Approaches to Digital Rhetoric #513dr

Digital rhetoric is more of a disciplinary nebula than a field. We can gather as much from James Zappen, who summarizes it as “an amalgam of more-or-less discrete components rather than a complete and integrated theory in its own right” (323). And while Liz Losh takes some issue with this description, she also observes that digital rhetoric “operates at number of different registers and includes messages to, from, and within the personal, the governmental, the academic, and the scientific public spheres” (95). Since the publications of these summations, Zappen, Losh, and a great many others have continued to work around, in, and with digital rhetoric. This proliferation has resulted in lively, ongoing conversations in academic journals and online about aspects and issues of digital rhetoric. The following assignment provides an opportunity to explore this conversation and to read deeper a couple of articles that you find compelling or engaging. 

 

The Assignment

 1. Browse various journals and find two articles you think are worth deeper, more attentive reading. Here are some of the best sources for digital rhetoric work:

Check out different issues and volumes of these journals in order to get a sense of the breadth and depth of their coverage, the kinds of issues they tackle, and the approaches they adopt. In time, hone in on two articles that resonate with you, that you find worth reading and sharing. 

2. Read your chosen, primary articles with care and thoroughness. Then, prepare a response of at least 1000 words to the articles and address these questions:

  1. What is the context of the journal or publication? Who publishes it? Who is the primary audience?
  2. What particular scholarly conversation or debate is the article intervening in? That is, what previous findings or theories is this article attempting to refute, refine, or broaden? How do you know?
  3. What is the central claim or question of the article?
  4. What’s at stake in the article? Why is the finding important and what are its implications?
  5. What is your response to the article’s argument? Do you find it persuasive, unpersuasive, interesting, uninteresting? What part of the article seems the least convincing and what part makes the strongest case?
  6. What methodological approach does the researcher take? What kind of disciplines does he or she draw from? Can you imagine another approach to the same issues and questions?
  7. What questions come to mind as you read the article?
  8. How does the article’s claims give you traction for your own interests? Are there ways to play off, build upon, or refute the argument?

 

Be sure to include a full citation for each article at the beginning of your response (including the URL). Your response is due as a Pen.io page by Tuesday, January 17, 2012.

semester-end project options #513dr

Given the nebulous nature of working around, in, and with digital rhetoric, I think it only makes sense that we have some options for the semester-end project. Note: all project options have the same deadlines. That is, all project proposals are due March 27, all project drafts are due April 3, and all project revisions are due April 10.

 

Option #1
Compose a professional article in accordance with the submission guidelines of one of the following journals:

 

 

 

Option #2
Use at least three kinds of digital media and/or online technologies to present a unified, purposeful identity. Of course, pre-existing accounts (Pen.io, Twitter, and otherwise) are off-limits for this option. This identity should represent a facet of the user of a client chosen by the user. Given our various and sundry areas of interest and backgrounds. I want there to be as much creative opportunity with this option as possible. A focus on professional or other uses of digital media to create a portfolio appropriate for a company, freelance agency, or non-profit organization is welcome. A more internal focus and use of the project as a means to represent a certain aspect of identity (gamer, reader, student, teacher, writer, etc.) is also welcome.

Strong consideration should be given to a singular facet of identity. Be aware of how the specific use of a particular digital medium/technology is indicative of a certain part of your unique identity. 

Necessary to this option is a written component of at least 1500 words to accompany the portfolio. This reflective piece of writing should be a commentary on the identity performed as well as the decisions made during the portfolio’s construction. The written component should also discuss the media/technologies used and why as well as consider color, font, overall design, and other factors contributing to the identity performed. Discussion of possible changes in the future and/or notes on what could have gone better should also be included in the written component. 

 

Option #3
Design a significant digital document. The content of the document is up to you, but it should be a self-aware effort that incorporates, reflects upon, and even challenges what we’ve discussed this semester. If you choose to design a significant digital document, please run your ideas by me sooner than later.

If you decide to pursue this option, you will also need to write a statement of intent/introduction for your significant digital document. This statement will be of at least 1500 words and outline the goals of your document. In your statement, please consider the following questions:

  • What were you trying to achieve? 
  • What effect or meanings were you after? 
  • What subtextual meanings were you trying to evoke? 
  • Why did the project take the form it did? 
  • What was your decision-making process regarding design? 
  • Why did you do what you did and how do those choices mesh with the themes or goals of your work? 
  • What difficulties and/or epiphanies occurred as you created your project? 
  • What would you do differently next time?

With your document and your statement, I’ll be looking for evidence that you absorbed and thought about many of what we’ve discussed this semester regarding digital rhetoric.

ENG 513 Digital Rhetoric schedule, updated winter 2012 #513dr

All due dates are tentative.

