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Until the End of the Illusion, We Will Baudrillard Forward_Reading Notes October 6th

Okay, so this is part two from last week’s reading notes on Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation. This time, though, much of these notes will be focused on Baudrillard’s The Illusion of the End (such an uplifting title, no?), with the hopes that I will have enough time (and attention span) to return to talking about Simulacra and Simulation. Both of these texts are going to be part of my bigger Canonical Text Presentation, which is due next week (crap, that due date is coming up far too quickly).

Nothing starts a post off better than Benedict Cumberbatch as Kahn. Image hosted on Deviant Art.

Nothing starts a post off better than Benedict Cumberbatch as Kahn. Image hosted on Deviant Art.

Whew, Baudrillard isn’t the most accessible scholar (though he doesn’t quite rank with Foucault on whose work can be the most difficult to muddle through), but I definitely chuckled (probably shouldn’t have) through this book. The moment where I had to put the book down and just laugh for a few minutes was when I first started reading the section “The ascent of the vacuum towards the periphery” where Baudrillard introduces a group who had called themselves the “Stealth Agency,” which he said “could equally well be called: ANATHEMATIC ILLIMITED/TRANSFATAL EXPRESS/VIRAL INCORPORATED/INTERNATIONAL EPIDEMICS (14). I know the group was probably very serious about their work in which they “gather[ed] news of unreal events in order to disinform the public of them” while the group “remained…unreal” (14), but I couldn’t stop humming Johnny Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man.” (Hell yeah, James Bond!)

Must as well have a visual. Image hosted on the website Gaming-Asylum.

Must as well have a visual. Image hosted on the website Gaming-Asylum.

Okay, straight face and back to being a serious scholar. As I was settling into reading his first section (chapter?) titled “Pataphysics of the year 2000,” I was a little taken aback by just how affected Baudrillard’s work seems to be in regards to people’s reactions (and potentially his own) to the Y2K terror that internationally swept through countries dependent on computers and the Internet. There were moments in the text where I had to stop and think about the culture in which Baudrillard was writing about the year 2000: “All thoughts are going underground in cautious anticipation of the year 2000. They can already scent the terror of the year 2000. They are instinctively adopting the solution of those cryogenized individuals plunged into liquid nitrogen until the means can be found to enable them to survive” (9). Looking back from 2014 to 1999, it seems a little strange to think about what would have been so terrifying (I was eleven at the time, so I wasn’t aware of a whole lot beyond childhood worries). Were we really so sure that our world would be torn asunder because our computer programmers might not have taken into consideration that we would be using their software after 1999? (It is in this moment that I think of the 1995 film Strange Days and the 2014 film A Walk Among the Tombstones as one film anticipates the mania and one film looks back with a semi-sober eye).

A little Y2K mania, anyone? Image hosted on Time Magazine's website.

A little Y2K mania, anyone? Image hosted on Time Magazine’s website.

Having the capability of looking back retrospectively on the Y2K mania displayed above, I can see where Baudrillard is coming from when he hashes out his three hypotheses concerning the end of history. Yes, take a moment (I need to) and digest the idea that Baudrillard is telling us there is no more history. Okay, moment is up. Let’s rock our way through this.

First up, a definition of the word patapysics, which is defined as “the science of imaginary solutions and the laws governing exceptions” (Hugill). Now we see that the title for Baudrillard’s first section deals with the imaginary solutions for the year 2000, which would explain the three hypotheses that he offers. So what are our three options?

  • “one might suppose that the acceleration of modernity, of technology, events and media, of all exchanges– economic, political and sexual — has propelled us to ‘escape velocity,’ with the result that we have flown free of the referential sphere of the real and of history,” with history seen as “the kind of crystallization or significant crystallization of events” and reality as “the kind of coherent unfolding of causes and effects” (1). To flesh this out, Baudrillard draws on more physics concepts: “through the impulse for total dissemination and circulation, every event is granted its own liberation; every fact becomes atomic, nuclear, and pursues its trajectory into the void” with it having “to be fragmented like a particle” (2).
  • This hypothesis deals with a slowing down, rather than reaching an escape velocity, as it has to do with “the slowing down of history when it rubs up against the astral body of the ‘silent majorities’. Our societies are dominated by this mass process, not just in the demographic and sociological sense, but in the sense of a ‘critical mass’, of passing beyond a point of no-return” (3). — Absorption is a key mental image here, as “Events follow one upon another, cancelling each other out in a state of indifference” (3)
  • Baudrillard approaches the third hypothesis with an analogy about music and our cultural obsession with “high fidelity” to the point where the music is no longer music (think auto-tune, as it leaves the singer’s voice perfectly flawless, though no one’s voice has such a quality). For history, “by dint of the sophistication of events and information, history ceases to exist as such. Immediate high-powered broadcasting, special effects, secondary effects, fading and that famous feedback effect which is produced in acoustics by a source and a receiver being too close together and in history by an event and its dissemination being too close together and thus interfering disastrously — a short-circuit between cause and effect like that between the object and the experimenting subject in microphysics” (6).
So Baudrillard and Nietzsche walk into a bar, and Kahn is their brain child. Image hosted on Tumblr.

So Baudrillard and Nietzsche walk into a bar, and Kahn is their resulting brain child. Image hosted on Tumblr.

Each of these three hypotheses (from what I could pull out of the mire, anyway) makes sense in terms of our current culture and international relationships. I would be curious to see what Baudrillard would have to say if he had come into contact with the changes that Cloud computing is offering to us in terms of archiving. Anyways, onwards through the escape velocity needed to pass from the real and history, the vanishing point of history within absorption and indifference, and the high fidelity/idealization of history. It took me quite a while to break down and process what Baudrillard was saying about history. As someone who loves to read books, watch documentaries, and listen to lectures on historical events, I struggled to understand how history could have ended, vanished beyond the horizon point. What was this man talking about?

And then I started to think through his example with CNN (in the “Immortality” section) and how “History in real time is CNN, instant news, which is the exact opposite of history” (90). I remember not too long ago watching the constant newsfeed surrounding the mysterious disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The broadcasters droned on and on for days (weeks?) about this flight being lost and searchers continuing to scour the ocean to find out what had happened. They were presenting the news as history in the making, creating this “historical moment” in the real time that Baudrillard was talking about, rather than looking back at the disappearance retrospectively. As Baudrillard declares, “nothing takes place in real time. Not even history” (90). To think of this another way to help me out, I think about how World War I is presented versus the Vietnam War. In the midst of World War I, the “bigger picture” of the war was not readily available. The soldiers, the politicians, and the civilians did not know they were in what would become known as a world war, and even the reasons for the war emerged after the war had ended. No one was sitting in the middle of a battlefield thinking, Ooooh, so this is what global conflict is like. They were going through the motions of what they had considered a traditional war (men fighting and dying with honor) until they came face-to-face with how advancements in weapons technology would require a rethinking of tactics. How the  Vietnam War was presented was very different as it was the first televised war. Here, people back home could see the harrowing situations soldiers on both sides were facing, as well as those civilians who were caught in the crossfires. When talking about the Vietnam War, my mom (who was a little girl at the time while my grandfather was in the military and overseas) said that being able to see what was going on during the war from the family’s living room was like watching history in the making. While something is happening, though, is not history so much as it is being. History (for me, anyway) is what is created when we look back and see a pattern of events emerge from the actions we have taken (individually as well as collectively).

One of the most fascinating points that Baudrillard makes within his third hypothesis about the vanishing point of history was how we are always looking to an end point of history, which is tied to his idea that “history itself has always, deep down, been an immsense simulation model. Not in the sense that it could be said only to have existed in the narrative made of it or the interpretation given to it, but with regard to the time in which it unfolds — that linear time which is at once the time of an ending and of the unlimited suspending of the end” (7). The questions that Baudrillard follows up with in regards to the end point we are obsessed with as a society were thought-provoking: “Where does this suspense come from? Where do we get the idea that what must be accomplished (Last Judgement, salvation or catastrophe) must come at the end of time and match up with some incalculable appointed term or other?” (7) and “The same denial is found in apparently opposite behavior [from immediate enjoyment of the event]– recording, filing and memorizing everything of our own past and the past of all cultures. Its this not a symptom of a collective presentiment of the end, a sign that events and the living time of history have had their day and that we have to arm ourselves with the whole battery of artificial memory, all the signs of the past, to face up to the absence of a future and the glacial times which await us?” (9).

No matter how many times I read this section, I always return to our current societal fascination with zombies and post-apocalyptic survival. Even though zombie apocalypse stories (books/comics/movies/podcasts) are centered on the survivors (for the most part, since we do have narratives from the undead side, nodding to the film Warm Bodies), we see the zombie invasion/infestation as the end of human civilization, the end of our history. Survivors are shown to turn towards anarchic and nomadic living, cannibalism, might-makes-right, the-strong-survive, which appears brutal (and yet enthralling) to those of us who are living on this side of the end. Why would history and civilization end if there would be people who still remember what those two were to our society? Why must there be only one way to thrive? Is life after a zombie apocalypse what Baudrillard would consider existence after the end point of history? When looking at the place for zombie narratives in our culture, it seems as if we are projecting the Y2K fears that Baudrillard had been commenting on into a new (yet not new) form, but this is something we have been doing for centuries. Humans are drawn in and repulsed by something that will put an end to us all (angry gods from the pantheon, alien invasions, giant asteroid hitting the Earth, global contagions, or nuclear fallout). It’s a little weird to think about, but, then again, I do love my science-fiction films.

Side note before I end since I have the need to turn everything towards video games: While I was reading, one of the things that really caught my attention was a moment in Baudrillard’s section “Maleficent Ecology” in which he discusses how we as humans are turning ourselves into waste-products along with the entire planet: “What is worst is not that we are submerged by the waste-products of industrial and urban concentration, but that we ourselves are transformed into residues. Nature– the natural world –is becoming residual, insignificant, an encumbrance, and we do not know how to dispose of it. By producing highly centralized structures, highly developed urban, industrial and technical systems, by remorselessly condensing down programmes, functions and models, we are transforming all the rest into waste, residues, useless relics. By putting the higher functions into orbit, we are transforming the planet itself into a waste-product, a marginal territory, a peripheral space” (78). This is not a new idea, but Baudrillard’s comments reminded me of a scene from one of my favorite childhood video games, Final Fantasy VII, in which the planet and all life on that planet were threatened because of humankind’s desire for more and more energy. The clip below is from a scene in which a scientist/professor explains how life on the planet is part of an intricately connected lifestream and the man-made energy was disrupting that lifestream to a critical level. While the developers at Square-Enix tend to pack the games in the Final Fantasy series with messages that show the consequences of war, promote strong bonds (especially between different groups of people/races/species), and encourage going against the norm to save others, one of their main messages is to preserve a balance between nature and human activities (destructive tendencies?). In Final Fantasy VII, the main characters come to the realization (like Baudrillard) that the planet is being turned into a waste-product in order for humans to advance their civilizations.

All right, readers (imagined or otherwise), so ends my reading notes for this week. Next week: Canonical Text Project! (*hear the sounds of a slow brain meltdown*).

Only nearing the halfway point of the semester. So much left to do. Image hosted on Tumblr.

Only nearing the halfway point of the semester. So much left to do. Image hosted on Tumblr.

Citations

Baudrillard, Jean. The Illusion of the End. Trans. Chris Turner. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994. Print.

