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Outlining a CV in Composition & Rhetoric

Composition and rhetoric is a little bit of an intimidating field to write one’s CV into, because we study and have expertise on the rhetoricity of things. Applying those same guidelines and standards to my own work can be intimidating. Nevertheless, here’s a beginning outline.

  1. Personal Information
    1. Include meaningful contact information: where I live is useful, but email and mobile phone are probably most meaningful.
    2. Include social media links (but be sure those included and those not included are up to snuff and entirely presentable). The identity we allow others to see who are not our friends is as important to readers of the CV as the identity we create for those who follow or like our social media presences.
    3. Include professional-oriented social media like LinkedIn and Academia.edu. One’s openness and willingness to be identified on social media is part of the rhetorical identity portrayed through the CV.
  2. Education
    1. In reverse chronological order, most current/recent first.
    2. Don’t bother with GPA at this point (I’m 22 years into my professional career). What matters is that I earned degrees from accredited colleges.
    3. Be sure to include thesis and dissertation title, but not abstract.
  3. Publications: Group these in several categories, depending on what’s applicable. I’ll probably go with something like this:
    1. Peer Reviewed
      1. Published
      2. Accepted and Forthcoming
      3. Proposed
    2. Online
      1. Solicited or Responses to Calls
      2. Unsolicited
      3. Guest Posts
    3. Popular
  4. Presentations
    1. Conference
    2. Invited
    3. Informal (not sure what this is going to mean…)
  5. Teaching Experience
    1. Higher Education: Term-by-term summary statement of each class outcome and professional development undertaken as a result, if applicable. [Note: here’s where I wonder if it’s useful to specify anything about student evaluations, because mine are regularly quite strong.]
    2. Secondary: Quick listing of classes
    3. Noncredit or Others: Include guest lectures, church teaching experiences, other non-traditional instructional opportunities. <– This is probably a way to demonstrate a career-long dedication to pedagogy, perhaps a differentiator when applying to a school with strong instructional requirements.
  6. Service: I think I’ll present this as pedagogical and community. As a composition teacher, my work is often in service to all other disciplines; as a professional and as a person, I give back to my professional, personal, and religious communities and want it known that I do so.
    1. Pedagogical (Just a mention that I teach composition)
    2. Professional
    3. Personal
  7. Grants: I have little to show here, but I don’t see much benefit of grouping these with granularity.
  8. Professional: This is an area unique to my experience: I have LOADS of professional experience in higher education and nonprofits that is not “academic” or “scholarly.” As a result, I want to be able to highlight my work history in several categories.
    1. Web Development
    2. IT Management
    3. Educational Leadership
  9. Professional Development
    1. Webinars
    2. Conferences
    3. Classes
  10. Honors and Awards
    1. Offices held/Appointments received
    2. Awards and honors received (I think I’ll go back to undergraduate, but probably don’t need to. Only if appropriate to Comp/Rhet experience.)
    3. Other ways of being honored (honorary degrees, employee of the month, etc.)
  11. Interests: A way to reach beyond the scholarly and point to areas of intersection between personal, professional, community, and service. In my case, my interests are in technologies, especially new technologies.
  12. References

Outlines: CC-licensed Flickr image courtesy mkorsakov

Outlining a CV in Composition & Rhetoric

Composition and rhetoric is a little bit of an intimidating field to write one’s CV into, because we study and have expertise on the rhetoricity of things. Applying those same guidelines and standards to my own work can be intimidating. Nevertheless, here’s a beginning outline.

  1. Personal Information
    1. Include meaningful contact information: where I live is useful, but email and mobile phone are probably most meaningful.
    2. Include social media links (but be sure those included and those not included are up to snuff and entirely presentable). The identity we allow others to see who are not our friends is as important to readers of the CV as the identity we create for those who follow or like our social media presences.
    3. Include professional-oriented social media like LinkedIn and Academia.edu. One’s openness and willingness to be identified on social media is part of the rhetorical identity portrayed through the CV.
  2. Education
    1. In reverse chronological order, most current/recent first.
    2. Don’t bother with GPA at this point (I’m 22 years into my professional career). What matters is that I earned degrees from accredited colleges.
    3. Be sure to include thesis and dissertation title, but not abstract.
  3. Publications: Group these in several categories, depending on what’s applicable. I’ll probably go with something like this:
    1. Peer Reviewed
      1. Published
      2. Accepted and Forthcoming
      3. Proposed
    2. Online
      1. Solicited or Responses to Calls
      2. Unsolicited
      3. Guest Posts
    3. Popular
  4. Presentations
    1. Conference
    2. Invited
    3. Informal (not sure what this is going to mean…)
  5. Teaching Experience
    1. Higher Education: Term-by-term summary statement of each class outcome and professional development undertaken as a result, if applicable. [Note: here’s where I wonder if it’s useful to specify anything about student evaluations, because mine are regularly quite strong.]
    2. Secondary: Quick listing of classes
    3. Noncredit or Others: Include guest lectures, church teaching experiences, other non-traditional instructional opportunities. <– This is probably a way to demonstrate a career-long dedication to pedagogy, perhaps a differentiator when applying to a school with strong instructional requirements.
  6. Service: I think I’ll present this as pedagogical and community. As a composition teacher, my work is often in service to all other disciplines; as a professional and as a person, I give back to my professional, personal, and religious communities and want it known that I do so.
    1. Pedagogical (Just a mention that I teach composition)
    2. Professional
    3. Personal
  7. Grants: I have little to show here, but I don’t see much benefit of grouping these with granularity.
  8. Professional: This is an area unique to my experience: I have LOADS of professional experience in higher education and nonprofits that is not “academic” or “scholarly.” As a result, I want to be able to highlight my work history in several categories.
    1. Web Development
    2. IT Management
    3. Educational Leadership
  9. Professional Development
    1. Webinars
    2. Conferences
    3. Classes
  10. Honors and Awards
    1. Offices held/Appointments received
    2. Awards and honors received (I think I’ll go back to undergraduate, but probably don’t need to. Only if appropriate to Comp/Rhet experience.)
    3. Other ways of being honored (honorary degrees, employee of the month, etc.)
  11. Interests: A way to reach beyond the scholarly and point to areas of intersection between personal, professional, community, and service. In my case, my interests are in technologies, especially new technologies.
  12. References