Week 1 - Expectations & Introductions
1.3
Read: grading contract, syllabus, @penapp guidelines, Twitter guidelines

Week 2 - What is Digital Rhetoric?
1.10
Due: Pen.io page(s)
Read: Kelly - “Becoming Screen Literate” http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/23/magazine/23wwln-future-t.html?pagewanted=all, Losh - “Hacking Aristotle” (47-95), Zappen - “Digital Rhetoric: Toward An Integrated Theory” (319-325) 

Week 3 - Approaches to Digital Rhetoric
1.17 
Due: Pen.io page(s) (ADR)
Read: Lanham - “Internet-Age Writing Syllabus” http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/internet-age-writing-syllabus-and-course-overview, Trubek - “We Are All Writers Now” http://moreintelligentlife.com/content/anne-trubek/we-are-all-writers-now

Week 4 -
1.24
Due: Pen.io page(s)
Read: Brooke - Lingua Fracta (1-112)
Facilitation deliberation

Week 5 - 
1.31
Due: Pen.io page(s)
Read: Brooke - Lingua Fracta (113-201)
Facilitation deliberation (continued)

Week 6 - TBD
2.7
Due: Pen.io page(s)
Read: TBD
Facilitation: TBD

Week 7 - TBD
2.14
Due: Pen.io page(s)
Read: TBD
Facilitation: Craig L. & Ben K.

Week 8 - TBD
2.21
Due: Pen.io page(s)
Read: 
Facilitation: John M. & Eric S.

Week 9 - SPRING BREAK

 Week 10 - TBD
3.6
Due: Pen.io page(s)
Read: TBD
Facilitation: Nicole C. & Michelle G.

Week 11 - TBD
3.13
Due: Pen.io page(s)
Read: TBD
Facilitation: Dineen P.

Week 12 - TBD
3.20
Due: Pen.io page(s)
Read: TBD
Facilitation: Adam F.

Week 13 - Pecha Kucha!
3.27
Due: Pen.io page(s)
Due: PK project proposals

Week 14 - Peer review!
4.3
Due: Pen.io page(s)
Due: Project draft
Peer review  

Week 15 - Reflections & Revisions
4.10
Due: All revisions to Pen.io page(s)
Due: Self-evaluative essay (email to instructor) 

ENG 513 Digital Rhetoric syllabus, updated winter 2012 #513dr

Course: ENG 513 Digital Rhetoric
Semester: Winter 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:
Attempts at understanding the cultural significance of the internet proliferate almost as fast as new software, hardware, and social worlds become available to us. The exploration and interrogation of various and sundry digital media now happens alongside their use (or at least should). This class will consider the means of communication and of persuasion through digital media and the possible biases within. This class should have practical use in helping us pay closer and more careful attention to how and what we use to communicate in digital contexts. Course work will include engaging peers and texts through a social network and the development of a significant media project based on approaches discussed in class.

Course Objectives:
Upon completion of this course, you will have:

  • Read key texts in digital rhetoric in preparation for professional presentations and publications
  • Developed an understanding of theories and methods for studying digital media
  • Practiced the application of said theories and methods to the design and/or analysis of digital objects
  • Prepared one or more manuscripts suitable for conference presentations and/or journal submissions 

Required Texts:
Brooke, Collin Gifford. Lingua Fracta: Toward a Rhetoric of New Media.
All other 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 of 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): To create and sustain further conversation this semester, you are required to create and maintain Pen.io and Twitter accounts. At least one Pen.io page is due every week for the duration of the semester. One “tweet” per weekday is required for at least the first four weeks of the semester. Further details on Pen.io are available here. Further details on Twitter are available here.

Approaches to Digital Rhetoric (ADR): This assignment provides an opportunity for students to explore the proliferation of lively, ongoing conversations around, in, and with digital rhetoric. Further details are available here

Facilitation: Starting Week 6, class sessions will begin with a student-led, 60-minute facilitation based on assigned readings. The facilitation should begin with a pecha kucha presentation, but what follows that is for the student(s) to decide. The bulk of the facilitation can take whatever format is comfortable for the student(s) presenting (discussion questions, in-class activities, online activities, etc.). Students will meet with the instructor at least one week prior to their facilitation to discuss approaches.

Digital Rhetoric Project (DRP): To account for the nebulous nature of digital rhetoric, there are some options regarding the semester-end project, including a portfolio of identity, a professional journal article, or a significant digital document. Further details on these options are available here.

On Technology Use:
We will engage a range of computer tools and web-based applications. No prior skill is needed, only a willingness to engage and learn. If we need to take extra time to engage and learn, 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) that I will provide at appropriate intervals. Furthermore, you should have an email address that you check regularly for this class. While I prefer to contact students via university email, 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 contact me 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 a reminder. 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.

To college and university chancellors and presidents, let us know we work in a place of peace, safety, and open dialog

With some assistance, I've been working on the following. These are my words but also the words of others. It's rough, but it makes a point.


