rough transcript of #detroitdh talk about "institutionware"

Last Friday, 27 September 2013, I was among the presenters at Network Detroit: Digital Humanities Theory and Practice. Below is a rough transcript.

Good morning. My contribution to this panel is an argument for understanding certain kinds of proprietary software as “institutionware.” I’ll get to what I mean by that in a second, but first a little background.

I am influenced and inspired by Georgia Tech professor and game designer Ian Bogost and media theorist and author Douglas Rushkoff. In a Gamasutra column, Bogost recasts gamification, the use of game thinking and game mechanics to engage users in solving problems, as exploitationware. He does this to connect gamification to “better known practices of software fraud” and to “situate gamification within a larger set of pernicious practices in the high-tech marketplace.” Similarly, in an Authors@Google talk, Douglas Rushkoff comments on the “awful, but brilliant” nature of Blackboard. 

[clip of "Authors@Google: Douglas Rushkoff," 7:38-9:10 - "From the student or teacher's perspective, Blackboard is terrible. It's just awful. You run up consistently against these terrible obstacles and extremely difficult things, ways you've got to wrap your whole self and brain and course and life around what this program needs needs from you in order to comply with it. And most of us look and say, "Ugh, this is just an awful thing. This software is awful." If you look at it from what I'm calling the programmer's perspective, you see, "Oh no, Blackboard is brilliant." Because Blackboard wasn't written for me. Blackboard wasn't written for me as an educator or for that person as a student. Blackboard was written for the Blackboard company to dominate education in a very particular way. Blackboard was created to help create an equivalence between distance learning and real-life learning so that in your classroom you're actually using this technology as much as you would long distance...It's created not to promote the user's agency, but to decrease the user's agency and increase the institution's dependence on this piece of software."]   

Bogost and Rushkoff are both talking about software approaches not made for users but for the used. Building on their observations, I want to provide a definition and provide characteristics of institutionware. 

So, first, a definition: institutionware is software that supports and maintains traditional ideas under the guise of providing a service. The clearest examples of institutionware are Blackboard and Turnitin, the successes of which are tied to the institution of higher education. To a lesser extent, Microsoft Word, iTunes, and even Facebook, Google, and Twitter are forms of institutionware. It might be helpful to place these examples on a continuum, or even a Möbius strip because some appear more tied to particular institutions than others. All share similar characteristics, though, and Google’s movement into higher education makes it all the more deserving of a place on the strip. Much the same can be observed of Twitter, given its recent moves in support of the institution of television. 

Regardless of placement, institutionware aims to decrease user agency, increase user dependency, preserve market dominance, and contain features. These aims are achieved in a multitude of simultaneous ways, so I’ll try to keep them straight.

Institutionware decreases user agency and increase user dependency by demanding and reinforcing user compliance. I’m recalling here Rushkoff’s earlier comments, but I’m also thinking of Blackboard’s design choices. For example, the number of times Blackboard asks us to click OK represents a sort of endless acquiescence, an indicator of our eternal compliance. In this way, institutionware does not ask us “where do you want to go today?” but instead forces us to ask “what is thy bidding, my master?”

I quote from The Empire Strikes Back because the line is from an important scene. Until this point, we see Darth Vader only in positions of power. When we see Vader go down on one knee, before a hologram no less, it is poignant. We come to institutionware like Vader to the Emperor, subservient in spite of our own abilities and power. Institutionware holds it own external demands over the internal, individual desires of its users.

This is also part of how institutionware preserves market dominance. Compliance is evident here, too, but it is through a blanket of equivalence in systems and users. This equivalence is in acknowledgement of limited use. Examples of limited use include Blackboard for grades, iTunes for MP3s, Microsoft Word for essays, and Google for email. Because of limited use of institutionware, we may become as frustrated as comedian Hannibal Burress.

[clip of "Hannibal Buress on Odd Future and Young Jeezy," 1:05-1:13 - “Why does iTunes keep trying to get me to download a new version? I got a new version a couple of days ago. I’m fine with this version. It plays music.”] 

Institutionware works against limited use by introducing new features and updates, often with annoying regularity. Regular updates are similar to Blackboard’s persistent OKs, reminding us of our compliance, our inability to do anything but accept. 

These updates also have to do with how institutionware contains features. Institutionware is about containment. Features aren’t so much offered as contained, kept within an overall system so users have little reason to go elsewhere. Feature containment also works against limited use and helps further preserve market dominance. Furthermore, persistent, “feature-rich” updates tend to benefit the service providers more than the users. 

[clip of "Suicidal Tendencies - 'Institutionalized' Frontier Records," 3:05-3:35 - "…how do you know what my best interest is? How can you say what my best interest is? How can you say what my best interest is? What are you trying to say, I’m crazy? When I went to your schools, I went to your churches, I went to your institutional learning facilities? So how can you say I’m crazy? They say they’re gonna fix my brain, alleviate my suffering and my pain, but by the time they fix my head, mentally, I’ll be dead. I’m not crazy, institution. You’re the one who’s crazy, institution."

We can even see this with Microsoft Word’s Clippy, who is less of an enabler and more of an enforcer, indicative of how institutionware is about preserving the institution as it is and has been, enhancing and supporting rather than challenging and threatening. Blackboard and Turnitin, for example, are not out to question traditional methods of education but to scaffold them. Names alone are evidence. 


Here the transcript ends. The notes I worked from devolved into improvisation and speculation, fueling a discussion focused almost entirely on Blackboard. This was somewhat unfortunate, but Blackboard looms large in the minds of many educators. 

I feel comfortable admitting this development because I’m still very much thinking and working through the very idea of institutionware. It is by no means fully formed. Since this #detroitdh talk, I’ve come to see limited use as playing a larger part in institutionware overall. Limited use itself may be more of a defining characteristic of institutionware than user agency or dependency, market dominance or feature containment. Limited use may be what binds the other characteristics together. What this in turn says about the relationship between service providers and users is something yet to be determined. I look forward to finding out. 


