anger is a gift

In the past, I’ve been close to clarifying my vitriol about Blackboard and CMS/LMS in general. Reservations have kept me from doing so, though. I’ve had doubts about whether or not I dislike Blackboard for what it is, if maybe my frustrations had to do with broader concerns about higher education, if perhaps my operating methods and preferences were just different. I’ve wondered if I just needed to be more patient, more willing to discover how this CMS/LMS organizes and values the efforts of students and teachers alike.

Pushing up against those doubts are my recollections of past experiences with Blackboard. Having to comply with it this fall semester has only brought back all my prior frustrations. Atrocious loading times, a convoluted submission system, scrolling-heavy forums, and the requisite number of OKs for any given action collectively cause a rage within me to go from boiling to white-hot.

The option to download students’ submitted work in a single .zip file becomes just another obstacle as unzipped files have extensions removed and names that make finding certain documents impossible. The persistent disconnect between different screens regarding graded and ungraded work is an additional problem. I could keep better track of such course aspects with a notebook and pencil. 

At the 7:38 mark of the above video, Douglas Rushkoff talks about Blackboard from two perspectives. From the student/teacher perspective, Blackboard is a terrible piece of software. However, from the programmer’s perspective, Blackboard is brilliant because it decreases user agency and increases user dependency. According to Rushkoff, Blackboard was “written for the Blackboard company to dominate education in a particular way.” In other words, students and teachers don’t use Blackboard so much as they have to figure out how to comply with it. 

While I agree with Rushkoff, I no longer think of Blackboard as software. Instead, I think of Blackboard as “institutionware.” For as much as Blackboard is about preserving itself as the top CMS/LMS option, it is also about preserving the traditional aspects of higher education. It is about keeping the ivory tower closed off from the rest of society. It is about grades and instructor control. It is about stifling creativity and minimizing opportunities for students to create fuller identities. Even more recent ‘features’ are about containment, keeping within the overall system. These are particularly frustrating as they often mark the introduction of new environments and tools for learning that only serve lectures and exams.

It pains me that many of the faults of Blackboard are also the faults of higher education, but I want to believe that raging against the machine isn’t a fruitless endeavor, that higher education can be salvaged from the CMS/LMS wreckage. 

On piracy, nostalgia, book publishing, New Yorker cartoons, composition pedagogy, education reform, and the humanities #dyr

The film industry loses $6.1 billion annually to digital piracy, according to a study conducted by economist Stephen Siwek and cited recently by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). And the Independent Film and Television Alliance (IFTA) says royalty rights for indie films have been halved from what they were five years ago. The John Doe lawsuits are a way for desperate movie studios and distributors to recoup those losses. Armed with a list of IP addresses and draconian copyright laws, lawyers for the scorned studios are treating a broad swath of the Internet-browsing public like their own personal ATM.


an undercurrent to grunge retrospection is the music media's and record industry's own nostalgia for the heyday of the rock monoculture. It was already crumbling in the early '90s, thanks to rap (the rebel music of black youth, obviously, but a lot of white kids had defected to hip-hop, too) and to the emergence of rave and electronic dance culture (in America destined always to be a minority subculture, but in Europe the dominant form of '90s pop). Grunge was the last blast of rock as a force at once central in popular culture yet also running counter to mainstream show biz values.


There is no way to limit the output of books. But the sense that there may be too many of them is a message to authors, agents, and publishers that they would do well to exercise judgment in choosing which books actually deserve to be written and supported. At the moment, however, the process is moving in the other direction: self-publishing as a business is booming, and Amazon, Apple, and Google, with their various devices and imprints, seem to be lowering the entry bar because these corporate behemoths see new publishing ventures as a source of revenue, pretty much regardless of quality.


If making graphic novels felt like a staid long-term relationship, then doing gag comics is like playing the field. One day I could draw a fortuneteller; the next, an astronaut. I went from sultans to superheroes, robots to rabbits. I felt liberated. I refused to get bogged down or fuss over the drawings. I spent no more than an hour with any one cartoon, and many took far less time than that. For the first two weeks I was feeling my oats. I already had a half-dozen keepers and was confident there were plenty more winners on the way. It was at this point that I started dreaming of actually selling a cartoon to The New Yorker.