Dear Chancellor,

I write this as a proud member of the UM-Flint faculty to express both my dismay at the repressive use of force against students at the University of California-Davis and at Baruch College - City University of New York and to make a heartfelt request that you make a public statement of support for campus community members' right to protest in public spaces. 

I also write this as an instructor in a university-wide program that encourages and requires students to use the arts of rhetoric and writing to persuade, to think, and to make their voices heard. As such, I am saddened and outraged that students in US colleges and universities are being met with pepper spray and riot shields when they choose to peacefully exercise what they have learned. Furthermore, I worry that our students, staff, faculty, and management may be watching the UC-Davis video (which has gone viral) or footage of last night's clash between police and students at Baruch College-CUNY and be concerned about what may happen on the UM-Flint campus should they choose to speak their minds.

In the wake of events at Penn State University, you sent an important message to the campus community. In the wake of events at UC-Davis and Baruch College-CUNY, I think it important to send another important message. I ask, then, that you write an open letter of assurance that students, staff, faculty, and management will be safe if we choose to protest on our campus and that, rather than meeting any protests with violence, you will use them as an opportunity to engage in dialogue about our concerns. I trust your fundamental humanity and fairness; please share that with our community, so we know we can be thankful that we attend and work for a university that is a place of peace, safety, and open dialog. 

Extending you best wishes for a happy Thanksgiving,
Dr. James Schirmer
Assistant Professor of English

On Week 9 #111cr #252ac

 

The above screenshot features tweets from #111cr students, all of which occurred near the end of the 11.2.11 session. Most express excitement, if not bewilderment, at how Twitter use reached a collective high during the second scheduled day of pecha kucha presentations. As of this writing, I'm still unsure of what caused the sudden, prolific, in-class tweeting among #111cr students. Part of me wonders if it was just some kind of a perfect storm.

Now, having to pay polite attention to whoever happened to be presenting as well as the lively #111cr Twitter feed couldn't have been very easy. For the first four presentations, there were 2-3 students live-tweeting the proceedings. However, something changed after a more personal presentation about fatherhood and fatherlessness. I've written here before about how quick student-to-student praise can come on Twitter and perhaps that is partly what caused the imminent "twitter blow up." Praise turned into further conversation about areas of interest. Subsequent presentations became launchpads for discussions of whether or not student athletes should be paid and whether or not to eat meat (and/or name the animal from where the meat comes). 

This was surprising, too, given the quick pace of the session. In order to maximize presenting time, I had every student's PowerPoint file preloaded on the projector-equipped computer. Once a student concluded their talk, I was only able to offer a quick "thank you" and start a round of applause while queuing up the next presentation. Perhaps this lack of time to discuss and praise the student who just presented their early research led to the Twitter-based discussion and praise.

Of course, not all students participated in this particular event. Not all students had laptops or smartphones to bring to class, but those that did surely took advantage of their devices to engage each other. The question remains how to foster such engagement in future sessions…

 

This is also a question worth addressing in #252ac, though, because recent sessions have been evidence of a curious, unfortunate phenomenon. I consider this to be a potential side effect of the student-led facilitations, all of which were very vibrant and engaging in both face-to-face and online contexts. The two sessions since those facilitations have been less so. Face-to-face conversations have been stilted, if not stunted, with students waiting for me to call upon them before speaking. The #252ac feed is also much less active. It appears that resuming control of this course has made for less involvement on the part of students. If there's another reason for this beyond student-led facilitations, I'm interested to know it.

This is an unfortunate thing, too, because #252ac students worked through a new assignment, Distraction-Free Writing (DFW). Many of them posted great things about their distraction-free writing experiences to their Posterous blogs, so I'd like to conclude with some snippets:

 

 

Maybe it was my imagination but I thought this program would yell at you to keep writing, the deletion is bad enough to keep me going but I thought it would be really funny to have an evil drill sargeant(sp?) of sorts yelling inspiring or even cruel or mean things at me to keep me motivated to write. Having said that though, every time the screen starts to go pink I get a rush of fear, to type something, anything at all. It kind of feels like someone is standing behind me with a gun to my head forcing me to write. Alright, that is a little dramatic, it doesn't feel like that at all, but perhaps it would if I was working on something of importance.

I just paused this program and it came with a serious warning that this was only allowed once. I am very tempted to pause it again to see what happens...but I won't, at least not until I am finished.

Omm would be a more apt tool for something creative or profesional, aka a longer peice of writing, while WriterorDie is more of the traditional journal entry, vent or overall emotional dump that requires the user to both stay focused and not interupt their thought process. I see how this can also be used for a brainstorming tool, or if your blocked.  Distraction free wirting is definatly something to keep in mind in this new day and agae where distractions, while not more in number, are more available when working on a laptop or computer.
It is different to have nothing in the way of my writing. I like that I can write and not have to think about who is getting on or off line and wondering if someone getting on is going to message me. It helps that I can focus solely on the page and write what I need to without any disruptions from my other programs. It is an amazing feeling to strictly be focusing on the ideas that I have for writing and not worry about the other things surrounding my word document.

