On Week 4-5-6 #112CWR #342VS #513DR

I do a disservice by grouping general thoughts about students' work over the last three weeks into a single entry. However, a multitude of demands on my time don't allow for much else. I've been asking a lot of students as of late and they've fulfilled my requests, yet all time allows is a lone, meager blog post to acknowledge and reflect. Of course, each undergraduate student received a quick progress report with more tailored details about how I see their recent work. I won't divulge such specifics here for a variety of reasons, instead taking a broader view, a longer picture of what's happening. So, let's begin…

Students don't like writing. To be more specific, students don't like academic writing. They see it as jargon, unnecessary, verbose. "Why should/would anyone write like this?" they ask. Such a question ties into not only important considerations of audience and purpose but it also remains a persistent, existential query for me as a teacher of writing. I don't discourage a question like that, instead encouraging students to ask by way of assignments like Pop Up Scholarship. And, more often than not, what comes out of such an assignment are the above criticisms. Rare is the question one of content; almost always is the question one of performance, of presentation. 

Variations of these questions also appear in upper-level and graduate courses, often with the same focus. Rather than discussing the argument put forth or the ideas presented, upper-level and graduate students address an assigned article from points of analysis literary and/or rhetorical. Their approaches are more deconstruction than New Criticism, more feminist and Marxist than reader-response. "If we can summarize an academic work in 50 words or 140 characters, why can't the original author?" they ask. 

I don't know if such inquiries are standard in college-level writing courses, but they seem to be in mine. I structure my courses to be spaces not just for writing, but critiquing writing. I don't want students' blind or blithe acceptance of the tenets of academic writing. Yes, I hope for them to grasp the nuances of what it means to put together a scholarly piece of writing, but I also hope for them to remain critical in the process. Besides, I'm not exactly the biggest fan of academic writing myself. There's an insurgent aspect to my pedagogy, I suppose.

Again, this is part of the reason for assignments like Pop Up Scholarship that ask and encourage students to change, comment, pick apart, and even poke fun at academic work. It's also part of the way toward foundational awareness, whether it be academic writing, videogame studies, or digital rhetoric. The first eight weeks or so of each course are strikingly similar in this regard. After the break, after having gained awareness if not knowledge of what's involved, students have the freedom for more individual exploration. Given students' reactions to freedom and open-endedness of certain assignments already undertaken, I expect there will be some accounts of stress post-break. 

I know that not all students are comfortable with the class structure. I know some would be content with or even prefer that I just give them information, straight from the scholarly horse's mouth. I know there are many reasons for this desire, too, but my general response to the majority of direct questions asked of me is this: I don't have all the answers, but I'm here to help you seek them, to offer perspective on what you discover. 

Contrary to what students might think, some of the best class sessions are those facilitated by fellow students. Even somewhat disastrous facilitations, like the one in #112CWR this week, can be instructive in myriad ways. This has me thinking about implementing less formal, straightforward groupwork in my courses. Rather than group facilitations, perhaps future courses will have discussion leaders, those who post the first and second online entries related to a week's readings for others to read and respond to. Students tend to like groupwork about as much as they like academic writing anyway.

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. 

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. 

 

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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.

#111cr
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. 

#252ac
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! 

Quick thought on @posterous Spaces

In episode 20 of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Master Shake receives the boxes of t-shirts he ordered to promote his superhero identity, the Drizzle. Upon seeing the jumbled mess of things on said t-shirts, he exclaims, "This is too busy. This is all too busy! By the time you read it, you're dead!"

I share this anecdote because it sums up my immediate reaction to Posterous Spaces. No longer a simple, effective blogging platform, Posterous is now a social network with more than a passing resemblance feature-wise to Google+. And it's all too busy, offering and, in some cases, doing more than I want.

If I was more of a digital nomad, I'd be packing up and looking for another oasis.

Distraction-free writing, Fall 2011 #252ac

Given the relative wealth of “distraction-free” writing programs available online, each purports to be unique in promising to deliver the same, basic thing: increased focus on the task at hand. Both the programs themselves and their descriptive pitches enable and frame the act, purpose, and value of writing in different ways. Some are very process-oriented; others are more expressive. Many exhibit stark, monochromatic styles, harkening back to simpler times. 

In other words, certain programs invite certain kinds of writers. For instance, Writer for iPad implies concern about "destroying the voice and the organic structure of our original thought." Meanwhile, Ommwriter "believes in making writing a pleasure once again, vindicating the close relationship between writer and paper." Furthermore, WriteRoom "gets your computer out of the way so that you can focus on your work." These programs are pitched and presented more as environments than tools. They are more spaces for us to write from/within and less instruments facilitating the writing process, if it is a process at all.

So, let’s see if any of these programs fulfill their promises. Many are available for free or at minimal cost, so I encourage you to download a couple of the following:

For the more adventurous among us:

To better focus our discussion of and thoughts on distraction-free writing, I'd like for us to complete the following:

Part 1: Experience (blog, Monday, 10.31.11). Describe what it's like to write from/within the space of a distraction-free writing tool. Boot up one of the distraction-free writing tools listed above and write from and of the experience. Is this familiar? Is it foreign? Is it nostalgic? Even romantic? Furthermore, what kind(s) of writing or writer(s) does this tool invite and/or discourage? How does writing via this tool compare to your standard word processor? Think stream-of-consciousness. Whatever form this experiential writing exercise takes is fine, but it should be substantial. Be sure to post it by 2:30PM, Monday, 10.31.11. 

Part 2: Application (blog, Wednesday, 11.2.11). Write something else, something more specific within the space of a distraction-free writing tool. Boot up one of the distraction-free writing tools listed above and write about a course-related issue or topic. This can be a creative or a critical piece of writing, but do begin and complete it using one of the distraction-free writing tools listed above. Be sure to post it by 2:30PM, Wednesday, 11.2.11.