Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Where is he? Where is he? Where is he?

Concerned with drift-states and their ends, Ramin Bahrani's short movie Plastic Bag traces one tote's voyage along currents, circuits, and snags as it makes its way home to the Trash Vortex, the whirling gyre of rubbish accumulating in the Pacific, which I was reminded of by Timothy Morton's blog yesterday. Drift logics are not monolithic, then. "Adrift" is not a baggy, inclusive state, no generic circum-stance. Consider precious< - >toxic differences between drifting glass (e.g., messages in a bottle), driftwood, and drift plastics. The film's synthetic protagonist (plastagonist?) reminds us, when hitched eternally on the reef, about a condition, for better or worse, of drift logics: they stick-unstick and thus sever (or otherwise obfuscate) and also momentarily verify trace-correlations between consequences and preconditions. And this must pose a methodological quandary for tracing the "adrift."

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Regan, "Type Normal Like the Rest of Us"

Regan, Alison. "'Type Normal Like the Rest of Us': Writing, Power, and Homophobia in the Networked Composition Classroom." Computers and Composition 9.4 (Nov 1993): 11-23. <>

Regan accounts for her own move away from traditional interaction toward networked classrooms in the late 1980s and early 1990s, noting that she looked forward to using LANs for discussion. She also acknowledges apprehensions she felt and she call into question the promise of social equality online.

What are the types of exclusion manifesting in these presumably inviting, inclusive, and egalitarian spaces? Regan explores this question, particularly where homophobic views are expressed by students in one online interchange when, while, she explains, they were "on-task."

The article touches on points about silencing (how silencing works differently between conventional classroom discussions and LAN-based chats), and how the synchronous discussion platform lengthens the life of the utterances relative to ordinary in-class discussion. Regan acknowledges the work done by others, such as Kremers, on "wilding" and the perils of off-task conversations, but she is more concerned with on-task discussion and the ways exclusionary discourse is a part of it.

Accounting for a scenario involving homophobic language and another situation in which she left the room only to have a student use her terminal and screen name to tell the class to "type normal like the rest of us," Regan concludes that vestiges of authority will linger do matter how much we attempt to divest ourselves of it in the "liberatory" medium of the LAN interchange.

"I am not suggesting that we should shut down discussions of lesbian and gay issues because they might make us or our students uncomfortable. It is important, however, that we be aware of the possible consequences of those discussions, and it may be important that we take an active role in framing those discussions. The very way that homosexuality is introduced into the rhetoric and composition curriculum is problematic. Because I am particularly interested in computer-mediated classroom discussion, I have focused on these instances of student expressions of homophobia, rather than examining instances of institutional homophobia."

"This exhortation serves as a reminder of two important points: first, even the instructor who shares authority remains identified with institutional power, and second, any person who is "different" disturbs the classroom environment. The command to "type normal" is nothing less than a command to be normal; John's remarks were never unreadable, they simply did not conform to the standards maintained by his classmates and instructor.

Thus, even within a space where expression appears most free, institutional and social forms of authority remain."

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

George, "Taking Women Professors Seriously"

George, E. Laurie. "Taking Women Professors Seriously: Female Authority in the Computerized Classroom." Computers and Composition 7 (April 1990; Special issue): 45-52. <>

George attempts to reconcile the principles of feminist pedagogy promoted by Adrienne Rich in her 1979 article, "Taking Women Students Seriously," with the tensions she experiences when teaching composition at the New York Institute of Technology. George acknowledges that the working conditions for women professors have improved since Rich presented her work; yet, it is not always so simple to relinquish all power and authority to students who tend to let loose with unfiltered crudity when they are asked to discuss topics using a LAN chat room. She refers specifically to a case where one student jokes about getting beers for class and then inquires about the teacher's sex life. George also includes a transcript of an interchange from a class taught by Kremers, a colleague of hers at NYIT. When several students begin to engage in an explicit sequence of the dozens, the teacher intervenes with, "Someone comment on how the dialogue is going." Next, a student remarks, "I think this is a sick bunch of students." This is a fairly complicated interchange. From it, George works toward claims about the challenge of balancing her principled feminist pedagogy with measure of control and authority: "My overall point here is that, as numerous theorists of collaborative and feminist pedagogy concur, students who have been culturally programmed and disempowered for so long have a great deal of trouble knowing what to do with power once it is given to them" (para. 17).

