Thursday, April 29, 2004

On Shopping for Paint, Buying Some

We're officially in phase I of home-sellers' sprucing.  Walked Lowe's tonight for just over an hour: paint supplies, ceiling fan light bulbs, a light switch, door stoop outdoor carpet (to replace the ragged mat uglying up the front step right's all nicked up from someone's overzealous chipping of ice cakes this winter...I'm not naming names), and fairy dust for a few well-placed gleaming glints to attract the new homeowner's affection.  Lowe's in Kansas City on a drizzly Thursday night while Survivor All-Stars is on: it was so empty we couldn't find anyone to mix the paint. Until we found someone.

Now, if I can just figure out how to apply a cascading style sheet to our living room walls, neutralize the bold green just a mite...then I'll have more time to blog tomorrow and over the weekend on

1~Who is the audience for this?  Is it just more higher ed doom and gloom warning of the perilous market?  To what end?  Is it meant to discourage students?  Scare people away from advanced study?  Or is it building toward deeper critiques about crises in contract labor?  Plenty of other careers and prospects for fulfilling employment suck.  Okay, right, I don't pay attention to those articles either--if they exist at all (on how much it sucks to study athletic training, then take a job rubbing the feet and necks of strangers, or how much it sucks to take a law degree, then haggle in traffic court for the rest of your days). 

2~Muchiri, Mulamba, Myers, Ndoloi on "Importing Composition"

3~Eyeing an instructor listserv for folks teaching the FY composition sequence and intro to humanities in the computer-mediated distance program at my current Uni.

4~Saying farewell to graduating students (who I had in FY comp four years ago!), lining up returning work-study students (all two of them) with warm and agreeable supervisors for the fall, and putting a box of free stuff outside my office door to see whether any of it holds a value for passers-by.

5~Catching heat about the final examination arrangement required by the administration for the FY composition sequence, then packing up a loaded email-response on the crapshoot, IMHO, of flat assessment systems for online composition, then sending off that email to a bunch of folks, then waiting to see whether I left too much tail hanging out in the whole process.

Perfect.  Now I've got plenty to write about in the days ahead.  No. 2 is a certainty; all else, as paint to these walls--spread thin, soon forgotten.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Irreducible Bits

With a new CMS provider officially in place, the U. is open throttle prepping online instructors to teach in the eCollege platform. I helped critique the instructor training course over the weekend; the self-paced course was released yesterday. Estimated time of completion: 1-3 hours.  Current instructors must pass the summative assessment at the end of the course with an 80% score.  I don't have immediate plans to teach in the eCollege system, although I might pick up one course this summer before the move to NY in mid-July.  I'll continue to shoulder responsibility for the FY sequence as their developer, but my faith in the whole arrangement remains in an awkward, delicate balance.  I'm concerned by some of the outcomes-oriented initiatives freshly blanketing the curriculum--without sensitivity to disciplinary difference--as the programs brace for a fall accreditation visit.  Late-semester fatigue has me preferring a brief entry here tonight, and it's better if I don't go too far with the deep angst I feel about a few messages in the self-paced instructor training program.  For fun, here's one chunk of the instructor training course that, well, I'm sure you can guess what I think of the view that chunking enhances online content.  Granted, design affects the ways we read words and images on the screen.  The stuff about short paragraphs, bulleted lists and an abundance of headings...*sigh*. I passed the "summative assessment."

Strategies for "chunking" content: 

  • Strive to keep Online paragraphs between two and four sentences long. Block paragraphs, like the ones illustrated on this page, maximize white space, providing a visual cue of how you have chunked the information. 
  • Differentiate discussion from illustration by shifting format (for instance, from paragraphs to a bulleted list). 
  • Use headings to signal new chunks of information--and their relationship to one another--and to help the user navigate the page.

Thirty or so of the questions at the end were T/F like this:

6. In a threaded discussion, controversial topics or assigning students to argue one side of an issue may be used to engage learners. (Points: 1)

And the others were the loose accumulation kind, as in, check all that apply.

Which of the following are phrases from the U.'s mission statement.  (Check all that apply.)

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Blue Red

So I'm not the only one who thinks the Pistons mig htha veach ance this year.  There's Matt Goukas.  I watch a few games during the NBA Playoff; the regular season is an abomination, and why would anyone prefer it with all of the college hoops airing?  Usually I mute the early rounds of the NBA postseason, but once in a while a series will culminate in a grand tie-breaking contest.  Then conference finals are usually pretty decent, competitive.  And the finals have been a bust of late.  All West.

This year, there's the team from Detroit.  Figured by posting this now, it'd be long buried by the time it all plays out (since they're presently at a 3-1 advantage over the Bucks)--in case I'm way off, of course.  I didn't think they made a wise coaching change last season (what was wrong with Carlisle, exactly?); I didn't approve of their selection of Mililic ahead of Carmelo Anthony (are you kidding?  yeah, the Pistons could have selected Anthony!), and I doubted their move to acquire hot-head Rasheed Wallace from the Blazers.  But I still root for Motown when it comes to NBA basketball, and they're playing the best defense in the league.  With lots of role players, lots of variety, and a defense-first concept, I say it's Detroit this year.  Just maybe.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Fitzgerald, 2002, "A Rediscovered Tradition"

 Fitzgerald, Kathryn. "A Rediscovered Tradition: European Pedagogy and Composition in Nineteenth-Century Midwestern Normal Schools." CCC 53 (2001): 224-250.

Big Idea
Midwestern normal schools at the turn of the nineteenth century were fertile sites for promising pedagogical mixing which brought together student-centered European practices (attributed to Heinrick Pestalozzi and John Frederick Herbart) with the populace-serving, democratizing missions of normal schools.  Fitzgerald's historical account of the Oshkosh conference of 1900 elaborates these forces through descriptions and analysis of the archival gems pointing back to the important work of the normal composition teachers of the era.  Pestalozzian and Herbartian pedagogies generally favored student-centered rather than content-centered approaches.  As a result, the normal schools in Wisconsin served as a stage for these pre-Dewey practices to foment toward efficacy, while shrugging off strict adherence to textbook lessons, adopting a more compassionate, respectful view of students' linguistic competence and preferring demonstrations of understanding--often in the form of writing and students teaching to other students--over rote memorization and recitation. Fitzgerald's essay ends with a plug for the study of teaching practices in contemporary and historical contexts (quartered by regionalism and institutionality).  She also emphasizes--at the end--the role of teaching in the curriculum as vocational/professional/normal schools have been subsumed into grand research conglomerates where pedagogy is relegated to servile rank and often viewed as a necessary but unpleasant burden. 

Terms of Import
normal schools - Vocational/professional colleges premised on access, they often served wider segments of the population than the more selective, costly private academic institutions.  Many of the normal schools grew into state universities.
Pestalozzian pedagogy - grew out from "Rousseau's educational romanticism" to become best known for the "object lesson" or that which proceeded with teaching that trusted the child's curiosity and "intuitive powers based on experience and reason."
Herbartian pedagogy - adds emphasis on getting to know students, situating teaching in the swell of social forces, diversely demonstrable aptitudes, customized learning ventures, and curricular shifting as contrasted against rigid, content-fixed plans
1900 Oshkosh conference - a four-day state-wide meeting of faculty from the Wisconsin normal schools where they "discussed and debated their aims, philosophies, and methods in terms of their unique mission of providing free education to prospective teachers of students in free common schools" (234).

Monday Morning
     Fitzgerald's essay is nicely historical.  I read it with a feeling of resistance that I want to explore just a bit--in fairness.  Historicizing the legacy of practical pedagogy is useful, and I often see my own contribution to the academy as a teacher.  In a historical context, I suppose it works to set up the tensional relationship between normal schools and the Ivy elites (private, academic, economically affluent).  But in contemporary contexts, the us-themisms start to feel like a rub--the sort that makes a blister but never a callus.  Okay, and now I'm off track.  I keep having the impression that we're too quick to distinguish theory from practice, elite from popular, and complexity from accessibility, that the binaries ought to be more fully explained if they're necessary.  I read Fitzgerald's essay and took from it a worthwhile understanding of the contrast between certain sets of institutions.  The influence of a European pedagogical tradition applies smartly, forms a thick share of the trunk supports our sense of important, historical connections merging then spreading into much branchier field these days.  But there's a side of this argument that sounds just a bit anti-intellectual, just a bit quotidian for the way it hedges the critique at the expense of the Eastern private elites.  I oughta back out of this by acknowledging that this is a tension in my reading of the essay that probably says a whole lot more about me than about the essay.  I'm not trying to argue that Fitzgerald's essay falls short; heck, it's incredibly smart and carefully worked.  And it's a Braddock winner. 
     Somewhere (I can't pinpoint it precisely--it's mostly in my head, I think), there's a faintly dismissive din in historical research that uses a dominant form, such as theory, which is often labeled elitist for its complexity, for its aspiration to think hard about how we think, to assign names, to produce the cultural capital of the university, theory gets used as a push-off from which practitioners seek to be defined as an alternate.  But theory and practice aren't so easily separated.  And maybe, along those same lines, I have this uncomfortable feeling about an unexplained us-them because I want to know what's happening at the hyphen. What action is at the hyphen? Historically?  Presently?
     I've made it far enough into these notes to leave off at a place where, when I'm scratching my head over the Wisconsin normal schools and historical infusions from European pedagogical traditions, I'll be able to find my place. 