Outlines: CC-licensed Flickr image courtesy mkorsakov

Posthumanist Approach to Technology Tools

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

Introduction

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

Summary

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

Scrivener logo

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

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

Extrapolation

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

Recommendation

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

Kindle in the Writing Classroom

Acheson, P., Barratt, C. C., & Balthazor, R. (2013). Kindle in the writing classroom. Computers and Composition, 30(4), 283-296. doi:10.1016/j.compcom.2013.10.005

Summary

325px-Amazon_Kindle_3

Amazon Kindle 3 by NotFromUtrechtOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

This article studies the pedagogical effects of using Kindle™ readers for accessing texts in an English classroom in 2011. The results demonstrate minimal changes in learning as a result of using Kindle devices for reading and writing, but predict the likelihood that students of the present and future seek to access texts in multiple modes using multiple platforms (like laptop or desktop, smartphone, and e-readers).

Findings

Two librarians and an English professor at the University of Georgia received a grant to provide Kindle 3.0 readers “to be used as an integral part of the writing classroom experience for students” (p. 283) in a literature and composition class. The three developed a mixed methods study to assess students’ “comfort with and use of technology, their preferred method for reading different types of texts, and their experience with the Kindle at the beginning, mid-point, and end of the semester” (p. 284). The researchers concluded that pedagogical aims were neither more nor less effectively accomplished with than without Kindles. “None [students] noted either benefit or liability in the use of the Kindles for learning” (p. 291).

Although learning outcomes were not affected, researchers noted that some students struggled with disorientation as they transitioned from print text to e-text. The researchers recognized the value of disorientation: “We as professors and instructional librarians would be wise to expect and even encourage new tools in the classroom; the disorientation that accompanies these evolutions is often paired with new and valuable possibilities” (p. 293).

The Kindle afforded searching, highlighting, annotating, and bookmarking, but not every student found those features useful. In fact, librarians and professor alike found students taking notes on paper with Kindles in hand during class sessions. The researchers realized that students accessed texts in multiple formats as conditions dictated. Some found print copies easier to read and annotate. All used their Kindles for reading, but most also used other digital devices to access texts.

Review

I found the conclusion that students “prefer access to materials in multiple formats” (p. 293) most interesting. This suggests that teachers must be prepared to support and provide information on multiple platforms for our students.

  • Provide Kindle section numbers and print page numbers for readings.
  • Expect students to highlight and annotate electronically and write marginalia in print copies.
  • Evaluate the fairness of asking questions about repeated uses of words as part of textual analysis, given the e-reader’s ability to conduct full-text searches.
  • Determine whether an e-reader’s ability to “read” the text back to the student is adequate to grasp its meaning and significance.

As a result of the study’s sharp focus on Kindle 3.0, I would recommend this article only to colleagues seeking information about the use of e-reading devices and/or e-reader software in classes. However, colleagues seeking insight into the future of digital text access will likely find the study informative.

Kindle in the Writing Classroom

Acheson, P., Barratt, C. C., & Balthazor, R. (2013). Kindle in the writing classroom. Computers and Composition, 30(4), 283-296. doi:10.1016/j.compcom.2013.10.005

Summary

325px-Amazon_Kindle_3

Amazon Kindle 3 by NotFromUtrechtOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

This article studies the pedagogical effects of using Kindle™ readers for accessing texts in an English classroom in 2011. The results demonstrate minimal changes in learning as a result of using Kindle devices for reading and writing, but predict the likelihood that students of the present and future seek to access texts in multiple modes using multiple platforms (like laptop or desktop, smartphone, and e-readers).

Findings

Two librarians and an English professor at the University of Georgia received a grant to provide Kindle 3.0 readers “to be used as an integral part of the writing classroom experience for students” (p. 283) in a literature and composition class. The three developed a mixed methods study to assess students’ “comfort with and use of technology, their preferred method for reading different types of texts, and their experience with the Kindle at the beginning, mid-point, and end of the semester” (p. 284). The researchers concluded that pedagogical aims were neither more nor less effectively accomplished with than without Kindles. “None [students] noted either benefit or liability in the use of the Kindles for learning” (p. 291).

Although learning outcomes were not affected, researchers noted that some students struggled with disorientation as they transitioned from print text to e-text. The researchers recognized the value of disorientation: “We as professors and instructional librarians would be wise to expect and even encourage new tools in the classroom; the disorientation that accompanies these evolutions is often paired with new and valuable possibilities” (p. 293).

The Kindle afforded searching, highlighting, annotating, and bookmarking, but not every student found those features useful. In fact, librarians and professor alike found students taking notes on paper with Kindles in hand during class sessions. The researchers realized that students accessed texts in multiple formats as conditions dictated. Some found print copies easier to read and annotate. All used their Kindles for reading, but most also used other digital devices to access texts.

