Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Webtext on Re-Mediating the Canons

Prior, Paul, et al. “Re-situating and Re-mediating the Canons: A Cultural-Historical Remapping of Rhetorical Activity” Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology and Pedagogy. 11.3 (2007). Web.

In this article, the authors argue that the traditional canons of rhetoric are in need of updating. Rather than proposing ways in which the traditional canons can be re-interpreted as others have (see my prior posts on Reynolds and Porter), these authors propose an altogether new theory.

This new framework emphasizes a full range of rhetorical activities and demonstrates the means in which the classical canons can be seen as limited in their coverage. The authors emphasize that this expanded framework is not necessary only to account for new rhetorical situations brought about by digital media; instead, they maintain that these activities were always in existence, but simply not acknowledged by the cannons addressed by the ancients.

To develop their argument, the authors first identify what concepts are overlooked by traditional canons of rhetoric. First, they problematize the canon of delivery indicating that it might better be reconceived through the use of two terms: "mediation" and "distribution" because these terms would better allow "us to take a broader view of the rhetorical landscape" (8). The authors also point out that the rhetorical canons focus strictly upon the rhetor and not the audience or receiver of the message. Therefore, they explain that "reception" should also be accounted for in a framework for rhetorical activity.

Additionally, the authors explore the means in which socialization plays a significant role in the rhetorical situation; one that has previously been neglected through the traditional canons. They emphasize the need to see "making people," in a Marxist sense of understanding how people are "made in historical conditions, as shaped, though not determined, by social relations," as part of rhetoric (15).

By blending this understanding of the need for mediation, distribution, reception, and socialization with the existing features of the rhetorical canon, the authors propose a new "Map of Literate Activity" that consists of seven categories: production, representation, distribution, reception, socialization, activity, and ecology (20-21). The identification of these seven new categories then link (as it is a web text) to eleven data nodes that "present some of the spaces and paths this new mapping makes more visible and navigable” (25).

This selection opened my eyes to a decidedly different approach to the canons of rhetoric and their purpose. However, I am not yet ready to accept the proposed categories as a replacement for the classical canons. While I appreciate the argument being made, I’m not certain I yet accept one of the authors foremost assumption, which is that while the ancient rhetoricians gave us other rhetorical maps, such as ethos, pathos, and logos, the canons are unique as the only one to address rhetorical activity rather than types of discourse (2). I believe these additional rhetorical devices also contribute to the mapping of rhetorical activity because they chart rhetorical “moves”. For example, ethos, pathos, and logos are quite tied to reception in that they inspire rhetorical moves that addresses the audience’s needs.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Openings for New Media

Wysocki, Anne Frances. “Opening New Media to Writing:  Openings and Justifications.”   Writing New Media : Theory and Applications for Expanding the Teaching of Composition. Anne Frances Wysocki et al. Logan: Utah State University Press, 2004. 2%-17%.  Kindle Edition.
In this piece, Anne Frances Wysocki provides a framework for how individuals in the field of Rhetoric and Composition might understand the place of new media in contemporary classroom.  She develops this framework by outlining the ways in which “what we know about writing can usefully affect how we approach new media” (4%).  Through this framework, Wysocki is able to meet skeptics of new media where they are.  She is able to draw on beliefs they already hold about writing instruction to provide the foundation for argument for how new media might be treated in the classroom. 
Her foundation and argument are presented through five “openings” wherein writing and new media meet.  Opening 1 argues for the need to use what we know about writing already to inform our way of thinking about new media.  In particular, she argues that writing teachers already examine texts and the means in which people use texts.  This knowledge should be married with what we know about new media to approach the these texts most effectively.  Second, she argues that we should consider the role the materiality of the text plays in our meaning making, both for writing and new media.  