Passages Passages
"Current historical research into alternate sites of writing instruction will give compositionists multiple options for identifying with as well as against our past" (245).

"I have pointed out that the conditions of the normal schools differ significantly from those of the institutions where composition originated in two respects.  The first is the aims of the institutions--the normal schools were intended to be inclusive, democratic institutions that focused on professional rather than academic preparation.  The second is the intellectual traditions upon which composition faculty drew--normal school faculties had access to European pedagogical theories as well as composition textbooks" (244).

"By 1900 the changes in psychological thinking were no longer confined to Europeans like Pestalozzi and Herbart, for Americans like John Dewey, William James, and Stanley Hall were beginning their work on theories of learning and development that would render faculty psychology obsolete and begin to frame educational theory for the next century" (241).

"While they shared with Pestalozian pedagogy the fundamental concept of placing the child and his/her interest, rather than the subject matter, at the center of education, Herbartians had more in common with later socio-psychological views of the educational process than with Romantic concepts of individual development" (233).

"However, as noted above, the normal school, in a time of high-stakes contestation over the financial base, student populations , and objectives of various institutions of higher education, was almost certainly the most contested site of all.  The conflict over the objectives and scope of the normal schools was heightened in part because of the very different social and intellectual traditions and allegiances from which they emerged" (229).

"Herbst, Borrowman, and Salvatori together with a few others limn a complex tale of the contested scene of the nineteenth-century normal schools, which finally resulted in the political supremacy of liberal education over vocational/technical education, the intellectual dominance of research and theory over pedagogy and practice, and the marginalization of teacher education to schools of education in universities" (227).

"Although this brief summary doesn't begin to suggest the wealth of material composition historians have uncovered, it does point up the elitist, undemocratic aspects of the field's past that disturb many contemporary compositionists, who see their aim as extending the opportunities available through education to all social classes by introducing students to discourses of power" (225).

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Canned Meat

Things I'm doing that shimmied a wedge between me and EWM over the weekend:
1.  Cut part of the lawn.
2.  Worked on a C's proposal.
3.  Walked around.
4.  Plowed through an emergency review of the instructor training course for eCollege and my U.  Only a few minor tune-ups along the lines of preferring higher order pedagogies (uh...fill in the blank, mult. choice?) and affirming disciplinary difference. 
5.  Sent off notes re contingent faculty in computer-mediated distance writing programs toward an upcoming statement.  Or something.
6.  Tidied a bunch of crap for a garage sale on one of the next Saturdays.  Cheap!
7.  Spruced up week seven of intro to humanities before posting the latest threads for the week that starts tomorrow. 
8.  Started reading Kathryn Fitzgerald's perfectly historical article on "Rediscovered Tradition."
9. Listened to an Elvis Costello CD.
10.  Tried to get a grip on one of Jenny's always-smart ideas over at Stupid Undergrounds. Still wondering if I got the grip.
11.  Munched on specialty pizzas tonight: chicken cordon bleu with green olives and buffalo style chicken.  D. and Ph. brought up three video tapes, let me choose.  Over Forest Gump and Being John Malkovich, I took Slingblade.  So we watched and savored the pizza.
12. Tacked about over in the corner.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Ca(s)t in Lilac

Yes: It is a purple wrap on the broken left leg of a stray black cat who now lives in our garage.  Unlucky! Yes: He's been at the vet for the last two days because he was sitting on the back porch, suspending his leg in the air, staring at me, waiting...for two weeks.  Unlucky!  Yes: The vet told us the cat had been in a cat fight (what cats do this time of year, turns out), and that the cat's left leg was broken and dislocated.  Unlucky! Yes: A board-certified surgeon would be very happy to operate for 1500 clams.  No, thank you.  Unlucky! Yes: He's sucking on aspirin and catnip--the feline equivalent of an Elvis cocktail. Unlucky! Yes: He's been hanging around since January; the vet described him as a dog-like cat.  Which explains why I like him, just a little bit.  And they dropped the eu-word with a $30 price tag, before I asked, "What, won't it eventually heal?"  Yep.  It'll heal, but he'll be gimpy, slow, stiff and, well, prone to losing fights.  "Maybe he'll learn not to fight." D. and Ph. have been calling him Pepe ever since he showed up in January, made his way to our porch after droppers left him behind. When I picked him up from the vet today, his name transformed homophonic to Paypay. Unlucky! Yes: if I start a photoblog one day, I'll take comfort in explaining less, letting the images reveal their abundant, ridiculous truths.

Extreme Makeover: Discourse

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. 

Ursula LeGuin, "A Left-Handed Commencement Address
HTML version | PPS version | Full Speech

Martin Luther King, Jr., "I Have A Dream"
HTML version | PPS version | Full Speech

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.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Connors, 1982, "Modes of Discourse"

 Connors, Robert. "The Rise and Fall of the Modes of Discourse." On Research Writing: The Braddock Essays, 1975-1998. Ed. Lisa Ede. New York: Bedford St. Martin's, 1999.

Big Idea
Connors historicizes the ascent and decline of the modes of discourse as a widely favored, pervasive scheme for organizing FY composition from the early 1800's until the late 1960's when modified approaches and the process movement, bound up with phenomenological underpinnings in many cases, threw off the charm of modal curricula. The modes of discourse commonly included Narration, Description, Exposition and Argument, although variations included Didactic in place of Expository (Newman), Pathetic (Parker) and Speculation (Quackenbos). Connors' essay offers a fairly clear chronology of the modes, their brief reign, and the forces that brought about their gradual (and yet ongoing) unraveling: single-mode text books, especially ones centered on exposition, and what Connors calls "thesis texts"--texts purporting a central, masterful method for engaging students to write powerfully, effectively. He details the causal relationships from a classical belletristic set of modes, to Newman's A Practical System of Rhetoric in 1827, to Winterowd's condemnation in 1965, "that the modal classification, 'though interesting, isn't awfully helpful.'" 

Terms of Import
modes of discourse--variously assembled, the modes usually include Narration, Description, Exposition and Argument. They grew into a rarely questioned kind of pedagogical currency and have been used to organize a vast mass of composition courses over the last 150 years. Underling categorizations applied to paragraph composition were Contrast, Explanation, Definition, Illustration, Detail and Proofs.
belletristic modes--classical antecedents to the modes of discourse, assoc. with Hugh Blair's Lectures (1790-1860): epistle, romance, treatise, dialog, history, etc., and also with Reviews, Editorials, Allegories, Parables, Letters, Treatises, Essays, Biographies, and Fiction.
Kitzhaber's "Big Four" --Barrett Wendell, John Genung, Adam Sherman Hill, and Fred Newton Scott: late nineteenth century textbook authors who had ascribed to the modes of discourse by 1894. Wendell advanced a variation in his Unity-Mass-Coherence trinity. Wendell neither openly advocated the modes nor devised a competitive model; instead, his trinity was usually subsumed by the modes as the naturally embedded features of each mode.