Review

I found the conclusion that students “prefer access to materials in multiple formats” (p. 293) most interesting. This suggests that teachers must be prepared to support and provide information on multiple platforms for our students.

  • Provide Kindle section numbers and print page numbers for readings.
  • Expect students to highlight and annotate electronically and write marginalia in print copies.
  • Evaluate the fairness of asking questions about repeated uses of words as part of textual analysis, given the e-reader’s ability to conduct full-text searches.
  • Determine whether an e-reader’s ability to “read” the text back to the student is adequate to grasp its meaning and significance.

As a result of the study’s sharp focus on Kindle 3.0, I would recommend this article only to colleagues seeking information about the use of e-reading devices and/or e-reader software in classes. However, colleagues seeking insight into the future of digital text access will likely find the study informative.

Mindmap #13: Concept Groupings 1

This week is the first of two focused on grouping theorists and/or theories by concepts. I identified five concept groups to which I’ve connected theories: Agency, Flow, Meaning, Boundaries, and Composition/Rhetoric. I’ve included a screenshot of the area I’ve set aside for concept grouping, along with a full-map version.

Popplet mindmap visualization

Concept Groupings, Week 1 (Inset): Putting Theories in Place (Popplet)

Popplet mindmap visualization

The Entire Mindmap: Concept Groupings on the Left (Popplet)

I described the concept groups as follows:

  • Agency: Individual nodes (as opposed to groups of nodes) are given partial or full agency in the network.
  • Flow: There is movement of some material through or in the network.
  • Meaning: That which flows through the network has intrinsic meaning; it is not simply material.
  • Boundaries: The theory offers some recognition of boundaries of the network, either as affordances or as constraints to the operation or definition of the network.
  • Composition/Rhetoric: Theory offers direct or indirect reference to rhet/comp, or originates in rhet/comp.

I chose these concepts in part because several have been part of our inquiry throughout the semester and in part because these are aspects of networks that interest me most. I am becoming especially interested in boundaries in networks, whether the result of framework or infrastructure constraints or the result of relatively arbitrary efforts to circumscribe networks for study or description.

Geopolitical boundaries fascinate me, the result of growing up in Israel. I experienced early in my adolescence the arbitrary nature and origin of current Middle Eastern boundaries initiated through global political interests and will after World War I and, to a lesser extent, World War II. With an Israeli visa stamp in my passport, I remain a victim of those arbitrary borders — with few exceptions, I can’t cross the border into most Arab states using that passport. I can visit Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Oman, and UAE, but I’m unable to visit Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, smaller Persian Gulf states or North African Arab states (Israeli Passport, 2014).

I would argue that the root of many socio-political conflicts in the Middle East stem from global influence on local boundaries. For example, the current Syrian civil war pits the minority Alawite ruling authority against the Sunni majority, the result of poorly-planned and articulated boundaries among various people groups with historic enmity toward one another. Not that individual nation-states or regions for specific people groups is the answer — reference ongoing enmity between Pakistan and India — but borders drawn in collaboration with, rather than enforced upon, local groups would surely have addressed, even mitigated, some of the pent-up enmity that has recently exploded in violence in Syria and surrounding nations. Boundaries are deeply decisive in the Middle East as borders, but they are also deeply decisive as concepts and socio-political realities. The result of divisiveness (differentiation) is discourse, and the rhetoric of boundaries, whether in reference to tricksters or Middle Eastern borders or networks, fascinates me.

At any rate, this week I limited connections to the theories rather than the theorists. I’ve maintained a running list of theories in the upper-left corner of my mindmap, each of which I’ve connected as Theorized and/or Operationalized. I’ve used that list of theories for connections. Next week, in addition to adding a concept or two, I’ll connect individual theorists to the concept groupings. This will weave a remarkably tangled web. It might even be ambient.

Reference

Israeli passport. (2014, March 27). Wikipedia. Retrieved 19 April 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israeli_passport

[ Feature image: The wall between Israel and Palestine. CC licensed image from Flickr user Peter Barwick ]

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

Mind Map: Ecologies Part II (March 30th)

Link: http://popplet.com/app/#/1571354 Last week’s activities asked us to apply our network questions to the Ecology readings of Syverson, Spellman, the Cary Institute, and fill in the gaps with Guattari, resulting in new connections for my mind map. And even though … Continue reading

Revisiting the Proposal: March 30

Donna Haraway has been credited as one of the first to use the term “cyborg” to describe our relationship with the Digital, as we become “hybrids of machine and organism” (151). The field of English Studies, and in particular Composition … Continue reading

Reading Notes: Ecology and Distributed Composing

I plowed through all of these readings in a single sitting, which did not help much with comprehension, but which did affect my experience reading. I’m a composition teacher who prefers to grade all assignments in a single sitting, an web manager who prefers to make changes that affect multiple parts of the navigation structure in a single work session, and a reader who, honestly, prefers to read at least an entire “piece” of writing in a single reading session. What I discovered as I read these in a single sitting is that the works built off one another in interesting ways. I’ll admit to being puzzled by Guattari; it’s always troubling when the translators’ introduction is clearer than the text itself! But I found that, once I started writing myself into a summary, I began to better understand what I had read (no surprise there, of course). More significantly, I found elements of Guattari’s (2012/1989) focus on the interrelationships and interplay among mental, social, and environmental ecologies informative in understanding the relationship of abiotic processes and elements in a natural or agroecology (Spellman, 2007). And Guattari’s insistence that we humans must be engaged in addressing and recovering our environmental ecological equilibrium offered a useful insight into ecological homeostatasis. Finally, Guattari, Spellman, Bateson (1987/1972), and Gibson (1986/1979) were important background readings that made Syverson (1999) accessible and understandable.