Q10's file was 400kb, damned small, almost microscopic in this modern computer age. FocusWriter's was 15 megs, and I'll be damned if it looked like it did much more than Q10. Alright, it does have that scrollbar on the side. That's nice, this should have that too. Oh well. I do like the hotkey setup for this. F1 gives you the menu, which doesn't bullshit and tells you how to do everything the program has to offer succinctly. That's real nice. Oh, neat, hitting F5 gives you a timestamp. I'm writing this on 2011/10/30. 2011/10/30 2011/10/30 2011/10/30 2011/10/30 2011/10/30. (F5 F5 F5 F5 F5).

With Q10, I feel encouraged to write and I'm going to write my short story (Final Project) with this program - I might even use this for my novels because it is saaaweeet not to see 'twitter' popping up, emails, or chats. When I see anything like that, I have to stop and address them and my focus isn't on writing anymore. I will admit, guiltily, I like Word - I like seeing my pages and knowing all the 'fancy' stuff I can do with it but now that I have branched out to this tool, I don't think I will go back to it unless I'm on another computer. One other thing: I type so much faster on Q10, just hearing the typing sound brings back a lot of memories and I seem to just 'flow' and I do make fewer errors this way too - odd.

Writing in the distraction-free space was slightly unfamiliar and foreign. Especially with Q10, not being able to see anything but the screen was weird! I don't know if I can consider my feelings with the DFW tools as nostalgic or romantic but it did make writing more simple. These tools encourage free-flowing thought and probably more creative-type writing. If one is attempting to type some sort of research paper or academic paper with a lot of requirements this tool would not be ideal for me at all.
for being defined as a DFW program, Write or Die seemed distracting as all hell. I found myself staring at the timer just as much as I was the words I was typing, and the reddening of the screen as I attempted to navigate around brief writer's block was no help either. I discovered that hitting the space bar and backspace alternately could stop the screen reddening from happening. I guess that could be defined as a reaction to a distraction that continues to distract. Maybe I'm being over analytical, and I'm sure that Write or Die has settings to remedy those things, but my first impression of the programs wasn't all that great. Interesting, but not great.
Wow, I am having a lot of really bad typos, but there is no time to go back and fix them all because I have a time limit, but honestly, this isn't exactly how I expected it was going to be. When I heard people talking about Write Or Die in class, I assume it was going to have a crazy game-like interface where I was going to get eaten by sharks if I didn't keep writing and keep in front of its sharp teeth which meant I would have to write really fast to get there and stay ahead of it, but I guess that would be considered distracting which is opposite of what the assignment is, because all I would be able to think is "Stay ahead of the shark! Stay ahead of the shark!" And I wouldn't be evealutating this like I'm supposed to and I would be going back and fixing these annoying typing errors and I'd probably be paying more attention to my teacher in this class.
I found that when I stopped typing for a few seconds, the program started to turn shades of pink (just tested it again, and the pink continues!). It starts out with a lighter shade of pink, and then gradually goes to dark red. My first text from this was fairly funny at the beginning, because I all of a sudden started flipping out when the pink started to show up in the first line or two. I let it go for a while at the end to see what would happen if you let it get to red, and it STARTS DELETING YOUR STUFF!
I do like this ambiance. I truly feel like Robert Frost. One thing though is that it kinda makes me want to type slower so that the noise sounds more like drip drops. I really am enjoying this as an experience and might be tempted to use it often. Especially for creative pieces. I wonder though if there would be something like a distraction free resource that can provide different moods than just calm. For instance if a person was interested in writing a piece that focused on portraying the emotion of anger, is there a background that is more chaotic and exciting instead of soothing? I wonder then as I guess with all of these backgrounds and such how influential they are to what you write. I wonder if one day they can lay any claims to pieces that were written using them. Or if one day soon we will have to cite which processor we use.

A rough, sprawling take on digital rhetoric and writing

Tomorrow night I'll be talking with students in ENG 500 English Studies: Issues and Methods, a course designed to introduce them to graduate studies. In addition to regular readings about the discipline and field, the course often subjects students to guest lectures from current English faculty about courses taught and research done. That I am again one of those guest speakers is both an honor and privilege. Due to my own accessibility and availability on campus, I have very limited opportunity to talk with graduate students outside of a class they take with me. 

As I'm more interested in discussion and less interested in listening to myself, I only plan to talk at students for about 7 minutes. Below is a rough, sprawling take of some opening thoughts on digital rhetoric and writing.