Monday Morning
     Before I understood the tension between the modes and process orientations (which aren't mutually exclusive, of course...what, separate?), I'd had a couple of experiences teaching to the modes--both were in courses I'd inherited, last minute "who's qualified and available?" teacher grabs--the sort that all-too-often staff late-opening sections in many writing programs. Ah, the modes. Looking back: Oh! What I didn't know. What I should've understood. In one case, I broke severely from the textbook by about week ten. By then it was all a mess. In the other case, we pounded ahead. We actually turned to finding modal hybridity in popular essays, opinion columns and so on--making sense of the mixed modes, the ways they stir in popular print journalism. 
     I don't know if I follow Connors' contention that their power in rhetoric is gone (what does it mean for power to be gone?). In fairness, Connors points to the faint persistence of the modes, their vacant recurrence as minor elements in textbook organization. But as long as textbooks and the writing programs who adopt them find arrangements to be of value, the names of the arrangements might change, but the modal quality--the empty container of a named, formulaic textual device--will persist, and we'll continue to see fluctuations in arrangement and rebuke, arrangement and rebuke. Perhaps none will have such a magnificent hold on the field as the modes of discourse once did.
     Before pulling these notes into coherent form (ha!), I looked all around for something I remember reading recently about how argument is rather more like a method (?) than a mode. Argument, I remember the discussion suggesting, is the extra-modal mode, the one the umbrellas all discourse because all rhetoric is tensional and, thereby, inherently argument-bound. Couldn't find the context for the discussion. Was it a listserv? A date-buried weblog entry? The notion was useful for a couple of reasons, and I'd really like to give credit. Most of all, the idea suggests that rather than seeing the modes of discourse as powerless, we might instead see them as a kind of shelved, archived Pandora's box whose lid, when we lift if for a contemporary peek now and then, reveals a curious, remarkably popular phase in comp studies--one whose legacy we are still sorting out, and one whose aura is still with us (all), especially if we were ever taught to write to the modes. 
     I wanted to note, too, that Connors' identification of the "thesis text" parted from the dominant modes of the '40s in favor of the newly fashioned fourth C: communication, which "reflected the two most popular intellectual movements in composition theory at the time [1948]: the general education movement with its 'language arts/communications' approach, and the General Semantics movement." He refers to Hayakawa's Words in Action as an influential work.
Does everyone know about the fall? Why are the modes still in use if the fall was authentic? Is it permanent? Is the fall rather more like a splash where the modes mixed in with emergent trends? Are the modes still responsible for curricular plans in ways that contemporary pedagogies have left behind (thinking narration/description in FY comp I and exposition/argument in FY comp II)? 

Passages Passages
"To explore the question of what makes a discourse classification useful or appealing to teachers, this essay will reexamine the rise, reign, and fall of the most influential classification scheme of the last hundred years: the 'forms' or 'modes' of discourse: Narration, Description, Exposition, and Argument" (110).

"Genung, of course, did not adopt Bain's notion of the four modes absolutely, as had Bain's earlier and less successful imitators A.D. Hepburn and David Hill. He distinguished between Argumentation, which he called 'Invention dealing with Truths' and Persuasion, which he called 'Invention dealing with Practical Issues.' These two sorts of arguments were copied and used by derivative textbook authors after Genung until about 1910, when the four standard terms swept all before them. Genung himself adopted the four terms of the standard modes in 1893 in his Outlines of Rhetoric, the follow-up to The Practical Elements" (113).

"Stripped of their theoretical validity and much of their practical usefulness, the modes cling to a shadowy half-life in the attic of composition legends" (119).

"Our discipline has been long knuckling from its eyes the sleep of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the real lesson of the modes is that we need always to be on guard against systems that seem convenient to teachers but that ignore the way writing is actually done" (120).

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

A Double-Jump in PrezRhet

I've been noticing GWB's ties over the past week.  I caught a few minutes of his prime time talk last Tuesday, and I, like so many attentive citizens in viewerland who talk to the TV, asked for the questions to be repeated.  *Ask it again, ask it again* What's the name for the rhetorical event where the questions force the answers into a kind of orbital of avoidance?  Other, better informed blogs have already suggested that the President might have been more direct in his answers.  No need to restate that here. 

I really want to talk about his tie last Tuesday and his tie from the White House meeting with Sharon.  When I watched his press address last Tuesday for fifteen or twenty minutes last week, I sensed the orbital of avoidance, but the flicker of his tie is what really spoke to me.  It was alive.  Radiant.  A brilliant glow.  And that's what color television does to black and white patterns.  It fuses the patterns into a shifting rainbow shimmer.  I think it's called spectral "ringing"--the picture can't restrict the hue range simultaneously occupying the narrow band.  Farther apart, black and white stabilize; the television screen can depict them discretely.  But together, tight black and white patterns render dancing, colorful cartoon characters--like the one I watched while the President talked at the nation. Surely, the President's wardrobe crew understands spectral ringing.  So what were the consequences? 

Well, at first I thought it must be an inadvertent flub.  I haven't been watching Bush's ties, studying the significance of presidential wardrobes or anything even close.  But when I saw images from the meeting with Sharon, I thought I saw the fantastic match in the colors between the Israeli flag and Bush's tie.  Accidental?  Who knows?  But it sure seems like it could be deliberate;  surely the President's wardrobe crew is more careful about picking out what he'll wear for a visible, widely broadcast engagement than I am about what I wear each day.  And if that's true, then it's possible that his dressers, knowing these basics (PDF), were deliberate in laying out his checkered tie, the one glow-shifting on the screen throughout his press conference last Tuesday.  And for fun, we might speculate about the legacy of checkered props as sideshow that have been a part of televised presidential talks since the beginning:

Eight years later to the day, while delivering one of history's first major televised political speeches, Richard Nixon used a dog as a prop. Nixon was Dwight Eisenhower's vice presidential running mate, and the speech -- unofficially named after the dog -- saved his spot on the ticket. In rebutting allegations that a group of supporters had created a slush fund for him, Nixon conceded that he had received one gift.

"It was a little cocker spaniel dog in a crate that he'd sent all the way from Texas," Nixon said. "Black-and-white spotted. And our little girl, Tricia, the 6-year-old, named it Checkers. And you know, the kids, like all kids, love the dog, and I just want to say this right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we're gonna keep it!" ("Web Team hones," 3/8/04)

I don't know, maybe it's too great a reach to suppose the President's tie last Tuesday was purposefully distracting.  But it was distracting (for me, at least).

Monday, April 19, 2004

Skip the Part About

On this Monday, I'm having a crinkled attitude--that hard plastic crunchiness, stiff like the lid from a fountain soda cup I picked out of the ditch before mowing the dandelions this evening.  No delimiters indented: Other, Root Beer, Diet. The skies are scheduled for rain tomorrow. Buckets. Oh please!

I was at the office at a raw hour this morning--and all day after that.  In my chair at the office before 8:00 a.m.: raw.  Had to turn out three player of the week nominations for the U.'s baseball and softball programs.  Email them to the conference.  By the end of the day, I learned that none of them was selected.  One twitch of invisible work-product.  One harmless twitch.  And one in my eye.

The men's soccer program held their annual banquet late in the afternoon yesterday.  Since the news about heading to Syracuse broke, there've been a lot of "missyous" floating around.  E. gifted a signed game ball to me at the banquet yesterday, said a kind few words about how we've known each other since we showed up at the U. twelve years ago--a futboler from D.C. and a basketballer from Michigan.  Abundant good fortunes have lit the course.  So when E. floated the panegyric, everyone almost cried. A braid of joy and sadness, I suppose. 

I've been directing information about sports at the U. for the last seven years.  Directing information is akin to "representing."  It stems from the powerful potential of  fashioning knowledge, of controlling its distribution.  It's rhetorical--inventive, moving, extant by conditional delivery. 

[R.E.M. Out of Time in the earphones, strumming.]

Other than the ditch-mow (a near-road precariousness and slant making it my job) I made chili for supper.  It's my week again.  Every other friggin' week.  Sunday groceries and a week of meals.  D. and I have been carrying on this way for a few years; at times it's a gross and unwholesome contest in culinary underachievement, both of us smiling at a sort of demented relief in shorting our turn.  Raisin bread and applesauce?  For dinner?  Anything's possible in hopes that the other will cave, concede the system, order pizza.  Ph.'s survived this long.  Hell, he's even gained nine pounds since January, I guess.  Who knows wherefrom.  When it's my week, I usually throw together a chili, stew or soup.  Something that'll carry forward for a few days.  Mid-week cooking: I'm a lazy reheater. 

Short list I didn't complete: 1. Start C's proposal on weblogs and audience; 2. Finish reading and responding to 18 project drafts from intro-humanities; 3. Blog on Connors' "Modes of Discourse."  Short list I did complete: 1. Heard back about a NY realtor lead; 2. Read and responded to six project drafts from intro-humanities; 3. Read Connors' "Modes of Discourse." 

I'm still brushing the about graf I hope to tape up over there one day soon.  Here's what I have so far:

Earth Wide Moth is the weblog of dmueller. [He's this and that.  He wrote up a 100 things list some time ago.]  We should think of this weblog as a playground astir with a confusing, noisy simultaneity of excitement.  We should think of it as digital-dust tracks toward a morphing autobiographical sketch-portrait.  Earth Wide Moth houses a fair amount of dabbling, testing, and rough extrapolation on academia, technology, new media, rhetoric, writing programs, distance ed, critical geography, info-flow, and teaching.

I can't think of what else to say. But the comment lines are open.  What should the about section include?  To what extent should it stick out as business-card standard?  Maybe I should skip the part about.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Flower, et al., 1987, "Strategies of Revision"

 Flower, Linda, et al. "Detection, Diagnosis, and the Strategies of Revision." On Writing Research: The Braddock Essays, 1975-1998. Ed. Lisa Ede. New York: Bedford St. Martin's, 1999. 191-228.