#wideemu teaser for "Free to P(l)ay or Maybe Not"

photo credit


"While it’s in Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn’s interests to attract as many users as possible – and clearly free is the way – there are obvious consequences: Users get to play without paying, but every few months we get kicked in the face when our digital profiles get abused." - Amber MacArthur, Free sucks. I want my privacy back. 


photo credit


"When you're a free service, you get to say these magic words: 'X is offered as is.' You are off the hook for problems. If people don't like it they can go elsewhere." - Alan Jacobs, Take My Money, Please! The Strange Case of Free Web Services


photo credit


"Research has shown that humans like getting rewards, but they hate losing what they already have much more than they value the same item as a reward. To be effective with this technique, you have to tell the player they have earned something, and then later tell them that they did not. The longer you allow the player to have the reward before you take it away, the more powerful is the effect." - Ramin Shokrizade, The Top F2P Monetization Tricks


photo credit


"One of the secrets of success of a F2P game is the implementation of a powerful system of statistical analysis. Game data provides clues as to the users' behavior and preferences." - Pascal Luban, The Design of Free-to-Play Games: Part 1

Rise Above The LMS #4C13 [video & transcript]

VIDEO: https://www.dropbox.com/s/jh2bqmv9r28dwr0/RATLMS.mov

TRANSCRIPT: Good morning and welcome to session L.24, Reaching New Publics with Homegrown Learning Management Systems. My name is James Schirmer and I’m presenting in absentia for a very good reason: the birth of my first child. But I want to thank Brian and Quinn for allowing me to present in this manner. Please know that all are welcome to tweet about or at me. My Twitter handle is at the top right corner of most slides; our session and conference hashtags are at the top left. Also, a full transcript of this talk is available at betajames.net (and at betajames.posthaven.com).

Now, in talking about learning management systems, we talk about many things, including access and control. We talk about who has access to what information at which level as well as who controls that access and that information. We also talk about persistent and potential obstacles to access and control. In such discussions, it can be very easy to conflate a course and a learning management system. So, I hereby invite my colleagues on the panel and in the audience to challenge me if I appear to make such a conflation.

In talking about alternatives to learning management systems, I think we talk about access and control, too, but with an acknowledgement of honesty and openness. More of what we do as writing teachers may be exposed in LMS alternatives; things can get messy in having all or some of the construction laid bare. And I think there’s a public-ness to LMS alternatives that standard, traditional platforms like Blackboard lack. I see this as a net positive for alternatives, varied as they are.

New media and Web 2.0 technologies are more accessible and open by nature, sharing a similar degree of public-ness. As writing teachers, we can — and sometimes do — voice our LMS frustrations via social media, but these online spaces are also opportunities for us to connect pedagogical aims and goals in new ways. This is not necessarily a new thing anymore, but I think it’s an idea worth repeating because it is also shared in the do-it-yourself ethos. Open the course, expose the scaffolding, encourage more and varied interaction, get beyond the Blackboard box.

Using a computer keyboard, we can blog about yesterday’s class and tweet course updates, but it is through social media that the work we do may be public in unanticipated ways. Searching Twitter for hashtags like #englishsucks and phrases like “I hate writing” can be very revealing. I mention this, too, because I want to steer clear of triumphalism here. Moving from a standard, traditional LMS like Blackboard to an alternative doesn’t eliminate certain problems; it may only change them.

But we’re talking about such movement this morning for reasons in addition to access, control, messiness, and openness. I think it’s safe to say that we, as writing teachers, value these concepts to varying degrees. I want to extend things a bit, though. If we acknowledge that writing often constitutes public work, if we are interested in enhancing the status of first-year composition, we should rethink housing our courses in learning management systems. Do not mistake this statement for blind adherence to an ideal, though. Often enough, I still find myself singing the following song.

[clip of “I’m Against It” from the Marx Brothers film, Horse Feathers, ]
[LYRICS:
I don't know what they have to say,
It makes no difference anyway,
Whatever it is, I'm against it.
No matter what it is or who commenced it,
I'm against it.

Your proposition may be good,
But let's have one thing understood,
Whatever it is, I'm against it.
And even when you've changed it or condensed it,
I'm against it.] 

I admit my own resistance to Blackboard and to learning management systems in general. However, I must also admit my reservations about this resistance. Do I dislike Blackboard for what it is or do my frustrations deal with broader concerns about higher education? Are my operating methods and preferences just too different? Do I just need to be more patient, more willing to discover and learn how a particular LMS organizes and values the efforts of students and teachers alike? In an “Authors @ Google” lecture, Douglas Rushkoff explains the Blackboard situation a bit better than I can: 

[clip of "Authors@Google: Douglas Rushkoff," 7:38-9:10]
[From the student or teacher's perspective, Blackboard is terrible. It's just awful. You run up consistently against these terrible obstacles and extremely difficult things, ways you've got to wrap your whole self and brain and course and life around what this program needs needs from you in order to comply with it. And most of us look and say, "Ugh, this is just an awful thing. This software is awful." If you look at it from what I'm calling the programmer's perspective, you see, "Oh no, Blackboard is brilliant." Because Blackboard wasn't written for me. Blackboard wasn't written for me as an educator or for that person as a student. Blackboard was written for the Blackboard company to dominate education in a very particular way. Blackboard was created to help create an equivalence between distance learning and real-life learning so that in your classroom you're actually using this technology as much as you would long distance...It's created not to promote the user's agency, but to decrease the user's agency and increase the institution's dependence on this piece of software.]   

While I agree with Rushkoff, I no longer think of standard, traditional LMS platforms like Blackboard as software. Instead, I think of them as “institutionware.” For as much as Blackboard may be about preserving itself as the top LMS option, it is also about preserving the traditional aspects of higher education. Even more recent social media ‘features’ are about containment; blogs and wikis are stuck in the Blackboard box and mark the introduction of new environments and tools for learning but only serve lectures and exams. It’s all enough to make one rage against the machine.

[clip of "07 - Rage Against the Machine - Freedom (Live)," 4:15-4:45]
[LYRIC: anger is a gift

I agree with Zach de la Rocha that “anger is a gift.” When directing it in a productive way toward an issue or problem, clarity can often follow. I also agree with Matthew Gold’s perspective that the problem with learning management systems ‘lies in the conjunction of three words that should not appear together. Learning is not something that can be “managed” via a “system.”’ Given how we may use Blackboard or another platform, our course banners might as well read “Under Old Management.” Many of the faults of traditional LMS platforms are also the faults of higher education.

