December 20, 2004


Okay, not quite all. I can never remember centripetal and centrifugal, or rather, which is which. I always start by thinking "fugal" means fleeing (as in tempus fugit--I did take Latin for a couple of years), meaning that centrifugal is tending outwards, but then I see "petal" and think the petals of a flower spreading outwards. Ugh. But my "fugal" hunch is the right one. Centripetal tends towards the center; centrifugal towards the edge.

And it's relevant because I wanted to bookmark both Alex's and more recently Clancy's reflections on using blogs for the classroom, albeit in different ways and contexts. Clancy notes,

I wanted the weblog to serve one of my central pedagogical objectives, namely to facilitate a close community ethos in the classroom...Reflecting on the experience, I am even more convinced that it's best to, if at all possible, have one weblog for the whole class rather than individual weblogs.

This is an issue that Steve talks about as well, in his piece for Kairos. More and more, I think that it's important to distinguish between the centripetal and centrifugal modes of blogging, and to understand how each might occupy space in the classroom. I've got a lot more to say on this than time to actually say it, but for the moment:

I'll be doing some of each in my class this spring. Unlike Clancy, I don't feel a strong need to build community in the course--it'll be a small class, made up of people who have been taking courses with each other for at least a semester and in some cases nearly two years. This is not to say that this isn't a valid goal for a course--particularly when the students come in with no knowledge of each other--but it's a goal that is specific to certain courses.

And I suspect that part of the reason why many of us have really gotten into blogging is the centri-mix. Some of my blogroll is made up of people I'd know anyway (grad school buds, fellow Syracusans, etc.), some of it is made up of people I've gotten to know better as a result of blogging, and some of it is a wishlist of people I'd like to know. Point being that community is sometimes a precondition, sometimes an outcome, sometimes a projection. The mix, and the future possibilities inherent in a mix like that, is part of what keeps me interested.

One of the arguments I'd make on behalf of centrifugal blogging is that having students looking outward makes it more likely that they'll continue once the object of a centripetal gaze (the course and their clasmates) is gone, and that's one of my goals as well. For me, that's one of the key differences between blogs and say, journals or email lists: there's a payoff to blogging that continues beyond the boundaries of the course or even the school.

This is not to disagree with Clancy, who does the right thing, I think, in being explicit about her goals and measuring the degree to which blogs helped her meet them. And Steve's article does much the same thing. If you want to accomplish this, then use this kind of application or use it in this fashion. But I'd argue that it's important to bear that conditional in mind, and to understand that different conditions may apply.

I should stop there. That is all, at least for the moment.

January 17, 2005

The House of Graduate Direction

Which, I suppose, could also involve flying daggers. But not at the moment. I've been pretty mum about this, even though it's not so much of a secret anymore. As of tomorrow, I'll be taking over the position of Director of Graduate Studies in our department, a move which I can only describe using words that begin with the letter A: anxiety, anticipation, administration, et alia.

So, anyway, that means a new office, which I've partly moved into (the outstanding order for shelving units having not been completed yet, which means my boxes are yet to come). And I present to you, for your viewing pleasure, my new digs:

the CCR grad office

Ahh, you say, this doesn't look so bad, even if the lighting is a bit yellow. Well, wait, there's more. This is merely the reception area. I need to remember to bring in old copies of Highlights magazine for those who have to wait for me to see them...

That door at the back? That's my office door, which leads to a room that is neater right now than it will be at any point over the next 3 or 4 years:

my actual office

And yes, that is a G4 Cube on my desk, designed to provide a contrast with my (fairly) new flat-panel monitor. When the new Mac Mini grows a little older, and pages through the old, yellowed black-and-white photos in the Mac photo album, it'll see a picture of the Cube on the deck of a trans-Atlantic ocean liner, full of hope as it leaves its family behind to make a new life for itself at the turn of the century. Umm. Yeah. I may keep my Cube forever.

So it's not such a bad office, or at least it won't be once my shelves arrive and I can let my eyes wander over my Big Wall of Books. And I can hear you thinking, well, at least he has a window...


Continue reading "The House of Graduate Direction" »

January 18, 2005

Day 1 of ...

Here's a little advice for all you job marketeers: on your first day in a new position, it's often best if you wield your newfound power and influence with reckless abandon. No one likes a shrinking violet, after all. Strut around your department, make declarations, and, as D&G might say, effect incorporeal transformations.

With school and the program officially in session, I decided that it was a good time to pass some resolutions, which may or may not make their way into policy at some point down the road:

House Resolution 1302A: A Resolution Declaring Canteloupe the Official Fruit of the Graduate Program

House Resolution 2914: A Resolution Declaring Junior Mints the Official Movie Snack Food of the Graduate Program

and my last example I'll include in its entirety as a sign of my pride in its wisdom:

House Resolution 632C: A Resolution for the Designation of an Official Tool for the Graduate Program

1. Whereas, in close consultation with Webster's 5th International Unabridged Dictionary, it has been determined that the word "circular" both contains all 3 initials of the CCR program, and contains them in order, and

2. Whereas, through painstaking empirical study, it has been determined that "circular saw" is the single best, tool-related phrase for the purposes of demonstrating an exaggerated East Coast accent not unlike that used by comedian Mike Myers on Saturday Night Live in his recurring "Coffee Talk" skits,


3. From this moment forth, the circular saw shall be known as the official tool of the graduate program, and accorded all the rights and privileges associated herewith.

Brilliant stuff, I'm telling you.

Okay, so maybe my day wasn't quite that exciting. Advising appointments, a missed meeting (oops), a little bit of chimney sweeping, and my failure to remember to leave campus earlier than 6:30 when there's a basketball game scheduled for 7:00 (double oops). SU beat Georgetown, but the Hoyas took us to overtime.

That is all. Maybe tomorrow I'll follow up on my campaign promise of forming an ad-hoc committee to study the fiscal viability of designating an official graduate program candle scent. Stay tuned.

January 19, 2005

Like I didn't see that coming...

I promise that these kinds of posts will decrease in frequency as the novelty does, but for the moment, you're stuck with me.

