biologist Timothy Mousseau, there is scant evidence to back up the idea of Chernobyl as a radioactive Wild Kingdom. "People say these things--they're simply anecdotes," Mousseau says. "It's totally irrational." Nonetheless, last December, the Ministry of Emergencies--the Ukrainian agency responsible for overseeing the Exclusion Zone--announced that it would formally open the zone to mass tourism in 2011. In January, meanwhile, the country's parliament approved a multibillion-dollar plan to build two new Russian-designed nuclear reactors in western Ukraine, some of the first to be started there since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
I am gathering tiny collections like these in anticipation of ENGL505: Rhetoric of Science and Technology, a class I will be teaching in the fall semester. And by no means am I thinking of these preliminary tracings as complete or even all that thorough. In fact, that these are incomplete--that the very possibility of knowing radiation's reach in space and time--is part of what allows us to witness how scientific debate operates (not only in scholarly or researcherly circles but in popular ones, as well). It's almost as if we can trace consequentiality itself as a matter of concern, and what I find surprising (or at least interesting) about this is that the temporal frame is many multiples of human lifetimes long. What I mean is that it's curious to me not only how we talk about immediate threats (absent visual confirmation...as is the case with mildly radioactive carrots, for example) but also how journalists and scientists grace such an uncertain horizon as the one many, many thousands of years from now when the plutonium at Chernobyl falls irradiant.
Last week's This American Life on Tough Rooms has been lingering in the back of my mind since I heard it—again, as a podcast to make time pass on the elliptical. The first segment on headline-invention meetings at The Onion struck me at the time as a fantastic clip for orienting the ENGL121 students I will have in the spring to the idea of entering the conversation. As usual, I'm mildly conflicted (and I have the luxury of time before this conflict must be resolved): it's a bit more agonistic than irenic, but I am still thinking about its possibilities for framing how some of our in-class discussions could go. The idea of tough rooms could also be a useful counterpart to echo chambers. Could the two be joined to suggest a spectrum that has different consequences on either extreme—too much believing or too much doubting?
I've also been thinking about a sequence in ENGL121 that would adopt in turn composing logics associated with Grammar A (conventions; writing mythos; "Inventing the University"), Grammar B (Winston Weathers; crots), and Grammar <a> (Rice; networks; hypertext). I don't know yet how I would position the three in relation, but I can faintly imagine a promising sequence that would help us gain traction on their differences, their respective strengths and limitations, etc.
At this time of year--because it is semester's end, the last Friday of Fall 2010 (before final exam week)--I am thinking again about patterned precarity. "Patterned" because the academy's clock punctuates our lives with fairly arbitrary (if systemic) endpoints. That semesters end means for many students an intensified two-week window near the end of time when a flurry of deadlines, for admittedly complicated reasons, amount to a heap of dustbin deliverables and an even taller heap of stress. I know I am generalizing: it doesn't always go this way, nor does it have to go this way. But often it does. End of semester grunt/strain/anguish is palpable, thick in the air.
Especially so this semester, it seems.
E., my friend in Kansas City, shared an anecdote with me once about the learner's mindset and the thrill of close calls. The story I (mis)remember goes something like this: in Kaffa, the region of Ethiopia known as the original growthplace of coffee, there emerged an astonishingly widespread practice among teenagers of something like "fender glancing." Fender glancing is a game of chicken with moving cars. Basically, participants in this activity enjoy a rush by close brushes with automobiles. A near miss is invigorating--literally life-giving. I made it! As you might imagine, this does not always turn out well. Almost being hit by a car--when the choreography goes badly--can be lethal or at the very least bone-breaking. E. explained how he saw many correspondences to this in those he was teaching (to play soccer), particularly when they were bored.
Thrill seeking isn't a new discovery or even a new cultural phenomenon elucidated by the derivative (i.e., friend of a friend said; an admittedly lazy, heard-about method) anthropology above. But it nevertheless reminds me about revaluing the relationship between what happens all along, in a given semester, and what happens at the end, as well as rethinking how practices in a given course must spill beyond the time-bounded container of fifteen weeks. In other words, for teaching, how can we redistribute intensive encounters so that a class doesn't reduce to an ultimate showdown at semester's end?
For the past year or so I have taken attendance in the face-to-face classes I teach by LED-projecting a Google Docs Spreadsheet into which I enter 'x' for present and '1' for absent. The absences tabulate (i.e., it is a spreadsheet with wizardly formulas coursing through it: equations, maths of consequence, etc.), and everybody in the room can observe this act of record-keeping. Within the class, it is public: the record of who is present and who is absent is transparently kept, obvious. It's rather like attendance crowd-sourcing in that the crowd is the source of the record; being in the room creates the account.
When we (me+ENGL328ers) were observed a week or so ago, the question came up again: What if somebody doesn't want the record put on display? And the only answer I know relates to the option I offer on the first day of class. You can opt out. A student must let me know their wishes, and I will keep their attendance stealthily and in a secret ledger.
Among the positives, this practice helps me learn everyone's names by the end of the third week of classes. It also reduces the number of conversations that start "but I was present that day"--conversations that leverage a teacher's likely forgetting and that all the more likely when record keeping is hazy or erratic. With the projection method, students know attendance is logged during the first minute of class, so they show up on time, or, when they are late, they know they must check in with me at the end of the class session to make sure I have an 'x' rather than a '1' next to their name.
The observation I took two weeks ago was exceedingly positive, so I don't want to make this too much of a direct response to the question that arose in its follow-up conversation. It has come up in other moments: To what extent does this practice tread on student privacy? And are absences even private, really? Anyone in the class, after all, could keep track of who is there, who isn't, and who arrives late, provided they knew names.
I suppose it is clear by my continuation of this practice that I understand attendance to be class-public. I wouldn't put the record on display outside of the classroom (e.g., posting it as a web site or a public Google Doc), but I find the opt-out option to be a reasonable solution and a passable justification for continuing the practice. Without sounding too much like ProfHacker, I suppose I'm blogging all of this toward the invitation for input: What am I forgetting? Overlooking? And, How do you keep everyone up on a running attendance record?
After this noon's union meeting, I walked with a colleague to check out classroom space in McKenny Hall, formerly EMU's student union and a building that has undergone major renovations in recent months. I'll be teaching ENGL326: Research Writing, in McKenny 100 (shown below). Just nine students were enrolled in the course until, oh, a week ago, and the current roster is up to 18. It caps at 25. McKenny 100 is at first glance a terrific space: great furniture, lighting, and projection equipment; however, if the class fills, some will be sitting snugly: I counted just 18 table spaces (extra chairs are stacked in a corner).
After I picked up Is. from the Children's Institute, we went upstairs to check out the classroom in Rackham where I will be teaching back-to-back sections of ENGL328: Writing, Style, and Technology. But the door was locked: no photo. I hear there's a laptop cart inside. Between now and next Wednesday, the first day of classes, I also need to figure out who keeps the key.
My subject-matter knowledge and methodological skills (e.g., in data analysis) improved the distribution from which I sampled (i.e., increased the average amount of progress per sample). Self-experimentation allowed me to sample from it much more often than conventional research. Another reason my self-experimentation was unusually effective is that, unlike professional science, it resembled the exploration of our ancestors, including foragers, hobbyists, and artisans.
Spring Break begins tomorrow. No beach-side cabana and umbrella-garnished cocktails in my foreseeable future. Just life at a slightly altered (i.e., re-charging) pace until classes resume on March 8. I believe this is the earliest Spring Break I've ever had.
In classes, we wrapped up a three-week unit on wiki writing today. The assignment went something like this: for twenty-one days, assume various roles in the production of a wiki--facilitation, discussion, research, entry writing, editing, and coding. Last semester I set up groups. This semester I didn't. My aim with the wiki assignment has always been to immerse in the mess, to dive in, or, for the more cautious, to wade through some quick compositional emergence, or distributed, self-paced, collaborative writing. All the while, we should keep in mind the question of what is stylistically available in wiki writing. There is no single answer to this, of course, but it seems like wiki writing often (I am tempted to say "always") returns to an "average effect," more studium than punctum.
I'm not sure we fully achieved the mess I had in mind. A snow day on February 10 threw off the early development of the project. Facilitation and early discussion was cut short. Twelve days into the project I brought graphs to class--a simple activity distribution curved, as you might have guessed, like a long tail. A few had done much work; many had done much less, just like on Wikipedia. Also, the graph reflected two data-sets, one for number of edits and one for frequency of logins. So that everyone processes the assignment by a distributed pace rather than a climactic pace, the prompt encouraged logging in and making identifiable contributions every other day or so. Halfway in, this wasn't quite working. But the graph confronted us with the problem, and, consequently, it moved us collectively nearer to the quick-writing messiness I had in mind. For the remaining nine days, the wiki came alive--to the tune of 38 contributors, an impressive blur of edits, revisions, and rearrangement.
Certainly we gained some experience with wiki writing--wiki writing connected with our continuing inquiry into style and technology. And, for the most part, I stand by this approach (i.e., will try it again), even if it still has a few wrinkles to smooth out. I prefer it to a common alternative, which is something like wiki-as-showcase, where the wiki functions as a platform for sharing individually authored pieces, where collaboration is predefined, where discrete contributions carry over into some kind of portfolio or autonomous collection of best works (many variations on this, to be fair). The showcase approach to wiki writing is fine, but I want to continue to think through the near-aleatory, massively collaborative chaos available in wikis and to think through the this chaotic approach for a school assignment and for the question of what is stylistically available. How? I'll begin by reading and commenting 36 or so reflective essays over the next couple of days.
We wrapped up our reading and discussion of Strunk and White's "little book" this week (i.e., the "little book" so tall that it lords over school style all these semesters later). When I say, "wrapped up," I mean that we ran out of time and suspended discussion rather than getting in a last word or determining, ultimately, what ends The Elements serve. I occasionally feel conflicted about devoting as much focus as we do to such a quirky, popular, and curious collection of stray thoughts on prose style. Consequently, we dwell for many minutes on just how it is we must read EOS, as historical artifact, as trusted primer, as a portrait of the ways arbitrary and capricious fixations creep into a writing teacher's sensibilities, as a partial and problematic commonplace (oddly captivating and stale, at once). Many, many minutes and yet not long enough.
Over holiday break, while on the dog-fetching sojourn in Syracuse, I chatted with a friend about the course I am these days so thoroughly concerned with teaching well. She asked, Why Strunk and White? It's a setup piece, staging for the remake project inspired by Derek Pell's NSFW The Marquis de Sade Elements of Style. I value the remake because it calls into question the plasticity of the elements, checking time honored rules against the many pop culture contexts that are, on the one hand, stylistically rich, but on the other hand, roaming on the roomier side of language's prison house.
I also appreciate The Elements of Style for how conspicuously it presents style as arhetorical, or, if that is too extreme a characterization, for how it positions style as synonymous with "grammar," falling, that is, on the side of correctness and clarity first rather than encompassing kairos and ornament (these four terms: correctness, clarity, kairos, and ornament come from the Crowley and Hawhee chapter on style). The style-grammar conflation is, of course, widespread, and EOS helps us see fairly explicitly its limitations, especially in its neglect of language acts as situated and in its inattention to figures and tropes.
The other day, when concluding our discussion of the "little book," we ran out of time for looking at a surprising turn in the fifth section, "An Approach to Style (With a List of Reminders)," where E.B. White dispatches with "audience."
Many references have been made in this book to "the reader," who has been much in the news. It is now necessary to warn you that your concern for the reader must be pure: you must sympathize with the reader's plight (most readers are in trouble about half the time) but never seek to know the reader's wants. Your whole duty as a writer is to please and satisfy yourself, and the true writer always plays to an audience of one. Start sniffing the air, or glancing at the Trend Machine, and you are as good as dead, although you may make a nice living. (84)
When he says "most readers are in trouble about half the time," I'm not entirely sure what he means. Surely the reader he refers to in that context isn't his former teacher, Will Strunk, right? Could the reader "in trouble" be the adolescents working through a copy of Stuart Little or Charlotte's Web? I don't want to harp on this point like I'm driven to a hermeneutic pinning down of "the reader" in this passage. But it seems to me an extraordinarily strange gesture toward pleasure and self-satisfaction at the end of an otherwise conservative handbook.
Tomorrow in ENGL328, we're working with "Short Sentences," the first chapter in Virginia Tufte's Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style. The chapter presents four basic sentence types or kernels: equations with be, equations with linking verbs, transitives, and intransitives. In the first half of the chapter, Tufte attaches numerous examples to each type of short sentence. I find the types to be fairly intuitive and, perhaps because they are short, easy to identify. Only the equations with linking verbs give me pause because the linking verbs tend to stoke a deeper philosophical question concerned with being and transformation, i.e., whether the subject is altered by the piling on of noun complements.
In the second half of the chapter, Tufte switches scales, moving from the local logic of these four sentences to their paragraph-cumulative effect, whether one type is deployed repeatedly or whether they are working in combination with other types. Here the idea is basically that the two equative types stroll along at a slow pace, intransitives elicit slightly more movement or action, and transitives deliver the most bang because they maximize one thing's verbing of another thing (the direct object, required for the transitive form). Tufte's paragraph-long examples highlight the cumulative effect of these short sentence types in context.
A couple of tweets from students today have forewarned me (whether they were meant for me or not) that we will have a fair amount of skepticism to work through tomorrow. As far as I can tell (from their own short sentences, of course) the value of this framework is in doubt. That's fair. And, in fact, I'm glad to see that they are not only reading Tufte but tweeting about it before class. I think of Tufte's opening chapter as offering both an analytic method and a heuristic, or generative guide, for revision. The analytic method amounts to a vocabulary and a set of techniques for differentiating sentence types. It's difficult, without seeming enamored of current-traditionalism, to say that grasping such principles as these helps writers. But it does offer us a scheme for talking about prose style, for pinpointing in yet one more way a sentence's distinction.
Also, I'm interested in establishing tension between Tufte's approach and Lanham's Paramedic Method, which we will look at for Wednesday. Lanham, after all, insists on the importance of concrete subjects and action-packed verbs. Tufte's attention to equatives and to pacing lends something of value to the subject-verb or character-action patterns so conspicuous in Lanham's method (also in Williams' Style). So, while I recognize the value in keying on vivid subject-verb couplings relatively early in sentences, I also appreciate Tufte's recognition that equative forms may bear strategically on the acceleration (or idling speed) of a passage.
I'm between classes: two sections of ENGL328: Writing, Style, and Technology. Today was our third meeting in the first section. The third meeting of the second section happens in 90 minutes. The only trouble with teaching two sections is that the session details collapse into one another. That is, I reconstruct an approximately full experience from bits of each, roughly as if the 150-minutes, divided in two, amount to a singular 75-minutes of layered memory. A memory so blended, so woven I cannot account for what happened in one section distinct from the other. No, I'm not complaining. Not that at all. I am taking the long way, the curving route to say that the 90-minute window between classes is the only time I can keep the sessions separate-in-mind. Confusion creeps in after.
I walked up from the third floor a few minutes ago thinking about the idea that a first class session is insufficient for grounding an initial impression. I mean, I left those first meetings last week with a reasonably strong, favorable impression of each group (perhaps I recalled them only after, in a "best of" blend). Seriously, the initial impression takes three sessions. After three meetings I can remember many names. We have a sense of the mood, the pace, the projects, and so on.
Verbal sauce? Well, preparing to teach this course has required for me quite a bit of reading on style. I'm learning a lot. And I'm really working to approach the course as an inquiry into the style-technology hyphen: their pedagogical-practical-experimental linkage(s). Style: from the fluff-stuff distinction, from perpetual literacy crisis alarmism, from its attachment to syntax or design. And technology: from the aging-unseen apparatuses, from technology as panacea, and from the onset of electrate logics. Create a collision, an encounter between style and technology, then understand it from the inside, by writing through it.
By way of WPA-L and Twitter, I learned yesterday that Ken Macrorie passed away earlier this month. Macrorie was, among other things, an innovator, a teacher well-known for parodying the most "dehydrated" approaches to English Studies, for railing against mechanical prose, for cracking jokes on hyper-cantankerous pedagogies and their perpetrators.
I encountered a little bit of Macrorie in CCR732, our course on curriculum. We didn't read all of Uptaught. I don't even think I own a copy (it might be packed, if I do). But copies are surprisingly cheap on Amazon: used for 25 cents plus four bucks S&H. They're worth more than that. I also had three or four conversations with my first MA adviser about the I-Search paper, Macrorie's self-styled take on the research paper, research freed up to personal aesthetics, intensities, delight, etc.