Dynamic Interrelationships

Repeated emphasis on the dynamic relationships within ecology was not lost on me. Guattari (2012/1989) refers to “the tangled paths of the three ecological vision” (p. 44) while the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies (2014) notes that ecology is about relationships, an “encompassing and synthetic” rather than “fragmented” view of nature. Spellman (2007) writes that “ecology is all about interrelationships, infraspecific and interspecific, and how important it is to maintain those relationships—to ensure our very survival” (p. 6). And Syverson (1999) draws on all these sources and more to define ecology as it relates to composition as “An ecology is a kind of meta-complex system composed of interrelated and interdependent complex systems and their environmental structures and processes” (p. 5).

These references reinforce my emerging understanding of networks as connected, interrelated, and active. I’m being drawn to articulate networks as requiring dynamic connections. Without active interrelations, the only aspect of the network that exists is a framework and/or a trace. But when the activity occurs — and the activity may take only a split second to occur — in that moment the network emerges. Ecologies are active networks. They don’t exist merely as frameworks or traces, although they may develop their own frameworks and hierarchies, like those described by Spellman (2007, quoting Odum 1983): “the best way to delimit modern ecology is to consider the concept of levels of organization” (p. 14). They can certainly be traced, as evidence my Spellman’s multiple examples of tracing ecosystems and populations within ecosystems.

Composing Ecologies

Word map

Mapping a composition ecology: WordItOut CC licensed image

I’ve thought a great deal this semester about the way I teach composition. I’ve radically altered my instruction this semester to reflect my nascent understanding of current composition theory. I’ve spent much of the semester convincing my students that composing is an experience that encompasses much more than the rhetorical triangle. Syverson offers a much clearer way to articulate what I think I’ve been hinting at all semester:

“I would argue that writers, readers, and texts form just such a complex system of self-organizing, adaptive, and dynamic interactions. But even beyond this level of complexity, they are actually situated in an ecology, a larger system that includes environmental structures [see the Ecology Map of My Classroom]… as well as other complex systems operating at various levels of scale…” (p. 5)

I’m encouraging my students to problematize their own understanding of the writing process as a class experience, as a social experience, and, I can now claim, as a complex activity system in an ecology. I believe doing so positions them to succeed in the real-world writing they will be asked to do beyond my classroom, academic, professional, and personal. And I also believe that doing any less robs them of an understanding of composing that makes too many assumptions about what writing is and is not.

Tricksters on the Edge

Anansi the Spider image

Anansi the Spider: A trickster who weaves a web of deceptions, but also creates a subversive narrative.

Once again I somewhat reluctantly admit trickster back into my understanding of Syverson specifically, and ecologies more generally. Syverson (1999) writes that “complex systems are dynamic, more unpredictable, spontaneous, and disorderly than a machine” (p. 4) and “the frontiers of knowledge are found… in the articulations between levels of organization of the real that correspond to different fields of knowledge whose techniques and discourses do not overlap” (p. 3). The dynamic tension that affords complex systems is precisely the dynamic tension of interstices and boundary spaces that trickster inhabits. Trickster inhabits liminal spaces and takes advantage of boundaries as crossing spaces and times. Boundaries are spaces in which connections can and do occur, the results of dynamic tensions at articulation points. And that is one way to describe the environment of tricksters and the affordance of ecology. If ecology is about interrelationships, then boundaries contain the connective tissues that afford ecologies. And where boundaries happen, tricksters emerge, sometimes releasing raw sewage into the stream, the immediate result of which is destruction, but the long-term result of which might ultimately be Spellman’s (2007) ecology succession, the method by which an ecosystem either forms or heals itself (p. 82). And sometimes the trickster creates something new from the dynamic interrelationships, like a genetically modified organism.

Trickster generally creates to destroy and destroys to create, unpredictably and selfishly. Sounds a little like a problem to which Guattari’s (2012/1989) focus in The Three Ecologies seeks a remedy.

References

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

Gibson, J. J. (1986/1979). The ecological approach to visual perception. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Guattari, F. (2012/1989). The three ecologies. Trans. Ian Pindar & Paul Sutton. London, UK: Continuum International Publishing Group.

Spellman, F. R. (2007). Ecology for nonecologists. Lanham, MD: Government Institutes, 3-23; 61-84.

Syverson, M. A. (1999). The wealth of reality: An ecology of composition. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1-27.

[Featured image - Distributed composition: CC licensed image by Flickr user Gexydaf]

Case Study 2: AT + GT + MOOCs = Alphabet Soup

Introduction: In my first case study, I examined the Composition MOOC from the lens of structural theory, which provided a foundation upon which to build this second layer of analysis. There are a number of scholarly discussions concerning the technological … Continue reading

ANTs, Scatter at Will_Latour, Joyce, and Johnson-Eilola_Reading Notes

Calling All Actors! Image hosted on The Minority Eye.

Calling All Actors! Image hosted on The Minority Eye.

Actors, you say? Now what does that have to do with networks? Or hyptertextuality? Or even Foucault, for that matter? Are you mad? Obsessed with Hollywood? Ohohoho, my dears, your lives are about to get so much more interesting. Mine certainly has.

Cue evil laugh. Imaged hosted on Upnetwork Forums.

Cue evil laugh. Imaged hosted on Upnetwork Forums.

However, before we can continue, we must add just one more thing to our call for actors.

Travel Guides. You're going to need them. Image hosted on the website Visiting Bologna.