Still, the title of this talk isn’t “Rage Against The LMS.” Well, it was, but it isn’t anymore. In fact, my co-panelist Brian McNely has, in his words, “backed away from a militant anti-LMS perspective in everyday practice, in large part because it’s simply not conducive to getting things done with what we have…I don’t have the energy or influence to overturn my university’s LMS policy; I can offer my students interesting workarounds to the limitations of the LMS.” Like him, I’m more interested in how we might rise above the LMS, either through alternatives or by other means. 

[clip of "Henry Rollins/Black Flag 'Rise Above' Live, 0:25-0:55]
[LYRICS
Jealous cowards try to control
Rise above
We're gonna rise above
They distort what we say
Rise above
We're gonna rise above
Try and stop what we do
Rise above
When they can't do it themselves

We are tired of your abuse
Try to stop us it's no use

Society's arms of control
Rise above
We're gonna rise above]

Part of rising above the LMS may involve remembering that, as Sean Michael Morris writes in a piece for Hybrid Pedagogy, “the LMS is meant to help us think about teaching, not to do the teaching, or to tell us what teaching needs to occur. The LMS is not the course; it’s the launching pad for the course." In other words, we need to see the LMS as an opportunity to reconsider how and what it is we do as teachers.

This diagram is part of a blog entry by Lisa M. Lane in which she looks at how and where courses begin. According to Lane, starting in an LMS implies a teacher-centric model, closer connection with the college and its structures, greater concern for security and privacy, and emphasis on presentation and content over interactivity and community. Starting on the open web or a social media site implies a learner-centric model, greater connection with the outside world, and emphasis on community over content. 

Lane sees both starting options as doors, with the LMS linking out to social media and social media linking in or to the LMS. Whichever we choose “sets up different kinds of hierarchies, implies differences in pedagogy, and creates different kinds of opportunities for learning” (Lane). Similarly, William Beasley notes “there are good pedagogical reasons both for providing links that take students outside the LMS, and for bringing portions of the outside world into the LMS." 

This diagram is part of a blog entry by D’Arcy Norman in which he sees a role for the LMS in higher education “if for no other reason than the simple reality that most instructors, and many students, aren’t ready, willing, or able to forge their own solutions." Norman also acknowledges that “even a grassroots No-LMS environment eventually grows to resemble an LMS-like space." Through these diagrams, we can come to see the LMS in general as less of a learning management system and more of a learning mediated system. 

Now, in my own courses, I seek to rise above the LMS by incorporating simple, effective tools with a low barrier of entry. Here is one such example: Posterous, a soon-to-be defunct online writing service that allowed students to blog via email. Students and I were able to subscribe to and comment on each other’s blogs as well as personalize our online spaces. Twitter’s “acqui-hire” of the Posterous staff one year ago prefaced the announcement of a full-service shutdown on April 30. 

However, Twitter is (I hope) a more reliable online writing service used in many of my courses. Hashtags and/or specific tweeting times help foster community and that greater connection with the outside world mentioned earlier by Lisa Lane. 

Now, before turning things over to Brian and Quinn for more substantive inquiry, allow me to share a couple other, perhaps more interesting examples before closing with some persistent problems related to rising above the LMS. 

“Part storytelling workshop, part technology training, part critical interrogation of the digital landscape,” DS106 stands among the most unique and successful endeavors to engage students of all kinds in the development of skills for using technology as a tool for networking, sharing, narrating, and creative self-expression. Searching on Twitter for the hashtags #ds106 and#ds106radio will send you down a rabbit’s hole into a wonderland of digital artifacts of all kinds.  

In sharing this screenshot of materials for a web application development course posted on GitHub, it is worth noting that Karl Stolley uses Git, version control software, for just about everything he writes. But, for Stolley, posting his syllabi on GitHub is worth doing so that his materials “are a tad more easy to get ahold of” but it also changes how he writes the source of his materials, whether Markdown or HTML.  

And, as usual, we are at an interesting time in higher education. The MOOC looms over much discussion of academia’s future, but it also stands as another potential LMS alternative. Many MOOCs serve as a combination of approaches and strategies; some are united as much by Twitter hashtags as more traditional methods of instruction. So, with these examples, we’re once again back to the opening concerns of access, control, honesty, messiness, and openness.

As also mentioned earlier, rising above a standard, traditional LMS like Blackboard may not eliminate certain problems, only change them. Our position in a college or university may determine our ability to rise. We may be limited to engaging in the strategy explained by Brian McNely rather than implementing one of the “door” approaches explained by Lisa Lane. Using free online services invite archival, privacy, and reliability issues. Hosting and growing our own spaces requires time and vigilance we may not have. 

While there are among the persistent problems related to rising above the LMS, I want to remain optimistic. When we rise above the LMS, we assert as ourselves as activists as well as writing teachers. We show others what alternatives are possible in particular capacities. And I look forward to what Brian and Quinn are about to show us. So, to close as so many of my students do, here is my references page.

Thank you.

ragnarok #111cr #112cwr

Tomorrow may be Ragnarok for scheduled assignments in #111cr and/or #112cwr. Based on information gathered from students' interviews, each course may move in a new, different direction. 

Given the kinds of writing expected in students' majors and/or future professions, #111cr and/or #112cwr may be doing one of the following:

  1. Elect to keep the course schedule as is, but allow and encourage students to work in more desirable/desired forms of writing when and where recognized as possible. 
  2. Elect to keep the course schedule as is, but focus all group facilitations on more desirable/desired forms of writing.
  3. Elect to revise the course schedule, including assignment deadlines and descriptions, to include more desirable/desired forms of writing.
  4. Elect to scrap the course schedule, including assignment deadlines and descriptions, in favor of designing and developing work that is direct in addressing more desirable/desired forms of writing.
  5. Elect to scrap the course schedule in favor of performing two individual writing projects, one major-based and one profession-based. In each, students identify and perform 3-5 kinds of writing associated with their intended major/profession. Students will conduct follow-up interviews, research recommended readings, perform in-class presentations, and put together portfolios of writing samples, genre descriptions, and reflective pieces.

