On social media, terrorism, and academia #dyr

working online also pushes education beyond the confines of school, allowing kids to broaden discussion of their work. And it forces them to do "authentic" work that gets tested out in the real world, as outside viewers see it and respond to it.

 

Today's online experience is really the experience of being part of a gigantic crowd of people, said Jon Kleinberg, the Tisch University Professor of Computer Science at Cornell, in a lecture about what social media and other popular websites can teach us about ourselves, July 20 in Kennedy Hall.

When we go online, we do not just learn about an event, said Kleinberg...We also learn about the experiences, opinions and reactions of millions of people.

 

psychologists call it "deindividuation". It's what happens when social norms are withdrawn because identities are concealed...And it's why under the cover of an alias or an avatar on a website or a blog – surrounded by virtual strangers – conventionally restrained individuals might be moved to suggest a comedian should suffer all manner of violent torture because they don't like his jokes, or his face. Digital media allow almost unlimited opportunity for wilful deindividuation. They almost require it. The implications of those liberties, of the ubiquity of anonymity and the language of the crowd, are only beginning to be felt.

 

Don't talk, then, about the wildness in our rhetoric today, and its undeniable roots in that deep strain of political violence that runs through our national DNA, on a gene that is not always recessive. Don't relate Centennial Park in Atlanta in 1996 to Oklahoma City to murdered doctors to Columbine, and then to Tucson and to the bag on the bench in Spokane. Ignore the patterns, deep and wide, that connect each event to the other like a slow-burning fuse to a charge. That there are among us rage-hardened, powerless people who resort to the gun and the bomb. That there are powerful people who deplore the gun and the bomb, but who do not hesitate to profit from their use. And when the gun goes off or the bomb explodes, the powerful will deplore the actions of the powerless, and they will reassure the rest of us that We are not like Them, who are violent and crazy and whose acts have no reason beyond unfathomable madness. But above all, they will say, Ignore the fact that there is still a horrible utility in political violence, the way there was during Reconstruction, or during the labor wars of the early twentieth century. If there were not, it wouldn't be so hard to get an abortion in Kansas, and assault weapons would not have been accessories of choice at recent rallies purportedly held to discuss changes in the way the country organizes its health-care system.

 

Breivik wrote about different classifications of “traitors,” or individuals he felt could be killed during his imagined revolution.  In his handbook, he suggested that revolutionaries consider attacking both “literature conferences and festivals” and “annual gatherings for journalists.

 

Almost by definition, academics have gotten to where they are by playing a highly scripted game extremely well. That means understanding and following self-reinforcing rules for success.

 

Academic journals generally get their articles for nothing and may pay little to editors and peer reviewers. They sell to the very universities that provide that cheap labour.

 

I can only recommend graduate school in the humanities—and, increasingly, the social sciences and sciences—if you are independently wealthy, well-connected in the field you plan to enter (e.g., your mom is the president of an Ivy League university), or earning a credential to advance in a position you already hold

 

"Did you read?" #dyr

I read when I should be writing. I'm often more interested in the ideas of others than my own. Most days, my Twitter profile features many more links to readings than my own original content. The same can be observed of early entries in this space. I posted snippets of articles I deemed worth the time of any visitors here. I even started a feature of sorts called "What You Might Have Missed," shortened to #wymhm for easier archiving and searching both here and on Twitter.

Given the relative wealth of news and information available online as well as the time of day I shared some of that wealth, I thought it worthwhile to compile elsewhere what I offered. This lasted for a while, at least until I read one too many general, passive-aggressive tweets about blogs lacking original content. I gave in to those arguments and stopped #wymhm altogether.

However, I've received the occasional inquiry about bringing #wymhm back. Not everyone keeps the morning online schedule I do, and I think one of the benefits of curation is that it allows us to come to links more on our own time. We don't have to keep such an attentive eye to those we follow online if we know links will be suggested again elsewhere. We don't have to be as concerned with answering in the affirmative to the question posed in the video above. 

The video also speaks to the absurd demand we place upon ourselves and others, how we can become blind to the most practical reading we should be doing, how an awareness of what's happening in the world in terms of events and ideas often isn't as important as reading what will allow us to cross the street and still exist.

But reading isn't just about keeping up with current events and new/old ideas. And curation isn't about posting links on a blog in lieu of original content. Both are important because they allow for better, deeper reflection on the part of the reader/curator. For this reason, not everything I post to Twitter will be part of future entries here, only those items of some persistent importance.

This is because I was privileged to witness a recent back-n-forth online that had conversants bemoaning the lack of worthwhile news about technology. Not much reported today will probably be important or relevant tomorrow, much less a week from now, they agreed. So, my focus for these specific entries will be on sharing those more "timeless" pieces.  