Anywho, one of the big tasks I have to manage over the next 2 months or so is graduate admissions. That is, we have a small number of slots available for incoming graduate students, and the Graduate Committee, annually, reads the applications, comes to a consensus on ranking them, and we settle on our incoming class for next year. As with any application process, we get to say "yes" to a few people, and "no" to many more, and those decisions are pretty important--we affect the lives of our applicants on both sides in significant ways. Grad school, for better or worse, plays a huge role in shaping the lives of its students--in our field, at least, you're talking a 4-5 year investment of time, an association that will follow you and inform others' perception of you for years after that, and decisions about your areas of interest and specialization that potentially affect your position in the field for your entire career. It can be a pretty big decision.

So, our deadline is this week, and yesterday, we sent out emails to all of the applicants, letting them know either (a) that their applications were complete, or (b) what we had yet to receive. My attitude here was that it's better to have information than not. There was also a disclaimer at the bottom explaining that, since they send materials to a separate office on campus, we may not have received materials already sent.

I won't quite say that this was a mistake, but apparently, we got just about as many panicked replies today as we sent out emails yesterday. Now there's a big surprise. I can't blame them, because it is a big decision and all, as discussed above. Our admissions process at SU is centralized, which makes it really hard for individual departments to set deadlines and stick by them, because a student may meet the deadline without our realizing it until a week later. But our deadline gives us less than three weeks to make some initial decisions about funding, in terms of fellowships and the like. It's a really messy system, with different people responsible for different steps, and no awareness of how the requirements of their step affects the rest of the process. And ultimately, we in individual departments are responsible for negotiating a mess not of our own creation. Ugh.

Lesson #1: What looks at the time like a blessing for your clients/constituents may quickly turn into a curse for you.

When I'm teaching, I think of this as the Transparency Principle: it rarely pays to be entirely transparent as an instructor. For instance, it was vogue for a while to engage one's students in discussions of how potentially arbitrary grading can be. I've done it plenty of times. And yet, all they remember, later on, is grades = unfair, which is an entirely different argument, but one they're willing to deploy if their 4.0 is in danger from the A- you've given them on a paper. All too willing.

And I think that each of us wants the bureaucracies we encounter to be transparent. Or rather, transparent for us, because we (and I'm no different in this regard) don't usually stop to think what a nightmare a truly transparent bureaucracy would be. Like "accountability," transparency is more a "preaching virtue" than a practice one.

Wow. I'm going on and on. Done now.

April 28, 2005

Screencasting as the new FYC?

Sometimes I don't know whether to laugh or cry, but I can't help but feel a little bit smug about this. Will tipped me to an essay from a week ago by Jon Udell, whose "heavy metal umlaut" screencast, you'll recall, both appeared here and at the tail end of my CCCC presentation last month. The essay is called "The New Freshman Comp," and in it, among other things, he emphasizes the importance of writing for software developers. And it's not difficult to imagine many of my colleagues being willing to follow him this far. We are often outspoken in our claims about the importance of writing across all disciplines. But Jon's turn is equally important; he writes,

If you're a developer struggling to evangelize an idea, I'd start by reiterating that your coding instincts can also help you become a better writer. Until recently, that's where I'd have ended this essay too. But recent events have shown me that writing alone, powerful though it can be, won't necessarily suffice.

And here's where many of my colleagues will pull up short. Our emphasis on writing, and this despite the work of some really smart people, is really an emphasis on writing in the narrowest scriptural sense. I can't tell you how many times I've heard otherwise sensible people fall back on the excuse that creating a web page isn't really writing (unless we focus primarily on that Strunk-ated crap that passes for Winning Web Writing! Wow!™), that we don't have time to teach technology (as though writing weren't itself a technology), that technology is just one more burden added to their classrooms.

To be honest, though, from my perspective, the inertia with which we constantly fend off the idea of technology is far more burdensome. It's like that 100-lb. backpack that David Weinberger talks about in Small Pieces, only ours is packed with the ideas that the typeset page is the only medium for writing, that essay writing is the only real writing, and perhaps most importantly, that we're somehow in charge of writing, that if we just ignore media like screencasting, they'll leave us alone.

We're just scratching the surface of this medium. Its educational power is immediately obvious, and over time its persuasive power will come into focus too. The New York Times recently asked: "Is cinema studies the new MBA?" I'll go further and suggest that these methods ought to be part of the new freshman comp. Writing and editing will remain the foundation skills they always were, but we'll increasingly combine them with speech and video. The tools and techniques are new to many of us. But the underlying principles--consistency of tone, clarity of structure, economy of expression, iterative refinement--will be familiar to programmers and writers alike.

On the way to this conclusion, Jon makes a suggestion that I'd like to flip around:

Would I really suggest that techies will become fluid storytellers not only in the medium of the written essay, but also in the medium of the narrated screencast? Actually, yes, I would, and I'm starting to find people who want to take on the challenge.

Would I really suggest that first-year composition take up the challenge of meeting those techies halfway, and the challenge of questioning our assumptions about the scope of writing?

Hells yes.

Jon, I don't know if you'll swing by here or not, but if you do, you should understand that there are plenty of us already teaching FYC who are more than willing to take on these challenges. And it helps that we're not the only people who believe that what we do is important. What would help even more?

  • Good applications: inexpensive, cross-platform apps whose development includes our concerns, instead of presuming to dictate them to us. (see FlackBoard, e.g.)

  • Partnerships: we're pretty much horrible at making contacts and working with people outside of academia. Okay. I am. But writing programs are historically (and woefully) underfunded--I hold a full-time position and teach in a very affluent department, and I still struggle with resources. The vast majority of my colleagues are not so lucky. There are plenty of people who would if they could but can't so they don't.

  • Conversations: I'll be honest. As lucky as I am, I simply can't afford to attend the marquee events in the industry, nor do I imagine I'll be invited anytime soon. There are some places that are doing a nice job of making space for academics in their conversations (MS, e.g.), but my guess is that there are precious few even then who have ever taught a section of freshman comp. Our field is not populated with jet-set A-listers, who can afford to hit SXSW one week and ETech the next. If you want to have conversations with us (and I can guarantee that there are plenty of us who'd love to have conversations with you), you're gonna have to do some outreach, learn more about us, and most importantly, work with us.