Hugill, Andrew. “Pataphysics: A Useless Guide.” The MIT Press Online. MIT, 2014. Web. 06 Oct. 2014.

Illusion On, Reader

Update on two peers’ posts.

The first person whose post I commented on was Sarah Carter on the second half of Haraway’s Simians, Cyborgs and Women. Her break down of the text was very straightforward, but I am curious as to the broader implications of the concepts, especially in terms of Sarah’s own research interests and her interests in horror films. How can the lens of the post modern human and bio politics change our perspectives regarding characters in horror films? This question led me to wonder how this lens would also affect video game scholarship? Most games reinforce stereotypes of gender while also pushing against such boundaries (strong female heroes who eventually succumb and must be rescued by the male protagonists), but then there are exceptions are video games like the Mass Effect trilogy that subvert the gender norms they are attempting to reinforce. Haraway’s concepts are very promising and are something I may look into with future research.

The second person who post I commented on


Final Case Study: Synthesis

Noel Studio Greenhouse, Director's Office, and Artwork

Noel Studio Greenhouse, Director’s Office, and Artwork

Overview

Pedagogically based on writing center philosophies, the Noel Studio is a multiliteracy center with a unique physical space and academic/administrative structure. Occupying 10,000 sq. ft of EKU Libraries’ main building, Crabbe Library, the Noel Studio provides both public and private spaces for consultants, students, and faculty to work.

Comprised of a core administrative staff of five (director, writing coordinator, research coordinator, technology associate, and administrative assistant) and a student staff of approximately forty-five (graduate assistants, undergraduate consultants, desk consultants, and writing fellows), the Noel Studio was created to support the various communication and research projects happening both in and outside of the classroom. To support that mission, the physical space of the Noel Studio contains the Greenhouse (a large, open space with a variety of computers and touch-screen monitors), the Invention Space (equipped with wall-to-wall white boards, a CopyCam, and creative materials), Breakout Spaces and Practice Rooms (small, reserveable rooms with a computer work station, large screen monitors, and recording capabilities), and a communal space that currently serves as an office for technology support.

The Noel Studio is a network of space, people, activity, ideologies, and ideologies that cannot be separated from one another. It is a complex system that impacts and is impacted by larger institutional networks. While at first glance the network-icity of the Noel Studio might appear to exist primarily in its administrative structure the complexity of the Noel Studio is reflected in many different ways.

For example, even though the Noel Studio replaced the existing writing center, it did not simply overtake the writing center’s philosophies, space, or budget. Instead, it became an interdisciplinary space in the main library, an interdisciplinary department under University Programs (UP), and an amalgamation of budget lines from UP, the English Department (graduate assistantships), SGA, and, most recently, an endowment from the initial donors, Ron and Sherry Lou Noel. The collaborative efforts to make the space a reality are seen in the artwork commissioned through LexArt and paid for through the fundraising efforts of the Friends of the Library, the physical structures and features (small and large rooms, glass walls, brightly colored walls and glass), and the upgrades that have been made over the last 3.5 years (more and larger whiteboards, more mobile furniture).

Recognizing the importance of supporting students’ composing practices, some institutions are investing in multiliteracy centers. As the first large-scale multiliteracy center, the Noel Studio has already served as a model for other universities investing in communication initiatives and support services. While many people have visited the Noel Studio for ideas and advice, it’s an often-acknowledged fact that there is no “ideal” organization or plan that fits every writing center or writing program. Instead, each situation is unique and complex in its own right, subject to a multitude of factors. The Noel Studio is not replicable, but using the Noel Studio as an object of study allows us to understand the different options we have for examining the complexity of any given writing program, answering Jackie Grutch McKinney’s (2013) call for writing centers to look beyond the traditional narrative to see and articulate the work we actually do. If we can better see and articulate this work and how our centers and programs exist as nodes within institutional and (inter)disciplinary networks, we can not only help others understand our nodual value, but we can also focus on the connections that strengthen our work and loosen connections that don’t.

Brief Literature Review

In his seminal article, The idea of a writing center, S. North (1984) defined writing centers as far more than fix-it-shops (p. 435) where faculty send their students for remediation. He cited frequent examples of faculty misunderstanding and the frustrations of framing the writing center as a remedial service. Critical of those who misunderstand and misrepresent writing center work, North challenged the field to clarify their services and work towards educating students and faculty to the real role of the writing center: “the object is to make sure that writers, and not necessarily their texts, are what get changed by instruction” (p. 438).

Since then, writing center scholarship has taken up the charge and sought to define the writing center in terms of praxis by investigating the politics of place and space (Nelson & Everts, 2001), the role of administrators as WPAs (Murphy and Stay, 2006), and how writing centers adapt to changes (Carpenter & Lee, 2013; Pemberton, 2003). At the foreground, however, has been a focus of the work that happens in a writing center–the pedagogical approach to both working with student writers and training consultants to do so.

In her recent book, Peripheral Visions on Writing Centers, J. G. McKinney (2013) critiques the narrative of writing centers that has emerged from these examinations. Three themes, she argues, arise as the tropes of the narrative:

  1. Writing centers are cozy homes
  2. Writing centers are iconoclastic
  3. Writing centers tutor (all students)

These themes, she argues are reductive and neglect the complexity of the work that happens within writing center spaces. While Mckinnery begins to trace the complexities of writing center work, she only touches on a deeper investigation. This synthesis, then, examines the Noel Studio primarily in terms of Prior et al.’s Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT), positing that the rhetorical work of writing centers occurs in a much more complex system of activity than traditional rhetorical theories acknowledge. CHAT’s approach identifies levels of rhetorical activity that can be more fully understood by also considering the Noel Studio as labor and ecosystems constituted by social networks.

The Noel Studio as a Center of Rhetorical Activity

As a multiliteracy center, the Noel Studio functions as a center for rhetorical activity. Designed to support all communication projects, the Noel Studio’s mission considered writing, research, and oral communication as the three cornerstones of its rhetorical work. In their chapter, Studio pedagogy: A model for collaboration, innovation, and space design, Carpenter, Valley, Napier, and Apostel (2012) identify six foundational criteria for the Noel Studio’s multiliteracy approach:

1)    Critical and Creative Thinking: Consultants encourage students to engage in convergent (critical) and divergent (creative) thinking regarding, audience, purpose, context, and mode.

2)    Information Fluency: Consultant encourage student to think divergently and convergently about the ways in which students gather, evaluate, interpret, and integrate information into their communication products and practices.

3)    Integrative collaboration: Consultants encourage students to see their communication from multiple perspectives through the feedback process while incorporating insights offered from interactions within the space.

4)    Interactive: Consultants encourage students to think about the dynamics in their collaborative groups and how communication is enhanced through this social process. Consultants promote interaction by allowing students to project ideas in high- and low-tech ways.

5)    Visual: Consultants encourage students to think visually, embracing a design approach that allows students to actively participate with manipulatives and interactive resources

6)    Dynamic: Consultations change with students’ needs and expectations. That is, consultants adapt their methods of consulting.

These criteria, developed by the founding administrators of the Noel Studio, reflect both disciplinary and institutional ideologies. These reflections serve as the foundation for what Prior et al. describe as an expanded theory of rhetorical activity. Laminated chronotopes reflect the underlying ideology of the Noel Studio, as they are embodied, represented, and embedded in its rhetorical activity.

Laminated Chronotopes

Writing Center Ideology: Writing center policies and practices reflect their grounding in process pedagogy. Valuing such ideals as “HoCs over LoCs” (higher order concerns over lower order concerns), “meeting the writer where he’s at,” “minimal marking,” and “making better writers not better writing,” writing centers reflect composition theories that prioritize student reflection, student ownership, and collaboration. Students become better writers through discursive processes (the one-on-one interactions—these are important to writing center peeps…include them and explain why).

Inherent in this belief is the ideal that writing centers do not offer remedial services—rather, they support the growth of all writers in employing rhetorical strategies to develop effective communication. In addition to pedagogical strategies, writing centers also focus on space design as an important component in engaging students, resulting in what McKinney identifies as one of the tropes—writing centers are cozy homes. While the Noel Studio is not designed to be a “cozy home,” the importance of space design for the critical and creative processes of composing is one of its most important elements.

Institutional Ideology: Eastern Kentucky University is a regional university that offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in general and liberal arts programs, pre-professional and professional training in education and various other fields. Established as Eastern Kentucky State Normal School in 1906, EKU began as a school for teachers and that legacy is still visible in the school’s self-described identity as an institution with three primary priorities: instruction, scholarship, and service, but the institution still claims the primary function is teaching (EKU, n.d.).

Like most institutions of higher education, EKU values grades as representations of academic success and predictors of future success. For the institution, success is often defined in terms of retention and graduation rates and programs that can demonstrate direct contributions to retention and graduation through quantitative assessments are more likely to receive funding.

Functional Systems and Literate Activity

From these laminated chronotopes emerge what Prior et al. identify as functional systems. According to Prior et al., “mediated activity means that action and cognition are distributed over time and space, and among people, artifacts, and environments” (pp. 17-18)–or functional systems. These functional systems are tied together by “some array of current objectives, conscious or not” (p.19). The primary objective tying these functional systems together in the Noel Studio is to help students become more effective communicators. Other stated and unstated objectives include creating opportunities for the students who work as consultants, creating an open and creative work atmosphere, and maintaining knowledge and practices to support EKUs evolving communication climate.

And from the functional systems emerge literate activities. According to Prior et al., the “terms of the map of literate activity . . . are not intended to evoke a series of steps, but to signal a multidimensional model” (pp. 19-20). This map of literate activity includes production, representation, distribution, reception, socialization, activity, and ecology. At this level, activity is concrete and visible, encompassing the enactment of rhetorical moves—the actions that enable the work of the Noel Studio to manifest in students creating visible representations of their ideas.

While Prior et al. identify functional systems as ecologies, people, communities, artifacts, and practices, they fail to explain how these functional systems emerge and contribute to the rhetorical activity of the larger network. The ambiguity of these functional systems (and thereby, the literate activities of the functional systems), however, can be better understood by looking at how other theorists have defined these various systems.

Even though the objective of the Noel Studio situates it as a system of rhetorical activity, we cannot ignore its multiple identities. It also functions as a labor system, an ecosystem , and a social network system that operates within the larger economic and social biosphere of EKU. Examining the Noel Studio in terms of its functional systems and literate activities in terms of these other network theories allows us to understand how meaning is made and transformed, how the network grows, evolves, or dissolves, and where operations and connections breakdown (or have the potential to breakdown).

Ecologies: Spellman defines ecology as “the science that deals with the specific interactions that exist between organisms and their living and nonliving environments” (p. 5). The Cary Institute expands on that definition, explaining ecology not just as interactions but as systems: “The scientific study of the processes influencing the distribution and abundance of organisms, the interactions, among organisms, and the interactions between organisms and the transformation and flux of energy.” In the case of the Noel Studio, the “transformation and flux of energy and matter” is actually the transformation of students’ ideas into the creation of texts. In this sense, the staff, students, and physical environment of the Noel Studio interact to create visible representations of ideas.

Madison Middle visits the Noel Studio to work on their Google Sites for the Madison County Historical Society

Madison Middle visits the Noel Studio to work on their Google Sites for the Madison County Historical Society

This representation, or the transformation as the Cary Institute described it, is reliant on not only the affordances (Gibson) of the physical environment but also what Norman identifies as perceived affordances. The more the student and consultant are able to take advantage of the affordances of the environment, the more effective their visual representation.

