October 28, 2005

Academy 2.0?

I've been thinking about this for maybe a couple of weeks or so, ever since my NFAIS talk (slides available here (scroll down to 10:45), cast coming soon as I can revise), and Alex's nice post applying O'Reilly's Web 2.0 overview reminds me to think about it more seriously.

I haven't been very good lately about posting my thoughts on Web 2.0, and what it might mean for academia, but one of the nascent plans in my head, in addition to adding the new category on my own space, was to open up a Technorati tag, and to encourage folks in our roughly defined neighborhood to start using it. I'm struck, for instance, by the way that George and others have been using tags to do their Teaching Carnivals, and it seems to me that this kind of approach could work well if a handful of us were to simply agree on a tag, and just use it when appropriate.

How about it?

Technorati tag:

October 29, 2005

Blogging Practices

I mean to respond to Dylan's trackback on my post from yesterday, but not just yet. For right now, I recommend a visit. What he talks about there is precisely the same kind of motivation behind our work on CCC Online, and in the next day or two, I'll post something that details that connection.

For the moment, I want to call attention to Alex's "Blogging in the Plural", which is a piece of an essay that ended up on the cutting-room floor. Too bad, because in it, Alex offers an initial attempt at defining blogs not in terms of the artifacts or the artificers, but in terms of practices. To wit, he offers four:

  1. Networked communication
  2. Ongoing, reciprocal communication
  3. A low threshold for participation
  4. Transparency

Alex notes towards the end of the entry that the cultures of hacking and of scholarship draw on these themes as well, and in fact, this is something that I've been talking about lately with a couple of different people. I think I'd add a fifth category as well, which is "regularity" or "consistency" over time. Although the threshold for an individual entry is relatively low (both in terms of time and technical expertise), the broader commitment is fairly large, and the reciprocity makes this commitment sustainable. In other words, part of my motivation is self-generated, but part of it too comes from the fact that I know I have an audience, however small or large it happens to be.

The larger resonance here for me, though, is the way that we have (to a degree) mystified what it is that we do as academics. While this could easily be another "why don't we blog more" sort of rant, I'm not really in that kind of mood. I'm not always sold on the idea that we need to be more transparent, at least to the non-academic world, but otherwise, the issues of networking, reciprocity, and threshold seem to me to be academic practices that remain largely unremarked. I'm thinking here primarily of publication, although there are parallels to be drawn with other of our practices as well.

I'm constantly struck by how little we seem to understand or even talk about what it takes to publish, what publishing our work accomplishes (and in some cases, how little it can accomplish), what the real costs and rewards for our work are, etc. As I was preparing that talk a couple of weeks ago, it seemed like the height of obviousness to me to describe humanities scholarship as Long Tail work, and yet, I see indications all around me that we don't want to think of our work in that way: our aversion to collaboration, our inability to aggregate, our obsession with celebrity, etc. Hell, I have to fight every day to keep those things at bay--I love to imagine being paid lots of money to keynote conferences, to have my work read and discussed far and wide, to be semi-famous. But that's a Head reward system that disguises the more modest (but potentially longer lasting) rewards at the Tail end of things.

I feel like I'm blathering a little bit, and I've got other things to work on, so I'll end there for right now. Visit Dylan, visit Alex, and talk amongst yourselves.

Technorati tag:

November 15, 2005

Academy 0.5

In the CCR program here at Syracuse, we encourage our students to take electives outside of the program. In fact, the program's small enough (and the graduate course offerings sufficiently limited) that it would be a challenge to complete the program coherently without recourse either to independent studies or courses from other departments. In my mind, this is good.

And so it's been nice over the last couple of courses that I myself have taught to have non-CCR students among us. Last spring, we had participants from other institutions, and in both my summer and fall courses, I've had students from other programs on campus. So far, so good. There's a danger in a small program of becoming excessively insular, and in a freestanding writing program where we train PhDs who will most likely take positions in English departments, it's even more urgent. I worry sometimes that we don't prepare our students here sufficiently to deal on a daily basis with colleagues who may or may not respect the kind of work they do. While it's by no means a given that they will struggle in this fashion, it's also by no means that unusual.

And I guess I'm getting a lesson in that myself. I've learned over the past couple of weeks that another department, a couple of whose students are taking or have taken my course, aren't receiving credit for the course towards their majors. Needless to say, I'm less than pleased. There are multiple reasons, and while I could take issue (easily) with each, one of them in particular is especially galling to me. Allegedly, the students in my class "aren't doing enough writing."

It would be more accurate to say that my students aren't doing "the right kind of writing," which appears to be the real objection. I've written in this space before about the ways that I'm currently using CMap and asking students to do visualization work rather than the end-of-the-semester, stay-up-for-48-hours, binge-and-purge model that results in a 20 page essay that may or not may ever get read and almost certainly never goes through any kind of response, feedback, or revision process. Can you smell the bitter in that sentence?

As well you should. I've been meaning to blog for a couple of days now about John Unsworth's talk on New Methods for Humanities Research (Tip: MGK), the talk he delivered upon receiving the Lyman Award for technological innovation in the humanities. Please, please, please, read his talk. It's worth it. But it was pretty ironic to me, after having read this talk, to be told (albeit indirectly) that the work that I was doing in my courses wasn't "rigorous" enough for this other department.

Setting aside all of the issues that I might have with the so-called rigor of the seminar paper, and setting aside the issues I have with what I would describe as rampant current-traditional writing pedagogy on the graduate level, what I think is going on is simply a lack of understanding. Because for me, Unsworth's talk (and by extension, a fair bit of the work that I do) is not just about generating new methods for turning out the same kinds of academic products. A big part of the nora project is visualization, developing not only new methods and finding out new things, but learning to express them in new ways, and developing the tools to do so. It's easy for those of us who are really interested and excited by all of this possibility to simply assume that, once we do these things, their value will be self-evident to our colleagues.

What are my students doing in these projects? (or rather, what have they done, since the map was only one of two separate projects, and they've already turned the maps in.) Each of them had to assemble a collection of 25 sources for a particular area of inquiry. They had to familiarize themselves sufficiently with these sources to be able to see the patterns and relationships among them. In most cases, they had to learn a new piece of software. They had to articulate those relationships visually, write an executive summary of what their map reveals about the area, and present their work to the class.

In my mind, all of the various activities that resulted in their maps are activities that I myself have performed (and am still performing) in order to write scholarly articles. But there are two major differences. First, obviously, their articulation didn't take the form of a seminar paper, and so they weren't required to make claims that--let's face it--most graduate students are underprepared to be able to make. In other words, what I'm trying to do is to separate out, just a little, the related processes of "knowing" a field of inquiry and asserting your place within it. Seminar papers, in my opinion, tend to conflate the two, even though most of us (I think) realize that it's almost impossible to succeed at the 2nd without spending much more time than a few months working on the 1st. In fact, I would argue that it's precisely the repeated conflation of the two that helps to ill-equip students for writing their dissertations and to do research/scholarship once they leave graduate school. I think that this is one of the things that we have to unlearn to be successful academics.

The second major difference is that the projects my students are doing may prove to be useful to them for more than just having their professor submit the grade. Even if they don't keep up their maps or add to them, the value of spatially and visually articulating relationships among a healthy set of texts will persist. As they go on to do work in their areas (I encouraged them to think about potential exam areas as topics), they'll have a much better start for doing so than if they had synthesized a fraction of those texts in order to make a 20-page argument.

But hey, that's me. I like a good 20-page essay from time to time, but it's certainly not the only genre (nor medium, for that matter) that I think in/with/through, and often, it's not the best to say what I want to say. More to the point, I simply don't believe that the only way to learn how to write a good article is to just write simulated articles over and over and over and over until you either sink or swim. The scholarship process is made up of lots of and various micro-processes, and learning how to handle some of the earlier stages of the broader process can make the later ones more manageable. But of course, this requires us to actually think about that process, which is not especially encouraged by old school writing pedagogy, where good writing is the expression of inherent genius rather than the result of any kind of work. And where rigor is defined, by and large, simply as "what we do," despite plenty of evidence to the contrary (or at least, to the complicating).

In my little corner of the universe, there's actually something a little more rigorous (and a good bit less Pavlovian) in what I'm trying to do in consciously eschewing the seminar paper.

That is all. And see, I made it through this entire entry without having to refer to the insult of receiving an email asking me, out of the blue, to defend the rigor of what I was doing in my course. Well, almost, anyway.

Technorati tag:

November 21, 2005

The agony of de-feeds

There's an interesting "report" over at the Feedburner weblog, about the changing face of feeds (RSS/Atom), and specifically about the way that feeds are finally (or need to be) decoupling from blogs. Although they remain an incredibly useful way for me to keep up with the 100+ blogs I subscribe to, that's not their only use. The Venn diagram at the top of the entry illustrates this nicely:

RSS/Atom evolving

When I talk about using weblogs with someone who's new to the idea, I almost always also talk about Bloglines (and various other aggregators), because feeds have been so vital to my own ability to manage the incoming information. But as feeds take on a more autonomous role on the Web, one of the things I've been thinking about is what they mean (or could mean) for the academy.

Right now, you can subscribe to a feed for CCC Online, but as a single feed, and one that's only updated 4 times a year, it's not going to save you that much time and effort. But what if more of our journals began to put out feeds, such that we could all keep an aggregator folder that fed us new article information? Or heck, put em all together into a Feedburner, and you'd have a single feed for the field that would notify you of articles as they were published. (and don't even get me started on keyword subscription--sigh.)

This is even more important for those of us who work in fields that aren't purely disciplinary. There are so many journals dealing with technology stuff, for instance, in cognate fields, and it's a lot of work to keep track of them, and to do so at the proper intervals. You can't tell me that it wouldn't be worth our time, for example, to be feeding the tables of contents of Kairos and Computers and Composition to the majority of new media scholars who work in other fields. Crossing the boundaries of disciplines and specializations is a high threshold activity, but feeds would make it a lot more simple.

Problem is that the publishers of our journals need to get on board, and that may take some doing. The operative model, even for the corporate journal oligopolists, is protectionist. Many of them already make the information that would be in a feed freely available, but they are focused heavily on the "search" as their primary form of interaction: come to our site to look at our data. And that's also assuming a level of technical capability that is by no means uniform across the publishers in my discipline.

I still think that the primary obstacle to wider readerships for our journals is ignorance, and this is doubly true for any kind of inter or transdisciplinary work. It's so hard to keep up broadly that most of us only keep up narrowly, with a few journals, trusting ourselves to check the others every once in a while. Investing a little bit of time, distributed across publishers, in feeds would address this obstacle really well, and it would have the potential to really change the way we do things.

And honestly, putting out a feed would involve, beyond initial setup, maybe 30 minutes an issue for copying and pasting. For the most part, it's information that we already have--feeds would simply distribute that information differently, better, and more widely. That's why we're doing it with CCCO.

[tip: Richard MacManus]

Technorati tag:

February 2, 2006

If only they would feed me

(CCC Online fed through Bloglines)

Here's one of the top items on my wishlist for our field, and here's what we've done to get there. Although there aren't a lot of subscribers yet, one of the things that using MT allows us to do with CCC Online is to publish RSS/Atom feeds of new issues of the journal.