At the end of this short article, George asserts that it is a matter of responsibility to "tak[e] seriously my authority to control those reins" (para. 19) where students are "wilding" or acting up, particularly in those environs where authority is shared or where conventional authority structures are loosened. This argument runs parallel to Kremers' article in the sense that the giving over to underlife is never wholesale; some aspect of authority is withheld. And it would stand to reason that this could be made explicit--that everyone involved could be forewarned. Of course, these early networked conversations were relatively contained. The disruptive/contained dyad pertains here because the network does not span beyond the classroom scene.


The democratic principles of feminist pedagogy are also fostered by student work spaces, for they are much more ample than those in the traditional classrooms, indicating a professional respect for the students' authority. (para. 7)

This practice of privately consulting each student as others write independently reinforces to the entire class that a communal activity need not be equated with rigid repetition of boring drills, just as it proves that there is room for individuality and even privacy within group work. (para. 8)

Friday, February 1, 2008

Kremers, "Sharing Authority on a Synchronous Network"

Kremers, Marshall. "Sharing Authority on a Synchronous Network: The Case for Riding the Beast." Computers and Composition 7 (April 1990; Special issue): 33-44. <>

Kremers examines different manners of teacher-presence in synchronous chats using ENFI (Electronic Networks For Interaction), an early multi-user LAN messaging client. How can the live chatroom interchanges bolstering student interest in the other writing they are asked to do in their writing courses? He is also interested in the risky, experimental side of the technology as it allows him to more radically vary assertions of teacherly authority: "The teaching model I am trying to develop is a networked writing class in which authority is shared, decentralized, distributed, even communal; a class in which teachers sometimes participate directly in the discussion and at other times stay out of things, letting their students take control of their own dialogues; a class in which students compete among themselves for influence in the group through the force of their language and the clarity of their arguments" (para. 2). He offers examples of the chat transcripts that best illustrate two primary approaches to pedagogy using the ENFI system: a teacher intervention model and a non-intervention model.

The teacher intervention model presumes a teacher-centered classroom or, at least, a scene in which the teacher's presence in the conversation actively moderates the dialogue. After framing his pedagogy as student-centered (following Knoblauch and Brannon's articulation of this model) Kremer explains that he prefers to use the chat room (during certain class sessions; not all of them) because he "want[s] to write with them rather than talk with them" (para. 9). What is gained by writing with? Positive aspects of this approach include a sense of ownership felt by students who, after they mature beyond a mutinous stage, stand to realize the advantages such interactions have for concept formation, inquiry, and invention. Even while using the intervention approach, Kremers says he does so to act as a guide (one who asks questions and collaborations) rather than as a dominating force of authority. He explains that the path of the conversation is unpredictable, that it is "more spontaneous, more organic" than in many of the more traditional activities they engage with in a writing class.

The non-intervention model, on the other hand, embraces precepts from Elbow's Writing Without Teachers: Kremers might leave the room or observe their interactions without getting directly involved. Later, he observed the chat transcripts to see what transpired. His example suggests a surprising turn, in which a role-playing activity around the issue of rain forest preservation resulted in the off-ing of one of the made-up participants (Pat Tree). Out of this, Kremers devised prompts for subsequent classes, and he found that the students grew still more enthusiastic about what they were being asked to do. The non-intervention transcript functioned as a catalyst for other writing.

Kremers mentions in his conclusion that "[f]or the most part...the students I have worked with so far have not taken up the offer of partnership as readily as I have wished" (para 22). The final section, "Authority Sharing in the Future," speculates that long-standing traditions of teacher-dominated classrooms affect the expectations of everyone, students and teachers alike, who gather in that scene. Kremers is optimistic about the promise of "networked co-authoring" for getting at some of the currents that run beneath the more decorously-ordered classroom.

There is an unmistakable parallel here between the creative and expressive dimensions of the LAN chat room and the more formal writing occasions served by these activities. The references to student-centeredness from Knoblauch and Brannon, the mention of Elbow, and Kremers' own appeals to the sparking of student interest in narrative ("So, by not intervening, I let the students set their own direction for their writing" (para. 19)), all seem to be lorded over by some under-represented force--the serious1 variety of academic writing. This is, then, an early example of "networked authoring," one that was promising because it is a relay in service of something more substantive.