Now, by "more desirable/desired forms of writing," I mean to include forms identified by students as having greater impact and importance for the future. This is a concern less about transferable skills. This is much more about providing opportunities for students to practice the kinds of writing they will be expected to perform as nurses, police officers, small-business owners, social workers, and teachers. I'm writing here about SBARs and SOAPs, PICOs and PIEs, ETICs, EMRs, and AICS. 

This may prove trickier in #111cr than #112cwr, though. I understand the desire for no longer writing essays in English courses. I'm sure students like writing them about as much as I like reading them. Unless all current #111cr students take #112cwr with me, they will surely be writing 3-6 essays in ENG 112. With #111cr intended to prepare students for ENG 112, I'd be doing them a great disservice if no essay writing occurred this semester.

Of course, #111cr and #112cwr students and other interested parties are welcome to raise questions and concerns about our uncertain future. 

ENG 111 syllabus, updated Fall 2012 #111cr

Course: ENG 111 College Rhetoric
Semester: Fall 2012
Teacher/Guide: Dr. James Schirmer
E-mail: jschirm@umflint.edu
Office: 320D French Hall
Hours: Tues/Thurs by appointment
Mailbox: 326 French Hall
 
Writing Center: 559 French Hall
Writing Center Phone: 810.766.6602 (call ahead to make an appointment)
Writing Center Website: http://www.umflint.edu/departments/writingcenter/


Course Description: 
English 111 is designed to equip students with the ability and knowledge to write college-level essays that are clear, argumentative, and persuasive. Skills gained in this class will be important beyond the classroom as the ability to communicate effectively is a requirement of most professional careers. 

This course is formatted to help students feel more comfortable in their writing.  We will explore and discuss different strategies and steps involved in composition that will allow each student to find the system that works best for them.  Writing is not only a product but also a process; therefore, revision will be emphasized and fostered with instructor, peer, and personal comments.  All aspects of effective essays, such as using a target audience, creating coherent organization, and establishing purpose will be explored. 

Much of our class time will have a writers' workshop environment. When we share our writing with each other, we'll work to give friendly and helpful feedback. Because we are practicing writers, too, we'll all be able to relate to the demands of writing good essays for a college-level audience. 

In addition to writing, we'll read other writers in order to help us understand the various components of successful essays. The readings should also help in generating ideas for composed pieces and develop and reinforce critical reading and thinking skills.

Required Texts:
All reading materials will be available online or provided via email.

Course Contributions: 
The grading contract outlines many parameters for the course, but not all. Below is more information about the contributions required from all students:

Presence (in class): I expect you to come to class on time, prepared, having completed the assigned reading and writing, and ready to contribute thoughts to class discussions, to listen with attentive respect to the thoughts of your peers, and to participate in all in-class work. I urge you to attend every class, as most of the work done in class is necessary for successful completion of the course. 

Presence (online): I expect you to check your email on a regular basis for course announcements, reminders, and updates, to engage your peers through required social media tools, and to share your course-related work in ways that I can access and assess them.  

Sequences: The kinds of writing you perform in this class depend in part on the kinds of writing required in other classes, by your intended major/profession, and maybe even your current job. Sharing information about these kinds of writing with me and your peers will help shape what we do this semester. Furthermore, these assignment sequences provide opportunities for greater attention and focus as well as practice and preparation for the final sequence of the semester and beyond.

  • INTERVIEW - due Week 2/3
    This assignment asks you to interview someone in your area of interest (read: current employment, college major, future profession). 
  • TWITTER - due Week 3-8
    This assignment asks you to to maintain active presence on Twitter for a minimum of 6 weeks.
  • RESEARCHED ESSAYS #1 & #2 - due Weeks 7, 9, & 14
    These assignments ask you to write researched, academic essays that adhere to APA or MLA format standards. 
  • PORTFOLIO PROJECT - due Week 13
    This assignment asks you to put together a portfolio of writing samples that you will be performing in your intended major or profession. 


Class Facilitation: Each student group is responsible for facilitating 60 minutes of class once during the semester. Student groups will meet with the instructor at least one week prior to their facilitation to finalize readings and discuss approaches. 

Facilitation readings should be given to the instructor in time to allow for copies to be made (or PDFs to be loaded). Facilitation readings should be relevant to and provide insight on some aspect of the course.

The class facilitation should begin with a group-led pecha kucha presentation, but what follows that is for each student group to decide. Beyond the presentation, the facilitation can take whatever format is comfortable for the student group presenting (discussion questions, in-class activities, online activities, etc.).


On Technology:
Because an increasing amount of writing occurs in an online format, we will engage a range of computer tools and web-based applications. No prior skill is needed, however, only a willingness to engage and learn. I am more than willing to take extra time; all you need to do is ask.

A majority of the tools we will be using in and outside of class are web-based, so you will not need any special software. I might, however, have some recommendations (not requirements). Furthermore, you should have an email address that you check regularly for this class. I prefer to contact students via university email, but I am open to other email addresses.

While technology makes life easier, it can also be difficult (computer crashes, deleted work, unavailable Internet connections, etc.). So, plan accordingly. "The computer ate my homework" or "the Internet was down" are not reasons to forgo the work assigned. It is in your best interest to leave extra time, especially in the first few weeks, to ensure that technology does not get in the way of your coursework.


How to Reach Me: 
The best way to reach me is by email <jschirm@umflint.edu>. You can also find me online via Twitter <twitter.com/betajames>. I am online almost every day. If you email or @ me and do not receive a response within 24 hours, please feel free to email or @ me again (as I might not have received your first message). I promise not to consider this harassment.

If you are more comfortable with face-to-face communication, you are welcome to schedule an appointment Tuesday/Thursday. My office is 320D French Hall.

Final Note: 
Should any aspect of class confuse/concern/trouble you, don't hesitate to contact me.

ENG 111 schedule, updated Fall 2012 #111cr

Course Schedule
(All due dates are tentative.) 