When you are trying to teach writing, you are trying to teach something that, when it comes down to it, we don't know a lot about. Actually, that's not precisely true. We know a great deal about writing, if by writing one is referring to an abstract concept. There is a lot of scholarship that describes and theorizes writing, to say nothing of the scholarship about particular texts. But to understand writing, one would have to understand thinking. While there is a lot of interesting brain research going on, there's nothing that going to tell you "follow these steps to come up with a good idea for your paper." Instead what we have are lots of techniques that sometimes work. Or, to quote Anchorman, "60% of the time, it works every time." The problem lies in mistaking techniques for empirical facts. There is no definitive "how to write." In short, the goal of the course is to help students become better writers, but there is no definition of "better," there is no clear, general writing practice, and there is no set body of knowledge to impart. 


Real educational reform, as I see it, requires a fundamental shift in our understanding of the educational process...For starters, it requires that we abandon the idea that adults are in charge of children's learning.  It requires, in other words, that we throw out the basic premise that underlies our system of schooling. 


The humanities needs more courage and more contact with the world. It needs to extend the practice of humanism into that world, rather than to invite the world in for tea and talk of novels, only to pat itself on the collective back for having injected some small measure of abstract critical thinking into the otherwise empty puppets of industry. As far as indispensability goes, we are not meant to be superheroes nor wizards, but secret agents among the citizens, among the scrap metal, among the coriander, among the parking meters.


Videogames as rhetorical situations

Last week, I wrote toward the rhetorical situation of videogames. Of primary focus and inspiration was Ian Bogost’s recent op-ed about the function and content of certain statements about videogames. At least in an initial way, I attempted to relate Bogost’s observations to Vatz’s argument about the myth of the rhetorical situation. However, I want to take one step back from that. I’m curious if it’s possible to argue for seeing videogames themselves as rhetorical situations. This may either illuminate Bitzer’s argument or further support Vatz’s refutation. Regarding the possibility of performing both, I’ll save Consigny’s “Rhetoric and Its Situations” for a future post.

In “The Rhetorical Situation,” Lloyd Bitzer puts forth a series of hypotheticals in which “words suggest the presence of events, persons, or objects” (1) and ultimately views rhetorical situation as “a natural context of persons, events, objects, relations, and an exigence which invites utterance” (5). There’s probably an argument to be made on whether or not a videogame is a natural context, but that’s not my interest right now. Again, I’m more interested in seeing a videogame as a rhetorical situation. To get at this, let’s look at what Bitzer considers the three constituents of any rhetorical situation: exigence, audience, and constraints.

The constituent of exigence appears workable for both rhetorical situations and videogames as Bitzer explains exigence as “imperfection marked by urgency” which also functions as the situation’s organizing principle, specifying “the audience to be addressed and the change to be effected” (7). In a videogame, this can happen in terms of design (how far Mario can jump), narrative (“your princess is in another castle”), or both. 

However, the constituent of audience may be an area in which my curious argument fails or at least gains a greater degree of complexity. According to Bitzer, the audience of a rhetorical situation consists “only of those persons who are capable of being influenced by discourse and of being mediators of change” (8). In the case of a videogame, the player is also the audience, the one both capable of discursive influence and mediating change. Or is it the videogame that’s the audience, influenced (or at least responsive) as it is to player action?

But maybe this is where such an argument falls apart, too, if we understand that the vast majority of player actions in a given videogame have already been accounted for by the designer. Even in an open-world videogame like Grand Theft Auto 4, there are limits. This does lead us to Bitzer’s third constituent, though: constraints. There are two main classes, “those originated or managed by the rhetor and his method” (8), which we might see as analogous to a speedrun, and “those other constraints, in the situation, which may be operative” (8), which we might see in a multiplayer session of Halo: Reach

Now, perhaps some parsing is needed between rhetorical discourse and player action, between rhetorical situation and videogame, but I want to close here with a simple copy/paste endeavor in an attempt to prove a point. In saying that rhetoric is situational, Bitzer offers a series of statements about the relationship between discourse and situation. Below is an attempt to show a similar relationship between player action and videogame.