Easy, right? Actually, it wouldn't be too tough--there are lots of ways I can imagine these conversations and partnerships taking place, and a lot of upside if they did.

All right. That's all for tonight.

May 27, 2005

I map, Cmap, We map

I've been slow to hop back aboard the blog train lately, and part of that is because there's a little piece of me mourning the loss of my vacation. Although my hiatus was generally spent on my own research and writing, a fair chunk of it was spent getting up to speed for the graduate seminar I started teaching this week.

In part, the exigence for this course came from our students, who (like all graduate students everywhere?) are feeling the pressure to publish, and who feel (rightly so, imho) that the program could be doing more to prepare them for this pressure. My own answer to this demand was to suggest the course that I'm now teaching, which combines a survey of genre studies with a publication workshop for the participants. When I proposed the course, I overlooked the small fact that I don't really have a great deal of background in genre studies/theories, and so, as they say, it's been an education. I've been doing a lot of background reading, some of which I've included in the course, of course.

And that's par for the course. One of the most valuable pieces of advice I ever got as a graduate student heading out into the market was this: the vast majority of what I was prepared to teach in fact helped me very little. Most of my courses have been outside of the areas that I would have defined as my specialities back in the day. But hey, that's ultimately a good thing, because it keeps me interested.

Anyhow, in preparing it, I did a couple of things differently. First, rather than writing seminar papers (always a dicey proposition in a 6-week intensive course anyways), I've asked the participants to come to the course with an essay that they've already written, one that they would like to polish/revise/work up for publication. And second, in addition to the readings, they'll be doing medium-scale conversation maps. In other words, they're going to locate 25 sources in the area where they see their essay or article intervening, and their job, for the next month or so, is to map out those sources as a means of envisioning, invoking, and/or addressing the eventual audience for their essay. They've got a fair amount of latitude in determining what their map will accomplish, but at the very least, it will require them to become pretty familiar with the immediate disciplinary context for their own writing, and that's part of my aim with it.

I've recommended that they use a program called Cmap, which Derek tipped me onto, and with which I experimented a bit as I was preparing the course and writing up the assignment itself. It's not the best tool ever created, but it's simple, comes in a range of flavors (inc PC and Mac), and it does the trick pretty well. I've been browsing mind mapping/concept mapping programs for a couple of months, and for what I need, Cmap may be the best alternative.

Partly as a means of testing it out, I ended up doing a little concept map of the readings for the course as well, and I was pleasantly surprised at how the process of mapping really prepared me to talk about the way I'd planned and arranged the course. It's pretty rough, but here's the map that I ended up handing out on the first day:

genre studies map

I ended up using node shape to distinguish among three threads of scholarship on genre (four if you count the background stuff), and the map is arranged chronologically (roughly so, anyway) from top to bottom. Not all of the connections that should be there--generally speaking, I connected nodes when one cited another--are actually in place, and there's a great deal of work in genre that I've left off because it's outside the scope of the course, but still.

More and more, I am convinced that academic enculturation is a matter of being able to draw these maps in our heads, albeit much more sophisticated ones than this. And I think that being able to diagnose and assess the immediate disciplinary context for one's work is one of the really difficult skills that go almost entirely untaught in graduate programs. Not for a lack of caring on the part of faculty, but because it's hard to know exactly how to go about doing it. If yesterday's discussion (and the questions that came up) are any indication, I think I'm on the right track, though. In the context of the course assignment, some of the basic questions (how do you find texts/nodes? how do you decide whether two texts/nodes are connected? how do you arrange the map globally?) are also the kinds of questions that most of us would be embarrassed to ask about publishable academic writing (but probably should). So far, I'm happy with this idea because it's allowing those questions to be asked, and I have a hunch (and a hope) that by the end of the assignment, this disciplinary cartography will allow them to crystallize and clarify what they know about their topics, and how to present that knowledge more effectively and convincingly to reviewers.

I don't have a lot more to say, except to acknowledge that I'm probably waxing pretty optimistic here. And to acknowledge as well the fact that it was Jenny's post about imaginary maps that got me thinking to the point where it was worth blogging this.

June 8, 2005

All of Malaysia was agog

I'm teaching a course right now, a graduate seminar on genre theory and academic writing, which I haven't really blogged at all, partly for a lack of time and partly because Derek and Mike are doing a nice job of it as far as I'm concerned. Anyhow, about the course: in large part, it was offered in response to some concern on the parts of our students (and I'm paraphrasing roughly here) that they weren't receiving enough attention in our curriculum as writers, as emerging professionals who were expected to be writing publishable prose in a matter of a few years. I'm a big fan of programmatic support for writing at the graduate level (I'm also supervising a writers' group for our dissertators this summer), and so I offered to teach this course partly as a publication workshop.

But it's a graduate seminar as well, and let's just say that I have strong opinions about the importance of providing instruction in both declarative and procedural knowledge in our graduate courses. And so, I decided to start the course with some reading in genre theory. It's a solid mix of readings, I think, and we're making a turn from more theoretical perspectives to some of the work in our field that brings genre theory to bear upon academic writing. For tomorrow, the class is reading a chapter (and the postscript) from Berkenkotter and Huckin's Genre Knowledge in Disciplinary Communication, the book whose chapter on CCCC proposals I swear by. We're reading a different chapter, though, the one about "Nate," the first-year PhD student whom B&H followed through his first year at Carnegie Mellon, and whose essays are analyzed in no small detail over the course of the chapter.

Anyhow, this chapter has got me thinking. In their conclusions, B&H discuss Nate's tendency to do extracurricular writing, more informal writing alongside the academic assignments he completed:

In Nate's case, it appears that the kind of advanced literacy associated with learning a field of knowledge, or with entering a discipline or vocation, hinged on the learner's ability to integrate subject matter knowledge with a knowledge of situationally appropriate linguistic and rhetorical conventions. Nate appears to have developed the former from reading and coursework more readily than the latter. His use of informal writing as a learning tool seems to have served him well in the former respect, but it may have slowed his progress as an academic writer....Although informal expressive writing appears to help writers explore new ideas, it also may deter them from expressing these ideas in the highly explicit, cohesive, hierarchical style expected in formal expository prose (141-2).

