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Universal Accessibility Remains Elusive

As High-Tech Teaching Catches On, Students With Disabilities Can Be Left Behind in Chronicle for Higher Education.

I know this story is hardly news, as the first comment to the story reiterates. But it’s an important reminder to those of us who teach: we need to seek out universally accessible technologies and tools for our classrooms. We need to exert whatever pressure we can on technology creators and distributors to provide universally accessible tools. We need to exert whatever pressure we can on content providers to provide universally accessible content. And we need to remind our students and ourselves that everything — EVERYTHING — we post should be accessible to as many readers and viewers as possible.

Christian P. Vogler, director of the technology-access program at Gallaudet University, an institution for the hearing-impaired in Washington, D.C., said he would not use videos without captions. That policy can be limiting, he said, but it’s important that he lead by example. “When I’m looking for any video, that’s a requirement,” he said through an interpreter. “The first thing I check is to make sure it’s captioned.”

Vogler’s position is not easy, but it’s one I think I can get on board with as a start.

Universal Accessibility Remains Elusive

As High-Tech Teaching Catches On, Students With Disabilities Can Be Left Behind in Chronicle for Higher Education.

I know this story is hardly news, as the first comment to the story reiterates. But it’s an important reminder to those of us who teach: we need to seek out universally accessible technologies and tools for our classrooms. We need to exert whatever pressure we can on technology creators and distributors to provide universally accessible tools. We need to exert whatever pressure we can on content providers to provide universally accessible content. And we need to remind our students and ourselves that everything — EVERYTHING — we post should be accessible to as many readers and viewers as possible.

Christian P. Vogler, director of the technology-access program at Gallaudet University, an institution for the hearing-impaired in Washington, D.C., said he would not use videos without captions. That policy can be limiting, he said, but it’s important that he lead by example. “When I’m looking for any video, that’s a requirement,” he said through an interpreter. “The first thing I check is to make sure it’s captioned.”

Vogler’s position is not easy, but it’s one I think I can get on board with as a start.

Technology as a Classroom Distraction for Students

Essay in Inside Higher Education by Mary Flanagan, distinguished professor of digital humanities at Dartmouth College and a fellow of The OpEd Project.

Flanagan concludes with this plea:

We need a culture change to manage our use of technology, to connect when we want to and not because we psychologically depend on it. Enough is enough. We need strategies for unplugging when appropriate to create a culture of listening and of dialogue. Otherwise, $20,000 to $60,000 a year is a hefty entrance fee to an arcade.

While this conclusion resonates with me, as a technophile and college composition teacher I’d like a more nuanced approach to the encroachment of technology on the classroom environment. Sometimes students don’t recognize their reliance on the technology to alleviate boredom, to stay connected and “in the know,” or simply to distract themselves.

I assigned an in-class collaborative writing activity in a networked computer classroom with a student population of working professionals. We used a shared Google Doc as our creative canvas, but I encouraged students in the written and oral instructions to use all affordances offered by the classroom.

The result was absolute silence, less the tapping of keyboard keys.

Rather than using the immediately-available affordance of face-to-face collaboration, students remained entirely engrossed in their technology-mediated collaborative space. I ended up reminding them that the classroom offered additional collaborative opportunities and tools, which prompted several of them to say a metaphorical Homer Simpson “Doh!” when they realized they could have simply talked to one another about the assignment.

While this reinforces Flanagan’s conclusion that students need to unplug from their technologies and they need to understand how and when to unplug, I think students probably also need to understand and recognize their reliance on technology as an issue. This kind of education — that eliminates the need to whisper in a student’s ear that his or her technology use is inappropriate in that context — is an important part of our responsibility as technophiles in the classroom.

Posthumanist Approach to Technology Tools

Bray, N. (2013). Writing with Scrivener: A hopeful tale of disappearing tools, flatulence, and word processing redemption. Computers and Composition, 30(3), 197-210. doi:10.1016/j.compcom.2013.07.002

Introduction

In this article, Nancy Bray (2013) shares her struggle to match her own composing practices with the right technology tool — and in the process recommends a posthumanist approach to writing tools that blurs “the boundaries between machine and human” (p. 199). I seek to apply her conclusions about selecting and studying composing technologies as a posthumanist approach to adopting iPads in a WI class.

Summary

Bray narrates her rationale for choosing Scrivener as her composing technology of choice as she realized that Microsoft Word did not adequately meet her needs. Underlying the narrative is this critique of our discipline: although writing relies on technology, “writing technology is rarely discussed in our composition classrooms, despite repeated appeals from many technology and composition experts” (p. 198). Bray suggests our lack of interest relates to “deeply ingrained prejudices in the humanities” (p. 199) based on a binary view that pits technological machine against human being. Bray’s preferred attitude toward technology calls “for a posthumanist approach in which the boundaries between machine and human are blurred” (p. 199).

Scrivener logo

Scrivener Logo. From Literature & Latte’s Scrivener page.