Starting Monday I will be teaching a blended WRT307 course for Syracuse. Blended, in this case, means that the course meets in person, on campus for the second week of Maymester for two hours each evening, Monday through Friday, before shifting to twelve weeks of online interchange and coordination via Blackboard. The course is full. Twenty students are enrolled. Count up the weeks and you get thirteen total (forgive me for flexing those underutilized math skills, but this number is alarmingly relevant, as you will see in a moment).
Syracuse offers this course in other formats: a six-week Summer I course that meets on campus, a six-week Summer 2 course that meets on campus, and a 12-week summer course that meets online. Sections following the six-week on-campus format remain open. They have seats available, that is.
I wondered, "Why on earth would students so clearly prefer the thirteen-week version, which includes a Friday evening session at the end of next week, when these other options are available to them?" I floated this question in the WP offices and heard about how great a preference many students have for actually meeting a person. Might be exactly right. This falls into what I think of as the "metaphysics of presence"-based critique of classes that meet exclusively online: they're too virtual, too dependent upon writing and only writing, too far removed from the material commonplaces of fluorescently lit bodies slumped over in badly designed deskchairs, classroom style. [I can't make up my mind about which emoticon to insert here.]
I accept that some students might be drawn to an online section where they get to meet the instructor for a few face-to-face sessions. When I logged onto MySlice this week to check the class roster, I found another reason that could explain the attraction to this section, a section with a bonus week over and above its 12-week online-only counterpart (other than the "metaphysics of presence" shtick or the named instructor):
The class is listed as meeting only during Maymester. For half of Maymester, actually: one week, instead of two. Ten hours total. I won't be able to confirm this suspicion until next week, but that crucial qualification, Maymester Blended or Maymester +12, does not show up in the online enrollment system. That's...*gulp*. Worrisome, anyway.
So I went ahead and emailed everyone enrolled to explain that most of the heavy lifting will get done in the 12-week online postlude to Maymester. A few days since the email, the class is full. I welcome the full class (capped at twenty, it's a reasonably-sized group), but I can't help but brace just a little bit for Monday evening, for that moment when we take an earnest, collective look at the schedule, when I'll have no choice but to explain the missing asterisk next to Maymester in the registration system.
I was just thinking that academic types don't mention grading often enough, especially in late April. A measly 50% of tweets and status updates from my network of peers mention grading--astonishingly low!
Right now I'm in the sunporch, grading. I would post about this to my Twitter account, but for this I need more than 140 characters. It's a longer trip all the way around these ideas I'm having.
Here are a few of the grades FERPA will allow me to share:
Is. inked this furry little creature yesterday. She's terrific with the white board; a lefty who now erases with her index finger and redoes the facial features until they are precisely to her liking. I have a few other Is.ketches to post, but I'm again prone to thinking that a series of entries is the best way to share them--a sure improvement on the stalled-out Y. series I pursued with such great determination in September. I like this particular sketch because I think Is. is drawing a poofy series of thought balloon interegna: just how many empty cloud-like wisps should there be before the thought balloon itself?
Speaking of wispy thought-trails (empty twirls of air on the way to a full-on thought), I've ended up tying in with Blackboad for my spring class. Until today I had a viable concoction brewing: drop.io, Wet Paint, Vanilla (discussion forum), and a standalone web site, but I learned that the only way to put a login in front of Vanilla was to manage it on the server. Not a terrible option, ultimately, but it did mean an extra login (i.e., one login for accessing the URL, a second for posting to the forum), and I was at the same time running into a few hassles with compatibility re: the latest version of Vanilla and dead plugins managed by what appears to be a sluggish developer's community. By this I mean that the plugins are all old and with no signs of updates on the horizon.
So, with a whimper and a frown, I've bowed to Blackboard, even though it makes me throw up a little bit every time I log on. I'm not in any position this semester to push back against its great, hulking inertia, no matter how much it makes my head ache. And the few emails I received in the past couple of days got me thinking that Blackboard is, for this semester, at least, the best option for everyone else with a stake in the course.
Arrived home from MLA via Detroit on Thursday. Since I've surrendered almost three full days to gluttonous lazies: home-made fried chicken, NFL playoffs, afternoon naps, a nightly Wolavers' oatmeal stout, a breeze through Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential, and darn near nothing else.
Today I can feel the low, resistant grind of changing gears--from no gear to anything-chug productive. Spring syllabus is due tomorrow--or Wednesday, depending on who you ask (this would be easier if I didn't read *all* of my email). I'm penciled in for a section of WRT205: Critical Research and Writing, a course that more or less picks a topic (invention by topoi) and then gets on with research a la "critical inquiry", which I take to mean "examined" or "deliberate" inquiry: self-reflective inquiring.
Did I mention that it's an online class? I still thinking about whether to heave Blackboard into the weeds (where it belongs?): bypass it altogether and instead channel all of our encounters through a wiki-blog-delicious-youtube mash-up. The former is, if you can stand it, a cinch; the latter is far more interesting and also more work coming at a time when, well, there is already plenty enough work. Tonight, I can't decide. Tomorrow I'll flip a coin. But if the coin comes up "Blackboard," that just might be enough to jolt me back over to the mash-ups.
The course itself--as planned--is a dance with pop culture and media valuation. We'll read Johnson's Everything Bad Is Good For You, contemplate his handling of the good/bad reversal, and think/write/talk about his book--what he calls "an old-fashioned work of persuasion" in the first sentence--as a dissoi logoi, or strengthening of the (presumed to be) weaker position.
In keeping with program-level expectations for the course, the first unit will be something of a reading of Johnson and his work with sources and evidence. It's a sort of parlor inventory with a hermeneutic slant, viz. who's saying what, what it means, and so on. The second unit in the course usually involves some sort of annotated bibliography, but I'm thinking along the lines of a collection/annotation aspect (rel. Sirc's "box-logic") that might involve a playlist/compilation in YouTube or Seeqpod. Will put that alongside a more recognizable batch of article/chapter annotations and ask students to speculate about their complementarity. Unit Three is that well-run horse, the sustained research project, 10-12 pp. By that time, I'd like to have the dissoi logoi well-enough in hand that students will be developing arguments rel. to popular culture that complicate status quo views of brain-rotting media. And the fourth, final piece of the course will be some kind of semester-long foray into "serially immersive" new media writing: blogging, annotated social bookmarking, etc. The point here: to again insist on the generative, associative collusion between immersive new media writing and its (still) eventful counterparts in the academy. It's an online course: this is the both-and set up to bridge the institutionally recognizable (and desired) and peppy, alt-logic digitality.
An email message this morning asked about Flickr Creative Commons and citation: "How do you handle it?" I'd planned to address this in the class I am teaching on Tuesday morning, so it was more or less on my mind already. I responded that I prefer one of two methods for presenting the citations indexing the images used in a slide show: 1.) bookmark all of the images and any other web-based content using a unique Delicious tag and then present that one URL on a slide at the end of the presentation or 2.) provide a series of slides (as many as necessary) at the end with full citations for all of the sources used in the slideshow and in the talk. I used the first approach at Watson last month. In hindsight, I'd say that talk ranks fairly high (top five? top three?) among the talks I've given over the last few years, both in terms of quality and in terms of presentational style. Those 217 slides were, oh, 200 more than I'd ever worked with before, and the rapid-fire slide-changing got to be a little bit dicey (even after several practice runs, I lost my place once). But my point is that the single URL for my "Works Delicioused" worked fine. Anyone interested in the stuff I referenced could have followed up.
I'll prefer the second option, "Works Slided," when on Tuesday morning I take on some of the Presentation Zen stuff that frames our fourth and final unit in WRT195. This approach isn't all that visually stimulating; these aren't slides a presenter would necessarily show as part of the presentation, I mean. But they do make the citations ready-to-hand in case anyone should ask about a source--visual or otherwise. I've used this approach for presentations that include a lot of textual sources. And I've also blended the two: providing a conventional works cited along with a collection in delicious of all of the online materials. I'm sure there are other variations, but these are two are the ones I've been weighing today.
This teacherly weekend has also included commenting several drafts from 195ers--penciling comments in the margins and typing focused "looking ahead" notes in response to half-drafts of their unit three projects, researched arguments. There were sixteen drafts total. I commented six on Friday, five yesterday, and the last five today, reading and penciling up the margins first and then going back over each of the drafts to come up with a more focused end note. In the end note, I tried to focus as much as possible on 1.) the greatest strength of the draft (this was my opening gambit on all of them: "The greatest strength of the draft is...") and 2.) the most pressing concerns given what they have been asked to undertake over the last 5-6 weeks. Spent roughly 90 minutes (two hours tops) commenting each of the last three days, but it will lighten the workload when they turn in finished drafts in another ten days or so.
The fourth unit of this course asks the students to translate the research argument into a 6 minute, 40 second Pecha Kucha presentation. So that's where the PZ materials and slide show questions come from. I'm also reading around in Hume's Surviving Your Academic Job Hunt (a book I'll have more to say about in another entry one day soon perhaps), and it occurred to me, where Hume lists all of the various sorts of job talks one must be prepared to give that the Pecha Kucha format is conspicuously absent. In fairness, Pecha Kucha has only been around since 2003, and although Hume's book was published in 2005, I don't have any reason to think that anyone has ever been asked to give an academic job talk as a Pecha Kucha. But this does lead to yet another puzzler: why not? I mean, what is it about the 30-40 minute job talk that works out so well for academic audiences? I really don't mean to balk at the convention. Not at all. But I do think there are questions worth asking about the performance conditions of a 30-40 minute talk relative to any of the alternatives, Pecha Kucha or whatever. Sort of an evocative thought experiment: maybe in thirty years we will see the top 3-5 candidates for a given position come to a campus where they all deliver Pecha Kucha presentations in common session. Then discuss. Wildly out there, I suppose, but interesting to me--especially so given that I have been thinking lately about the job talk genre, how best to prepare for such a thing, and so on.
Remember Richard Leahy's "Twenty Titles for the Writer"? A classic. Need a snappy title, revisit Leahy, and you'll have twenty to choose from, nineteen more than you needed.
I didn't assign Leahy's piece this semester (never have assigned it, if you want to know the truth), but I did do something different with titles for this first essay in 195. I asked students to use googlism.com to come up with something. And, while there remain a few of the usual platitudes (thankfully, nothing innovatively spun from Prince Hamlet's existential crisis), there are some that kick up sparks, pique my interest, and provide that extra little nudge to read on. Among them:
The Internet Is Not Printed On Paper
Urban Dictionary Is My Girlfriend
Learning Is Now At WWW
Answers Is On Answer Page
Literacy Is Fundamental Please Sign My Guestbook
Literacy Is Not What You Thought It Is
And now, for the rest of this rainy weekend: reading, commenting, grading. Well, and so that I don't become too one-track, a veggie lasagna, Is.'s first swim lessons, and re-playing Be Kind Rewind so I can properly continue Watson preparations for next month.
Leading the way among my web platform crushes for 2008 is drop.io, simple private sharing. My fondness for this app grows deeper every day. I have an account set up for the section of WRT195 I'm teaching right now, and it couldn't be much better for uploading and sharing PDFs, slide shows, documents, and audio clips. I simply password protected the account (one of the options when you set up an account), and presto. Students only need the URL and the password. Plus, when students log on to drop.io, they can easily glance the contents of any file by clicking on it. They don't have to download the files to view the contents. I'm hooked.
Already I can tell that I will be using more slideshow stuff this semester than I have in years past. For one, I am in a cramped space. It wasn't looking too bad when there were just twelve students enrolled, but within the past week eight more students have added, pushing us to the upper threshold of twenty. On Tuesday, there were a total of nineteen chairs in the room, counting the one my teacherly can was parked on (first come, first served, I say). Really there were only nineteen (counting me) in class that day, and no empty seats; two more have added since, and I had to put in an email request so we will be sure to have enough chairs tomorrow. My point: It's a cramped space. And rather than shimmy pardon me, excuse me, sorry over to the marker board, I think I will use the projector as a temporary solution. Plus, I can refine my slideshow style with this practice.
Nice about drop.io is that I can drop the slidshow into the quick-drop plugin in Firefox, and there it is: viewable online. It's slick.
Another thing: drop.io is founded on the idea of limited shelf life: after a year of inactivity, the drop evaporates and with it all of the content uploaded to it. A good match for certain course materials in that it doesn't flirt with all the niceties (and idealisms) of permanent archivization.
A draft of my fall syllabus was due on Friday, so draft it I did. I'm slotted for a section of WRT195: Studio 2 for Transfer Students. It pitches itself as a "best of" blend, a rip-and-mix that puts the best of WRT105 and WRT205 into a single course for transfer students.
For several weeks, I mulled over using Pink's Whole New Mind. I read Johnny Bunko, too, and thought about how I could fit that stuff into the course. But at the last minute, I went with another plan focused for now on the latest greatest literacy crisis and also on Googlization (while taking up some of Vaidhyanathan's blogbook-in-progress). So we'll read about and write around some of the stuff that happens when we 'do a Google,' size up some of the apps, and forage around for research projects concerned with Google's construction of the web or the world, grand databases and privacy, Knol, directed and serendipitous search, and so on. So far, the course opens with a digital memoir of sorts (not quite a mystory, but maybe not too far off), some summary and critique work, a researched argument, and a translation (switching the argument into a 2.5 minute audio short or a Pecha Kucha slide-improv, I haven't decided yet). Here's the current plan, subject to minor revisions until I hear back from a coordinator later this week about whether it will fly.
I'm also slotted for ten hours per week in the Writing Center, or, I should say, doing Writing Center work online, as we continue stabilizing some of the consulting options piloted this summer. More on that when the batteries in this cordless keyboard are recharged.
D. asked me about this term yesterday, and I had never heard of it before, perhaps because I haven't taught many courses where tests were involved. As I now understand it (freshly, sketchily), washback describes pedagogical revision, the on-the-fly adjustments teachers make after they have evaluated a set of exams. The test, depending largely upon how well it is designed, should report general strengths and weaknesses among the group; washback is how the future lessons and activities are adapted in light of the patterns indicated by the test.
I don't know whether I will get much use out of the term, but it did get me thinking about similar phenomena in writing courses. There is a kind of going back over things--something like washback--that sometimes happens depending on how a sequence of assignments is envisioned. It reminded me of a mild tension in my MA program between those who thought a complete course of study--including all writing assignments, prompts, and activities--ought to be laid out from the outset and those who thought a course of study should be designed to allow for those inevitable contingencies. To the extremes: the first type is top-down, water-tight and risks being inflexible; the second type is like taking to the air without a flight plan: improvisatory and roomy. The first regards the contextual peculiarities (and surprises!) very little; the second sets out with the proposition, "How can I devise the second unit of the course until I know what happened with the first?". One values teaching everything as if it is channeling toward week fifteen; the other lives and teaches for today and wants not to overdetermine the what's-to-come.
I am, at times, drawn to each of these extreme positions; they appeal to me for different reasons. What I have come to understand is that, in moderate forms, both are simultaneously possible, and good teachers understand--and perform--them--a balancing act of managed flexibility. By now I have wandered away from washback as it relates directly to tests and measurements, but I only wanted to generalize it to the scenes of teaching I know best.
Off and on since Friday--one of the early consulting sessions in the W.C.--I've been thinking a little bit about why we ask students to produce annotated bibliographies. Yes, I, too, have done it--asked students in a lower division writing course or intro to the humanities course to produce an annotated bibliography. Why?
A student on Friday asked me how best to proceed with developing his own annotated bibliography. But he was already in the advanced stages of drafting the project. The annotated bib was an afterthought, a by-product. Probably not the way the instructor imagined it working. It was not organic, not a rigorously-researched advance screening of the conversations or materials in play. It was not done with interest, but rather with a makeshift, this-will-do (will this do?) spirit--much like I've seen in my own students when I served up the exciting annotated bib opportunity.
And underlying question is how to (also whether to) reconcile rigor with pleasure in the processes of collection and annotation. What if the collected thing isn't good enough? What if the annotations do not legitimate its inclusion? (viz., "How did this get here?) In other words, academic collections are too often burdened by preformulation; what goes together is molded by the course, the syllabus, the discipline, the library, and probably the teacherly gestures to clarify--"Oh, but this or that thing fits so well into what you have gathered together!" Topical heaviness pins much of this stuff down, filters it in advance, places a screen in front of the chaotic mess.
Another side of the annotated bib assumes engagement with some sort of conversation. And I am generally in favor of this idea--that reading and annotating produce valuable identifications (summary, etc.) and also help us to have a more or less distinctive take. But I don't know whether the "you enter a parlor" shtick works in all case where writers (who don't know enough of what they need to know). Motive gives way to other questions about how much we must understand discourse conventions, the key concepts getting major play, and so on: Did you realize you entered a parlor? Did you look up to see who-what was there or fixate on the exit? And why did you enter the parlor, anyway?
