Thursday, July 12, 2012

Yancey's "Delivering Composition" (Chapter 1 of the Book by the Same Title

Yancey, Kathleen Blake. "Delivering Composition: A Vocabulary for Discussion." Ed. Kathleen Blake Yancey. Delivering Composition. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook, 2006. Print.

The project of this book, as Yancey outlines in the preface, is to examine what college composition looks like in a variety of contexts. Her first chapter then seeks to define the three essential concepts at the heart of this issue: college, composition and delivery. She begins with college, which she explains is no longer a single site, but rather something that takes place at multiple sites, "physical and virtual, informal and formal, official and just-in-time" (4). Next she takes a close look at the path of composition from the paradigm shift from current-traditional into process and from print based composition to writing for the screen. What it means to compose, much less to teach composing has clearly changed and is continuing to do so. Finally she examines the varied elements of college composition delivery from the physicality of the classroom spaces to who is delivering the subject. These varied sites and agents of delivery greatly influence the course being composed. As colleges, society and other circumstances continue to evolve, the delivery of composition will also and thus is a subject that is due great consideration.

Discussion: This piece serves as an excellent primer for the recent C's CFP that Yancey sent out via the WPA Listserv. It's additionally a nice breakdown of the college composition's background. I think this piece serves as a nice piece for a WPA class, particularly one that cannot assume all students have taken a class in this history of the field. It's interesting to me too that many of the debates of our field can be nicely tied to the defining of these three concepts.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Glau's "Hard Work and Hard Data"

Glau, Gregory R. “Hard Work and Hard Data: Using Statistics to Help your Program.” The Writing Program Administrator’s Resource.  Eds. Stuart C Brown and Theresa Enos. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002. Print. 291-302. Based upon a C’s presentation from 1999.

This piece addresses statistical research in the life of the WPA. The author indicates the types of questions an administrator might get from a variety of sources that would be best responded to through researched data. To prepare for such occasions, Glau recommends that administrators prepare themselves by asking questions related to their programs and seeking the answers and analyzing the results they receive. He provides a series of Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How questions to help guide WPAs in developing questions relevant to their institutional context. Then, the author provides guidance on presenting this information to key audiences, particularly in graphic form.

Discussion: With specific case study examples and many probing questions, this piece is useful to helping WPAs consider the way statistics can be useful in helping them understand their program better, respond to inquires and even advertise and advocate for their program. Introductions to statistical practices in the life of an administrator such as these are particularly useful since firm experience with statistical research cannot be expected of all humanities scholars.

Anson's "Figuring it Out"

Anson, Chris M. “Figuring it Out: Writing Program in the Context of University Budgets.” The Writing Program Administrator’s Resource. Eds. Stuart C Brown and Theresa Enos. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002. Print. 233-252.
In this article, the author addresses the important issue of the writing program budget. Since, like so many things related to writing program administration, the budget is varied from institution to institution and will come with idiosyncrasies at each, Anson suggests the process of visual mapping as a means through which greater understanding of the budgetary situation can be developed. He first recommends drawing out the expenses of the program and categorizing those. Next, the sources of income and their expected (allowed) uses can be mapped, including sources of income that are variable or only hypothetical (grant money). With these issues outlined so that they can be clearly observed, the author suggests the WPA can then begin to think about budgetary problems and map those as well. With the budget and budget related problems mapped clearly, the administrator can then begin to think about the ideological and political problems that feed into the financial concerns of the program. Intimate knowledge of one’s budget, in the way mapping provides, will help the administrator deal with changes in circumstances and rising problems which are certain to develop.

Discussion: This piece gives a detailed case study into one institution’s budgetary concerns to help the reader see the layers involved in budgeting at an institution along with a creative way to help the reader learn to understand the unique situation of a budget when the assume a position wherein they are in charge of budgetary issues. Useful—I think it would be useful and interesting to give students in a WPA class a situation and example spreadsheets and ask them to map the budget in this way.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Schell's Part-Time/Adjunct Issues: Working Toward Change

Schell, Eileen E. “Part-Time/Adjunct Issues: Working Toward Change.” The Writing Program Administrator’s Resource. Eds. Stuart C Brown and Theresa Enos. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002. Print. 181-201. 