For example, when a student comes in to work with a consultant, the consultant typically first chooses a spot in the Greenhouse. With no stationary technology in the Greenhouse, the student and consultant can engage in conversation with little distraction from technology. For this example, we’ll say that the student has not yet started to write the paper—she has the prompt and an idea for a topic, but she doesn’t know how to narrow it down or start to organize it. Once the student has explained this, the consultant will ask to see the prompt, the construction of which affords the direction for the student’s paper.

After coming to an agreement about what the student is supposed to do in the paper and that the consultation will focus on brainstorming, the consultant will take the student to the Invention Space. As the consultant is already familiar with the spaces and technologies, she recognizes that the Invention Space affords brainstorming activities. The large whiteboards, CopyCam, and multicolored dry erase markers allow both the student and the consultant to contribute and organize ideas as they become represented through words and images on the dry erase boards. Additionally, revision of ideas is afforded as the representations are easily erased or modified if/when they no longer signify the evolving ideas. Once the student is happy with the representation of her ideas, she and the consultant could use an outline to create an outline—a visible representation of the logical structure of the student’s intended communication. The CopyCam then affords saving, as the student can print a copy of the work, save it as a file on a jump drive, or upload it to the Noel Studio’s CopyCam website.

If time, or in follow-up consultations, the student and consultant would use other spaces and technology in the Noel Studio to proceed through the drafting and revision processes (many times students do so in the spaces without a consultant, too). Together, they might use the Media Wall to conduct research, draft, review, and revise. If it’s a presentation, the student might also use a Practice Room to rehearse the presentation, then move to another space to work through the writing process again.

In each situation, the interactions between the student, consultant, and the tools of the environment transform the student’s ideas as they become represented in the various texts she composes throughout the process. Her (and the consultant’a) ability to perceive the various affordances of the technology that she uses shapes what the final text will look like. Similarly, the constraints of the technology also force her to make decisions, shaping the final project. For instances, if the student’s project is a video that she will share with the class, her construction of the video is reliant not only on her technical skill but also on her ability to perceive what she can and cannot do with the video editing software that she chooses. She knows that she wants to lay down a music track over the images in the video—a rhetorical choice that Movie Maker, iMovie, and most other video-editing software afford—but if she can’t perceive the function of the software, she will have to revise her plan and make new rhetorical choices with the functions she can perceive.

Communities: In this ecosystem of rhetorical activity, growth and balance depend on the population diversity (Spellman) and the abundance of resources, both human and environmental. Considering different groups of students and faculty as the different populations or communities, the ecosystem of the Noel Studio only grows when there is representation from the diverse disciplines, social groups, and demographic groups that make up EKU. Before the Noel Studio opened in 2010, the EKU Writing Center operated in the basement of Case Annex—an old dorm that has been converted to office and classroom space. Isolated to one department (the English Department) in terms of staffing, funding, and use, the Writing Center did not grow. When the Writing Center Director reached out to a new population (EKU Libraries) to discuss a potential collaboration, the idea of the Noel Studio emerged. Discussions between the Writing Center Director and the then-Dean of Libraries prompted further outreach to representatives of other populations, including the Department of Communication, Information Technology, Institutional Effectiveness, and the Office of the Provost. As ideas for what the space could be expanded, these representatives realized the increasing diversity of populations and their interests would require a new physical space.

The increased diversity also increased access to resources, as the English Department would no longer be solely responsible for the full funding (it still contributes to staffing through graduate assistant lines). Working with EKU Libraries Advancement, this newly-formed group was able to secure funding from donors, EKU Libraries, the Provost’s Office, University Programs, and a state grant. Since opening in September 2010, the Noel Studio has continued to increase the population diversity, expanding the Noel Studio Advisory Committee to include representatives from additional communities, including the Office of Undergraduate Research and the Teaching and Learning Center. Additionally, there has been an increase in population diversity among student use and faculty collaborations as we now see every college, social group, and demographic group that constitute EKU represented in the Noel Studio.

The distribution of population diversity, however, is still imbalanced as many communities are under-represented. While the ecosystem does include representatives from the college of Justice and Safety, for example, they are few and far between. If we cannot increase the Justice and Safety community’s interactions with the Noel Studio, that connection may die off as students graduate. As those connections die off, the system becomes less dynamic and resources less distributed as potential sources of funding decrease. If this trend of losing involved communities grew, the Noel Studio as a system would not be able to revert to its previous system of the Writing Center, as the resources and space have already been reallocated within the English Department. As such, the continued existence of the Noel Studio is dependent on increasing and maintaining connections with EKU’s diverse communities.

People: In addition to systems of community, the Noel Studio contains multiple systems of people as well. The primary network of people is the personnel: the administrative staff (director, coordinators, administrative assistant, and technology associate), the consultants (consultants, desk consultants, writing fellows, and graduate assistants), and the students (undergraduate, graduate, and online). Institutional ideology is most predominantly reflected in this component of the functional system, as the personnel structure is hierarchical. The consultants are responsible for the work that most explicitly addresses the objective of the Noel Studio, while the coordinators are responsible for guiding and supervising that work, the AA and technology associate troubleshoot and problem-solve resources necessary for that work, and the director makes programmatic decisions that situates the work within the larger system of EKU.

A social group comprised of undergraduate consultants, research consultants, a desk consultant, and a writing fellow

A social group comprised of undergraduate consultants, research consultants, a desk consultant, and a writing fellow

Within the labor network of people, there are social networks that are formed at and between various levels. As Scott explains, “A social group . . . exists in a field: a social ‘space’ that comprises the group together with its surrounding environment” (p. 11). This surrounding environment is not necessarily the physical space of the ecosystem—rather the space of the social group is constructed by the paths between people and their attitudes. With a full staff of approximately 50 people, interpersonal relationships and social balance is important for establishing a positive working environment. It’s unreasonable to expect that all 50 members of the Noel Studio will have what Scott identifies as “positive” relationships with all other 49 members. As he explains, social subgroups tend to form among people who have aligned ways of thinking and objectives. These subgroupings are evident within the Noel Studio as consultants tend to converge into cliques along their identified roles (their niches): desk consultants, graduate assistances, research consultants, undergraduate consultants, and writing fellows. However, as Scott explains, each person has multiple relations outside of these networks.

Understanding the social networks of the Noel Studio allows us to understand how interpersonal conflicts arise and, potentially, can be resolved with and ever-increasing staff. Thus far, the Noel Studio has had little trouble with conflict which is potentially due to the aligned objectives created by pedagogical and institutional ideologies.

Artifacts:  The artifacts of the Noel Studio are the documents and tools used the employees use to assist in the daily work. The documents and tools used by the Noel Studio employees to assist in the daily work. These include the Records of Consultation, time sheets, handouts and resources, client reports, WCOnline, Google Docs, Outlook, and Facebook.

Spinuzzi explains that relationships, activity, and destabilization that occur can only be identified by examining the relationships of activity and genres (the tools of the work) at three different levels: the macroscopic, mesoscopic, and microscopic levels.  At the macroscopic level is the entire the activity system–the Noel Studio and its makeup (director, coordinators, consultants, desk consultants, etc) and the artifacts it use (Records of Consultation, WCOnline, the furniture, the technology) to achieve the goal of improving students’ communication skills. The mesoscopic level, reveals the actions each of the workers perform in order to achieve the goal and how the instruments mediate those actions. And microscopic level actions are operationalized behaviors.

The distribution of labor within the network is visible through the tools or artifacts that we use and create. For example, a student’s consultation is not only the labor of the consultant who works with him or her. In scheduling the appointment, either the student or a desk consultant uses WCOnline to mediate the scheduling process. When the student arrives, the desk consultant again uses WCOnline to fill out the heading on the RoC (the Record of Consultation) and then mediates the introduction to the consultant with whom the student will be working. At this point, the consultant uses the training that he or she received from the administrative staff (prior labor) to engage with the student. In working towards the goal of the improving student’s communication skills, the consultant and student exchange the labor load throughout the consultation, using both the RoC and the student’s communication product to mediate the exchange. After the consultation, the consultant returns the RoC to the desk consultant who again uses WCOnline to create a digital record of the consultation (the client report). Finally, the desk consultant passes along the RoC to the appropriate coordinator who reviews it and uses it to discuss the consultant’s success within the consultation.

Networks grow and emerge as workers create and modify genres and they dissolve as contradictions, discoordinations, and breakdowns go unnoticed or unaddressed. In the previous example, for instance, we might see a breakdown as the consultant distributes the copies of the RoC. If the consultant forgets to give the student the original, then the behavior is not operationalized and the Noel Studio will be inconsistent (and perhaps perceived as unreliable) in its processes. In response, if a coordinator or consultant notices this breakdown, he or she might develop fix–a new genre–that increases and strengthens the network.

Practices: Spellman emphasizes that each organism in an ecosystem has a specific role, or a niche, to fill. As such, “in order for the ecosystem to exist, a dynamic balance must be maintained among all biotic and abiotic factors—a concept known as homeostasis” (p. 15).The concept of balance is important for all ecosystems and the Noel Studio is no different. However, it is in the functional system of practices that the tension between writing center and institutional ideologies start to emerge. Because of writing center values of process pedagogy, forming “better writers not better papers,” and collaboration and authorship, writing centers (and the Noel Studio) have developed practices that prioritize global concerns over proofreading and editing, discussion over “correction,” and minimal marking. In contrast, because institutions value grades and assessment reporting, there is often institutional pressure to transform writing center practices to focus on product, local concerns, and editing.

These tensions are evident in every aspect of the consultation. From setting goals with students, to filling out the RoC, to having meaningful conversation to meeting faculty’s expectations, consultants try to balance the values they learn in training (and by which they are evaluated in terms of job performance) with the expectations of students, faculty, and higher administration. Despite valuing process and recognizing that students likely need to visit the Noel Studio multiple times for significant improvement in skills, consultants feel obligated to help every student move their project from whatever “grade” it is at to an “A” (as subjectively defined by every instructor at the institution). As consultants face pressure from students, coordinators face criticism from faculty whose ideas of what a writing center should do have, unfortunately, evolved little since North’s 1984 article.

Discussion

This synthesis feels woefully incomplete. I’m not sure if my reasons for choosing my different theories are obvious, so I’ll try to make them explicit here.

I chose CHAT as the overall framework because it explains how activity emerges from rhetorical motivations that are situated in cultural and institutional ideologies. It explains how meaning is embedded in systems that then represent the meaning through the resulting activities. Additionally, it accounts for various types of representation and how context influences rhetorical activity.

Using Prior et al. as a framework, however, was problematic for a few reasons that I tried to address with the other theories. First, it didn’t offer any ways of establishing boundaries for analysis of rhetorical activity. Even though my OoS itself helped set boundaries, much of the action that impacts students’ communication skills occurs outside of the Noel Studio on an individual basis, but examining those influences wouldn’t help us understand the Noel Studio as a network better.

Using Spinuzzi, Scott, and Spellman to define the types of functional systems in terms of a labor network, a social network, and an ecosystem help set useful boundaries and address ways in which the system grows, evolves, and could, potentially dissolve. Finally, they helped explain how the literate activity manifests from the functional systems and laminated chronotopes and how individuals and groups both form complex networks. Additionally, while CHAT accounts for the impact of environment on the rhetorical activity, theories of distributed cognition (Gibson and Norman) explain how that impact happens. In short, each of the supplemental theories attempt to explain the how that Prior et al. neglect.