I know. Just a few mushy thoughts rolling around about annotated bibliographies. I'm not sure I've ever had an annotated bib assignment go especially (memorably) well. I'm not throwing up my hands as much as reconsidering why we have students do them in the first place and whether it is even reasonable to ask students to produce notes on books and articles rather than notes on anything whatever (as a possible alternative). So, through all of this I am thinking about collection and annotation--much in the way Sirc writes about them in "Box Fitting" and also about that which is collectible. These seem to me to necessarily precede the academised annotated bibliography. And so these problems are stoked when academic research and writing (as assigned) do not bear any obvious or self-evident relationship to what drives the passionate, geeky collector.
"I'm very sorry, but I told you I'm not allowed to argue unless you've paid."
This one is from the same Nagi Noda who made "Sentimental Journey,"
the other when I'm observed, I watch this.
I think these three--multiple, sequential, reciprocal--ought to apply to teaching observations. Were I a WPA, I would prefer an approach to classrooms observations that involved multiple visits in a sequence of classes, if at all possible. I would also prefer to see teaching observations arranged reciprocally, where each person involved observes the other. One-time teaching observations are good for verification, for affirming that one's work checks off as acceptable on a list of program, department, and institutional expectations. But that is the end. Until next cycle. This is the typical approach, right?, the automobile inspection version of teaching observations.
A preferable (perhaps also idealistic) model is one where senior teachers (i.e., those with experience) opt in and enter into a mentorship arrangement with new, inexperienced teachers. This could work for new and returning TAs, too, depending on the nature of the program. Each would observe the other three times in a semester. They would also sit down to talk about their impressions, about in-class happenings, about the shape of the course, its successes, its shortcomings, its surprises, and maybe even student writing. Much of this interchange could be handled via email, if schedules conflict. The culminating piece would be a brief (few pages) record of the conversation representing both participants, with some evidence of what materialized in their conversations. It could even be formatted as a dialogue. This would go to the WPA would would, in turn, sign off on a small stipend (oh, say, $50 or $100 bucks). These conversation pieces could also be circulated internally, turned into a resource for future practicums, colloquia, and so on. There is not money for this? Then it isn't important enough to do. But this is a weak defense when money (or release time, other forms of compensation) are already offered for some form of observation and reporting. I'm sure I'm oversimplifying. I've just been thinking about teaching observations over the past couple of days.
The teaching was observed this evening. The 105ers were sharp, so it went well, although observations always feel like, hold still now, freezemation. I would characterize my part in tonight's class session as slightly plastic. Neither terrible, nor embarrassing. But somewhat best-behaviorally tense.
Yes, this entry is, in fact, a rerun from a year ago.
For the first time in '07, I am writing by hand on student work. In the spring and summer, I taught exclusively online. Today, after penning notes on a short stack of two-paragraph summaries, I feel like Mark Cuban (fine, Cuban as a broke grad student)--able only to scratch together an unreadable Rorschach blot when I put the pen to the paper. My handwriting is embarrassing! I already knew I couldn't draw; now I can't even draw letters. When committee members at Prospective U. (it's the season of market preparations) say something like, "I noticed that all of your materials are typewritten. How is your handwriting?," I will resort to an end-around, by-passing the subject of handwriting (as a basic literacy andprequalifier for the professoriate?) altogether, and getting right to an answer that begins, "I can qwerty like the breeze...."
I had just five minutes to tinker around with Mojiti the other day, but I'm intrigued by some of the possibilities it suggests. Mojiti is a video editing application that lets you layer word balloons, thought bubbles, captions, and other markers (circles, boxes, and so on, all of which can be animated) over any video on YouTube and a number of other video hosting sites. It's good for mash-ups of existing content (music videos, news clips, etc.), but I can also imagine using it similar to the way the Word of the Day works on Colbert, where they deliver the straight-faced monologue and then upset it with captions, creating ruptures overflowing with puns and hilarity. Where'd I hear of Mojiti? Over at Mashable, of course. As feeds go, it's one of the best new additions I've made in recent months.
To try Mojiti, I checked it out (remember, in only five or ten minutes) with this goofy little YouTube clip of the highlights from a soccer match Ph. and I played on the PS2 several weeks ago between Senegal and Italy.
I turned in grades a few minutes ago, so my semester has officially ended. I taught an online seniors-only section of WRT205 this semester. As far as I know, it's the first time the Writing Program offered the course in exactly this way (online and for seniors). At this stage, there's not a whole lot I can say for the course. It tends to enroll students who didn't complete this sophomore-level writing course (emphasizing textual research) when they were sophomores. Or juniors. Certainly there is an inherent obstacle in their putting off this course for any number of reasons, ranging from bad experiences (withdrawing) to more enticing course offerings to presumptions about the tortures of academic writing. On this, the last last day of the semester, I'd be hesitant to describe what took shape over the past sixteen weeks as an unqualified success. Good at times, and less good at other times. The general attitude toward online courses at SU seems to me--given admittedly limited experience teaching online for SU--to be one of avoidance or disengagement. The online course isn't the scene students flock toward for more lively, engaging, and rigorous experiences.
Shoot, all of that sounds fairly grim, doesn't it? Let me say this, then. While this isn't the ideal way for students to take a required sophomore-level writing course (online, I mean, and in their final semesters of undergraduate studies), there were impressive projects and bright moments. One student worked at the knot where systems for juvenile punishment tie messily in with effective rehabilitation efforts (looking, that is, at how such institutions risk reinscribing criminality). Another project sorted through the uses of Latour and SNA for understanding the complexity of the United Nations. And then there was this project, a sequence on interactivity influenced by McCloud.
As much for my successful prospectus hearing as for capping WRT205, I'm relieved the semester is over. Next, I'm headed to Detroit for Computers and Writing. Aside from trips to Arizona and Michigan in June and teaching an online course for old U. and moving, what's left will be filled up with the diss.
B. Franklin left it at death and taxes, right? As I teach SU's research-based second semester writing course to seniors (and only seniors), I'm feeling the weight of the death-n-taxes counterpart in academic writing: length limits and deadlines. Two unavoidable encumbrances. Give either of them a liberatory shrug--whatever--and what happens? So we need, instead, to declare two-thousand words by Friday, and so on, arbitrary though it might seem. What, besides length limits and deadlines, structures the writing activity one does for academic credit? Sure, there are sentences and paragraphs (utterances, gestures, etc.), but I'm not talking about language forms. Length limits and deadlines certify the institutionality of the writing. Institution-free, the writing need not adhere to either staple, right? With blogging, for instance, what of deadlines? What of length limits? But figure blogs into a course, what will happen if matters of length limits and deadlines or frequency, even if left to such vagarisms as "flexible" or "open," are not otherwise determined? Just a few thoughts...
I did the annual income taxes this morning, filed them electronically, and then realized I had Is.'s SS# wrong. But the fast-acting S.S. Administration databases couldn't match the number with any person they'd heard of, so the flub was caught and corrected and the forms re-submitted. I was able to move on with the day, tax-collectedly ever after.
About the certainties in my own work of late as it relates to the counterparts deadlines/death and limits/taxes: for the past two weeks I'd probably fall in the category of Willie Nelson* at the slot machines in the lounge of a Cryonics laboratory*, which is to say, avoiding the so-called certainties or producing at a rate not so much frozen as vitric.
*Neither an endorsement of Nelson's habits of interaction with the IRS, nor any acknowledgment of a belief that cryonics legitimately extends human life (what if?).
Our program requires that we attend two mini-seminars every semester. Several different mini-seminars are available, from three-hour sessions on a single day concerned with the discipline (the Reese's PB Cup variety of rhetoric in my composition and vice versa), world Englishes, WAC, or some other topic, to sessions broken across a couple of weeks on stuff like teaching online, service learning, and information literacy. The mini-seminars are meant to foster professional development. Everyone in the writing program--besides first-year TAs and full-time staff and graduate faculty (who oftentimes lead the sessions)--are made to attend.
I was at a session this afternoon on information literacy. But I only mention the mini-seminars to set the scene and to note that I've been a good mini-seminarian this semester as it was my last one.
But the idea today's session tipped me onto is what I'm thinking of as databasic writing. We've heard of basic writing. The idea goes way back, back past the 1976 CCCC in Kansas City, which asked, "What's REALLY Basic?" Thirty years have passed, however. The remediation that finds root in remedy (cure-all comp; whatever ails you) shared its name with media historicism, the remediation that focuses on precedents, on the old in the new. The old ancestors of new media were young once. Maybe this analogy will clear up what I mean: remediation is to basic writing as remediation is to databasic writing. Claro!
That didn't work. Damn. What I mean is that there are varieties of writing new media concerned with writing the database. I don't mean roughing out a plan for a MySQL database or some other gridtrodden boxstrocities built to file complexity into slots (although, try to blog without a dbase). I'm thinking of the blend of tagging and collecting, a compound of non-syntactic semantic variables and things--light, pulsatile, electrate. We're not only writing sentences, we're composing quirky, irregular collections. And while databasic writing borrows felicitously from Benjamin's "Unpacking My Library," it is a library whose gathering is inscribed. Databasic writing also resonates with Sirc's "box-logic," with collecting and annotating, and also with personal knowledge management. The question on my mind is "What's REALLY Databasic?" Databasic writers know del.icio.us. Tag, aggregate, gather, into crumb-paths of surprises, wonder, curiosity, and safe-keeping.
technorati tag: teaching-carnival
Classes begin one week from today, and so I've been wrenching and soldering the course I'm slotted to teach. The syllabus must be ready one week in advance of the semester (i.e., today) so that our plans and projections can be vetted, held up alongside what's acceptable. And once the syllabus is vetted and approved, TAs are awarded their precious copy codes. That said, I'm teaching an online section this semester, and so it's entirely possible that I won't make a single photocopy over the next sixteen weeks. It's a section of Studio II, the second course in SU's two-course composition sequence, a course normally taken during the second semester of the sophomore year. But the section I've been appointed is designated for "seniors only," which means that there will be ten or so seniors enrolled who will graduate in May and who have yet to take WRT205 for any number of reasons. Rather than explain my plan here, feel free to check out the syllabus if you're so inclined. You should be warned that the front piece looks like garbage in IE, but I've checked it for CSS compliance and it's looks dandy in Firefox, Netscape, and Safari--just like I want it to look. And yeah, I have been futzing with style sheets just for kicks in the last day or so.
I still have a fair amount of work to do for the course in the days ahead, but I'm confident that what's there will go off without a hitch. Holding face-to-face conferences is, as my reviewer pointed out to me, a wildcard, but as I imagine it, it will be significant to meet once at the library for everyone who is relatively near to campus. Even in such cases where it's impossible to meet, we can use Skype or telephone to chat about the first project and what's to follow.
I never said much about it, but the course I taught in the fall, WRT302, improved markedly down the stretch. In fact, on the final day, one day before I sat my major exams, everyone wanted to stay and spend time with each others' final projects. I mean that I said we could end a few minutes early since everyone's stuff was turned in, and they asked if they could look at the culminating projects on the big screen. So we stayed until the last minute of class, watching together the impressive work they'd composed. I'm reminded of this as I head into the new semester because, along with getting the syllabus ready for the upcoming 205, I've been arranging some of my teaching materials and getting a few more pieces, like teaching evaluations, online. I have mixed feelings about sharing the evals because, read apart from the course, the commentary they offer--good and bad--is inevitably vague and ambiguous. Yet, to spend much time explicitly rationalizing specific comments seems excessive (even when I've done this quietly, privately). I learned: This student liked an group work; that one preferred to work alone. One student thought Barthes was the highlight; another, DJ Spooky. Evaluations are useful only insomuch as they are understood as the average effect, the studium of pedagogy. What more be said about the evals is that they tell me this: rarely do I have a set of students who end the semester of a like mind. That is, if the purpose of mass education is to replicate ideas--to grind the burrs from the automatons, something's gone wonderfully wrong. Anyway, I've been putting teaching evaluations up, too, and thinking about the limits of what that might mean.
The open gallery introduces variation--a lift!--to the withering paces of the semester. I'd never tried anything quite like it before, and to be honest, even though I listed it on the course schedule for WRT302, I considered a reversal of plans right up until two days before. The open gallery emphasizes circulation, conversation; whatever the compositional pieces, there's a gathering, music, movement, laughter. A lightness.
Eleven students are now enrolled in the course. They'd been working on their "combinatorial scenes" (imagework and logics of association and juxtaposition) applied to arrangements of image and text (other conceptual hooks in Barthes' studium and punctum). Tabblo, Flickr, Wayfaring, and Flash. We meet in the computer cluster (a lab, basically). Guests passed through much like they would at any other sort of gallery, browsing, taking in glimpses, chatting informally: "What have you done?". And there was a bowl of Halloween candy for ramping up the blood sugars.
To be fair, I agreed to do what I could to encourage attendance provided everyone else brought a guest. Many students arrived with guests; a few did not. My own emails to the department and graduate program listservs persuaded a few colleagues to drop by (although acknowledgements were off on my listserv account, and I was unconvinced that the invitation had been distributed, so I re-sent it...for some it poured, like a good sp&m, into their inboxes three times, and still, they didn't attend the gallery).
We planned to hold the open gallery for just thirty minutes, 1-1:30, although our class ordinarily convenes for 80 minutes, from 12:45-2:05. The narrowed time-frame allowed us to meet for a few minutes before people started showing up, and it left us time at the end of things (around 1:40) to talk about how it had gone, what would have been better had we done it another way. We could have promoted it more aggressively by chalking the quad and posting fliers, but too large a crowd might have upset the cadence in the room. In other words, with just 20-25 people (including class members), everyone was able to move at a reasonable pace from station to station and take it all in without being hurried.
I would do this again. I like the idea of opening up the classroom, especially opening it to students who might be interested in taking a course or the proximate but distant colleagues who have only a vague sense of what happens in a course called "digital writing." Because it went well, I want to continue to look for other ways to generalize the open gallery to other courses, other occassions to feature what we do.
The teaching was
studied watched over
scrutinized ogled observed today. The 302ers
were sharp, so it went well, although observations always feel like, hold still
now, freezemation. Resembles having a small part in this, I suppose:
Only less cool. (via)
Given that classes started today, I guess it is both appropriate and timely to declare that WRT302 is more or less together. Along with tightening the schedule, I touched up a few minor things this morning. I also drew up a questionnaire to gauge familiarity and interest related to a series of twelve applications (not all apps: HTML, image work, Flash, etc.). For the first time ever (in a class, day one) I projected a few slides onto the screen to frame our opening trajectories re digital writing. The plan--the course's imagined topography--still feels pocketed in a few places, but I'll wait a week or two before deciding to shuffle anything for that reason alone. Also, I haven't come to terms with the role of del.icio.us just yet, as its unkempt state suggests.
Two I think of initially: the discourse triangle (Message - Writer - Reader) and the rhetorical situation (Writer/Speaker - Audience - Context). Followed by: Aristotle's: Ethos, Pathos, Logos; Berthoff's: Reference, Word, Referent; and my own: Legos, Mentos, Wormholes, and so on. I made that last one up just now. I'm not convinced that it gets at anything particularly profound. Heck, it only took a few seconds to think up.
In the past, I've used traingular models a time or two for whatever reasons (i.e., in a weak moment, deferring to a textbook). I've run across a few variants, and most of them, as well as I can tell, side with one of two teams (been watching the World Cup?): hermeneutics or meaning-motivated triangles and dramatics or event-motivated triangles. And when the final whistle blows, they trade jerseys. I hope you'll tell me what I'm leaving out.
Here's the thing: I've overheard triangles off-handedly dismissed as only so much simplistic rubbish (right, of course, there are more thoughtful, respectful and smart critiques, too). During a few of those triangle bashings, I admit, I sat by, complicit in my silence. Which should I prefer? Why one? Any?
I briefly looked again at Bitzer's famous essay early this week and was reminded that he relies on the troika of exigence, audience and constraints (is it a generous gloss that this transmodifies into speaker-audience-purpose (or context)? Or does this last one come from elsewhere still?). Insufficient though Bitzer's set may well be, I wonder whether you think they're suitable as a beginning model for, say, students in a lower division writing course who have never heard of rhetoric or who have never considered situation as an object of study. Given that we're concerned with a rhetorical situation understood to be a small slice of a complex ecology of activities and intensities, do you think that Bitzer's three terms do justice as a starting point?