Week 1
4 September
Expectations and introductions (name, location, major/profession, expectations)

Course overview

Exercise: http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/college-writing-class-assignments-with-rea... (#1 & #4)

 

6 September
Due: email confirmation & questions, syllabuses for other courses

Read: CONTRACT http://betajames.net/grading-contract-updated-fall-2012-112cwr-111, SYLLABUS

Introduction of ASSIGNMENT: INTERVIEW http://betajames.net/assignment-interview-updated-fall-2012-112cwr


Week 2
11 September
Read: IN DEFENSE OF TWITTER http://bldgblog.blogspot.com/2009/04/how-other-half-writes-in-defense-of.html 

Introduction of ASSIGNMENT: TWITTER http://betajames.net/assignment-twitter-updated-fall-2012-112cwr

 

13 September

Due: interviewee announcement

Read: A CASE FOR WRITING THINGS OUT http://www.fastcompany.com/1798782/when-pen-beats-phone-a-case-for-writing-th... 


Week 3
18 September

Read: WRITING IN THE AGE OF DISTRACTION http://www.locusmag.com/Features/2009/01/cory-doctorow-writing-in-age-of.html 


20 September

Due: Interview reflection & transcription


Week 4
25 September

[Everything so far…]

 

27 September

Due: Group facilitation: Instructor model

 

Week 5

2 October

Due: Twitter reflection #1

 

4 October

Group facilitation: DaVonta, Kiera, Meghan, Olivia - Chapters 1&2 of They Say/I Say

 

Week 6

9 October

Introduction of ASSIGNMENT: RESEARCHED ESSAY #1

 

11 October

Group facilitation: Alesha, Lauren, Nick, Sarah, Skylar - Chapters 3&4 of They Say/I Say

 

Week 7

16 October

Due: Researched Essay #1

 

18 October
NO CLASS 

 


Week 8

23 October

Due: Twitter reflection #2
Group facilitation: Devin, Jared, John, Khaled, Samer - Chapters 5&6 of They Say/I Say 

 

25 October
Group facilitation: Desiree, Dylan, Edona, Kao, Ryley - Chapter 7&8 of They Say/I Say


Week 9

30 October

Due: Researched Essay #2

 

1 November

Group facilitation: Chance, Collin, Devin, Nathan, Timothy - Chapters 9&10 of They Say/I Say


Week 10
6 November

Introduction to PORTFOLIO PROJECT

 

8 November

Research Day


Week 11 
13 November

Due: PK presentations

 

15 November

Due: PK presentations

Week 12 
20 November

Due: PK presentations


Week 13 
27 November

Due: Portfolios

 

29 November
Due: Portfolios

 

Week 14 
4 December  

Due: Revised researched essays #1 and #2

 

6 December
Due: Revised researched essays #1 and #2

 

Week 15 

Due: Self-evaluative essay

Assignment: Problems & Solutions, updated Fall 2012 #111cr

Guiding question: “What do you want to learn?” (750 words) 

 

 

This assignment asks you to discover a topical problem, discuss possible causes, and offer potential solutions. This involves composing at least two unique arguments, (1) exploring the problem’s possible causes and advancing one cause as the most likely and (2) exploring potential solutions to the problem and advancing one solution as the best or most likely. 

 

The overall problem should be small in scope. Be in a position of knowledge and relative authority on this issue. Be sure to demonstrate clearly in both (1) and (2) that the problem exists, that the problem is serious, and that you have more than a casual understanding of its possible causes and potential solutions. If this isn’t a possibility, select another problem. 

 

Topical problems to avoid for this sequence include abortion, anorexia, autism, bulimia, capital punishment, drinking age, drug legalization (including medical marijuana), euthanasia, gun control, healthcare, obesity and violent videogames. Such issues are so nebulous and/or overdone that they do not make for challenging writing or interesting reading. As such, all proposed topics must be approved. The problem addressed, though, can be quite serious or quite funny (as will be shown in an episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force). 

 

Trends and/or phenomena whose causes are not definitively known could also make for good topical problems. A trend is not just a fad that comes and goes but a significant change that happened (or continues to happen) over several weeks, months, years. Such an event can be identified by an increase or decrease. On the other hand, a phenomenon is a notable circumstance or fact about the human condition or the social order. Political trends and phenomena are also options, but you’ll need to be careful in identifying a problem within this area. 

 

In exploring possible causes, offer credible guesses that may not be proven as fact. There only needs to be suggestion and analysis of potential causes; there is no need to provide proof the first time around. Still, all causes must be plausible. Even though the first major piece calls for speculation, causes must have some logical basis. 

 

Again, overly debated topics that have nothing really new to discuss should be avoided, as should any improbable causes.  Presentation and evaluation of multiple causes should be paramount and accompanied by discussion of which cause is most likely. Furthermore, potential objections, questions, and/or reservations should be taken into account. 

 

In exploring potential solutions, though, description and identification of the problem is required. There should also be a specific example of the particular problem being addressed. All potential solutions must be plausible, too, and speculation is necessary for this sequential section as well. The selection of one potential solution as the most effective and the consideration of objections, questions and/or reservations of readers are both absolute musts. 

 

With the dual purpose of this sequence involving possible causes and potential solutions to a problem, it is important to think about both aspects from a variety of perspectives. Furthermore, speculating a cause for and creating a solution to any problem involves using your own thoughts as well as ideas from outside sources. Causes and solutions should be tangible and reachable, and there should be clear evidence and/or support for your reasoning. 

 

However, this sequence not only calls for cause speculation and solution implementation, but also for the consideration/refutation of other causes and solutions. Therefore, consider the consequences of the various causes/solutions and consider how readers might choose among them. Offer one cause/solution—or combination of causes/solutions—that is the most likely. 

 

There are many separate pieces of writing to this sequence, each leading into the next. It is very important to complete each piece on time and in the proper order. 