Travel Guides. You’re going to need them. Image hosted on the website Visiting Bologna.

Tada! Yes, a travel guide. May the squiggly river lines be ever in your favor. So this completes our necessary metaphors, or does it? haha You will just have to wait and see. Now, onwards and upwards. Theory waits for no individual! Which brings me to this guy…

Bruno Latour_Actor-Network-Theory. Image hosted on Vimeo.

Bruno Latour_Actor-Network-Theory. Image hosted on Vimeo.

Meet Bruno Latour, author of Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Now, you may be thinking of actors like those in Hollywood ( Bollywood, Japanese, Korean, or Chinese dramas, all of which are amazing), but that would be a little too reductive in terms of Latour’s use of the word. While the image fits, they are not the only actors on this stage. You, gentle reader, are also an actor in this fine frenzy we find ourselves moving through. Now, to help us get adjusted as we move into Actor-Network-Theory (or, as Latour has dubbed it, ANT), I am going to give a list of some terms we will be needing for this adventure, though it is not entirely inclusive as this entry only deals with a part of Latour’s work (the second section will be for next week):

Actor-Network-Theory – is a sociology approach that centers on the “sociology of associations” (rather than “sociology of the social”). Its practitioners trace the actions of “actors,” following moments of controversies and uncertainties in relation to group formation, maintenance, and dissolution: “in situations where innovations proliferate, where group boundaries are uncertain, when the range of entities to be taken into account fluctuates, the sociology of the social is no longer able to trace actors’ new associations. At this point, the last thing to do would be to limit in advance the shape, size, heterogeneity, and combination of associations…it is no longer enough to limit actors to the role of informers offering cases of some well-known types. You have to grant them back the ability to make up their own theories of what the social is” (11).

“instead of taking a reasonable position and imposing some order beforehand, ANT claims to be able to find order much better after having let the actors deploy the full range of controversies in which they are immersed. It is as if we were saying to the actors: ‘We won’t try to discipline you, to make you fit into our categories; we will let you deploy your own worlds, and only later will we ask you to explain how you came about settling them.’ The task of defining and ordering the social should be lest to the actors themselves, not taken up by the analyst” (23).

Latour, calling upon a comment made by another, declared,  ”the acronym A.N.T. was perfectly fit for a blind, myopic, workaholic, trail-sniffing, and collective traveler. An ant writing for other ants, this fits my project very well!” (9)

Actor – While Latour seems to give no clear cut definition of what he considers an “actor” (or, if he does, I totally missed it), he does give out statements that serve to function as boundaries for what an actor does, such as the idea that actors should not be limited to the role of informers. Actors are active agents in the assembling, disassembling, and reassembling of what composes the social, such as when they “incessantly engage in the most abtruse metaphysical constructions by redefining all the elements of the world” (51). Actors are individuals moving fluidly between groups (sometimes inhabiting multiple groups at one time), helping to define what those groups are and what they are not, and being the focal point of “social” activity that sociologists are (in the boundaries of “sociology of associations”) supposed to be tracing (rather than defining and limiting).

Tracing of Associations – “In this meaning of the adjective, social does not designate a thing among other things, like a black sheep among other white sheep, but a type of connection between things that are not themselves social” (5)

Sociology of the Social - Latour, very openly, decries the pathways and objectives of this brand of sociology as he finds their methods too engaged with political aims than with the original goals of social sciences (“the political agenda of many social theorists has taken over their libido sciendi” (49)). He describes them as, essentially, what not to do with sociology, as they are too limiting and not looking from the right angles. For example, “When sociologists of the social pronounce the words ‘society,’ ‘power,’ ‘structure,’ and ‘context,’ they often just straight ahead to connect vast arrays of life and history, to mobilize gigantic forces, to detect dramatic patterns emerging out of confusing interactions, to see everywhere in the cases at hand yet more examples of well-known types, to reveal behind the scenes some dark powers pulling the strings” (22).

Sociology of Associations – On the other side of this sociological divide are the sociologists of association. These practitioners seem to be in the relatively good graces of Latour (I’m not even kidding when I say that he will openly bash whoever and whatever he thinks is frolicking in the wrong social sciences’ direction), as they focus on the associations within which the social emerges and dissolves: “[Sociologists of associations'] duty is not to stabilize–whether at the beginning for clarity, or to look for reasonable–the list of groupings making up the social. Quite the opposite: their starting point begins precisely with the controversies about which grouping one pertains to including of course the controversies among social scientists about what the social world is made of” (29).

Intermediary – “is what transports meaning or force without transformation: defining its inputs is enough to define its outputs…No matter how complicated an intermediary is, it may, for all practical purposes, count for just one–or for even nothing at all because it can be easily forgotten” (39).

Mediators – “cannot be counted as just one; they might count for one, for nothing, for several, or for infinity. Their input is never a good predictor of their output; their specificity has to be taken into account every time. Mediators transform, translate, distort, and modify the meaning or the elements they are supposed to carry…No matter how apparently simple a mediator may look, it may become complex; it may lead in multiple directions which will modify all the contradictory accounts attributed to its role” (39)

Meta-language - is “a language used to talk about language” (Merriam-Webster Online). Latour states that actors have their “own elaborate and fully reflexive meta-language” upon which sociologists should not encroach (30)

Infra-language – language that “remains strictly meaningless except for allowing displacement from one frame of reference to the next” (30).

Now that we have a lexicon with which to approach Latour’s work, let’s get moving into our roles as ants reading about an ant writing for other ants.

