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Teaching Philosophy: A Work in Progress

My philosophy of teaching opens with the premise that I teach students, not professional or academic communication. Students enter the classroom with years of writing and communication experience, and among the first goals of any course I teach is to guide students to recognize their existing practices as experiences on which to build. This approach helps me better understand the strengths and challenges each student brings into the classroom, and develops an ethos of care and understanding by valuing the composing activities in which students already engage. When students report they regularly compose social media posts and text messages, we’re immediately able to examine the generic expectations emerging around different kinds of posts and messages and to identity the audience, purpose, content, and style of message genres. This rhetorical approach to communication practices both values students as writers and demonstrates the rhetorical approach to composing that I bring to any composition-intensive course.

My teaching philosophy is refined by demonstrating that I join students in a community of learners. I seek to facilitate the advancement of students’ composing practices through instruction, practice, feedback, and iteration. While I represent the class subject matter expert on composing theory and practices, I willingly share my own learning experiences, including my writing challenges and successes, to demonstrate my approach to composing as continually working toward, but not quite achieving, mastery. Rather than focusing on lecture as a primary instructional strategy, I seek to engage students in Socratic dialogues on composing strategies writ broadly. Dialogue content ranges widely, but I encourage students to make claims, recognize warrants, provide evidence, and generate counter claims about specific strategies like document design, the ethics of data visualizations, and using un-gendered language and imagery. Facilitating such dialogues provides opportunities for students to engage in community learning experiences all — students and teachers — work and learn together.

Nurturing a community of learners reflects my approach to composing as a collaborative activity, practiced in social contexts. As a result, my classroom is not only orally collaborative through Socratic dialogue, but also textually and technologically collaborative through hardware and software. I prefer to teach composition-intensive classes in a computer lab, where the technologically mediated experience of composing is obvious and clearly displayed. I require students to compose in collaborative settings through group composing activities, collaborative synchronous composing using Google Docs, and peer review sessions using Google Docs. I understand teaching as a collaboration among students and teachers, and I tend to use the classroom environment, packed with technological affordances for collaboration, to model this understanding. Like my students, I also engage in collaboration through reviewing drafts in Google Docs and providing feedback that can be seen not only by the writer, but also by the student’s composing partners. I do this not to shame students, but to demonstrate that composing happens in social environments and to provide feedback that other students may be able to apply to their own work.

I focus attention on the collaborative, social context of composing because I seek to prepare students to compose in workplace contexts where collaboration is the norm, not the exception. Nearly two decades of experience working in higher education marketing and communication inform this collaborative approach. Workplace composing necessarily happens in social contexts, often imbued with undertones of workplace politics, power differentials, and personality conflicts. Workplace contexts regularly require joint authorship and the sharing of rhetorical agency while navigating these undertones. I seek to create a classroom environment where collaboration among weaker and stronger composers, among native and non-native English speakers, and among speakers of multiple Englishes, is practiced, valued, and honed. I trust such activities prepare students to compose in workplace environments, even when their composition assignments are academic in nature.

I operationalize my philosophy of teaching by assigning compositions that seek to address a specific problem in society. In a classroom focused on academic composing, assignments focus on solving a public problem. In a classroom focused on business and professional communication, assignments focus on professional and workplace problems that need to be solved. In both contexts, I seek to create assignments that students have agency to shape to problems and situations in their field, major, discipline, profession, or area of interest. I also encourage open conversations about social and political issues, providing opportunities for students to make and support their own claims about contemporary issues and policies and to challenge claims made around these issues by others, either in our beyond the classroom walls. These conversations are planned around assignments toward scaffolding composing experiences from the conceptual to the practical. I facilitate classroom and online conversations; given my preference for technology-mediated classrooms, I include online discussion expectations in classroom-based, in-class/online hybrid, and online learning environments.

 I seek to improve instruction with every class I teach. Beyond formal course evaluations, I provide time and space for students to share what worked and didn’t work in each class I teach. While power differentials between teacher and students necessarily color feedback, I am pleasantly and regularly pleased that students willingly provide honest critical feedback when asked. I trust and believe this comes as a result of facilitating a community of learners in which all voices, including dissenting opinions, are not hushed, but heard and valued. I reflect on feedback I receive and combine it with personal reflections on students’ progress to adjust learning activities, instructional design, assessment rubrics, teaching style and mode, and the syllabus to ensure improvement. I seek improved pedagogies with each passing semester, and I actively seek them out when they are not immediately forthcoming from feedback or reflection. I seek out teachable moments, whether they come from campus lectures or events, blog posts or news items, emerging scholarship, conferences sessions, colleagues and students themselves, and look to incorporate them into classroom discussions, readings, and assignments when possible. I seek to adapt to student needs, to adapt to the teaching environment, and to adapt to the contexts in which instruction occurs — political, economic, social, emotional, and intellectual — in each class I teach.