This isn't to write that everything here will be serious, though. After all, the title I gave this space is "Against Multiphrenia," which means that I try to work contrary to Kenneth Gergen's idea of technologies that increase social contact also draw us in multiple and conflicting directions. In other words, a lolcat or two may sometimes be part of an entry or three.

Besides, originality is overrated anyway. The creativity and originality featured via such entries will be in how I contextualize and justify what I share. Articles and items can speak for themselves in their own spaces; that's not what will happen here.

So, #wymhm is now #dyr. I plan to do this on Tuesdays and Thursdays to account for my fall teaching schedule as well as time sufficient for reflecting on what should be allocated. As mentioned in yesterday's announcement, I look forward to sharing with you.

announcement

Announcements are funny things. In the time taken to announce something, we could often spend our time better, perhaps devoting ourselves to whatever we happen to be announcing. As a writing teacher, I have an acute awareness of this, often crafting entries that do little more than announce new course materials or the next assignment when I could/should be reading current course materials or assessing old assignments. 

Announcements serve a function, though, given variance in attention and value. We appreciate the occasional heads up on things deemed important. This is what announcements are and do. This is important to me, they say. I want you to be aware of this, to know this, to be prepared for it.

Beyond the handful of invitations we sent, M and I didn't announce our wedding. On a formal basis, this wasn't supposed to happen until after the event anyway, but even on an informal basis there were many we didn't tell. I kept quiet about it on Twitter and in my summer course. When asked why I wouldn't be providing an update on the course project until the last week of July, I only replied that I would be too busy.

The lack of a formal announcement until after the wedding produced a customary amount of congratulatory cards and notes, including a quaint $10 check from M's great aunt. The lack of an informal announcement online produced a similar influx of congratulatory remarks, including a "sweet zombie jesus!" from Ethan Watrall, which remains a favorite exclamation of mine. Some were bewildered, too, thinking they had overlooked a previous announcement. Such a mixture of confusion and surprise occurs when something isn't announced.

Announcements signal intent, too. This is what happened, they say. This is happening, is about to happen, will happen. As the title of this entry implies, I want to announce something about this space: There will be more here more often. I will be resurrecting a past feature or two. I will be writing more focused pieces about my fall courses, my interests scholarly and otherwise. In other words, stuff's gonna be happening here on a more regular basis. Any confusion or surprise resulting from this or that will be because of this or that, not because I didn't announce it first. You've been warned, dear reader, and I look forward to sharing with you.

Where we stand: Week 7 #560wr

I’m big on shitty first drafts and writing-to-learn activities. In my view, shitty first drafts are one of the goals of this #560WR collaborative authoring project, if only so that we have something tangible to work with should we decide to go beyond semester’s end. Something tangible sits now on my desk, a hard-copy draft of each of the seven chapters for the Book. 

It’s quite clear to me that all students are quite capable in introducing and integrating secondary source material. That all were able to draw and apply so much from the research pool is a clear, positive aspect of the project overall. The wealth of block quotes and summary provided in these drafts, though, are unnecessary for a Book and instead give the appearance of a lengthy literature review. Furthermore, when aiming for a Book as the end product, I think there needs to be integration and uniformity in the content produced. There can’t be sole reliance on writers writing independently of each other followed by slapping together their 10-page offerings with the expectation it will all work.

Perhaps JS was right all along to suggest something other than a Book (SOTAB) during Week 2. That’s not to imply we’d get away with doing less via a group blog or a wiki, only that maybe we’d be better served by SOTAB. Different forms of scholarly communication have different demands and, based on the apparent reluctance of certain chapter drafts to make arguments, some kind of digital reference or repository might have worked better. I’m not writing now to gauge the depth of my hindsight, though; that’s for after I’ve locked in final grades. I will offer this teaser: Writing a Book is a noble endeavor, but perhaps an unrealistic venture for eight weeks with 14 graduate students. 

I offer that because some chapters revealed writers’ interest in writing what they wanted rather than committing and contributing in a more collaborative way to the project itself. Of course, this may also be related to the frustration and hesitation mentioned earlier. I know that if I’m more comfortable writing about X instead of Y, I’ll do just that even if Y is the main focus of what I’m writing. So, I don’t fault anyone for the chapters drafted. To be honest, I’m impressed we made it this far. 

I provided all feedback to students with the understanding that we are still in pursuit of a Book as the end result of the project. This admission as well as last week’s entry may hinder or even sabotage the revision work of some researcher/writer pairs, but I’m hopeful that a majority will engage, if not humor me. Perhaps their revisions will reveal their own ideas and opinions about the future of this collaborative authoring project. There’s a lot still to be done with the content produced, and I look forward to discussing with #560WR students their ideas and opinions about the project’s future on Thursday, June 30, 2011, from 4:15PM to 6:45PM.