Imagine with me for a minute. Rather than having to subscribe to all the journals, to guess when they're coming out, to borrow them from colleagues, or to hear about a relevant article months after its release when someone else cites it in a paper, imagine being able to just have a folder in Bloglines, or a feed page in Safari, or a bookmark in Firefox, that simply allows you to browse the most recent articles from the various journals in our field. Imagine that, rather than asking our graduate students to figure it out on their own what the journals are, we could just give them an OPML file that contained the feeds of all those journals. Imagine having all of those abstracts at your fingertips, and being able to bookmark them for later, email it to a friend you know would be interested, etc.

This is already possible with CCC Online. And in fact, it's theoretically possible for those journals that are oligopublished, like Computers and Composition or Rhetoric Review--I know that the big kids are slowly moving in a 2.0 direction. To generate a feed of new articles for CCC takes us (and this is including all of the other site features that we build in) maybe an hour or so an issue. Leave off the tagging, and the internal linking/trackbacking, and we'd be talking maybe 15 minutes, 4 times a year.

That's 1 hour. 1 hour per year.

For an hour's worth of work a year, a journal could make that metadata available in a much broader fashion and much more conveniently to the entire field. It really is that simple. Really. Just copy and paste, and a little bit of elementary design on the front end.

Maybe part of it is that I've been living with this idea for the last year or so, because it seems bone-crushingly obvious to me. It requires so little effort, and what effort is required is distributed so broadly that it's negligible. And the benefit is so clear and present--to have the last year's worth of articles in the field at our fingertips? Genius. There's no reason why publishers couldn't hop on to this as well: feeds for various subject areas, including books and chapters from edited collections.

Every once in a while, there are complaints about the flood of information we're faced with, even in a field as relatively small as ours is. We need to poke ourselves in the head, though, with the sharp fact that this is true for every discipline, much less every field of endeavor, and there are solutions out there, solutions that are pretty easy to implement and that could really transform the way we handle that flood.

That is all.

February 6, 2006

Yummy class management

Lest you jump to the conclusion that February is some kind of personal snark holiday of mine, let me hasten to add a link to Bradley's reflections on using last semester to manage his course on computers and writing.

From my perspective, he does a better job here of articulating what's possible (and how it worked) than I managed in my spring course, where I tried something similar. starts with bookmarking, but ultimately, it can be a really simple but robust tool for all sorts of organizational tasks, and I think Bradley's post demonstrates this. I also really appreciate the discussion of how his tagging practices have evolved. Not enough of those kinds of discussions yet.

February 10, 2006

Facebook drama at SU

That was fast. In the past couple of weeks, our student newspaper on campus (the Daily Orange) has run a couple of front-page articles on Facebook, one about campus security using it to try and curtail underage drinking and now another that hits a little closer to home, as I'll explain below. What hasn't taken long is that these articles, including Wednesday's, have already made it to the Wikipedia entry on Facebook.

I'm not going to replicate our paper's policy of using names here, or comment too extensively on a situation with which I am only peripherally at best connected, but a couple of issues seemed worthy of mention. The basic story is this: some students in one of our FY courses created a group on Facebook that was basically devoted to disrespecting their instructor. Despite the near-ubiquity of Facebook, much of what goes on there is outside the purview of a lot of us who teach, but I don't think it would surprise many to learn that this is a fairly widespread practice. I've heard myself of several instances of "I hate X" groups on Facebook, where X is either a particular course or a particular professor.

What's different about this process isn't the hurtfulness or the aggressiveness of some of these groups--from time immemorial, students have complained about various professors and classes. Goodness knows I did my share of kvetching in college. What's different about Facebook and other SNS is the degree of speed and transparency they bring to what once was a form of institutional underlife. I might complain to a roommate about the unreasonable policies of a particular professor, and I would certainly do so without fear of being brought before a campus disciplinary committee. And if you read this account from the DO, one of the patterns that emerges is the students' outright shock over the severity of the potential consequences and the response by the university. Their complaints about the length and uncertainty of the process I take simply as an unfamiliarity with procedures that are actually designed to protect them from overreaction, a system that no student familiarizes hirself with until s/he's actually involved with it.

But the Facebook question is a different one. Clearly Facebook accomplishes something that conversation does not, or it wouldn't be successful--students would just keep on talking. We don't have a whole lot of language to describe what Facebook does yet, because it's not something that fits comfortably on the public-private spectrum. By establishing a separate space for social networking, though, Facebook certainly moves away from the private towards some form of publicness. One consequence, as the Wikipedia entry makes fairly obvious, is that what at one time happened primarily as a form of underlife, with Facebook no longer stays underliven.

I think that this is an important change. Part of what's happening is that the transparency that information and communication technologies have brought to faculty (think 24-7 email requests) is now also having some effect on student life on campus. There's one sense in which the students are right to be shocked by the response--not so long ago, administrators couldn't have had access to these kinds of activities. But to imagine that this is somehow a breach of privacy (as one student in the article does) is to misrecognize the situation to a degree. The most obvious change that Facebook makes is this step towards transparency or publicness, but there's a second step as well. There's a difference between expressing an opinion in conversation (where it is likely to be taken as opinion and unlikely to have consequences beyond the immediate conversation) and placing something on a site like Facebook or one of the rating sites, where it takes on both a more public and permanent quality.

It's not just that these kinds of activities are less private on Facebook, in other words. It's that they have potentially greater consequences. Regardless of what the students may intend (and my guess is that there wasn't a lot of intentionality in the first place), the (semi) public suggestion of an instructor's incompetence is an act that has very real consequences for the instructor hirself. This kind of disrespect can be contagious, becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy and affecting the quality of a course. It can persist beyond the immediate circumstance, poisoning future courses, or in the case of some of the ratings sites, affecting job prospects. While no one would argue that all instructors are equally good, or that constructive criticism is unwarranted, I think it safe to say that many of the comments on these kinds of sites are not primarily motivated by a desire to improve instruction (two words: chili peppers). There's a great deal of aggression being vented, and in fact, many of these sites market themselves specifically on the idea that they provide a place for students to revenge themselves on their teachers--RateMyProfessors specifically promises a space where students can "turn the tables" on faculty. And there's been no shortage of stories about how that particular site has been used to harass particular professors, to provide misleading information, and/or to offer up a pretty bleak account of student values.

[One of the difficulties with any of these sorts of sites is that they are too easily reduced to simple analogies--it's like X, only digital. But that "only" is misleading; most SNS sites combine various features of their analogs. For example, it's possible to argue that Facebook, in some ways, is simply a remediation of note-passing, and it does offer the convenience and immediacy of that proto-genre. But it's useful to me to think of it as well as a remediation of posters or fliers, and there's some indication that it's used in that way as well--as a site for general announcements. Things that we wouldn't think twice about putting in a note we definitely should think twice about putting on a poster or a flier, for instance...]

I guess my point here is ultimately a simple one, and that's that writing has consequences, and for whatever reason, it's been a point that's been slow to sink in on this campus recently. All sorts of behavior has been defended lately on this campus from the perspective that the pain being caused hasn't been intentional ("it was just a joke," e.g.), and yet pain has been the consequence of this behavior, and there's been a lot of shock expressed when the people who have behaved badly have been required to bear some of the consequences of their actions.

I'm not sure that it's ultimately the university's responsibility to warn or prepare students to accept the consequences of their behavior, or that such policies or workshops would even have that kind of effect. I think it's important for all of us to understand how codes of conduct extend to all sorts of venues, Facebook included, but I suspect that, just as being "dooced" entered the parlance of bloggers, it's going to take a critical mass of stories about students being held accountable for their Facebook activity for it to finally sink in. I don't think that this is an issue that can simply be "solved" with a policy or a workshop, and yet it's one that needs to be addressed in its full complexity.

I'm not in the habit of offering disclaimers on my entries here, but it should be mentioned that this is my take on this situation, and doesn't represent my program, college, or university, or the principals involved in the incident.

That's all.

February 14, 2006

When Journalists Attack! (more on Facebook)

I've been telling various people privately that the DO coverage of the Facebook incident here at SU committed at least a couple of serious misrepresentations. One of these was that the comments reported by the story were far less objectionable than others they could have noted. Rather than get into the issue of "how objectionable is too objectionable" or repeat the comments themselves, I made the choice to let that mistake stand.

Unfortunately, other publications don't feel a similar sort of restraint. I won't link to it here, but you can visit Inside Higher Ed and see what the story looks like when journalism works without any consideration for the people involved. As I talked about in the last entry, for me, this is a question less of freedom than it is of consequences. I would never suggest that IHE (or any other outlet) is not "free" to cover the story in any way that they choose. I would suggest, though, that by choosing to include the names of the students and the instructor, and by choosing to include a graphic of the original Facebook page, IHE has effectively piled on.

And it's not in the interests of journalism. It's entirely possible to lay out this argument, to report on this situation, without naming the people involved, without publishing pictures. It's voyeurism, pure and simple, and it's a shitty thing.

Among other things, the story reports on the worries of one of the students:

“I will have a reprimand on my permanent record for seven years,� she added, “so if a grad school inquires into any interactions with judicial affairs or asks on an application if I had any violations that required punishment, this would apply.�

Setting aside the whole "permanent for seven years" thing, what this young woman doesn't seem to realize is that, long after the reprimand vanishes, guess what? she appears in a story accessible in a Google search on her name, one that makes certain, with graphic clarity, that what she did and said will be available to anyone interested.

By publishing their names, IHE has played their part in ensuring that this incident will survive long after all of the people involved have left Syracuse. And in the case of the instructor, who did not volunteer to be treated like this, publicly and offensively, IHE has repeated, and effectively extended, the harassment represented by the original site.

IHE knows this. The unfortunate thing about this is that they will hide behind the shield of saying that they're just covering the story in as much detail as they can. They won't endure the consequences of their choices the way that the people whose names appear in their article will. And I'm not sure what's worse: the idea that they understand the consequences of reposting harassing materials but choose to do so anyway, or the idea that they didn't think it through. Neither option provides me with much comfort.

It provides me with one certainty, though: it's a fucking shameful thing that Inside Higher Ed has done. Fucking shameful. I expect better from them. Here's what you can do: email and ask them to remove the instructor's and students' names from their story and to take down the graphic of the Facebook page. Hell, copy and paste this entry into that email if you want. That's my plan.

I'll update this entry if and when IHE decides to do the right thing.

That's all.

February 15, 2006

A colleague weighs in (Yet more...)

[Note: I've changed the title of this entry, in response to my colleague's objection that his wasn't really an attack. Fair enough. My original title ("when colleagues attack!") was less an accusation than a parallel to the prior day's entry and an allusion to the hyperbolic sensationalism of those old FOX tv shows.]

I was going to settle back down into my routine today, work some more on my manuscript, and keep an occasional eye peeled to see what IHE planned to do. That was before I did a little light Googling to see how much of this had seeped into search engines thus far. That was before I came across this blog entry at, a site maintained by a colleague of mine here at SU in the Philosophy Department. Perhaps my colleague will revise his opinions in light of the information that has come out since last Friday.

For the moment, though, you have the opportunity to see one of the consequences of the misleading information published in our school paper. Based on that information, said colleague offers the following opinion:

Were the remarks absolutely unpleasant? Absolutely. Were the remarks threatening or harassing? Well, not if the remarks were rather like

I would rather eat the hair out of the drain than go to class

We do know because the University is rather silent about the matter. But I can only assume that we have been given an example of the kind comments that were indicative of the remarks that were made against the instructor. And if that is so, then what we have is an institution that is over-stepping the proper boundaries.

Let me save you the suspense of discovering that the payoff of this over-stepping in this entry is the single, hyperbolic sentence with which the entry ends: "Syracuse University is not supposed to be the Taliban."