Big Idea
Over two years, five contributing researchers sought to refine the key intellectual actions in revision. The study dealt with both student-written texts and expert-written texts; it's an example of collaborative analysis and the challenges of collaborative writing. The project seeks refinement in the terms we use to describe the revision process, setting out with special investment in "detection" and "diagnosis." It also works from a confluence of theories toward revision. Specifically, the endnote acknowledges theory's promise of tentative knowing (Dewey's "experimental ways"). Their work affirms the complex, various interplays of revision toward the fulfillment of a textual need. And, although the textual need is often defined by the teacher, the essay-project promises the value in enabling "novice" student-writers to detect, diagnose and strategically affect textual needs emerging from their own knowledge and intention. 

Terms of Import
experts/novices - the essay-project uses these terms loosely to characterize those who are proficient with the detection-diagnosis-strategic revision sequence in relationship to those who are less adept at negotiating the phases of the sequence.
knowledge/intention - this is elaborated at length; it seems to impart a tension between what we know about our writing and what it does, and what we intend for our writing to do. Often (always?) the two are wedged apart to various degrees. We don't always know what our writing does (in the full sense of its potential to move readers, compel assent, and so on). 
nested processes - revision is necessarily reflexive. The work of revision engulfs small 
mental text - the writer's sense of the text's meaning distinct from the syntax expressed in writing (This is a tricky concept. I'm not sure how to understand the mental text as narrow, confined and rigid in the same sense that I think of words on the page. The "mental text" makes sense to me only when I consider it a _near_ copy of the written text. Accordingly, I doubt how fully the "mental text" exists before the written text. Only after the written text takes shape does the "mental text" take its echoic, sometimes distorted shape--the dusty film that prevents us from reading our own writing with the same discernment we are able to employ when reading a text that is not our own.)
three major gates - detection, diagnosis, strategies of revision
detection - I recognize that something is wrong with this sentence, but I can't tell what it is.
diagnosis - I recognize that something is wrong with this sentence; here's what it is.
strategies of revision - I recognize that something is wrong with this sentence; here's what it is, and here's how I intend to fix it. The three major gates and several other commonplaces in composition are narrowed and subtly differentiated in this essay-project. 

Monday Morning
     As I read this essay, I felt pedagogically shrimpy. I don't give sufficient time or attention to revision, to carefully reworking texts, to settling the terms we use to talk about the "progress" of the text toward some projected rhetorical need. At times, I wondered whether revision of this deeply engaged, patient sort is possible in a writing classroom. It seems more intimate--the kind of interaction that is better done in the writing center, maybe. 
     The source-rich ensemble of research here and the two-dimensional diagrams depicting embedded processes in revision don't seem particularly useful to basic writers. I can see the value in this study for teachers of writing; it might be enough to model the subtle stages, to point out examples of detection, diagnosis and strategic revision. I liked the idea that revision should be introduced as "re-seeing" the ways we think rather than retooling the surface errors in the words on the page. This invokes a theory of revision as "re-cognition," too. 
     The essay left me with the feeling that we could invent an entire course on revision. It's represented as an incredibly complex process, and I have doubts about whether I'm well prepared to teach revision differently than I've practiced it, which means I need to practice it more, think about my own revision habits. 
     I also thought about the relationship between revision and weblogs. Charlie Lowe briefly mentioned the usefulness of returning to previous entries, of re-reading our own weblogs critically, of teasing out our terms and improving the coherence of a set of connections. But, among the weblogs I check out regularly, few offer examples of revision. Or is it just invisible? Frequently, I see clusters of internal links to previous entries as a kind of incremental, pooled essay. 
     Revising, in "Detection, Diagnosis," is aimed at a seamless text and rhetorical mastery--its antithesis: messiness. There's plenty left off here: 38 pages assembled over two years (of weekly meetings), making use of 61 sources, an eventual book. A lot left off.

Should we imagine revision as a way of returning to our writing for reasons other than satisfying a textual need? Might revision include reaffirmation or remembrance? How much time might we imagine between the drafts? Is there always a lapse? What happens to the mental text during the lapse? How much time is optimal? Who are the experts and who are the novices? Are these roles always distinguished by formal training? Must the problem be named for the text's "need" to be met? Who benefits most from the naming of the problem? To what extent should naming the problem and proposing the need be shared with the class in a forum for group learning about revision? With the student-writer? Via written comments? In conference sessions? Does it matter how it's shared? 

Passages Passages
"One revises only when the text needs to be better" (193).

"If a given performance in revision depends on a dynamic interplay of knowledge and intentions, how can we model the process of an effective reviser? [...] One approach to this problem is to step back and describe or model the basic thinking processes which underlies revision itself then to look within that process for those places where experts and novices make different decisions or handle the process itself differently" (195). 

"Our model of Evaluation, then, describes a generative process built on the principle of a progressive enlargement of the goals and constraints one entertains" (199). 

"A text is simply one instantiation of the writer's meaning; a plan represents that meaning in another, less elaborated, less constrained form (Flowers and Hayes, "Images"). Revision operates on meaning in all its forms. The experiences writers in this study were particularly adept at working with the larger, more abstract units of plans and gists" (202).

"To sum up, detecting problems in a text--even achieving that initial sense of dissonance--calls on two non-trivial constructive processes: representing a "text" through reading (or memory), and representing one's intentions. And both are affected by the writer's willingness to entertain dissonance itself (Young, "Rhetoric")" [For how long?] (203). 

"The only way to enter the REVISE process is to go through Diagnose first. This is because REVISE is, by definition, a process that depends on the new information generated in a diagnosis, whereas REWRITE, like original text production, does not." (216).

"The power of diagnosis is not based on knowing the technical vocabulary of a college handbook--one can be innocent of grammar and recognize an agreement problem, and one can have never heard of "squinting modifiers" or undisturbed middles" and still recognize the pattern, diagnose its logic, and know what to do. On the other hand, one premise of education is that having a language helps you see and think about what you see (Freedman, "Review"). The question is how much of what do we need to teach writers?" (222).

Friday, April 16, 2004

Timed Throat Glorp and Achiness

Warmest day so far in Kansas City this year, and I'm shivering through pangs of some evil, nasty virus. I made it through the winter without even a cough, but now I'm flat out miserable with throat glorp and achiness. Lozenge? 

My good friend E. is featured in the Kansas City Star this week.  Access to the article requires another onerous registration, much like the ones described at the Chutry Experiment earlier this week.  But the photo alone is worth signing up (and yes, of course it's okay to use phony information).  Notice the kids in the background, holding push-up positions while the coach juggles a ball.  Futbol doesn't look like so much fun. What, E., you get paid for this? 

My dad sent me an email tonight wanting to know how much time I spend blogging each day, on average. Reminds me of a story I heard at UMKC about a professor whose mother was visiting from England.  A comp/rhet/lit prof, he'd spent most of the day at home preparing for the evening course with diagrams--a  map of composition studies.  His mother: "Now what is it you do at the University?  Do you often spend all day drawing?"  Funny.  Guess you had to be there.  For my dad, I'll send a more personal note, but I didn't figure he would mind if I brought the family backchannel (*source of a post to come!) here for mention.  See, the simple answer is that I blog constantly. It's the typing time that I limit to one hour or so.  Anything more than an hour of typing, and it's ready to post.  So EWM isn't filled up with the most polished writing.  Nobody complains.  Nobody gripes about atrocious sentences or my rambles into unintelligible abstraction.   Here's an example: last night, when I woke up at 3 a.m. to find that Max, our nigh 14 year-old Yorkshire Terrier had, well, messed the house, I was blogging things through until I had everything cleaned up a half hour later.  I couldn't type, spray PineSol and wipe the entire floor at the same time, but I was blogging it, connecting it, imagining the whole experience as part of my sucky, sore-throated, up-late, mess-cleaning life.  As for time management, I've spent less time playing Yahoo!Subterranean Institutionality Euchre in these months since Earth Wide Moth came about.  And I do miss the Euchre, but so few people in Missouri have ever heard of it, and even when I won (playing amongst strangers) it was never as satisfying as this blogging habit. 

What else?  I thought about canceling a meeting this morning with our division of online learning folks.  But I went ahead, wound my way through the Academic Underground to their newly finished space.  (I was blogging it, too.)  Amazing how completely the U. has rooted itself.  The development of the limestone mines into usable space makes for an incredibly odd site: subterranean institutionality. I snapped a picture with the digicam exactly for use here.  And later, when I lost my precious jump drive for about three hours--seriously panicked, searching everywhere--I was worried I'd have to walk all the way back down to the DOL offices where it might've fallen out of my pocket.  Turned out it was here at home, which was a relief because I didn't have the last two weeks backed up.  Gah!