Where we stand: Week 6 #560wr

The second scheduled in-class writing session was marked by artificial lighting. Having found the Torch bountiful in distraction and noise, we retreated to our classroom. This change was welcomed by some, but not by others. As last week's location wasn't conducive for all, I observed much the same this week.

While lacking the distractions and noise of the Torch, the classroom also lacks fresh air and windows, either of which may have been an unfortunate influence on the productivity of some researcher/writer pairs. Furthermore, less potential distraction made for greater focus, but also greater possibility for burnout. As the session wore on, there were more than a few audible sighs and rubbing of the eyes, both of which may have led to pleading by some for a break in the monotony. I had nothing to offer beyond declaring a 10-minute break up and away from our computer screens.

However, many researcher/writer pairs were in full-on writing mode for much of the session. Some pairs took to further brainstorming, but all had their game faces on and appeared serious about getting ideas down. I also appreciated those who worked within Google Docs as this enabled me to see their writing in action. At this point, I have no concerns about the seven 20-page chapter drafts due next week.

Given this lack, I want to look ahead and entertain some possible futures for this collaborative writing project. Week 7 will be our first and perhaps only editing and proofreading session. Each researcher/writer pair will bring two hard copies of their completed, 20-page chapter draft for peer review. My expectation is that each pair will provide substantive feedback on two chapter drafts. My suggestion is that each pair will do this for the chapter before and the chapter after their own, i.e., the Chapter 3 pair will read and respond to Chapter 2 and Chapter 4.

With differences of opinion about the location most conducive to writing work, researcher/writer pairs will be free to go wherever they wish at 6PM. For that first half hour, though, we will meet in our classroom and discuss particular approaches to peer review. Come 730PM, we will reconvene in the classroom for further discussion.

I anticipate at least some of that discussion will be about the future of the project. While this depends in part on the status of each chapter, I want to think beyond the end of the semester. Right now, I see at last three possibilities:

  1. Students decide to go their own way, continuing written work divorced from the collaborative writing project. I remain available for feedback and guidance, but the project itself ends with the semester.
  2. Students decide to continue the project, either toward a print publication or something else. Perhaps there is a fruitful, realistic discussion about what's attainable vs. what's desired, ending in the construction of a blog or a wiki as well as the transformation of current project content.
  3. Students decide to leave the project in my hands, allowing me as executive editor to do as thou wilt or with email notifications of changes to and updates on the project.

As #560WR remains an experiment, I'm unsure if any one of these possible futures could be indicative of failure or success.

Where we stand: Week 5 #560wr

I think this writing session happened at the right time. Given comments on last week's entry about lack of communication and direction, meeting face-to-face with the expressed purpose of writing appeared to be just what we needed. To be honest, I'm unsure now about addressing concerns voiced there as the Torch writing session appears to have taken care of most/all of them. 

Among the most productive were those researcher/writer pairs sitting across from other researcher/writer pairs. I often observed them talking over their laptops to each other about their respective work. These cross-pair conversations were almost more helpful than those in-pair discussions. 

However, the bar environment wasn't conducive for all. The noise level was about what I expected, but I know not everyone is able to work under such conditions. Space was an additional, related issue as we all had to fit our food and drinks alongside bulky laptops and piles of articles and books. We'll be meeting in our regular classroom on the UM-Flint campus next week, so I expect both noise and space will be non-issues.

This is a rather short entry, though, because I want to direct audience attention to reflective entries by MBr and RA. Neither entry was required, but both are quite helpful in gleaning additional perspectives on this collaborative authoring project.

 

It's hard to write about a role that you have very little, or no experience with. The social role of the teacher, for example, is one that some may have first-hand experience with, or may only have knowledge about from scholarly articles. Either way, it isn't something you cannot write about, even if you have never been in that role. I know for some, writing about a role they've never stepped foot in makes them feel unsure, but I know from my own experience, it can be done.

 

What this class is is an exercise in the basest components of research with an eye toward contributing to a larger discussion. We are originating, researching, and synthesizing new discussion for outside consumption. *: The word "book" has attracted far too much angst in the past 4 weeks. I don't care if this is a book, a wiki, a novella, an ebook, or if these topics end up lacking the cohesion to justify a collection and we all take our pieces and look elsewhere for contribution (although I sincerely doubt the last scenario will happen). What we are trying to do here is to fit our research and writing into a larger assemblage which is itself joining a larger discussion. I knew from the beginning that the most attractive elements of a true TextDash would have difficulty integrating: in-person back-and-forth brainstorming, immersion with many like-minded writers, and developing a well-honed topic/subtopic relationship were all bound to diminish where the participants meet 2.5 hours per week over 8 weeks and necessarily had to do their work away from each other amidst the rest of regular life.

 

What I submitted to 'Shit My Students Write'

From Bartholomae's "The Study of Error" 

"Errors, then, are stylistic features, information about this writer and this language; they are not necessarily 'noise' in the system, accidents of composing, or malfunctions in the language process" (257).