Bray relates that her “highly recursive, nonlinear composition, and revision style” simply did not work well in Microsoft Word, although, ironically, research suggests that style could be the result of learning to write with a word processor (p. 199). After working uncomfortably in composing tools like wikis, which limit the writer’s view and access to a small section of a text, Bray realized she preferred composing with text sense, a vision and understanding of the project as a whole. Because “a lack of text sense is one of the key differences between on-screen and paper text” (p. 203), she started seeking a writing tool that more closely matched her composing style, that afforded writing at the micro level and reviewing at the macro level. She chose Scrivener.

Extrapolation

What I find applicable in Bray’s narrative is that technology is the subject, whether composing tool or mobile tablet device. In moving past a humanist approach to technology as mysterious and rigid, Bray recommends that “instead of asking how using technology likes Microsoft Office or Scrivener make us better writers, we should ask instead how they shape our writing experience and how we, in turn, can shape these tools” (p. 206). It is in studying and shaping technology tools that a posthumanist approach like Bray promotes can apply to classroom adoption of iPads. We can encourage metacognitive analysis of technologies as they to match (or don’t match) students’ learning and invention strategies. As Bray put it, we should encourage our students (and ourselves) to “try on many writing tools and to explore technology” (p. 206).

Recommendation

Bray nears her conclusion by articulating this hope, which I reiterate as my recommendation for colleagues: “By focusing on our writing tools in ways that acknowledges [sic] the interconnected nature of the writer, the writer’s individual writing processes, our software, and our computers, we can perhaps begin to chip away at our distrustful humanist assumptions about technology” (p. 207).

Coda: Rickert’s Wonderful World of Oz Meets Pocahontas

First, an aside: I couldn’t stop myself from thinking of this scene from The Wizard of Oz in an entirely new way. While it’s clearly made with the human worldview of home in mind, I began to think of the … Continue reading

Let the Network Society Rise, and Other Tales of Information, Economy, and Technology

Internet Map. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

Visualization of the Internet mapped. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

This week’s reading tackled a very large topic (in terms of research but also in terms of scope). Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce the work of Dr. Manuel Castells, encompassed in his book (we read Volume 1 out of 3) The Rise of the Network Society: The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture.

Manuel Castells. Image hosted on the University of Cambridge website.

Manuel Castells. Image hosted on the University of Cambridge website.

A Little Vocabulary Goes a Long Way

Mass Self-Communication - “This form of communication has emerged with the development of the so-called Web 2.0 and Web 3.0, or the cluster of technologies, devices, and applications that support the proliferation of social spaces on the Internet thanks to increased broadband capacity, open source software, and enhanced computer graphics and interface, including avatar interaction in three-dimensional virtual spaces” (xxvii)

Social Spaces of Virtual Reality – “Combine[s] sociability and experimentation with role-playing games,” such as Second Life (xxix)

Culture of Real Virtuality – “In which the digitized networks of multimodal communication have become so inclusive of all cultural expressions and personal experiences that they have made virtuality a fundamental dimension of our reality” (xxxi)

Space of Contiguity – “Space of places.” “Cities are, from their onset, communication systems, increasing the chances of communication through physical contiguity” (xxxi)

Space of Flows – “the material support of simultaneous social practices communicated at a distance. This involves the production, transmission and processing of flows of information. It also relies on the development of localities of nodes of these communication networks, and the connectivity of these activities located in the nodes by fast transportation networks operated by information flows” (xxxii)

Metropolitan Region – “a new spatial form…to indicate that it is metropolitan though it is not a metropolitan area, because usually there are several metropolitan areas included in this spatial unit. The metropolitan region arises from two intertwined processes: extended decentralization from big cities to adjacent areas and interconnection of pre-existing towns whose territories become integrated by new communication capabilities…These ‘cities’ are no longer cities, not only conceptually but institutionally or culturally” (xxxiii-xxxiv)

Economies of Scale – “can be transformed by information and communication technologies in their spatial logic. Electronic networks allow for the formation of global assembly lines. Software production can be spatially distributed and coordinated by communication networks” (xxxvii)

Economies of Synergy – “Spatial economies of synergy mean that being in a place of potential interaction with valuable partners creates the possibility of adding value as a result of the innovation generated by this interaction…economies of synergy still require the spatial concentration of interpersonal interaction because communication operates on a much broader bandwidth than digital communication at a distance” (xxxvii)

And away we go…

This was definitely a long book, and intricate. Very intricate. I can’t even begin to imagine what the three volumes look like together, much less read like. That being said, though, I enjoyed the way Castells intertwined the aspects of culture, society, technology, information, economy, and power, weaving his way through these layers to find how the threads of their relationships are the fabric for movements, changes, and stagnation in a way I don’t think most of us pay much attention. Most of us are a part of a giant web of interconnectivity, in a way that reminds me of the Cloud Computing articles I read at the beginning of this semester. We have moved into an era where global communication technologies are an underlying fabric for our lives, our cultures, our societies. Think of the way I am relaying this post to you. Here I am, writing in some city in the United States, but this post could be read anywhere and I can link it out to websites about anything written by people writing anywhere. I am creating my own network of information, but Castells is looking farther out and deeper into the structure and the beams holding it up, holding it together.