Technology as a Classroom Distraction for Students

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

Flanagan concludes with this plea:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posthumanist Approach to Technology Tools

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

Introduction

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

Summary

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

Scrivener logo

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

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

Extrapolation

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

Recommendation

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

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.

iPads in the Classroom

Rossing, J. P., Miller, W. M., Cecil, A. K., & Stamper, S. E. (2012). iLearning: The future of higher education? Student perceptions on learning with mobile tablets. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning, 12(2), 1-26. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/

Introduction

iPads

Apple® iPad® – image from apple.com/ipad

Grounded in the assumption that “the future of the classroom, including learning activities, research, and even student-faculty communications, will rely heavily on mobile technology” (p. 1), this article presents preliminary results of an experimental study at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) on the use of Apple® iPad® mobile tablets in synchronous, collaborative, socially constructive class sessions. The authors conclude that mobile tablets offer nearly unlimited access to “information and advantages for collaborative learning” (p. 20) in a range of instructional settings and disciplines, but caution that these same devices may introduce distraction and frustration in the classroom.

Summary

The goal of the IUPUI study, ongoing since fall 2010, is to determine the effectiveness of mobile learning in classroom settings. The study involves students and teachers in several disciplines: tourism management, organizational leadership and supervision, music, communication studies, English, physical education, and library skills. The report’s conclusions draw heavily on qualitative data collected in open-ended questions, part of a mixed-methods research instrument (p. 6). Within these responses researchers identified five major themes: “1) access and availability of information, 2) sharing and collaboration, 3) novelty, 4) learning styles and preferences, and 5) convenience and functionality” (p. 10).

Survey results yielded several “amplifying advantages” of mobile technology:

  • iPads, like other new technologies, evoke “excitement and anxiety from students” (p. 14).
  • Connectivity and access to information “enhanced in-class discussion” (p. 14).
  • Benefits of information access can be harnessed to “maximize the collaborative potential of mobile tablets” (p. 15).
  • Mobile technology is flexible and adaptable “for many learning styles and preferences” (p. 16).

The results also yielded potential drawbacks to incorporating mobile technology in the classroom:

  • Students may not be prepared for new technologies, and educators should not assume preparation.
  • Tablets introduced the potential for easy distraction, requiring structured pedagogy.
  • Mobile technology requires significant investment in wireless network infrastructure.

In its conclusion, the report recommended future study in three areas: learning habits of mobile tablet owners, potential competitive advantages of mobile technology literacy, and ways mobile tablets can improve or enable faculty work.

Review

This article offers a wealth of results on student perceptions of iPad use. However, I hoped to see additional conclusions drawn from the data. Although instructors “designed iPad activities that promoted active learning, collaboration, and/or student engagement” (p. 5), I would like to review comparative effectiveness rankings of different instructional activities.

I was surprised that the study restricted students to using iPads in class sessions, and that some classes had only a single instructional session using iPads. Given the mobility of the technology, limiting its use to in-class sessions seemed incongruous.

As a result of these concerns, I would not recommend this article to colleagues seeking input on the use of mobile technology in distance learning. I would, however, recommend that colleagues review the evaluation instrument included in the report for ideas on developing their own surveys for measuring effectiveness of mobile technology in blended and distance learning environments.

Authentic Learning & Google Drive

Rowe, M., Bozalek, V., & Frantz, J. (2013). Using Google Drive to facilitate a blended approach to authentic learning: Authentic learning and Google Drive. British Journal of Educational Technology, 44(4), 594-606. doi:10.1111/bjet.12063

Introduction

google drive logo

Google Drive logo

This article “describes the use of Google Drive to create a blended learning environment” in which  “students completed authentic tasks that aimed to develop critical thinking” (p. 596). Using authentic learning as a pedagogical framework, the authors provide qualitative results to identify ways that Google Drive complemented and enabled authentic learning outcomes. They conclude that specific affordances of information communication technology (ICT) should be selected to meet specific pedagogical outcomes rather than shaping pedagogical principles around ICT affordances.