Next, she outlines the need to define new media in terms of its materiality and to understand that new media does not only refer to digital text, but texts made out of anything.  As a forth opening, she outlines the value in having composition students create new media texts as a means for helping them understand the role of materiality in composition.  Lastly, she acknowledges the need for “generous reading;” this receptive form of reading is encouraged to account for the fact that if we are to be open to these first four notions, we must be prepared to read the resulting texts without casting premature judgement based upon their non-traditional form.
In addition to this theoretical framework, however, Wysocki also gives suggestions for praxis.  Rather than leaving her reader to imagine how these ideas might be brought into the classroom, she gives specific examples to help get the reader started.  These examples include in-class activities, suggested discussion topics, paper assignments and homework activities.  
These activities are well suited for the new teacher just beginning to learn to produce lesson plans and prepare classroom materials to meet specific outcomes because they are specific and include clear goals for each activity.  However, these activities are also valuable for the seasoned practitioner who might be interested in the value new media might bring to his or her classroom, but also unsure of where to begin.  Rather than having to begin with experimental activities, the seasoned practitioner might first attempt integrating new media concepts using activities developed and vetted by experts in the field.  

Pedagogical Tool Review: Waypoint Outcomes

Waypoint Outcomes is web-based interactive rubric software designed to make assessment easier.  The product’s website boasts that “Waypoint Outcomes builds software that streamlines the interactions between learners and teachers. The results can mean a dramatically improved dialog about outcomes and rich data on student learning.”

Figure 1 (Click to Enlarge)
With Waypoint, faculty can generate feedback for each student using a customizable rubric.  The end result is a detailed memo for each student that explains the level of achievement in each area specified by the rubric (see Figure 1).  The feedback can be delivered through the course management system used by the professor’s institution, via email, or simply printed and distributed.

I have elected to take part in their Fellowship program, which has allowed me access to the software for free for one year. They have three additional license levels, as described in Figure 2.

Figure 2 (Click to Enlarge)
One very useful quality about Waypoint is the support that is provided for users as they begin to use the software.  As part of the fellowship program, I was promised four hours of web-based support and training, my own rubric built into the software by a professional at Waypoint and access to the course management system building block.  In addition, built into the software is an extensive support page that includes a quick start guide, video tutorials, best practices, and FAQs.  The client services representatives at the company are also both available and eager to help.

Working within the software and viewing the tutorials, however, I began to see clear strengths and weaknesses.  Although Waypoint makes an appealing promise, the software is not infallible.

One strength of the software is that the rubric can be used easily and customized.  To grade a student’s paper, the teacher can quickly go through the rubric (see Figure 3 for an example) and select the radio button that corresponds to the student’s achievement in each category.  Each radio button will automatically add a “boilerplate” comment to the student’s memo outlining their grade achievement.

Figure 3 (Click to Enlarge)
If the prewritten feedback doesn’t suite the student’s paper perfectly, the assessor can select the “edit” button below that category and completely customize the feedback the student will receive, making it personal and tailored specifically to the student’s writing.  This flexibility in the rubric helps anticipate what every faculty member dreads:  those moments wherein the rubric doesn’t fully capture the complexity of an issue one might see in student writing.

 One trouble with this set up, however, is that my current rubric (Figure 4) does not transfer easily to the Waypoint format.  My rubric does not assume all papers begin as an A; instead it starts with all papers being assumed to be a C until proven otherwise.  I take this approach because, as Glenn and Goldthwaite explain assuming all papers begin as an "A" requires that assessment focus only upon seeing "what is wrong is wrong with essays" (115).

Figure 4 (Click to Enlarge)
The rubrics that seems most conducive to the structure of Waypoint's rubric are those where students begin with full points and points are removed until the grade is reached.  As a result, when I tried to develop a Waypoint rubric to represent my personal rubric, I struggled.  Luckily for me, however, as part of opportunity of the Fellowship program I am able to have the staff at Waypoint design a Waypoint version of my rubric, which I have just recently requested.  However, I am not sure what such a rubric will look like in their system.

Even so:  where’s the student’s actual paper throughout all of this, you might ask.  What about in-text annotations?  The current Waypoint Outcomes software adds very little to this process of in-text annotation.  At the bottom of the rubric, they have an “Attach” button wherein the faculty member can attach a document with in-text comments.

The professor has two options:  he or she can use a word processor like Microsoft Word to add comments that stand out (i.e. with visual markers like highlighting) and then copy and paste the marked document into the Waypoint Outcomes and attach it.  Or, the grader can use a Waypoint tool that operates much in the way the comments feature in Word.

