Tuesday, January 13, 2009

New Forms of Connectivity

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

But how?

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

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

Saturday, January 10, 2009


Bubble Trail

Is. inked this furry little creature yesterday. She's terrific with the white board; a lefty who now erases with her index finger and redoes the facial features until they are precisely to her liking. I have a few other Is.ketches to post, but I'm again prone to thinking that a series of entries is the best way to share them--a sure improvement on the stalled-out Y. series I pursued with such great determination in September. I like this particular sketch because I think Is. is drawing a poofy series of thought balloon interegna: just how many empty cloud-like wisps should there be before the thought balloon itself?

Speaking of wispy thought-trails (empty twirls of air on the way to a full-on thought), I've ended up tying in with Blackboad for my spring class. Until today I had a viable concoction brewing: drop.io, Wet Paint, Vanilla (discussion forum), and a standalone web site, but I learned that the only way to put a login in front of Vanilla was to manage it on the server. Not a terrible option, ultimately, but it did mean an extra login (i.e., one login for accessing the URL, a second for posting to the forum), and I was at the same time running into a few hassles with compatibility re: the latest version of Vanilla and dead plugins managed by what appears to be a sluggish developer's community. By this I mean that the plugins are all old and with no signs of updates on the horizon.

So, with a whimper and a frown, I've bowed to Blackboard, even though it makes me throw up a little bit every time I log on. I'm not in any position this semester to push back against its great, hulking inertia, no matter how much it makes my head ache. And the few emails I received in the past couple of days got me thinking that Blackboard is, for this semester, at least, the best option for everyone else with a stake in the course.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


My dear friend, Blog, is celebrating a birthday today, marking the start of a sixth year.

You probably aren't sure what sort of present is appropriate for a blog. I wasn't sure myself, but after I thought about it for awhile, I decided it would be nice enough to ante up for another year's worth of hosting. A pinch of money: much easier to give than the gift of time (which is what Blog really needs if it is to avoid rotting in the year to come).

Sunday, January 4, 2009


Arrived home from MLA via Detroit on Thursday. Since I've surrendered almost three full days to gluttonous lazies: home-made fried chicken, NFL playoffs, afternoon naps, a nightly Wolavers' oatmeal stout, a breeze through Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential, and darn near nothing else.

Today I can feel the low, resistant grind of changing gears--from no gear to anything-chug productive. Spring syllabus is due tomorrow--or Wednesday, depending on who you ask (this would be easier if I didn't read *all* of my email). I'm penciled in for a section of WRT205: Critical Research and Writing, a course that more or less picks a topic (invention by topoi) and then gets on with research a la "critical inquiry", which I take to mean "examined" or "deliberate" inquiry: self-reflective inquiring.

Did I mention that it's an online class? I still thinking about whether to heave Blackboard into the weeds (where it belongs?): bypass it altogether and instead channel all of our encounters through a wiki-blog-delicious-youtube mash-up. The former is, if you can stand it, a cinch; the latter is far more interesting and also more work coming at a time when, well, there is already plenty enough work. Tonight, I can't decide. Tomorrow I'll flip a coin. But if the coin comes up "Blackboard," that just might be enough to jolt me back over to the mash-ups.

The course itself--as planned--is a dance with pop culture and media valuation. We'll read Johnson's Everything Bad Is Good For You, contemplate his handling of the good/bad reversal, and think/write/talk about his book--what he calls "an old-fashioned work of persuasion" in the first sentence--as a dissoi logoi, or strengthening of the (presumed to be) weaker position.

In keeping with program-level expectations for the course, the first unit will be something of a reading of Johnson and his work with sources and evidence. It's a sort of parlor inventory with a hermeneutic slant, viz. who's saying what, what it means, and so on. The second unit in the course usually involves some sort of annotated bibliography, but I'm thinking along the lines of a collection/annotation aspect (rel. Sirc's "box-logic") that might involve a playlist/compilation in YouTube or Seeqpod. Will put that alongside a more recognizable batch of article/chapter annotations and ask students to speculate about their complementarity. Unit Three is that well-run horse, the sustained research project, 10-12 pp. By that time, I'd like to have the dissoi logoi well-enough in hand that students will be developing arguments rel. to popular culture that complicate status quo views of brain-rotting media. And the fourth, final piece of the course will be some kind of semester-long foray into "serially immersive" new media writing: blogging, annotated social bookmarking, etc. The point here: to again insist on the generative, associative collusion between immersive new media writing and its (still) eventful counterparts in the academy. It's an online course: this is the both-and set up to bridge the institutionally recognizable (and desired) and peppy, alt-logic digitality.