References

Carpenter, Valley, Apostel, & Napier. (2013). Studio Pedagogy: A Model for Collaboration, Innovation, and Space Design, (pp. 313-329) In Cases on higher education spaces: innovation, collaboration, and technology, (R. Carpenter, Ed.). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Carpenter, R. & Lee, S. (2013). Introduction: Navigating literacies in multimodal spaces. The Routlege reader on writing centers and new media, (xiv-xxvi). New York: Routlege.

Gibson, J. J. (1986). The theory of affordances. The ecological approach to visual perception. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

McKinney, J. G. (2103). Peripheral visions for writing centers. Boulder, CO: Utah State University P.

Murphy, C. & Stay, B.L. (2006). The writing center director’s resource guide. New York: Routlege.

Nelson, J. & Everts, K. (2001). The Politics of Writing Centers. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook-Heinemann.

Norman, D. (n.d.). Affordances and design, Retreived from https://docs.google.com/file/d/0BzIskzHsjKsRN0NRRktncjBGb1U/edit

North, S. (1984). The idea of a writing center. College English, 46(5), 433-436. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/377047

Pemberton, M. (2003). The center will hold. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.

Prior et al. (). Re-situating and re-mediating the canons: A cultural-historical remapping of rhetorical activity. Kairos, 11(3). Retrieved from http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/11.3/topoi/prior-et-al/core/core.pdf

Spellman, F. R. (2008). Ecology for nonecologists. Lanham, MD: Government Institutes.

Spinuzzi, C. (2003). Tracing genres through organizations: A sociocultural approach to information design. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Retrieved from Kindle.

 

 

 

The OoS Matrix: FrankenTheorizing Composition MOOCs

Composition MOOCs: Theorizing Pedagogy, Space, and Learning. Why Here? Why Now? As argued in earlier case studies, the Composition MOOC is one of many different types of course offerings in an emerging trend (some would call it a fad) of … Continue reading

Final Reading Notes: Rickert, Ambient Rhetoric, Hip Hop

I have had several discussions about ambience over the years. The reason being that before I came to English Studies, music was my life. We often discussed ambience in regards to which space would produce the best sound. It is easy for a violin to be drowned out without the right atmosphere. We used to […]

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

Case Study Synthesis: Outline of a Frankentheory

Frankentheory Outline

 

Which 2 – 4 theories are you choosing and why?

Ecology

  • Allows me to look at the OoS’s role within the larger network (EKU) (ecosystem and biospheres)
  • Explains how the network grows, evolves, dissolves (population diversity)
  • Explains the interrelatedness of groups and environment

Distributed Cognition

  • Acknowledges the importance of the environment for human action
  • Distinguishes between affordances and perceived affordances

CHAT

  • Acknowledges the complexity of rhetorical activity (multiple layers)
  • Considers the ideological foundations and results of rhetorical activity
  • Whereas ecology posits succession, CHAT allows that activity is intentional and rhetorical rather than natural

Actor Network Theory

  • Considers the specific connections at the individual level
  • Allows for non-human agency

How are they similar enough that you can justify getting them to work together? How do they fill each other’s gaps?

Similarities

  • They all acknowledge the difficulty in defining boundaries
  • All consider multiple influences in shaping the network

Gaps

  • Ecology, distributed cognition, and CHAT (activity theory) all center on organisms as actors. Actor Network Theory allows for the agency of non-living actors. It seems that ANT, then, fills in the gap of connecting distributed cognition and CHAT. If non-living objects can serve as mediators rather than simple tools of action, then rhetorical action is transformed by human and non-human interaction.
  • ANT’s focus on the individual makes it difficult to understand any network that is larger than the individual. By combining it with ecology and CHAT, we are able to get a more holistic understanding of the OoS while also acknowledging the importance of the individual’s network. For example, we can look at how the OoS’s approach to improving writing (CHAT) is juxtaposed with an individual’s relationship to writing (ANT).
  • Distributed cognition (what we read of it, anyway) has a very narrow focus—human interactions with the environment that focus on the environment as tools for human action. CHAT and ecology broaden that perspective to understand how those interactions operate within a larger context and their implications.

How do these theories align with how you position yourself as a scholar?

WPA scholar

 

  • Ecology: aligns with my belief that it is important to acknowledge that writing programs operate within the larger network of a university and explains the importance of having diverse groups invested in the program. It also reaffirms that changes to a program are long-lasting and, potentially, irreversible
  • CHAT: recognizes the importance of understanding how ideologies and foundational beliefs (laminated chronotopes) impact the visible structures and literate activity within a program
  • ANT: Focus on the individual’s connections aligns with the idea of writing as a process that is both personal and collaborative. Writing is shaped by the individual’s experiences, which are influenced by other individuals

Digital Media Scholar

  • CHAT: Recognizes that the traditional rhetorical canons are insufficient for mapping digital rhetorical activity (Prior et al. say that they’re insufficient—and always have been—for all rhetorical activity, but the gap seems to be revealed by digital composing)
  • ANT: Acknowledging the agency of non-human actors aligns with digital media scholarship. Changes in available media allow for remediation, influencing and shaping the design choices that people make
  • Distributed cognition: Specifically, affordances and perceived affordances help explain both the designer’s choices AND the user’s uses.

How do these theories align with your own biases and background (the reason you came to this project in the first place)?

  • My background in writing centers and teaching English has taught me to see the writing process as both a personal and a collaborative endeavor. The methods that we use to teach writing are based on a history of praxis that has evolved.
  • I took Louise’s WPA course as part of SDI last summer. While I’ve always perceived that writing programs operate within the larger system of a university, the interconnectedness of seemingly disparate offices, departments, and programs was a big focus of the class. As a result, I chose this OoS partly as a way to better understand that interconnectedness.
  • As the first multiliteracy center of its kind, the Noel Studio presents an interesting case study for examining the numerous external and internal influences on communication processes. As the Coordinator of Writing (the first one, responsible for shaping the position), I feel the pressure of trying to recognize, understand, and account for all of these influences when it comes to training consultants and dealing with student composers.
  • I’ve seen first-hand how non-useful it is to disregard the agency of communication technology when working with students on their communication projects. As Jenny Rice has explained, understanding the affordances of different media impact the invention process and disregarding those affordances limits the potential effectiveness of a text.
  • In terms of design, thinking about how others can perceive and use the affordances of a text is just as important for a student composing a digital text as it is for a student using the technology to compose.
  • I recognize that the Noel Studio is the result of the ideologies, epistemologies, and politics of diverse groups, both institutionally and disciplinary. I also believe that understanding how the Noel Studio operates in terms of networks will inform not only my work but also the work of others at EKU and others in writing, communication, and multiliteracy centers.
  • I acknowledge that each theory has become another thread/connection in my own development as a WPA and Digital Media scholar and that each connection influences my daily approach to working in the Noel Studio.
  • As a doctoral student with an emphasis in Technology and New Media studies, I’ve been examining arguments for a digital rhetorical theory to expand or replace the traditional rhetorical canons. As such, I agree with Prior et al. that the traditional canons are insufficient for mapping rhetorical activity

 

Virtual Ecosystems of World of Warcraft_Case Study #3

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm expansion. Image hosted on Blizzard's official website for WoW.

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm expansion. Image hosted on Blizzard’s official website for WoW.

Literature Review

Much of the scholarship surrounding World of Warcraft (WoW) focuses on social dynamics, such as whether or not people are isolated or more connected, gold farming in China, and how Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games can be used in classrooms (the game specifically or skills learned and honed in-game by players. For Steven L. Thorne, Ingrid Fischer, and Xiaofei Lu, in their article “The Semiotic Ecology and Linguistic Complexity of an Online Game World,” explore the affordances and environment of what they term the semiotic ecology of the gamespace, though they conclude that “external websites function as keystone species within WoW’s broader semiotic ecology” as players in their sample admit to constantly seeking advice and information from these external websites in regards to quests, armor, and lore. They also found that, while in-game text chat functions can help gamers internationally come together and learn each other’s languages, “The analysis of the text samples from the external websites revealed a high degree of lexical sophistication, lexical diversity, syntactic complexity, and based on the D-level scores, a significant proportion of structurally complex sentences…the most popular WoW-related external websites are relatively rich in lexical sophistication and diversity, include multiple genres – from informational and expository prose to interactive ‘I-you’ and conversational text types, and illustrate a high proportion of both complex syntactic structures as well as interactive and interpersonally engaged discourse. It also bears noting that related research focusing on the cognitive content of strategy and game-play websites shows that these texts are rhetorically and logically complex.” MMOs like WoW may be games and research may fluctuate between considering such games as having positive and negative effects on players, but researchers are finding that these games and the literature that was created outside of the gamespace do provide players with environments in which learning can take place, especially that of the semiotic.

Other ecological theories, beyond that of semiotics have been applied to the MMO. In their article, “Social Mediating Technologies: Social Affordances and Functionalities,” A. G. Sutcliffe, V. Gonzalez, J. Binder, and G. Nevarez place WoW into discourse with other social media technologies, like Facebook, Wikipedia, and Blacksburg Electronic Villagein order to understand the affordances that the technologies provide to their users. They draw upon theorists like Gibson, Norman, and Ackerman, as well as “Clark’s common ground theory,” when giving a broader overview of computer-mediated communication (CMC). The authors found that, when looking at communication modalities, “The game provides visual and audio interaction, which meets most of the modalities criteria, with partial support for reviewability as long as the feedback from previous actions persists; the game does not meet the criterion of revisability unless editing settings and skills levels are considered.” The authors then drew upon other scholarship, and their own, in order to understand how the goals for players in WoW matched up with people who were using other forms of social media: “Sherlock (2007) explored the role of groups in WoW and compared the game with social networking websites, arguing that WoW ties the formation of groups to shared objectives and motives (i.e., guilds). When forming or joining a group for quests, the members need a good balance of skills and abilities and a shared goal. This contrasts with SNS, where interest matching, shared background, or other social factors shape group formation. WoW shares social affordances with Wikipedia and BEV, the other community based SMTs.” They conclude that WoW provides players with a variety of social affordances that allow them to keep in touch, exchange information in-game as well as out of game, and participate in multiplayer activities.

Let’s Begin

While World of Warcraft is an online game, the code underlying the game allows for virtual representations of ecosystems, but ones that truly alter only when an expansion set or a patch rework the code. The gamespace across the servers can be seen as a virtual ecosystem, separate yet not from the rest of the online world, and each server, in turn, becomes a smaller ecosystem. The same occurs for cities within each server. These cities, populated permanently by non-playable characters (NPCs) and temporarily by players, are surrounded by pixelated flora and fauna. What is interesting is that the cities do not really bleed over into the wilderness, and monsters from the wild cannot approach the city without NPC guards rushing forward to kill the monsters. In this sense, the programmed ecosystem of the gamespace can never fully emulate or imitate a natural ecosystem, as the software only allows for activity within the parameters of its code. Everything has its particular place, except the players, who are free to move as they will, looking for boss battles, dungeons, side quests, and one another.

A city center in WoW. Image hosted on the blog, World of Games&Fixes.

A city center in WoW. Image hosted on the blog, World of Games&Fixes.