Unfortunately, the process and time needed to add in-text comments is essentially the same as it is without the software--but in this case the faculty member has to additionally copy and paste the document into a new system. One of my chief complaints about grading is the time it takes me to add in-text comments.  I would most value a tool that would help me in this area.  An upcoming version of Waypoint Outcomes is rumored to have a more robust in-text editing component, which might help in this matter.  I look forward to reviewing the tool’s effectiveness again at that point.

Another advantage of this software, however, might be its ability to let one rubric be shared across numerous users within one institution.  As Glenn and Goldthwaite explain, often grading standards are established by "a serious attempt to reduce grade inflation and standarize grades within the composition program" (114).  If everyone were using the same rubric as the means through which grades were determined it might help ensure grade standards were more uniform.  However, it could be argued that the same norming could be achieved through a common printed rubric.

Perhaps the tool’s greatest strength, however, is not in the day-to-day ease of grading.  Instead, it is in the ability to collect data about student outcomes.  In the premium versions of Waypoints data can be collected on the achievement of students in specific areas or outcomes.  Pedagogical interventions might then be planned for the areas with the lowest achievement scores.  Likewise, administrators within the department would be able to examine the greatest areas of need within the department as a whole.  Workshops and professional development opportunities might then be planned to help generate discussion and strategies for increasing achievement in those areas where the greatest weakness are identified.

Works Cited

Glenn, Cheryl, and Melissa A. Goldthwaite. The St. Martin's Guide to Teaching Writing. 6th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2008. Print.

Waypoint Outcomes. nd. Web. 15 Feb. 2011.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Role of Delivery in the Digital Age

Porter, James E.  “Recovering Delivery for Digital Rhetoric.”  Computers and Composition 29 (2009):  207-224.  Print.
This article by James E. Porter takes on the same argument and purpose posed in Reynold’s “Memory Issues in Composition Studies,” but for a different neglected rhetorical canon:  the canon of delivery.  Similar to Reynolds, Porter argues that delivery is relevant to the contemporary classroom.  To present his argument, he first traces the history of rhetorical delivery, then he proposes five areas wherein delivery is of relevance in the digital age.  
Naturally, Porter begins his history of rhetorical delivery with a look at classical Greek and Roman rhetoric, wherein delivery was characterized primarily as an emphasis upon the role of the voice, body and emotional impact of a speaker.  Porter demonstrates how concerns of delivery were equated largely with these issues of decorum throughout these classical times until a shift in treatment was seen in the 15th century, along with the invention of the printing press. 
The printing press itself, he argues through the lens of Elizabeth Eisenstein’s The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, created a new form of delivery.  Regardless of this new, non-oral form of delivery, scholars continued to refer to delivery as a physical concern (with emphasis on voice and body), and, for reasons he doesn’t elaborate upon, discussions began to overlook the role delivery played in addressing the emotional needs of an audience.  This truncated view of delivery as physical characteristics was then seen as irrelevant to printed discourse.    
To combat this truncated view, Porter turns his discussion to an argument for  how this canon can be seen as important to contemporary rhetorical study and how the digital age, in particular, makes this allowance. His framework is composed of five components which he names “Body/Identity,” “Distribution/Circulation,” “Access/Accessibility,” “Interaction,” and “Economics” (208).  Body/Identity refers to a concerns over the representations of one’s self in an online environment; for example, how one's gestures, might be represented through online correspondence.  Distribution/Circulation addresses technical aspects of delivery related to publishing and distributing texts.  Access/Accessibility raises questions of how a population might be able to connect to web-based information, while Interaction refers to the engagement between people and information in the digital space.  Lastly, Economics accounted for a concern over issues of information policy, such as fair use, copyright and the like.  
As the structure of Porter’s text mirrors that of Reynolds, the uses and limits of the text are quite similar.  Once again this text serves as a solid overview of the history of the usage of this canon of rhetoric and provides a strong framework for understanding the role of this canon in the digital age.  However, one additional asset to Porter’s discussion is his treatment of the real stakes of neglecting an important rhetorical cannon.  While Reynolds argued for it’s importance by outlining areas wherein room could be made memory, Porter outlines the means in which a weakened emphasis on one or more cannons of rhetoric can put specific populations at a disadvantage.