Visual of Network Innovation. Image hosted on Daniel Hjorth's profile on NetworkSociety.org

Visual of Network Innovation. Image hosted on Daniel Hjorth’s profile on NetworkSociety.org

In the theory Castells is proposing, humans are the nodes, but so are the technologies people are creating (Actor-Network Theory, anyone?). It’s more than that. There are layers and layers of networks in this Network Society. People make up the culture and the society, and then those cultures and societies form larger networks. A metropolitan region, which contains heavily populated cities, are a network: “It is a new form because it includes in the same spatial unit both urbanized areas and agricultural land, open space in a discontinuous countryside. It is a multicentered metropolis that does not correspond to the traditional separation between central cities and their suburbs” (xxxiii). This was not a new concept to me, as I had heard of the growth of cities and science fiction often deals with issues surrounding regions like this, but it also feels odd to think about how there is no real separation between urban and rural in places like this. In my nostalgic musings, the city will always be the city while the country will always be the border between simple living and this wild space. Yet, here they come together, one overshadowing the other as we always seem to demand progress, progress, progress. But, “space is the expression of society. Since our societies are undergoing structural transformation, it is a reasonable hypothesis to suggest that new spatial forms and processes are emerging…space is not a reflection of society, it is its expression. In other words: space is not a photocopy of society, it is society. Spatial forms and processes are formed by the dynamics of the overall social structure. This includes contradictory trends derived from conflicts and strategies between social actors playing out their opposing interests and values. Furthermore, social processes influence space by acting on the built environment inherited from previous socio-spatial structures. Indeed, space is crystallized time” (440-441). I love this idea of “space as crystallized time” as it makes me imagine walking along the streets of a city, where others have come and gone before me, leaving their marks in places I can and cannot see. Human history is embodied in the places we leave behind, as archaeology is constantly reminding us, and our cities are intergenerational projects. We do not rebuild a city from the ground up every time a new type of society emerges. We may transform aspects of our cities to fit new needs and demands (think of how we built factories and then cities grew around them, even when those factories became obsolete and were abandoned).

Metropolis, thy name is Los Angeles. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

Metropolis, thy name is Los Angeles. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

But, a metropolis is never a unified whole. Instead, it is a series of places that have been linked through transportation, through business deals and physical businesses, through families and rivals, politics, telephone lines, electricity and water and sewage. A metropolis is a collection, eccentric as it is, of different cultures, societies, identities. Sometimes they mesh, though often they don’t. A metropolis is a collection of actors, human and non-human, moving through the paces of living, growing and shrinking with the changes that happen to cities over the course of their timelines. Castells’ comment about identity strikes me as I think of cities expanding outwards, enveloping the surrounding areas whether they are urban, suburban, or rural: “In the absence of active social demands and social movements the mega-node imposes the logic of the global over the local. The net result of this process is the coexistence of metropolitan dynamism with metropolitan marginality, expressed in the dramatic growth of squatter settlements around the world, and in the persistence of urban squalor in the banlieues of Paris on in the American inner cities. There is an increasing contradiction between the space of flows and the space of places…few people in the world feel identified with the global, cosmopolitan culture that populates the global networks and becomes the worship of  the mega-node elites. In contrast, most people feel a strong regional or local identity…in a world constructed around the logic of the space of flows, people make their living in the space of places” (xxxix). This idea of people being drawn to a regional or local identity as a way as an alternative to the “mega-node” imposing “the logic of the global over the local” reminds me of Spinuzzi’s discourse regarding local work-around solutions, except that this here it is in terms of identity rather than work measures, though Castells does have a section on workers later in the book. But, this also reminds me of Ecology Theory. The city is an ecosystem, but each section, each neighborhood, and each family become smaller ecosystems operating within and spilling over into the surrounding ecosystems. And then the ecosystem of the metropolis functions within itself and then spills over into the surrounding cities that compose the metropolitan region. This region goes through the same cycle on a much larger scale. In order to function within a totalizing group, smaller networks crop up within to humanize people. The mega-node can become so big because there are small networks within, operating on their own while simultaneously connecting outwards in all different directions.

As I was working through these concepts of regional identities and mega-nodes and ecosystems, I found that the best way to visualize this was to think of the Lego Movie where the different parts of the world were represented as different Lego sets (big city, Wild West, fantasy land, and so on). Each of these “worlds” had its own distinct flavor and yet all of the worlds were interconnected as a web of symbols sprawled out across a large table. So, as a treat (or torture), here you go:

