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?


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?


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?



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.



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. 

On Week 4 #111cr #252ac

This may be the earliest in the semester I've thought about course changes. I fear it is too late to implement any right now (at least in #111cr). Course changes are under consideration because of what I've gleaned from both direct questions and more general course discussion on Posterous and Twitter. 

Now, I like to think certain aspects contribute to one of the larger ideas about the courses I teach, i.e., that students can and should take greater ownership of what happens in class, that a given course is theirs as much as it is mine (if not more so, since they're paying for it). In particular, student-led facilitations occur in accordance with the idea that having students teach other students leads to better comprehension overall. Furthermore, having both student-led facilitations and presentations so early in the semester allows for students to introduce themselves again to the rest of the class, but in a more formal way. There's a chance to make a greater impression than on the first day of class when everyone goes around the room saying their name, major, etc.

However, I may stagger facilitations and presentations more in future courses. Doing so might eliminate what I call "facilitation fatigue" on the part of the student audience. With lecture being the unfortunate default mode of delivery in student-led facilitations, I saw some students already tiring by the second and third sessions. And, rather than facilitations happening in succession, one right after another, I'm also curious if spreading them out might keep the course fresher and more cohesive, perhaps even allowing for greater collaboration with students.

So, instead of a facilitation on MLA citation/format one day and a facilitation on style the next, the instructor could introduce an assignment or area of focus one day and then work with students to develop in-class activities for the subsequent session. There might be more course cohesion overall, with facilitations feeding into or expanding on what the instructor introduces. Perhaps part of the first-day activities should not only be learning what students want to get from the course but also setting up weekly topics to consider in tandem with larger assignments. I'm already leaning toward this by having students read about and discuss plagiarism in relation to the Mashup Scholarship assignment. 

My curiosity about more staggering in my courses applies to scheduling in-class research presentations, too. This would elongate a given assignment sequence with the potential to open up new facets, allow for more student prep time, and maybe eliminate the kinds of redundancies already witnessed in #252ac with regards to the MRW pecha kucha presentations. 

I should stress that contemplation of course changes has very little to do with student performance. I've been quite impressed by what #111cr students put together for their facilitations. Despite some clear overlaps in examples of and thinking about media representations of writers and writing, I've also been moved by a number of #252ac students' pecha kucha presentations and I know I'm not alone on this. 

Regarding #252ac presentations, too, I should mention that I've encouraged students to live-tweet. One thing I've noticed is that therein lies the possibility for immediate feedback. I know of plenty of horror stories about mean-spirited backchannels at conferences, but the atmosphere in #252ac is quite collegial. When one student began with a disclaimer about how he wasn't very accomplished at public speaking, those in the audience took to praising him. 

The above screenshot appears to show that I prompted this, but I only joined what was already a vibrant conversation. Other students took up my prompting and agreed, directing their mentions to this particular presenter who later acknowledged and thanked them

I realize the length of this particular post, but I want to observe one more thing. In #111cr, we're about to wrap up reading Graff and Birkenstein's They Say / I Say (TSIS) and it was with some disappointment that I fielded questions about returning this required text to the bookstore. I understand at least one reason why students asked, but I tried to stress in my response the unique importance of TSIS. I may not have given an adequate explanation then, so I want to stress here that TSIS remains one of the most helpful guides in my own written work. I required this text because I not only agree with the authors' approach to academic writing but also because I think it has sustainable usefulness. The texts I require in my courses should be important in at least two ways: 1) for preparation and immediate use in the present course and 2) for future reference. If I can't find a text that fulfills both requirements for a course I teach, I don't place an order at the bookstore. TSIS is one of those texts that I will continue to require in first-year writing courses for the foreseeable future.

My "something online" for #wideemu cc @nkelber

The illustrious organizers of WIDE-EMU stressed multiple times that Phase 2 submissions be before rather than on October 1, 2011, so I apologize for already being behind. In some of the proposals submitted so far, I noticed remixing, rephrasing, and revising of the initial guiding question, "What evidence do we have that teaching writing--especially in digital environments--works?" I'd like to do the same, somewhat piggybacking on/off Nate Kelber's question about the effectiveness of learning management systems. That is, what evidence do we have that teaching writing in a more open digital environment works? We have our ethical, moral, pedagogical, and technological positions about/against Blackboard and/or learning management systems in general, but which comes first: the digital environment or writing that works? And while it may be healthy and/or helpful to rage against Blackboard (I sure have), I want to engage others in a discussion that rises above vocalizing the wealth of problems we might have with even the very idea of an LMS.

On Week 3 #111cr #252ac

The first full week of classes witnessed lots of writing for a variety of purposes. Blogging, tweeting, and more traditional writing were all in play, the latter in particular used for expressing areas of interest and relating personal histories of writing. Each form, though, acted as a precursor of discussion and a reminder of purpose. 

Both #111cr and #252ac are structured toward course goals and students' interests, toward university learning outcomes and our own more particular curiosities. I'm here to help students fulfill both, but I also want students to learn to look to each other. As the semester stretches out and we go along together, it is my hope that we will come to rely on each other, to keep our ears and eyes out for interesting items related to our relative areas of expectation and interest. This is but one of the many reasons for the varied forms of writing required and performed so far.