Really, what I'm trying to find out is whether you ever use any triangular model when teaching a writing course. And which one? Why? Go on, be anonymous with your comments if you wish.
On the road to Staples and then Home Depot this afternoon. I need three translucent plastic pockets, jackets for stuffing with collected scraps of writing and whatnot. From H.D., a few planting implements, seeds, and so on. Faced with some regreening in the days ahead (mentally, physically, botanically).
Ph. was with me because we also agreed on a stop at the pound to see if any dogs were brought in since Tuesday.
Driving along Bridge Street, Chamillionaire on the radio. Ph. tells me he likes the song. I haven't heard it before. Oblivious: I'm old now, bookish, fading into sunset culture (I remember when I was...):
They see me rollin'
Patrollin' and tryna catch me ridin dirty
(tryna to catch me ridin dirty) X 4
My music so loud
They hopin' that they gonna catch me ridin dirty
(tryna catch me ridin dirty) X 4
"Is that riding or writing?" I ask Ph.
"Riding, I think."
"Could be 'writing.' Yeah?"
And this made good sense coming just after Ph.'s report of a letter-writing episode at school today. Not his Language Arts class but another one. Instructions: write a letter to an elementary school student (among the ones they'd been mentoring throughout the year). The way he tells it, Ph. banged his letter out. Others hassled the teacher about for the "what for?," resisted. So Ph. was finished relatively quickly. Next there were corrections and scolds about letters proper. All due and appropriate, I'm sure (Align your date and your closing, will you!?). But then, he reports, there were moments when the teacher worked at his keyboard and deleted some of his stuff and then told him to write ten more sentences (to fill up the time, he says).
Did this happen? Exactly this way? Who knows. I'm not complaining (even if the narrative includes some over-the-top acts, namely a teacher taking command of the keyboard and deleting). He and I had a nice talk, after all, about school writing and propriety, a talk grounded in stuff that again and again surprises me about Ph.'s interests in language, reading and writing. I'm equally interested in Ph.'s reports of his peers, freshmen in H.S., turning away from writing, resisting it, complaining about how much it sucks. Only to rush home to the nettlewerk, to vast investments of time and creativity in Myspace activity. Not approaching a universal truism, by any means, and yet it was a striking moment: our conversation, the song lyrics, the follow-up. School writing. Chaste writing. Some explicit instruction: Tryin to catch me writin dirty? Whatever the case, the lyric is forever altered for me.
Reading from Technicolor yesterday (for 651), I ran across this bit on Juan Atkins, producer with Cybotron and key figure in the emerging techno scene in the early 1980s. From an essay by Ben Williams called "Black Street Technology: Detroit Techno and the Information Age":
Davies and Atkins had met in a "future studies" class at Washtenaw Community College in Ypsilanti, which Atkins attended in order to study data processing after reading a Giorgio Moroder album sleeve that describe d the sequencers the Italian producer had used to create his metronomic disco epics. After realizing he didn't need to be able to program computers to use electronic instruments, Atkins dropped the course, but not before encountering the work of Alvin Toffler. In his book The Third Wave, Toffler articulated America's impending transition to a postindustrial, high-tech economy in a distinctly utopian manner; in the process, he also popularized many of the most enduring myths of what is now known as "the new economy." (157)
What holds me about this is the matter of school's temporal economy: timing. Atkins read Toffler and only later on, according to Williams, does Atkins acknowledge a tinge of influence, a generalized impression he felt when he recognized the second wave machinations of Detroit's three-shifts-per-day labor cycles and Toffler's foresight. This is not to say Atkins wasn't influenced by Toffler immediately in the WCC classroom. But I think it's reasonable to imagine that the influence was different later on, that it wasn't constant. Perhaps such things as memory, learning and uptake never level, never stabilize. More about school time: The temporal orthodoxies of the academy persist despite composition's post-process crisis (had the po-pro era dissipated so soon?). As our own processual-temporal enigmas grind against the larger clock's slots, especially at this time of the semester, I'm reminded about the burden of the institution's march, the academy's variation on the five o'clock whistle. My slow or fast doesn't matter; it's un-self-regulated many times and instead, differed or shifted.
But more than my own pace and workload, the excerpt from Williams reminded me of how this works for other students, FYC students let's say, particularly at evaluation time. Formal evaluations turn up on the institution's timer, always inviting critique only at the terminal moment, the semester's end. Why should this point in time be the most lucid for reflection and valuation of experience? Efficiency. I can't argue with that (presence is a precondition for filling in the encumbered spaces with no. 2 leaded pencils). But, as with Atkins, tinges of influence often aren't realized until later on. Learning, of course, is both an now-effect and an after-effect; it's a during, an after, and an after after. But the temporal economies of schools can't tolerate open futures; sure, just try to get alumni to fill out a questionnaire. This is not surprising nor is it particularly insightful.
Before CCCC, I sent a WRT302 promo email to former students chosen from the 80 I've had in class at Syracuse in these two years. Sign up for Digital Writing in the fall, I insisted. Just checked enrollments, and four lucky somebodies have registered. One student responded to say he regretted that he wouldn't be able to take the course. He was an early admit to law school, starting in the fall. But he went on to say how taken he'd become with network studies, the loose theme of a research writing course I taught a year ago. He expressed gratitude and acknowledged that he didn't much appreciate the fullness of our study at the time (now, his project: network studies to understand political conceptions of unity). Heh, perhaps I didn't either. Again, time. A semester ends and only later, perhaps many months or years later, we realize that we were getting somewhere. And though it eludes the formal institutional recognition, it's reassuring when the echoes of a few good moments long-ago taught turn up--unabated by the arrhythmia of school time.
Marzluf, Phillip P. "Diversity Writing: Natural Languages, Authentic Voices." CCC 57.3 (2006): 503-522.
Later today our grad group (CCRGC) is engaging Marzluf's recent CCC essay in conversation for an hour. We developed the grad group at the beginning of the semester as a supplement to what's already a solid lineup of colloquia. Why? Primarily so we could invite faculty for focused discussions and devise our own brief sessions around common concerns (CV workshops, conference proposal collaboration, practicing talking about our work, reading stuff outside of coursework, etc.).
I'm short on time and really should be writing toward the three (better conceived as 1+1+1 or .1+.1+.1+.1...tiny installments) seminar papers whose terminal buzzers go off at the end of the month or thereabouts, but I wanted to get down a few notes about issues I'd like us to take up during today's session. First, Marzluf's article works like this:
After opening with a brief account of what he means by diversity writing, Marzluf sketches a brief history of Natural Language Theory (oral language is purer than written; generally favors rationalism). In the third section of the essay he critiques expressivist commitments to the authentic voices of students, commitments Marzluf contends too easily lead to a salvationist ethic, embracing a student's "natural" vernacular at the expense of more self-detached models of rational (i.e. serious) academic discourse. Failed writing, Marzluf argues, paraphrasing Elbow, results "when writers falsify their voices" (513), and diversity writing can lead to such falsifications if teachers over-correlate student identity and demonstrations of authenticity through writing in the vernacular. Marzluf levels a strong critique of the salvationist proclivities that too easily align with diversity writing, including uneven valuations of authenticity in voice (505). He writes,
My goal in this article has been to reject a salvationist tendency in diversity-writing scholarship, one that attempts to save, affirm or legitimate students. Though diversity writing should provide students a comfortable space for interrogating difference, it need not force students to perform their commitment to language and their communities. This is not to imply that diversity writing should be apolitical or impersonal, only that it is a clumsy apparatus indeed for students to use to reveal and perform themselves. (517)
Early in the essay he defines "diversity writing" as "a pedagogical approach that invites students to apply critical reading and writing strategies to situate themselves within, analyze, and research the political and cultural assumptions, consequences, and issues that constitute human difference" (503). Diversity writing becomes synonymous with diversity studies, or, as I read it, a label consistent with "studies of difference."
Here are a few of questions/concerns I want to get at later today:
1. On the basis of his description, how does our FYC curriculum at Syracuse match with the curriculum at Kansas State--particular to their "diversity writing" orientations? Does his definition work for us? Does it adequately name the thing we're trying to do or enact when we teach in a "diversity writing" curriculum?
2. With his overt emphasis on race in "diversity writing," how is his curricular model problematic for this narrowed focus? How might his arguments about Natural Language Theory, salvationist motives, and authenticity generalize to broader identifications?
3. What do you make of his use of content as a rhetorical strategy for answering "an audience of skeptical students, parents, and administrators, who may react strongly to the political connotations of 'diversity' or fear that evaluation will be based on the ideological whims of individual writing instructors" (519)?
From Barthes' RB:
I am writing this day after day; it takes, it sets: the cuttlefish produces its ink: I tie up my image-system (in order to protest myself and at the same time to offer myself).
How will I know that the book is finished? In other words, as always, it is a matter of elaborating a language. Now, in every language the signs return, and by dint of returning they end by saturating the lexicon--the work. Having uttered the substance of these fragments for some months, what happens to me subsequently is arranged quite spontaneously (without forcing) under the utterances that have already been made: the structure is gradually woven, and in creating itself, it increasingly magnetizes: thus it constructs for itself, without any plan on my part, a repertoire which is both finite and perpetual, like that of language. At a certain moment, no further transformation is possible but the one which occurred to the ship Argo: I could keep the book a very long time, by gradually changing each of its fragments. (163-4)
It didn't spring to mind while I was resting face-up in the MRI machine yesterday afternoon (tomorrow's entry?), but I eventually settled on a title for WRT302, as I noted in the comments following yesterday's entry expressing my dilemma, a title brought about by RB's bit above. So it'll be WRT302: The Digital and Its Links. I thought about The Network and Its Links, but opted for the former. Plus I had a thousand really good suggestions, all of which I'd have done well to take up. The course proper is still six months out; I wanted something splashy enough to attract enrollments and also something that makes theoretical sense to me--something that would motivate me toward working carefully through the many decisions between now and then. I really like the way RB gets at the ratio between stabilization and drift, the inter-portions of anchor and flotation, between a buried bow in the sand and a three-thousand year voyage. The "image-system" generalizes to digital composition quite effectively, I'd argue; arrangement and spontaneity, "structure is gradually woven." Could be true of.... And so it will do. Not to mention, when I decided, yes, this is it, I still had the metallic grind and industrial deep-buzz of the body-part scanner lasting with me into the evening; all the more appeal for the idea of composition as the increasing magnetization of ongoing attempts.
Help! I need a catchy title for the digital writing course I'm teaching next fall. I've been racking my brain for a half hour now, running through titular possibilities and trying to land a phrase with enough pizzazz to spark interest and compel enrollments. Here are a few that I've ruled out (fine...so what if a few of these are still in the running, the running is thin).
Maybe it will come to me when I slide into the MRI tube later today for a good going-over of my knee.
Four days until I have to turn in a course description for the WRT302 course I'm teaching in the fall. Here's what I've come up with so far, keeping as much as possible with the official course description.
WRT302: Advanced Writing Studio: Digital Writing
With the shift from writing the page to writing the screen we encounter both expanded possibilities and new responsibilities for assembling images, text, audio and video. In WRT302, we will compose new media texts while engaging issues at the crossroads of writing activity and specific digital technologies. The course will balance experimentation and application with conceptual approaches; in addition to reading about and exploring online tools, students will propose and develop a series of projects that extend from our investigations of specific sites and applications, including simple web pages, weblogs, wikis, podcasts, video, and tag-based systems such as Flickr and del.icio.us. Opening lines of inquiry involve the following questions: What is gained and lost in the transition from the page to the screen? What are the practices and techniques we might associate with digital writing? How do digital texts circulate? How are they read and by whom? How are acts of digital writing implicated with choices about navigation, links, and code? This course will also foreground invention, design, usability and accessibility. All students are encouraged to enroll. No previous experience with computers is required; however, some familiarity with basic uses of technology will be helpful. Email dmueller -at- syr.edu for more information.
I welcome all critique and insight. I'm hesitant to include the phrase "new responsibilities" in the first sentence. The final point about previous experience is messy, too. Is it common to be explicit about experience with technologies going into a course like this one? I haven't committed to any readings yet, but I have a few highly-probables, and I've ordered a desk copy of this techxbook, fresh off the press. The projects, too, will have to be only provisionally defined/outlined because I won't know the ease-with-tech felt by the students until I meet them.
Earlier in the fall our program hosted Tim Diggles, coordinator of the Federation of Worker Writers and Community Presses in Staffordshire, for a colloquium on working class writing/publishing. I didn't get around to posting any notes after Diggles visited, and although I have a few lines about a range of things he talked about penciled into a composition notebook, I want to zero in on the thing Diggles mentioned that has been on my mind periodically ever since: wordwatching.
The wordwatcher, Diggles explained, is a common parliamentary role; in meetings of all sorts, one person is assigned the wordwatcher's role--to interrupt the casual flow of conversation with stasis questions (scroll down), primarily questions of definition: what do you mean by...? The wordwatcher (C. suggested Dictionarian) attends to terminological slippage, calls out for (folk) etymology, re-collects fanned-out usages, and does so with a potentially calm remove--a cool distance from the more heated interchanges (no, I'm not saying neutral position, and this doesn't always have to be the case...the wordwatcher could be more implicated, even po'ed, for example). The point isn't to domesticate the meaning (or broadly officialize/standardize) as much as to make explicit tacit and unexplored nuances and differences, admit them to the discussion.
The wordwatcher's role interests me, even appeals to me as I think about teaching. Why not designate wordwatchers as a way to emphasize contested or complex terms (with ties, of course, to stasis theory)? This could work across several levels--from grad seminars to the FY course. And I'm almost certain it's being done somewhere, perhaps under another name, but motivated by a similar set of interests. I've also been thinking about how a wiki (i.e. the ww must be quick) would support wordwatching, especially in a course like WRT302: Digital Writing--the next course I'll be teaching at SU, coming in fall '06. Wordwatching might be a good way to bring in the shared, ongoing formation of wiki content, talking about how they work, and so on, while also sharing the demands of keeping stasis questions fresh, continually a part of the conversation, etc.
Today, a longer-than-normal day on campus: biked up, three hours of 691 kicked off the morning; half of a tuna sandwich while a student from last fall popped in to see how things we going, dashed off to five fifteen-minute conferences with 307 students, hurried up to the second floor of HBC for the first CCR colloquium of the semester--on Examinations--where I finished the tuna sandwich (nervousness re mayo), next mixed in a shower with thick-frosted marble cake and baby-congrats galore, and then a meeting about a hand I'm lending on some tech stuff...biked back home again.
All-in-all, a busy eleven hours, and although much if it is worthy of comment (how do exams work in my program? what played out in 691? joy: babies and students who return for conversation), I've been thinking a lot today about conferences with students. I've never quite perfected the conference, nor I have I cemented it into the status of a must practice. Generally, I find it useful to set compulsory conferences early in the semester, but it's so much more about tone-setting and really talking rather than obliging institutional roles--the expectancies suspended between us early on (even before we meet), a pre-conditioning of formality and institutions. Confer, then, to unravel some of it. And yes, this is much more manageable with lighter teaching loads. But even with heavier loads, it can be handled by replacing class meetings with small group meetings--three or four students for fifteen minutes of face.
With five consultations today (consultations? it's professional writing...), I'm just over the halfway point for this week. No need to say very much about the students (blogging specific details about my students; you kidding?); the point I'm trying to note is less about the specific interactions with specific students than it is about the effect(s) of the conference. Last spring I didn't hold compulsory conferences, and the entire semester felt different. That difference might be attributable to any number of things, but my rearview tells me that early-semester meetings might've productively influenced the then-developing dynamics.
Around lunchtime today, we met again in the Noble Room, a spacious lounge area next to People's Place coffee shop in the basement of Hendricks Chapel, center of campus. Offices can be a bit stuffy, a bit prof-turf, and, accordingly, formal-seeming. Noble Room: relaxed, out in the open, and relatively quiet. And then we didn't see it coming. A free luncheon put on by campus ministries. No signs and without warning (midst of conversation, me and a student), the student group started moving furniture around, laying out two-liters and sandwich trays, and next (um, beg pardon, but we're conferencing here): let us pray. But, uh, we were mid-sentence and sharing what I thought was a campus lounge (stop talking?). Wasn't a terribly off-putting thing, turned out. The one taking the lead finished with his "food's ready" and "many thanks, amen" and then we slinked to the hallway benches where I stayed through the remaining appointments (the entire time rethinking, why not meet in the office?).
When the first class meeting involves dripping water, the second class meeting must include some sponging up.