Time to eat, so this timed fun's gotta end. Usually an hour, sometimes more, often less, and bear in mind that I'm under the weight of the spring flu. All total, I've been at it for exactly 49 minutes from sitting down to posting, if that's helpful for guaging my typing time.  Hoping that it is.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

How will I know when I'm blogging?

I'm posting my first lil' write-up on the Braddocks.  And I should beg your pardon for not asking whether anyone cares if I turn this weblog toward self-serving notes on some days (wait...nevermind...I do that every day).  Periodically, over the next few weeks, I hope to register a series of scrappy notes like this.  They're not wonderfully critical or connected; they're not aimed at any research project.  They're rather more like the solid (squiggly?) paint-lines along the highway to Syracuse's CCR program in the fall.  With that, I also confess to testing out Scribe--a free note-organizing app.  These few notes are shaping up in Scribe as a way to see how it works, whether it's worth the price.  Well, it will be.  The program works.  How well, I just can't be sure yet. One of the best parts is how it fits conveniently on my 64MB jump drive and runs from there via a USB port, making it easy to switch from home to work and back again.

I had to smile at myself more than once, chuckle, grin inside about my sense of humor in this whole experiment.  A lot of behind-the-blog antics.  A lot of tongue-in-cheek and silliness over the idea of taking myself seriously here.  It's not official, but I prefer to play around at Earth Wide Moth.  For now, I'm resistant  to poisoning my blog with responsibility; responsibility is everywhere else. 

Most of the way through Richard Braddock's essay, I decided to mix it up.  Avoid a linear reading of the honorary essays.  I pasted the table of contents into Excel, inserted a random integer formula, and sorted by the RAND() column.  Spice it up, you know? Before long, I'll create a list of my plan over in the sidebar (along with the 'About' note I've been mentioning).  And one more thing: I'm not applying a tidy, syntopical format to the essays, covering them only as Mo Adler would want me to.  Just jotting loose notes, free-associating, reacquainting with the Braddocks I've read and getting to know the ones I haven't.  That pretty well covers the who, what and why

Braddock, 1975, "Frequency and Placement"

 Braddock, Richard. "The Frequency and Placement of Topic Sentences." On Writing Research: The Braddock Essays, 1975-1998. Ed. Lisa Ede. New York: Bedford St. Martin's, 1999. 29-42.

Big Idea
Braddock's essay on the placement and patterns of topic sentences exposes a problem of referring students to mythic truths--affirmed in popular textbooks old and new--about professional expository writing. His empirical research and methodical investigation (lots of data-counts, tables) of faulty advice about prevalent organizational patterns is an affront to the echo and reiteration of uncritical teaching. His essay calls for conscientious attention to topical organization in paragraphs.

Terms of Import
t-unit (minimal terminal unit , Kellogg Hunt (1965)) -- the "shortest grammatically allowable sentence into which...[writing can] be segmented" (31).
delayed-completion topic sentence (35)--undeclared predicate forces us to read beyond the seminal t-unit and into a subsequent sentence
assembled topic sentence (35)--infused with quoted bits from another source
inferred topic sentence (35)--implied topic that cannot be reconstructed by quoting phrases from the original text
major topic sentence (35)--reflection of the "larger stadia of discourses," like Irmcher's "paragraph bloc"

Monday Morning
Simply put, teachers of writing should be cautious to make unfounded claims likening work done by students to work done by professionals. If we demand students organize paragraphs by locating topic sentences at the beginning and the end of their paragraphs, we must not justify the requirement by referring to foggy, disproved characterizations of a larger writing institution. Braddock's research establishes that only 45% of 761 paragraphs studied used simple topic sentences; only 16% located those topic sentences in the first or final sentence of the graf. 

So, 1.) We should always be skeptical about common truths in textbooks; 2.) We should not attest to gross generalizations about expository prose or, heck, even refer to "most" expository prose working in a particularly systematic way unless we are able to attach illustrative examples; 3.) We should watch for topical variations in students' expository writing and teach organizational variations as a controllable feature of composition (particularly calling attention to it during stages of revision, I think).

How much time and attention do writing instructors give to teaching about t-units or topic sentences in 2004? Is the concept of topic sentences irresponsible if it leaves off the subtleties and variations? Should instruction about topic sentences in expository prose foreground the act(ion) of research writing? When should students be welcomed to think about it? Is it inline with broader studies of textual organization (merging HTML, visual rhetorics, distributed schemes)? How do we teach organizational awareness? Outlining? Mapping? Of students' writing? Popular writing? How much time and energy does this deserve in a FY writing course? In an advanced expository course? Is this essay still regarded as important (for its methods, perhaps, as much as its contribution to more sophisticated pedagogy)? Or is it rather more like a shelved artifact? 

Passages Passages
"This sample of contemporary professional writing did not support the claims of textbook writers about the frequency and location of topic sentences in professional writing. That does not, of course, necessarily mean the same findings would hold for scientific and technical writing or other types of exposition. Moreover, it does not all mean that composition teachers should stop showing their students how to develop paragraphs from clear topic sentences. Far from it. In my opinion, often the writing in the 25 essays would have been clearer and more comfortable to read if the paragraphs had presented more explicit topic sentences. But what this study does suggest is this: While helping students use clear topic sentences in their writing and identify variously presented topical ides in their reading, the teacher should not pretend that professional writers largely follow the practices he is advocating" (39).

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Quiet While I Drill Your Head

In the dentist's chair this morning.  Hayakawa in my lap.  Getting x-rayed, poked, scraped, polished, flossed.  Sprayed, vacuum-sucked.  Shined by the brightest light ever put to me.  Hovered over by a masked agent of the dental conspirators.  "Open wide.  Turn your head to your right."  

I brush twice each day, floss once.  Tooth Invaders was one of the first video games I ever owned; J. and me up late on the C64 with black and white TV, scrubbing bacteria. Tooth brushing is ritual.  But in the dentist's chair-cranked-back, my mouth takes to bleeding.  Things a coherent, sober person wouldn't allow anyone to do: sharp metal prod to bare gums, touched.  It was awful.  It is always, time after time, awful.  Still, I return.

Why Hayakawa (Language in Thought and Action)? Haven't read it before. Quite a mix in the selected bibliography. Couple of interesting sections (though brief) on maps, extensional world as territory, and also on the levels of abstraction with a drawing of the ladder.  When the dental assistant finished grinding my teeth, I picked up the book again, started reading where I'd left off fifteen minutes earlier:

No matter how beautiful a map may be, it is useless to a traveler unless it accurately shows the relationship of places to each other, the structure of the territory.  If we draw, for example, a big dent in the outline of a lake for artistic reasons, the map is worthless.  If we are just drawing maps for fun, without paying any attention to the structure of the region, there is nothing in the world to prevent us from putting in all the extra curlicues and twists we want in the lakes, rivers, and roads. No harm will be done unless someone tries to plan a trip by such a map. [emphasis in original]

I was thinking back to the C's in Denver, to a talk I attended on the importance of conceptualizing standard in battlefield terms, thinking about normalcy as proximate to a commanding power-presence.  I can't remember whose it was; seems like Peter Elbow was on the panel.  The premise involved the idea that the location of the standard shared by the locus of power (never mind body doubles) and the relative protection, battle strength and safety diminished incrementally proximate to the standard waving high, symbolizing a center

The dentist is ready. *enters the dentist*

Dentist: What are you reading?
Patient: *tilts the book*
Dentist: Language in Thought and Action.  Hmm. Open your cakehole, kid.

/I'm not a fast learner, turns out.  I used to bring books to this same dentist.  Once it was Winterson's Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.  Another time: Mina P. Shaughnessy: Her Life and Work.  And the last time I carried a book into this dentist's shop: Graham Swift, Waterland.  Then I quit bringing books for a while.  The fifteen minutes of reading wasn't worth the event (getting to the event part).  No need to carry a book when I could grab a magazine from the waiting room.  Something easy, something requiring less explanation.  Entertainment Weekly, People.  I stopped bringing books to the dentist because the question always came, "What are you reading?" and, "So what's it about?".  Five seconds to answer before a gloved hand fiddles mercilessly with my teeth./

Dentist: So what's it about?

The good reasons for not carrying a book to the dentist's workspace rushed back today when, before I could answer, I had a mouthful of busy fingers, instrument-bearing digits.  And they were doing the work that had already been done minutes earlier--a more qualified poking, a more detailed telling, "eighteen's okay, nineteen's a belted crown, twenty's a composite, twenty-one's okay."  But before that, before my dentist did the part I bargained for, the tooth-by-tooth evaluation, the count and description, she told me that I didn't need to read Hayakawa because all language is perception (am I still alive?) and words mean differently to everyone, especially in such a diverse country.  When will I get my voice back?