 

Annotated bibliographies - 6 November, 8 November

 

PK proposals - 13 November, 15 November, 20 November

6 minutes, 40 seconds

 

Initial drafts due - 27 November, 29 November

Peer & instructor review

 

Revised drafts due - 4 December, 6 December

Grading Contract, updated Fall 2012 #112cwr #111cr

[amended from Peter Elbow] 

I often find grades to be distractions from learning. This course places a premium on participation and I'm concerned that grades get in the way of that. Conventional grading often leads us to think more about grades than about learning and writing, to worry more about pleasing or fooling a teacher than about figuring out what you want to say or how to say it, to be reluctant to take risks. Sometimes, grades even lead to the feeling that you are working against the teacher. Instead, I want to create a culture of support, a culture where we function as allies, fellow travelers with various experiences and skills that we can offer to the group, rather than as adversaries working against each other for grades.

Rather than giving individual grades for each assignment and basing them on an arbitrary point system to be tallied at the end of the semester, I will instead provide substantive comments on the majority of work performed this semester. I will also provide individual midterm progress reports. However, these assessments will not affect your overall grade in the course. Instead, they should function as guides to how you need to revise or rethink your course performance.

Through the use of this grading contract, I'm asking for a reconsideration of how you work in our classroom, what your role is as a student in a classroom, and what your relationship to one another is as peers. All of this really boils down to rethinking "responsibility." Traditional grading by a teacher alone keeps students from having much responsibility by instead assuming students can only be motivated by grades, not by learning or actual coursework. Grades create systems of accountability instead of providing environments for personal and social responsibility.

In this course, the grading contract asks you to have responsibility to yourself and to the class to do the work required, to attend and participate during class time, to ask questions of me or your classmates if you're confused, and to know what assignments have been turned in and where you stand in relation to the contract. As the teacher/guide, I have the responsibility to be prepared for every class, to answer any questions and consider any feedback, to provide helpful and honest suggestions on your work, and to make myself available for questions and concerns outside of class.

Therefore, the default grade for the course is a "B." If you do all that's asked of you in the manner and spirit it is asked, if you work through the processes we establish and the work assigned during the semester, then you'll earn a "B." If you miss class, turn assignments in late, forget to do assignments, etc., your grade will drop.

“B” Grades
You are guaranteed a course grade of “B” if you meet all of the following conditions:

1. Attendance/Participation/Presence. You’ll attend and fully participate in at least 86% of our scheduled class sessions and their activities and assignments (that’s at least 24 of 28 scheduled sessions). You may miss (for whatever reason) 4 class sessions. For our class, attendance equates to participation. Therefore, it is not enough for you simply to come to class. If you come to class unprepared in any way (e.g., without work done, assignments read, etc.), it will be counted as an absence, since you won’t be able to participate fully in our activities. This means any informal assignment given, or ones not outlined on our syllabus, fit into this category of attendance.

NOTE: Assignments not completed because of an absence, either ones assigned on the schedule or ones assigned on earlier days in class, will be late, missed, or ignored (depending on when you turn it in finally, see the guidelines #4, #5, and #6 below).

Any absence due to an university-sponsored group activity (e.g., sporting event, band, etc.) will not count against the student as long as the student has FIRST provided written documentation in the first 2 weeks of the semester of all absences. This same policy applies to students who have mandatory military-related absences (e.g., deployment, work, duty, etc.). Again, the student must provide written documentation, stating the days he/she will be absent beforehand. This will allow us to determine how he/she will meet assignments, participation, and the responsibilities of our contract, despite being absent.

2. Lateness. You’ll come on time or early to class. Walking into class late 2 or 3 times in a semester is understandable, but coming habitually late every week is not. If you are late to class, you are still responsible to find out what assignments or instructions were made, but please don’t disrupt our class by asking about the things you missed because you were late.

3. Sharing and Collaboration. You’ll work cooperatively in groups. Be willing to share your writing, to listen supportively to the writing of others, and, when called for, give full and thoughtful assessments that consistently help your colleagues consider ways to revise. 

4. Late Assignments. You will turn in properly and on time all assignments. Because your colleagues in class depend on you to get your work done on time so that they can do theirs on time, all late assignments are just as bad as missed assignments. 

Exception: twice during the semester, you may turn in a late assignment. All “late assignments” are due 2 days after their initial due date, no exceptions. Please note that a late assignment may be due on a day when our class is not scheduled to meet. 


5. Missed Assignments. A missed assignment is NOT one not completed; it is one that has missed the guidelines somehow but is still complete and turned in. In order to meet our contract for a “B” grade, you cannot have any “missed assignments.” Please note that assignments not completed at all are considered “Ignored Assignments” (see #6 below). A missed assignment is usually one completed after the 48 hours that would have made it only a “late” assignment, but it is complete. 


6. Ignored Assignments. Any assignments not done period, or “ignored,” for whatever reasons, are put in this category. One of these means an automatic “N” – no exceptions. 


All Compositions need to meet the following conditions:
Complete and On Time. You’ll turn in on time and in the appropriate manner completed work that meet all of assignment guidelines.
Revisions. If/when the assignment is to revise, you will reshape, extend, complicate, or substantially clarify your ideas – or relate your ideas to new things. You won’t just correct or touch up. Revisions must somehow respond to or consider seriously your colleagues’ assessments.
Copy Editing. When the assignment is for the final publication draft, your piece must be well copy edited – that is, free from virtually all mistakes in spelling and grammar.  It's fine to get help in copy editing.
Thinking. Use your work to do some figuring-out.  Make some intellectual gears turn. Your work needs to move or go somewhere, to have a line of thinking. It shouldn’t be formulaic, random or freewritten. 

All Assessments and Peer Responses need to meet the following conditions: 

Complete and On Time. All assessments should be complete and submitted on time and in the appropriate way so that your colleagues will get your assessments of their writing the way the class has predetermined.
Content. All assessments should focus their comments on our rubrics, following the directions established by our evolving class discussions about them. 

Courtesy and Respect. All assessments should be courteous and respectful in tone, but honest. It’s okay to say something doesn’t seem right in a draft, or that something doesn’t really work. Respect means we are kind and truthful. It’s not the “golden rule” (treat others as you would have them treat you), but a modified one: treat others as you believe they want to be treated.

“A” Grades
The grade of "B" depends on behaviors. Have you shown responsible effort and consistency in our class? Have you done what was asked of you in the spirit it was asked?