"When a basic writer violates our expectations, however, there is a tendency to dismiss the text as non-writing, as meaningless or imperfect writing" (254).

We need to “treat the language of basic writing as language and assume, as we do when writers violate our expectations in more conventional ways, that the unconventional features in the writing are evidence of intention and that they are, therefore, meaningful, then we can chart systematic choices, individual strategies, and characteristic processes of thought" (255).

The above page numbers correspond to College Composition and Communication 31.3 (October 1980).

 

From Bartholomae's "Inventing the University" 

"(the student) has to invent the university by assembling and mimicking its language while finding some compromise between idiosyncrasy, a personal history, on the one hand, and the requirements of convention, the history of a discipline, on the other" (135).

"He is trying on the discourse even though he doesn't have the knowledge that would make the discourse more than a routine, a set of conventional rituals and gestures. And he is doing this, I think, even though eh knows he doesn't have the knowledge that would make the discourse more than a routine" (136).

"This is one of the most characteristic slips of basic writers. … It is very hard for them to take on the role – the voice, the persona – of an authority whose authority is rooted in scholarship, analysis, or research" (136).

A struggling writer may not be working from a writer-based model and "is not so much trapped in a private language as he is shut out from one of the privileged languages of public life, a language he is aware of but cannot control" (139).

"A writer does not write … but is, himself, written by the languages available to him" (143).

"What our beginning students need to learn is to extend themselves, by successive approximations, into the commonplaces, set phases, rituals and gestures, habits of mind, tricks of persuasion, obligatory conclusions and necessary connections that determine the 'what might be said' and constitute knowledge within the various branches of our academic community" (146).

"…the university, however, is the place where 'common' wisdom is only of negative values – it is something to work against" (156).

The above page numbers correspond to When a Writer Can't Write: Studies in Writer's Block and Other Composing-Process Problems, edited by Mike Rose.

 

I also copy/pasted the entire "CCCC Guidelines for the Ethical Conduct of Research in Composition Studies" document. It's available here: http://www.ncte.org/cccc/resources/positions/ethicalconduct

Where we stand: Week 4 #560wr

We are beyond whiteboard shots. We are also soon to be beyond research mode as all initial sources will be compiled by Friday, June 3, 2011, at midnight.

The second round of research presentations were more polished and much tighter. With technical difficulties at a minimum, we breezed through all scheduled student presentations, many of which offered various and sundry social roles of writing teachers. Here's a quick sample:

  • DJ
  • tech proselytizer
  • manipulator
  • activist
  • indoctrinator
  • Nostradamus
  • model composer
  • historian
  • master/apprentice
  • parent
  • mentor
  • listener
  • humorist
  • architect
  • other
  • body
  • stranger
  • whatever

If/where any of these social roles appear in our book is up to each researcher/writer pair, who will also need to come up with chapter titles. Among the potential chapter titles drafted in my presentation notes, two stand out: "The Pedagogical is Political" and "Those Who Can't..." The researcher/writer pairs focusing respectively on special considersations and how others determine the social role of writing teachers are welcome to use. 

I sabotaged my own presentations by forgetting my USB, but this was an actual benefit as it allowed for more discussion about potential writing locations. Meet on campus? Our assigned room? The library? Computer writing classroom? Or meet downtown? Bar? Coffeeshop? With a tentative agreement to converge on the Torch at 530PM, the Week 4 session ended. However, at least three researcher/writer pairs stayed more than 10 minutes after being dismissed to brainstorm aloud about their chapters. 

Prior to this week's session was some discussion on Twitter about the lack of conversation about the collaborative authoring project. Although 2/3 of the class are on Twitter, only a couple students discussed the course and/or used the #560wr hashtag. While some (myself included) may have been too impatient about this and/or too quick to disappointment, I'm concerned about the lack of a work record. As observed by one student, there really hasn't been much discussion about anything project-related outside of the weekly face-to-face meetings. Perhaps the biggest benefit so far in using Google Docs is its revision history. This allowed me to restore significant parts of the research pool that had been deleted by accident, but the revision history also provides a kind of record of when contributors did their work. If/when I conduct a collaborative authoring project again, I'll see about setting up a workstreaming service. 

Both the research pool blog and GooDoc are kind of a mess right now, each revealing an unfortunate assumption or expectation I once held. With the blog, I assumed tags pertinent to our agreed-upon chapters would arise in a natural way. With the GooDoc, I expected the color-coded order I attempted to impose would be enough as a guiding principle of organization. As neither of these proved true, some housekeeping is in order. Also, given technology issues some students have had in working with Google Docs, the research pool probably should have developed in a blog setting first. Having all source information in one place was a good idea; having it all in just one GooDoc was not a good idea.