Maybe the dentist is right. Or maybe she meant that I didn't need to read in her office.  I never was able to offer much of a five-second review on Winterson, Maher, or Swift, either.  And maybe Hayakawa's not what I should be reading.  It's just so nicely safeguarded by my naivete.  I haven't read anything about this book; I knew nothing about it when I picked it up.  Instruments were working before I could say, "I'm not far into it yet, but it's a kind of simplified and illustrated on semiotics.  Might be able to find a few teachable bits in it.  And it doesn't feel like a lot of work to read right now, which is why I've carried it into your office." 

The highlight of the visit came when the dentist ground away a few contact points on one irritated cap (crown?) on the lower left.  I haven't chewed painlessly on the left side in six months; this was the third attempt to correct the bite.  "Bite down and grind." Fortunate for the dentist and for me that I understood her instructions, that I didn't carry them out while her fingers were dangling next to my chompers.  Fortunate, too, that I admire the dexterity of the dentist to use power instruments in my mouth, to bring smoky, screeching industry into such delicate human quarters.

Monday, April 12, 2004

So Pretty in the Sky

It's not like I've been sitting idle all evening. I have, for what it's worth, come very very close to giving this PC a good neoLuddite thrashing. I just don't have the right equipment to make movies sing. Went from a flubbed synch (slides didn't match cues in the song) to a Sony app which could give me AVI format but not MPEG2 (with no good explanation...the documentation bad must it be before we no longer call it documentation?). Used yet another app to convert the AVI to MPEG 2, and a fair amount of unwelcome cropping came along with the switch--going from 720x480 to 480x480. Needed it in MPEG2 for the gate to VHS for viewing in the classroom. So what is it? A digi-video of D.'s lesson plan where second graders draw theme-oriented pictures (unwittingly, they work from phrases in the lyrics) to concoct a frame by frame "music video." Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World," and well-timed in light of all the world news. Please don't be deterred by the slow download; it's the best second-grade picture show we could muster.

Click to view.

And now back to grading papers.

^The vid's autoload was gunking up my bandwidth, so I redeposited it at the back of the server.  Click the TV if you'd like to check it out.^

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Icing Sore Kairos

The side panel is nicely redecorated now, arranged to my liking.  Because this long weekend ends at midnight tonight and tomorrow is a day heaped with appointments, athletics rigmarole and student writing, the side features will remain just so for a while.  Or just so-so for a while, depending on your view.  The only thing I hope to add over there is an about cognomen--the insignia of self tucked to the right (or left, depending on where you sit from the position of your monitor).  

Last night, I started to write an entry that I deleted and scrapped rather than posting here. Didn't even save a copy for returning to it another day down the line.  That's never happened before.  We'd just finished watching Radio.  An easy, predictable movie.  Based loosely on a true story.  And I was trying to write about the simplicity of the movie, about the appeal of being entertained simply, about not wanting to complicate it by looking too hard.  It should be a break from looking hard--I thought.  But it also grabbed ahold of me in a few ways I wasn't prepared for.  It wasn't that I didn't want to be taken in to the foreseeably emotional story; it wasn't that I didn't expect sad parts.  The movie turned me toward my own life--an unexpected, uninvited warp of reflexigency in movie-watching.  Instead of looking at Ed Harris and Cuba Gooding Jr., I was looking at myself and not fully enjoying what it stirred.  And without divulging all there is to it (without, again, making EWM into blewg confessional), it was mainly a mix of the sudden death-of-mother scene piled on top of my own uneasiness with the Easter holiday.  

Ridiculous, eh?  Nobody claims Easter as their difficult holiday. It's springtime, for Chris'sake. Christmas, Valentine's problem.  But Easter.  Guilt about following/not following the semiannual lemming-march to church, self-identifying as a bad parent who does the Easter Bunny way worse than Santa and the Tooth Fairy, associating the desperation and powerlessness of a few years ago in the throes of adoption.  My basket: melancholia de jure. Oh, and, well, the Junior Mints I wrote about earlier.  Those have been tasty, minty cold.  So it's a mood and a passing rut.  Could blame Radio for my sourness and withdrawal, but that wouldn't be fair. It was a good one, the movie.

Hobbling around on a bum (sprained?) knee this weekend hasn't helped any.  Went for two jogs too many last week.  Two jogs total.  Quite a shock to my muscular system. Binge exercise has worked great for years, but no longer. More stretching is overdue. And on the subject of stretching, I have a plan to key together a few notes on Richard Braddock's '75 essay on topic sentences.  It'll be the start of a series of notes on the Braddocks (over the next few weeks)--recapacitating disciplinarily for the fall. More blogging on |t/r|eaching and reading to come.

Better than a Faberge Egg

Stumbled onto All Consuming, a web site that crawls for bloggers' mentions of books.  This, whilst off-task from obligatory Sunday online course updates and sucking on the Junior Mints left for me by one generous and intuitive bunny rabbit. All Consuming counts and links a (potentially) unconnected readership, rendering, thereby, a (paper, not cyber) text-associated web of relations.

Friday, April 9, 2004

Nine Fluffed Cats Strutting Blogways

I've added nine categories to Earth Wide Moth.  Wanted to move toward readability and organization.  I just thought about my interests, the entries over the last three months, where I see future entries fitting, then dummied up some fun(ky) categories for breakin' this blog down.  Chunked up, EWM now looks like this:

Media Massage-Dressage - Popular media, politicking, spin-doctoring, manipulations, decorated pony shows and the Twist.
Critical Ethnogeotechnoinfography - Connections to cultural implications of information geography, rhetorically and technologically affected places and the peeps who inhabit them.
Spatialitiespatiality  - Toying with space theory, location, descriptive realities and other stuff.
Composing Anyplace Afar - Computer-mediated distance education, remote academia, mobilities in learning.
Reading Notes - Notes on articles/books/sites I'm reading; connections among texts, etc.
Heteroglossia and Essayism - Free play with theory, essayisms, and uncategorical leftovers.
Kairotic Strain - Whining and bemoaning, complaints and bad kairos [credit to A.C. for this last idea]: entries that might offend, upset, peeve off or otherwise have professional consequences.
Orange - CNY 13244
On Weblogs, On - On Weblogs
*Dry Ogre Chalking - Re: pedagogy.
*Slouching Toward - Down funk, despondency and despair.
*Ground Swell - Upsurges, optimism, prospective, feelin' good change.
*Under a Bushel - Obscurity, innuendo, underhanded views and opinions.

These last four are originals.  I'll keep them around.  I'm not settled on the categories, but I think they do a better job than the few splits I had up for past three months.  All of this was brought on by my curiosity about building aggregation lines (RSS feed) for individual categories in MT.  It's not perfectly clear how I'll use the feeds, but I wanted to see what it looked like, how tough it was to set up.  I was surprised to find it easy; followed the fine instructions available here.  Category-specific RSS was a recent topic in blogs, a new listserv concerned with a blogging SIG at the '05 C's in San Fran. I can imagine it working nicely for research groups in a course weblog.  The cat-specific aggregation could pool related entries; it's easy enough to assign multiple categories to an individual entry, too.  This might be useful in a weblog with numerous student-contributors (in a class of 25, say).

A couple of other Friday notes:  D. is working on her teaching portfolio.  As a final piece of her student teaching, she wanted to piece together a audio-accompanied video slideshow.  I did a nice one--about six minutes long--for our wedding last summer.  Tried another one this fall for the retirement of one of D's co-workers.  That's when the cheap Dazzle converter started screwing up.  When converting the MPEG to VHS, the bridge (DCS200) would lock up, freezing the video in one blue stop-frame.  Fortunately, it was sufficiently dubbed to put the three minutes to use, and the day was saved.  Only now, more than seven months since the last movie-making struggle, I'm staring at this project and thinking how sucky it is to attempt video-making with PC equipment.  It's like chewing broken glass. Maybe worse.  I can't keep track of the number of times the whole cruddy system locks up in a single sitting with the Hollywood app open. The pattern of lock-ups is a real time-hog.

One of my Good Friday errands was a stop at Kmart.  Mainly, I needed a new light bulb for the refrigerator.  The other one fizzled early in the week, so all week we've had no way of telling what's in there.  Food that was once easy to locate has been lost in the shadows.  So it was Kmart for the 40 watt replacement.  Returned home.  Screwed it in ( only takes one blogger to screw in a fridge bulb).  The refrigerator was just as empty and pathetic as it was earlier in the week.  Bowls of taco salad for another night.  Dessert of mini-malted milk eggs (Easter Whoppers)--the best candy of the holiday, if you ask me.