For players, the programmed cityscapes and landscapes are the environments in which their avatars as beings-in-the-virtual-world maneuver, offering their avatars social affordances as well as virtual but purposeless representations of real world affordances. Each player lives in the “meat space,” operating within the ecosystem of his or her house, neighborhood, city, and so on, but, when they log onto the internet and a game, players allow their attention and activity to also blend over into an informational ecosystem, composed of digital content created by zeroes and ones. Their bodies tap keyboards, adjust screens, and shift in chairs, but their minds extend beyond the skin (as Bateson would put it) into a gamespace where they act as nodes in a series of ever-larger networks composed of millions of players whose physical proximity is not necessary. Players’ avatars can inhabit, interact, and move through the virtual gamespaces, with players’ physical presence only filtering in as voices and text across chat systems, as well as second-hand through avatars’ actions.

In order to apply Ecology Theory to a virtual world, we must acknowledge that a virtual world only functions within the parameters which had been established before and reestablished over the course of the game’s lifespan. Beasts (recognizable and fictitious) populate the gamespace, but only because they have been programmed into being visually represented as pixelated images. As well, the various ecosystems represented in the game, and the NPCs and beasts within them, behave in a certain way because of the code underlying them. It is not a natural ecosystem where surprising phenomena can take place and ecosystems can blend together, rupture one another, or disappear quietly, unless new codes are implemented into the software. The software does not age NPCs or monsters; no matter the length of time a player has an active account, most of the virtual inhabitants of the game will be moving through the same cycle of selling wares, wandering through streets or forests or deserts, and guarding or attacking those passing by. The only thing that can occur organically within the virtual gamespace are the relationships among the players-avatars. Even these relationships cannot totally escape moderation, but they do exist and function more naturally. For WoW, like other MMOs, it is a virtual world in which the outside world is constantly in contact. In this sense, guilds and guild members in WoW can be considered ecosystems and as parts of larger ecosystems, but such ecosystems are artificial. Ecology Theory looks as guilds as wholes, but also at guild members as beings in an artificial environment.

Throughout the gamespace, there are different kinds of terrains, each sporting different types of monsters and dungeons. Cities are scattered throughout the servers, offering players transportation (in the form of flight paths, teleportation, zeppelins, or trams), banks, inns, and auction houses (for Faction cities). Though these are virtual spaces, the different terrains in Azeroth (name of the game world) have a variety of affordances for players’ avatars. The code creates a landscape upon which avatars can walk, climb, run, swim, and ride, but if there are bugs in the system, the landscape has moments where that affordance disappears (such as when a character falls through a wall or drops through a floor into virtual nothingness. There are also virtual solid substances in the game, such as weapons, armor, clothing, food, oils, stones, with the list extending outwards. Some of these items come pre-crafted, but others can be, in a sense, “fabricated by hand,” though the concept of manual labor in a game is never an accurate description of what occurs in-game (Gibson 131). Each of these affords players, through their avatars, something that will, hopefully, aid them in the game, but the gamespace does not change because of them, so players, even working within guilds, have limited agency within the scope of the artificial ecosystem.

Players only truly have control over how their avatars move through the various ecosystems represented throughout the game. An example of this would be a guild moving through a city. The city does not change because of their presence, their money does not alter how a vendor operates, and the city guards do not react when a large group moves through the space. Instead, players’ behaviors change due to the new environment in which they are playing (some players use the safety afforded by cities and towns to let their characters idle while they attend to responsibilities in the “meat space” or search online for advice and guides for in-game activities). They are not engaging bystanders in battle, they may be using a guild bank, and gathering supplies in the form of potions and armor. Once they leave the city, the behavior of the guild alters to adapt and meet the challenges of dungeons, random battles, and quests.

Where guilds and guild members have the greatest agency in-game is though the social affordances of the game, with pathways like text chats, voice chats, message boards, and guild banks. Through these social affordances, it is information (strategies, character details, object details, quest advice, social facts about the guild and the gamespace at large, roles of the sub-groups) moving within the microscopic level of the guild and between the members, not flowing down in a hierarchical fashion, but like a spider web of information to all members. Because the guilds are part of the ecosystem and do not quite compose an ecosystem onto themselves, guild members as nodes can do little to affect the programmed ecosystem around them. Instead, they leave their marks through reputation, activities, and guild rankings outside of the game, and the existence of their guild for other players. The guild as a node is only as important as the draw and interest in produces in other players throughout the gamespace. Guild officers have more power, in a sense, than non-power and new gamers because they have greater access and (usually) more experience with what can be accomplished through the social affordances provided by the gamespace, but even they do not have much agency in the ecosystem of the server or the ecosystem of WoW. The social affordances allow these nodes to have access to one another, sharing similar experiences with their avatars as beings-in-the-virtual-world, and carving out a communication and informational space that they can use to craft spaces outside of the gamespace as their own, causing the activities in the artificial ecosystem of the game to bleed over into the informational network of the internet.

However, affordances in the gamespace are not only directed at avatars or as social affordances for player communication. Some perceived affordances, Don Norman’s concept, are equally useful for players, especially for advanced players, and their navigation and success in the gamespace. Players can access addons in order to modify and enhance the user interface, such as damage meters, performance measurements, and raid cooldowns as well as communications. These perceived affordances, which can be created officially by Blizzard or unofficially by players, can help give players greater agency in-game, especially during group raids where information can be crucial for the team to perform cohesively (with each player successfully fulfilling his or her role) but also to look back and judge places where performance could be tweaked or failed completely, as a way to enhance group performance for the next raid or the next completion of the same raid.

World of Warcraft Usability. Image hosted on the website, elsabartley .co.uk

World of Warcraft Usability. Image hosted on the website, elsabartley.co.uk

Because gamers are dealing with a virtual ecosystem, what they can physically do to interact with the gameworld is afforded to them by the keyboard and the mouse, and how they can interact with their fellow guild members is afforded to them through the keyboard and/or a headset. While only certain keys afford certain actions in-game, running, cast spells, healing, attacking, making gestures, and so on, not all keys will afford players actions. The software of most MMOs also sketchy when it comes to touch-screen affordances, as touching such screens will cause movement of the player or the camera angle, but do so sloppily because the software is not truly programmed for such technology.

The perceived affordances of the gamespace are based on cultural constraints and convictions, but they also help to redefine those same constraints and convictions internationally. The layout, however, was constructed by Blizzard, a company that is located in the United States, so the cultural conventions and constraints are heavily influenced by US cultural norms. But, since the game has been around for almost a decade or more, the visual layout for things like the menus, the action boxes, and help guides are now familiar to players, regardless the country from which they are playing. These players may not be from a single culture, but they do constitute a group. They are WoW gamers, which becomes an aspect of their identity tying them together. These are perceived affordances players expect to be there when they log on to the game, and their familiarity is useful for new or returning players because it is a system where they can seek advice in-game and out of game.

Like any group of organisms functioning within a much larger ecosystem, guilds do emerge and disintegrate, mutating into smaller and larger versions of themselves as people begin and quit the game, separate into separate guilds due to in-fighting or stagnation, and vanish altogether. These guilds use the various kinds of affordances offered to them within the gamespace (as well as those external but related) to enhance their performance as individuals and groups, to stay in contact and relay information (though that information can sometimes become misinformation), and to share experiences that bind them as a unit (though such experiences and players’ interactions with and reactions against each other may also be what destroys a group). The guilds as groups and players as individuals are the organic reactions within a highly artificial set of ecosystems.

Where to Go From Here?

While Ecology Theory is very interesting in looking at what an MMO gamespace can afford players (as visual imitations of real world affordances—houses, banks, transportation—, social affordances in the way information can be relayed throughout the virtual environment, and perceived affordances granted to players from the creators and through player-innovation), from the theorists we read, it is hard to talk about the ecosystems of the gamespace. I was surprised by how hard it is to reconcile conversations about organic ecosystems with virtual ecosystems that have players’ avatars moving through different terrains, because the artificial ecosystem is programmed to run on a cycle and be the same for everyone. Players of MMOs have very little agency in the workings of the gamespace, finding only small alterations that respond to their actions, generally with certain NPCs making comments about a quest being completed.  Players are operating their avatars within a sandbox world, and yet there is very little they can do to affect the world at large.

Instead, it is the interactions of the players and the information moving between them where they have the greatest agency in WoW’s different levels of ecosystem. As well, players have greater agency in how they can tap into the information output of the game and their (and their fellow guild members’) activities by using addons. It is the perceived affordances of the gamespace that allow players to move more successfully through the gamespace as individuals and as groups. It was also intriguing to realize that the artificial ecosystems being depicted in-game are so strictly divided: wilderness does not intrude upon civilization, or at least not for long as city guards are programmed to fight and defeat any monsters who leave their territory. If I were to try discussing the ecosystems of WoW on a scale beyond the theorists we have read, I would definitely look more into virtual environments and how the perceived affordances of the gamespace make up for the meaningless imitations scattered throughout. The gamespace is an ecosystem, one that could still continue existing (for a while, at least) without people connecting to it, but the people, especially through guilds, are where the most interesting analyses of WoW come into play as their avatars moving through the virtual space are the “organisms plus environment.”

References

Bateson, Gregory. “Form, Substance, and Difference.” Steps to an Ecology of Mind. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1987. [PDF].

Gibson, James J. “Theory of Affordances.” The Information for Visual Perceptions. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1986. [PDF].

Norman, Don. “Affordances and Design.” JND.org. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.

Sutcliffe, A. G., V. Gonzalez, J. Binder, and G. Nevarez. “Social Mediating Technologies: Social Affordances and Functionalities.” International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction 27 .11 (2011): 1037-1065. Academic Search Complete. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.

Thorne, Steven L., Ingrid Fischer, and Xiaofei Lu. “The Semiotic Ecology and Linguistic Complexity of an Online Game World.” ReCALL 24.3 (September 2012): 279-301. Cambridge Journals. Web. 13 Apr. 2014.

Just Because I Can

 


Case Study #3

Big Ass Fans and Noel Studio Skylights

Big Ass Fans and Noel Studio Skylights

The Noel Studio is typically identified as a multiliteracy center and discussed in terms of writing center structure, theory, and pedagogy. Because not much has been written on the Noel Studio specifically, it’s helpful to look to writing center studies.

In his seminal article, The idea of a writing center, S. North (1984) defined writing centers as far more than fix-it-shops (p. 435) where faculty send their students for remediation. He cited frequent examples of faculty misunderstanding and the frustrations of framing the writing center as a remedial service. Critical of those who misunderstand and misrepresent writing center work, North challenged the field to clarify their services and work towards educating students and faculty to the real role of the writing center: “the object is to make sure that writers, and not necessarily their texts, are what get changed by instruction” (p. 438).

Since then, writing center scholarship has taken up the charge and sought to define the writing center in terms of praxis by investigating the politics of place and space (Nelson & Everts, 2001), the role of administrators as WPAs (Murphy and Stay, 2006), and how writing centers adapt to changes (Carpenter & Lee, 2013; Pemberton, 2003). At the foreground, however, has been a focus of the work that happens in a writing center–the pedagogical approach to both working with student writers and training consultants to do so.