Another huge part of the Network Society has to do with economics, productivity, and wealth. Castells makes an interesting point about how our society is no longer dominated by industry, but by information, but that these two are never separate: “The informational economy is a distinctive socio-economic system in relationship to the industrial economy, but not because they differ in the sources of their productivity growth. In both cases, knowledge and information processing are critical elements in economic growth, as can be illustrated by the history of the science-based chemical industry  or by the managerial revolution that created Fordism. What is distinctive is the eventual realization of the productivity potential contained in the mature industrial economy because of the shift toward a technological paradigm based on information technologies” (99). What I liked about his exploration of our society’s economic changes between agricultural to industrial to informational is that he talks about how none of those economic structures ever really disappears. A country still needs to produce food and material goods still need to be made, even as the society itself moves towards a “technological paradigm based on information technologies.” The underlying foundation of technology being an integral part to society makes sense, not only as we move into an era of global connectivity, but also just looking at Castells’ examples of the past, what worked and what didn’t. I was struck by his section on China throughout the ages and how it is direction of the government that ultimately limits or propels technological progress. In a way, I am reminded also of H. G. Wells’ Time Machine, in that prosperity and peace can stagnate a culture and its technological ambitions. A country can have all the wealth in the world, but without the drive to move forward, it stalls out, lagging behind those countries that need the technology and that want what benefits they can get out of progressive movements.

Global fabric of data. Image hosted on the website for the FCSIT Student Government.

Global fabric of data. Image hosted on the website for the FCSIT Student Government.

Reference

Castells, Manuel. Rise of the Network Society: The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture. Vol. 1. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Print.

All Roads Lead to the Network

 


Let the Network Society Rise, and Other Tales of Information, Economy, and Technology

Internet Map. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

Visualization of the Internet mapped. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

This week’s reading tackled a very large topic (in terms of research but also in terms of scope). Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce the work of Dr. Manuel Castells, encompassed in his book (we read Volume 1 out of 3) The Rise of the Network Society: The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture.

Manuel Castells. Image hosted on the University of Cambridge website.

Manuel Castells. Image hosted on the University of Cambridge website.

A Little Vocabulary Goes a Long Way

Mass Self-Communication - “This form of communication has emerged with the development of the so-called Web 2.0 and Web 3.0, or the cluster of technologies, devices, and applications that support the proliferation of social spaces on the Internet thanks to increased broadband capacity, open source software, and enhanced computer graphics and interface, including avatar interaction in three-dimensional virtual spaces” (xxvii)

Social Spaces of Virtual Reality – “Combine[s] sociability and experimentation with role-playing games,” such as Second Life (xxix)

Culture of Real Virtuality – “In which the digitized networks of multimodal communication have become so inclusive of all cultural expressions and personal experiences that they have made virtuality a fundamental dimension of our reality” (xxxi)

Space of Contiguity – “Space of places.” “Cities are, from their onset, communication systems, increasing the chances of communication through physical contiguity” (xxxi)

Space of Flows – “the material support of simultaneous social practices communicated at a distance. This involves the production, transmission and processing of flows of information. It also relies on the development of localities of nodes of these communication networks, and the connectivity of these activities located in the nodes by fast transportation networks operated by information flows” (xxxii)

Metropolitan Region – “a new spatial form…to indicate that it is metropolitan though it is not a metropolitan area, because usually there are several metropolitan areas included in this spatial unit. The metropolitan region arises from two intertwined processes: extended decentralization from big cities to adjacent areas and interconnection of pre-existing towns whose territories become integrated by new communication capabilities…These ‘cities’ are no longer cities, not only conceptually but institutionally or culturally” (xxxiii-xxxiv)

Economies of Scale – “can be transformed by information and communication technologies in their spatial logic. Electronic networks allow for the formation of global assembly lines. Software production can be spatially distributed and coordinated by communication networks” (xxxvii)

Economies of Synergy – “Spatial economies of synergy mean that being in a place of potential interaction with valuable partners creates the possibility of adding value as a result of the innovation generated by this interaction…economies of synergy still require the spatial concentration of interpersonal interaction because communication operates on a much broader bandwidth than digital communication at a distance” (xxxvii)

And away we go…

This was definitely a long book, and intricate. Very intricate. I can’t even begin to imagine what the three volumes look like together, much less read like. That being said, though, I enjoyed the way Castells intertwined the aspects of culture, society, technology, information, economy, and power, weaving his way through these layers to find how the threads of their relationships are the fabric for movements, changes, and stagnation in a way I don’t think most of us pay much attention. Most of us are a part of a giant web of interconnectivity, in a way that reminds me of the Cloud Computing articles I read at the beginning of this semester. We have moved into an era where global communication technologies are an underlying fabric for our lives, our cultures, our societies. Think of the way I am relaying this post to you. Here I am, writing in some cities in the United States, but this post could be read anywhere and I can link it out to websites about anything. I am creating my own network of information, but Castells is looking farther, deeper into the structure and the beams holding it up, holding it together.

Visual of Network Innovation. Image hosted on Daniel Hjorth's profile on NetworkSociety.org

Visual of Network Innovation. Image hosted on Daniel Hjorth’s profile on NetworkSociety.org

And, in the theory Castells is proposing, humans are the nodes, but so are the technologies people are creating (Actor-Network Theory, anyone?). It’s more than that. There are layers and layers of networks in this Network Society. People make up the culture and the society, and then those cultures and societies form larger networks. A metropolitan region, which contain heavily populated cities, are a network: “It is a new form because it includes in the same spatial unit both urbanized areas and agricultural land, open space in a discontinuous countryside. It is a multicentered metropolis that does not correspond to the traditional separation between central cities and their suburbs” (xxxiii). This was not a new concept to me, as I had heard of the growth of cities and science fiction often deals with issues surrounding regions like this, but it also feels odd to think about how there is no real separation between urban and rural in places like this. In my nostalgic musings, the city will always be the city while the country will always be the border between simple living and this wild space. Yet, here they come together, one overshadowing the other as it we always seem to demand progress, progress, progress.