 

After escaping from Brunwald Castle on the Austrian-German border and disposing of the Nazis in pursuit, Indiana Jones and his father find themselves at a crossroads. As Indiana starts their motorbike down the road toward Venedig, Henry Jones, Sr., stops him, imploring his son to instead go to Berlin. Their subsequent discussion reveals an important plot point ("he who finds the Grail must face the final challenge...three devices of such lethal cunning") but also the value of keeping a journal ("I wrote them down in my Diary so that I wouldn't have to remember."). Now, of the many argumentative exchanges between these two characters, this is my favorite because of how it relates to Socrates' castigation of writing. In the Phaedrus, Plato has Socrates also condemn writing as out of context and without any voice, but I suppose there's some irony in the ability of anyone to recall that Greek disapproving of writing as evidence of a heuristic which weakens memory. 

We have an additional play on this disapproval with the slogan from Field Notes, but we also see updated versions of such judgment applied to the internet; to be more specific: Google; to be more recent: Twitter. These arguments aren't as nuanced, though, often simplified to grand statements about how the former's making us stupid and the latter's destroying the English language (or at least the next generation's appreciation of it).

I remain skeptical about the truth of either argument, though I do acknowledge that having some space other than our own minds for ideas can lead to one's ability to recall information somewhat hampered. I also do not deny that many of us are might now be more engaged in remembering where we wrote something rather than the something itself. But memory and writing both can be untrustworthy, albeit in different ways.

These differences are even more apparent in digital and online forms as we write for some kind of audience beyond ourselves, thereby revealing acts of performance. This can be more pronounced when others get involved as not only an audience but also as contributors and even co-authors on a text, which is a term still seeing change in the moves toward online compositions. In moving online, we find other people placing demands, but the technologies we use do, too. Just as page in my Field Notes memo book invites me to write, various and sundry social media tools ask me to create, discuss, promote, and measure. 

Some say this is all about branding and marketing, about turning ourselves into social media gurus, even about losing our sense of what it is to be human, but I see these as rather cynical criticisms. Instead, I see much of this as a kind of collective search for meaning. As Andrew Sullivan once observed about blogging, there's a great freedom and possibility in meaning-making now. Writing online, whether it be blogging, tweeting, or something else, is even more of a performance. As such, I think greater humility is needed, though we don't often encounter it online. These online writing performances can have an addictive edge, but I want to highlight blogging and tweeting in particular as they can be part of the discussion of digital rhetoric, which, according to Zappen, is concerned with how traditional rhetoric might be extended and/or transformed in digital spaces (319). What we also have through digital communicative technologies are "processes of identity formation as interactions among multiple versions of our online selves and between these and our real selves" (322, paraphrasing Sherry Turkle).

Furthermore, there are exercises in developing expertise as we figure out the particular of a given technology, what it allows, demands, encourages, and offers. There are constraints on our performances as we discover how varied the voices within us are and decide which of these should be given priority or prominence in a specific space. We may even suffer from what Kenneth Gergen calls "multiphrenia," the condition of being simultaneously drawn in multiple and conflicting directions because of technologies that increase social contact. 

Our online performances of identity can betray or contradict each other. However, videogames can help in preparing for these performances because they "recruit identities and encourage identity work and reflection on identities" (Gee 51). Such practice and preparation may seem tedious, but I think it is worthwhile, perhaps even necessary, because making informed choices about identity formation in the public sphere, whether it be through a blog or Facebook or some other online communicative technology, helps us become "seriously good," which is something else I can discuss later. 

Now, I intended to design this presentation as a kind of performance, to inspire further conversation, not to take the place of it, and I think this is what much of what research in digital rhetoric does. Because of the nature of the digital, work in this field is often some kind of work-in-progress. That a knowledge performance is an historical artifact while being first performed is something of a given. 

Part of what's revealed in certain research in digital rhetoric, too, is the impermanence of our discourse. With changes and subsequent questions swirling about the nature of academic and literary publishing, we see plenty of consternation and worry about the future. The recent inclusion of Twitter hashtags in my memo books for archival organizing purposes marks another change, perhaps potential fuel for the fires burning down the English language. Still, I think much of what we have online now is what Sirc hopes for: "writing as assemblage, with a structure based on association and implication; piling stuff on to create a spellbinding, mesmerizing surface" (284). 

In many ways, we are seeing a renewed interest in writing, one defined as much by tradition as by whatever lies ahead. I find myself returning to issues explored in my dissertation, i.e., techne, but also the question of truth in our online performances as well as performances in the writing classroom and in videogames. 

I look forward to exploring these questions and others with you.

On Weeks 7&8 #111cr #252ac

To students who commit minor course infractions or what they see as such, I tend to say one thing: "Life happens." Much of what we do in this life is an attempt at ordering chaos around or at least making sense of it. College, like so many other undertakings, is an intrusion upon chaos and sometimes we are reminded of that. As John Lennon once penned, "life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." And life happens to teachers as well as students. How this impacts course and semester plans often loom larger in an instructor's mind than can be measured or recognized beyond that. 