Summary

The authors describe a pedagogical refinement in a 2nd-year Applied Physiotherapy module at the University of the Western Cape. The refinement consisted of converting a didactic, lecture-oriented pedagogy toward a socially-constructed learning environment in which students actively engaged in authentic learning. Google Drive was selected as the ICT used to facilitate communication and learning, both of which occurred during and outside the class.

The authors identify three meaningful outcomes of the pedagogical enhancement and use of Google Drive:

  1. It transformed “student perceptions around learning,” enabling the facilitators “to help change how students perceived their own role in the learning process” (p. 601).
  2. It changed “power relationships as part of learning,” enabling students to openly and safely “explore their own understanding without fear of being exposed and shamed” for not always knowing the right answer (p. 602).
  3. It helped develop students’ critical thinking skills, enabling students to “grasp that knowledge is distributed and that the teacher is not the sole source of information” (p. 604).

The authors conclude that, if educators hope to improve critical thinking in students, they should seek first to change their pedagogy, develop authentic activities, and integrate those activities “across physical and online spaces” (p. 605) using ICT that complements the theoretical perspectives informing the pedagogy.

Review

Although the object of study in this article was an applied physiology class, the practice of selecting ICT affordances to complement theoretically-grounded pedagogical principles applies across disciplines. The article’s focus on improving the application of critical thinking skills to real-world practices also applies to learning environments outside the clinical medical discipline.

And although I consider the sample size small (n = 12) and the methodology admits self-selection bias (students volunteered to participate in focus groups), the authors openly admit these limitations (p. 604) and, in so doing, invite larger-scale studies.

This article offers applicable advice to composition and rhetoric teachers seeking to draw parallels between academic and workplace writing. The article’s application of authentic learning principles in a clinical medical setting offers an intriguing model for considering authentic learning in FYC contexts, where assignments and assessments might be altered to highlight skills that are portable from academe to workplace.

As a result, I recommend that colleagues seeking to revise pedagogy to incorporate blended communications and learning read this article and take to heart its findings.

Case Study: Scaffolding Outline

OoS: Google Analytics

  • Activities addressed in my OoS: Collection, Collation, Processing, Reporting
  • GA Data Model: User (Visitor), Session (Visit), Interaction (Hits)
  • Data Model Collections and Reports: Dimensions (“descriptive attribute or characteristic of an object”) and Metrics (“Individual elements of a dimension that can be measured as a sum or ratio”) (Google, 2014).

Theories & Selection Rationale

  • Ecosystem Ecology (Bateson, 1972/1987; Gibson, 1972/1986; Guattari, 1989/2012; Spellman, 2007)
    • Boundaries are difficult to define: Mirrors struggle to define GA boundaries
    • Inter-relatedness to neighboring ecosystems: GA connects and measures incoming & outgoing links
    • Limits analysis to groups of (rather than individual) living and/or nonliving things: GA only reports aggregated behaviors, even though it collects user data
  • Neurobiology (Annenberg Learner, 2013)
    • Demonstrates interconnectedness of various nodes and frameworks: GA data model reports metrics interconnected with dimensions to reflect user behaviors; GA also enables both SPCS account and UR roll-up account
    • Uses hippocampus as server metaphor: Google data center as input/output hub for GA data collation and processing
    • Affirms difference between input and output: GA collects data via data model (input) and reports results via aggregated data tables and visualizations (output)
  • Network Society  (Castells, 2010)
    • Limits analysis to groups rather than individuals: GA only reports aggregated behaviors, even though it collects user data (cf. Ecosystem Ecology, above)
    • Addresses movement of data through the network: GA focuses on movement of data from website server (collection) to Google data centers (collation & processing) to administrative accounts (reporting), although this movement is entirely serial rather than parallel
    • Provides hierarchy of nodes: GA endows administrators with creative, destructive, and manipulative authority in relation to data; other nodes have far less agency
  • Social Network (Deleuze & Guattari, 1980/1987; Scott, 2000; Rainie & Wellman, 2012)
    • Recognizes value of social capital in network growth: GA enables measurement of increased or decreased engagement and provides help to increase engagement (social capital)
    • Reveals rhizomatic (and unpredictable) character of network connections: GA visualizes network connectivity in myriad visualizations, tables, and downloadable files (which can also be visualized)
    • Values growth and sustenance of weaker ties: GA sets up goals that seek to measure and value increased engagement on less-engaging content

Similarities

  • Focus on flattened network
  • Emphasis on rhizomatic rather than hierarchical connections
  • Address difficulties of establishing boundaries
  • Recognize value of grouping in discussing large-scale network systems
  • Focus on nodal groupings rather that individual nodal identities
  • Define network as mediator rather than intermediate (Latour, 2005)

Minding the Gaps

  • Localization: Neurobiology and Network Society affirm the value and influence of local conditions on global networks that Ecosystem Ecology and Social Network either undervalue or do not address.
  • Activity and Flow: Ecosystem Ecology, Neurobiology, and Network Society address movement of data and value across or through the network that Social Network does not directly address.
  • Agency: Social Network and Neurobiology ascribe local agency to nodes that Ecosystem Ecology (focused on instinct) and Network Society (focused on hierarchical relationships among managerial elites) do not accept or address.