We are all just ANTs in Actor-Network-Theory. Image hosted on the website Families.

We are all just ANTs in Actor-Network-Theory. Image hosted on the website Families.

I really enjoyed reading the first part of Latour’s book,  with his snarky comments, brutal honesty about how he sees the direction of his field, circular thinking, and just the language he employs to promoting this “sociology of associations.” There were so many moments where a paragraph of his would give me an aha! moment about the still muddy waters of Foucault. Latour’s emphasis on the controversies and uncertainties of social sciences, group formations, actors being active agents, and the roles of sociologists helped me to put into perspective the fluctuating history, enunciative formations, and discursive statements that are the heart of Archaeology of Knowledge. I think what gave me some clarity was how thoroughly he seeks to completely shred the idea of permanency that seems so inherent in society and social groups. When we discuss civilization and civilized lives, it is in opposition to the wild, ever-changing face of nature, and yet, there our civilizations are just as fluid (maybe even more so) as nature. As Latour mentions, “For ANT, if you stop making and remaking groups, you stop having groups. No reservoir of forces flowing from ‘social forces’ will help you….Whereas, for the sociologists of the social, the great virtue of appeals to society is that they offer this long lasting stability on a plate and for free, our school views stability as exactly what has to be explained by appealing to costly and demanding means” (35). Here again, Foucault seems to resonate. Controversies, uncertainties, ruptures, suspicions over stability. By looking towards a sociology where activities, actors, analysis are in constant motion, not just layering one on top of the other, but with movement like atoms in motion.

It took a few moments for me to wrap my mind around the idea that a group dissolves once effort has stopped being placed in the sustaining of a group. What about all of those historical groups that still influence our modes of thinking, our current choices, and the ways we see how we want the future to unfold? But, then I realized that by continuing to draw upon, adapt, enhance, and introduce to others groups of the past, effort and means are still being funneled into that group. Take, for example, a university (it was the example that popped into my head while I was reading). What composes a university? A university, with its various departments, potentially looks stable from an outsider’s perspective. It is an institution set in place to deliver knowledge onto maturing generations, helping to guide them towards the next stage of their life while also populating the ranks of the colleges, departments, and disciplines. Places like Harvard, Oxford, and Yale have been around for a very long time and can be seen as rooted within their communities and our nation at large. But, universities are a group, composed of smaller groups and connected to a group of other universities, associations, businesses, and so on. And, it takes a lot of work to keep them running, smoothly or otherwise. There are accreditation boards, alumni, sponsors, funding committees, political interest groups, recruiters, sports associations, student organizations, departments, faculty groups, staff groups, unions, public media outlets. All of these different groups are constantly in motion, defining and redefining the boundaries of what a university is, how it should be run, what it is doing wrong, what departments and subjects are being considered outdated and not worth funding, the point of higher education, the place of the university in conjunction with the community surrounding it. This activity defines the institution of a university and keeps it in existence. If all of these people suddenly walked away from Harvard, that university would no longer exist. An institution is not the buildings or the lab equipment or the computers; it is the people who ascribe to being a part of that institution that give it life and meaning. The same goes for a civilization, or even a species.  A group must be composed of something, even if they are  fragments of what had been continually being called into existence by the memories and dialogues of others.

Megamind. Image hosted on the website Comic Mix.

Megamind. Image hosted on the website Comic Mix.

Ah, right. Sorry about that long-winded monologue (well, I guess this whole thing is a monologue, really). Anyways, it was in this stream of thought where I remember Latour criticizing the efforts of the sociologists of the social for distancing themselves from this beehive of activity and his acknowledgement of the sociologists of associations’ opposite approach: “For the sociologists of associations, any study of any group by any social scientist is part and parcel of what makes the group exist, last, decay, or disappear. In the developed world, there is no group that does not have at least some social science instrument attached to it. This is not some ‘inherent limitation’ of the discipline due to the fact that sociologists are also ‘social members’ and have difficulties in ‘extracting themselves’ out of the bonds of their own ‘social categories.’…Although in the first school [sociology of the social] actors and scholars are in two different boats, in the second school [associations] they remain in the same boat all along and play the same role” (33-34). As I am not a sociologist or a social scientist (literature is my flavor of academics), I cannot be sure how sociologists of the social feel about their role in society and the extent to which they perceive themselves to be part of the beehive of living. I love the idea of people, regardless of where they are living and how old they are and what background they are from, recognizing that we are all just little ants living in a particularly complex system because we have made it complex. People may claim that they are “sticking it to the man” or “going around the system,” but we are the system and we are the man. Society is based on collective agreement, even if that agreement is unconsciously indoctrinated from childhood all the way up until death. Civilization is really just a group of people, however loosely tied or tightly knit, functioning together, until that system is abandoned, dissolved, replaced.

haha I know, again with the rants? I’ll try to behave from here on out. Maybe…

So, as part of his goal, Latour outlines five “major uncertainties” that he explores in his book (for this week, we only read three of the five):

1) “the nature of groups: there exist many contradictory ways for actors to be given identity;”

2) “the nature of actions: in each course of action a great variety of agents seem to barge in and displace the original goals;”

3) “the nature of objects: the type of agencies participating in interaction seems to remain wide open;”

4) “the nature of facts: the links of natural sciences with the rest of society seems to be the source of continuous disputes;”

5) “and, finally, about the type of studies done under the label of a science of the social as it is never clear in which precise sense social sciences can be said to be empirical” (22).