Categorically yours,


Thursday, April 8, 2004

(W)resting on Accreditation Pillars

I'm beginning to understand the accreditation process as an exercise in abstraction.  We take our best, most descriptive account of the institution's functions and mold them rhetorically until they match the accreditation pillars.  It's not a process to be taken lightly.  Abstracting is complicated.  Often it involves collaborative writing efforts, slippery language and raptures of statistical data.  When the bean-counts start whirring around, I'm out. Abstracting to verbiage is one thing; matching imaginative institutional narratives to numbers and bar charts is much less appealing.  And it's never merely a project of abstracting until the accreditation criteria match; it's followed by an adaptive unraveling, a denouement, maybe, through which the institution is reinvented into an improved replica of its pre-accreditation body. This part takes years, and it's a road afflicted by hills, curves, chasms.

I was asked twice in recent weeks to serve on various accreditation committees: one for the division of online learning (DOL) and one for the something else I can't describe exactly (partly because I haven't heard about it in a few days and it was a passing conversation).  The division of online learning is abstracting itself toward "accreditation pillars," but I'm having trouble discerning what, exactly, accreditation pillars are. And this explains why I really should be picked last for accreditation teams.  I find the abstraction and return to be wrenching--incredibly mind-bending.  Pillars: I venture that they're evaluative criteria; they're the abstract terms we aspire toward.  Explain how we meet them and we effectively prove the structure of the Acropolis that is our University.  

The division of online learning is handling much of their interchange in the *new* CMS platform--eCollege.  It's too early for me to have a critical relationship to the interface.  I find George Williams' adaptation (via Palimpsest) of Liz Lawley's MT courseware much more attractive.  The MT design is friendlier than anything I've seen in VCampus or, in these few days, eCollege.  I look forward to trying it out, perhaps in the fall since it won't be used where I'm teaching now any time soon.  One of our holdups on the DOL committee has been the lack of an explicit institutional stance on IP.  I keep pointing toward Creative Commons as the smart, responsible solution--for University-wide content, including the stuff coming out of DOL.  That it's an incredibly hard sell affirms the power of corporatization and privatization to reduce such ideas to granules.

So, in fairness, I need to peel the sign off my back that reads, "Will gladly serve on your accreditation committee."  It's not that I'm ungrateful, rather that I really struggle with the wiggles toward abstracting the institution.  Something to work on: *learn to say 'no' politely.*

Wednesday, April 7, 2004

Reproduction of Labour-Power

[cross posted in response to Mike's post at]

Here goes nothing. I haven't made time to dig up the specific reference to Marx's "reproduction of labour-power," but as I understand it, the phrase applies to periods of regeneration and rest. Using a much more simplistic model than the one you're building here, we talk about this in my intro to humanities class, borrowing from Camus' contention that we must imagine Sisyphus as happy. Going one more, we take apart the notion that the interstice--the break from labor--defines and even classifies work (if we're given to taxonomic hierarchies). 

The idea that our work is reclassified by our regenerative periods, down time, or leisure, dismantles the common economic t-chart of production and service by preferring the antithetical--the doing that's done when we're not producing-serving. Because our occupations with teaching and learning through reading and writing are concerned with text (broad, widely imagined ensembles of texts, in this case), we are never separate from it or otherwise outside it. And the materiality of such text(s) is irregular, I guess.

Following a long-accepted model of continuous exertion (eight-ten hours, say) followed by continuous regeneration (or "reproduction of labour-power"), "text" has a commonplace association with leisure. Reading, writing, noticing (noscere-to get to know?), mediating, and so on are done solely for pleasure, leisure. This is a gross simplification, of course. But in composition, the exertion of labour-power and its reproduction are intertwined, irregular to the extent that separations are not easy to share or to make visible. Our occupation isn't merely those three hours in class or the 8-430 scuttle. I'm feeling vertiginous (can you tell I'm going in circles already?). What I want to suggest is that with texts at the center of our work, we are burdened by the economic pressure to make texts material (publishing is privileged); but, moreover, we're charged with empowering students to those textualisms, opening discreet discourse systems, fostering agency, transgression, compliance, etc., in language. 

This leads me to suppose that reading is not always consumptive; in fact, I'd be more inclined to say that it's always productive, always reproductive, always generative, always regenerative. As is writing. I wonder if that's the "opportunity cost" for comp/rhetors--the constancy of language, the challenge of negotiating between leisure and laborious in after-hours (?) textual interludes, and the trouble proving the legitimacy and value of this bind to those who can't see beyond the more traditional, pervasive economic work-structure and the more common relegation of text as rest in it.

Tuesday, April 6, 2004

Study, Rest, Eat a Good Breakfast

A hard shot of seventh grade homework tonight: test on the Middle Ages tomorrow along with a two-page chronology of the most significant developments in computer technology from the abacus to artificial intelligence.  Quite an undertaking for one evening, but it follows weeks of in-school preparation.  So the pattern goes.  Ph. worked on the laptop drumming up information via a few links suggested by his teacher for the computer assignment while I wrestled a one-page study guide into readable shape for the test.  Sufficiently torturous though there were no mentions of such inhumanity in his notes and textbook.  

So I've been freshening up on everything from feudal social hierarchies and the failed crusades (which opened trade routes to the East) to the MITS Atrios 8800, Bill Gates III and integrated circuits as the "Third Generation" of computer technology.  Just when it was at its most agonizing--the combination of assignments, that is--we laced up our tennies and went for a jog.  First one in months for me, but overdue in the nasty-tense fallout from such an explosion between prehistory and posthistory, between medievalism and technocracy on such short notice. Run.  Artificial intelligence is the fifth (and present) generation of computer technology.  Senechals presided, with bailiffs, over the judicial order of the manors in medieval Europe.  Daniel Bricklin dubbed Visicalc; we are all so many vassals to Microsoft, jousting with PowerPoint, crusading for open source.  See?  How can I explain this?

You'll notice I'm toying with a few jobs in the right column.  Thinking about fleshing out my list of links, adding on the ones I aggregate, and others I read and admire from time to time.  Most bloggers appreciate being linked, right?  I want to redraw the "Divisions," dissect moth into more descriptive parts.  Or hurry.  I also copied several of the recent button-makers (such as feministe) and put one together for EWM, just for the heck of it--during one of our study breaks this evening. Perfectly ornamental.

Succumbed to another violent arm-tug to cover a pair of classes first thing in the morning.  Everyone's taking vacations but me, turns out.  But I don't mind.  It gives me something to blog about. Plus, Ph'll need a good breakfast if he has any chance at discriminating between the chivalric code and vacuum tubes.


Dashing off to class in a few minutes; feel like I'd have more time to compose myself at oneword [via Dr. B's Blog].  Still working on the Point/PowerPoint sequence, so maybe I should prefer this format:

  • Sorry I missed Chuck's NCAA Championship game blog last night (which I can't link to right now because something is clunking up the connection).  Dr. Fabulous won the men's tournament pool with 126 points.  I lumped a whole 62 points.  Last place.  It was fun?  Chuck has me beat by 300 points in the women's tournament pool; at least I'm assured second place.
  • Following Mike's posts on composition's economies and informational commodity.  Meaning to get over there to mention that it makes me think about Marx's "reproduction of labor power."
  • Meeting with an appraiser later this a.m. (immediately after class!) to clear up her formulaic valuation of this lean-to we call home.  Count the ceiling fans, figure the square footage, peep at the neighborhood, see whether there are any piles of garbage in the yard, interrogate the ages of everything from the asphalt shingles overhead to the rickety steps at the back (which'll never pass inspection, I'm worried). Need to dump this joint by the end of June so we can load up for our move to New York. I wonder if anyone's ever sold a home by advertising it on their blog.

None of these are suited to PowerPoint; the words are hopelessly effluent in the blogspace.  Now to drum up some fresh roasted.

Sunday, April 4, 2004

Neil Diamond Double-Step March

Last week, Tuesday, we were invited to Friday's annual Founder's Day gala event for the U. Common at many higher ed. institutions, I guess, Founder's Day is a ceremonial gesture at legacy, self-definition of the institution and, of course, fundraising. We accepted two seats; would be sitting among friends at a table sponsored by an admirable company who didn't have many people wanting to go.  So we lined Ph. up with a sitter (er, attendant, now that he's a teen), and went on our well-dressed way.  

The theme for the night was globalism. Small, blue sponge balls lined with latitude and longitude, but without continental shapes were propped in the centerpieces, for example.  They started the program with forty international students--most of whom I know by name--marching into the banquet room with the flags of the 98 countries represented by students who attend the institution.  Two at a time.  The flags didn't match with the students' home-countries of record, since there were 40 students and 98 flags.  They came, two by two, a row of symbolic internationalism choreographed to Neil Diamond's "America."