My Position as Scholar

These theories align with the following statements of my theories of scholarship and pedagogy:

  • I embrace the flattened, rhizomatic character of the 21st-century classroom as a (possibly the most) valid model for preparing students for the world of the 21st-century networked workplace.
  • I embrace composition as social and situated within a larger global context, and I embrace and value local and global aspects of the composing experience as preparation for both academic scholarship and professional management.
  • I embrace scholarship as collaborative and networked, and revel in the breakthroughs made more likely and/or possible through collaborative, rather than individual, scholarship.
  • I embrace pedagogy as joining with a group of students in a flattened community of learners in which, to the extent possible, hierarchical teacher-student relationships are replaced by flattened learner-learner relationships.
  • I embrace and seek connections between scholarship and utility, between theory and praxis, and between academic and alt-academic pursuits and theorizing.
  • I embrace Yagelski’s (2006) “troublemaking collectivity” as a mantra for the disruptive role of my own and my collaborative scholarship and pedagogy in institutions entrenched in antiquated, outdated theoretical paradigms.
  • I embrace as vital the role of network activity in learning activities.
Satellite image - night

U.S Atlantic Seaboard at Night: May 23, 2011. Original image from NASA Earth Observatory.

My Biases and Background

These theories align with my own biases and background in the following ways:

  • I am now, and have been since 2000, employed in an alt-academic role as a full-time marketing web manager and part-time adjunct professor of liberal arts and scholar of English studies. This role influences the value I place on connections between theory and praxis, between research and application.
  • As former director of a summer residential governor’s school for gifted and talented high school students, I value pedagogical theory and praxis that views standards-based education as little more than a starting point for true academic excellence. This experience influences my preference for network activity in learning activities, especially over standardized assessment tools and products.
  • As a professional writer and marketer, I use academic skills like research and collaborative composing in non-academic settings. This experience influences my preference for collaborative, team-based solutions to professional challenges, including audience research.
  • As a third culture kid who grew up outside of the U.S., I embrace the global nature of communications, commerce, development, employment, and growth. This experience influences my desire to place local activities and culture within global networks.
  • As a web developer, I value and prefer platform- and system-agnostic open-source software solutions over commercial, and especially proprietary, software solutions. This influences my desire to flatten hierarchical structures, especially of proprietary commercial interests, in favor of open-source and open-access models wherever feasible.
  • I am a social media marketer. As a result, I value social networks beyond their community-building application; I value them for monetization via targeted advertising. My role as a social media marketer influences my willingness to find value in globally-accessible (but not open-access or open-source) products like Google Analytics while pushing for greater openness and access to these social networking products (see the troublemaking collectivity statement, above).
  • I measure web visit data, and my job as web manager exists because I can demonstrate value through higher visit rates, greater visibility across networks, and ultimately higher admissions and enrollment figures. In a professional and continuing studies unit, the value of individual admissions and enrollments is taken very seriously. This experience forces me to work with Google Analytics, which directly influenced by choice of Google Analytics as my object of study. I enter this study with an eye towards providing my team and my administration critical theoretical approaches to data measurement that result in better, clearer communication with prospective and current students.

References

Annenberg Learner. (2013). Neurobiology. Rediscovering biology: Molecular to global perspectives [Online textbook]. Retrieved from http://www.learner.org/courses/biology/units/neuro/index.html

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

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

Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987). A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. (B. Massumi, Trans.) Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. (Original work published 1980)

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

Google. (2014). Dimensions and metrics. Google Analytics Help. Retrieved from https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/1033861?hl=en

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

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

Rainie, L., & Wellman, B. (2012). Networked: The new social operating system. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Scott, J. (2000). Social network analysis: A handbook (2nd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

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

Yagelski, R. P. (2006). English education. In B. McComiskey (Ed.), English Studies: An Introduction to the Discipline(s) (pp. 275-319). Urbana, IL: NCTE.