This really sent my wheels spinning, because it's potentially the best argument I've heard, even though it's obviously not pointed in that direction, against encouraging graduate students to keep weblogs. There are certainly other reasons as well, I suppose, but they tend to be anecdotal (that person got fired! what if i do too?) rather than grounded in any sort of semi-objective evaluation.

And I'm fully aware that this isn't exactly an airtight argument, either. B&H have been critiqued from a range of positions, not the least of which is the fact that CMU faculty at the time probably defined things like register and formality in pretty strict fashion. And that suggests that formal academic prose and writing on a weblog need not be as diametrically opposed as B&H's presentation of Nate's two styles of writing.

The implication here is that Nate may have sacrificed some procedural facility (how to write appropriately) in the interests of his declarative knowledge (what he was writing about), and for me, that's a pretty important question, one that lies at the heart (or should, imho) of a graduate curriculum. It's interesting (to me, at least) to think about the sum total of degree requirements and to interrogate the ratio between declarative and procedural knowledges. I wouldn't want to overgeneralize, but I suspect, for example, that most programs list requirements in specific areas of declarative knowledge (composition pedagogy, classical rhetoric, e.g.) than they do procedural ones (how to build a webpage, e.g.). Research courses are one exception to this, but foreign language requirements? Not so much.

And this leads me to thinking about where blogging lies on that spectrum. Were someone to transpose B&H to blogging, they'd still have to grant the potential for blogging to assist a student with assimilating declarative knowledge. But I think I'd be tempted to make the case for blogging on procedural grounds as well. Rather than arguing (as I think we probably could) that academic register in our field has become more informal, I'd go in the other direction and argue something like what Jay Parini writes in his Chronicle piece "The Considerable Satisfaction of 2 Pages a Day."

It's something that I've harped on for a few years now: it's hard to write every day, but it's also the surest path to success as an academic writer, and I say that as someone who's only ever been capable of intermittent bursts of daily writing. The problem with most graduate curricula, from the standpoint of training our students as writers, is that they treat writing according to the thresholds of deadlines, and up until the dissertation, it's possible for students to wait and wait and read and wait, until a few days before something is due, and then crank it out. We even invest that strategy with higher stakes when it comes to comprehensive examinations. And then that strategy, reinforced and encouraged throughout 3-4 years of a program, fails utterly and completely when it comes to the capstone of the PhD, the dissertation.

I don't know that I'd go so far as to say that bloggers write better dissertations, but I do think that there's a case to be made that weblogs can provide an opportunity for daily writing, an opportunity that will serve a blogger well when it comes to a larger project. Keeping a weblog may help students develop the kind of procedural knowledge that receives so little attention in the formal venues of academia. I think of the last-ish paragraph of Parini's article:

Having a grand idea, and setting up to accomplish something in a grand way, has always been, for me, a hopeless notion. I once had a good friend, a poetry editor and teacher, who always hoped to write a novel. One day the first sentence of the novel swam into his head: "All of Malaysia was agog." He didn't know why Malaysians were agog, or even where on earth Malaysia was. But he applied for a grant, got it, and set himself up in a foreign country with a huge sheaf of paper and a typewriter. He typed with reverence the great first sentence. He waited. He waited for much of a year, but nothing ever came.

If he'd been blogging, he would have just saved it as a draft, and on day 2, started another post that was completely unrelated. Or not. It's harder to learn how to do that than people think, and so I wonder if B&H unfairly discount the "outside" writing that Nate ends up doing. Do I even need to add the parallel sentence here, about discounting blogging? Probably not.

June 20, 2005

Stand and Deliver

Thanks everyone for the kind words about the Kairos award...

Today was presentation day in my graduate class, which meant that all of the students showed off the concept maps that I asked them to complete as part of the reqs for the course, as explained a few weeks back. Not to gush or anything, but I was really happy with the results. Derek used Flickr to port his map, so you can take a look at one example, and I'll link to others if and when they show up online.

One of the things that I hadn't really anticipated was the degree to which the maps would vary depending on where in their projects each of the students was. I should have figured on this, because it makes perfect sense that the assignment could be used to accomplish different things depending on context, but it was still a smack-me-in-the-forehead moment for me. Some of the maps were fairly well-defined because they were drawing on a bounded set of texts, and the mappers were using the project to define/determine patterns among their sources. The more open-ended maps tended to emerge from projects that weren't perhaps as far along, and so they functioned in a more exploratory fashion, helping the mapper(s) locate the various scholarly conversations (and their own positions within it). Neither type is necessarily good or bad--I thought that they were, to a person, appropriate given the stage of the mapper's research and writing. And so the range of maps corresponded, I'm guessing, to the range of essays that we'll be reading and workshopping over the next three class sessions.

Anyhow, I'm happy enough with this assignment that I'll probably adapt it for the course that I'm teaching in the fall, which is our "Intro to the Field" course for our incoming cohort of graduate students. This may be me projecting my optimism a little, but I feel like this assignment really helped each student develop a better sense of their project and where it might enter into academic conversations. If I use it this fall, it'll be a more exploratory kind of assignment, but I'm convinced that it's worthwhile...

June 24, 2005

The EdTech gamble

[via Clancy] New Kid on the Hallway has a dead-on critique of Patrick Allitt's literally "old school" rant about educational technology, and it's both thorough and wicked enough that I have little to add.

Except to note something that's occurred to me no less than three times over the past day or so. Partly it's what I was thinking about the LA Times, but it's popped up in a few other contexts as well. It's unbelievably presumptuous of me to name it after myself, especially since I'm sure that there are plenty of smarter people out there who have thought and said it before me, but oh well:

Collin's Wager: Technology is golden only insofar as you're willing to risk it being garbage.