Player action comes into existence as a response to the videogame. An action is given rhetorical significance by the videogame. A videogame must exist as a necessary condition of player action. Many videogames mature and decay without giving birth to player action. A videogame is rhetorical insofar as it needs and invites player action capable of participating with the videogame and thereby altering its reality. Player action is rhetorical insofar as it functions (or seeks to function) as a fitting response to a videogame which needs and invites it. The videogame controls player action in the same sense that the question controls the answer and the problem controls the solution.
How many of these statements could we argue as true?


Bitzer, Lloyd F. “The Rhetorical Situation.” Philosophy and Rhetoric (Winter 1968): 1-14.

On curation, technology, kids today, librarians, blogging, and privacy #dyr

A big part of this new age of creation is that you have infinite choice, and no clear concept of where to start...So what’s the fix? You need a filter. And I strongly believe that while algorithmical filters work, you need people to tell you about things you wouldn’t find that way.

technology has never been cold, impersonal, and industrial. We simply chose to understand it that way. Technology has always had a role in shaping the inner life, the intimate life. The telephone - surely a shaping force in the making and shaping of self. The telegram, the letter, the book.


Nor was there anything cold about how industrial technologies such as cars and trains shaped our sensibilities, our sense of self, of our sensuality, our possibilities. If we have succumbed to an ideology of technological neutrality that is something that needs to be studied as an independent phenomenon; it is not to be taken as a given.

whatever the flavor of the month in terms of new technologies are, there’s research that comes out very quickly that shows how it causes our children to be asocial, distracted, bad in school, to have learning disorders, a whole litany of things.

Davidson's youth worship, though extreme, is common these days among those who write about technology and society. Individuals born after the dawn of the Internet are not the same as you and me, goes the now-familiar refrain. As a result of their lifelong immersion in electronic media, young people's brains are "wired differently," and they require different schools, different workplaces, and different social arrangements from the ones we have. They are described, with more than a little envy, as "digital natives," effortlessly at home in an electronic universe, while we adults are "digital immigrants," benighted arrivals from the Old World doomed to stutter in a foreign tongue.

students rarely ask librarians for help, even when they need it. The idea of a librarian as an academic expert who is available to talk about assignments and hold their hands through the research process is, in fact, foreign to most students. Those who even have the word “librarian” in their vocabularies often think library staff are only good for pointing to different sections of the stacks.

Facebook and Twitter are too easy. Keeping up a decent blog that people actually want to take the time to read, that’s much harder. And it’s the hard stuff that pays off in the end.

Besides, even if they’re very good at hiding the fact, over on Twitter and Facebook, it’s not your content, it’s their content.

The content on your blog, however, belongs to you, and you alone. People come to your online home, to hear what you have to say, not to hear what everybody else has to say. This sense of personal sovereignty is important.

I have always been understanding that these tech giants need to make money. Supporting tens of millions of users takes time and a whole lot of resources. While it’s in Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn’s interests to attract as many users as possible – and clearly free is the way – there are obvious consequences: Users get to play without paying, but every few months we get kicked in the face when our digital profiles get abused.

employers are increasingly aware of and keen to use the huge informational resource that social media serves up on a plate; all kind of information is in the public domain, and incredibly easy to find – particularly if the applicant has an unusual name. As the chief executive of Social Intelligence has said, with something of a corporate shrug, "All we assemble is what's publicly available on the internet today". Nothing underhand going on here, they say; the company believes that the information is out there to be evaluated.

ENG 111 College Rhetoric schedule, updated Fall 2011 #111cr

All due dates are tentative. Regular blogging is due every week unless specified otherwise.