In her recent book, Peripheral Visions on Writing Centers, J. G. McKinney (2013) critiques the narrative of writing centers that has emerged from these examinations. Three themes, she argues, arise as the tropes of the narrative:

  1. Writing centers are cozy homes
  2. Writing centers are iconoclastic
  3. Writing centers tutor (all students)

These themes, she argues are reductive and neglect the complexity of the work that happens within writing center spaces. Similarly, in their chapter in Cases in higher education spaces,  Carpenter, Valley, Apostel, and Napier (2013) challenge the typical narrative of writing center work by examining approaches to working with multimodal and digital compositions. More specifically, they examine what they call “a studio pedagogy,” arguing for the importance of space design in writing center work. They propose five criteria for a Studio pedagogy:

1)    Critical and Creative Thinking: Consultants encourage students to engage in convergent (critical) and divergent (creative) thinking regarding audience, purpose, context, and mode.

2)    Information Fluency: Consultants encourage students to think divergently and convergently about the ways in which students gather, evaluate, interpret, and integrate information into their communication products and practices.

3)    Integrative Collaboration: Consultants encourage students to see their communication from multiple perspectives through the feedback process while incorporating insights offered from interactions within the space.

4)    Interactive: Consultants encourage students to think about the dynamics in their collaborative groups and how communication is enhanced through this social process. Consultants promote interaction by allowing students to project ideas in high-and-low tech ways.

5)    Visual: Consultants encourage students to think visually, embracing a design approach that allows students to actively participate with manipulatives and interactive resources.

6)    Dynamic: Consultations change with students’ needs and expectations. That is, consultants adapt their methods of consulting.

These six criteria are directly connected to the physical environment in which students collaborate and compose. As such, it seems appropriate to apply ecology and distributed cognition to the Noel Studio as an object of study to better understand how the individuals interact with their environment to enhance the collaboration and composing processes.

 

Ecology of the Noel Studio

Spellman’s definition of ecology as “the science that deals with the specific interactions that exist between organisms and their living and nonliving environments” (p. 5) offers the foundational lens for understanding how the Noel Studio operates as an ecosystem. The physical space of the Noel Studio was designed to afford the collaboration and the composing process and includes

  • The Greenhouse: the primary, large open space, equipped with large green tables on wheels that, combined with the tuffets for seats, force individuals to face each other when they talk.
Madison Middle visits the Noel Studio to work on their Google Sites for the Madison County Historical Society

Madison Middle visits the Media Wall in the Noel Studio to work on their Google Sites for the Madison County Historical Society

  • The Medial Wall: 3 stations, each with a large, touch-screen monitor attached to a PC, a dual screen monitor, and another screen with cables to attach additional devices. Each station also offers chairs on wheels and mushroom tables with integrated power sources. Individuals or groups can use these stations to work with potentially three documents at once. For example, students could be constructing a Prezi on the large, touch-screen monitor, looking at the outline on the dual screen monitor, and researching on the laptop attached to the third monitor.
  • Breakout Spaces and Practice Rooms: Intended for small-group (the Breakout Spaces) or one-on-one (the Practice Rooms) interactions, each of these rooms is equipped with a large-screen monitor attached to a computer work station, video and audio-recording technology, whiteboards, and mobile chairs and half-round tables. In these rooms, students can plan and rehearse presentations.
  • The Invention Space: Equipped with wall-to-wall whiteboards, a CopyCam, rocking chairs and stationary seating, and manipulatives (Playdoh, Legos, Jenga, crayons, etc.), the Invention Space affords play and creativity for brainstorming and visualization activities.
  • The Discovery Classroom: a large, informal classroom with 3 projectors and drop-down screens, a massive whiteboard, comfortable and mobile chairs, 24 laptops, a lectern, and a media center (VHS and DVD player) with a control panel.

Additionally, the Noel Studio also contains 5 offices for administrators and consultants, public computer work stations, mobile whiteboards, and a break room. Throughout the space, there are floor outlets and Ethernet ports that allow individuals to charge and connect mobile devices necessary for new media composing.

Spellman explains that ecology is typically categorized according to complexity (p. 5), which results in levels of organization (p.14):

Organs–>Organism–>Population–>Communities–>Ecosystem–>Biosphere

As organisms are living things, the organisms existing in the Noel Studio are all humans. Having distinguished that, we can define the resulting levels of organization:

Biosphere: The biosphere that encompasses the Noel Studio is Eastern Kentucky University (EKU), which is comprised of many other ecosystems (colleges, departments, offices, and organizations)

Ecosystem: The Noel Studio is an ecosystem–it is a complete system on its own but is also a component of biosphere. Complex systems, Syverson explains, are simultaneously spontaneous, self-organizing, adaptive, dynamic, unpredictable, disordered, and structured, coherent, and purposeful (p. 6). The components of the Noel Studio work together with the purpose of developing effective communication skills.

Communities: The communities within the Noel Studio are administrators, consultants, consultees, collaborators, and donors.

Populations: Even though all of the organisms in the Noel Studio are human, they constitute different populations: students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members. These populations create communities. Although all of the organisms in the biosphere have the option of being a component of the Noel Studio, only a small percentage of those populations choose to be.

Spellman emphasizes that each organism in an ecosystem has a specific role, or niche, to fill. As such “in order for the ecosystem to exist, a dynamic balance must be maintained among all biotic and abiotic factors–a concept known as homeostasis” (p. 15). As such, organisms and the environmental components all serve as nodes within the system, though the organisms have agency whereas the non-living environmental components do not. Rather, nonliving environmental factors serve as affordances or constraints for the activities of the organisms. Thus, homeostasis, or balance, is dependent on each organism’s ability to perceive the positive and negative affordances of the physical environment.

Relationships and Movement

To understand what moves in the ecosystem of the Noel Studio, let’s turn to the Cary Institute’s expanded definition of ecology: “The scientific study of the processes influencing the distribution and abundance of organisms, the interactions among organisms, and the interactions between organisms and the transformation and flux of energy and matter.” In the case of the Noel Studio, the “transformation and flux of energy and matter” is actually the transformation of student’s ideas into texts. Consultants and students interact with the physical environment to create visible representations of ideas.

This movement, then is reliant on not only the affordances (Gibson) of the physical environment but also what Norman identifies as perceived affordances. The more the student and consultant are able to take advantage of the affordances of the physical environment, the more effective their textual representation.

For example, when a student comes in to work with a consultant, the consultant typically first chooses a spot in the Greenhouse–with no permanent technology in the open space of the Greenhouse, the student and consultant can engage in conversation with little technological distraction. For this example, we’ll say that the student has not yet started writing the paper–she has a prompt and an idea of a topic, but she doesn’t know how to narrow it down or start to organize it. Once the student has explained this, the consultant will ask to see the prompt–the construction of which affords direction for the student’s paper.

20100920noel-studio-scenes0042After coming to an agreement about what the student is supposed to do in the paper and that their consultation will focus on brainstorming, the consultant will take the student to the Invention Space. As the consultant is already familiar with the spaces and technology, she recognizes that the Invention Space affords brainstorming activities. The large whiteboards, CopyCam, and multicolored dry erase markers allow both the student and consultant to contribute and organize ideas as they become represented on the dry erase board. Additionally, the revision of ideas is afforded as the representations are easily erased as they no longer signify the evolving ideas. Once the student is happy with the ideas that are represented, she and the consultant would use the CopyCam to create an outline–a visible representation of the logical structure of the student’s intended communication.

If time or in follow-up consultations, the student and consultant would use the spaces and technology to proceed through the revision process (sometimes students will do so in the space without a consultant, too). Together, they might use the Media Wall to conduct research, draft, review, and revise. If it’s a presentation, the student might also use a Practice Room to practice the presentation, then move to another space to work through the writing process again.

In each situation, the interactions between the student, consultant, and the tools of the environment transform the student’s ideas as they become represented in the various texts she composes throughout the process. Her (and the consultant’s) ability to perceive the various affordances of the technology that she uses shapes what the final text will look like. Similarly, the constraints of the technology also force her to make decisions, shaping the final product. For instance, if the student’s final project is a video that she will share with the class, her video is reliant not only on her technical skill but also on her ability to perceive what she can and cannot do with the video editing software that she chooses. She knows that she wants to lay a music track over the video–a choice that Movie Maker, iMovie, and most other video editing software afford–but if she can’t perceive the function of the software that affords that design choice, she will have to revise her plan. In this ecosystem, then, the ideas are transformed as the move throughout the nodes (both organisms and environment) of the network.

How the Network Grows and Dissolves

In an ecosystem, growth and balance depend on population diversity (Spellman) and the abundance of resources. This is true of the Noel Studio as well. Considering different groups of students and faculty as the different populations in the Noel Studio, the ecosystem only grows when there is representation from the different disciplines, social groups, and demographic groups. Before the Noel Studio opened in 2010, the EKU Writing Center operated in a basement in Case Annex–a dorm that has been converted to office and classroom space. Isolated to one department (the English Department) in terms of staffing, funding, and use, the Writing Center did not grow. When the Writing Center Director reached out to a new population (EKU Libraries) to discuss collaboration, the idea of the Noel Studio formed. Discussions between the Writing Center Director and the then-Dean of Libraries prompted further outreach to representatives from various populations–the Department of Communication, Information Technology, Institutional Effectiveness, and the Office of the Provost. As ideas for what the space could be expanded, these representatives realized the increasing diversity of the populations and their interests would require a new physical space.

The increased diversity also increased access to resources as the English Department would no longer be responsible for the full funding (although it does still contribute to staffing). Working with the Library Advancement office, this newly formed group was able to secure funding from donors, EKU Libraries, the Provost’s office, and University Programs. Since opening in September 2010, the Noel Studio has continued to increase the population diversity–expanding the Noel Studio Advisory Committee to include representatives from additional offices, such as the Office of Undergraduate Research and the Teaching and Learning Center. Additionally, there has been an increase in population diversity among student use and faculty collaborations as we now see every college, social group, and demographic group that constitute the EKU biosphere represented in the Noel Studio ecosystem.

The distribution of population diversity, however, is still imbalanced as many groups are under-represented. While the ecosystem does include representatives from the College of Justice and Safety, for instance, they are few and far between. If we cannot increase the Justice and Safety student population in the Noel Studio, that population may die out as students graduate. As populations die out, the distribution of resources becomes less spread out and decrease the potential sources of funding. As funding decreases, the ability to support diverse populations also decreases. In this case, the ecosystem would not be able to revert to the previous situation of the Writing Center, as the resources and space have already been reallocated within the English Department. As such, the continued existence of the Noel Studio is reliant on increasing and maintaining population diversity.

Affordances and Constraints of Ecology as a Theory

More so than previous theories, ecology helped me think through the consequences of having a homogenous population of student and faculty participants in the Noel Studio. While diversity of students is typically something we think about at the staffing level and do, to a degree, look at population diversity in end-of-semester reporting, thinking about how that diversity potentially affects the growth, decline, and future of the Noel Studio forces me to re-evaluate the amount of outreach we currently do. We offer services for distance students, but we could definitely do more marketing. The colleges “across the bypass” (there is a bypass that literally divides campus) house the disciplines that we contain the Noel Studio’s lowest population of users, indicating a need for more outreach which could lead to more resources. Too often, I think, we consider the resources we have before trying to increase our population diversity rather than the resources that we can gain.

In terms of constraints, one of the frustrations of this theory was trying to think about the environment and technology as only tools that afford action. Thinking about agency as limited to the living organisms made it difficult to talk about the affordances of the technology without assigning agency to the environment. As a result, agency in this theory relies on the organism’s ability to perceive its agency. This is a gap I plan to consider in my final synthesis as it seems important to consider whether the technology can help shape the representation of ideas (as a mediator) or if it really is just reliant on what humans can perceive as capable wherein technology continues to be only a tool.