Metropolis, thy name is Los Angeles. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

Metropolis, thy name is Los Angeles. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

 

[add pictures here]

[more notes]

Reference

Castells, Manuel. Rise of the Network Society: The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture. Vol. 1. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Print.

All Roads Lead to the Network

 


Reading Notes: Theorizing a CHATty Canon

Cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT) opens wide the theory of composition to the laminated materiality, space, and time of rhetoric, elements missing from the classical rhetorical canon that focuses primarily on the rhetor. “CHAT offers a richer map of activity. Where the classical canons mapped the situational, productive acts of a rhetor, this CHAT map points to a complex set  of interlocking systems within which rhetors are formed, act, and navigate” (Prior et al., 2007, Core Text, p. 22). Accepting the role these interlocking systems play in rhetoric offers a wide range of cultural and historical data points with which to map, examine, and articulate a discursive act, data points that are simply unavailable to us when describing a discursive act using the classical canon as a framework.

Not only does CHAT open wide composition theory, it also opens wide the eyes of those examining it for the first time, like me. CHAT is deceptively authentic in its understanding and depiction of rhetorical canon. There’s an element of the “duh” tucked within its pages of theory. It’s just so obvious once you start thinking about it. Rhetorical activity is not bound by classical canons; binding it so limits its vision, its breadth and scope. Rhetorical activity as it happens in public and private spaces combines a rich tapestry of histories, cultural memory and practice, semiotic systems, invoked and inscribed audiences, research processes, memory work, and rhetors. It’s an activity system that requires a far more nuanced and layered understanding of discursive formation than classical canons provide. While CHAT may not be the only theory that seeks to address rhetorical activity as actually practiced in real networks or systems, it’s certainly compelling and attractive.

The readings this week coalesced around the three aspects of the CHAT remapped rhetorical canon: literate activity in functional systems in laminated chronotypes (Prior et al, 2007, Core Text, p. 18). These three aspects represent levels working together heterogeneously in the creation, distribution, reception, and function of discourse. These levels are not hierarchical nor sequential; they function as cultural-historical aspects of the activity system that creates discourse. The CHAT rhetorical canon offers a nuanced, detailed, and localized framework for understanding and describing multimodal composition strategies, structures, activities, and assessments: “This perspective tunes our attention to multimodality, not as a question of which mode a message might be placed in, but as a question of how multiple modes operate together in a single rhetorical act and of how extended chains of modal transformations may be linked in a rhetorical trajectory” (p. 23). This concept of rhetorical trajectory embodies the activity of rhetoric in far more nuanced ways than Miller’s (1984) genre as social action or even Bazerman’s (1994) genre system or (2004) activity systems. “Trajectory” denotes a continuing path and connotes, to 20th century audiences, at any rate, the future embedded in space exploration as symbol of greater things to come. CHAT also recognizes the history embedded in genres, as Spinuzzi (2010) pointed out, by noting the rhetorical trajectories emerge from “extended [linked] chains of modal transformations” (Prior et al., 2007, Core Text, p. 23). This theory embodies the idea that discourse embeds within it both potential and actual activity; past, present, and future; rhetor and audience; purpose and symbolic system; context and meaning. And it places all of those aspects of discourse into cultural-historical time/space.

Prior: Remaking IO, Remaking Rhetoric: Semiotic Remediation as Situated Rhetorical Practice

Prior takes as his object of study the act of remediating an art object called IO, an interactive website with words and images. This web text illustrates the laminated process by which an interactive website received an update as a result of an update to Flash 5. Findings demonstrate the deeply-ingrained interaction among multiple media and levels of meaning. Prior calls for closer attention to “the situated and mediated practices of exploring new media” as a result of these findings, and calls upon CHAT as a “rich theoretical framework for exploring such situated, multiply mediated, semiotic and social practices.”

Engaging Quotation and Reaction

“This lamination of history can be seen, for example, in the way the site is organized around both PHP and Pythagoras, the way the web is remediating photography, the way Flash templates and PHP databases are negotiated through gesture (presumably one of our most ancient semiotic systems), and the way paper-and-pencil drawings guide the programming of screen dynamics.” (Prior, 2007)

As I read this piece, I found my daily life described in some accurate detail. I work with visualizations, gestures, orality, documents, databases, and new technologies to complete my daily tasks. In this sense I am multiply modal, but I think I am also historically laminated, perhaps in time and space. For example, I find myself working with the golden mean in mind (using the rule of thirds) when cropping digital images for use in online search advertising landing pages. I find myself relying on classical persuasive rhetoric to write landing page copy for these landing pages, copy that attracts prospective students and situates the potential learning to occur on the campus of the University of Richmond. There are many layers to my day-to-day tasks, and it dawns on me that I might consider them the subject of my doctoral study.