Ummm....what the...?!?!?!

But really, that's just the cherry on top of the sundae. The flawed analogies begin much earlier. To wit:

I am at a loss as to the difference between this and two other things: (a) These students going on endlessly about [name deleted] to other students on campus and (b) these students filling out anonymous teaching evaluations about [name deleted] in which they say many of the same things.

First of all, by repeated using the instructor's name, and thus further cementing the associations that will turn up routinely in Google searches, my colleague has already demonstrated that he is indeed "at a loss."

Unlike campus conversations, and unlike anonymous course evaluations, Facebook is searchable. That in and of itself is a simple difference that Every. Single. Person. who has used these people's names in their coverage needs to understand. Every time you use one of their names, you are reinforcing an association that has consequences far beyond the immediate circumstances of your usage. Perhaps it's a generational thing, but I do Google searches on job candidates, on graduate program applicants, on people I meet/see at conferences. I do them all the time. These sites are not private. Really.

Oh, but wait. There's more.

There are in fact many black students on campus who are utterly persuaded that I am an Uncle Tom. They are persuaded that I care more about white students than blacks students and that my opposition to affirmative action reflects a deep inferiority complex or some form of self-hatred. Needless to say, there is nothing flattering here, either. But it would not occur to me to think that the University should somehow prohibit them from holding these opinions of me, or that students who posted such opinions of me on a public website should be punished.

I just want to be clear here. The analogy being drawn is between the writer on the one hand--a tenured, male professor who's written several books and had ample opportunity to lay out a position with which his students might disagree--and the instructor he's writing about--a female graduate student about whom students are making public, obscene comments.

If this honestly seems like a fair comparison to anyone, then I don't know what to say.

What I will say is that much of this argument is based upon information that was essentially a lie by omission. As the argument makes pretty clear, the local coverage of this event implied that the comments on Facebook were much milder than they actually were. The odd thing about this, though, even in the absence of revision on the part of my colleague, is that in his very next post he bemoans the work of the ACLU as an organization that can't "wrap its mind around," among other things that,

When the founding fathers advocated free speech, a fundamental part of their thinking was that people could be held accountable for what they said. Indeed, that very idea finds itself in the jury system itself: a person has a right to face her or his accusers. The very idea that a person could say anything he or she damned well please without being answerable to others for her or his remarks was simply unthinkable to the founding fathers.

I don't really have much else to say--it's rare that I read an entry where the author unwittingly publishes a rebuttal to the very things I disagree with.

So let me simply close with the sincere hope that, now that more information has come to light, my colleague sees fit to act on the principle he espouses. In other words, I honestly hope that he reconsiders his hyperbole and his own overreaction to the situation. While he was not responsible for the factual error his entry duplicates, he is responsible for each day that his entry remains unrevised or uncorrected now that the information is available.

That is all.

March 5, 2006

A talk in search of a stage

Those of you who follow my scholarly career as closely and in as much painstaking detail as I myself do will notice that one particular vector that I've followed with some consistency is the exploration, experimentation (with), and implementation (PPT) of various visual/spatial tools for writing. In other words, I find myself drawn, time and again, to different ways of writing, different means of expressing the kind of thinking that I do as a scholar.

Funny thing about this is that I didn't realize this myself until fairly recently. I've been working first with hypertexts and webtexts and later with new media more broadly conceived for over 10 years now, and I think that one of the things that drives that work is an underlying conviction on my part that electracy allows me to write in ways that feel more comfortable to me than do those supported by pencils, typewriters, and word processors. It's early in the morning, so forgive me for waxing a little philosophical here.

Anyhow, over the past year or so, I've been using Keynote as a composing tool, mostly for talks that I've given, but as a means of visually and spatially writing before I commit my ideas to sentences and paragraphs. When people started screencasting, I was excited about the possibility of being able to do even more with it. But I've had trouble finding the right combination of tools for myself. Enter ProfCast, a $35 app that allows you to simultaneously record voice on top of Keynote or PPT slides, and it preserves the timing of the slides as well. Finally, it allows you to publish the results as podcasts/screencasts (with RSS feeds to boot). The idea behind it is that it's a tool that would allow professors giving PPT-assisted lectures to record both the voice and slides, and package them together for their students.

So what we have linked below is my first crack at a screencast written in Keynote, then scripted, and recorded with ProfCast. It's about 12 minutes long, and runs a little larger than 8 MB (8.1, I think). It's an MPEG-4 file, and I was able to view it on my machine using QuickTime without any trouble. The slides are vector-based for the most part, so you can watch it full-screen without any fuzziness--in fact, it's probably better displayed large than small, so I recommend downloading it to watch it.

It's a little rough around the edges, but not bad for a first try, and the ideas in it are ones that I've been batting around in different forms (and different forums) for the past year. Enjoy.

social bookmarking screencast

July 5, 2006

Publishers and Bloggers, sittin in a tree

Scott McLemee has a piece up today at IHE based on a talk he gave at last month's AAUPresses confab, and it's worth a look. The bottom line is that academic presses would do themselves a huge favor becoming a little more familiar with blogspace and what it might be able to accomplish for them:

Academic publishers are now more likely to put their catalogs up online than a few years ago. But most seem not to have made the additional commitment of resources necessary to get the word out about their books.

Getting 10 or 20 copies to the right folks at the right blogs might mean the difference in some cases between selling dozens and selling hundreds, a big difference for an academic press's typically small print run.

Compare the typical academic press strategies (send out catalogs, bring boxes to conventions) with what Chris Anderson did. His book on the long tail is a-coming soon, and his publisher gave him 100 copies to give away, so he offered them to the first 100 bloggers willing to review the book. Less than 24 hours later, he had 100 reviewers lined up.

Yes, trade presses vs. academic, but that's part of McLemee's piece as well. It's not about spending lots but spending smart. Chances are, with a little bit of research, you could achieve the same impact with 10 well-placed reviews as you could with 100. You telling me that most academic presses don't give away more than 10 copies of a book as desk copies a year? C'mon.

Anyhow, Scott's dead-on, and whether or not my press does what he suggests, I'll be doing it. Even if I have to buy my own books and give them out myself.

July 21, 2006

Searching and hoping and thinking and praying

Last week, when I was young and impetuous, I made a couple of suggestion re the WPA Technology Outcomes Statement. In the interests of positivity, I thought I might revisit one of the suggestions, namely

How about developing an awareness of the variety of search strategies made possible by the combination of physical and electronic information sources?

One of the things that I think is hugely important here is that too many think "search" is simply a single process, delimited by pluses, minuses and quotes. "Strategies" too often refers to the ability to narrow your Google results down from 1 million to 50,000 or so. Problem is that this vision of search is not unlike bobbing for apples. It's a little flip of me to say so, I suppose, but it's true. And at one point, that's what web tech and search tools permitted.

With Google, the tools improved. The strategies? Not so much. For all of the good that Google did, driving out some truly horrid site design and searches so slow you could almost hear the hamster running in the wheel, PageRank was a huge advance that made us pretty darn lazy. There's still plenty of value to be had from Google, but it's still an information retrieval service. I use it on a daily basis, but I use it in a very specific, constrained way that takes advantage of speed and the particular needs I have.

What's happening now is something that Ebrahim Ezzy calls "Search 2.0" over at Richard MacManus's Read/Write Web:

Third-generation search technologies are designed to combine the scalability of existing internet search engines with new and improved relevancy models; they bring into the equation user preferences, collaboration, collective intelligence, a rich user experience, and many other specialized capabilities that make information more productive.

Yeah, yeah, third-gen but 2.0. Where this essay (part 1 of 2) potentially misleads is in the implication of 2.0 as something that will replace 1.0, when it's more likely that they will work in concert. One of the things that these new search engines have in common is their potential use specifically for Long Tail information. (I'll get to a review of that book one of these weeks.) The more specific the object of your search is, the fewer people there are who are likely to want it, and thus the less accessible it will be via Google, barring some arcane system of +this and -that. I'm not going to find a new book in my field via Google, unless it's to look up the web address of a publisher.

One of the things that Search 2.0 is about is not finding X, but finding Y who knows X. Here's an example: a friend asked me how I find new music. Usually, it's a combination of three things: what my friends (with similar tastes) are listening to, what selected reviewers (with similar tastes) are recommending, and what iTunes tells me are the proximate bands, songs, and playlists.

Let me talk about that last for a second, because it can sound counter-intuitive if you think about it. I'm talking about "searching" for something that I already know/have, in order to see what else is in its neighborhood. We do it in the library sometimes, right? If we know one book is useful, we might see what else is on the shelf around it. Now think about a service like as a site where thousands of users are building dynamic shelves or neighborhoods. Bookmark an article that you know you want to work with, and you can use to find all the other users who are bookmarking it, all the other things they've bookmarked beside it, and the terms they've used to categorize it.

Goodness knows, these systems and engines are far from perfect. Nick Carr, for example, observes that sites like Amazon are limited in their usefulness:

Fallows makes one observation that hits home with me. He describes how underwhelming he finds all the automated product recommendations that are always being thrown at you on the web. "In nearly a decade with Amazon," he writes, "I've yet to experience the moment of perfect serendipity when it discovers a book I really like that I wouldn't otherwise have known about." I, too, have been waiting years to experience that moment - with Amazon, with Netflix, with iTunes, with all of 'em.

These are Long Tail companies with Short Head motives, and so this isn't that surprising to me--their market share is built on factors other than specialist searches (like convenience, e.g.). I find Amazon almost completely useless for automated recommendations. But they also enable more specialized, community recommendations, and these I've found useful. If I've liked several of the books on a Listmania list, there's a good chance that I'll add one or more unread ones from it onto my Wish List. And there are a few situations where I've found autorecs useful, like when I'm returning to a particular genre after a hiatus, for instance.

As some of us non-science disciplines start to catch on to the benefits of these kinds of networks (e.g., AnthroSource, MediaCommons, et al.), the tools will exist that allow alot of people to bypass Google altogether. Not that the occasional apple bob isn't necessary, mind you, but it shouldn't be the first and last step.

The other little piece of optimism that I have is this: once we start acknowledging the value of this kind of searching and KM, then perhaps more broad-based support will exist for the construction of resources that take advantage of it. Imagine the iTunes interface, for instance, as a gateway to the scholarship in a discipline, where professors can put together "playlists" of texts in the same way that users now publish mixes, only these playlists are the syllabi for the graduate courses taught in the discipline or the bibliographies of our articles and books.

What I come bumping up against again and again is that we're too accustomed to treating our expertise as disposable. How many hundreds of times a year do we put together carefully thematic and specifically paced syllabi/playlists, only to bury them in desktop folders and wastepaper baskets? We don't collect that information in any systematic fashion because our vision of the web lacks an understanding of the motivation behind links and networks. Google was successful precisely because PageRank algorithmizes that motivation, and if these Search 2.0 tools succeed, it will be by leveraging the networks even further.

I hope we're not still bobbing for apples.

That's about it from me. There's some spots above that probably need filling out, but it's getting late. This is part of what I mean when I say that we need to understand search better, both for ourselves and for our students.

(Almost forgot: Dean)

August 10, 2006

CCCO thoughts

Over at if:book, Ray Cha relays and recommends an upcoming chapter from Clifford Lynch, about moving beyond "reader-centric views of scholarly literature." It has much in common with Franco Moretti's work on literary history, and is worth reading for that reason alone.

But I'm also on the lookout for ways to articulate just what it is we're trying to do with CCC Online, and Lynch's piece fits the bill. Namely...