I wanted to lay out this list to give myself a reminder as to how Latour saw his exploration playing out. Before I move on, there was one more moment of this first section of the book that I wanted to draw attention to: “empirical metaphysics.” What exactly does that entail you ask? Well, according to Latour, empirical metaphysics is “what the controversies over agencies lead to since they ceaselessly populate the world with new drives and, as ceaselessly, contest the existence of others” (51). Maybe my brain just died at the word metaphysics (physics was mind-boggling enough), but this is definitely a concept that I am going to have to tease out before I feel comfortable enough to invite it to tea.

Ah, but I did promise to move on. I feel like I will be giving short shrift to the other two authors, but how to compete with a man who so eloquently weaves a Foucauldian thought process and then can switch over, with startling speed, to declare, “Down with the Muses and other undocumented aliens!” side note: For those of you who just bristled upon reading the phrase undocumented aliens, he really had been talking about alien beings who people believe “pull the strings” of our society (more like alien gods than someone who came to the U.S. without documentation, though I guess an extraterrestrial might not be aware that documentation is necessary before landing a spacecraft on “American” soil). He also calls some other sociologists vampiric, so supernatural beings seem to be a motif in this work. No judgement.

Right. Still moving on. I should probably give the other two authors their own blog entry (or entries) to make up for how grand the academic love affair with ANT had been, whereas my relationship with these other texts pales in comparison, despite me also finding their writing refreshing. For Joyce and Johnson-Eilola, both of their works felt like case studies for what Latour was proposing. They seemed to each be actively engaging and struggling with attempts to permeate the boundaries of their disciplines (Joyce by simultaneously occupying the spaces of being a “professor of English and the Library,” and Johnson-Eilola by struggling with how hypertextuality could fit within the realm of composition.

Michael Joyce. Image hosted on the website for the organization FC2.

Michael Joyce. Image hosted on the website for the organization FC2.

Johndan Johnson-Eilola. Image hosted on the webiste for Clarkson University.

Johndan Johnson-Eilola. Image hosted on the Clarkson University wesbite.

I do want to wait and go into another blog looking at the texts of these men specifically, but before I wrap up this entry of reading notes, I wanted to include some of my favorite quotes from the early chapters of their works, especially since these quotes are going to be my link to the entry of them under the microscope of the ANT lens.

“This narrow focus [traditional five page papers] was helpful historically for composition in defining itself against a range of other disciplines and academic departments; today, however, we must expand our definitions to gain broader influence and relevance. The focus on redefining composition motivates the selection of hypertext as the topic of my study” (Johnson-Eilola, “Border Times” 7)

“We all hope to be one thing or another especially in strange company; however, as someone who was simultaneously a professor of English and the Library (though not a librarian) as well as a hypertext novelist and theorist, the question of whether I came to the library as a wolf in sheep’s clothing or a lion lying (in whatever sense one pleases to understand that term) among lambs was not clear at the time to me or to them [librarians]” (Joyce, “Lingering Errantness” 67)

“Writing has always been about borders, about the processes of mapping and remapping the lines of separation between things. Writing constructs implicit and explicit boundaries between not only product and process and said and unsaid, but author and reader, literacy and orality, technology and nature, self and other. Although we often build these borders in order to help us assert a disciplinary identity, these same borders also threaten to marginalize us” (Johnson-Eilola, “Border Times” 3)

“In ‘Coming to Writing,’ Helene Cixous says, ‘I didn’t seek. I was the search’ (1999). We could say that in the electronic age we don’t collect, we are the collection. The value of what we collect is not as much embodied in what it is as in how we found it and why we keep it” (Joyce, “Lingering Errantness” 73)

“I would note that I am not in the business of predicting change. In fact I am not only not in any business at all but I also resent the current fashion that urges us each to claim that we are in a business. Instead like most of us, librarians or humanists or whatever, I live in change, living not a business but a presence. As an artist and teacher and technologist I make change and am changed by what others make” (Joyce, “Lingering Errantness” 71)

For me, each of these quotes embodies the struggle of being an ant, while recognizing being part of ant-dom. Joyce and Johnson-Eilola are attempting to consciously take a system that seems inflexible and make it understand that it is inherently permeable. University departments are always in flux, shifting borders and boundaries as new sub-disciplines emerge and old ones fade. Newer technologies like hypertext also shift boundaries, becoming tools that are shaped by and shape in return the users. Joyce’s declaration of “I live in change” represents an actor who is aware that he is an actor, not just some outside observer. The activities of these two men and their texts are actions being taken by active actors, from vantage points that would suggest a bird’s eye view but instead are realized as nodes in a system that is constantly being made and remade by the people who compose it.

Citations

Johnson-Eilola, Johndan. “Chapter 1: Border Times: Written and Being Written in Hypertext.” Nostalgic Angels: Rearticulating Hypertext Writing (Advances in Discourse Processes). Norwood, NJ: Ablex Pub. Corp., 1997. Print.

Joyce, Michael Thomas. “Chapter 4: The Lingering Errantness of Place, or, Library as Library.” Othermindedness: The Emergence of Network Culture (Studies in Literature and Science). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001. Print.

Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the SocialAn Introduction to the Actor-Network-Theory. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. Print.

Other Readings for This Week

Johnson-Eilola, Johndan. “Chapter 5: X-Ray Vision and Perpetual Motion: Hypertext as Postmodern Space.” Nostalgic Angels: Rearticulating Hypertext Writing (Advances in Discourse Processes). Norwood, NJ: Ablex Pub. Corp., 1997. Print.

Johnson-Eilola, Johndan. “Chapter 6: Angels in Rehab: Rearticulating Hypertext Writing.” Nostalgic Angels: Rearticulating Hypertext Writing (Advances in Discourse Processes). Norwood, NJ: Ablex Pub. Corp., 1997. Print.