This is my roundabout explanation for the lack of a reflective entry about Week 7. That is, life happened to me last week. I was in a situation that I felt required me to at least be offline for a while. I'm pretty good about not writing online while angry or sad, but there was a hint or two of me breaking that. The most recognizable hint of life happening remains the absence of a reflective entry here about Week 7. 

Still, I apologized in both #111cr and #252ac this week about said absence. I try to stress in all my courses the importance of keeping communication lines open and I felt that my inactivity during Week 7 may have betrayed that. However, one noticeable result of my apology was the bewilderment and confusion of some students. Within seconds, one student even tweeted that they didn't feel or notice any greater distance that I'd put between myself and the class. This tells me that life happens to us all so much that our interpreted levels of involvement can be quite different. The impact of our inaction can rarely be measured with accuracy because we already have so much going on. 

Recent writings online by students are further evidence of life happening, college-oriented and otherwise. Car trouble and course loads as well as future-fretting and existential angst about English degrees stand among the issues for students I'm working with this semester. For as much as we might want to maintain focus on course-related topics, life happens and we are compelled or even beholden to documenting it. 

From my perspective, it is a good thing that #111cr and #252ac students are or have grown to feel comfortable writing online about life happening. For the most part, they aren't making excuses but instead taking responsibility for their inaction and/or misgivings, thereby keeping me and their peers more honest. I have a persistent point of curiosity in all this, though: Is it my pedagogy or the technology allowing/encouraging students to document life happening and/or voice concerns about the course? Furthermore, would this happen in an uncompromising LMS like Blackboard?

 

#111cr
Blogging requirements end next week for this class. Given the shift in focus to the final project, from more informal online writing to more formal academic writing, I think this makes sense. Students' last required blog entry reflects on Mashup Scholarship. As usual, that assignment remains the most polarizing writing task I've designed yet.

 

After doing the assigment I really liked it. I think it should be used in classes even. I was more intreseted in the facts that I was learning rather than thinking how to put it in  my own words and cite correctly. It cut the bullshit out of it.
There was definitely a voice in my head that was yelling at me while copying and pasting, but once I started to ignore the voice telling me that it was wrong to be doing this, I actually flew through the assignment. I actually found the Mash Up Scholarship to be very helpful because I started to really understand my sources and remember some facts throughout the articles. Overall my hate for the Mash Up Scholarship at the being changed to actual enjoyment for the overall assignment. So, I fully believe that this assignment should be repeated by other students because I believe it will be very helpful for them before doing a big paper.
I hated the mashup assignment. I love the idea and concept, but it didn't work for me. I know others liked the whole thing and did it with ease, but I struggled with it greatly. For one reason, I have too broad of a topic. I need to work on my area of interest and narrow it down so that I can hit all of the points and do it well as well as find good scholarly articles that can support my idea.
I hated and loved this assignment all in the same day. I did gain a lot of information on universal healthcare, and I do see how it can connect to "The Big One" in a few weeks. However, I hated this assignment. It was hard to undertand in the beginning which made it take longer than it was already going to take. It was difficult taking 5 seperate articles and trying to collaborate the ideas all into one. It was difficult for me to also not add any of my own thoughts into this assignment. It was just a difficult assignment for me all the way around. I do see though how it can be a help to us in the future, and it also gives a new interesting writing technique.

My thoughts on this mashup scholarship assignment are pretty clear, I was not a huge fan of it. I know that the point of the assignment is to bring new perspectives of writing styles into our life. I felt that it did have some good intentions though. It allowed us to bring the most important parts of an article on a certain subject and bring them all together, which I liked. It saved me from reading the pointless bullshit in an article that really has nothing to do with the subject at hand.

I didn’t think it was as helpful as the others. The pop up scholarship gave you a chance to comment on the article which I felt made me understand the article and develop a good analysis of it. The reverse engineering scholarship helped me to discover different things I can include in my article to make it more interesting and longer. By deleting them things and being forced to cut it down made me more aware of its content. The mash up scholarship just showed us how to plagiarize and put multiple pieces of literature together. Teachers won’t ask us to do this and if we do this, we will get kicked out of school; so what’s the point?

 

#252ac
Blogging requirements will remain until the end of the semester. Even though this class is also shifting focus to the final project after completing Distraction-Free Writing, I think it important for students to use online spaces for writing and working through the semester-end assignment.  
Even as I write this, I am sitting in a class flipping between the word document I am writing this in and glancing at the board and taking notes in another window. I think if I were told to only do one thing at a time, for example-just write, I wouldn't be able to do it.
This is the day of information overload, the wonderful wild west of data-bytes before the colonization and enclosure of rules and regulations. I believe the end of this era is coming, but that’s for another blog post.