Actually, the steady drip from the ceiling on Monday inspired some wonderful insights about the mysterious water source one floor up--and when it wasn't raining outside. After obligatory syllabus-readskimreading, we collaboratively chalked a professional writing free-association map. Everyone contributed two impulsive associations (I'd structure it a bit differently next time, urge a bit more contemplative attention to the emerging relationships, spontaneous though they were). When everybody left, I grabbed a photo of the chalk board, and today I dropped it into a CMap for later reference. I'm thinking about introducing CMap Tools, even encouraging its use for part of one of the projects, but I also was thinking it'd be interesting to revisit the first-day map of sorts, perhaps expanding it periodically as a group. Or even have students work from a common file to revise their individual concept maps for semester-end portfolios (something that moves nodes around, adds pieces, points to found relationships, etc.). For the mapping activity, I basically turned everyone loose at once, which gave me a change to watch interactions, conversation, preferences for mapping off of the terms from others, and so on. Primarily, I was curious about what would come together, where we were starting, how we tend to think about the terms naming the course.
I was at the front of the room--staring into the light from the projector bulb--for most of this morning's Writing Program TA orientation session on Quick & Dirty Research. What put the Q&D in today's talk? Aggregation and RSS. Everyone going along with it now has a fresh-fed Bloglines account and 67 subscriptions. For more, here's the agenda and the accompanying screencast. I welcome any suggestions; the screencast is a bit rough in spots (and longer than I'd like).
Basically, the talk hinged on these few thoughts:
I carried on just a bit blahngerandthenandthen than I would have like to, but it was challenging to fit all of this into one hour and 20 minutes. We finished with three minutes to spare, which means it was just about right for the time allotted. I left, as I often do, knowing full well that it will take more experimentation and play with Bloglines for folks to take it up more fully, even make it part of a daily routine. The group was gracious enough to clap, so, well, I've had my fill of applause for the week. Tomorrow: full-on Writing Program fall retreat. Friday: a mini-seminar on access and success for student-athletes.
Added: I regret that the screencast shows IE, but it's the less-customized browser on my machine, hence better for a generic-seeming browser view. Also, I didn't come up the name "Quick & Dirty"; it was assigned to the time-slot when I agreed to lead the session.
My syllabus for WRT307 still needs a small bit of tuning, but it's sufficiently complete that I have turned it over for a departmental stamp of good-enough. The schedule is much rougher, but I have plans for the week ahead to sharpen the early weeks, and I'm generally reluctant to hyperplot the daily events, especially for a MWF class. I've always found MWF classes challenging to pace; the 50-55 minute meetings spill over too easily, exceeding the tight unit of time.
I'm asking you for feedback, too, either in the comments or via email, especially if you're struck with the sense that what shows might (not) work--an added reading, an assignment tweak, an alternative order of events. Two quandaries with the course-as-planned:
(-1-) The Writer's Cluetrain: The End of Professional Writing as Usual is conceived as a semi-formal collaborative project that will take off from The Cluetrain Manifesto and devise writerly insights from it. People of the world: 50 theses. We'll devise these while reading CM, I think. The pinch: all fit and flow, where in the course, how to frame it as a subsidiary and collaborative project and still have it come together. That's all.
(-2-) Because this is the first time I'm teaching WRT307, I've been softening my stance toward the use of a textbook. In fact, I ordered exam copies of Pearsall's Elements of Technical Writing and Gurak and Lannon's Concise Guide to Technical Communication. At $25 per copy, Pearsall's is inexpensive, and as I looked it over, I just didn't find it to be the kind of thing I would use very much. A few of the examples are good, but the framework is just a bit reductive--elemental. Not flawed elemental, just elemental. And that's Pearsall's shtick with this book: affordable and basic. Gurak and Lannon are quite the opposite. Their Concise Guide is really quite a textbook as textbooks go--loaded with rich and impressive (situationalized) grips on tech comm. Problem: at $62 bucks a pop I wonder how central a piece it must be in the course to be worth its price. Quite a book, quite a price. I'm inclined to adopt it, but I think this move will also compel me to expand the textbook's role and do a bit more to feature it. That's quandary no. 2.
Ph. and I stopped up on campus after 5:00 p.m. this evening--late enough to park close to the office. I had a few books to shuffle into my campus workspace, and I needed to run a couple of PDFs from chapters I intend to use this fall in WRT307: Professional Writing. I'll share a link to the syllabus when it's ready; all you'll find there now is drafty stuff, tentative experimentation and pre-planning.
On the way out of HBC (home to the Writing Program) and on a whim, Ph. and I tried a door on Hall of Languages, the building where I'll be teaching the class. I've been meaning to peek in on the space for a few weeks since I learned about the assignment, but I just haven't gotten around to it. Low priority that it is. And being after hours, I'd expect it to be locked. But the door creaked open.
"We try to encourage their young minds to wander" - Morticia
Local lore has it that SU's Hall of Languages, viewbook frontpiece that it is (appearing on all the admissions brochures) influenced the design of the house in the Addams Family. Yep: 1313 Cemetery Lane. You decide.
And so I'll be teaching composition in the building of campus buildings (notable improvement from the basement of Bowne Hall (Chemistry?) and the "Orange Grove" modular building I taught in last fall, not that I'm hard to please re: teaching spaces). I recall that our teaching request forms invited us to rank preferences for courses, wired-ness and time of day; all in all, I fared well on the counts of the course and the technology. Time o' day: 12:45-1:40 p.m., MWF. I know.
Their house is a museum.
When people come to see 'em
They really are a screa-um.
The Addams Family. (track)
The best part of this architectural mash-up (HL201/1313CL) is that Gomez (or Fester?) was endlessly inviting prospective business clients over to the house where they'd get all unsettled by Lurch or Cousin Itt or Thing or Kitty Kat (all of the cast, really). Interesting relation: the theme of deals-chased-off by the grotesque, the bizarre.
"Make yourselves uncomfortable." - Fester to his clients
Just checking campus spaces, reporting on them. And so I'll stop here, on the precipice of the unnerving next-step that would be explaining how any of this has seeped into my imaginings about what the course could be. But Ph. and I did check the room, and we found that the furniture is far more agreeable to a semester of Professional Writing than the corresponding space (the Play Room?) on Cemetery Lane.
Quick and Dirty research (really just wanted to see Q in drop caps). I accepted an invitation to participate in (talk/click)-ing through a few minutes of a session for incoming TA's on Q&D. A few others will give brief pitches, too, so I can't hog the floor (not that I would). Thinking for now that I'll emphasize the D--dirty, as in the perpetual grubbing aligned with aggregation and a few other must-use sites. The 'Dirty' in research not only identifies with the hands-dirty dig-dump-sift set of metaphors, as was so eloquently introduced to me by a memorable professor at my MA alma mater what, six years ago; it also drops the point of a spade into composition's material orthodoxy. Unsifted presumptions about the material suited to composition research preserves the orthodoxy (straight phenomenological knowing), avoiding the deep down griminess, and instead digging materials delicately, troweling with too much propriety. Worry-free and proven: Spray-n-Wash. Library databases: Quick and Clean research--different work involved in plucking a clean-authorized article (scrubbed by peer review), patching it into an essay.
Let me try to say a bit more. What materials are un/becoming for composition? (You know I've been reading Sirc's book slow and steady, until recently: concerned about bread only.) I want to avoid the way of talking about Q&D research that ordains the library (and its subscription databases) alone. We already have a hundred ways of talking about Boolean strings into ProQuest, and if we run dry on ways of talking about such things, we can schedule entire class sessions where a librarian will break it down, work through examples and prove the merits of every database we wish to query. Now someone might mistake me to be saying that I don't think students should understand how to undertake library research. Nah. Not so. I love the library. I even have a Friends of the Library membership card for my undergrad alma mater for kicking in a few bucks and earmarking it for books. I have seventeen borrowed books right here. But they're not in accordance with Q&D research. But I think a Q&D method doesn't strive to eliminate the happen(ings)stance--chance encounters, unpredictability, surprising messes. As for the "quick" in this tandem, I suppose it's clear enough that it refers to the temporal quality of a process, the truism of time as a aspect of any event. Less time for the Q&D.
I'm not trying to make trouble, just want work through some of the stuff racing around in my earliest pre-thinking. I don't want to assume there is any confusion about Quick and Clean versus Quick and Dirty (of course everyone gets this, yeah?), and I don't want to seem over-eager in asserting the merits and vitality of unconventional materials, although I do think it's a question we mustn't stop vetting: where do allowable materials begin and end? And so something more moderate (reasoned, settled, ortho-) will present some of the following sites as as worthy of having on hand (for the hand with cuticles bearing an easily-washed-away speck of dirt, anyhow): Google Advanced Operators Cheat Sheet, Google Print, oishii, FindArticles, and for gem-finds, Bloglines with subscriptions to a few well-chosen del.icio.us tags. To those doing image sequences: Flickr and front page photos, I suppose. See? If I was really way out to sea on this one, I'd have admitted a plan to bring more ridiculously exemplary alter-materials: such as this or this (via).
I have yet to start full-on prep for the course I'm teaching in the fall, but I did learn the other day that I'll lead a section of WRT307: Advanced Writing Studio: Professional Writing. Just the one course for teaching this fall, plus taking two or three (I have an elective yet to elect, either fall or spring).
WRT307 is relatively familiar, although among the bazillion comp courses I've taught, a professional writing course, per se, isn't among them. I've been through the repository of syllabi from recent semesters, scanned a select few of them into PDFs for later reference. A gross curricular generalization about the course as read through quick glances at the heap of course documents: lead with generic forms (a resume and cover letter assignment); follow with a study/analysis of workplace information flow, rhetorical analysis of a specific document or document set, or interview with a professional on writing practices; follow with a simulation-project with emphases on design, usability, ethics. Collaborative and presentational dimensions are inscribed in the course outcomes, I think.
I still have about two weeks before I'm obligated to order books. For now, I'm leaning toward a course pack--a collection with a chapter or two from The Social Life of Information, The Cluetrain Manifesto, Porter and Sullivan's essay, "Repetition and the Rhetoric of Visual Design," a chapter from Dias et.al.'s Worlds Apart (on the notebooks of architects or academe/workplace transition). Much of the other stuff I can come up with online (perils of blogging, perils of powerpoint) or perhaps by bringing in a chapter from a text book (recommendations?). Frankly, for now I'm trying to think of ways to breach some of the constraint I find in the conventional genre approach (a resume is always only x, y, z). I understand convention, and I'm not trying to squander my students' futures. Just the opposite, in fact. I'm actually interested in doing more than filling compartments with autoblandography. Workplace templates are so pervasive and so deeply systematized that we can teach to them be-damned the specific situation? The simulation approach (let's be a business) presents some interesting possibilities and challenges, too, but I have to give it more thought. If it will be done well, it will be done with a different sort of joint involvement. Certainly all of this will ripple and shift when we convene this fall (and so the sim performances might be held off until the last chunk of the course). But it's one of the things I've been working through in recent days, besides reading and responding to work from students in the two (soon-to-end) courses I'm teaching, besides putzing with CSS and MT plugins on breaks from reading student work, besides crying (tears? sweat?) about the unbearable heat and humidity (mid-sixties overnight tonight though...finally, some sleep).
Any thoughts about what's missing from this developing plan?
When the call I was 'specting about a bit of web futzing didn't jingle my cellular phone this morning, I figured may just as well go to work on my site. My site. The one concerned with all things grand-boxy and professional.
That's what I did. It's not quite ready for mass consumption--the high traffic of folks who'd have any business digging around in the proper record of my professional life. But it is ready for a glance. I anticipate a few conversations in the coming months with my influential mentors, but any thoughts you have--first reactions--let 'em fly, eh?
I know things will shift over the next few years, so I'm content--for the most part--that this is an early version of a project that will likely enjoy an overhaul about two years from now, just before I spruce it for the job search. I've started with twelve (hehe...eight too many!) front-page links: CCR, bio, vita, teaching, coursework, dissertation, weblog, flickr, links/del.icio.us, collections, media projects, and graphs. The bio, I think, can be a space where I represent, less formally, stances, stuff I've done, questions entangled with my academic work. Overkill?
I was also uncertain about representing the diss already because it's not conceived yet. So that's a placeholder for the prospectus, chapter synopses. Yeah...that's all. Collections, media projects and graphs are all loose and mysterious, even to me. At the collections link, I think I'll begin developing a small bundle of bibliographic clusters, starting with provisional exam reading lists for the end of next year. I don't intend for it to grow to the scope of Becky's collections, but I admire the model and find it exceedingly useful to jog my memory by looking over lists of things. Collections will also include sets of assignment-related links. Media projects--there I'm thinking video, audio, and screencasts, especially if I get on the ball with spoken word essays or documentary stuff with my students in the next two years. And graphs, graphs will house some of my messing around with data visualizations, infographics and other stuff I draw or design (rhetorical models, or lexical equivalency chains--been intending to flesh that out).
You might be disappointed to find that many of the links are as of yet inactive. But I just wanted to share what I worked on for a few hours today. Seriously, I'd be grateful for feedback. It's just a draft, really. For example, the more I look at it, the less I like the splotch of spray-can brush stroke underlining on the image swap-out. Hell, by morning, I might have the whole thing replaced with something new (although I am fond of the box-fitting motif).
Ah, I've also been checking around at the various taxonomies put to use in the vitae of folks whose work I admire. No intention of going too wild too soon with the whole project; rather, just trying to survey the possibilities, locate a few adaptable models. Gaps: invited talks, for one. Heh. Maybe I should include a sub-heading for uninvited talks. Judging by a couple of my students' course evaluations, that one could double for teaching.
Yoga poses: fish I, dog, rolled leaf, cowface posture, bear. None of it helped. I started my day with some of this serenity stuff and I've been doubly-stressed all damn day long. Why? Oh heck, maybe it started with the meeting last night at Ph.'s high school to be. He's going into ninth grade in the fall, so they invited the parents of all incoming freshmen to an orientation session. Ninety minutes in, we were still watching the same powerpoint slide show which, click by agonizing click, listed every single bloody course the high school offers. Math I. Math IA. Math II. Math IIA. Regents Math Facts. Like all gripping powerpoint shows should be, this segment was narrated by a math teacher--"We offer Math I. Math IA. Math II. Math IIA." And in explanatory moments, we'd hear, "If your child is deficient math, those students take Math IB...." Of course, I was mostly off in another world by this point, watching the six-year-old at the next table make faces and fly his hands around like jet planes, marveling at the absurdity. I should have known it was going to keep us on the edges of our seats when the moderator of the whole meeting (the guy clicking the mouse to list each of the hundred courses) started with, "We're on a four day schedule. We have day one. Day two. Day three. And day four. Most classes are offered on days one and three or days two and four." Was straight to this meeting after ten hours on campus. We almost skipped, but after sitting in the near-vacant parking lot for ten minutes, enduring a prolonged three-way dunno-about-this, I said, "Let's go." And of course we picked a table in the middle, more than five paces away from all the exits.
By the time those in charge got around to scanning the room to decide whether they should explain the ELL (formerly ESL) courses, which they described in the most obtuse terms imaginable, and by the time they announced that the Child Development course was for "young girls who are pregnant or who might not be pregnant but who will have children one day," and by the time they told us that Health I "covers everything about healthy lifestyles except for sex and drugs," I was long past burned up. I think some of that carried over to today. Must've.
But there's also been a heaping load of work stacking up. Five. Five! letters of recommendation for freshmen I had in class last semester--three for scholarships and two for transfer applications. I really don't mind doing the letters, but five at once felt like quite an addition, and I wanted to customize them sufficiently that each one actually characterized the student. And extra care with proofreading. Probably shouldn't have signed them "transferably yours," eh?
Nothing more than that. Posted something over at the 711 blog, and I've still got more reading to do before tomorrow, so I'm going flip through some of that, see what I find, ruminate over what I meant to put together here.
D.'s busy modeling pellet-gogy. You know, pellet-gogy? Owl pellets?
Turns out the timeless icon of wise (How many licks does it take to get to the center of the TRTP?) chows small animals whole...then returns the too-bony-to-pass bits in a hardened furry ball. She tells me most of the kids are eager about the put 'em back together project, which involves picking through the dried gunk, finding resemblances, bringing them to the frame (a paper outline) and so on.
She's hot-glue-gunning the intricate bones of rodents, piecing together--femur by rib cage by skull--the outline of a tiny skeletal structure, all to show the school kids what it might look like, provided the dense hunk-o'-burped-up by the owl indeed consists of a like specimen. Sure it's disgusting; after that, however: research methodology. Sorry for crossing signals; I'm tuning 205 stuff. But what if we thought about about a metaphor for research that makes use of the pellet topos--reconstituting once-unacceptable bits into something tangible--restoring robbed coherences?