This article provides and overview of the state of labor issues and working conditions for part-time and contingent faculty members. After reviewing the statistics presented by the Coalition on the Academic Work Force survey (published by MLA in 1999), the author explains the tensions created by the academy’s great dependence on part-time labor. She then presents four strategies for addressing and improving the working conditions of these part-time and non-tenure track workers: “the conversionist (converting part-time positions into full-time, tenure-track lines), reformists (improving existing working conditions of part-time and non-tenure-track positions), unionist/collectivist (addressing work conditions through unionization, collective bargaining, and community organizing), and abolitionist strategies (abolishing the first-year writing requirement and reforming labor conditions)” (188). Each of these paths are not without their challenges, barriers or drawbacks. Finally she presents the four elements part-time and contingent faculty need to be successful: “compensation, contracts, conditions that enable quality teaching and coalition building” (196) .

Discussion: this article presents good materials and keen observation about the injustices of adjunct labor—ones I am all too aware of as the program head of adjuncts on my campus. Unfortunately, the paths that are presented are not practical for my context—as I suspect they would not be for many institutions. I don’t finish this article with hope that I can enact change in my context. While I agree that the elements she presents would improve working conditions the path to achieving those elements is not a clear one. I think this article is useful in the way it demonstrates the institutional strains that lead to poor conditions for adjunct faculty and I think it’s important that individuals see how multilayered this problem is. However, it would be easy, I think, for someone who isn’t in tune with the complexity of the institutional context to simply look at suggestions such as the one to follow the C’s guidelines for class size and provide office-space and simply think—yes, let’s do that and things will improve. Even something that might seem as simple as improving office-space for adjunct faculty is a layered and political issue, at least at my institution.

Another thing that strikes me as I read this piece is the lack of tenured faculty at my college. The article bemoans to decline of tenure and indicates our need to protect it from becoming extinct, but it is gone at my institution. Save for a few faculty who have been in my department for over 40 years, no one has tenure or the ability to obtain it. We have multi-year contracts as full-time permanent faculty—three one year contracts, then one three year, and then contracts of five years after that. I never consider myself contingent faculty because I have a multi-year contract despite my lack of tenure and am able to move up the promotion ranks. Contingent full-time faculty at our campus, in my mine are the one-year restricted positions (who must re-interview to get permanent positions) or the full-time lectureships that are currently proposed by our state system. I’m interested to explore further labor issues at other institutions where tenure has been abolished—and the politics of that very decision.

Phelps' "Turtles All the Way Down"

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee.  "Turtles All The Way Down:  Educationing Academic Leaders."  The Writing Program Administrator’s Resource. Eds. Stuart C Brown and Theresa Enos. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002. Print. 3-39. 

This article explores the case of leadership development in the academy and specifically with relationship to WPA work. Leadership development is not something that is well addressed as an aspect of training the future professoriate, which is problematic considering the complexity of academic leadership. The article explores the issues of professionalism and power associated with administration. These leaders must fight for their work to be considered intellectual work relevant to promotion and tenure and must carefully navigate ideologies related to the use of power with their own negotiate of the power their position affords them. The often-clashing domains of the discipline, collegium, and workplace complicate issues of identity for the academic leader. Individuals in varied leadership roles with in a department can struggle to “negotiat[e] and reconcil[e] multiple identities as practical learner, researchers, employees, disciplinary colleagues, administrators, student peers, co-teachers, family members, and community activists” (21).

To make things more complex: while the academic enterprise is perceived as holding the public good at the heart of its mission, faculty are able to operate under their own perception of the public good regardless of their specific context, but administrators necessarily must consider public good within its local context—thus they are bound to their institution more directly. As leadership is a deeply complex experience, leadership education is extremely important to consider. Phelps examines the benefits of triangulated approach to leadership education that allows for formal learning, experiential learning (indirect, observation based) and pragmatic learning. The formal and practical learning models fed into one another in a recursive manner which lead to a rich learning environment. The department as a whole when leadership education is not taken as something merely for graduate students, but rather something that engages members of the department from multiple generation working together to create opportunities for the three modes of learning to take place.

Discussion: This piece is really important to me because it strikes a cord directly with a tension I have felt as an administrator that I could not always properly articulate. It’s easy to say that one feels like they’re going to the “dark side” by becoming an administrator, but that is woefully reductive in articulating the struggle a faculty member feels with coming to terms with his or her identity as an administrator and faculty member. Part of my greatest struggle in the last year has been in determining issues of my own professional identity and how schizophrenic it has felt. Moral dilemmas are commonplace. Merely months ago, I spent an hour on the phone with a dear mentor of mine (Paul Heilker) asking how he slept at night knowing how “troubling, conflicted and difficult” (Phelps 21) the moral choices of administration truly were.