But where does this leave the writer?

We never know when someday it will be the most common form of communication, or even talking with a similiar idea using your cell phone? It's hard to guess what the future brings becuase no one thought that we would be updating our status's by pushing a button on our phone that knows the exact location that we are at the moment.
My hate of writing has almost taken a complete 180 (currently at about 162) just because the way we write has changed.  If it was not for this I believe I would still cringe every time an assignment is given.  Writing as a hobby should be fun and it becomes more so when the ability to share your work and get feedback of any sort on it is included.
Occasionally, group work is constructive. But most of the time, it sucks. This is due to classes that don't actually promote groupwork, and instead just force students together for an assignment.
How much can we really justify spending precious time teaching cursive to student in the classroom when they could be focusing more on reading skills, spelling, or even computer skills. What does cursive really have to offer students in the upcoming generations?

On Week 6 #111cr #252ac

While I met with #111cr and #252ac students the required two times this week, I think it's safe to write that the main event concerned the evaluation of and reflection on Twitter and how we used the microblogging service these last five weeks. Of particular focus was the question of whether or not we wanted to keep Twitter as a course requirement for the rest of the semester. I was both impressed by and thankful for students' honesty, maturity, and perspective in those Wednesday sessions. In the end, both #111cr and #252ac elected to keep Twitter, but with amended requirements. Based on the numerous, worthwhile conversations already evident in Twitter feeds for both courses, I think students chose wisely.

Before sharing students' statements on tweeting and related matters, I'd like to take a moment for some additional reflection and/or clarification. With blogging and tweeting as new writing experiences for clear majorities in both classes, I understand why many in-class conversations have been about Posterous and Twitter. Thinking aloud through burgeoning experiences and their effects can help us realize just what it is we do with new tools and what kinds of relationships we want to have with them. So, the dominant focus of recent sessions in #252ac makes sense to me.

However, given the incredible range of our expectations and interests as well as the freedom of focus #252ac in particular was designed to provide, I'm curious as to why we haven't engaged both more. For instance, why has so little been said or written about editing or narration or alternate understandings of English? If these expectations and interests matter (and I think they do), why haven't we discussed them much beyond the first day of classes? Student-led facilitations and presentations were additional opportunities to discuss English matters of importance, but this has yet to be capitalized upon in #252ac. Is there too much freedom? Not enough friendly reminders? Perhaps an answer lies above in how experience with and use of new tools tend to dominate discussion. Perhaps those discussions are, for the most part, concluded and now's the time to move on?

As we move on, I think it's worth remembering that even if we don't think our future lies in media or technology, both will continue to influence us. This is because others think their future lies there. Their experiences with and uses of media and technology will shape how and what we do. Even now, some writers struggle with how "technology is rendering obsolete some classic narrative plot devices." Furthermore, if John Jones's prediction that students will someday be required to use writing technologies that haven't been invented yet proves even half-true, shouldn't we spend time experiencing and using what's currently available within course contexts?

 

#111cr

My favorite part was the @ mentions of myself on others' tweets. After my group facilitation I went to Twitter to see what the class opinion was and I easily found out and got props from other class memebers. It gave our class something to connect with and share ideas about the same thing and be understanding and empathetic to what others were tweeting about when it was course related. 
On the surface, Twitter is a device for people to talk about every litte thing that is happening to them. However, in the right hands, such as those of our ENG 111 class, it is possible to have meaningful, educational conversation that are short and easy to read.
I really like the concept of the class using Twitter. I feel its the best communication with the class rather than using Facebook. If we were to use Facebook it would be more difficult to know what post are class related because there are no hash tags.
I have a greater appreciation for Twitter and am much more apt to defend it should someone write it off as "another stupid social media site". It can be used to post links to websites, share about events currently in progress (live-tweeting), and much more! I believe, when used correctly, Twitter can be a huge asset for people, especially in the media, and the classroom.
Throughout this four week experiment, Twitter helped me out but not as much as I’d liked. It helped me to communicate with my group members for the group facilitation, get simple questions answered quickly, and gave me resources that dealt with my interests. I was upset that I would ask questions for my post and not one person would reply and give me there thoughts. For example I posted something along the lines of “I know what my topic is for the “big one,” Anorexia Athletica among pre-professional ballerinas. What do you think any suggestions?” I thought I would’ve got some feedback or at least one comment but I got nothing. In conclusion to this paragraph, Twitter did not help me out as much as I’d liked, I would have liked to have seen more networking.