CSK = Composition Survival Kit
TSIS = Graff & Birkenstein's "They Say / I Say" 

Week 1 - Expectations & Introductions

Week 2 - Justifications & Questions
Read: "Why I Blog," "There's an art to writing on Facebook or Twitter," "In Defense of Twitter," and "Writing in the Age of Distraction"
Write: first blogging entry & first tweet 

Due: 750-word response essay to “What do you want to learn?” prompt
Read: CSK "Introduction" & p. 1-16, TSIS "Preface," p. 1-29 & p. 141-144 
Write: TSIS Exercise 2, p. 15, & Exercise 2, p. 29 

Week 3 - Moves That Matter 
Read: CSK 17-22, TSIS p. 30-51 
Write: TSIS Exercise 1, p.40, & Exercise 1, p.50 

Read: CSK 50-67, TSIS p. 55-77 
Write: TSIS Exercise 1, p. 67, & Exercise 2, p. 76-77 
Student group: Bruce W., Leanne K., Andrew S., Elizabeth S., Amber S.
Student focus: online sources 

Week 4 - Moves That Matter
Read: TSIS p. 78-101 
Write: TSIS Exercise 1, p. 90-91, & Exercise 2, p. 101 
Student group: Katie P., Tiffany B., Karli H., Michael M., Xingyu C.
Student focus: citations 

Read: TSIS 105-128
Write: TSIS Exercise 2, p. 120, & Exercise 2, p. 128 
Student group: Uriah H., Joe S., Catt K., Michelle C., Alex H.
Student focus: writing styles 

Week 5 - Moves That Matter / Pop Up Scholarship
Read: TSIS 129-138 
Write: TSIS Exercise 1, p. 137 
Student group: Charles S.,Stefanie R., Robin B., Alaina P., Chris S.
Student focus: thesis statements 

Student group: Haley G., Tony W., Emily T., Evan P.,
Student focus: transitions 
Pop Up Scholarship introduction 

Week 6 - Pop Up Scholarship
Pop Up Scholarship Parts 1&2 due 

Write: Evaluation of & reflection on Twitter
Pop Up Scholarship Part 3 due
Reverse-Engineered Scholarship introduction 

Week 7 - Reverse-Engineered Scholarship
Reverse-Engineered Scholarship Part 1 due

Reverse-Engineered Scholarship Part 2 due
Mashup Scholarship introduction

Week 8 - Mashup Scholarship
Read: "Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism," "What Plagiarism Looks Like," & "The ecstasy of influence: a plagiarism"

Mashup Scholarship Part 1 due
Pecha Kucha reintroduction

Week 9 - Pecha Kucha
Mashup Scholarship Part 2 due
Pecha Kucha due
Andrew S., Robin B., Kat P., Catherine K., Elizabeth S., Charles S., Joe S., Leanne K., Stefanie R., Amber S. 

Pecha Kucha due
Evan P., Haley G., Alex H., Uriah H., Chris S., Michelle C., Xingyu C., Karli H., Tiffany B., Michael M., Alaina P.

Week 10 - Causes
First causes draft due 

First causes draft due 

Week 11 - Causes
Second causes draft due 

Second causes draft due

Week 12 - Solutions
First solutions draft due 

First solutions draft due 

Week 13 - Solutions
Second solutions draft due 

Second solutions draft due 

Week 14 - Reflections
Read: CSK 27-32 
Write: Self-reflective essay 

Revisions due 

Week 15 - Exam Week

ENG 111 College Rhetoric syllabus, updated Fall 2011 #111cr

Course: ENG 111 College Rhetoric (#111cr)
Semester: Fall 2011
Teacher/Guide: Dr. James Robert Schirmer (@betajames)
E-mail: jschirm AT umflint DOT edu
Office: 320D French Hall
Hours: Monday/Wednesday by appointment
Mailbox: 326 French Hall

Writing Center: 559 French Hall
Writing Center Phone: 810.766.6602 (call ahead to make an appointment)
Writing Center Website:

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

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

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

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

Required Texts:
Graff, Gerald, and Cathy Birkenstein. "They Say / I Say": The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing. New York: Norton, 2006.
The First Year Writing Program: A Survival Kit:

All other reading materials will be provided online.

Course Contributions: 
The grading contract outlines many parameters for the course, but not all. Below is more information about unique contributions to be made to the course by all students.