References

Carpenter, Valley, Apostel, & Napier. (2013). Studio Pedagogy: A Model for Collaboration, Innovation, and Space Design, (pp. 313-329) In Cases on higher education spaces: innovation, collaboration, and technology, (R. Carpenter, Ed.). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Carpenter, R. & Lee, S. (2013). Introduction: Navigating literacies in multimodal spaces. The Routlege reader on writing centers and new media, (xiv-xxvi). New York: Routlege.

Gibson, J. J. (1986). The theory of affordances. The ecological approach to visual perception. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

McKinney, J. G. (2103). Peripheral visions for writing centers. Boulder, CO: Utah State University P.

Murphy, C. & Stay, B.L. (2006). The writing center director’s resource guide. New York: Routlege.

Nelson, J. & Everts, K. (2001). The Politics of Writing Centers. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook-Heinemann.

Norman, D. (n.d.). Affordances and design, Retreived from https://docs.google.com/file/d/0BzIskzHsjKsRN0NRRktncjBGb1U/edit

North, S. (1984). The idea of a writing center. College English, 46(5), 433-436. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/377047

Pemberton, M. (2003). The center will hold. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.

Spellman, F. R. (2008). Ecology for nonecologists. Lanham, MD: Government Institutes.

Syverston, M. A. (1999). Introduction: What is an ecology of composition? The wealth of reality: An ecology of composition. Carbondale: S Illinois University Press.

Mindmap #12: Connectedness

Last week’s mindmap took into account most of what we’ve read from Castells, so I did not add any more to the Castells nodes. Preparing for end-of-term assignments, however, I started thinking about the network ecology I’ve created in the mindmap in order to identify some trends. So I pulled out what appear to be the most connected nodes in the mindmap network — Foucault, Ecology, and Network Society — and started thinking about characteristics that describe these most-connected nodes (aside, of course, from being the most connected).

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 10.30.58 AM copy

Well-Connected Nodes: Inset from larger mindmap (Popplet)

My three characteristics that help explain why these nodes are so well connected are influential, applicable, and contemporary.

Influential: Throughout the semester, we’ve seen Foucault’s ideas about the ephemeral character of discourse reiterated by various theorists and theories. From Biesecker’s (1989) différance to Prior et al.’s (2007) CHAT  to Latour’s (2005) ANT, and in several other theories in between, we’ve see Foucault’s influence. Several of us were chatting yesterday evening in Facebook about the theory tree assignment, and the phrase “Foucault is everywhere” kept repeating itself. I’ve drawn these connections in terms of the moment of discursive formation in a couple of my own blog posts, and others have focused on trace, on the archive, and on the monument in other blog posts. Foucault is clearly deeply influential on many of the theorists we’ve encountered this semester. In addition, we’ve seen ecological ideas appear relatively frequently, although less so that Foucault’s ideas. Where Foucault addresses the behavior of the individual rhetor in discourse, ecological perspectives address rhetors or actors as groups of like organisms working within a larger system. Both of these ideas are influential and, given our timeline of original publication, both Foucault and Bateson published in the same year (1972). They’ve had time to become influential.

Applicable: Here I’m focusing on the operationalizability (how’s that for a made-up word?) of the theory in real-world applications. Foucault remains entirely theoretical; on the other hand, ecology and network society find real-world applications as ways to specifically and concretely understand network activity occurring in lived experience. Ecology offers us specific ways to understand and affect the impact of actions on environment, to recognize the effects of ecological change on the biosphere, and to speculate on ways specific activities can improve ecological function. Network society offers us specific ways to understand  social activity in the informational global economy, and it provides a rubric for recognizing how networks include and exclude populations. While other theories (like ANT and genre theory) also provide operationalized examples (especially Spinuzzi’s [2003] genre tracing), I did see that characteristic on its own resulting in high levels of connectedness among other theorists.

Contemporary: I should probably term this “post-modern” to be more accurate, but I’ve chosen “contemporary” to more specifically reflect how these theorists/theories can relate to twenty-first-century lived experience. Foucault, ecology, and network society all provide broad perspectives for understanding the fragmentary, simultaneous, ephemeral experience of living in a networked age. Each in its own way resists pre-categorizing lived experiences: Foucault in terms of rhetoric, ecology in terms of biological determinism, and network society in terms of socio-econo-political realities. Each proposes to carefully study “all the things” within its domain before considering any type of categorical placement. I recognize that other theories also offer such tools for understanding; however, they did not result in the same level of connectedness in my mindmap.

And that’s the question to be addressed: What is it about these three theories that makes them more highly connected than others in my mindmap? I propose that one differentiator is the combination of these three characteristics. While other theories might demonstrate one of these characteristics, I think the combined characteristics help explain the level of connectivity. That said, I immediately recognize the need to problematize these categories as potentially hegemonic or biased toward utility. But in order to close this post, I won’t move past this point!

References

Bateson, G. (1987/1972). Steps to an ecology of mind: Collected essays in anthropology, psychiatry, evolution, and epistemology. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc.

Biesecker, B. A. (1989). Rethinking the rhetorical situation from within the thematic of “différance.” Philosophy & Rhetoric, 22(2), 110-130.

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Clarendon Lectures in Management Studies

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.

[ Header image: Connect. CC licensed image from Flickr user Katherine Pangaro ]

Case Study 3 — MOOCs and Student Learning: Under the Microscope

The rhetorical nature of classroom spaces has certainly influenced our field’s scholarship when exploring digitally mediated writing classrooms. Terms such as constructed, architecture, location, ecology, environment, and space appear regularly in our field’s discussions of where and how writing takes … Continue reading

MindMap April 6: Neurology

Neurology MindMap April 6

Neurology MindMap April 6

For this week’s assignment, I decided to map the way in which neurological principles resemble a network (as we discussed in the class activity) and to link neurology to ecology.

First, I added a new node called “Neurology.” From that node, I added nodes labeled “Nodes,” “Agency,” “Relationships,” and “State of the Network.”

From the “Nodes,” node, I added elements of the neurological process that seem to be nodes. From the “Agency,” node, I added postsynaptic (which only receives) and presynaptic (which only sends), and I added neurotransmitters.

These concepts are also linked to relationships, so I added connecting lines that connected to the words “receptor” and “transmitter,” which were branches from the “Relationship” node. I added another link between these two nodes to show that they are bound together by this relationship. I also added a node called “Movement,” from which I added nodes for the elements that actually move in the process.

From “The State of the Network,” I added nodes that explore those things that cause the network to grow or dissolve Neurogenesis and Neurodegenesis.

As I was reading about neurology, I thought a great deal about ecology, particularly the idea that the individual mind is a system within a system in ecology, so I linked the “Relationships” node in Neurology to the concept of the subsystem in the ecology section.

Because in ecology the relationships are bidirectional, I linked the unidirectionality of presynaptic and postsynaptic elements to the node in ecology discussing bidirectionality. I added a node in the middle of these lines to explore the links.

It seems to me that the unidirectionality in neurology is actually the result of looking at a subsystem within a larger system. If were were to examine the elements of the body that begin to trigger the process again, we would find that there are feedback loops that cause the neurological process to be triggered in the first place, but we only see this if we move out of the examination of the firing of neurons to look at the ecology of the body (biological processes) outside of this micro-level system.

As I was writing this, I realized that I could connect this to the laminated chronotropes in CHAT and to Spinuzzi’s multiple levels of scope in an activity system, so I drew new lines to connect neurology to them. It seems to me that neurology looks at the literal level in laminated chronotropes and it is the micro-level in the activity system.

 


Mindmap #11: The Network Society

Castells represented 500 page of network goodness, and I savored (quickly) every morsel. I struggled to limit what I planned to include in this week’s mindmap, settling on a tried and true method: I use the table of contents to organize my new nodes.

Popplet mindmap visualization

Mindmap #11: The Network Society. Adding in Castells’ The Network Society (Popplet).

I linked Castells to Foucault, Latour, and aspects of ecology.

I found Castells’ depiction of the network enterprise as a virtual culture similar to Foucault’s (2010/1972) desire to “restore to the statement the specificity of its occurrence… it emerges in its historical irruption” (p. 28). Castells (2010) writes about the network enterprise that it “learns to live within this virtual culture. Any attempt at crystallizing the position in the network as a cultural code in a particular time and space sentences the network to obscelesence, since it becomes too rigid for the variable geometry required by informationalism” (p. 215).

I found Castells’ description of mega-cities quite similar to Latour’s description of individuation through increasing nodal connections. Latour (2005) writes about the emergence of the actor-network, “it is by multiplying the connections with the outside that there is some chance to grasp how the ‘inside’ is being furnished. You need to subscribe to a lot of subjectifiers to become a subject ad you need to download a lot of individualizers to become an individual — just as you need to hook up a lot of localizers to have a local place and a lot of oligoptica for a context to ‘dominate’ over some other sites” (p. 215-6). Castell’s identifies three characteristics of mega-cities in the space of flows, the third being “connecting points to the global networks of every kind; the Internet cannot bypass mega-cities: it depends on the telecommunications and on the ‘telecommunicators’ located in those centers” (p. 440).

And I found Castells’ closing statements about social action similar to a couple of our definitions of ecology, especially to Spellman’s focus on the relationship of the organism to the environment. Spellman (2007) writes that “ecology is the study of the relation of an organism or a group of organisms to their environment. In a broader sense, ecology is the study of the relation of organisms or groups to their environments” (p. 4). Castells (2010) uses a very similar formulation for his definition of social action: “social action at the most fundamental level can be understood as the changing pattern of relationships between nature and culture” (p. 508). As ecology studies relationship patterns among groups and environments, social action studies relationship patterns among culture and nature. This similarity, like the others, suggests (along with the book’s extensive bibliography) that Castells has incorporated ideas from many different sources in articulating this theory of network society.

Once I made those connections, I suggested that Castells offers theoretical, but not an operationalized, theory of the network society; his study of society is used to produce his theory, but he pointedly avoids using the theory to operationalize or predict anything about the network society.

Finally, I decided that the IT revolution is the “event” that triggered the emergence of the network society; without the IT revolution, there is no network society. All of the aspects of the network society, depicted in the table of contents — the global informational economy, the network enterprise, the transformed labor force, real virtuality, the space of flows, and timeless time — all rely on the advances brought about by the IT revolution for their existence.

I found Castells delightfully cogent and engaging. This is surely because of my engagement in a profession that relies on the IT revolution for its existence, but I also found intriguing connections to our emerging understanding of networks as they relate to English studies and to my own nascent ideas about the role of boundaries in network formation and nodal connectivity.

References

Ahlefeldt-Laurvig, F. (2009, December 17). The global society [Creative Commons licensed illustration]. Retrieved from https://flic.kr/p/7oxX6G

Castells, M. (2010). The rise of the network society [2nd edition with a new preface]. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Foucault, M. (2010). The archaeology of knowledge and the discourse on language. (A. M. Sheridan Smith, Trans.). New York, NY: Vintage Books. (Original work published in 1972)

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Clarendon Lectures in Management Studies

Spellman, F. R. (2007). Introduction. In Ecology for Nonecologists [pp. 3-23]. Lanham, MD: Government Institutes

Mind Map April 6th: Neurons and Synapses

This week’s mind map began with an image choice that was — excuse me — a “no brainer” (you’re welcome, punsters; and I’m sorry, punsters). The image of the neuron — with all its accompanying transmission components — seemed well … Continue reading

March 31: Neurology and Network Society Readings

Graphic taken from University of Illinois at Chicago website: http://www.uic.edu/classes/bios/bios100/lectures/nervous.htm

The flow of Information through neurons.