In terms of Allitt's description,

Throughout the class the students took notes on the computers, creating a ceaseless keyboard clatter and making it difficult for anyone to hear the teacher's voice. Worse, as they faced their screens they looked away from the professor and away from one another.

First of all, it's remarkably short-sighted to stock a computer classroom with loud keyboards, but oh well. More importantly, it's easy for me to imagine some of those students really benefitting from having the computers handy. Imagine being able to take notes with concept map software, being able to dump links and/or graphics into the map, etc.

But the rewards of those possibilities are bought with the risk that those same students will IM, check their emails, surf for fun, etc. That's the gamble you take. And it's almost beyond belief to me that someone who's the "director of the Center for Teaching and Curriculum" would argue that, rather than making the teachers there aware of this gamble, we should just dump the technology. His little fantasy (complete with Mark Trail exclamation point!)--

How much better the class would have been with no more than a blackboard and a few sheets of paper! Note taking would have been silent; students would have talked to the teacher and each other, would have concentrated on the substance rather than the technology, and would have had more time -- not less -- to devote to their work. Best of all, a warm atmosphere of collective endeavor would have displaced the anonymity and chill that the machines created.

--is an expression of his desire for the illusion of control that such a classroom entails. As though students don't doodle, zone out, pass notes, gaze longingly out the window, etc. But in the old school classroom, teachers don't have to compete with these activities because they don't have to acknowledge that they're going on. After all, no endless keyboard clatter! No burnt out bulbs on the projector or flaky remote controls! IM only happens In the Margins of student notes! And so on!

I don't know. Maybe I'm just tired of people who seem to think that it's possible to wait out the problems, who think that if something doesn't work perfectly, it doesn't work period. I know that there are good reasons for feeling that way (the tyranny of bubble sheet evals, anyone?), and I know that there are plenty of people who can't afford to lose the wager, but Allitt and others like him need to understand that "the most important issues in education have not [indeed] changed." Reading and writing well are still important, granted, but they're important in different ways, different media, and different milieu than they were even ten years ago, and all the wishing in the world won't make it otherwise.

Did I say "little to add"? That is all.

August 1, 2005


This is a call for help from all you rhetcompers out there. This fall, I'm going to be teaching our introductory course (CCR 601), which bills itself as an introduction to scholarship in composition and rhetoric. The course has been taught in a number of different ways--never the same way twice, in fact--and while I'll probably be drawing somewhat on past incarnations, I feel a little bit of extra pressure as the grad director to do the course in a way that accounts for some of my concerns about the preparation that our students receive.

That's not really a critique per se, because it's silly to imagine that a single course could address broad curricular questions, but at the least, I'm conscious about the opportunity to intervene a little more directly. And I should add that this course is an introduction to scholarship, which distinguishes it somewhat from our other core courses (methodology (which they'll be taking at the same time), 20th century rhetoric, and modern composition studies).

I'll be porting some of the readings from my summer course, as well as the mapping assignment I blogged about a couple of months ago. I'm also planning a couple of other 3-4 week-sized assignments (as opposed to a big semester-end one): we'll probably do some practical exercises on what John Swales calls "occluded genres" -- conference proposals, abstracts, etc. -- for one of them, and I may ask them (as a way of leading up to the mapping project) to do some kind of genre thingamajig where they take a topic and locate essays on the topic from several different journals, paying specific attention to differences in style, research, scope, audience, etc.

So far, I'm a little shorter than I intended to be at this point in the readings department. I'm thinking strongly about Olson's Rhetoric and Composition as Intellectual Work, for instance, but haven't gotten much further than that. I would have liked to get copies of Culture Shock, but I'm not sure it'll be available.

And so, I'm looking for suggestions. The students will come from a fair range of background, and they'll be getting training/mentoring both in pedagogy and methodology elsewhere. What kinds of texts would you suggest for someone relatively new to the field, specifically aimed at preparing that person to join the field as a scholar, researcher, & writer?

What do you say?

Update: Here's the somewhat minimalist catalog description:

CCR 601 Introduction to Scholarship in Composition and Rhetoric Contemporary theories and practices of scholarship. Methodological debates and controversies. Connections between composition and rhetoric.

September 13, 2005

How to tell when Collin's feeling punchy

Well, the first sign is that, if you have to ask, then I'm probably not.

When I'm working with minimal sleep over a couple of days, though, what I find is that I get increasingly manic. And while I hate hate hate being tired, one of the things that also happens is that I get increasingly efficient when it comes to managing all the bits and pieces of my life.

And so, little wonder today that, in my graduate course, we spent the first hour or so talking about note-taking strategies. I can feel my energy starting to ebb, now, but for class at least, I was positively chatty. I asked all of the students to sign up for Basecamp, a site whose virtues I've trumpeted here before. And I'd meant to talk about using it last week, but our conversation got away from us (me) a little. So this week. Note taking and organizing.

The big thing that I was pushing in terms of Basecamp was using the Milestones to keep track of deadlines and events, and then using the To-Do lists to manage time. Over the past two days, 43 Folders has re-run their two part feature on "Building a Smarter To-Do List," an article I can't recommend enough. My new mantra?

break Big Nouns into little verbs

It's partly, I'm sure, because I'm a little tired/manic/punchy that this appeals to me so completely today, but actually, it's on all the other days where I need to remind myself of this regularly. 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 for me, Basecamp has pretty well fit the bill, even though I'm probably not still using it to its fullest potential (or giving it more control over my other projects).

So, organizing. And then note-taking. Again, I pushed developing a system that was sustainable. Derek and I have talked about this some, and here's what I suggested to my students: buy a little notebook/journal from one of the bookchainz, and when you read a book (or a week's set of readings), do this: put the info at the top of the page, and give yourself only 1 page, and only 10 minutes, to take a verbal snapshot of the reading. Some possible categories for this activity:

  • The 1-sentence summary. Obvious enough.
  • Keywords or tags. I'm more and more enchanted with this method of "distant reading" a text.
  • Yes/No. We talked about why we "go back" to texts, and often, it's either because we want some support for a claim, or because we're working against it in some way. So jot down 2-3 fairly central claims with which you agree, and 2-3 with which you either disagree or about which you have doubts or concerns.
  • Passages. Some people copy out key passages, but I've always found it more useful to do a quick transcription: page number, and a quick description. I often do this when I prepare to talk about a text in a course.
  • Top 5. Imagine being able to ask the author, based purely on the text in front of you, who their top 5 suggested sources would be. That is, what are the 5 texts that would help you read this one better?