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

Blogging: Contrary to assumptions about writing, authorship is more of a collective process than an individual endeavor. To better illustrate this, you are required to create and maintain a Posterous blog for the duration of the course. Particular requirements for blogging are as follows: 

  • Blog entries of 400-600 words each are due twice a week by session start.
  • Blog comments of 40-60 words each are due thrice a week by 5pm every Friday. 

Further blogging guidelines are provided here.

Tweeting: To create and sustain further conversation this semester, all students are required to maintain active presence on Twitter for a minimum of four weeks. One post (or tweet) per day is required, but there is freedom regarding content. Students are welcome to post original thoughts, "retweet" classmates' updates, @ (reply to) classmates' updates, and share course-relevant links with the course hashtag. Posts unrelated to course content are okay, but these will not count toward the requirement. I am very active on Twitter, so I encourage all students to check my profile (as well as those I follow) for potential models of engagement. Further guidelines are provided here

Sequences: For particular course themes, there are some longer assignments. These provide opportunities for not only greater attention and focus but also practice and preparation for later projects and beyond. Clicking on each assignment title will take you to the official assignment sheet. 

  • Pop Up Scholarship (800-1200 words)
    Given a greater familiarity with the discursive particulars of academic writing, we should now have the ability to engage in a dialogue with a text, not only noting its unique, stylistic features but also amending/changing the text itself. This assignment emphasizes Mikhail Bakhtin’s work on dialogism and that “all discourse is a response” (Ewald 88). It also stresses the creativity of the reader in the act of making meaning, encouraging an abandonment of “the notion that the text is the sole, even primary, repository of meaning in written discourse” (88).
  • Reverse-Engineered Scholarship (800-1200 words)
    This assignment asks that you begin at the end, that you start with a finished piece of writing and work backward. It is similar to the other “Scholarship” assignments in that it asks you to pay attention to particulars of a piece of written work. While Pop Up and Mashup consider audience, grammar and syntax, organization, and source materials, Reverse-Engineered Scholarship focuses on argument, idea development, and the method or process of how we write. 
  • Mashup Scholarship (800-1200 words)
    Beyond one-to-one dialogue with a text is, of course, dialogic multiplication, the cacophonous implementation of many texts together. This means realizing and showing how well a variety of works relate to each other in terms of argument and meaning, thereby mirroring Girl Talk, Danger Mouse's The Grey Album, Wugazi’s 13 Chambers, and Jonathan Lethem's "The ecstasy of influence." Like "Pop Up Scholarship," this assignment emphasizes reader as well as writer creativity, encouraging a plagiarism of sorts to promote better understanding of textual construction.
  • The Big One (at least 2000 words total) 
    Having reflected on how we use technology and put together documents revealing knowledge of scholarly argument and discourse, it is important to put those abilities to a larger, cumulative test. Intended as a demonstration of what should be acquired in ENG 111, this assignment asks for process-oriented engagement with a focused topic, one realized through an unorthodox composition and resulting in more traditional pieces of academic work.

Class Facilitation: Student groups are responsible for facilitating class once during the semester. It should last 60 minutes with students providing readings for the rest of the class prior to the facilitation. Student groups will meet for instructor approval at least one week prior to their facilitation to finalize readings and discuss approaches. 

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

A facilitation can take whatever format is comfortable for the student group presenting (discussion questions, in-class activities, online activities, etc.). The introduction and subsequent discussion of topics for facilitation will be based on students' interests and finalized as a class. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reverse-Engineered Scholarship, updated Fall 2011 #111cr

Reverse engineering is the process of extracting craft knowledge from a human-made artifact. While this activity may be more common in some fields than others, e.g., electronics over furniture, anyone who has ever taken something apart in order to better understand it could be considered a reverse engineer. This assignment asks for you to consider yourself one, too. 

According to Electronic Design, reverse engineering can take several forms:

  •  A product tear-down identifies the product, package, internal boards, and components.
  • A system-level analysis examines operations, signal paths, and interconnections.
  • A circuit extraction de-layers electronics to the transistor level and then extracts interconnections and components to create schematics.
  • A process analysis examines the structure and materials to see how something is manufactured and what it is made of. 