Met 205ers this evening. I'll probably jinx the whole dy-nam, but all in all, it was one of the more encouraging first classes I can remember teaching (which might only indicate that my memory is on the fritz). We broke the ice, socialized until it was too noisy, rolled through the syllabus, and set up the more general premises of what we'll attempt in the next 15.5 weeks. No need to elaborate, really, but there is something energizing about it. Teacherly snap.
Heard one Yike! Not that! comment about McLuhan, which sent me back to everything I took for granted in deciding it would be a good fit for the course. Re-composed, though, and we agreed to give it a whirl. Later, a small ugh-rumble when I said that our only work for Thursday was to build self-profiles in the Facebook. Serves as a minor tech-proficiency measure and will set up later discussions of tagging, links, and so on. Might help me learn names more quickly, too. Granted, it is a bit experimental, but this group definitely has opinions about it, and they're willing to share them. Perfect for a here-ending first day of Semester.
Pink Floyd's "we don't need no" school-children have mustered a lawsuit to collect royaltie$ on "The Wall."
The school was paid $1,000 and later given a platinum record of the song but the pupils were paid nothing.
The headmistress who banned the teens' media involvement in 1979, thereby anonymizing them, had a change of heart; she now supports their claim.
On my mind--Emig citing Jakobovits. Any guesses when Jakobovits likened composition to stale art?:
The linguist Leon A. Jakobovits suggests that "stale art" is algorithmic--that is, it is produced by a known algorithm, "defined as a computational device that specifies the order and nature of the steps to be followed in the generation of a sequence." One could say that the major kind of essay too many students have been taught to write in American schools is algorithmic, or so mechanical that a computer could readily be programmed to produce it: when a student is hurried or anxious, he simply reverts or regresses to the only program he knows, as if inserting a single card into his brain.
From Janet Emig's "Lynn: Profile of a Twelfth-Grade Writer."
The first comment in my 8:30 a.m. section: "George Bush came off as really likable and genuine. He was angry at times, but he was real, like somebody you'd meet at a bar. His vocabulary seemed more everyday. He came right out and said 'You can't do that. The president can't lead that way.'"
Mm-hmm. Okay. The barstool intellectual stumble-de-do is exactly the thing that worries some folks (although I won't name specific names). <loop> It's a lot of work. You can't say wrong war, wrong place, wrong time. What message does that send? It's a lot of work. Six-party talks...if ever we ever needed China, now.</loop>
Students had great insights on the debates; they recognized nuance between the candidates, articulated them with conviction that this election matters to them. We shifted our attention after several minutes, even though some students preferred a sustained conversation about the event over the other plans for the hour. The connection, for us, came from the debate's framed emphases: foreign policy and homeland security. Homeland security is particularly timely in these classes--the two I teach every MWF. The courses are organized around questions involving spatial analysis--geographies of exclusion, socio-spatial critiques of the campus and of hometown spaces, and arguments about surveillance, privatization of public spaces, neighborhood watches and localized security poses, perceptions of threat, and so on. In fact, the second assignment is called, "Homeland (In)Securities." So I wanted to move from the debates--how would we understand homeland security if we could read the notion through last night's debates alone?--to our current, in-progress projects on hometown spaces, memory work, strangers and safety, contested zones, etc.--how can we extend the idea of a controlled surrounds (in the debates, taken to the limits of the globe, empirically exhaustive) to the material-spatial patterns of policing, security, "known" threats and deliberate municipal designs aimed at thwarting risk?
I grumbled about Mike Davis's "Fortress L.A." article (from City of Quartz), earlier in the week, but I'm doubling back on those doubts now that the classes read the chapter. Davis adopts a term I'm growing ever more fond of as we move ahead with spatial analysis--archisemiotics. Basically, Davis argues that L.A.'s architectural development implies unambiguous messages about social homogeneity in the urban center. If we accept the latency of meaning in the city-scape (buildings, barriers), reading spaces becomes a process of seeing significance in spatial design as it determines who can go where, when, for how long, etc., and imposes a character on the peopling of the space, its social flows--viscocities. It makes structures rhetorically significant, inscribing them to their perimeters with a sentience--not unlike, according to Davis, the eerie, systematized conscience of the building in Die Hard.
I suppose there's a whole lot more to it than I can exhaust here and now--or than I'd even care to considering I have one helluva cold. I just wanted to register an few thoughts about teaching at SU this semester--because I haven't yet--and, too, comment on last night's debate. The cross-over this morning, even though I'm not teaching courses with an explicit focus on the election, was striking--even exciting; it was a pleasant reminder that I'll never be too busy to savor moments when students are brilliantly conversant with each other over hard questions.
Ontology, fua, fua...
Ontology, fua, fua, fua...
[This is the sound of my brain-motor oiled with too much reading.]
Looking one day ahead--all critical pedagogy: Shor on why vocationalism spells r-u-i-n and what he was doing in his classroom in 1979 (hamburgers as objects of inquiry, wedding contracts, so on); Thelin & Bertoncino on the plight of comp-teaching Kroger clerk who was assailed by Dr. Jones, the crank observer; good ole Freire--conscientization.
Looking to next Monday--We're spending another week on Foucault's The
Order of [Words and] Things, too. But we voted on it; I lost. We need
another week to map episteme shifts since the
17th c. But I get the project, more or less (fine...perhaps
less), and I feel ready to move on. So I voted 'nay' on continuing with
more ruminations. Others: 'yey.' Democratic. But I don't want to
explain here what it means for Barthes (who sat in the week where a third bout
of Foucault now sits). Dammit! 'Course Barthes will remain in my
project. And, in protest, I'm referring to Foucault's book acronymically
as TOOT for a while.
Have you ever read something you put on the schedule for a class you're teaching, just before you're about to work with it, and think, "What?" Wednesday morning: Mike Davis's c. 4 from City of Quartz: "Fortress L.A." What? fua...fua...
Ken MaCrorie's Uptaught is funny as hell. We have about seventy pages of it excerpted for Tuesday's Curriculum and Pedagogy session. It's particularly interesting for how he pits Percival the computer as essay-reader against the robotic, mechanistic professorate. MaCrorie (of I Search notoriety) comes around to a method of spurring invigorated self-discovery toward students' notice of voice, intellect, conscience--blended. But he's ingenious for the way he parodies the field, for the way he cracks on the serious posturing among those who "preach Engfish."
PUBLICIZE THEIR ERRORS
Engfish teachers pass around to each other what they call "bloopers" made by students in their papers. They post them on bulletin boards. They send them to teachers' magazines , which publish them as humorous material to fill empty spaces in their pages. Three of the commonest slips are:
1. His parents were having martial trouble.In the column heading of a recent issue of an English teachers' state association newsletter appeared the words CALENDER. In the graduate school I attended the English Department distributed to faculty and students a notice containing the word GRAMMER. These bloopers were not posted or printed in magazines as filler. (72)
2. He took it for granite.
3. The boys were studing in the lounge of the girls' dormitory.
Okay, so MaCrorie's a hoot. WTF's the point? We're reading this as a lens on the compositional redirect--stuff in the early sixties that carved out a space for composition as the modern behemoth spillway in higher ed--the conditions (Dartmouth Conference and NCTE's The National Interest and the Teaching of English) as the incubus for what's since taken root. And in another class, it's Sharon Crowley's Comp in the University that takes up the stance (through polemicals and historicals...mostly excessive historicals!) that we oughta cut the FY course loose. Perhaps. We. Should. To the sea.
I find the National Interest rationale especially interesting in light of the resulting material strains felt by teachers who were by and large destroyed (critically) in the NCTE's report. Stop it! Material conditions suck (onward). That's clear. That hasn't changed. Teacher shortages, class sizes, resources, technologies ("Composition, literature, and language are taught more effectively in rooms which permit the storage of books and papers, as well as the use of recordings, tape recorders, and other audio-visual aids," goes the NTCE doc.) all were named in 1961 as musts for the bedding of National Interest and the Teaching of English. The whole "send it in motion" pretense makes me think about the Russian space program, particularly all of the animals that went, unknowing, into the beyond. Poor Laika. Poor comp.
But material strains and abominable labor practices--it seems to me--are only a few of the problems deserving attention (and leading us to seriously consider Crowley's plan--note, I'm only halfway through b/c the book hasn't arrived yet...only a six-chapter tease), and in the mini-paper (called Crowley: A Response) I'm about to write, I plan to call out the top-down tenure and promotion meritocracy as one more of the fundamental constraints defining the field as we know it. In a field so notably self-conscious about its legacy of inferiorities in English Departments and plodding with the cement shoes of a broadly perceived service ethic, burdened additionally by what Donna Strickland dubs the managerial unconscious , composition--of all fields (and, why not?, others too)--needs ways to re-imagine the safeguarded meritocracies , especially in an era where over-stocked archives and gobs of peer-reviewed information (spilling far and wide, disciplinarily vast) make entrance into the field drowningly ominous for all who approach.
I didn't intend to post this morning, but the latest entry at datacloud jogged my thoughts about EN106, which is winding to conclusion. Winding.
EN106ers commandeered the course two weeks ago; they organized, mobilized, demanded an opportunity to take the PowerPoint sequence one step farther by siphoning two speeches of historical import into slideshows. It wasn't my plan; I was thinking our last bit of work would be a research plan: a research question or prospectus, a five-source annotated bibliography, and a critical review of one source. But, like so many good Pirates, they accepted my early-term insistence that they make the course their own, took over, put their plans for the last coursework ahead of my own.
We switched into groups for the speech conversion activity; they worked in clusters to remake Ursula LeGuin's "A Left-Handed Commencement Address," and Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech into PowerPoint shows (admitting, along the way, that such gross reductions felt irresponsible). Their essays--due Tuesday--are framed loosely as critiques of the process, critiques of the other group's work at identifying key bits in the speeches. Here are their shows, if you're interested.
If I did this again, I would build in a round of peer response--some kind of interchange and revision for polishing the shows (this part of the process was left off due to time constraints in the semester). The best part of the sequence was our class session the other day when we started to talk about the process by borrowing the premise of the extreme makeover programs on television lately. We had a good time working through the transformation in light of the mad-dash grab-n-fix that is so popular on the tube. The Extreme makeover: discourse trope was fun and seemed to be an incredibly rich pop culture pass-card toward theorizing what PowerPoint does--and in ways we didn't appreciate as fully when we worked from the smattering of articles.
Students are in their last week of compulsory blogging. I told them they could turn a critical eye on the semester if they wanted to, contemplate what's happened since January, open up about forced blogging, our pace, workload and focus for the semester of study. Many of the students are doing just that.
Voice: "Will the revolution be blogged?"
All the people: "Hell yeah!"
Got that out the way. It's been said a time or two--it won't be blogged, it will be blogged, it won't be blogged--so many daisy petals, so few revolutions. I'm wanting to talk shop here, talk pedagogy tonight, but I'm in the midst of a set of mini-essays from humanities on Geertz' Balinese cockfight and the notion of common ground. Sore eyes. A few loose ends of prep for Thursday a.m.
About that: we're using the EN106 blog this week as a note-sharing space. I'm using all of the links from TWiaOW for the Point/PowerPoint sequence and then some. We're basically reading the issue of efficiency in poorly conceived slide shows--the rationing of language brought on by bullet points with the ever-popular PP program. We're also using the sequence as a way to talk about the articles and information credibility, especially as it applies to blog entries. Here are the links from the PPT sequence, in case anyone is interested in how the popular business software continues to get attention (and not because it's in the biggest letters, as BULLET POINT A):
Makes You Dumb, New York Times
PowerPoint ReMix, Aaron Swartz: The Weblog
ET on Columbia Evidence-Analysis of Key Slide
Turning Heads With PowerPoint, Wired News
PowerPoint Is Evil, Wired
Learning to Love PowerPoint, Wired
The Level of Discourse Continues to Slide, New York Times(PDF)
Absolute PowerPoint, New Yorker
Here are a few others I've added:
Bullet Points may be Dangerous, But Don't Blame PowerPoint, Presentations.com
Don't Blame the Tool - Reader Responses, Presentations.com
To Avoid the Perils of PowerPoint, take a kid's-eye view, Presentations.com
PowerPoint has Always been the Point, Presentations.com
Can This Off-Site Be Saved, Fast Company
Honestly, this list serves a second purpose. I want to be able to send it any time I receive a PowerPoint show that would work better as a traditionally formatted page. Since I started thinking about this sequence, my inflow of PowerPoint shows at work is at an all time high. Maybe PowerPoint is soo powerful that the mounting of critiques creates some kind of karmic vacuum--PowerPoint skepticism met cosmically by a surge of colorfully-themed shows rushed to the doubter's inbox. Two shows were sent my way in the past week. One was a self-evaluation for whether or not you (dear reader) would be a fit candidate for teaching courses online. (Slide One: Are you technically proficient with checking email?) The other involves staff encounters with media--how to talk to reporters. (Slide Fourteen: 1. Speak in short, concise sentences. There is no such thing as "off the record.") Time for an analysis likening PowerPoint to The Blob. Seriously.
I've got to get back to finishing touches on my night's work (which, sorry to say, blog, ain't this). But I wanted to plant another seed about divergent uses for blogs in teaching composition. I've been following the discussions about the ways blogs hinge on concomitant reading and writing (via here and here) and also about the way blogs might be put to fairly limited uses by some composition teachers (here). I can't say that I'm addressing all or any of those important concerns in this entry, but I am happy to chronicle my own discovery and rediscovering this semester of the social dimension of blogs. Blogs turn narrow conceptions of reading and writing as private, independent, and isolationist upside down in favor of an extracurricular literacy network--a connected arena of extraspatial (beyond the walls we meet between) contact and community. And, of course, there's more to it than I can plow through just now in the interest of convening tomorrow as a potentially jubilant day. But I want to note the latest activity I'm toying with--a kind of bum-rush annotated bibliography via course blog--and say that I'm not sure how I would have done it better before blogs converged with my teaching. In short, students in teams (two to an article) are writing summative paragraphs for the first six articles from the set listed above. We'll review the notes as a group next Tuesday, talk about ways the sources might contribute to their upcoming essay projects and so on. Setting a category and enabling a simple search makes it possible for students to access and share work they've done outside of class time. Admittedly, this is my first semester teaching with a weblog, so I can't be sure what will happen. I suppose that's what we could use--a record of best practices, if only anecdotal evidence, of the many ways weblogs are growing the possibilities for invigorating pedagogy.
Earlier this week, D. mentioned that she was writing comments on her second graders' third quarter report cards. They'd already been commented upon once by the primary teacher, D.'s coordinating teacher for student-teaching this spring. She said she was reluctant to add a tier of comments that could be read in contrast to the first (more authoritative) set. In other words, the team dynamic for commenting gave her the sense that she needed to echo the first set of comments to avoid confusion or, at the very least, discursive tension (read by the students and by parents of the students). Recent exchanges on the WPA-list brought up the suggestion of rediscovering the joy in responding to student writing (countering the prevailing clamor about responding and grading as an unfortunate burden). Is it one of the few areas in comp studies where collaborative models haven't been considered, explored, and so on? I know that many arrangements for peer response advocate a layered system where drafts enjoy multiple assessments from multiple students. And in such schemes the yoke of authority is by and large thrown off since most students don't conceive of each other as authoritative (expert) readers. Anyway, D's comments made me think about what's woven into a collaborative commenting dynamic when it's taken up by collegial professionals, and I couldn't think of many places (excepting advanced levels of study, theses, dissertations, exam committees) where teachers co-comment, mounting critique and inquiry on a common piece of student writing. I don't know if there's any promise in the possibilities here--obvious labor/time/capital constraints make it seem counterintuitive. But if we intend to reassert the joys (and importance) of response, shouldn't we also be able to articulate merits of variations involving collaboration in those efforts?
Last chapter of Postman's Technopoly for class tomorrow. After that, 106ers are on to a series of articles about Powerpoint and the problems with tech-dazzle mesmerization, the rhetoric of blurb and bullet (adapted heavily from Traci Gardner and Nick Carbone at TWiaOW).
For the past day, I've been grinding over how to respond to an email from an instructor who teaches two sections of the online version of 106 I developed. Since I'm the developer, I field questions from the instructors of the various sections from time to time, doing what I can to tease out effective practices or, in some cases, return to the drawing board to tweak the curricular plan. Here's the note:
I made a small accommodation-change this past term, one which may be worth sharing. I required students to include their thesis statements right below the title to help me with grading actually. I was amazed; only [a few] students [...] completed this task with some degree of competency; some did get better, but all-in-all it was an enlightening experience concerning these students.
Their inability to express what they meant to do was, of course, manifest in their essays. At least I had a clearer how-to-improve target.