However, the grade of "A" depends on acknowledged quality. Thus, you earn a "B" if you put in good time and effort; we should push each other for a "B." In order to get an "A," you have to make your time and effort pay off into writing of genuine, recognizable excellence that responds in some concrete way to your colleagues' and my concerns (and also meets the conditions for a "B"). This means that not only is revision important, but a certain kind of revision, one demonstrating a reflective writer listening, making decisions and moving drafts above and beyond expectations. Writing in the "A" category will respond to assessments and be reflective of itself.

Notice that for grades up to "B," you don't have to worry about my judgment or my standards of excellence;  for higher grades, you do. But we'll have class discussions about excellence in writing and we should be able to reach fairly good agreement.

Knowing Where You Stand
This system is better than regular grading for giving you a clear idea of what your final grade looks like at any moment. For whenever you get feedback, you should know where you stand in terms of meeting the expectations of the course. I will also guide some of these discussions in class, but if you’re doing everything as directed and turning it in on time (no matter what anyone says), you’re getting a "B." As for absences and lateness, you'll have to keep track of them, but you can check with me any time. 

Grades Lower Than "B"
I hope no one will aim for lower grades. The quickest way to slide to a “C" or "N" is to miss class, not turn in things on time, and show up without assignments. This much is nonnegotiable: you are not eligible for a passing grade of “C” unless you attend at least 86% of the class sessions and meet the guidelines above. And you can't just turn in all the late work at the end. If you are missing classes and behind in work, please stay in touch with me about your chances of passing the course.

The Breakdown
So, here’s the way grading works in our class. In order to get the grade on the left, you must meet or exceed the requirements in the row next to it. I’ve embiggened and italicized the default grade that you achieve if you meet our contract obligations. 

 

 

 

# of Absences 

# of  Late Assigns. 

# of Missed Assigns. 

# of Ignored Assigns. 

4-6 

1 or 2 

6-8 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NOTE: All assignments that are turned in as “late” after the 2nd are considered “missed.” All “missed” assignments after the 2nd are considered “ignored.” 

 

Pleas 

Each student may use one plea to the class in order to receive a special dispensation or exemption from the contract, or to be given a temporary break from the contract. A plea can only be used in extraordinary circumstances, those beyond the student's control or that are special in some other way and that have kept her/him from doing assigned work. Each plea will be voted on and a 2/3 majority is needed for approval. 


Option 1: Public Plea. 

This is the default and the one I'll push for in 99% of all cases. 


Option 2: Private Plea.  

As contract administrator, I will decide in consultation with the student whether a private plea is warranted. In rare and unusual cases, there may be extreme, extenuating circumstances that keep an individual student from meeting the contract's stated responsibilities. In such cases, the student must come to the teacher as soon as possible, and before breach-of-contract, so that s/he and the teacher can make fair and equitable arrangements, ones that will be fair and equitable to all in the class and still meet the university’s regulations on attendance, conduct, and workload in classes. In these special cases, the class will not vote on the issue (and may not even know about it).  


Please note: the first recourse in most matters will be to take all issues to the class for a plea, not to make special arrangements with individual students who cannot meet the contract requirements. The contract is a public, social contract, one agreed upon through group discussion and agreement, so the majority of negotiations must be public negotiations. This caveat to the contract is NOT an “out clause” for anyone who happens to not fulfill the contract; it is for rare and unusual circumstances out of the control of the student, and usually so personal in nature that a plea to the class is not doable or reasonable. If I (the teacher), in consultation with the student, decide that a private plea is warranted, then the class will be informed that a private plea has been made and decided upon via email.

By staying in this course and attending class, you accept this contract and agree to abide by it, as do I (the teacher). 

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License

ENG 112 syllabus, updated Fall 2012 #112cwr

Course: ENG 112 Critical Writing & Reading
Semester: Fall 2012
Teacher/Guide: Dr. James Schirmer
E-mail: jschirm@umflint.edu
Office: 320D French Hall
Hours: Tues/Thurs by appointment
Mailbox: 326 French Hall
 
Writing Center: 559 French Hall
Writing Center Phone: 810.766.6602 (call ahead to make an appointment)
Writing Center Website: http://www.umflint.edu/departments/writingcenter/

Course Description:
The focus of English 112 is to help students be more comfortable in not only writing but also critical thinking and analytical skills. In English 112, students will receive guidance and gain focused practice with proper citations and conventions, read scholarly articles, write critiques, and make logical connections between several sources.  During the research requirement, students will gain further experience in utilizing the library’s resources while working to incorporate a variety of credible sources in writing. Skills gained in this class will be important outside of the classroom, as the ability to communicate effectively in a variety of ways is a requirement of most professional careers.

By first building on present cultural knowledge and then expanding beyond, this course provides the opportunity to work in greater detail with pieces of writing influential to one's major/intended profession. It also calls for students to reflect on their major/intended profession and its discourse as well as practice such discourse themselves. Students will thus further their understandings of voice, tone, purpose, style, audience, and the importance of research within a particular discipline. This course challenges students to identify, analyze, and synthesize their understandings of quality, expertise and what makes “good writing” in regards to the discourse particular to their major/intended profession.

Required Texts:
All reading materials will be available online or provided via email.

Course Contributions: 
The grading contract outlines many parameters for the course, but not all. Below is more information about the contributions required from all students:

Presence (in class): I expect you to come to class on time, prepared, having completed the assigned reading and writing, and ready to contribute thoughts to class discussions, to listen with attentive respect to the thoughts of your peers, and to participate in all in-class work. I urge you to attend every class, as most of the work done in class is necessary for successful completion of the course. 

Presence (online): I expect you to check your email on a regular basis for course announcements, reminders, and updates, to engage your peers through required social media tools, and to share your course-related work in ways that I can access and assess them.  

Sequences: The kinds of writing you perform in this class depend in part on the kinds of writing required in other classes, by your intended major/profession, and even your current job. Sharing information about these kinds of writing with me and your peers will help shape what we do this semester. Furthermore, these assignment sequences provide opportunities for greater attention and focus as well as practice and preparation for the final sequence of the semester and beyond.