[ Feature image: Bamboo Scaffolding, Cambodia. CC licensed image from Flickr user Lorna ]

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

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

Reading Notes: Miller, Bazerman & Popham walk into this blog…

I appreciate the opportunity this week to reengage with Miller’s work on genre in “Genre as Social Action” and then to see those ideas carried forward into “Rhetorical Community: The Cultural Basis of Genre.” I encountered Miller last semester in an historical review of EDNA-based textbooks in composition studies. Miller’s ideas on the social aspects of genre—rather than the formal or structural aspects I’d learned as an undergraduate and graduate student—opened my eyes to modern composition theory.

Genre as Social Action (Miller)

In “Genre as Social Action” this time around, I found Miller’s ideas on hierarchical levels of discourse more interesting, likely because network hierarchy is in the forefront of my thoughts after last week’s mindmap exercise. Miller identifies form as “metadata” for substance that offers instruction on how the symbolic representation is to be perceived; as a result, “form and substance thus bear a hierarchical relationship to one another” (p. 159). Continuing the hierarchical structure of genre, Miller references Toulmin to argue that context, too, is hierarchical; the result is that “form, substance, and context [are] relative, not absolute; they occur at many levels on a hierarchy of meaning” (p. 159). But not only do these aspects of discourse operate in hierarchical relationship to one another; they also take on different functions at different hierarchical levels: “Thus, form at one level becomes as aspect of substance at a higher level level… although it is still analyzable as form at the lower level” (p. 160). Miller addresses the implications of these hierarchical relationships among “particular features of this understanding of genre” (p. 163): First, genre is fluid and active; it acquires meaning from situation and social context. Second, genre is interpreted using rules. Third, genre is distinct from form. Fourth, genre can serve as the substance of forms at higher levels in hierarchies. Fifth, genre is a rhetorical means for mediating private intent and social exigence (p. 163).

Application to Network

Whiteboard capture - XML

Jamming on XML: CC licensed image from flickr user Paul Downey

Miller’s closing implications relate directly to networks. The interplay among form, substance, and context in discourse enables genre to exist in fluid forms and in hierarchical relationships. If a work in a genre is a network node, its relationship with other works in the genre are governed by the interaction of form, substance, and context. The genre itself can be considered a network node in a network consisting of cultural life; the genre becomes substance to the form of cultural life. I see this similar to the analogy to which I continually return of the web page to the subdomain to the domain. Page, subdomain and domain each act as node and network as the context, form, and substance relate differently to one another.

Rhetorical Community: The Cultural Basis of Genre (Miller)

In “Rhetorical Community: The Cultural Basis of Genre,” Miller connects culture and community to genre in terms of “the general social function being served” (p. 69) by each. Miller claims that rhetorical communities are built on contradiction and contention, “inclusion of sameness and difference, of us and them, of centripetal and centrifugal impulses” (p. 74). As a result, rhetoric “requires both agreement and dissent, sharing understandings and novelty, enthymematic premises and contested claims, identification and division” (p. 74). To this potentially explosive community, Miller applies three forces that rhetorically “keep a virtual community from flying apart (or dissipating)” (p. 74). The first is genre, the second is analogy, and the third is narrative (pp. 74-75).

Application to Network

In this article I found the active nature of the network embedded in the contentious relationships that build virtual rhetorical communities. To these contentious relationships are applied frameworks that enable the networks to function within certain parameters: genre (to provide a contextual, localized structure for nodes), analogy (to provide language that explains difficult-to-explain relationships in more familiar metaphorical terms), and narrative (providing ways to tell the story of the relationships among nodes). These frameworks are flexible and fluid and enable organic growth and dynamic development.

Systems of Genre and the Enactment of Social Intentions (Bazerman)

Monocycle patent - drawing

Monocycle Patent: CC licensed image from flickr user Michael Neubert

Where Miller applies genre to rhetorical communities, Bazerman in “Systems of Genre and the Enactment of Social Intentions” goes a step further to create “a complex web of interrelated genres where each participant makes a recognizable act or move in some recognizable genre, which then may be followed by a certain range of appropriate generic responses by others” (p. 97). Using analysis of patent applications as his object of study, Bazerman introduces the concept of a system of genres—“interrelated genres that interact with each other in specific settings” (like a patent application).