We would also see an explosion in services that provided access to this literature in new and creative ways. Such services would also incorporate specialized vocabulary databases, gazetteers, factual databases, ontologies, and other auxiliary tools to enhance indexing and retrieval. They would rapidly transcend access to address navigation and analysis. One path here leads towards more-customized rehosting of scholarly literatures and underlying evidence into new usage and analysis environments attuned to the specific scholarly practices of various disciplines.

We would also see a move beyond federation and indexing to actual text mining and analysis, to the extraction of hypotheses and correlations that would help to drive ongoing scholarly inquiry. Indeed, the literature would be embedded in a computational context that reorganized and re-evaluated the existing body of knowledge as new literature became available.

That excerpt separates nicely into what I think we're already doing at the site, although not perhaps to the extent that Lynch imagines it, and the second half, which in many ways is the prize that we've got our long-term eyes on. If you don't think we're watching projects like this and this, well, you don't know us very well. Heh.

I'm less worried about the potential objections that Cha raises at the end of his post--"Purists will undoubtedly frown upon the use of computation that cannot be replicated by humans in scholarly research"--than I am about getting to the point where such objections can be raised. In other words, I believe that such work, if it can generate compelling results, will override knee-jerk complaints. I think it's also going to be necessary, in our own field at least, to be very careful to qualify the value of this work appropriately. Not that that's always been enough, especially when it comes to quasi-statistical work, which tends to run afoul of the old "me humanities. me hate math." goofiness.

Two other points. First is one that I'm guessing some people will not appreciate, and that's that, to an extent this work is fairly easily decoupled from the "open access" that appears to drive Lynch's piece. That is, the value of data mining is offered as a consequence of open access, and while that is true at a very large scale, I think it possible to do quite a bit in this area without it, honestly. We're able to work around providing the metadata we wanted without having to open up the journal's content, even if we might have preferred it otherwise. And I think that some pretty entrenched attitudes will need to change for what Lynch describes to be more than a thought experiment. Not that they shouldn't change, but I'm not sure how far they actually need to, for this at least.

Second point is that we use a fairly small, fairly simple suite of tools to do what we're doing now. We had to cobble stuff together, and we've done so fairly successfully, but it shouldn't go unmentioned that a couple of good programmers would go a long way towards making this a lot more doable. Personally, I have enough ability to tweak, and I'm pretty good at making MT modules do what I want them to, but we spent a fair bit of time just cobbling. I'm conscious of how much more efficient our system could be.

And yeah, it's only one journal that we're working on, and all things considered, we really have to pace things more slowly than I'd like. But it's also our flagship journal, and if nothing else, we tackled the biggest job first, in designing and testing it on CCC. There's going to be some real value in what we're doing, even if it doesn't hit the scale that Lynch imagines. And we're a pretty solid model for how to accomplish these goals on both a small scale and approaching it from the bottom up.

That is all.

August 23, 2006

Inching, inching

It's easy to come off, and to want to come off, as someone who's already figured it all out--it's a particularly academic attitude that's all but hammered into us, that to "not know" is a sign of weakness. The unfortunately ironic part of it all is that not knowing is always an opportunity, for me at least, and yet I feel like I get caught up in papering over those times where I don't know.

All of which is to say that, as I was thinking more about last night's post, I was reflecting on how often I do the stuff that I was critical of. I've been thinking about doing the bulk of my reading and writing for my 2nd book online, for a variety of reasons. I want the early and immediate feedback on much of what I have to say. Blogging is a lot closer to my ideal writing rhythm. And the tools for managing knowledge available online are just better than anything I might cobble together on a desktop.

And yet, last week, as I was thinking about it, I found myself falling back into the terms that I advocate against. I was worried that people would think it derivative. I was worried about it being written out from under me, as people took up ideas and turned them around faster than I could. I was worried about presses being turned off by it appearing publicly. In short, and let's break out the arrogance checklist for this, I was making the following assumptions:

  • An idea is only good the first time, that is, if you're the one to "discover" it. (check)
  • My ideas are so good that people will steal them. (check)
  • It's better to be first than to write well. (check)
  • I should hoard my good ideas greedily and then spring them all at once, so that people will think my genius is pure, whole, and polished. (check)
  • "My genius" (snort) (check)

It's so unbelievably hard to get out of the habit of policing the borders of "my" ideas that there are times when I don't know where to start. You'd think I'd learn eventually, though. You'd think we'd learn eventually. In his post yesterday, Alex wrote:

So why do we produce scholarship?
  • To get tenure, promoted, a raise, a better job, and other monetary rewards
  • To improve our reputation/standing in the academic community
  • To lay claim to an idea
  • To promote an ideological/disciplinary position and/or to critique another

I'd say those are roughly in descending order and might be followed by more altruistic notions like "advancing knowledge" or some such. If that seems cynical then perhaps you are unaware of the pressures involved in tenure or the pathetic role reputation plays in academia (something Jeff's post addresses).

As I read this, I was saying to myself, "Oh, no, my motives are so much purer than this," and to a degree they are. I really enjoy reading and writing and teaching, and the degree to which they allow me to put togther ideas, and to make sense where perhaps less sense existed previously. And to a degree, they're not. When I think of how hard it seems to be for me sometimes to think outside of that list, even when I know there is epistemological space outside of it that I can occupy, then it seems unfair to me to critique others for what in the end are my own failings.

So at the same time that I try and even out any unfairness from yesterday by calling out my own proclivities, I'm hoping that writing through it here will stop me in my well-worn tracks on occasion from repeating the cycle. I think I'll learn eventually.

Update: Well, the beginnings of a site are there. It'll take a few entries for the layout to fully unfold, and I still have to go in and tweak a bunch of the backup pages, but much of the major style sheet wrasslin' is complete, I think. Take a look. The design was partly cribbed from my grad course site, along with some twists I've been thinking about. Oh, and the colors will be different, most likely. I futzed with stuff mainly so I could find it again, but still have some alterations to make...

August 26, 2006

We'll see how this flies

I've spent the past few days finishing up the overview document for my tenure case, known affectionately across the campus as "Form A." The form closes by asking for "additional information" that might be helpful in evaluating one's work. Here's what I put:

In a conversation with one of the members of the search committee that recommended my appointment at Syracuse, after I arrived in the Writing Program, I learned that this particular committee member had three criteria for each of the candidates. This person explained that each candidate was expected to make technology their primary area of scholarly inquiry, to be able to apply it in and to their pedagogy, and, just as importantly, to be a practicing user of technologies. While I believe that this form documents my achievements in the first two areas, I want to discuss that third area briefly.

In the field of rhetoric and composition, a field devoted to the study and teaching of writing, there is a sense in which we are practitioners of that which we study. But for those of us who choose to specialize further in the study of information and communication technologies as they impact writing, practice is not only essential, but it brings added pressures as well. In addition to staying abreast of developments in our field, we are obligated to remain familiar with developments outside of academia, to be practicing technologists as well as scholars, pedagogues, and colleagues. However, the criteria by which tenure and promotion are determined do not easily admit this fourth category, partly because it is a difficult one to measure. The proficient use of technologies does not fit into any of the three categories, but it is not entirely separable from them, either. I have spent hours learning software in order to write multimedia essays, familiarized myself with various research and productivity tools in order to help students become more proficient at online research, and drawn on my understanding of spread sheets, databases, and web design in order to improve the performance of the graduate office. But I also engage in activities that cannot easily be reduced to scholarship, teaching, and service.

It is in this context that I wish to call attention to my activity as an academic blogger. I started a weblog (Collin vs. Blog) in August of 2003, and in the three years I have spent writing and maintaining it, it has become an integral part of my academic practice. I use it as a place to work through ideas that will eventually be turned into published scholarship, to reflect upon teaching practices, and to connect with colleagues both local and distant. In roughly 20 months of tracking site traffic, my site has received close to 75,000 unique visits and over 100,000 pageviews, averaging 144 visits and 199 views daily since January of 2005. In the summer of 2005, I received my discipline’s award for Best Academic Weblog. In short, maintaining a weblog has raised my profile, both within my discipline and beyond it, far more than any course I might teach or article I might publish. And in doing so, it raises the profile of Syracuse and of the Writing Program in a fashion that I believe to be positive.

In recent years, there have been high-profile tenure cases where applicants have offered their technological work in lieu of activity more easily categorized in traditional terms; that is not my intent here. I feel that my scholarship, teaching, and service stand on their own. But in a year where Syracuse is actively pursuing and promoting the idea of “scholarship in action,� it strikes me as particularly important to include this form of public writing as part of my activity as a member of the Syracuse University faculty. At a time where much of the discussion surrounding academic weblogs focuses on the risks of representing one’s self publicly as anything more than the sum total of items on a vita, I feel that it’s important to acknowledge the positive, productive impact that blogging has had upon my academic career. My weblog is not a strictly academic space, any more than my life is consumed with purely academic concerns. But it adds a dimension to my contributions here at Syracuse, both as a writer and as someone who studies technology, that would be difficult to duplicate within the categories articulated in this form.

* * * * *

I'll be sure to let you know how it goes.

September 4, 2006

Collections vs Conversations

Derek's citation of an entry over at Paul Matsuda's blog tripped a bit of a switch for me this evening, and the result is probably going to be a sizable post. Buckle your seat belt.

What I want to take issue with, ever so slightly, is the tried and true bit of wisdom that entering academia is a matter of "joining the conversation." We're fond, in rhetcomp, of Kenneth Burke's passage from Philosophy of Literary Form, as a metaphor for disciplinarity:

Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally's assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.

There are critiques of the Habermasian character of the Burkean parlor, but that's not my concern. My concern is with the ease with which "putting in one's oar" is translated into the nominalism of "publication." As in, I need a publication, or to get a publication, or I don't have enough publications. I'm being somewhat specific here: I'm objecting to "publication" as a thing you have as opposed to "publishing" as an activity you engage in. And thus my concern is also with how we translate "listen for a while," because I think that's key for publishing (and perhaps less of an emphasis in publication).

For the past couple of years, I've been handing out Paul Matsuda's chapter "Coming to Voice: Publishing as a Graduate Student," from Casanave and Vandrick's Writing for Scholarly Publication (Amazon). In fact, I wrote about it, almost exactly a year ago, in the context of a discussion about the ongoingness of blogging. So it was kind of cool to see Paul repeat some of that essay in a blog entry a couple of weeks back. And it reminded me about why I hand out his chapter in the first place.

I wrote a year ago that "What's important about the essay is that it narrates a process that's not about acquiring disciplinary content so much as it is learning about the conversations, about seeing publication as an ongoing process," but I want to amend that statement slightly. I'm now beginning to wonder if even the metaphor of "conversations" pushes us too quickly towards the "publication" end of things.

As I mentioned early on, over at Rhetwork, the idea of collection has been gathering steam for me for a while. And so I want to contrast collection with conversation as a guiding metaphor for academic/intellectual activity, particularly at its early stages, i.e., in graduate school.

I'll add some citations to this eventually, but this summer, at RSA, I gave a paper where I suggested that collection, as Walter Benjamin describes it in "Unpacking My Library," operates as a hinge between narrative and database, in part based upon our affective investment in it. I may look at my big wall of books and see all the various connections among texts, in terms of their content, chronology, and my own encounters with them. In short, I may perceive it as a big wall of conversations, of disciplinary narratives. Someone else may happen upon it, and simply see a library, a database of rhetoric, critical theory, technology studies, et al.