  • INTERVIEW - due Week 2/3
    This assignment asks you to interview someone in your area of interest (read: current employment, college major, future profession).  
  • TWITTER - due Week 3-8
    This assignment asks you to to maintain active presence on Twitter for a minimum of 6 weeks.
  • DISTRACTION-FREE WRITING - due Week 4
    This assignment asks you to think about, reflect on, and write about the technologies and tools we employ when writing.
  • POP UP WRITING - due Week 7
    This assignment asks you to comment on academic writing style(s).
  • MASHUP WRITING - due Week 10
    This assignment asks you to perform a sort of plagiarism.
  • DISCIPLINE-SPECIFIC WRITING - due Week 11-14
    This assignment asks you to put into practice what you learned through the completion of the above sequences.


Class Facilitation
: Each student group is responsible for facilitating 60 minutes of class once during the semester. Student groups will meet with the instructor at least one week prior to their facilitation to finalize readings and discuss approaches. 

Facilitation readings should be given to the instructor in time to allow for copies to be made (or PDFs to be loaded). Facilitation readings should be relevant to and provide insight on some aspect of the course.

The class facilitation should begin with a group-led pecha kucha presentation, but what follows that is for each student group to decide. Beyond the presentation, the facilitation can take whatever format is comfortable for the student group presenting (discussion questions, in-class activities, online activities, etc.).


On Technology:
Because an increasing amount of writing occurs in an online format, we will engage a range of computer tools and web-based applications. No prior skill is needed, however, only a willingness to engage and learn. I am more than willing to take extra time; all you need to do is ask.

A majority of the tools we will be using in and outside of class are web-based, so you will not need any special software. I might, however, have some recommendations (not requirements). Furthermore, you should have an email address that you check regularly for this class. I prefer to contact students via university email, but I am open to other email addresses.

While technology makes life easier, it can also be difficult (computer crashes, deleted work, unavailable Internet connections, etc.). So, plan accordingly. "The computer ate my homework" or "the Internet was down" are not reasons to forgo the work assigned. It is in your best interest to leave extra time, especially in the first few weeks, to ensure that technology does not get in the way of your coursework.


How to Reach Me: 
The best way to reach me is by email <jschirm@umflint.edu>. You can also find me online via Twitter <twitter.com/betajames>. I am online almost every day. If you email or @ me and do not receive a response within 24 hours, please feel free to email or @ me again (as I might not have received your first message). I promise not to consider this harassment.

If you are more comfortable with face-to-face communication, you are welcome to schedule an appointment Tuesday/Thursday. My office is 320D French Hall.

Final Note: 
Should any aspect of class confuse/concern/trouble you, don't hesitate to contact me.

ENG 112 schedule, updated Fall 2012 #112cwr

Course Schedule
(All due dates are tentative.) 


Week 1
4 September
Expectations and introductions (name, location, major/profession, expectations)
Course overview
Exercise: http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/college-writing-class-assignments-with-real-world-applications (#1 & #4)

6 September
Due: email confirmation & questions, syllabuses for other courses
Read: CONTRACTSYLLABUS
Introduction of ASSIGNMENT: NTERVIEW


Week 2 
11 September
Read: IN DEFENSE OF TWITTER http://bldgblog.blogspot.com/2009/04/how-other-half-writes-in-defense-of.html 
Introduction of ASSIGNMENT: TWITTER

13 September
Due: interviewee announcement
Read: A CASE FOR WRITING THINGS OUT http://www.fastcompany.com/1798782/when-pen-beats-phone-a-case-for-writing-things-out 


Week 3
18 September
Read: WRITING IN THE AGE OF DISTRACTION http://www.locusmag.com/Features/2009/01/cory-doctorow-writing-in-age-of.html 
Introduction of ASSIGNMENT: DISTRACTION-FREE WRITING

20 September
Due: Interview reflection & transcription


Week 4
25 September
Due: Distraction-free #1: Experience

27 September
Due: Distraction-free #2: Application

 

Week 5
2 October
Due: Twitter reflection #1

4 October
Group facilitation: 06 - Eileen, Jennifer, Mary | 07 - Keith, Matthew, Ra'Shonda, Forrest on comic books and writing

 

Week 6
9 October
Introduction of ASSIGNMENT: POP UP WRITING

11 October
Group facilitation: 06 - Chris, Jack, Josh, Hannah | 07 - Jaime, John, Mark, Rori, Yong on writer's block

 

Week 7
16 October
Due: Pop Up & reflection

18 October
NO CLASS


Week 8
23 October
Due: Twitter reflection #2
Group facilitation: 06 - CLASS CANCELED | 07 - Bobby, Ben, David, Ryan on technical writing 

25 October
Group facilitation: 06 - Elysa, Keysa, Matt, Rachel | 07 - Alexiss, Jackie, Kristi, Whitney on writing tips


Week 9
30 October
Read: DEFINING AND AVOIDING PLAGIARISM http://wpacouncil.org/node/9, THE ECSTASY OF INFLUENCE: A PLAGIARISM http://harpers.org/archive/2007/02/0081387, WHAT PLAGIARISM LOOKS LIKE http://mleddy.blogspot.com/2009/06/what-plagiarism-looks-like.html
Introduction of ASSIGNMENT: MASHUP WRITING

1 November
Group facilitation: 06 - Carlos, Evan, Simone, Terrence | 07 - Ann, Erica, Kalyn, Samantha, Tanika on languages and writing


Week 10 - Discipline-Specific Scholarship
6 November
Due: Mashup & reflection
Introduction to DISCIPLINE-SPECIFIC WRITING
Group facilitation: 06 - Ian, Linda, Lucy 

8 November
Group facilitation: 06 - Andrew, Aubrey, David, Maria


Week 11 - Discipline-Specific Scholarship
13 November
Due: DSS PK proposals

15 November
Due: DSS PK proposals

Week 12 - Discipline-Specific Scholarship
20 November
Due: DSS PK proposals


Week 13 - Discipline-Specific Scholarship
27 November
Due: DSS drafts

29 November
Due: DSS drafts

 

Week 14 - Discipline-Specific Scholarship
4 December  
Due: DSS drafts

6 December
Due: DSS drafts

 

Week 15 - Exam Week
Due: Self-evaluative essay