Application to Network

If genres are networks, as suggested by Miller, then genre systems are networks of genres; put another way, genre systems turn genre networks into nodes. This conclusion is consistent with Miller’s conclusion that genres function as nodes in rhetorical communities. It’s also consistent with my understanding of the functions of websites within larger and smaller networks—the website functions itself as a network, but it also functions as a node in the larger network of the internet (or other higher level hierarchies). And there’s the return of that term “hierarchies”—networks appear to be inherently hierarchical depending on their contexts.

Speech Acts, Genres, and Activity Systems (Bazerman)

Bazerman follows up his work on genre systems in “Speech Acts, Genres, and Activity Systems” by returning to a clearer understanding of social action, more specific than Miller’s articulation. Bazerman suggests that we can “reach a deeper understanding of genres if we understand them as psycho-social recognition phenomena that are parts of processes of socially organized activities…. They are social facts about the kinds of speech acts people can make and the ways they can make them.” (p. 317, emphasis original). Considered as ways people try to understand one another, genre becomes a means by which we construct our experiences. Bazerman theorizes genre sets as “the collection of types of texts someone in a particular role is likely to produce” (p. 318), texts that others in a similar role would likely produce and understand as well. Using this understanding of genre sets, Bazerman returns to genre system with this more nuanced definition: “a Genre System is comprised of the several genre sets of people working together in an organized way, plus the patterned relations in the production, flow, and use of these documents” (p. 318, emphasis original).

Application to Network

Bazerman concludes that a genre system is itself part of an activity system, and analyzing both a genre system and an activity system results in “a focus on what people are doing and how texts help people do it, rather than on texts as ends themselves” (p. 319). Activity systems include genre systems as nodes in its network; genre systems include genre sets as nodes in its network; genre sets include genres as nodes in its network; genres include texts as nodes in its network, and so on. Networks exist in hierarchies and change status, from network to node and back again, depending on hierarchical context.

Forms as Boundary Genres in Medicine, Science, and Business (Popham)

Medical form image

The Cancer Form: CC licensed image from flickr user Mike Krigsman

Susan L. Popham takes our understandings of genre and activity from Miller and Bazerman and applies them directly to a fascinating object of study: medical forms used in health care practices. She recognizes forms operating as genres in medical practices, but she theorizes the existence of boundary genres, “genres functioning as boundary objects… [that] actively participate in interprofessional struggles about hierarchies, dominance, and values, helping to create, mediate, and store tensions” (p. 283). The tension that Miller (1994) found in rhetorical community Popham finds in boundary genres; these boundary genres enable, even embody, tensions among professions and disciplines. The result of her study reveals the lack of agency that medicine and science have in the medical profession; both disciplines are distilled in the business genre forms that ultimately control the fiscal viability of the practice (p. 296).

Application to Network

Popham’s definition of boundary genres represents network-in-action, actively participating in hierarchical struggles among rhetorical texts, among genres, even among disciplines and professions. Here the genres are struggling among themselves for agency. This struggle gets presented in the OOS of medical practice forms, but the network implications to struggles among disciplines in the English studies supradiscipline are clear. A close analysis of our texts will help us identify our genres, determine our boundary objects, theorize boundary genres, and identify the specific activities that represent the struggles among genres—and therefore among the disciplines and professions they represent.

Conclusions

Once again, I find myself blown away by new ways of seeing discourse in terms of networks. The results are making me rethink, or think more carefully and intentionally, about grading texts, assigning texts, assessing portfolios, and writing my own texts. As I consider the course syllabus as genre, I recognize my tendency to allow the generic form to limit the activity of the text. As I require my students to collect and share portfolio objects in Google Drive, I recognize the lack of careful consideration I gave to the implications of surveillant assemblage. As I consider my textbook, Everything’s An Argument, I’m both drawn to the simplicity of the title and concerned about its willingness to place all texts into a single genre system. These are real issues that affect real students whose agency I should seek to protect. These real students have real abilities and dis-abilities, and I should seek to customize and differentiate instruction to their skills and needs. They are real texts that I should seek to read carefully and respond to with care and attention.

And Then There’s Reggie Watts

Reggie Watts bends boundaries and mixes music, speech, and comedic genres. I think Watts is a boundary genre embodiment.

References

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.

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.

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

Miller, C. R. (1994). Rhetorical community: The cultural basis of genre. In Freedman, A., & Medway, P. (Eds.), Genre and the new rhetoric (pp. 67-78). London, UK: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.

Popham, S. L. (2005). Forms as boundary genres in medicine, science, and business. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 19(3), 279-303. doi:10.1177/1050651905275624

[Plane-blog: CC licensed image from flickr user mutatdjellyfish]

Thoughts on Ethos

I’m in the process of reading and annotating the text I’ve selected for my spring class, and I came across what I consider a great paragraph with a great message that I want my students to grasp and understand.