Van Ittersum: Data Palace: Modern Memory Work in Digital Environments

Van Ittersum studies the ways that writers use networked computers to accomplish rhetorical work through the lens of distributed cognition theory. Since knowledge work and memory work — as distributed cognitive processes — are mediated by tools, it’s important to understand ways that those tools influence and affect our memory systems and workflows. Van Ittersum’s project reveals that we need to incorporate these tools and their use in our understanding of memory work as members of the discursive system used to generate texts.

Engaging Quotation and Response

“Looking at memory work in terms of mediated activity expands the kinds of scenes that count as writing activity. For the writers I’ve interviewed, memory work is a central part of their writing, and construction and maintenance of their systems involves significant investments of time and effort.” (Van Ittersum, 2007)

Here’s my first reaction: “OK, so I’m getting a little paranoid now, because this describes so much of my initial and ongoing search for just the right tool for research. In these terms, I’m seeking just the right tools to add to my memory system for memory work as a component of the writing experience.”

Throughout last semester, and entering into this semester, I’ve been seeking just the right technology tool(s) to accomplish three tasks:

  • be a space for drafting and keeping track of many drafts in many forms;
  • be a space for tracking and recording my research process; and
  • be a space for note taking in all forms (visual, aural, text).

I’ve developed a partnership among tools through which I’ve conscientiously developed a system for tracking and recording everything I do as a PhD student. If I read a PDF, I want that text (if possible) and my notes digitized and searchable. If I read a text, I want my notes to be digitized and searchable. If I take class notes, write an in-class response, or do anything else in writing, I want to have digital and searchable versions. (Here’s where I formulated my needs in September 2013: Seeking the Best Research and Writing Tool.)

These tools form a vital part of my memory and knowledge work, and I’ve tried hard to find just the right set. I’ve settled on/for a recipe of Scrivener, Zotero, and iAnnotate (with a soupçon of Evernote for good measure), but I don’t believe I’ve found the ideal set for my needs. One adapts one’s processes to one’s tools, which suggests, as Van Ittersum (2007) reiterates, that the tools themselves affect the knowledge work that I do.

Bellwoar: Digital Health and Feminist (Re)Visionings of Healing

Bellwoar uses the web text to depict the importance of bringing forth aspects, especially invisible aspects, of the health care experience that are not immediately recognized or appreciated. Her depiction of the difference between a healthcare professional’s report on an office visit and the patient’s personal narrative of the visit is striking and disconcerting. The ways in which doctors see patients, especially female patients seen by male doctors, is limited, even shaped, by medical records and forms.

The experience of visiting a doctor is one of being seen in a completely different way from the way one sees oneself. When this is the case, what can be said about the identity of the patient? Does the patient’s identity in the medical files remain clinical and entirely disembodied from the patient’s perceived self-identity? Bellwoar appears to believe that it does, as the mediated experience she narrates reveals very different perspectives on identity and knowledge between patient and physician.

Bellwoar used CHAT to compare the visual privilege of the physician’s experience with the visual privilege of the digital, and warns that seeing is not an objective phenomenon or experience. Seeing is mediated, and it’s important that we recognize and make visible those invisible aspects of seeing that exist in all envisionings.

Reactions

Although Bellwoar’s web text embedded audio, it remained a largely visual experience, following the pattern of privileging the visual in the digital. As a result, it offered few “quotes” that could be pulled and discussed. However, the web text as a whole caught and kept my attention because it did what Bellwoar called the work of theory: “The work of theory is to make visible that which is invisible” (Bellwoar, 2007). What no one could have known was the affinity I have for her message. My wife is a two-time cancer cervical survivor. She more than understands the invisible character of medical practice. Among other issues she continues to handle almost 20 years after the last surgeries, my wife’s internal organs are, literally, invisible, even on X-ray, ultrasound, and CAT scan. They have migrated as a result of scar tissue and reconstruction. As a result, even when physicians (all but one male) review her films and “see” her organs, they literally have to ask her which organs are which. They can’t see. Only she can see and know. Without seeing the films, she can point out where her organs are in her torso. Her memory and experience are the key to unlocking the knowledge work that her team of physicians need to treat her.

Joyce R. Walker: Constructing a BIG Text: Developing a Multimodal Master Plan for Composition Instruction

Walker’s web text uses the somewhat unfortunate story of an advanced class in public writing at her institution as an instructional and cautionary tale on the importance of explaining CHAT-inspired composition strategies and theories to both first-year writers and to external audiences questioning the value of composition strategies that fall outside of the expectation for standard research writing. She encourages the use of many narratives to tell the story of composed texts, narratives that explain and represent the system-wide work required and completed to create the text, including research into materiality and appropriateness of mode to audience and purpose. The goal of the web text is to articulate a strategy to incorporate CHAT-oriented approaches into FYW classes. She defines the following five steps toward accomplishing that goal.