For the purpose of this class, you will be conducting process analysis*.

The Assignment 


This assignment asks that you begin at the end, that you start with a finished piece of writing and work backward. It is similar to the other “Scholarship” assignments in that it asks you to pay attention to particulars of a piece of written work. While Pop Up and Mashup Scholarship consider audience, grammar and syntax, organization, and source materials, Reverse-Engineered Scholarship focuses on argument, idea development, and the method or process of how we write. 


Choose one of the longform articles below or submit one for instructor approval** by 5pm Friday, 10.13.11.

Part 1. (online, due Tuesday, 10.17.11) Upon reading your chosen article, pare it down into the form of a shitty first draft***, eliminating at least 50% of the published article’s content. Post this form to your blog and reflect on your paring choices. In your reflection, consider what’s essential about the article, what ideas or information perhaps came first. 

Part 2. (online, due Thursday, 10.19.11) Pare your chosen article down even further into the form of a basic outline. Post or upload both forms to your blog and reflect on your paring choices. The outline and initial curiosity/perplexity involves some educated guesses on your part, forcing you to think more like the original author of your chosen article. In your reflection, consider the author’s interest in the subject matter and how it is similar to or different from your own interest. This is also an opportunity for you to justify your overall reverse-engineering of the article.


*If one of the other forms of reverse engineering is more appealing to you, please contact me for instructor approval.

**Given this assignment’s connection to The Big One, it may behoove you to choose an article about your area of interest.

***If you would like to use your own identified method or process for writing rather than what’s asked in Parts 1 and 2 of this assignment, please contact me for instructor approval. 

On rhetoric, Anonymous, bookstores, connectedness, videogames, digital natives, and slang #dyr

The reason that rhetoricians have never preponderantly been the primary sources that media go after is that we are just one of many competitors interpreting reality, and often we are looked at as purveyors of ‘‘mere rhetoric’...rhetoricians, although they are often aligned with the political zeitgeist of academia, must compete with other high-ethos sources in or social commentary sources which, again, have more credentials to be able to sort out reality: political scientists, historians, journalists, bloggers, etc. In fact, the fragmentation of prominent sources of rhetoric demands even more the approach to rhetoric argued in the ‘‘Myth’’ piece. Imagine how increasingly irrelevant situationally-grounded rhetoricians’ depictions and interpretations of reality must seem to political principals, political professionals, and even average citizens.

part of Anonymous has over the last three years moved from disaggregated practices rooted in the culture of trolling to also become a rhizomatic and collective form of action catalyzed and moved forward by a series of world events and political interventions.

a small tribe of devoted book lovers with a business bent say that the economic setting has been right for small, highly personal ventures.

The lesson in the decline of big stores, these owners say, is not that no one wants to buy books. It’s that the big stores were too big. They had overreached and, in trying to be all things to all readers, had lost a sense of intimacy that books and reading seem to thrive on.

The Internet has had a dual effect on the level of connectedness I feel with the people I know in my offline life. On one hand, the basic communication tools now available make distance almost a non-issue...On the other hand, when I am actually with my friends and family, I find myself (and increasingly, my companions) distracted by a smartphone that’s either the object of my gaze or being fingered in my front pocket.

People have less time to play games than they did before. They have more options than ever. And they're more inclined to play quick-hit multiplayer modes, even at the expense of 100-hour epics.

So Prensky was right the first time – there really is digital native generation? No, certainly not – and that’s what’s important about this study. It shows that while those differences exist, they are not lined up on each side of any kind of well-defined discontinuity. The change is gradual, age group to age group. The researchers regard their results as confirming those who have doubted the existence of a coherent ‘net generation’.

There's no grand unified theory for why some slang terms live and others die. In fact, it's even worse than that: The very definition of slang is tenuous and clunky. Writing for the journal American Speech, Bethany Dumas and Jonathan Lighter argued in 1978 that slang must meet at least two of the following criteria: It lowers "the dignity of formal or serious speech or writing," it implies that the user is savvy (he knows what the word means, and knows people who know what it means), it sounds taboo in ordinary discourse (as in with adults or your superiors), and it replaces a conventional synonym. This characterization seems to open the door to words that most would not recognize as slang, including like in the quotative sense: "I was like … and he was like." It replaces a conventional synonym (said), and certainly lowers seriousness, but is probably better categorized as a tic.