The text is Everything’s an Argument with Readings, 6th edition, by Andrea Lunsford, John R. Ruszkiewicz, and Keith Walters. The passage appears in chapter 3, “Arguments Based on Character: Ethos.”

In fact, whenever you writing a paper or present an idea, you are sending signals about your character and reliability, whether you intend to or not. If your ideas are reasonable, your sources are reliable, and your language is appropriate to the project, you will suggest to academic readers that you’re someone whose ideas might deserve attention. You can appreciate why even details like correct spelling, grammar, and mechanics will weigh in your favor. And though you might not think about it now, at some point you may need letters of recommendation from instructors or supervisors. How will they remember you? Often chiefly from the ethos you have established in your work. Think about it. (45, emphasis original)

To me, this paragraph powerfully evokes the importance of ethos in all writing. As a web manager, I find I’ve developed an “institutional” voice that I use when writing brochure, flyer, catalog, and web copy. Each of these “genres” has slightly difference conventions, but all require the use of a trustworthy and authoritative voice. I work to develop the ethos of a school of the University of Richmond, and as both a graduate and an employee of the University, that ethos is considerable and respectable. I want to reflect my own pride in the institution through the voice I choose as a professional writer.

When I teach research writing, and when I teach Critical Writing and Research I in the spring, I want to be sure that I convey the vital importance of ethos to the long-term viability and acceptance of written work. To be honest, faculty talk to one another (gasps of horror ensue), and when we do we often consider  the “ethos” of specific students—would they be likely to succeed, for example, even if they have to miss a few more classes than usual for personal reasons? Their ethos, as conveyed both in their writing and in their classroom interactions, informs our conversations and assessments. As the text notes, it is students’ ethos, established in their writing, that I am most likely to remember and refer to when writing a letter of recommendation.

At any rate, this paragraph spoke to me in useful and practical ways, and I want to be sure I emphasize the importance of ethos in all writing and rhetorical situations.

Work Cited

Lunsford, A., Ruszkiewicz, J., & Walters, K. (2013). Everything’s an argument with readings, 6th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

[Creative Commons licensed image by flickr user ArchiveACT]

On Reading “What We Know About ELA Teachers”

Scherff, Lisa, and Debbie L. Hahs-Vaughn. “What We Know about English Language Arts Teachers: An Analysis of the 1999-2000 SASS and 2000-2001 TFS Databases.” English Education 40.3 (2008): 174-199. Print.

Using data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) School and Staffing Survey (SASS) and the subsequent Teacher Follow-Up Survey (TFS), the authors seek out what causes nearly 50% of beginning and novice teachers to leave the profession by the end of their fifth year (175). The discussion that follows traces potential causes and draws a few potential conclusions. The data are old because more recent results had not been released as of the publication of this article.

  1. Novice teachers rarely encounter conditions for which they’ve been adequately prepared. Specifically, novice teachers will generally be given heavy teaching loads with difficult populations. Instead of following best practice recommendations of easing novice teachers into more challenging assignments, most schools assign those challenges to first year teachers as a right of passage. If schools will not provide support as needed for novice teachers, then teacher educators need to educate their students about “real” conditions on the ground in most schools.
  2. Teacher educators need to ask schools and teachers what they need in terms of professional development for novice and experienced teachers, and they need to develop programs that will meet those needs. This may take the form of traditional degree-earning programs, but may just as likely take the form of noncredit or non-degree seeking professional development opportunities. But these need to be planned around the teachers’ needs, not around the teacher education institution’s strengths or existing programs of study.
  3. Men and teachers of color are needed. The majority of teachers are Caucasian, which does not reflect the diversity of the student bodies served in most districts.
  4. Additional support may be required for all teachers, and especially for novice teachers, at schools where over 20% of students qualify for free or reduces lunches. The socioeconomic background of the students in the school affects teacher retention; this needs to be addressed explicitly.

This all rang true for me. I had an ugly first year, and I struggled with minimal support from my “mentor” (who appeared to define mentoring as sharing outdated transparencies from her 20+ years of teaching). I learned more about teaching from my girlfriend (who became my wife) and the large number of young teachers in my cohort than from administration or mentoring. And I was totally and entirely unprepared to teach any kind of composition or writing – the best professional development I received was an optional workshop offered by the school division on teaching writing to 9Y (below average ninth grade) students. And it was so completely basic and foreign to me that I laughed aloud at its simplicity – until I realized this target made up 4 of my six classes in my first year. I floundered. I recovered with help and support from fellow colleagues, and by getting involved in school activities and events, but it was a considerable struggle that had me in tears many times my first year, convinced I had chosen poorly.