  1. FYW must attend to the materiality of texts. It is important to offer students the opportunity to make knowledgeable choices about software, hardware, structural organization, and to examine the rhetorical potentials of different visual, aural, and alphabetical compositions. It is also important for students to understand relationships between experimental compositions and those which can be identified as appropriate to various academic disciplines.
  2. Course assignments for a CHAT-based first-year writing program must encompass complex compositional processes and must encourage both active manipulation of these processes and reflection about the effects of different compositional choices. These activities must be visible to both course participants and outside audiences.
  3. CHAT-based writing courses must articulate a research-oriented perspective towards the available compositional choices — students must understand that effective choices can only be made through a rigorous research process.
  4. Students and instructors can use descriptive narratives to outline, analyze, and make explicit the possible “range of materialities” available for any given composition activity, highlighting not only the choices that composers make, but the robust nature of the research involved in these kinds of composition activities. Narratives also allow composers to include discussion of choices made by those who distribute or receive and make use of the texts in different ways.
  5. Students should be given the opportunity to test their writing in varius ways in public situations, and to incorporate into their work for the course observations about the life of the text as it moves into the world. (Walker, 2007)

Interesting Quotation and Reaction

“If this is indeed our need, then first-year writing courses must become more fertile, flexible, and associative places for learning, but they must also become locations for research, places where students are asked to interrogate both their writing and their literate practices.” (Walker, 2007)

My immediate reaction was “Yes!!! This is what I’ve realized about my writing class (to which I can’t give the time of day over the weekend because I’m writing my own work and reading my own assignments).” I really have been deeply affected by the research I’ve already done in the PhD program, all one-and-a-half classes in! I teach adult students returning to school, and I want them to come away from my ENGL 201U class with an understanding of writing that applies to all aspects of their lives—personal, professional, and academic. I want them to interrogate their own assumptions about writing and to be conscious of every decision they make about what they write, how they write it, and for whom. This is new for me; a year and a half ago, I wanted students to read texts and writing about them. Now I want them to read themselves as a text, then read the assignment as a text, then read an article as a text, and THEN write into a conversation about that text that takes into account all the readings they’ve done in the process of creating their final text—which could be a new media project. They’re resistant, but putting the process into practical, applicable terms outside academe has had the desired motivational effect.

Technological (Mediated) Issues

I believe one of the most troubling issues facing the use of digital technology in composition is the speed of technological obsolescence. I faced the issue of obsolescence related to technological standards at several turns in these readings. I faced the first challenge in the Prior web text with the very technology that forced the remediation — Flash. My tablet, where I generally read and annotate non-monograph-length texts, won’t run Flash, so I found the experience inconvenient and rooted to one of two technical spaces — my laptop or my desktop. On my desktop the day I tried to watch this text, I never did see any one of the embedded videos in full, because bandwidth issues (likely brought on by the fact that my wife and two daughters were all watching different video streams at the same time) restricted my ability to load the files completely. This made me very conscious of the software, hardware, and network mediating my experience as viewer/reader. These are real and serious considerations, and efforts should be made to develop and utilize platform-agnostic interfaces and programming tools to eliminate these restrictions.

I faced a second challenge in the Bellwoar web text with embedded audio files; as a result, my experience of her web text unintentionally privileged the visual (which she warned against in the content of the text) and affected my reading of the text in negative ways. Neither Chrome nor Safari would successfully play embedded audio files. Ultimately, Firefox was the only browser that appears to have mediate the experience accurately. This, too, made me aware of my mediated experience and led me to wonder about the technical skills of the author—perhaps she designed for a specific browser, failed to adhere to XHTML and CSS standards, or hasn’t updated (remediated) the experience with newer versions of Quicktime. She may even have tested the cross-platform compatibility of the project at the time of its release and found it worked in most major browsers, but changes and updates to browsers and standards may have resulted in the challenges I faced. Issues of obsolescence like this limit the experience for the end user in real and frustrating ways. Had I not been a savvy web user, I would not have even noticed that the project included embedded audio files.

screenshot

No audio: Here’s what Chrome displayed when I tried to access an audio file. Notice the warning message in yellow at the top of the page: “QuickTime Plug-in 7.7.3 has crashed.”

And I faced a third challenge in the Walker piece. In this case, external links caused issues of obsolescence. In Walker’s notes, two external links resulted in errors. The first was a link to what was probably once a free online photo gallery of pictures of the original public writing works that were the subject of the public writing class project. The link pointed to http://good-times.webshots.com/album/547607245HsCYRw?action=&track_pagetag=/page/photo/goodtimes/college&track_action=/ViewActions/FullAlbum, but following this URL results in a fancy 404 error page (the standard “page not found” error code recognized by search engines and crawlers) for “Smile by Webshots.” I assume that Webshots (found in the domain of the original URL) was bought or otherwise acquired by Smile, and the original free gallery either expired or was otherwise removed from the original interface.

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Dead link: Here’s what I saw when I tried to follow the photo gallery link. Notice there is nothing to explain what might have happened to the gallery I was seeking.