I'm sure that there are other possibilities, but you get the idea. The idea is to only take 10 minutes and to use categories that are recognizable once the reading itself has faded from memory. Imagine being able to look over a semester's worth of entries, and look for those authors whose names appear most frequently in the Top 5's (this might answer the question "what should I be reading?"). Or being able to see some patterns in the kinds of claims you pay most attention to, or the thing(s) that you have the most skepticism about.

In a lot of ways, and I talked about this too, this has everything to do with what we're trying to do with CCC Online. There are definite advantages to having pages and pages of reading notes (although my own graduate school experience yields depressingly few examples of this...), but there are also advantages to the kind of snapshotting (or what Gladwell in Blink calls thin-slicing) I was advocating today and that we're accomplishing at CCCO. A little one-page slice, multiplied by 10-12 books for a course, by three courses a semester, and by 2 years of course work would give our students a fairly compact, searchable aide-memoire as they move on to exams and dissertations.

Of course, they could blog this stuff, but I think that one of the things that keeps folk wary of doing so, at least when it comes to things like class notes, is the public dimension. In the margins of our books, we don't feel any compunction about drawing angry faces, harshly angled question marks, the occasional "WTF?!" and so on. Not so easy to do when it's possible that a random ego-surf will bring your current or future colleagues to that entry. Maybe another way to describe the conversation I had today in class, then, is to say that I'm encouraging them to blog without blogging?

Or maybe it's that I'm finally warming to the idea of the Hipster PDA.

That's all.

September 27, 2005


Will has an interesting demonstration up at Weblogg-ed: a screencast feedback session on a piece of student writing.

One of the things that strikes me right away about this is how a potentially "overwhelming" amount of teacher markup is made in this process to look not like the proverbial "bleed" but rather itself a process. I've had a couple of different experiences with recorded audio feedback (both receiving and giving) on pieces of writing, but this seems like a different process entirely. The advantage of audio is that it allows a body to present much more nuance than marginal comments generally allow, but pairing it with the actual markup creates almost a "behind the scenes of teacher feedback" effect that I imagine would be very productive.

One of the things that I still struggle with is the whole writer/reader orientation. I know what I think about what I write, but I still sometimes grapple with understanding how a piece of my writing will unfold for a reader, and something like this really gets at that notion--it concretizes the experience of reading a piece of prose that develops over time.

I like it. That's all.

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 27, 2006

CCCC 06 Roundup

I would have posted this a little sooner, but I've spent the last day or so figuring out how I can cast aspersions on a field that I'm only peripherally involved with, reaching the conclusion that the best way to argue that the field is going in the wrong direction is to "cherry-pick" 5 panel titles, out of hundreds, from their annual conference, and then not going to the conference so as not to complicate my thinnnnnest-slice impression (which I'll describe, of course, as a "fair portion" which provides the double-entendre of both representativity and fairness) of what it is that they're doing.

That's all I have to say on that bit of nitwittery.

It was a good conference this year, although I definitely feel older and less able to keep up than I used to. This year's CCCC had the strange distinction of embodying two strange trends: each night, I got to bed later, and each morning I had to get up earlier. If I had stayed one more day, these trends might have passed each other in the wrong direction--I might have had to wake up before I went to bed. Eek.

As far as sessions went, I only hit a few of them, and they were pretty much superstar caliber. I didn't go to anything before Derek's and my performance at the Computer Connection on Thursday, but afterwards, I saw Jim Porter, Catherine Latterell, Dànielle Devoss, and Stuart Selber (E.28 Why Plagiarism Makes Sense in the Digital Age: Copying, Remixing, and Composing). It was a solid panel, doing some of the work necessary to bridge our disciplinary (and pretty traditionalist) notions of authorship with the implications of new media. Shockingly enough, after a 7 am breakfast meeting, I caught David Blakesley, Thomas Rickert, and Diane Davis all give really intriguing papers revisiting KB's notion of identification (F.15 The Rhetorics of Identification; Or, Me and You and You and Me, So Happy Together?). All three were strong papers, but I was especially interested in Diane's--the idea that mirror neurons suggest an originary, pre-linguistic "togetherness" which is first broken and then imperfectly healed through identification was (a) a really smart take on neurobiology's implications for rhetoric and (b) a very original challenge to some of our cherished disciplinary assumptions. After a brief pause to fill my body with sugar and caffeine, I went to see Becky Howard, David Russell, and Sandra Jamieson (H.15 Authentic Arguments: Information Literacy and Case Studies in FYC). Becky and I chat IL all the time, but I hadn't seen before the work that Russell was doing to track how students use sources in building arguments. Interesting stuff. Having been up at 6-ish, by the end of their session, I was pretty much wiped, so I skipped on the next 2 sessions plus the other general (the awards one).

(I didn't get to see the morning general session on Thursday, either, although I heard vaguely unflattering things about it, or rather that the Address itself had less than flattering things to say about some of the things that I do. Rather than offer a 4th hand response, I'll wait to see/read a version of it...)

Saturday morning, with my sleep and energy quotients approaching zero, I attended my final session of the conference, K.23 From Panel to Gallery: Twelve Digital Writings, One Installation, and no, I won't list the 12, although several are friends. Being able to walk around the room and futz was perfect for me, though, and there were some really sharp pieces. If I can find the URL, I'll post a link to Tim Richardson's thingamajig, which was a Flash interface that positively hypnotized me. It reminded me of the stories I've heard, and pics I've seen, of SIGGRAPH interface galleries. Cool Cool Cool.

Anyhow, that was my formal CCCC. Counting my own, I went to 5 sessions, which is about right, and I met lots and lots of people and strengthened ties with others. Can't ask for much more.