I ultimately left the profession not because I was particularly unhappy, but because I wanted more in-depth study of literature for myself. And I had funds set aside to help (or completely) pay for my graduate studies, so it seemed like a good idea. And then, upon completing my graduate students, I got a job in gifted secondary education administration as director of a summer residential governor’s school program. So my tenure in secondary ELA teaching was statistically correct – I left after my fourth year.

[Creative Commons licensed image by flickr user David Muir]

A Crisis – One of Many?

During last Monday’s class, I shared that I felt I was in crisis. This is something I’ve felt since a particular professor spoke to the class. I don’t think the professor engendered the crisis, but the presentation’s unwillingness to leave the realm of theory—and my difficulty following what the professor had to say—resulted in a rising concern about my place in this field. Where is the field of my undergraduate days? And maybe more importantly, where is the field I fell in love with during those high school lunchtime sessions, studying Eliot (“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” still among my favorite all-time poets and poems), Keats (“Ode on a Grecian Urn”) and Shelley (“Ozymandias”) in preparation for taking the AP English examination?

I think it’s been replaced, at least in part, by a field that embraces the rhetoric of quilts and video games, that can’t quite decide whether creative writing is really a scholarly pursuit, and that considers itself to be in the midst of an existential crisis.

“Replaced,” of course, is hardly the right word. It’s evolved (or devolved, depending on your perspective in the current debates) into the disjointed field of study found (or, increasingly, no longer found) on local college campuses.

I shared the following in a Facebook post to members of my class and PhD cohort this week in response to a series of questions about English as a discipline, and higher education as a “going concern,” shared by another member of the cohort.

I’m beginning to think I may not be the only one overwhelmed right now. S-E-R-I-O-U-S-L-Y overwhelmed. Not by work, although there’s plenty of it. But by a sense of loss. Something happened to English on the way to my Ph.D., and I think I missed it or skipped it or found other things to consume me. But returning to the discipline is painful right now. I’m at a loss for words to explain it, but I will admit to viewing this particular post thread through that lens of loss. I need you all to keep me strong and focused because my discipline is lost and needs to be found.

In a later post, I expanded on this topic:

We are the troublemaking collectiv[ity], and we define the terms. But everything – EVERYTHING – exists in its context. As we earn our degrees and move into whatever jobs are available to PhDs in English studies, we get to spread our troublemaking gospel. We have to work within the contexts we’re given, but I don’t think any context is insurmountable. We will be agents of change, but our agency may be more becoming than being. We’ll push the revolution in little ways and in big ways within our contexts, but we will make trouble and things will change.

Here’s my prediction, informed as much by working in higher education support and instruction for 15 years as by my study of English. It’s surely worth the ink I’ve used.

Change is our constant, both in higher education and English studies. Whatever exists now – and I’ll be honest, I’m not entirely sure what exists now, only that it’s not what it once was and it’s not what I thought it was – won’t exist in ten years. We’ll still have departments, I imagine, and we’ll still teach students, and I’m guessing we’ll still write things – but I think we’ll be conducting scholarship and reporting on it in different formats. We’ll be teaching students in different ways. We’ll teach, learn from, and write different texts. And I’m guessing we’ll apply theory at the same time we’re teaching scholarly creation (which might be on paper) and conducting discourse analyses of multimodal texts. We’ll have to be versed in some of everything. We’ll try or prefer to specialize, but our field will resemble some broad-based humanities effort more than it will resemble the English department of my undergraduate days. We’ll be expected to apply whatever specialty we’ve carved out to all English sub-disciplines.

When I shared my sense of crisis with the professor, I received what I should have predicted I would receive – exactly the same response I would have shared with me if I were the professor responding to a crisis: “That’s good. You’re supposed to be in crisis.” The professor continued that crisis is a part of this class – it’s intended to force new doctoral students to rethink everything about the discipline and about their decision to enter the discipline. It’s Rusty Wilson tearing down those theatre students in order to build them back up. It’s pedagogically designed to generate crisis.

And I found it strangely comforting.

And I get to tell my own students who are experiencing their own research crises exactly the same thing tonight.

I wonder if they’ll be comforted, too.

(Update: They did not appear to be.)

[Creative Commons licensed image by flickr user Cory Doctorow.]