The forces bearing on this predicament are considerable. The practice suggested by F. is not one I want to wrap my arms around in an affectionate bear-hug. But I think I understand why he's doing what he's doing (and although I paused before bringing this issue to EWM, I decided that I want to take up more issues related to teaching writing with a heavy dose of technological mediation). So here's why. One problem is that the institution has a rather flexible set of admissions standards for students who enroll via distance learning (from one of several campus centers). Not unlike Mina Shaughnessy's efforts with Open Admissions at CUNY, we are involved with an institution whose students vary tremendously in their confidence, preparedness and experience with writing before crossing over to the University's lower division courses. And it seems to be a more difficult enterprise (teaching as enterprise?) when we come at basic writing issues online, exclusively in writing. In this arrangement, we are hampered by the absence of oral discourse to lend succor and support to tenuous processes whose fulfillment depend on skillfulness with both print literacies and digital media. So it's tricky. And I can understand F.'s accommodation, although I will probably suggest something slightly different, something, perhaps, like having the student italicize the essay's central premise in context (which might mean locating it in one or two places, or more than one sentence). Insistence on perfect, one-line theses reminds me of the kind of reductive oversimplifications ideologically embedded in PowerPoint--the very roots of which are under heavy scrutiny for their failures in situations depending on nuanced, elaborate arguments and expositions. So, while there could be a fair amount of protracted debate about whether a FY writing classroom (be it online, even) is the place for nuanced, elaborate, subtle, sophisticated arguments and expositions more than their formulaic counterparts (five-paragraph, etc.), I almost always prefer the complex to the simple on this score. Something about floating a one-line thesis statement to the front, slotting it like an epigraph atop the lead page troubles me for the way it privileges that one line and diminishes the sorting out and wrangling that is the better body of the written attempt. And, of course, this could be a gross oversimplification of the problem.
So how would you respond to the email pasted here? What do you think of the practice of migrating the thesis to the top, floating it like so much balsam to the murky water's edge?
Kill is a volleyball statistic (so is dig... a murderous sport, indeed). And I'm crouched in my noisy office today, hiding out from the poundacious, bangtastic bongo and hoot that is intercollegiate men's volleyball. Balls careen off the uninsulated walls; the splat of every hard spike is drowned by a basal oooh-aaah. And three matches are playing out within ear shot. Good thing I've got terrific work-study students to relieve me from being more proximate to the events, as in at the courtside.
After seeing Non Sequitur this morning, I've been having a look at human and animal image-dispositions at the following web sites: Nature | Wild America (Mungry: the speculatin' critter in the upper left! Will he eat the berry?) | CBS's Survivor Series.
But then I got caught up in comparing the alterations to the page designs from Borneo to All Stars. The banner graphics (the program's logos, if you will) tell a story, perhaps even tapping into grand narrative of colonialism or something like it. All of this could be the disturbing side-effect of too much coffee this morning, a McDonald's sandwich turning a pirouette in my tummy or the slap-racket in my percussion-tank office, but I have time to play around--so that's what I'm doing. Here are the graphic insignia, sequentially ordered, from the Survivor series.
And here's some of what I see. Borneo: no humans, no animals, light colors, watery lower panel. Australian Outback: a darkening, a roo in the rising sun, bouncing left, heat waves in lower panel. Africa: a giraffe following the roo's path, scraggly acacias on each side, grassy lower panel. Marquesas: jutted island, some kind of Tahitian mask (civilization?), watery lower panel. Thailand: temples surrounding a decorated elephant, red lower panel. Amazon: gigantic serpent and a toucan, serpent integrated into lower panel. Pearl Islands: ship silhouette, skulls, gold coins piled thick in the lower panel. All-Stars: human form, torch-bearing, generic natural landscape in the background. What do you notice?
When I began thinking about these panels as a narrative sequence, while also thinking about groovy assignments for the introduction to humanities class I teach, I also thought about Perry Miller's Errand Into the Wilderness (which I haven't completely read in the strict sense of page by page, word by word; know him for some of the sensational rhetoric stuff). Found a web site from CU-Denver that summarizes Miller's central theme in Errand thus:
"The End of the World" (217-39) William and Mary Quarterly 8.2 (April 1951): 171-91.
In this concluding "piece," Miller sums up his thesis:
"Can an errand, even an errand into the wilderness, be run indefinitely? To this question, it seems, Americans must constantly revert.... Can a culture, which chances to embody itself in a nation, push itself to such remorseless exertion without ever learning whether it has been sent on its business at some incomprehensible behest, or is obligated to discover a meaning for its dynamism in the very act of running? ... In the civilizations that emerged out of the primordial wilderness of Europe, this assurance solidified into the Christian eschatology; in that form it was brought to America, most energetically by the Puritans. Officially the doctrine of an end to the world has, of course, been professed by every denomination within the country, even when, as lately, some have striven to interpret it metaphorically. What will America do - what can America do - with an implacable prophecy that there is a point in time beyond which the very concept of a future becomes meaningless? Protestant America, as well as Catholic, has an implicit commitment to this event. What then happens to the errand?" (217) [emphases mine]
I don't have time to brush out the kinks or to trick around with much more today. Weather's too nice outside to keep puzzling over whether the grand narrative loosely suggested by the graphic sequence answers or somehow engages Miller's questions, and this crummy tournament is winding to a finish--last matches start at 2:00 p.m. There seems an interesting way of reading this sequence of images (and their telling, and the series of programs itself, perhaps) through Miller's notion that Christian civ. must foretell a material end whose details are unknown and that the promise of wilderness' end, of the cessation of travails and conquest, compel, in the purveyors of dominant culture continuation, an attraction to rhetorical/artistic refashionings of the grand narrative of conquest--as redesigned through an increasingly human-centered tale.
In simple terms, and because I fear that none of this makes sense, here's what I mean to suggest is the answer to Perry's question, "What happens to the errand?". My answer: Survivor. Quite a ramble spun out of a funny non sequitur.
Hard to believe two days almost ticked by with no new words at blog. See, the new online term (Spring II) started on Monday, and I'm experimenting with a whole lot more writing in that forum. Trouble is, it's private. Behind closed portals. I could share my password (and I'm tempted; oh! how I'm tempted), but then an imposter could misrepresent me, variegate my teacherly persona. Who would that be good for?
Been busy as heck with teaching. EN106ers are pouring over Postman and
Agre. Our next essay is a kind of
imagined dialogue between Postman, Agre and you (the person writing the
essay). We're reading Welcome
to the Always-On World, holding it up alongside Postman's middle-late
chapters, and looking for ways to laceweavemesh the texts. Today, students
suggested interests in disruptive technology (God forbid, cell phones in
church!), social networks (best friends online) and time-squeeze efficiency
models brought on by mobile gadgets. All of these themes bubble and churn
in Agre and Postman.
Feeling philanthropic, I picked up a few other volunteer teaching assignments this week, covering for a certain blogger you might know who's been on interviews lately. Job interviews, not the talk show circuit (I won't do it; I won't attempt the satire). So I picked up his section of LS301 this afternoon: one hour and fifteen minutes of really incredible student-lead discussion on the Childhood chapter from Building a Bridge to the 18th Century. We talked over the metaphors for childhood as a social construction: tabula rasa, plant organism and market. Good stuff. The most interesting moments came during one student's explanation of a local program called Exchange City which is like an urban simulation field trip for fifth graders where they effectively act like laborious adults. Others in the class had been through this program. Turns out one of the students in LS301 was once assigned to the assembly line--a factory job making checkbook covers--when she went to Exchange City in fifth grade. Now she aims to be a labor activist who lobbies for pay-production fairness.
Enough. I agreed to cover two other classes for Dr. Job-Marketeer tomorrow morning at eight and nine, and I'm not accustomed to coursing my Friday morning blood flow to teaching pace by eight o'clock. So I'll trick System with a jug of coffee. Gonna watch the last few splits of March Madness then hit the hay.
Heavy eyes and not a lot of time to post tonight. So here are a few things I'm reading alongside each other to round out (balloonishly round!) my prep for tomorrow morning's EN106 class session:
Mark Federman's essay, "The Cultural Paradox of the Global Village" (PDF) from the McLuhan Studies program at Toronto. I want to talk about the wheelbarrow anecdote as a like conveyance of Postman's "Invisible Technologies" pitch in c. 8 of Technopoly. Postman's chapter is all about the bent information of statistics and poll data. I'm mildly concerned that I'll have to jitterbug through the end section on management and systematized technique--as Postman calls it. It's a tough concept, and even though I'm rerereading it, it's more of a puzzler than some of the other stuff. Perhaps that's precisely where we should begin. Here's a snippet of the wheelbarrow story from Federman:
There's a cute story about a man who, during wartime, would come to the country's border with a wheelbarrow full of dirt. The border guard looked at the man's papers and all was in order for him to cross. But the guard was certain the man was smuggling some sort of contraband in the wheelbarrow. So the guard took a shovel, poked around in the dirt, but found nothing. The man was allowed to cross.
The next week, the man once again comes to the border with a wheelbarrow full of dirt. Again, the border guard found that the papers were in order and dug through the dirt, but still found nothing. And again, the man was allowed to cross. Week after week, it was the same story: Man approaches the border with wheelbarrow full of dirt. Guard finds nothing of interest and the man crosses. At the end of the war, the guard sees the man and asks him: "Look, I know you were smuggling something across the border, but I could never find a thing hidden in the dirt. What were you smuggling all those years?" The man answered: "Wheelbarrows."
And then (like so many fence posts thinly wired and roughly in a row) this from CNN via Scripting News: "Welcome to the 'new' Web, same as the 'old' Web." We're going to use it as a way to talk about web quests and exploratory exertion. Is RSS spoiling us? Complacency, so on. The CNN article returns to the info superhighway model to suggest that RSS feeds will serve as a different kind of "on-ramp." But I know when I lived in Detroit I generally had to accelerate on the on-ramp, despite the caution signs, because my survival in that context of pace and flow (I-696 W from Gratiot, 7 a.m. Monday morning) depended on it. Conversely, in KC, yield signs are, well, like stop signs. They actually mediate the traffic; in fact, it's quite common to see someone stopped on the on-ramp. In brief, there's plenty of variation in on-ramping; probably always will be. Not to mention the contraption whose pedal you're mashing: Yugo or Caddy, dial-up or Ether, on-ramping might have less to do with the ambitions of the driver than the technical machinery making it possible.
Speaking of fence posts, this bit from National Geographic News explains what Max, our ancient Yorkshire Terrier, has been failing to do on his trips to the yard for all these years. Why a failure? Well, for one, we still have the Christmas black cat hanging around the back porch. My only question for Max, which he won't hear because he tends to be tonally numb or, at the very least, indifferent, is: fencing in or fencing out?
And I have a student this term--the online term that started today--in HU211 who is on assignment in Uzbekistan. She slid me an email today asking who she should use for a proctor (on the final exam) in Uzbekistan. It's an intro to humanities course. Can't anyone proctor the exam? *Looking at the ceiling* I replied that I'd think about it, then flicked up a red flag in Outlook so I don't forget.
I wrapped up Scholes' Rise and Fall on Monday morning while I was waiting in the auto shop. Since then, I've been reconsidering it from a distance--the full displacement brought on by a hearty paper load, full-time work, and other important stuff-o-life. I keep coming back to a few basic ideas set up by Scholes in chapter four, "A Flock of Cultures." Throughout, Scholes uses a split chapter system, so, for example, chapter four has a postlude called "assignment four" in which he details--in practical terms--an application of much of the theorizing he summons in the early portion of the chapter. Before the "assignment" section, he proposes a design for a general education curriculum parsed into grammar, dialectic and rhetoric. Scholes introduces this threesome under the heading, "A Trivial Proposal." He's having fun with the connotations of "trivial," enlisting it as something of lesser consequence (than the Western Civilization and Great Books canonical approaches) and also as a modern resurrection of the medieval model for foundational education--the basis preceding advanced scholarship in "arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music." He explains the subtle differences between each of the course-types. For grammar, a course called "Language and Human Subjectivity" would comb over pronoun usage and alienation in language structures. A second grammar course would concern "Representation and Objectivity." Anthropological perspective, ethnography, the objective discourses pervasive in the observational sciences: these would be done up in this second grammar course. For rhetoric, he suggests a course on "Persuasion and Mediation," which "would obviously include the traditional arts of manipulation of audiences but would also point toward the capacities and limits of the newer media, especially those that mix verbal and visual textuality to generate effects of unprecedented power" (125). To round this one out--and because Scholes spends relatively little time on it--I would toss in technology.
Til now, I've summarized Scholes, little more. I still have to wrestle with his course concerning dialectic. He dubs the course "System and Dialetcic." The purpose is philosophical grounding, critical positioning, reason and logic, historical antecedents, and leverage in rich, complex, and intertwined discursive legacies. Good enough. But this brings me back to something Scholes writes about Hegel earlier in the chapter, and it brings me back with a sense of thin (okay, nano-thin, but even nanotechnology can achieve conduction.) connection to parts of what Collin wrote the other day, especially on deference to "the field" or "the discipline" of Composition Studies. From Scholes:
As I have already partly indicated, I believe that our tendency to speak in terms of Western Civ is derived from the degeneration of Hegelian ideas into the repertory of "common sense." I call this a degeneration because, in this passage from systematic thought to folk wisdom, Hegel's ideas have been separated from the rationale that drove them. By putting them back in their Hegelian context, I hope to show both what they have lost in this transition and how we shall have to adapt and modify them to make them useful again for curricular purposes. Let me begin this complex process by pointing out that for Hegel the idea of studying the West without the East would be ludicrous. The basic principle involved here is Hegel's view of history as a dialectical process, in which the new always results from the negation and sublation of the old, in which certain elements of the old are retained within the new synthesis. By seeing the West as the dialectical heir to the East, Hegel incorporates understanding of the East as a necessary part of the study of Germanic (or Western) culture. (114)
From here, I don't want to ratchet into too-tight conclusions; this is a tentative think-through--one that I hope carries over into more questions for other days. It's just that "negation and sublation" are variously deliberate (active) and inadvertent (passive), but they're paramount to the dialectic process of forward-moving transformations informed by history. Taken another way, I suppose we could call them corrosive to our sense of shared values (about best practices, say), of a social network, or to the field or the discipline, set apart by "its own momentum and character as an organization." I've typed right up to a crossroads here--one that I know needs more deliberation, more consideration. It's just that Scholes is whispering "dialectic," as I'm reading Milgram, reading "agentic shift." Scholes is winking me back to this passage on Hegel (which rings of authority, canon, discipline, globalism), and I'm trying to play along, sputtering at times, but trusting that this will come together, that a refined understanding will come about from this search. And maybe Scholes is there because, in proximal terms, he was there most recently--Monday--as I read and waited for the oil change. Will he still be there tomorrow? Will Hegel? Will the East? Abstraction and shift, abstraction and shift. To what end?
A few more quick notes on Scholes and his curricular trivium. I like many things about it, and I see ways that much of it is already taking good form in the FY sequence, upper division WI courses, and interdisciplinary parternships. The model left me with questions about how composition already marries the trivium into a single course. All three parts, in effect, share writing. Or writing shares them. Either way, the composition classroom is where all of this is going on at once, yes? The other angle of my critique of Scholes--and I noted it earlier--is the rather buried issue of technology in his plan.
*clicking persistently, feverishly because this stupid computer is so slow*
Not really. That was one example of Milgram's "agentic shift" from class yesterday. It was one of the more interesting sessions we've had this semester. I referred students to chunks of Postman's chapter on "The Ideology of Machines: Computer Technology." They collaborated to generate questions for their chunk, which, after fifteen or so minutes, was passed into the hands of the next group who took up the work of mustering a response. A rich discussion spun out of this simple arrangement: "computer" as it referred to a person who computes (pre-1940), voice bots and sometimes-undetectable artificial intelligence, the technopolist ideology that relishes human-as-machines models of efficiency, generally subscribing to the view that we are at our best when we are most functionally productive (no excess) and refined in our acts (without waste or deviation).
I'm still trying to get a grip on the idea of "agentic shift." I haven't read Milgram's Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View (1974). So it's only a best guess that agentic shift is a rhetorical event. Is it more than displaced agency? Shirked responsibility? Does it flourish in the technological high tide?
I'm wondering about this especially as it seems to relate to video gaming. I want to be careful what I say because I'm not up on the latest buzz in video game studies--only know that they're here. But if agentic shift is, as Postman calls it (acknowledging Milgram), the name of the process "whereby humans transfer responsibility for an outcome from themselves to a more abstract agent," then video gaming, and maybe all encounters with technical machinery, fit. So maybe it's possible to have a group agentic shift (a collective of transference?), in which the group *thinking social software here* transfers responsibility to an abstract agent-authority: the software. Is this too much of a reach from Milgram's Yale experiments or does this simply affirm--in a modern context--what Milgram proved forty years ago?