September 14, 2006


Here's a little question for you:

I was talking with a colleague last night who teaches some of our professional writing and/or technology courses. He and I were talking and he asked me if there was a term for this phenomenon: not so long ago, when he would ask his students if they had ever heard the word hypertext or had authored web pages (via HTML, CSS, etc), most of them hadn't. And he had the sense that they hadn't yet arrived at that point. Now, though, he asks these questions, and has the impression not that his students haven't arrived there yet, but that they're beyond it and would think of it as backsliding. In other words, given all the SNApps, like blogging software, Facebook, MySpace, etc., there's been an emphasis on allowing users to avoid ever having to go under the hood, such that the idea of teaching those under-the-hood skills like coding may start to appear quaint.

Anyhow, my colleague asked me if there was a term for this, and the best I could come up with was leapfrogging, although I think I've heard of it more in the context of diffusion studies, where particular societies will skip intermediate steps in a particular line of development for whatever reason.

I also thought that retromediation might make for a workable term, in the sense of these interfaces remediating particular skill sets, but doing so in a way that makes the skills themselves seem "retro." Maybe I'm overreacting to what is unquestionably a limited sample, but I wonder if being able to tweak one's own HTML and CSS isn't rapidly becoming akin to being able to keep your truck running with a coat hanger and duct tape. Useful, yes, but also a little old school.

Then I look up the word, and find that Derek's already coined it, albeit in a more punceptual fashion than I'm using it.

Hmm. Just thinking, I suppose, with the question implied. That's all.

November 1, 2006

First Year Spamposition

This is the first entry of the November 30. And I'm stamping it 55 seconds shy of midnight, November 2nd. So there. And I'll almost certainly double-post tonight to get Nov 2 out of the way as well.

Anyhow, over at Doug Rushkoff's joint, he relays to us a story of a recent email bombardment:

So for the past week or so, I've been getting all these weird emails from people with return addresses. Most of them are in the form of short essays, either agreeing or disagreeing with some of the points I make in the introduction to my book Screenagers (formerly, Playing the Future).

Problem is, most of them aren't aware that they've only read a brief excerpt from the book, and thus "They kept referring to it as an 'essay,' and wanted to know why I hadn't brought up points that end up being made (or refuted) in the book itself."

Wait. It gets better. Rushkoff writes back to each of the students, which in some cases is far more than they deserve, and

The weirdest part, though, is that the most obnoxious ones seemed surprised - almost insulted - that I wrote them back. These ones told me that they were forced to send their essay to me by their teacher, that they don't care at all about my book or essay, and that I shouldn't have responded to their emails.

Rushkoff's being an incredibly good sport about it. A quick web search on the domain and his name unearths the syllabus and the teacher's name, along with an email address. A quick rule in Mail preferences will redirect all those emails back to the instructor. A quick note to the Chair of the English Department...and so on.

What's sad about the whole debacle is that neither the instructor nor the students seem to have given sufficient thought to:

1. the fact that most writing texts excerpt long pieces by the authors they publish (I'd be surprised if the intro to the excerpt didn't make that abundantly clear)
2. responding directly and critically to a writer without first checking to see if s/he has written more extensively on the subject, excerpt or no, is not a great idea
3. sending an email to someone, unless the address is fake, actually sends an email to someone
4. failing to pay attention to 1-3 and pressing ahead will make you, your students, your department, and your school all look moronic

There are lots of great examples of published authors corresponding with groups of students about their work--the connectivity allowed by the net can be a great source of interaction--but what strikes me about this whole episode is just the colossal disrespect shown by the instructor and subsequently by the students to Rushkoff:

And the only ones who write me back - just two of them, so far - have written to say it's crazy for me to write them back, and they either didn't mean what they wrote or just didn't care.

Wow. I can't say much more than that. Wow.

November 7, 2006

Turnitinica Mars

It was probably only a matter of time, what with Veronica Mars headed to college and all, for plagiarism to find its way into the plot of at least one episode. And tonight it did, as Veronica's paper for her Criminology class is "lit up like a Christmas tree" by the "plagiarism scanner" used at Hearst College to police its students. Don't read on if the episode's sitting on your TiVo...

Continue reading "Turnitinica Mars" »

November 15, 2006

Idiocy of some sort, yes

Hard to ignore the shot across the bow disguised as an IHE story this morning: Are College Students Techno Idiots?, where among other things, we learn that

A new report released Tuesday by the Educational Testing Service finds that students lack many basic skills in information literacy, which ETS defines as the ability to use technology to solve information problems.

Well, if by "report," they mean a PowerPoint deck that is stuffed with generalizations and bullet points, and atrociously designed in places, then yes, a report happened. I remember taking a little trip over to ETS to see what they were defining as Information Literacy™, and it all came rushing back to me as I revisited their Flash demo. My personal favorite is the task where a body is asking to take an email and to compose a single, persuasive PowerPoint-ish slide to present to a faculty advisor.

A persuasive slide? Umm. A healthy part of information literacy is, in fact, knowing that a single-slide PowerPoint is unlikely to be the best way to persuade one's faculty advisor. And there are similar difficulties all the way through the demo questions that I saw. There are some pretty weak attempts to instantiate "IL principles" that ignore the fact that most of what we do as "literates" is heavily context-based. I'm not sure that generic test scenarios are going to be the best way to assess this. Nor am I convinced that many of these "skills" can be reduced to right/wrong sorts of answers.

And of course, the folk who are supporting this study are those who have direct, vested interest in convincing us that there's some sort of IL crisis. Of course. Doesn't take a great deal of information literacy to suss that out.

Too much of this strikes me as Critical Thinking! With Computers! I suppose. Maybe that explains why it just leaves me feeling sour.

Snip snap snout.

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 8, 2007

ye olde workshoppes

For some reason, I find myself at the end of the semester awash in workshops, organizing three in the space of about a week. The first was last week, but not much preparation was required, since I've been doing our end-of-year session on the job market almost every year I've been at Syracuse. I did put together a new handout for everyone, though, with a condensed job search timeline and a list of possible dossier ingredients. In the past, that material has been shared with the seniormost folks, but not the general public.