Joyce, Michael Thomas. “Introduction” and “Hypertext and Hypermedia.” Of Two Minds: Hypertext Pedagogy and Poetics. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002. Print.

Joyce, Michael Thomas. “Chapter 5: Beyond Next before You Once Again: Repossessing and Renewing Electronic Culture.” Othermindedness: The Emergence of Network Culture (Studies in Literature and Science). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001. Print.

Even Vampiric Sociologists Need Music:


Reading Notes: Theorizing a CHATty Canon

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

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

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

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

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

Engaging Quotation and Reaction

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

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

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

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

Engaging Quotation and Response

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reactions

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

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

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

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

Interesting Quotation and Reaction

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

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

Technological (Mediated) Issues

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

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

screenshot

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

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

screenshot

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

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

screenshot

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Annotations Remix

A remix takes the original version and edits or recreates in order to sound different from the original version. Below is a remix and response to the Digital Writing: Assessment & Evaluation Annotations created by Maury and Leslie. I chose to respond to Maury’s entry on Crystal Van Kooten’s article, “” Toward a Rhetorically Sensitive […]

Proposal: Object of Study — MOOCs in Composition

Over the years, higher education has experienced a variety of shifts, some qualifying as seismic (such as admitting women), others deserving more modest descriptors (for example, electronic textbooks). Add to the seismic column the distance learning classroom. Yet even that arena of growth has seen variations that now may seem tame; for example, distance learning programs have a surprisingly long history, as this graphic from the website Straighterline illustrates.

day of the MOOC gif

Creative Commons image; author M. Branson Smith

In my own lifetime as a composition instructor, I have witnessed the growing demand for online course offerings – and with that growth tensions between pedagogy and university business models. However, the field of English Studies appears to be progressively engaging this trend, if publication records are any indication. (See this link for the CCCC annotated bibliography on online writing practices.) A thread in this conversation appears to invite intense scrutiny, and is my chosen Object of Study for this course: MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses.

What Is A MOOC?

“What Is A MOOC?” EdTechReview. Image and video. 15 March 2013.
http://edtechreview.in/dictionary/198-what-is-a-mooc

MOOCs, simply defined, are typically tuition- and credit-free classes offered online to any and all interested students, using a variety of methods which include recorded short lectures, discussion boards, and asynchronous activities, depending on the subject matter. Specifically, I plan to examine Composition MOOCs, as writing courses – especially freshman writing – are problematic areas of study given the established theories of best practices that have evolved in concert with our field’s evolution into digital spaces. The subject matter seems especially useful as an object of study given that many discussions of the online or digital classroom in our field often reflect tensions associated with the history of our field’s quest for professionalization. Given the nature of MOOC-based learning systems, questions of best practices and integrity of degree programs are likely to be part of any network.

The demand for online higher education course offerings comes from a variety of sources and stakeholders. The unique characteristics of MOOCs, however, offer additional challenges, many of which mirror common discussions within our field: assessment, access, instructor training / qualifications, questions of labor, plagiarism, student engagement, retention, and pedagogy. Given recent attention paid to the trend of MOOCs by higher education publications (see resources list below), it would appear that this is an area of debate and activity that may promise productive research. For example, MOOC-based composition courses, such as that described in a paper being presented by Sherry Jones’ and Daniel singer at the 2014 CCCC on incorporating gaming in the classroom, also open up new potential for digital pedagogy.

Given the inherent structural nature of MOOCs, it seems self-evident to approach this Object of Study as a network. However, I believe the network (the rhetorical situation of this study) must incorporate more than the rather obvious element of online connectivity among students and teacher. There is the “incorporeal discourse” of which Foucault writes (24) – and what Biesecker might link to Derrida’s concept of “différance” in discussions of rhetorical situation — which might be explored through consideration of the structural / mechanical, economic / business, as well as pedagogical discourses. In short, the network concept offers a way to connect stakeholder discourses with those of the technical and the pedagogical. As I am largely unfamiliar with MOOCs, opportunities for discovery and exploration are rich, and I anticipate unexpected nodes and layers emerging as I progress.

“What is a MOOC?” A Video Explanation.

[youtube: http://youtu.be/eW3gMGqcZQc]

Preliminary List of Resources:

1.  NY Times article Nov. 2012: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/04/education/edlife/massive-open-online-courses-are-multiplying-at-a-rapid-pace.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

2.  Educause resource list: http://www.educause.edu/library/massive-open-online-course-mooc

3.  Businessweek article Jan. 2014: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-01-16/academics-are-down-on-moocs-dot-business-schools-arent

4.  Duke Univ. Coursera Comp I course page: https://www.coursera.org/course/composition

5.  Blog written by a participant in the above: http://stevendkrause.com/2013/06/21/the-end-of-the-duke-composition-mooc-again-what-did-we-learn-here/

6.  Georgia Institute of Tech Comp MOOC course page: https://www.coursera.org/course/gtcomp

7.  Academe blog: “The Gates Foundation and Three Composition Blogs”: http://academeblog.org/2012/12/03/courage/

8.  The Chronicle of Higher Education – “What You Need to Know About MOOCs.” Frequently updated hub of articles:  http://chronicle.com/article/What-You-Need-to-Know-About/133475/

9.  CCCC 2014 – “Composition on a New Scale: Game Studies and Massive Open Online Composition” by Sherry Jones and Daniel Singer

10.  “What Is A MOOC?” EdTechReview.  Image and video. 15 March 2013.