We've been traveling far
Without a home
But not without a star

The students propped their flags at the front of the hall and returned to the back entrance to carry forward another pair of flags: Sweden and Mexico followed by Brazil and Greece followed by Australia and Eritrea, marching fast-paced to Neil Diamond.

On the boats and on the planes
They're coming to America
Never looking back again
They're coming to America

I just want to be descriptive here; present the details they played out before me, because there's plenty of room for critique (of the gushing, centrist-nationalism vibe, for one)--critique that I would never want to undertake at my otherwise well-intentioned, upstanding, play-it-safe weblog.  

Home, to a new and a shiny place
Make our bed, and we'll say our grace
Freedom's light burning warm
Freedom's light burning warm

Of course, there was more to the evening than the opening ceremony and flag parade (which left many of the students breathing hard; the pace was jogable).  A couple of really impressive piano performances, a delectable entree (Petite Filet of Beef with a Three Corn Pepper Sauce and Shrimp Bercy atop Wilted Greens goes the menu card), an award presentation for distinguished leadership, and plenty of tippling filled up the night.  It was the second Founders Day gala for me in seven years.  Just as I was before, on Friday I was underdressed.  I had a tie, but I harbor an aversion to suit coats when it's above 60 degrees.  Many of the gents were in tuxes.

It'd be inappropriate for me to raze the event for its challenges engaging internationalism and globalism in their complexities; in fairness, I can't conclude that any of it was mal-intended (yet I understand that the best intentions do not absolve responsibility for proliferating views and values).  But it left me wondering about the resonant gravity of terms such as internationalism and globalism to reinvent and revive centrism and nationalism as the ideological linch pins of supposedly progressive plans. Could've been the wine.

Saturday, April 3, 2004

Piping Up, Down Again

I don't know if it's narrowly analogous to my experience developing and teaching online courses since the fall of '01, but the technophilic pied piper of computer-mediated distance ed--who fluted for distance initiatives through glowing positivisms--in the late 90's, has yielded to a symphony of vastly more critical, responsible pedagogies, mindful of the barbs described in Hara and Kling's article.  Computer-mediated distance ed programs have grown up in the five years since the article was published; they've been (and continue to be) shaped by theoretical currents in technology and media, by laborious, ongoing revisions guided by new experiences and best practices.  They continue to take seriously the frustrations expressed by students--frustrations about tech speed, about confusing explanations of assignments, about feedback time and engagement.  And attrition rates continue to be a question--or, perhaps, only part of a broader question about what's bound up in the pursuit of excellence, the sort of excellence that lives on tireless exertion, dialectic reflection and conversation on ways to make the programs better.  A recent faculty survey where I teach asked instructors, "why do students withdraw from your online courses?"  My responses were speculative; the knowledgeable answers are harder to produce than a summary of the rants and rumblings of students who endured the term of study then posted wry comments on the instructor evaluation form.  So many of our distance learning students are full-time military who work and travel, who have families and heaps of other commitments; they tend to be realistic about their workloads and planned TDY excursions, and, when confronted with an unusually rigorous stint in composition or the introductory humanities survey, I think many students opt out because the promises made in the syllabus are clear--perhaps daunting.  By what other terms can eight-week online course work?

I brought this back to my blog rather than commenting over at Palimpsest and Dennis Jerz's Literacy Weblog because I often get the feeling that I have my head in the sand about ways that computer-mediated distance education is done at other institutions.  I honestly don't know much about how it works elsewhere.  When the subject of computer-mediated distance learning comes up, I falter, succumb to my doubts about all that I don't know about how it's handled anywhere else. (are you on Blackboad? WebCT? VCampus? hybrid or mixed-mode? meeting in person occasionally or always via computer? supplemented by video or live chat? are your face-to-face curricula migrated for online delivery for outcomes comparisons? vice versa?  are faculty who teach online also required to teach on in bricks-n-mortar spaces? must instructors encode (HTML the content) their own courses? are the courses peer reviewed? how is faculty training and mentoring handled?). 

I've given half a thought to starting a blog for distance ed instructors in comp/rhet, including the 15 or so instructors who teach the classes I'm familiar with.  And perhaps it would work better if it was wide open to instructors from various institutions, except that cross-talk can be tougher to negotiate when we set out from considerably inconstant curricular and ideological frames.  But to the extent instructors are geographically spread out; I wonder how widely they are pedagogically spread out, too--to what degree my sense of best practices jibes with my peers' understandings of best practices in computer-mediated distance ed (esp. as it ties to essayism, close reading, discourse analysis).  What better way to reconcile it than by a blog--a blog for overlaps in computer mediated distance ed and on-site ed folded together under tech/comp/rhet. Anyone know of a listserv or other forum where this is already going on?

Thursday, April 1, 2004

About-face in behemoth retail

A link to this article called "Bye Bye Big Box" showed up in my mail today.  It was routed through the Public.Spaces  listserv, available with other a few other space-concerned lists at the Project for Public Spaces web site. I haven't been a subscriber for long, but I was interested to see what shiny bits might churn through their channels.  And then came the article today on Wal-Mart's commitment to the revitalization of community spaces--a clear, surprising reversal against their record for building indoor, suburban sprawl-marts filled wall to wall with discount goods.  The article makes its name in the April newsletter from PPS, and I find the issue's theme, "faked spaces," to be intriguing.  It suggests--rightly, I think--the appearance of a drastic turn away from the tyranny of naked suburban commercialism: Wal-Mart's legacy of profiteering.  Here's a short blurb from the article:

"[Wal-mart is] tired of being on the wrong side of the community-building equation," he added, noting that he believes the firm's bottom line can take a back seat to broader community [regional] goals. "We think we can take that to the shareholders and make a convincing case that a stronger local economy will be better for our stores in the long run," Glass said. (first inset mine)

I'm curious about what this will look like.  I wonder how it figures into Wal-Mart's profit formula.  Will we see town squares made over with a sweeping infestation of so many mini Wal-Marts?  Will we need shopping carts to load up there and there and there and across the block, at the Wal-Mart over there?  I sure don't want to rain on this promise, yet; I look forward to experiencing Wal-Mart's reinvestment in vital community centers. But we can't blame anyone for being skeptical of this plan, this reversal of the retailer's legacy.  It'll be undone when?  

It reminds me of an exchange I enjoyed last fall with a student who was stationed at Mountain Home AFB in Mountain Home, Idaho.  He wrote--for intro to humanities (the segment on industry, labor and consumerism)--about the deep-felt resentment openly shared among many of the locals in Mountain Home since the Wal-Mart installation embargoed the base from the once-lively city square.  According to the student, Wal-Mart was the subject of whole-community scorn, but the people took jobs there and shopped there because the market became dependant on the superstore.  I look forward to the new model.  Of course, as little as I know about commercial real estate, I wonder whether the vacant big boxes of America will be empty for long. Doubtful that they'll be torn down, remade green. 

Oh, and one more thing. Guess I should re-think yesterday's rant, since I just picked up on the role of "slide shows" in the appeal:

Kent said he was surprised but pleased that his speech had created such an immediate impact. "Frankly I expected a hostile reaction," he admitted, "but the slide show depicting small, public markets around the world seemed to win them over, especially the shots of couples kissing over various varieties of fresh vegetables. Those images can sway even the most hardcore bottom-line oriented people." (emphasis mine)

Slide shows, kissing and vegetables? Just great. Civic progress via sexed up PowerPoint.

Update (4.2.04, 9:30 a.m.):  Potential for coll|u/i|sion between the Wal-mart promise of fractal marketplaces and this plan for discreet security (call it what you will)?

Poised with Swiffer

Notice: this is a buttered toast entry whose rhetorical purpose is to displace the hallucinations and ramblings slung up by dmueller.  Good thing that's not the name of this blog's owner and chief operator.  Who hacked my site and posted that picture of Bart Simpson?  I want answers!

But I'd settle for comments.  See, crowds make me nervous, and, for some reason or another, Earth Wide Moth is getting unprecedented traffic lately. Smart mobs? There's no evidence anyone's reading here; but the visitors are sliding through.  Browsers are picking it up, putting it to the screen. So, I concocted a plan to insert this buttered toast entry--a defensive displacer entry meant to float an unseemly entry lower on the page.  Maybe we should call it a marshmallow entry or mallow entry for short.  I haven't done my homework on whether this kind of entry has been named before, and I don't have time to explore b/c I gotta bury yesterday's entry right away. (You're only as bloggy as your last entry!)

Just a few more lines and this entry will have fully served its purpose by filing yesterday's entry into the obscure #2 slot.  That said, I am pleading with you, do not scroll the bar and do not turn the page.  Do not read any previous entries in this blog.  You've been warned!