“Unit 10: Neurobiology.” Online Textbook. Rediscovering Biology. Annenberg Learner. 2013. Web. 31 March 2014.

Summary:

Neurobiology is a science that explores the brain works at the molecular level. The brain has three primary functions: “(1) take in sensory information, (2) process information between neurons, and (3) make outputs”. Neurons react to stimuli, similar to an exigence. The brain links the outside world and behavior. Neurons communicate rapidly via electrical and chemical communication. Neurons are supported by other cells, called glial cells. These cells perform important support tasks. Neurons are bipolar in that they have a body and extensions at one end and an axon at the end with synaptic terminals that send signals to the dendrites of an adjacent neuron. The neuron operates as a battery by changing voltage. The neuron has a negative voltage maintained by a pump that transfers sodium, potassium, and chloride ions. Proteins, made of amino acids, some charged, move when the voltage changes, causing channels to open and close, permitting ions to cross the membrane. when stimulated, the neuron charge will change causes channels to open allowing for a positive charge, and then potassium comes out and it becomes negative again. The action potential moves down the length of the neuron and maintains directional flow by back propagation. Myelin, a fatty outer layer of most neurons, protects the axon cells of neurons, allowing action potential to travel rapidly down the neuron, and this allows the action potential to travel from the brain to the base of the spinal cord in 1/100 of a second. Some degenerative diseases are caused by the lose of myelin.

Synapses, the meeting places in neurons, allow for communication between neurons. Signals transfer in only one direction across synapses. Synapses are chemical or electrical (gap junction). Electrical synapses are more rapid, but chemical are easier to modulate. Neurons only fire or do not fire-all or nothing. Whether it fires is determined by the number of inputs it receives as well as the nature of those input signals. A signal traveling through the brain may involve many neurons.

Neurotransmitters cause neurons to either fire or they inhibit firing by binding with receptor proteins (ionotropic or metabotropic) for as long as it remains in the synapse. When the signal is no longer needed, the neurotransmitter leaves the synapse by diffusion away, breakdown, and reuptake. The presynaptic neuron can store the neurotransmitter can use it again later. Psychoative drugs can be used to stimulate neurostranmitters for pleasurable experiences, but desensitization may occur over time. Memory involves electrical changes in the brain, specifically in the structure of the neurons. Memory requires postsynaptic neurons to continue firing at a high rate rather than resting. Memories required repeated stimulus of neurons form several sources. A repeated stimulus results in the activation of a circuit of neurons stimulated, which results in learning. Long-term-memory requires new proteins to be synthesized.

Scientist claims there are many kinds of memory that can be viewed in temporal terms: short-term and long-term or declarative (factual) or reflexive (learning by repetition). The hippocampus (which aids spatial learning and memory) as well as the nervous system are vital to memory formation. Neurodegenerative disorders can be combated by engaging in mental activity.

 

Terms:

sensory neuron - the neurons that take in information from the environment

glial cell - support or glue cells in the brain that support neurons and perform tasks such as removing dead neurons and debris, releasing critical growth factors to neurons, and acting as insulating material for the neurons.  Ions are carried through lipid cell membranes via gated (open or closed) channels.

membrane potential - the difference in voltage between the inside and outside of the neuron

resting potential - generally -0.07 volts, the voltage of a neuron at rest

voltage-gated channels – Ion channels on the cell membrane that will open or close depending upon the voltage.

action potenial - A nerve impulse, or an action potential, is a series of electrical responses that occur in the cell.

synapses – the meeting points between neurons that allow them to communicate at their meeting points

long-term potentiation - The phenomenon in which a neuron becomes more sensitive to stimuli after receiving synchronized stimuli.

 

How can we compare neurobiology and the activation of neural pathways to Bateson’s discussion of ecology?

Bateson claims that the mind is not capable of mapping entire territories, but only the differences in those territories, and then the mind creates maps of maps to process information. The mind receives information from these mappings (data or information). The mind then transforms the differences, and then the mind perceives the data resulting from transformations made by actions. Bateson says that human behavior involves total mental circuits, and that while the mind as a whole is a complete system, there are sub-systems with the mind that can be viewed as a mind; each step in hierarchy should be viewed as a system (466).

If we were to examine neurobiology in light of Bateson’s discussion, we can see that while a mental thought controlling the movement of the body seems to be the result of one large system, upon closer inspection in biology, the firing or inhibiting of firing of a single neuron is a sub-system within the larger system of the mind.

What can neurobiology tell us about network systems in general?

It seems that neurobiology is useful for understanding the complex ways in which minute actions by a node in a network can impact the entire development or operation of the network. If the synaptic signal is not strong enough, then the action neuron will not fire. It occurred to me while I was reading about the neural network that every node in the network makes a significant contribution to the action of the network. As I was trying to summarize the chapter, I felt that every element was important. According to Castells, in a network society, the space of flows is “the material support of simultaneous  social practices communicated at a distance” and “involves the production, transmission, and processing of flows of information” (xxxii). Flow is incredibly important in neurobiology, and each step in the process of the firing or inhibited firing of a neuron is critical. In the same way, all elements involved in the space of flow, not just nodes that take action or produce, but those involved in transmission and processing of flows.

 

How is the brain like a computer network?

I was curious to find how others have articulated comparisons between computer networks and the brain and I came across this video that compares the internet to a child’s brain which is still in developing stages, rather than an adult brain that, in comparison to a child’s brain is in a stage of degeneration. According to the video the number of connections within each object is:

The internet: 100 trillion

Adult brain: 300 trillion

Child’s Brain: 1 quadrillion

The fact that every interaction a child has forms connections underscores the potential importance of interactions between every element in a network and in the context of the network.

 

Castells, Manuel. The Rise Of The Network Society. 2nd ed.Oxford; Malden, MA : Blackwell Publishers, 2010.

The pervasiveness of wireless technology in the global network.

The pervasiveness of wireless technology in the global network.

 

Summary

The preface of the 2010 edition of The Rise of the Network Society provides an interesting look back at the developments of networked society since the first edition of the text was published in 2000. Castells claims that a number of transformations in society (social, technological, economic, and cultural) have contributed to the network society. Castells uses crises in the early the early twenty-first century to illustrate the ways in which the economic, employment, communication, space and time, and human experience are impacted by the network society. While once society operated on a much more local scale, with national borders defining the bounds of society, the globalization of society has resulted in the blurring of such boundaries and the creation of a “global automaton” affecting the global economy that is resistant to attempts to control or regulate it. Labor is now divided into two categories: the talent and the generic worker, and wages have not kept pace with economic growth, contributing to the economic downturn. Internet and wireless communications have made society much more connected and communications much more immediate, as well as equal via horizontal communications. Rather than a society including virtual reality, the real has become virtual (xxix). Concepts of space and time have been turned on their heads. While we value immediacy, timeless time, while glacial time and biological time conflict with society’s valuation of timeless time. he ends the preface by claiming that research and theory on the network society must be accompanied by an ability to comprehend what is observed.

In the prologue, Castells explores some of the trends of the twentieth century that have led to this new society. Capitalism has been reshaped by the technological revolution; society has been reshaped by challenges to paternalism; humans have attempted to find identity in an increasingly fragmented world. Castells claims that all of these phenomena reshaping our society are related and that we can build a better world by observing, analyzing, and theorizing these trends. Castells explores the relationship between technology and society are the same concept, and the state throughout history has either stifled the development of technology or contributed to that development. According to Castells, the new social structure is manifested differently in different cultural structures (capitalism or statism), but informationalism has contributed to  the restructuring of capitalism. Catsells claims that societies are shaped by a complex structure based on production (a complex process), experience, and power (founded on the state). Castells claims that the core foundation of a society is the “interaction between modes of production and modes of development” as the case with the rise of “informational capitalism,” but societies reacted differently to this new mode of society (18). Informational societies are capitalist, but they are very diverse as well, with diversity dependent on cultural/institutional expression.

 

 

Terms

mass self-communication - a new form of societal communication  that is mass “because it reaches a potentially global audience through p2p networks and Internet connection” and it is multimodal because digitization of content and social software allow for reformatting of content in almost any form to be distributed in wireless networks (xxx).

space of contiguity - spaces of places (xxxi)

space of flows - “the material support of simultaneous social practices communicated at a distance” (xxxii).

timeless time - the kind of time occurring in a context when there is a systemic perturbation of sequential order (xli).

glacial time - slow motion time the human mind assigns to the evolution of the planet (xlii).

 

Theoretical Application: How can a network be both horizontal and vertical simultaneously? How can I apply it to La Leche League International’s network?

Castells claims that the information technology revolution has led to an increasing interaction between horizontal and vertical networks (xxx). He was speaking specifically about the interaction between mainstream media and interactive technologies such as blogs. Mainstream media, which is a top-down organization, has historically intended simply to pass on information without receiving feedback, while interactive technologies such as blogs and Twitter make it possible for the audience or consumer to provide feedback, which in turn may affect what the media outlet reports. According to Castells, horizontal networks often are focused on “communication built around people’s initiatives, interests, and desires” and they may involve cooperative projects (xxviii).

As I was reading the text, I realized that this simultaneous vertical and horizontal organization of the network resembles the way in which LLLI is organized. The organization prefers to promote the horizontal aspect of the organization offered by the mother-to-mother support groups, which require a shared interest in breastfeeding and cooperation of mothers, that are core to the organization. According to Nancy Mohrbacher and Sharon Knorr, mother-to-mother support groups provide informal support through vicarious experience, which increases a mother’s self-efficacy, while formal authoritative organizations make mothers lose self-confidence. Because LLLI leaders provide advice based on the organization’s core philosophy, and because LLLI manuals not only provide breastfeeding support but also strongly recommend an attachment parenting lifestyle that some mothers simply cannot live because they must work to provide for their families, some mothers may lose self-confidence as a parent because they are not capable of leading the lifestyle that the organization dictates.


Mind Map: Week 11

Mindmap11

In my mind map this week, I added a primary node of Ecology with smaller nodes linking out to Spellman and Syverston (since my book didn’t come until Tuesday, I only read summaries and, thus, I need to read him before I try to add him). As a result of our discussions in class this week, I created a connecting contrast node between Spellman and Latour. I actually had a date with a biologist on Saturday who studies freshwater streams and lakes, so this was a topic of our conversation. It was interesting for me to try to explain my perception (based on our readings and discussions) that ecology focuses on groups and classification. He didn’t see it until I explained how Latour’s theory of tracing all of the messy connections to an individual helps to define that individual’s network–the result of which would not be generalizable to other individuals. For instance, a species of fish serves a role in an ecosystem–its niche–and the role could be filled by any other of the fish in that species. However, while human individuals also serve a role in their network, all of an individual’s roles within his or her own specialized network cannot be fulfilled by another individual, because we have such a high level of agency and the importance we place on social systems.

I also added a primary node for Syverston and connected her concept of emergence to Bazerman, as I see a direct connection with the concept of speech acts and genres. This is a connection I plan to explore more as part of my own research.