The value of the collection, of having all these books here, is that I'll never know what's going to be useful. I can't predict, when I begin an essay, what will find its way in and what won't. I have the luxury of being able to work my way through my collection, following up on dimly perceived connections, my own added marginalia, etc. And the wall enacts on a material scale what's going on in my head as I constantly add articles, books, ideas, etc., to the collection of disciplinary knowledge that occupies a certain portion of my mind.

It probably feels like I've wandered from my point. My point is that we tend to think of our disciplines largely in terms of the narratives we construct, stories of the field's progress from point A to B to C or as conversations among certain luminaries occurring in the pages of journals and books. To treat the discipline as a database (where, a la Manovich, it's just "an infinite flat surface where individual texts are placed in no particular order� ) is to foreclose, initially at least, on the narratives that we tell ourselves about our fields.

But of course, disciplines are neither one nor the other; they're both. From the outside, the publications in a given discipline comprise a growing mountain of discourse that no one person could possibly master. From the inside, even a single article may yield all sorts of narrative information about where the writer's from, with whom she studied, to whom she's responding. We become quite adept at reconstructing conversations from a single voice, and the occluded genres of footnotes, citations, and bibliographies can only help us do so.

And when faced with the conceptual metaphor of a discipline as a gathering of conversations, as a parlor, our response is to want to join it, to enter the conversation. The uber-competitive job market only fuels this desire, as if it needed feeding. When faced with a conversation, there aren't a lot of other options.

I want instead to think about collection as an alternative metaphor for what we do, or an earlier stage of a longer process. In part, I'm prompted by Brendan's Katamari Interface and by Jeff's comments about DJs as researchers. When I think of the tools that I use most often, I can see them in terms of collecting:

  • blogs, collecting my thoughts and notes
  •, collecting my bookmarks
  • Library Thing, collecting my books
  • Bloglines, collecting my feeds

and so on. In talking about why it's important to "read it all," Paul explains:

I then scan through [the library] to explore the intertextuality--which sources get mentioned more frequently and how. I then collect more sources if I don't have them handy. Without this process, it wouldn't be possible to come up with viable research questions or to know what questions or concerns reviewers and readers might have.

This is exactly the kind of data mining that we become proficient at as academics, but it's awfully tough to accomplish unless you have that collection to begin with. As we gain experience, we learn how to read articles for their intertextuality, for the differences between primary and secondary sources, etc. But the conversations emerge from collection, not the other way around. And in fact, I want to suggest that the discipline as database also emerges from collection, but that's a different essay.

I'm most certainly not trying to sneak around the back way to saying that "grad students these days are too focused on publication blah blah blah," although there are probably hints of that here. To take a course is to engage in collection, as you read texts and add them either to your active memory or your shelves. It's something we all do, period. To read a journal is to add to your collection.

I'm doing a guest shot in our gateway course this week, and what I'll be talking about, what I'm interested in here, are the logics of thinking as a collector. There are all sorts of tools, not to mention plenty of great examples, for the process of managing your collection, but it's important, I think, to make the figural leap. That is, it's important to understand that what we do in graduate school is to collect.

When I was a kid, I collected baseball cards. And for the first couple of months, I would buy the random packs of cards, always with the assurance that there'd be at least a few cards that I didn't have. As that number began to shrink, I'd start trading my doubles for friends' doubles, of ones that I hadn't gotten yet. And it would get to the point where I'd need only a few to complete a team or even a season, and so I'd go and pay premium prices at the card shop for the one or three that I needed. As a collector, it was important to have the whole set, of course. Reading the journals in a field is a lot like buying store packs, and I don't mean that as an insult. But their output is constrained by their input. Some journals are like being able to buy a store pack with the guarantee that the cards are all from the same team. That's also what taking graduate courses are like, I think. At some point, though, you have to get really specific, and spend your time strategically, to find the key elements missing from your collection, and that means going beyond course work or journals, and tracing bibliographies, asking experts, etc. It means thinking like a collector.

On the one hand, thinking like a collector means just accumulating, rolling your brain/katamari over everything and anything it can pick up. But it also means thinking about how you're going to manage it, how you're going to be able to use, in two years, what you're reading now. I can tell you from experience, "Well of course I'll just remember it" won't work. Seriously. It was just about a year ago that I was coming off of a discussion of note-taking (I taught our gateway course last year), and wrote:

One of the things that I emphasized in class today was the need to develop systems that are sustainable, things you can do (and keep doing) after the initial motivation has passed and the glow has faded.

And that's what I'll end with this year. And probably this week in that course. Use folders, notebooks, blogs, whatever, but build sustainable collection practices that you can engage in tomorrow as well as two years from now. Collect, collect, collect.

Told you it'd be long. That's all.

technorati tags:

September 5, 2006

Keepin on

Paul has a nice reply to my earlier post, Derek's, as well as the comments that Jeff and I left over at his place. A couple of quick things I wanted to mention, maybe to pick up later:

I also feel that reading the professional literature has become much easier. I know what to read carefully (and several times) and what to skim through quickly because I can often predict where I might find certain arguments or pieces of information because of my genre knowledge. Sometimes I can even predict what the text is going to say before reading it based on my knowledge of what's been said and done; in those cases, reading is a matter of confirming my predictions and noting any discrepancies.

That's something that I should have mentioned but didn't, the fact that it does get easier. The advantage of any relatively closed network of texts is that we read for content, yes, but we also read for the strategies and tropes that frame that content. I like "genre knowledge" as a description of it. While it may be somewhat disconcerting to realize that there really aren't all that many ways to say what we have to say, I've always found that it makes my reading easier, too.

And lately, in the past year or two, I've really become interested in the kinds of mental mapping that we inevitably do as scholars. My personal crusade has been to think of ways that this mapping can be aggregated so that we aren't each reinventing the wheel, but on a smaller scale, I've been asking my students (in the last 3 grad courses I've taught) to really think explicitly about mapping as knowledge production.

And that's part of what I mean by managing the collection of academic texts and ideas. I think that there are intermediate steps between reading on the one hand and writing on the other, steps that can, if not shorten the distance between the two, at least allow us to make the transition with more certainty.

The tools that we're using to put together CCC Online are almost all available to anyone with a web browser, and I think they're scalable to the individual user pretty easily. Paul's right to note at the end of his entry that it's crucial to reach a critical mass, though, which is the flip side of the sustainability argument that I make. Any system must be simple enough to accomplish on a regular basis, and done often enough that it achieves critical mass. I look at the tag cloud emerging from our work with, and while it's only a map of 11 or so years of the journal, I feel like it gives me a pretty good idea of that span. And when you add in the fact that the tags themselves link out to specific essays, it's a pretty darn useful little "paragraph." Imagine having a cloud like this for each of several exam lists, for example:

I'm going to be doing some experimenting over the next couple of weeks to try and make our own process even more useful and streamlined. With a little luck, I'll be posting about it soon enough. But this is one of the ways that a collection might be managed to a scholar's advantage, emerging or no...

That's all.

September 6, 2006

Express Written Permission

I'd planned earlier today on simply posting the following, a draft of a future amendment to my syllabi:

Any rebroadcast, reproduction or account of this course is forbidden without the express written permission of the instructor, the Writing Program and Syracuse University.

But then, thanks to the sp4mm3rz, I hit a cgi ceiling with my webhost, and it caused my MT installation to sputter and die. As I was in the middle of upgrading to 3.3, I figured that I had done something horribly wrong, and thus spent hours undoing it, redoing it, having it still not work, then repeating the cycle three or four more times. I'm persistent like that.

And then I finally submitted a support ticket, and my lovely webhost solved my problem in 10 seconds.

So that's why the occasional bouts of unworkiness.

November 19, 2006

Information Literacy redux

We're coming up upon a rough stretch in the land of NotADayGoesBy, at least in its academic neighborhood. Not only are we looking at a short week with a holiday in the middle, but as the semester nears a close, this weekend marks the official beginning of Panic, as folks realize that there are only a few weeks left and thus only a few weekends left.

But that's not the information literacy that my title refers to, although it very well could be. No, I wanted to join whatever juice this little blog generates to the project noted by Will and initiated by Tom Hoffman:

Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.

Hoffman makes some great points, not the least of which is the problem that so-called "information literacy" experts create by using a particular site as the example of what happens when you just take the first Google hit as representative of a particular search. In the process of demonizing this particular site (which I won't name here), they actually guarantee the problem that they're arguing against.

A couple of interesting comments at Hoffman's site raise the question of this particular tactic:

I am just not sure that google bombing is the way to raise one’s voice. It makes me think that we are shouting down the opposition rather than eviscerating their arguments. It does point out an interesting problem with the web–it is a level playing field where one may intellectually defraud with near impunity without serious consequence.

A couple of thoughts occur to me. First, I think that this ignores the degree to which any kind of search, as long as the results are ranked, constitutes an argument about the relevance of those results. And in that sense, the binary offered here, between shouting down and refuting, isn't as clear-cut to me as it's presented. Given the stakes of search engine performance, stakes that the site in question makes quite explicit, I'm not sure that Google bombing isn't just as valid as an argument.

Second, and more importantly, I think that we can describe the web as a level playing field in one sense, but in another, it's heavily inertial. Yes, we all have an equal crack at the venue itself, but in a very practical sense, my site about King would have an uphill battle to find itself on the front page of a search. Power laws privilege early entry, and with all of the reinforcement provided by info lit talks and sites, misinformation crowds out valid information.

It's an interesting question to me whether or not the G-bomb is a tool of "spammers and pornographers" and thus is out of bounds for the responsible among us. This is a question not unlike that of rhetoric more generally, though. In fact, it's Lanham's "Q Question" writ digitally. Lanham distinguishes between two positions:

  • the Weak Defense of Rhetoric holds that rhetorical strategy reflects the values of its users, such that a strategy used by spammers is thus tainted by that fact.
  • the Strong Defense of Rhetoric holds to a constitutive model of rhetoric, where those values are produced through rhetoric

I'm a big fan of that bit of Lanham's. From the position of a Strong Defense, Google bombing is still gaming the system, but it's not a priori wrong as a result. The question for me is less the strategy itself, but the uses to which it is put and the consequences of those uses. And if the consequence of this and other posts is to undo some of the wrong, I'm satisfied with that.

That is all.

November 20, 2006

Isn't data "beneath the metadata"?

For the most part, this is just a placeholder for links to Elaine Peterson's Beneath the Metadata: Some Philosophical Problems with Folksonomy, to David Weinberger's reply and Tom Vander Wal's reply as well. I've got some work and at least one meeting before I can turn to them, but turn to them I will. It shouldn't take too much sleuthing to figure out where I'm going to weigh in...

November 27, 2006

Folks on Folksonomy

You'll recall that last week I promised to visit the following in more detail:

Elaine Peterson, Beneath the Metadata: Some Philosophical Problems with Folksonomy
David Weinberger, Beneath the Metadata, a Reply
Tom Vander Wal, Beneath the Metadata - Replies

Well, here I am. David and Tom have dealt pretty substantially with Peterson, and I haven't been following the discussions sparked by the pieces, so forgive me if I repeat someone else. I'm not going to write a full-scale essay here, but I'd like to make a few points.

First, a little context. One of my all-time favorite essays is Derrida's "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Human Sciences." It's one of the more accessible pieces of Derrida's writing, and tips the attentive reader off to a number of the themes that JD would revisit throughout his career. But it's always been a fave of mine because it lays out a particular rhetorical strategy that I've since seen repeated many, many times. Although it's not the sole focus of the essay, JD distinguishes between mythomorphic and epistemic discourses. I don't have the essay beside me, or I'd serve up some quotes. Mythomorphic discourse is fuzzy, messy, vague, imprecise, while epistemic discourse is much crisper, focused, organized. Think, as I think JD does, of the bricoleur and engineer, respectively.