The second “dead” external link was to the “Western Herald online Archive” (screen 9 of the web text). In this case, following the URL (http://media.www.westernherald.com/media/storage/paper881/news/2006/02/14/News/English.Class.Explores.Experimental.Writing-2121873.shtml?sourcedomain=www.westernherald.com&MIIHost=media.collegepublisher.com) resulted in a truly dead link, not a 404 error. Based on the variables being passed in the URL, I assume that the Western Herald’s archive at the time of Walker’s writing was hosted by the collegepublisher.com domain. Westernherald.com appears to still be the correct domain for the newspaper, but I could find an archive of back issues or the article via search on the current website.

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Dead link: Here’s what I saw when I I tried the Western Herald link. There’s something a little whimsical about the error message Chrome offers, as if to suggest perhaps the browser, rather than the link or the user, might have been at fault.

The apparent lack of publicly-accessible archives is a subset of the issue of obsolescence that will likely affect many external links as time goes on.

These issues make me question whether technology-mediated texts should be composed for long-term or archival consumption. In my opinion, this CHAT space is dated, both in design and technology, and should be remediated for 2014 and beyond. But I recognize that texts are created in space and time, and there are real and serious questions about whether they should be “updated” for futures.

References

Bazerman, C. (1994). Systems of genre and the enactment of social intentions. In Freedman, A., & Medway, P. (Eds.), Genre and the new rhetoric (pp. 79-104). London, UK: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.

Bazerman, C. (2004). Speech acts, genres, and activity systems: How texts organize activities and people. In Bazerman & Prior (Eds.), What writing does and how it does it: An introduction to analyzing texts and textual practices (pp. 309-340). New York, NY: Routledge.

Bellwoar, H. (2007). Digital health and feminist (Re)visionings of healing [Web text]. In P. Prior et al., Re-situating and re-mediating the Canons: A cultural-historical remapping of rhetorical activity [Multimodal composition]. Kairos, 11(3). Retrieved from http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/11.3/binder.html?topoi/prior-et-al/index.html

Miller, C. R. (1984). Genre as social action. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 70(2), 151-67.

Prior, P. (2007). Remaking IO, remaking rhetoric: Semiotic remediation as situated rhetorical practice [Web text]. In P. Prior et al., Re-situating and re-mediating the Canons: A cultural-historical remapping of rhetorical activity [Multimodal composition]. Kairos, 11(3). Retrieved from http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/11.3/binder.html?topoi/prior-et-al/index.html

Prior, P., Solberg, J., Berry, P., Bellwoar, H., Chewning, B., Lunsford, K. J., Rohan, L., Roozen, K., Sheridan-Rabideau, M. P., Shipka, J., Van Ittersum, D., & Walker, J. R. (2007). Re-situating and re-mediating the Canons: A cultural-historical remapping of rhetorical activity [Multimodal composition]. Kairos, 11(3). Retrieved from http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/11.3/binder.html?topoi/prior-et-al/index.html

Spinuzzi, C. (2003). Tracing genres through organizations: a sociocultural approach to information design. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Van Ittersum, D. (2007). Data palace: Modern memory work in digital environments [Web text]. In P. Prior et al., Re-situating and re-mediating the Canons: A cultural-historical remapping of rhetorical activity [Multimodal composition]. Kairos, 11(3). Retrieved from http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/11.3/binder.html?topoi/prior-et-al/index.html

Walker, J. R. (2007). Constructing a BIG text: Developing a multimodal master plan for composition instruction [Web text]. In P. Prior et al., Re-situating and re-mediating the Canons: A cultural-historical remapping of rhetorical activity [Multimodal composition]. Kairos, 11(3). Retrieved from http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/11.3/binder.html?topoi/prior-et-al/index.html

[Apollo 11 Trajectory Map: Creative Commons licensed image from Flickr user Ian T. Edwards]

To Death or Glory Do All Maps Lead

Oh Pirate Storm, what to say about you? A land of open waters, dotted with islands, giant crabs, Sea Rats, William’s Guard, and players’ ships existing in a world dislodged from historical context. How to talk about seas where the waves do not roll under the fierce gales that sweep out before the approaching hurricanes? How to meticulously linger in a world where the sun never sets, the moon never rises, and the taverns are just a point-and-click, point-and-click away in harbors unconnected to towns?

Best to start with that which leads all players to their destinations. In a world where everything is a set of coordinates within sets of squares, the map will always guide the player to the wharf. It is not often that we think of maps as technology, or the pen that traced its geographical contours, or the alphabet and the symbols that compose its legend, and yet maps are still a technology, long before Google Earth changed how we viewed our world. Linked together as a rope, the “zones” of Pirate Storm exist on a map, aptly titled “World Map,” and within each zone are squares littered with dots for ships and enemies, islands, and an anchor symbol that identifies the (only?) harbor located in that particular zone. However, the World Map and Zone Maps are not the only ones; Bonus Maps become available, modeled much like the zone maps but filled with rampaging enemies (as compared to the more passive enemies who only engage in harpoon warfare when struck first). While the world and zone maps are static, a smaller map appears in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen, letting players see but a smidgen of the watery world they are expected to traverse.

Just a Taste of the Grand: