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Mind Map: Class Meeting 2/4/14

Additions this week in hot pink.

This week I have been eagerly digesting the ideas from Miller, Bazerman, Popham, and Zoetewey. Each of these authors speaks to some aspect of social action, which excited me to my core. I study activism, and have always held a fascination for and respect of the work that activists do. Then in more recent years, I have come to see how my own scholarly pursuits can be actionable. There is a growing emphasis on critical makingin digital humanities, on scholars not just thinking and writing but making and doing. I see myself situated in this discursive field with an emphasis on building a digital archive combined with social media functions (like BuddyPress). This critical making will bridge the gap between the theoretical and pragmatic, and this is exactly the kind of function that the writers this week argue about genres and civic web sites.

I started by creating a node labeled “Things that can be seen as networks” and connected out to genre (through Bazerman’s argument that genres exist in inter-textual systems), civic web sites, literature reviews (an idea explored in my Reading Notes) and the archive node from last week.

I then made a node labeled “Networks in action” and connected  that to genre, civic websites, and a node related to archives explaining that an archive allows for the action of diagnosis. I connected this node to Bitzer’s argument that through the actions of an audience, discourse can mediate or change the rhetorical situation.

Genres fulfill social functions; they effect change in a community. These ideas clearly appear in Miller’s and Popham’s articles. Discourse, in the form of a genre, can be understood by an audience and used to inform, persuade, or support them. This argument resonates with me as a way that English Studies, that objects belonging to that field, can be more and do more than just existing in the pages of obscure texts. Things under the purview of this discipline can be active and engaged in our communities.

Civic web sites also “do work” by creating a space for discourse about a community issue, often leading to action of the part of the informed public. In this way, they turn the public into producers of knowledge, a node that I connected to Bitzer’s idea that rhetorical situations (community problems) invite a response (creation of civic web sites) that can be used to effect change by the audience (public viewers of web site).
Another connection from genre is to Foucault’s argument that books are nodes in a network. Miller argues that the genre is an interlocution between the mind and society. It is a node in the network of social activity, a point through which ideas are transformed into action.

Finally, I added a node for Popham’s idea of “reflexion”, that we use one discipline to create an image of another, which connects to Foucault’s idea that we come to know a discursive field by studying how one object/event informs another, their proximity, the connections, and the relations between them.

Suzanne's Mind Map

Assignment: Annotated Bibliography Part 1 – Entry


Zoetewey, Meredith W., W. Michele Simmons, Jeffrey T. Grabill. "Assessing Civic Engagement: Responding to Online Spaces for Public Deliberation." Digital Writing Assessment & Evaluation. Eds. Heidi A McKee and Danielle Nicole DeVoss. Logan, UT: Computers and Composition Digital Press/Utah State UP, 2013. Web. 3 Feb 2014.


The primary concern explored in this chapter is the evaluation of student-produced civic web sites; these web sites are defined as "community-based digital spaces that can be used to enable public deliberation."

The authors explain that there is an inherent difficulty with assessing civic web sites in that usefulness - the ultimate goal of a civic web site - can only be determined after the public has had a chance to utilize the site. However, a student will need a grade at the end of a semester before the public has had that chance to interact with the final project students produce. If the site cannot be evaluated based on its usefulness to the public, then what criteria and methods can be employed to determine a fair evaluation?

The authors are clear to distinguish between "usefulness" and "usability." Usability is a site that is easy to use, makes efficient use of graphics and interfaces. Usefulness is the idea that a site helps users "do better work"; the site supports learning and knowledge-making.

Civic web sites can be difficult to assess because traditional rubrics favor usability when evaluating digital products; concepts like simplicity, scanable content, and efficiency are privileged. However, civic web sites have a different purpose, which is to provide users with deeper educational content, unfettered access to data, and communicates in specialized vocabularies specific to the field. These criteria are often incompatible with traditional usability rubrics, requiring an alternative method for evaluation.

The authors explain their concept of "productive usability" which accounts for these advanced needs and is based on the features that users of civic web sites have identified as being important to the work they wanted to do. Productive usability is based on three main criteria: consideration of alternative use, consideration of technical literacy, and consideration of interactivity.

Alternative use is the idea that site creators should consider the multiple ways in which the information may be of use to the public, and they should plan for the kinds of alternative uses that might occur that differ from the creators' intentions. For example, the creators may want a civic web site that provides information for policy makers, but the site may also be visited by citizens looking to become involved in a cause. The site should be evaluated based on whether the creators accounted for the multiplicity of purpose in visiting the site.

Technical literacy is the idea that the civic web site is educational at its core, and if people visiting the site are to be able to participate in the discourse, they must have the fluency in the specific jargon used therein. There must also be an inclusion of full-text reports and other data that can be read and interpreted by the user. Technical literacy is the term applied to the jargon and data, and it should be evident on the site in links to data or the inclusion of glossaries.

Interactivity is the idea that visitors to the site must be engaged in order to participate in the discourse surrounding the particular civic issue being highlighted online. Interactivity is the pathway to engagement by building emotional and psychological connections to the issue. The site should encourage various forms of interaction to build the sense of engagement and ultimately action. Evidence might take the form of photographs designed to induce an empathetic response or a place devoted to user uploaded narratives.

Finding indicators of the three criteria above should also be combined with evidence of the students' process in creating the site. Process-based evidence might include journal-style work logs, which track the groups' discussion and implementation of the three criteria.

By evaluating a civic web site based on the indicators and process-based evidence of the three criteria of productive usability, instructors will be able to confidently assess student-produced digital spaces before the public has a chance to determine their usefulness outside the academic exercise.

Connections to Course Readings:

  • The article describes civic web sites as having "the potential to aid change in communities." This is reminiscent of Miller's work with genre. She explains that we can view genre as being able "to marshal linguistic resources for the sake of social action" (71 "Rhetorical Community"). She continues to argue that genres help "communities do their work and carry out their purposes" (75 "Rhetorical Community"). There are also connections to Popham's claim that "genres are the means by which things get done within a community, ideas get transmitted, and plans get made" (281-2). Both civic web sites and genres are significant because of the work they can perform with a community, for their ability to create action and change. 
  • This ability for the audience to perform social action is also linked to the claims by Bitzer. He argues that the "rhetor alters reality by bringing into existence a discourse of such a character that the audience, in thought and action, is so engaged that it becomes mediator of change” (4). Here, the rhetor can be understood as the makers of civic web sites. They bring the site into existence much like Bitzer's rhetorical discourse and the audience reached becomes engaged in the topic enough to foster change. The term engaged is significant especially since interactivity to increase engagement is on of the three criteria the article proposes to use for evaluation. Furthermore, the civic web site is evaluated based on usefulness - the concept that the user can "do better work". This doing of work by the audience is the same as Bitzer's argument that "rhetorical discourse produces change by influencing the decision and action of persons who function as mediators of change" (7). Civic web sites provide the tools and information needed for the audience to do work that will ultimately change a community.
  • The concept of alternative use is related to Popham's ideas about boundary objects. Popham states that "a boundary object serves the needs of multiple sites or multiple professions" (284). This is exactly what makers of civic web sites must take into consideration under the article's proposed evaluative criteria. The site should be agile enough to meet the needs of users that the site-creators may not have in mind as the initial audience; it should be a boundary object that can serve the needs of multiple users. There is also the Bazerman idea from the chapter "Systems of Genres and the Enactment of Social Intentions" embedded here that there is a "multiplicity of action" (90) in texts with multiple intentions and interpretations possible from the same speech-act (87). Alternative use suggests that civic web sites have multiplicity, the potential to be useful to the community in more than one way. 
  • We can also see connection to Foucault in the discussion. Consider the following quote from the article: "[The alternative use criterion] requires seeing the audience in context, considering how the information relates to a range of stakeholders, and positioning them as active participants, capable of exploring their own interests." In this sense, the civic web site becomes meaningful in terms of its relations. Foucault is interested in scholars' ability to "analyse the interplay of [concepts'] appearances and dispersion" (35). Creators of civic web sites are evaluated on how well they can analyze how information relates to various audiences, how the active participants will be positioned against the information provided, and where they will be dispersed throughout the field.
  • Foucault is also present in interactivity as the concept is grounded in the theory that there should be "no pre-set entry points or stopping points" (Mirel qtd. in Zoetewey). This is discussed in context of the notion that interactivity and engagement can be reached through user-guided explorations. The web site should be designed in such a way to support this free exploration without pre-set starts and stops. This is like Foucault's ideas about general history versus total description. He writes, "A total description draws all phenomena around a single center - a principle, a meaning, a spirit, a world-view, an overall shape; a general history, on the contrary, would deploy the space of dispersion" (10). By building in a principle of free exploration to enhance engagement, the civic web site is less structured or restrictive, much like the general history using the "space of dispersion". Users are allowed to move as they will through the dispersed space, leading himself or herself to the knowledge and connections important to them. 

Works Cited:

Bazerman, Charles. “Systems of Genres and the Enactment of Social Intentions”. Genre and the New Rhetoric. Eds. Aviva Freedman and Peter Medway. London: Taylor and Francis, 1994. 79-104. Print.

Bitzer, Lloyd F.. “The Rhetorical Situation”. Philosophy & Rhetoric 25 Selections from Volume 1 (1992): 1-14. Print.

Foucault, Michel. Archaeology of Knowledge. New York: Vintage Books, 2010. Print.

Miller, Carolyn R.. “Rhetorical Community: The Cultural Basis of Genre”. Genre and the New Rhetoric. Eds. Aviva Freedman and Peter Medway. London: Taylor and Francis, 1994. 23-42. Print.

Popham, Susan L.. “Forms as Boundary Genres in Medicine, Science, and Business”. Journal of Business and Technical Communication 19 (2005): 279-303. Print.

Zoetewey, Meredith W., W. Michele Simmons, Jeffrey T. Grabill. "Assessing Civic Engagement: Responding to Online Spaces for Public Deliberation." Digital Writing Assessment & Evaluation. Eds. Heidi A McKee and Danielle Nicole DeVoss. Logan, UT: Computers and Composition Digital Press/Utah State UP, 2013. Web. 3 Feb 2014.