The rhetorical strategy that the essay calls my attention to is a two-fold one. First, epistemic discourse emerges from the mythomorphic; one analogy I've always found helpful is the way that some slang eventually finds its way into "official" accounts of our language. The second move is that this latter discourse effectively seals itself off from its mythomorphic origins. You can see this 2-step as an early version of deconstructive reading, particularly of philosophical texts--much of JD's time is spent examining textual seams to find the messiness that has been disavowed by logocentrism. There is no small advantage for defenders of a system in disavowing its emergent origins--if a given system is simply "the way things are," rather than "the way things have become," then anyone seeking to change that system has that much more inertia to overcome.

I've spent a fair shake of time on this pattern because I think that Peterson's essay provides a fairly textbook example of the relationship that Derrida is working through in that essay. Like Vander Wal, I consider folksonomies and taxonomies "co-dependent" in that both are vital. But I think he underestimates the extent to which that position, which seems common sense to him (and me) is threatening to those who are consciously invested in taxonomy. It would be child's play to look at a given taxonomy, and to examine all the ways that it emerges folksonomically--Peterson's appeals to authorial intent ("...the goal is to recognize the author's intent over others' interpretations.") overlooks a vast network of classifications that emerge after "authorial intent" could play any sort of role. We don't categorize aesthetic movements, for example, prior to their instantiation by a given set of artists. But those categories ultimately become something akin to first principles, frames through which we understand the artists and works placed under its aegis, whether by "authors" themselves or by those who follow.

Peterson's essay, if it has one overarching blind spot, is that it cannot conceive of folksonomy in terms other than "A is not B," what she calls "the most important philosophical underpinning of traditional classification." And so, she doesn't see folksonomies and taxonomies in relation to one another; they are alternatives, from the first sentence introducing the former ("...folksonomy has emerged as an alternative to traditional classification."). All of the so-called weaknesses of folksonomy are weaknesses only if folksonomies are seen as an attempt to arrive at the goals of taxonomies through another means. Relativism is a Really Bad Idea when it comes to laying out a library, but pretty innocuous as an organizing principle for my home library, which tends to sort itself out according to how recently I've used a particular book.

I guess the point I'm working towards here is the assumption that Peterson uses to disavow the relationship of taxonomy to folksonomy: that because we can appeal to philosophical underpinnings when it comes to taxonomy, there must be corresponding underpinnings to folksonomy. The underpinnings of folksonomy, however, are rhetorical. Tags are about language-in-use, not about abstract definitional categories. They are addressed, even when the addressee is one's self at a later date. Folksonomy is bricolage, and so Peterson's conclusion that it makes for poor engineering is at once self-evident and a little inconsequential. Folksonomies are not "bad taxonomies"; rather, taxonomies are themselves folksonomies that have achieved a certain level of stability and intersubjectivity (this latter of which is mistaken by Peterson and others for objectivity). And part of the way that stability is achieved and defended is by denying the role that folksonomy plays in the origins of any taxonomy.

One more point, and I'll sign off. This is a point that I've been working at ever since my NFAIS talk last fall. There is no such thing as "search," at least not in the generic sense. The idea that all searches have the same premises and the same goals is mistaken. As you read Peterson, you'll see reference to categories, subject headings, search engines, etc. All of these references assumes a uniform model of search, one that I think of as "cold search," where you have nothing, and want something, and use the tools of taxonomy to locate it. (I think of this as the equivalent of cold call telemarketing.) And we search that way, sometimes. When we do, taxonomies are important.

But there's a different kind of search, which I'll call "social search," for wont of a better term (I'm open to suggestion). I also think of it as lateral search. I have something (some sources, a book, a favorite movie, song, whatever), and I want more of whatever I already have. So when I see a cover blurb on a novel that compares it favorably to something I've already read and liked, I'm more likely to buy it. When my friends with similar tastes recommend to me movies or music, I'm more likely to look into it. If I want more information about folksonomy, I can go to the Wikipedia entry on the subject, bookmark it in, and then trace out the network of others who have marked and tagged it. I don't need to start back at square one, break out Google, and try to narrow my search terms sufficiently.

The problem is that 90% (and maybe more) of discussions about "search" only think about cold searching. And honestly, folksonomies don't have much to contribute to the cold search, other than chaos. But for the stuff that matters for me, the culture I consume, 90% of my searches are lateral. My tastes aren't organized by the section headings in Barnes and Noble. The innovation of sites like Amazon, iTunes, and others is their ability to aggregate folksonomy (and yes, folksonomies are the Long Tail of classification) in productive ways beyond one's immediate social network. I never search Amazon using their taxonomies. I hardly ever find sources for my academic work by cold search. Most of my life is conducted easily and efficiently via folksonomies.

Damn. Every time I start an entry claiming that I won't write a full-scale essay, I write an entry that's far longer than normal. So I guess I'll stop here, and go work on other stuff. Although I will say that this has got me thinking about expanding this into a full-length essay. Not tonight, though, or even this semester.

That is all.

December 8, 2006

The Strength of School Ties

A necessarily quick entry, but one I wanted to dash up here for later thought. Over at Centrality, a report on a study by Christine Beckman that compares Silicon Valley startups by examining the strength of their internal ties prior to startup. The findings:

When the team members were previously employed at the same company(ies), the new firm introduced its product to the market more quickly than firms founded by teams with more diverse previous work experience. Additionally, these companies tended to develop products that competed with existing products through lower costs or product enhancements. Further, the final product of these companies more closely resembled the product envisioned by the team at the start of the firm.

In contrast, firms founded by teams with diverse previous work experience took more time to bring their product to market, but that product was more innovative and leading-edge. The product, however, had changed form the product the founders initially intended to bring to market.

Sorry for the long quote. There's more at the entry, including a link to the study itself. Here's what I want to think about, though: Are there implications here for classrooms, particularly at the graduate level? We're a very small program, with classes ranging from about 5-10 students, often at the low end of that. And in the fall, we have a gateway course that is only for the 1st years (the equiv of a "team with diverse previous work experiences").

It's not exactly the same, of course, since a grad course isn't exactly focused on bringing a particular product to market. But I know lots of folk who, by the end of coursework, feel constrained in the grad classroom because they feel like discussions, regardless of topic, tread and retread over the same ground.

I don't have a fully formulated thesis here, but it might be worth asking what effect strong/weak ties have on the learning process--my guess is that it might actually be an axis along which people locate themselves variously. Might also correspond to someone's preference for reading broadly vs. reading deeply. Might also connect to teaching style--certain folk might make better teachers given one type of "team" rather than another. Etc.

Like I said, more thoughts than thesis. That's all.

December 27, 2006


As the regular reader will remember, this year's MLA kicked off with a stirring rendition of the second chapter of my book manuscript, with the unusually expository (for me, at least) title "The Rhetorical Canons as an Ecology of (New Media) Practice." Gee, I wonder what the talk was about?

Hee. Today was also the 3rd step in the epic self-transformation that will see me turn from a reader of conference papers to a speaker of conference presentations. I worked from an outline and from the slides, but otherwise, did not script the specifics. I think it went okay, but I do have to confess that the fellow in the 3rd row who used his cameraphone to take snapshots of each of my slides, and whose phone rang not once but twice during our session, was a bit of a distraction.

And yet, it was he who inspired me to go ahead and try out SlideShare, which is basically a YouTube-like service for PP presentations. Keynote exports to pdf, which I can then upload and turn into a shareable Flash doodad.

(Update: The doodad was taking serious download time, so I'm replacing it with a link to the SlideShare page instead. Those readers uninterested in unnarrated PP slides may now breath an appropriately grateful sigh of relief.)

The pdf option, far as I can tell, preserves original layout and font better, and has the virtue of being about 1/10 the size of a PP export. So even though there's no support for a Keynote native presentation, it works out just fine.

The slides themselves are probably a little oblique without commentary, so I'll use ProfCast when I get back to Syracuse and offer a full-service version. In the meantime, suffer in silence. I'm done with my talk, and have a much more leisurely conference ahead of me.

That is all.

January 8, 2007


Came into the office today to find a promotional flier for this year's CCCC:

front page of CCCC flier
back page of CCCC flier

Wait a second. Scroll down the right hand column there for me on the back. What's that?

who's a featured speaker?

That's right. For one brief, shining moment, I'm a rockstar. We're far enough in advance of the event that I don't feel any nervousness at all. And I can't have messed up or anything. Our featured session exists in a state of pure, perfect potentiality and as long as it stays that way, who's to say I'm not a star?

Well, okay. Lots of people. But I'd appreciate it if you didn't ask them, at least until after March.

That's all.

February 2, 2007

Something old, something new

As you know if you agg or visit Derek's blog, he passed his exams yesterday. So in part, you might read this entry as congratulations, which it most certainly is. Interestingly enough, three of the four members of his exam committee, myself included, are active bloggers.

Which is something of a segueway into what I want to point out. The examination process, while it has a fair number of virtues (time set aside for reading, self-definition, synthesis, etc.), is also a holdover from a much different time. At SU, we've tried to mitigate its Academy 0.5 qualities by offering different kinds of "exams" in place of making them all "sit down for 3 hours and type as fast as you can" sessions. And we've very intentionally streamlined the proposal process, which at one time was so problematic that we had students taking waaaay too much time and spending way too much energy on formal, article-length exam proposals.

But still. The process of taking exams is in many cases and at many programs (a) something that coursework in no way prepares you to do (although ideally it helps with the reading) and (b) something that in no way prepares you for any of the writing that you will do for the next 10, 20, or 40 years as a professional. The exam process, as I've told many people, is the apotheosis of the event model of writing, and in some ways, the single worst way to prepare a student for work on a dissertation. To read that much, you almost have to hide yourself away. My own experience of exams was highly antisocial, as no one else was reading what I was, as quickly as I was, or for similar purposes. The reading we do for coursework, both as students and as professors, is by contrast a pretty social reading, enough so that many people I know (myself included) don't feel like they've really read something until they've taught it.

But this is an Academy 2.0 post, and so I should turn to one of the things that Derek did in preparing for his exams. If you haven't visited his Exam Sitting site, you should do so. If you're faculty, and supervise students preparing for exams, or if you're someone who'll be taking exams sometime in the future, you should be thinking about adopting this model. Each entry simply records, categorizes, and tags the reading notes for a particular text--the entries themselves do little more than what our graduate students across the country do on a daily basis as they read for courses or prepare for exams. But the site itself, among other things, provided a measure of his progress, a way for me and other committee members to peek in on his progress, an opportunity to see the larger patterns among his readings, connections among the readings, and finally, a resource that is going to be useful for him for years after the exams are a distant memory.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that Exam Sitting is the most important webtext to be published in our field last year. It's a great example of applying a personal database to the work that we do in graduate school and more productive and useful in the long term than a file box full of notebooks. For the last couple of years, I've been evangelizing just this kind of use for blogs to our students, using them as a place to store notes, making them searchable, and to tag notes, making possible the kinds of operations that happen on Derek's site. I'd love to see this kind of work made collaborative as well--notes like these are no substitute for the actual reading, but someone can go to ES and figure out pretty quickly whether something is worth reading or not. And they can trace a given reading out into a network of related texts. Multiply what Derek accomplished in six months of reading and writing by an entire program's worth of graduate students, and you'd have a resource more vital than anything that currently exists in our field.