 

#252ac

Is there more I can get out of Twitter? As a writer I’m always looking for unique ways to get my stories and ideas out there…is this the new form for professional writers?  I can see where I can have a great number of people view comment and think about what I’ve written, but Twitter just stands as a messaging board to me.  Here is what I’ve written, here’s a link to it go and comment, feedback.  Twitter is definitely a great tool, and it does its job well, and I’m looking forward to the conversations we have as a class on the weekly prompt. But as far as feedback and critique goes twitter stands a gateway to other sites through links to get that massive audience to your site or your blog.

we can either post links to more spacious areas of expression or plow through 140 characters over and over in a cascade of posts. both options are forms of disregard for twitter's limitations--the question becomes "why use Twitter at all if you're going to ignore what differentiates it from any other form of communication?"

twitter doesn't offer us anything that we can't get anywhere else. what we use it for is a good thing, but a car is a more comfortable way to get from A to B than a bike is.

And then there's live-tweeting, which has greatly enhanced several class periods; it definitely pumped up my group's facilitation. I'm also fascinated by the dynamics of multiple levels of discussion presented by having both people speaking as well as people typing. This is the number one reason to keep Twitter, IMO.

Twitter is a glorious examination of the chaos of unfiltered human communication, a sort of party line restricted to 140 characters. It's just as easy to tweet with friends about a Tigers playoff game as it is to organize a rebellion against an authoritarian regime.

Twitter seems relatively asinine at first glance, lacking many of the features that other social networking sites embrace. There is no like button and no instant messaging bar. There is no continuous stream of updates that require press conferences to unveil. And I love it.

To be fair, I do see some drawbacks to Twitter- I notice when I live-tweet, I miss some of what is being said. I try to make an honest effort to multitask, but sometimes it slips out of my head. I think I might tweet too much though, so I am probably going to scale that back a bit.

On Week 5 #111cr #252ac

From a certain point of view, this week and last could be seen as Weeks of the Unnecessary Instructor. With facilitations in #111cr and presentations in #252ac wrapped up, I see that a beneficial result is how much students now look to each other for encouragement, praise, and support. One need only check the #111cr and #252ac Twitter feeds for evidence. Supplemental examples are also present on students' Posterous blogs.

This is not to say I'm absent, of course. I'm more of a coach, a facilitator, a guide, a reference point, a resource to be tapped at appropriate moments. Curious, though, is my timing to engage students in individual, private discussions of their performances so far this semester. Asking them to talk with me about whether or not they think they're keeping up their end of the grading contract (and if I'm doing the same) keeps the communication line open and helps us address concerns before they become unaddressable. I welcome these discussions because they keep us honest.  

It is almost as if I'm encouraging such conversations as a way to remind them of something else, though. I'm not sure what. Perhaps it concerns those traditional notions of professorial authority. If so, I find that rather unfortunate. Still, some students expressed relief at my invitation, worried as they were about their grades. Others took advantage of the opportunity to remind me of their unique goals and interests as related to the courses I'm guiding. 

With Pop Up Scholarship due in #111cr and facilitations in #252ac set to continue, next week will also be witness to whole-class discussion and evaluation of Twitter and how students use it. I amended the schedules of both #111cr and #252ac so that we have full class sessions to air grievances, share experiences, and make executive decisions about whether or not to keep and use Twitter for the rest of the semester.

With that in mind, I want to take a moment and look ahead to the possibility of doing away with Twitter. If #111cr and/or #252ac decide against tweeting, some kind of activity, some kind of writing will need to replace it. Something will need to replace it because, along with Posterous, Twitter functions as part of the alternative to using Blackboard and/or having #111cr and #252ac as more traditional courses. To be frank, something will need to replace Twitter if only because of sheer volume. Please forgive the elementary math used below to illustrate:

7 tweets per week x 140 characters = 980 characters per week

980 characters over the next 10 weeks = 9800 characters

On an average of 5 characters per word: 9800 / 5 = 1960 words.

So, if students continue to use Twitter for the next 10 weeks, they will each produce the equivalent of an essay. Note that I'm only comparing volume here, not content or quality, but I think there is something to be said for volume. However, I'm not about to suggest an additional major writing assignment as a replacement. Instead, here are some possibilities:

  1. An additional blog post and/or comments per week
  2. Revise existing requirements
  3. A new social media tool

Of these, I see only two as viable. Additional blogging in the form of one more required post per week and/or more comments may be the most attainable and sensible. #111cr and #252ac students have already proved their comfort and confidence with blogging and managing Posterous as a platform for doing so. Perhaps there's more yet we can do with Posterous alone, particularly in light of recent changes to the service. 

The other option would be a revision the existing requirements for Twitter use. The #252ac feed is never more active than during class time, so there might be little resistance to a simpler requirement that all students live-tweet on Mondays and Wednesdays for the rest of the semester. This hasn't happened much in #111cr, though, so I'm curious about students' receptivity. That written, I'm wary of introducing a social media replacement for Twitter. Students' relative focus should be on their areas of significant interest. Taking the time to introduce them to some other form of social media such as Diigo or Reddit would shift that focus to an unfortunate, and maybe even unnecessary, degree.