(I should explain that the session takes place in 2 halves: the first is for the whole program, and we ask those who have been on the market to share their experiences and advice; the second is only for those on the market in the upcoming year, and we go over the process, organize summer meetings, etc.)

It's a hard sell, for all of us, I fear. Now more than any other time of the year, things are winding down, and it's difficult to reverse that mindset, and to think in terms of a year-long process of searching for a position that begins right now (the search, that is, not the positions).

My other workshops are actually a pair, today and Thursday, which combine with a couple hours of reading to function as a "mini-seminar," which is how part of our professional development process works round these parts. There are a couple of them this week and next that count towards next year's requirements, so they're "early bird" sessions of a sort that also function to benefit those early birds who have taken care of their grading by this point.

Anyhow, today's session was on, and I could have taken another full hour just to cover the ground that I'd planned. What with the "perpetual beta" and all, it's not simply a matter of walking in and filling two hours. I needed to reacquaint myself with some features that I don't use, see what was new, and I ended up putting together a 4-page handout with URLs and reference points for the material I covered.

One point that came to mind during the session that I didn't mention the other day in my little RSS rant (RSS is one of the topics for Thursday), and that's that another of the real values of online journals, and of print journals that make an effort to 2.0-ize their web presence. Although not alot of folk have started using it this way yet, one of the things that our site does is to make permalinks available for each article, which allows users to bookmark them in, CiteULike, etc. (without waiting for 5 years, or whatever JStor's moving wall is). It also means that you can link to CCC articles in online syllabi or bibliographies, although again, not many folk are using the site that way yet.

And these are among the ways that the CCCOA is itself working with Web 2.0 attitudes. I asked today's workshoppers to read O'Reilly's original essay, and there were two things that jumped out at me on this, my umpteenth reading. The first was the emphasis that he places on permalinks--the flip-side of continually updated content and the importance of being able to link to that content. The second is the emphasis that we've placed not on providing data--after all, very little of our content is not also accessible directly from NCTE both in print and on screen. But we enable various services and processes that connect up with other small pieces like, and that's where our innovation rests.

It's about performing our disciplinarity in online spaces, not as a replacement for our own brains or hands, but as network, as Jeff has written over and over. There are all sorts of tools and processes and services that will help us do this, and not flash in the pan stuff either. Small, simple pieces, like permalinks, RSS, bookmarking, et al., just waiting for us to take them up and put them to work.

Ah well. This is the resigned version of the ranty post from this weekend. And to think that the original impetus for this post was Laura's somewhat disenchanted take on workshops. It's to our credit that, even at this time of year, none of the three workshops I'm doing are "just in time and just for me" particularly. Which makes them a little easier on me, if not less work.

Anyhow, that is all. I need to think about something else after Games 1 & 2 in Detroit, after all.

November 27, 2007

2nd to last

Last night was the second-to-last meeting of my course on research methods in RhetComp. Needless to say, it's not been a normal semester, but the course itself has gone fairly well (I think). It's a course that should be 2 or 3 semesters long, I fear, in order to provide time for both exposure to the variety of methods and time enough to actually test some of them out. So it's been an exercise in compromise, figuring out how to make it manageable and comprehensive at the same time.

Anyhow, the final two meetings diverged from the normal formula of providing some how-to readings alongside some examples of implementation. Next week, we're reading a piece by Clay Spinuzzi ("Lost in the translation: Shifting claims in the migration of a research technique" (LEA)) and Raul Sanchez's The Function of Theory in Composition Studies (Amazon ), with an eye towards some meta discussion about method in the field. This week, though, we did something else that I conceived as meta--we read Shepherd, St. John, and Striphas' (eds.) Communication as ...: Perspectives on Theory (Amazon ):

comm-theory.jpg It's an interesting book, on a number of levels. Growing out of an NCA panel, the editors asked a number of contributors (27 total, inc the editors) to compose short, citation-light, polemic essays about their preferred metaphors for communication. The editors argue specifically in their introduction about resisting uncritical pluralism, and so the chapters make the case for communication as relationality, ritual, transcendence, vision, embodiment, raced, dialogue, diffusion, dissemination, articulation, translation, failure (!), and many others. The quality of individual contributions are uneven, of course, some taking the task more seriously than others, but the overall impact of the book is an interesting one.

One of the challenges for us last night was that the book makes an argument at one scale (stake a claim for your preferred metaphor) while performing at a different one (aggregating these various claims). The result is something of a buffet, even as the editors disparage that very approach. The irony of Sonja Foss's blurb for the book ("Communication as is an excellent way to introduce students to various perspectives in the discipline. It makes the point that there is no right or wrong way to study communication but that the different perspectives are all legitimate and useful.") is that, in fact, the editors do suggest that some ways are better than others. Or rather, it might be more accurate to say that while they don't advocate for the "one, true metaphor," they find some value in asking their contributors to write as if--to write as if they were required to make a choice, unburdened by extensive citation, torturous qualifications, and/or empirical methods.

So while the book is perhaps operating under a performative contradiction, I found it to be a really refreshing and productive book. It's a book about method in one sense--my original inclination was to pair it up with some stuff from Lakoff and Johnson on conceptual metaphor--but more importantly, I think, it's a book that points to the value and importance of conceptual stylistics. The point I wanted to make with the book is that it matters which terms we use to describe our conceptions of rhetoric, composition, writing, communication, etc. Those terms stake claims, and they do so whether we adopt those positions consciously or not. It's rare, though, that those claims are made as directly as they by the contributors in this book.

I think some of us were left last night wishing that a similar book existed for our own discipline. The relationship between theory and method in communication studies is a different one than pertains in our neck of the woods, owing at least in part to our closer association with the humanities and with English in particular. The differences aren't stark enough to make this book less valuable to us, but they're present enough to raise the issue.

In all, though, this was a really productive way to end a semester on methods, and I could see the value of a book like this for a gateway course in the discipline as well. It'd need a couple of caveats, but in the absence of an analogous project for RhetComp, I think that a book like this has something important to say to us.

Go read it. That's all.