Not to name names, but as the field marches on, certain resources have passed on to the Great 404 in the Sky, and others spring up to take their places. And over and over, I've seen electronic resources created to conform to a vision of the field that hearkens back to the time before such resources were possible. I'd love to see us instead start imagining the field according to the possibilities such resources present to us. And that's the gentlest way I know of putting it.

So join me in congratulating Derek for passing the Academy 0.5 step of comprehensive exams. But he deserves congratulations as well for putting an Academy 2.0 spin on that process, and making it his own. I know that it wasn't easy, but I have no doubt that it will pay off for him in the long run.

That is all.

February 23, 2007

Chains of love

It's one of those weeks where my waking moments are filled with thoughts best left unblogged, for any number of reasons. But I've been meaning for the past couple of days to link to an entry over at Tim's joint. He's speaking mostly about the whole Edwards campaign kerfuffle, but for a paragraph, he references a conversation over at Laura's about whether or not she planned to continue blogging. It motivates some reflection on the double standard operating in some folks' conceptions of blogging. On the one hand, they want what happens in blogspace to matter in the larger world; on the other, they don't always seem to want to be held accountable by that larger world. But I was especially interested in the finally paragraph (gently pruned for your consumption):

This is not just about blogging: it’s about history. The more you write, the more your writing is both burden and expectation, a second self whose permission is required before you do something new–or whose betrayal is necessary should you wish to be free of your shadow....When I write it–even in a blog–it has, and ought to have, some greater weight. If that weight becomes like Marley’s chains, forged in life, it’s up to me to do the hard and complicated work of unlocking, not to complain that what I wrote was read.

I mentioned in the comments thread at Laura's that she'd articulated something that I've been experiencing lately as well. And I think that it's that notion of what I write here as a second self. When I'm feeling especially transparent, the blog doesn't feel all that separate from what I do. I don't feel like I have to police it for polysemy, worrying about whether or not what I say will be taken up in unintended ways. Which isn't to say that it's weightless--I hope that there is some weight to what I write, at least on occasion. But when it becomes a second or a third self--if my private and public meat/selves are the first two--it takes me that much more energy to tend to it. And that much self-maintenance can wear me out after a while. Right now, I'm feeling that fatigue. Part of it's the weather, part of it's the time of the year, and part of it's just the junk that happens.

What prompted this entry tonight was a conversation with D about last night's ep of Lost, which didn't jazz me quite as much as the week before. I'm worried that the writers of that show have decided not to "do the hard and complicated work of unlocking" their narrative, opting instead for more plot, more characters, and more distractions (assuming that Jack's tattoo was one of the "big mysteries" solved last night), and hoping that those of us who loved the show through the first two seasons will simply let it slide. Lost is no longer the must-see it was for me those first two seasons, and while I'm willing to ride it out a while longer, I'm beginning to feel a bit betrayed by the fact that I've watched regularly, closely, and with interest. I wonder how much the writers are longing to be free of the shadows of those first two seasons.

That's not to compare my humble blog to a show like Lost. But I had a much more concrete sense after that conversation of how even a labor of love can begin to feel like a unshakeable shadow. That's all.

And that's really all I have to say tonight.

Going out with a whimper

Although I still use them from time to time, as their affordances are useful for a particular context, I don't spend much time anymore on listservs. And today, I unsubbed from my last holdout, a disciplinary listserv ostensibly devoted to my specialty. As with the blog, I go through phases of listserv fatigue, but over the last few years, the fatigue periods seem to grow longer and longer, punctuated more by silence than by activity.

My unsubscription was prompted by a message today which, under the auspices of continuing a discussion from earlier this week, launched into what, as best as I can tell, was a largely unprompted invective against blogging. I won't repeat it here, both because I'm not sure the list is public and because I'm not interested in dignifying it. Long and short, though: blogging, the message suggests, "atomizes, isolates, and individualizes knowledge." A few more sweeping generalizations, and a strange fascination with the idea that blogs are assholes, or like assholes, or bloggers are assholes. I don't know.

And honestly, I don't really care. My experience with blogging is so different--of course, it could matter that I actually maintain a blog--that the message could have been in another language for all the sense that it made to me. I was sitting in Panera today, reading Amanda Anderson's The Way We Argue Now (Amazon), and in it, she has a chapter on ethos in the Foucault/Habermas debate. Anderson is accounting for a comment from Foucault that he is "a little more in agreement" with Habermas than Habermas is with him. By saying this, Anderson explains:

Foucault implies that there is no external perspective from which one might adjudicate their differences or agreements, precisely because one essential element of agreement stems from the attitude of the thinker towards the other's work.

This stuck with me, because it fits nicely into the network-y/visualization thinking I've been doing, particularly when it comes to thinking about ways to map conversations and/or disciplines, and to chart changes. One of the things that Anderson's doing in that chapter is shifting the relationship between Foucault and Habermas, undoing the knee-jerk binary through which that relationship is frequently viewed. The link between the two is still there, but its character is altered, assuming that Anderson's various interpretations are persuasive.

It sticks with me not because I can really disagree with the specific charges leveled against blogging in that message, because I'm sure that there are plenty of examples that anyone could trot out to validate them. What irked me most is the foreclosure of any sort of conversation; it was almost beside the point that it was initiated by someone with little to no direct experience of our community. Almost. Anderson explains that this comment from Foucault is consistent with his "dislike of polemic":

The polemicist...proceeds encased in privileges that he possesses in advance and will never agree to question. On principle, he possesses rights authorizing him to wage war and making that struggle a just undertaking; the person he confronts is not a partner in search for the truth but an adversary, an enemy who is wrong, who is armful, and whose very existence constitutes a threat. For him, then the game consists not of recognizing this person as a subject having the right to speak but of abolishing him as interlocutor, from any possible dialogue.

There's something to this for me, not the least reason for which is my own general avoidance of confrontation. And it's also not to say that I don't fall back into polemic myself. I do. But I've got a lot more interest in figuring out how my ideas connect to, diverge from, and/or relate to someone else's than I do in waging a polemic/war. Even though, I suppose, it could be argued that my entry is doing just that.

Or it would be, were I to do two things, both of which are equally tempting. I'm tempted to refute those claims, drawing on my own experiences, talking about all of the collaboration, networking, and working-with that maintaining a blog has prompted in my academic life for the past three years. I'm also tempted to critique the listserv post, and perhaps even the list itself.

But I think I'll refrain. Which isn't to say that my entry here is snark-free--that'd be some sort of record, I think. It is to say, rather, that a community where someone feels comfortable (much less justified) in making those sorts of comments is not the kind of community I have any interest in being a part of.

That's all.

February 24, 2007

That's what I'm talking about...

From Jeff's talk on the Networked Academic:

And my blog MAY be the site of personal anecdotes, professional work, rantings, misgivings, connections. It may be viewed as an individual identity. But I don’t view it that way nor experience it that way. The blog puts me into a network: with other bloggers (academic or non) with other ideas (academic or non) with other experiences.

And why does this matter? Because this network is a becoming process and it is a transformative process. I change. I change each time I am helping extend and shrink this network of social relationships. The relationships are not just personal, they are conceptual, material, ideological, and compositional.

Blogs are by no means the only places that this kind of net-work takes place--a big part of the point of a residential graduate program is precisely this kind of networking.

One of the big differences, though, is an important one. I am a part of various taxonomic networks: I teach at Syracuse, I received my PhD from Texas-Arlington, I do most of my work in computers and writing. In blogspace, the net is a lot more folksonomic--it's not based on a static place, but on an aggregation of connections, each one personal, but many of them overlapping. Jeff reads (I'm guessing) more Detroit bloggers than I do, and I'm sure that all the various design and comics blogs that I follow don't show up in his aggregator. We each define our network according to our interests, building them up and pruning them down over time. But we share work with each other, and with dozens of others as well, and cite each other, and read each other with interest. And it spills over into our physical and disciplinary spaces as well.

I don't think blogging's for everyone, but I would argue that it is for anyone. And it involves a lot more than simply typing on a daily basis, even if that's all that most people think they see.

March 17, 2007

Ethics v Ethos (& Class Blogging)

In an episode that demonstrates where my media preferences and habits lie, I caught a post of Kathleen's today a couple of hours in advance of the digested email list to which she refers.

Anyhow, in this conversation, a senior scholar raises the question of whether or not students should be blogging about people who may one day be their colleagues. In short, this scholar has a Google alert set to inform him of mentions of his name, and he wonders about the ethics of allowing students to post their initial forays into his work publicly ("While I am happy that folks are reading my stuff, I am aghast that their entries are on the web for all to read.").

It's an interesting question. Like Kathleen, I don't think it's "unethical" per se, as long as it's made quite clear to the students what the potential drawbacks are should they choose to make themselves identifiable.

But I do think it's a question of ethics in the sense of ethos, which is what I take Kathleen to be talking about. It's important (for different reasons at different points along the academic spectrum) to understand the ethical consequences of blogging, the ways that it may help to construct an identity that potential employers and colleagues may one way be able to access. That's one of the lessons that emerged from the whole Tribble flap.

I think another point worth raising is that, soon enough, these same people (in the case of graduate students) will be writing articles that are in the journals for all to read. It's not quite the same thing, true, but there's one thing about the comparison that does work. It's easy in graduate school (and beyond) to imagine that scholarship, particularly in the humanities, is a matter of moving around quotes and citations, almost treating our sources as chess pieces in our various writerly gambits. It's easy to forget that the proper names that appear on our books and in our articles are more than simply functions. They also signify real people, who will react to our work and our citations in various ways. In other words, it's easy to forget that we are often writing about real people with varying levels of investment in the ideas and quotations that we patch together with our own writing.

I'm not always good at it myself, imagining how the people whose work I draw on would themselves respond to my appropriations. But I think that many of us have to undergo the transition where we write dissertations that challenge "the field," only to realize eventually that we ourselves are "the field," that there is no objective field-out-there but instead networks of colleagues, each of whom tries just as hard as we do to get it right, to advance our understanding, to contribute to knowledge.

Transforming one's self from a student to a scholar is in part a matter of coming to terms with the fact that your audience as a scholar is in fact real, addressed rather than invoked. And I don't mean to make it sound as though my transformation is complete--I think it takes a long time to shake the temptation to treat the field as a reified, monolithic whole in need of correction, revision, or enlightenment. I struggle with this myself.

But one of the things that blogging can do, particularly if one does it in the context of a community of scholars, is to make that transition easier. I'll be spending time with a lot of other bloggers in New York next week, some whom I've known (and I know) pre-blog, but many of whom became "real" to me first through this space. And in a lot of ways, that community has become the audience that I write to, even when I'm not writing in this space.

Not everyone who keeps a class blog is going to have the same experience as I have, certainly, but the potential rewards are substantial, I think, if they develop some sense of the ethos they must develop and the audience they may one day address under more formal circumstances.

That's all.

May 5, 2007

Is it really so complicated?

Tonight's entry is prompted by the arrival today of several entries in Google Reader, the most recent entries fed there and published at the Kenneth Burke Journal:

KB Journal feed

The KB Journal is, unfortunately, one of the only journals in our field that is (a) using RSS feeds, and (b) using them correctly. Exhibit A in how not to use them comes from the Project MUSE journals. I was excited to see that their journals had feeds, until the first one arrived. Basically, they feed a link to the table of contents page for new issues. This is okay, I suppose, but differs little from sending announcements to email lists.