We write for ourselves, but we should also come to write for each other. A student's written work is important and deserves to be seen and recognized by others in the class and even beyond the boundary of the course. I know that I'm more interested in coming to know what students find and know to be important than whatever I might have to say to or write for them. 

This leads us toward discussion of both the past week and the week to come. In #111cr, students cut and revised their writing from 750 words to 140 characters. I not only wanted to know more about what they wanted to know (hence, a 750-word piece prompted by "What do you want to learn?"), but I also wanted to get them thinking about the different kinds of writing they do and why. That many were able to pare down their work and maintain meaning even in 140 characters or less leads me to think Twitter use might be sustained for the entire semester. 

Students in #111cr also received overviews of Microsoft Word and online resources related to citation styles via the first student-led facilitation of the semester. Two more such facilitations are scheduled for next week. In asking students to led a class session on something of importance to college-level writing, I seek to accomplish at least two things: (1) provide students the opportunity to more directly fulfill their own expectations about the course and (2) help students learn from one another. Again, this relates to what I wrote above about coming to rely on each other instead of just the instructor. 

There's already plenty of evidence of this in #252ac as I mediated students' discussion of their lives with writing and opinions on troublesome aspects of today's communication styles. It remains a bit jarring, though, how many took to raising their hands before speaking. Such an act is more polite than interrupting, but I'm unaccustomed to keeping track of whose hand was raised first. Many students still tried to make eye contact with me while they spoke, even though the rest of the class showed just as much interest in their words. 

Students in #252ac also continue their work with the Media Representations of Writing (MRW) assignment. This is most evident so far on their blogs and on Twitter, but that changes next week with the pecha kucha presentations scheduled for next week. Having students talk about their ideas and observations of how various media portray writers and writing gives us all a chance to learn what we think. Many appeared nervous as I talked about the pecha kucha style of presenting and later performed a live example. I trust that nervousness to dissipate with preparation. 



If you happen to not be a student in either of these classes but would like to keep up with what we're doing, you can follow our Twitter activity here and here

On Weeks 1&2 #111cr #252ac

Due to illness, I canceled the 9.12 sessions of English 111 College Rhetoric (#111cr) and English 252 Advanced Composition (#252ac). My third course, a team-taught Gen Ed offering on media literacy, continued without me thanks to the other instructor and our two student-peer facilitators. Sick as I was, I had some reservations about canceling class, but I ended up going ahead with it because I didn't want to risk infecting students. In a way, I guess I'd rather we all be behind together, which is most certainly what we are. 

While the 9.14 sessions of #111cr and #252ac were both illuminating and productive in their own ways, the list of things to do is longer than I'd like. Because we weren't able to air grievances and pose questions about course materials, Posterous, Twitter, and other aspects until 9.14, we remain in a kind of suspended animation. Watching the Twitter feed for each class, I can see students starting to grasp how to handle what I'm asking of them. This is great, of course, but I'm also frustrated as I should have been seeing this earlier in the week. However, there is no guarantee I would have seen it earlier in the week if I hadn't canceled the 9.12 sessions. If I hadn't canceled classes when I did, my illness may very well have forced the cancellation of the 9.14 sessions instead. 

When on a twice-a-week course schedule, canceling a session halves what might be accomplished. Still, I think the 9.14 sessions were good ones. I fielded queries about course materials, managed quick, helpful demonstrations of specific features of Posterous and Twitter*, and even introduced #252ac students to Media Representations of Writing. While I detect some reservations on the part of some students regarding course particulars, I'm optimistic. Both #111cr and #252ac appear full of bright, inquisitive minds willing to entertain my crazy ideas about blogging and tweeting in lieu of 4-5 more traditional pieces of written work.

As I pick up reflective writing about courses again, I want to continue concluding with student voices. In the weeks ahead, I'll be sharing snippets of blog entries and the like, but I want to offer here summary lists of their expectations for the next 14 weeks.

Students want to learn how to write research papers, how to better organize their writing, and develop better reading skills. They want to write in-depth and figure out different and better styles of writing. They want to develop a greater vocabulary, acquire different perspectives, and get a grasp of proper grammar. They want to know how to cite sources, how to take good notes, and how to land good research. They want to craft solid thesis statements and smooth transitions and edit, edit, edit. They want to practice their speaking skills, engage in discussion, and have fun. They want to be better all-around writers. 

Students want to learn the value of online communication and hone their skills in learning what to do and what not to do in writing. They want to develop better speaking skills in formal and informal settings and be presented with constructive challenges. They want to develop more confidence and motivation when it comes to writing, find gainful employment through their writing, and expand their vocabulary. They want to pass the class and/or earn an "A." They want to tweet, engage in professional writing, and figure out how to better construct stories. They want to find cures for writer's block. They want to learn a lot. 

In all of these expectations, I couldn't be happier to help.


*Thanks to all those who helped out tweeting hi and where they were from!