The Big One, updated Fall 2011 #111cr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Pop Up Scholarship - Week 6 - 10.10.11 & 10.12.11
 This assignment is a two-part writing sequence that asks students to engage in a dialogue with a particular text. 

Reverse-Engineered Scholarship - Week 7 - 10.17.11 & 10.19.11
 This assignment is a two-part writing sequence that asks students to break down an existing essay into simpler, constituent parts.

Mashup Scholarship - Week 8 - 10.26.11 
This assignment is a writing performance in the style of Jonathan Lethem's "The ecstasy of influence." 

Pecha Kucha Presentations - Week 9 - 10.31.11 & 11.2.11 
This assignment should be 6 minutes, 40 seconds in length and provide an overall approach to not only the topical problem but also potential causes and possible solutions. This presentation should also provide some larger justification (personal, professional, etc.) for addressing this particular issue. 

First Draft of Causes – Week 10 - 11.7.11 & 11.9.11 

Second Draft of Causes – Week 11 - 11.14.11 & 11.16.11 

First Draft of Solutions – Week 12 − 11.21.11 & 11.23.11

Second Draft of Solutions – Week 13 - 11.28.11 & 11.30.11 


All major drafts should be at least 1000 words in length and contain a properly formatted works cited page. All submitted pieces should be typed with 12-point font and have standard one-inch margins. Make sure your name, your class/section, and your instructor’s name appear on the first page. Your name and page number should be clearly visible on each page. Be sure to save your drafts as .rtf files and hand in both online and print versions. 

Mashup Scholarship, updated Fall 2011 #111cr

In "The ecstasy of influence: A plagiarism," Jonathan Lethem pulls from an incredible variety of sources to make an argument about the nature of originality. Part of what makes his argument so compelling has to do with how he makes it, drawing from the work of others and relying very little on his own words. Lethem does, of course, acknowledge his source material, but in a way contrary to established academic forms. Instead of proper citation format, Lethem offers a "key," combining partial quotes and authors' names in red along with the occasional anecdote about a particular source. Like VH1’s Pop Up Video, Lethem's mashup essay is another kind of writer/text collaboration that involves more than one kind of text and more than one kind of author. Mashup is a further invitation to make and see connections between texts, to make something cohesive out of things not our own.

The Assignment

Craft an essay of at least 800 words using 5 strong sources. Potential reference points for this assignment include Jonathan Lethem's "The ecstasy of influence," Danger Mouse's The Grey Album, Wugazi's 13 Chambers, and Wikipedia. Look at how these works are derivative of their source material. Note the revisions made to establish transitions between hooks and lyrics, sentences and paragraphs. Take inspiration from previous mashups; allow them to influence the construction of your own work. You have the opportunity to flex your MLA citation muscles with this assignment, but I encourage you to design a "key" as Lethem does or some other method of giving credit where credit's due.

Part 1. (online, due Wednesday, 10.26.11) Select 5 strong academic sources from journals and magazines related to your area of interest and mash 'em up. Don't just throw the sources together; make a cohesive argument out of them. Don't pull 5 paragraphs at random and simply list them; integrate at the sentence level. Keep your own words to a minimum. 

Part 2. (online, due Monday, 10.31.11) Use Part 1 as the basis for a blog entry. How you construct the entry is up to you. I encourage you to provide a simple walkthrough of your mashup process, a conventional collection of bulleted/numbered points of interest, or a scan/upload of the mashup itself accompanied by your own further commentary. No matter your choice, be reflective and draw some conclusions about the following:

  • mashup in general (or specific to academic writing, e.g., should it be allowed?)
  • plagiarism in general (or specific to academic writing, e.g., how should it be addressed?)
  • what your mashup (or those by your peers) reveals about academic discourse