Administrators with responsibilities for writing programs will
6. develop equitable policies for ownership of intellectual property that take effect before online classes commence.
After reading the C's statement on teaching, learning and assessment in digital environments on Friday, I've been wondering about the risks of working at the intersection of writing instruction and digital environments without an explicit, institutionally endorsed set of policies addressing intellectual property in such spaces. I don't worry that I'm at risk, but I have started to ponder the ethics of graded, compulsory blogging in a FY comp course like the one I'm teaching now. I am naive on this front, since I'm not sure I understand some of the issues knotting up at this nexus. It's clear to me that students own their writing. It's clear to me that I can make reference to their writing, cite passages, model it for other courses and so on, with a student's permission. But are tech-enriched writing pedagogies treading on student privacies, refashioning a safe, protected environ into a perilous venue underscored by the potential for public critique and effects beyond the course? In dedicated face-to-face courses and dedicated online courses (barricaded behing protections, authorizations) this seems much simpler than in grafted or hybrid courses, where traditional methods swirl in the current of emergent technologies and digital mediums. And with this, I'm back to a lot of questions, ones mainly about the teacher's agency in convening such ventures without having mapped the juts and crags. Where to turn in this exploration absent an "equitable [policy] for ownership of intellectual property"?
With paper cutouts as templates for decorating, D. taught social studies today: Little Famous People. One student, J., lost his famous person--couldn't remember where he put it. "What does it look like?" D. asked him. J.: "He's got a brown suit and a white head. He's Thomas Jefferson." So they looked and looked, D. holding up finished famous people missing the names of their makers while J. shrugged unfamiliar, not seeing his artwork. Then the classroom teacher, Mrs. S. got involved: "J. wasn't in class when we made the little famous people." And so he wasn't. And the ellusive paper Jefferson was undone in a vanishing act of memory and imagination. Weird, huh? Second-grade weird.
I'm too busy reading and responding to project drafts from students in HU211 to spend much time here. This is a busy week in my online course; I'm trying to pace through six project drafts each day so I can get them back by Friday. Oh, and I just started today, so I should feel refreshed and energetic. But I don't. I think it was the five hours of meetings I sat in today. Three meetings. First one was two hours long. It was also the most interesting: a consultant from Scion (?) Corporation pitching student housing designs to the directors from all of the student services areas. It turned into an interesting talk about students' conceptions of space--privacy, social connections, liberties and institutional definitions of how space must be used. I was sitting in place of our AD. I tried to argue that students are less concerned with the wall board, carpet and floor plans than they are with the institutional controls encroaching on the living space through rhetoric and technology: forced meal plans, surveillance upgrades (yes, we have cameras looking in on all of the dorm hall to and fro), and explicit measures to direct campus living. I don't have any experience with student housing beyond two years of dorm living as an undergrad. But it was an engaging interchange; it got me thinking about space dynamics, student perceptions and institutional language about spatial use. That's why it was a good meeting for me.
I'm also squeezed for blogging time because I was at work last night, the kids have practice tonight, and there's another event tomorrow night. I've been trying to read more, too--most of the way through Scholes' Rise and Fall of English. Since I read the bulk of it between Cleveland and KC on Monday night, I've been mulling over several ideas about intertextuality and sustained inquiry in our weblog for EN106. Even talked about those ideas just a bit in class on Tuesday morning. Working up to clearer understandings of these matters as they relate to research writing and question-guided investigations.
A recent query on the WPA-list (hey, anybody can sign up...they didn't ask for credentials) reminded me that weblogs aren't yet a widespread or widely embraced phenom in teaching composition or other disciplines. I forget that blogs are new-ish, that their potential for writing across the curriculum, for bridging academic spaces and the public sphere, for expanding access and interaction are still becoming, out there ahead of us more so than behind us. At the same time, frustrations, abandonments and malevolent mischaracterizations of weblogs, such as "Why your MT blog must die" by J.J. over on kuro5hin.org early this week, prove a counter tide (undertow?), a critical, if sometimes uncareful, acknowledgement of a few problematic sides to the proliferation of sites much like this one. But I don't want to give J.J. too much credit; instead, I want to suggest weblogs will continue their ever-widening service of important, fascinating functions for education, information systems, entertainment and tech-socialization.
That said, it's time to share the link for the weblog we're spinning in EN106 this semester: link. We're approximately two weeks into compulsory posts. I've been talking about refinement in asynchronous writing because there are a few IMisms--the usual informalities in synchronous comm environs. Since this takes our students' writing and, inevitably, our teaching fully into view for the tech-using public, I can imagine potential consequences, cases of quiet disaproval, as in "Did you see what DM is encouraging/saying/allowing in that weblog?" *pinching nose* But that's part of the process; it comes along with most forms of critical contact. I'm pushing against my compulsions for blogotopia (you think J.J. would like that clunky term?), and I prefer opportunities for wide-open exchange and attention from those who have better ideas about how to make all of this work, over the alternatives of insularity, internal monologue, or disinterested silence. Suggestions and "what ifs," in other words, are always welcome.
D.'s working on a lesson plan for her second graders on Monday. She's charged with teaching them to tell time using analog face-clocks, old-style tickers, long hand and short. Which one signifies minutes again? Talking over the lesson with her, I was having fun with the idea that we drill time systems quite early in life. Alphabetic literacy is only few months--in developmental terms, curricular terms--ahead of chronological literacy. And in an ever-busy age, maybe it's chronological literacy that puts the squeeze on the glee of childhood. What the hell am I talking about?
Coincidentally, I just received an email from G. at Time Lapse Productions. No kidding. The message title: HI. I've been getting a lot of those lately. I don't want to name names or point fingers, but I have a hunch that our IT folks are fertilizing the WWW with stuff to feed the worm, since half of my daily email intake at work (about twenty message each day) has been wormy. They're pleasant, though. Like this note from G., the message title is friendly. It's the body of the note that is impersonal: The message cannot be represented in 7-bit ASCII encoding and has been sent as a binary attachment.
D.'s lesson. She's concerned with the rigid points of the curriculum. Students must refer to 30-minutes after the hour as "half past." That's the language on the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) tests. So, when we're talking about the time lesson, D. explained how they only had one day for each hand, one day for fifteen-minute units, one day for half-hour units, one day for five-minute units. Meanwhile, I'm looking at my digital Timex (but still offering up alert, focused attention), wondering *how long until this analog arrangement gets dumped by its own invention?* *how long until there won't be time to teach time-telling, provided the regimen and pace gain steam in perpetuity?*
She has a fine lesson complete with foldable paper plate clock faces. The second graders won't need to know about the Benedictine monks or King Charles V who started using the bell-chimes as social organizers in Paris in 1370 (re-reading Technopoly, so I'm not digging too awfully deep for this information). None of the antecedents to formal time structures will be on the MAP tests. I just hope for D.'s sake they pick up the language of time. It'd be a shame for them to call "half past nine" by the name of "nine-thirty" or, worse yet, "going on ten." Suppose they'll learn to break form later on.
Claro! (2.7.04) I said I was paying full, complete, undivided attention. Not so. D. read this entry. It wasn't the MAP test at all. "Half past" is district-speak for thirty minutes after.
This semester is my first using a weblog for a composition course. The course is EN106; its course description promises this: "The course teaches students to write effectively for various purposes and audiences. It also helps to develop further skills in critical thinking and reading. Special emphasis is given to information retrieval and writing a research paper." I decided to make one group blog and to make blog-writing compulsory. It's a lot like what takes shape in the online courses I've developed where course requirements call for a kind of double-entry journal from which dialogue unfolds. I like the asynchronous interaction. The compulsory element calls for a total of four entries each week: one 250-word entry must relate to our course concerns (the questions we're taking up from the reading and related discussions), one 250-word entry must trace a selected theme throughout the semester--for thirteen or fourteen weeks. The other two entries can be about anything, any length, etc., including comments on other entries. This is in addition to six essays and a few other options, all of which allow the students to make choices about what work they will do.
I went with compulsory posts because I wanted to ensure that the blog caught on. I also wanted to enable students to pursue their own interests in fullness and with sustained attention. In other words, I find the nature of many blogs bring about nuggeted writing--truncated blurbs about whatever notion strikes, a kind of Short Attention Span Theatre of sound bytes. Calling for a sustained theme will induce, I hope, a sense of coherence and continuity and will lead us toward ways of talking about and understanding ongoing research pursuits (research isn't all coherence and continuity, FWIW. It's plenty of digging, sifting, discovery, misadventure and curiosity, too, I'd say).
After our first week of writing in the course weblog, I have the impression that it's too much writing (right...never mind...there's no such thing. Is there?). For now, I think I'll stick to the pre-cut path. The rest is wilderness. Good thing we're not alone.
Nothing like Lou Reed and Co. to chew through the icy dip of deep winter.
When I re-read yesterday's post--Creeping Thing--it left me with doubts, planted in me a faint sense of how I was depicting a radically political persona--the breath behind the screen, the blog's "I." It felt risky to pronounce such views and brought me back to the questions I had when I first hanged the Open sign on this writing space. Who will you be? Which you will you be there? On top of that--as if it wasn't enough to have a bad blogging day at EWM--I went ahead and typed some "hypothetical" drivel at Kairosnews.org. I don't usually post there, just lurk. Thinking now that it's better that way. Lurking. And moods pass.
In class today, I talked about the comparative blog-reading essay coming up. It's not a neat exercise, since I can't corral the scope of weblogs and what their makers set out to do. I have students who say that weblogging seems "weird." Many of them never heard of it before this course. So I want them to have a look, peek in on a few blogs, surmise what's taking shape there and why it's relevant. Presuming that, indeed, it is. Sooner or later I'll link to the blog for our class. It's in its infancy--an awkward, foundling stage where the posted-stuff is a bit raw, unrefined and in need of greater care. Wait...um...that describes this blog too. Soon enough.
We looked at Blue Ridge Blog as a model. Class ended at 9:55 a.m. Forty-five minutes later I received an email from Marie, the photojournalist whose interesting work populates Blue Ridge Blog. She'd noticed huge spikes in site traffic--rocket-launch, moon-bound spikes. Among other things, Marie says, "Wish I was a fly on the wall of your classroom." Flattering, I think. If she'd been a fly there, on the classroom's wall, Marie might have witnessed (en fragmentum--see her post on pixels) the first student ever to send me an email during class, about class discussion, while we were in the same room. A teachable moment. The embodiment of Postman's questions about the future of education: "Now comes the computer, carrying anew the banner of private learning and individual problem-solving. Will the widespread use of computers in the classroom defeat once and for all the claims of communal speech? Will the computer raise egocentrism to the status of a virtue?" In virtuosity, we were less present at times than the magnificent machines.
Location update: Our basement-of-the-science hall class has officially relocated to the Academic Underground (a real place!). Sliding swivel chairs, detached from workstations. Pop-up desk/monitors. Networked. Dry erase _only_. LED projection equipment. Granted, it is, essentially, a cave--classroom space carved out of mined limestone caves with gunnite-sprayed walls, painted white, dimpled with texture. No, there are no bats in there, none that I've ever seen anyway. The new room is just a short meander (first-timers get lost down there quite easily) from the mail room, library, computer labs, study rooms, bookstore. Oh, and coffee shop. Good news since that means all the work I did over break whipping together a mixed-mode curriculim won't go like scraps to hungry dogs. I landed the zippiest tech-enabled place on campus, just by asking. Fancy that.
Now off to coach my kid's basketball game. Got seventeen seventh graders playing on two teams. Nobody told me that March Madness starts in January for twelve and thirteen-year-olds (pre-pubescent stir renders the Roman calendar obsolete, I'd say). And that explains where the bats are. In my head.
SC05. Basement of the science hall. Yep. That's where I met with 14 students enrolled in EN106HOC Writing Purposes and Research this morning. My single request when I (somewhat reluctantly) signed on to teach this class this semester is that it be scheduled in a tech-enabled classroom.
Of course, the light switches are technology, the fluorescent bulbs (who knows how those work?), the pencil sharpener, the roll-retracting maps used to teach Modern Geography (which follows stampedishly soon after my section of comp). There's an old color TV and an overhead projector. Notably, the overhead projector requires wet erase markers, but the white board at the front of the classroom needs dry erase markers. The slate on the side of the room: chalk. Dizzying. I wanted to project the course web site, dazzle 'em with pixels on this, our first day together.
So I marched over to the registrar's office after class. Surely we can do better than this. Hell, last time I taught EN106, I was slotted in the basement of the chapel, but that space has been upgraded, overhauled, remade into a clean, well-lighted space which smells of nothing. I'm sure they're not hosting comp sections there any more. And now I fear that I'm sounding snide. The long, long line at the registrar's office delayed my inquiry--my quest for an alternative, suitably wired space. So I called instead. Left a message. More anon.
About the technologies surrounding us: light, language, radiators, markers, chalk, and so on: I wrote my name on the dry eraser board with the wrong kind of marker. A wet-erase marker. As the modern geographers stormed the room, my name was fixed, immovable in the middle of the white board covering the south wall. And my first name was underlined. It's the basement of the science hall. Shouldn't they have beakers of solvent lying around just for such crises? Good Christ! what a morning.
Emily Nussbaum's story in today's NYT magazine, "My So-Called Blog," sizes up the social significance of blogs for teenagers. Reactions have already posted here and here; I agree with craniac at Kariosnews that the article has a few good bits. One of those bits, in my reading of the story, involves the allure of cheaply controlling an extrabodily image of oneself, one's space, even devising ideological signposts to create a meaning-filled site.
At heart, an online journal is like a hyperflexible adolescent body -- but better, because in real life, it takes money and physical effort to add a piercing, or to switch from zip-jacketed mod to Abercrombie prepster. A LiveJournal or Blurty offers a creative outlet with a hundred moving parts. And unlike a real journal, with a blog, your friends are all around, invisible voyeurs -- at least until they chime in with a comment.
Since my teenage years have passed and I have no need for new piercings (although a haircut would be nice, maybe later today), this aspect of Nussbaum's feature has me thinking about the implications of inexpensive control and image management in teaching. I have been working on a blog for a class I'm teaching this semester, the second in our FY composition sequence, so notions of switching up, of designing an "outlet with a hundred moving parts" resonate the utility of blogs in higher ed. This is especially true for many institutions where room assignments change from semester to semester or where adjunct faculty share plain offices with one phone line, if they have any office space at all. The class blog--with its dialogic nature, design and content--extends the course beyond the sanitized, often neutral meeting place of the classroom by enabling it with a sustainable, personalized ideological decor. What's more, the decor is, by and large, participatory--shaped by all members of the class. Through design and use, the blog can affect the identity crises that encroach on our work-space and status in higher ed, esp. in cases where work-space and status are, at times, unfair, ill-conceived and subject to gross fluctuation. It doesn't fully absolve these issues, but, as it did for the subjects in Nussbaum's story, blogging can provide relief. Cheaply.
[R.E.M. Green in the headphones.]
Yesterday, at lunch, Andy said this about my new blog (without having read it): "You probably want to avoid building a general blog. The day of the all-knowing pundit who trails off on this and that is passing. Themed blogs are probably more successful at attracting and keeping an audience." Okay, so I didn't keep notes, but he said something close to this.
And this: "You should add a subtitle explaining Earth Wide Moth."
To wit, I've been thinking about genre and audience. I know, I know, others have thought about it more than me and many good folks at CCCC and C&W will complicate matters with their presentations on this subject. But it's with me now because I'm devising this new blog--without an explicit plan.
The other blog, the one for EN106 this spring, is more clearly in-line with a purpose I can articulate: pedagogical utility. I understand its aims and ambitions. I know how it will be used to fray the boundaries of the course, to disarm the usual restrictions on space and time in f2f courses, and to get students to write. Audience? Initially, that's easy. Initially, it will be the students in the course and me, followed by something more, maybe.
I took time out this morning to read the rant of a blog-hating student at Indiana State. Mike posted the link at vitia.org. It's not easy to understand why the ISU student is so angry about blogging. I've visited blogs that I didn't find inviting or interesting, but it didn't make me mad. It's kind of like being invited to dinner in a house with brown shag carpeting...on the walls. As a guest, it's not decorous to spout off about the host's poor taste. Could be that the medium convolutes manners, as in shared senses of decency.
Gotta get to work. Course-prepping and other admin stuff. Ack!