What the KB Journal does (and Written Communication and CCC also do) is to create entries for each article, with more information than the fact of its existence. Hell, even the author and title would be an improvement. I use a reader to skim a lot of sites, and to make decisions about whether to follow up. Using them to draw readers to their site, as MUSE does, is to make a bunch of Web 1.0 assumptions about eyeballs, traffic, stickiness, etc. With the MUSE journals:

  • I don't know what I'm getting until I've loaded their page
  • Unless I have an immediate need, I'm likely to forget their content, since there's little point in bookmarking random TOCs
  • I can't bookmark an article to return to it when I have time
  • I can't bookmark one to download to my office machine, where my access to MUSE is automatic
  • I can't look back through recent articles
  • I can't use the journal in any way other than I'd use it if I saw it on a colleague's shelf

But you know what? At least they HAVE. A. FEED. Even if MUSE is doing it wrong, at least they're trying to do it. There are so many journals in our field that haven't even bothered to create feeds that it should be embarrassing to us. And we all know who they are, including some pretty unlikely suspects, journals that should be at the forefront of providing this kind of access.

Here's what it takes to provide a feed of recent articles for a journal:

  • A free account with a blog provider like Blogger or Wordpress

  • The ability, for each article, to:
    • copy and paste relevant information into a textbox

    • Click on "save" or "publish"

That's it. You don't need crazy designs, blogrolls, any modification whatsoever. It doesn't have to be integrated into a larger site or do anything fancy. For pretty much any journal, with readable files for the articles, I could post a new issue in roughly 15 minutes. Four issues a year? Maybe an hour total. One hour. Per year.

You can't tell me that the resulting increase in circulation, were our field to cotton eventually to the notion of RSS readers, wouldn't be worth it. And the benefits to us?

Here's what I see when I go to List View for my Written Communication feed:

Written Communication feed

Not only am I notified when new articles are published, but I have access to the last three or four issues of the journal at all times, from any computer. And I can star them for future reference. Want to follow up on a title? They're expandable:

WC feed, expanded entry

This functionality currently exists for a mere handful of our journals. If the time spent gnashing our teeth about the overwhelming amount of stuff to read were spent instead putting together feeds for all of our journals, you know what? All of a sudden, we'd be able to manage that load much more easily. And I'm not kidding when I suggest that it's really that easy. It is. There's a lot more that could be done, but if our journals would take the tiny step of being responsible for RSS feeds at the point of production/publication, the resulting benefits would be colossal. And that's not me being hyperbolic. Imagine being able to open a browser window and being able to search, read, and bookmark abstracts from the last year or two's worth of journals in our field. Seriously, how much easier would that make our academic lives?

And yes, we have been doing this at the CCC Online Archive for the past 2+ years: But my point isn't to gloat--it's to ask instead why the heck our editors, including many for whom this should be obvious, haven't followed suit.

And that's all. I could get a lot snarkier about this, and I could name names, but let me instead close with an offer. On the off-chance that someone's reading this who wants help setting a feed up, please let me know. Honestly. I'd be happy to show someone just how easy this is.

June 21, 2007

Hear me roar

Okay, interruption #2. Laura at Geekymom invited me to participate in a Skype call the other day with Mark Colvson and Timothy Burke on the subject of Web 2.0 and Academic Publishing, and the results were turned into a podcast for the ETC@BMC blog, part of Bryn Mawr's online technology newsletter.

Clicking on "podcast" above will take you to the entry with the link for the podcast. Our conversation was close to an hour, and probably could have run on for a couple more, so it's a big file, about 40 MB.

I was a little nervous to start, having little experience with Skype, and not having done much radio since my college days. I think that comes across in the fact that I use the word "circulation" in nearly every answer I give. I haven't actually listened to it yet, but I trust Laura to have made sure that I didn't sound like a complete nit, so if you'd like to hear us riff on Academy 2.0 stuff, give it a listen.

It was a pretty easy way to put together a conversation worth having and continuing, and something I'd like to try again. That's all.

June 23, 2007

I'm not gonna write you a love song

Interruption #3.

Just got back from doing a guest shot at one of the RSA Summer Institute Workshops, and while I suppose that I could have been better organized, the conversation was a little disappointing.

To wit. The conversation with Laura, Mark, and Tim the other day began in part with Tim's remarks about the academixploitativeness of the publishing oligarchy. The idea that we give our scholarship to big corporations, which then charge outrageous prices to sell it back to us through our libraries, is something that could only make sense in the cottage economy of academia.

Anyhow, one of the things that we're proudest of when it comes to CCC Online is the way that we're able to duplicate almost all of the functionality of the big vendors, for a fraction of the cost and in a way that's genuinely scalable to smaller journals and online journals. So imagine my joy at having the opportunity to defend what we're doing against the alternative of just rounding up all our journals, giving them to one of the oligops, and letting them "do it for us."

I was less than convincing, I suspect. There are good answers, having to do with browsability, folksonomy, access, the kinds of exploratory and heuristic visualizations that Derek is working on, and the fact that our tools are much more modular and manipulable. Unfortunately, I'm much more coherent after a two-hour drive than I was this afternoon. And honestly, a little bit of my will was sapped today. I've put two-plus years of work in on this site, learned a great deal, and (with a great deal of help, of course) produced a site that should be a model for how we distribute and circulate our work to each other.

What I fear people see/hear when I talk about this site, however, is A Big Scary Technology That If I Can't Understand Must Be Time/Labor/Cost/Energy Prohibitive For Anyone But The Geekiest Of Our Colleagues. Believe me when I say that this is indeed a category. I've seen it over and over and over for more than 10 years now.

There are days where I honestly believe that I can put in the work and effort to transform for the better the way we do what we do as academics. And days where I believe that we already have with our work on CCCOA.

And then there are days. Days where I'm not gonna write my discipline a love song.

That is all.

September 22, 2007


There's an interesting discussion going on over on about the appropriateness of blogging public lectures, and by interesting, I mean both thoughtful and thought-provoking.

One of that site's contributors blogged a talk delivered by a guest lecturer at the MIT-Harvard Economic Sociology Seminar, and both the guest in question and the person in charge of organizing the Seminar have responded in a discussion about whether or not talks like this should be blogged. It's an interesting question that ends up becoming more complicated once one considers the range of activities that are gathered together under the umbrella of "talk," from paid keynotes by academic celebrities to job talks by graduate students.

Complicating it even further are the range of approaches that a given academic community might take to a particular venue. One could argue that CCCC is an opportunity to present in-progress work and to receive feedback, and in fact, that's how it's often portrayed. At the same time, it's one of the most recognizable "official" indices of scholarly activity that appear on our cv's, and is peer-reviewed (of a sort) and public. My own sense is that we overuse (and rarely adhere to) the idea that something is a "safe space" to get feedback on one's work. A bad impression in a conference presentation is not likely to be mitigated by disclaimers of in-progress.

I tend to agree with Jeremy Freese, who offers up the CV test for bloggability: if you can list it on your vita, I can discuss it on my blog. And that seems fair to me. I think it's likewise fair, though, to ask ourselves what we're looking to accomplish in such discussions. Most of the blogging of public talks that I've done has been summary-response, and heavy on the summary. I think there's value in making our work more public, but I think it raises additional issues of accountability when the original object of blogging isn't available, and so I tend to err on the side of accuracy rather than opinion. Or rather, I try.

Anyhow, go check it out.

November 28, 2007

CCCC Snapshots

One of the downsides of electronic acceptances for our annual convention is that I always (ALWAYS!) forget to write down exactly when my session is. And I feel bad about contacting the NCTE folk with questions when it's my own damn fault that I don't have the information.

So I went there today to see if I could find out when I'll be speaking in the spring (Friday at 11 am), and lo and behold, not only was that information there, but the searchable program is up and running. As you may recall from last year, I took the abstracts for certain area clusters, added them all together, and ran them through TagCrowd to provide quick snapshots of different areas for that year's convention. Here's the link to my description of the process, and a link to my poorly labeled FlickR set containing the tagclouds I'm making.

And without further ado, here's the cloud for the sessions in area 106, information technologies, for the upcoming CCCC (2008):

Area Cluster 106 (Information Technologies), 2008 CCCC

November 30, 2007

Re/Visions are Live

I'm assuming that the issues themselves are going into the mail soon, but if you visit the NCTE site (which I seem to be doing a lot lately), you'll find the most recent issue of CCC available, which includes the Re/Visions piece from Anne, Jeff, and I.

The issue index is here, and the article itself is available here. You'll need to be a subscriber to download it, though. If you want a free copy of the Janangelo article, it's available on the front page of the CCC Online Archive.

I'm just heading out; otherwise, I wouldn't violate the rule against deictic linking. Sorry about that.

December 7, 2007

Reading Reimagined

Matthew Kirschenbaum blogged about it when his CHE piece ("How Reading is Being Reimagined") came out online, but given the choice between plunking down money or relying upon the "free" copy in the department, well, I'll take the two week delay.

But I got around to reading his piece today, and I did want to express appreciation for a couple of points in particular. It's an essay that balances nicely the critique of the NEA report with the promise of new media. A couple of things jumped out at me:

First, I think this point is easy to overlook:

The structure of To Read or Not to Read presents itself as tacit acknowledgment that not all of its own text will likely be read by any one reader, since it is clearly designed to be "not read" in at least some of the ways that accord with Bayard's observations. The report is accompanied by an Executive Summary, a condensed version of the major findings. Its internal organization is carefully laid out, with summary points at the head of each chapter, topic sentences, extensive notes, sidebars, and sections labeled as conclusions.

I mention this passage not for its critique, but because it connects with some of the stuff that Derek is working on with respect to abstraction, and it points to something I'm increasingly conscious of: the range of scales through we approach texts. It's rapidly becoming one of the key ideas that I'm working through in my own writing. And at CCC Online, for that matter. It's not an issue of reading/not-reading for me, but of negotiated distances.

A second quote that poked at me:

Reading your friend's blog is not likely a replacement for reading Proust, but some blogs have been a venue for extraordinary writing, and we are not going to talk responsibly or well about what it means to read online until we stop conflating genre with value.

Again, my point is a little less obvious. I'd add that we need to stop misunderstanding genre itself, in terms of a set of language-objects like books, blogs, magazines, etc. Which is not to say that MK is wrong here. The problem is that thinking about reading in terms of consuming objects (a book, a blog, a newspaper) is always going to lead to the substitution he's arguing against. And this is something I hope my book gets at a bit. The problem isn't the range of acceptable objects so much as it is our acceptance of "objects" themselves as the measure of the practice, if that makes sense.

(I've arrived at that position in large part as I've been converted by the work of genre studies folk in our field, btw. When I taught a course on genre a couple of summers ago, I entered the course highly skeptical of the material we were reading--it's the only time I've taught a course whose subject I was "against" to start with...)

Anywho, one last observation, which itself has nothing to do with MK's article. It's title is "How Reading is Being Reimagined," but on the cover of the Chronic Review, it's listed as "The New Metrics of Reading," which strikes me as somewhat different. On the front page of the Chronic site, it's called "," and includes the tease

All you need to do is skim the NEA reading report online and you'll have some questions. And that's the point, writes Matthew Kirschenbaum.

I've never really noticed how fast and loose they seem to play with their descriptions of content. I know that Becky has run afoul of the CHE headline writers before, but I guess I haven't paid much attention otherwise...

Anyways, it's a good article. Go read it. That's all.