These conflicts seem even more pronounced as I attempt to reconcile my dissertation emphasis on guerrilla rhetoric with my administrative work, which at times feels anything but guerrilla. Phelps does help me reconcile the two a bit, however. She says, “[t]he ethics of administrative leadership are preconditioned on faith in the global potential of higher education institutions to further the public good. It would be impossible to view the academic enterprise itself in moral terms if it were devoted simply to self-aggrandizement…” (22). This notion of academic leadership being motivated by the good of the people relates quite well to Carlos Marighella’s notion of the urban guerrilla. He maintains, “the urban guerrilla defends a just cause, which is the people's cause” (Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla Kindle Location 168-169). It is this emphasis on the cause of the people, rather than focus on one’s self that distinguishes a guerrilla from one who is simply rebellious, or an outlaw, to use Marighella’s term. Unfortunately, institutions are critiqued for falling away from this value for narcissistically motivated purposes. The tension between these two mindsets, Phelps explains, has always been a staple in American academic professionalism. But, I digress (this is what happens when comprehensive exam reading and independent study reading come together)…my own personal interest in this piece aside, this is rich with information on professionalization and power dynamics and certainly a keeper for WPA course development.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Selections from The Writing Program Administrator's Resource

White, Edward M. “Teaching a Graduate Program in Writing Program Administration.” The Writing Program Administrator’s Resource. Eds. Stuart C Brown and Theresa Enos. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002. Print. 101-112.

This article examines the experiences the author and Theresa Enos had in teaching a PhD class in WPA. The piece shares a syllabus, schedule, and lessons learned from the teaching of a WPA class. The author indicates how surprised he was to learn how little students really understood of how academia worked and how insolated they were from the reality of the struggles end within their own field (i.e. the poor status of rhetoric and composition faculty were perceived as a historical issue). The piece explores the strengths and weaknesses of the course design and acknowledges how vast the field of WPA really is. Not matter how one decides to craft a WPA course, he argues, material will be left out. In covering material in the class, or even keeping up with ever evolving literature of the field, White simply laments, “we all did the best we could and that unremitting guilt was part of WPA baggage” (109).

Discussion: This piece certainly reflects the struggle Louise, Mark and I have already addressed to some extent in considering how Mark and I might design a new WPA course for Louise to teach—we are knowingly omitting important, even necessary information in designing this course. As such, I think this piece is important for the class to read. I think it’s a useful reminder that the class will not and cannot be all-inclusive. This class only helps those of us interested in WPA work get our feet wet and learn some of the basics. Keeping up will be a career long endeavor. I just tweeted this morning that the deeper I get into WPA literature the more I feel I have to learn. It’s certainly nice to know Ed White feels the same way. ☺

Schwalm, David E. “Writing Program Administration as Preparation for an Administrative Career.” The Writing Program Administrator’s Resource. Eds. Stuart C Brown and Theresa Enos. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002. Print. 125-135.

This article uses the experiences from the author’s fifteen years of experience in varied levels of academic administration (from WPA to vise provost) to examine the differences between faculty and administrators and to demonstrate how WPA work is effective preparation for a career in upper level administration in the academy, if one so desires. The article makes some generalizations about the nature of faculty members versus administrators that present faculty in a fairly negative, but not undeserved, light. The essential message is that the position faculty hold in the institution allows them to be fairly self-focused, while administrators (good ones at least) must look outside themselves and their context. In the end, the piece argues a quasi-administrator position like the WPA helps a faculty member to develop administrator qualities because he or she gains through the unique position of the role an understanding of the power of knowledge, friendships, persuasion and empathy, all skills that are useful to an effective administrator.

Discussion: This piece actually cracked me up at several points. Schwalm’s characterization of faculty is a bit too true at times. His “nerd hypothesis of administrative failure,” was particularly amusing: "A nerd, whatever virtues or vices he or she may have, is someone who is uncomfortable at a cocktail party with strangers. There are some nerds who are content to be heads-down computer programmers, work in offices by themselves, grow rich, and raise socially adjusted children with perfect teeth. Others who are more resentful pursue the revenge of the nerds by becoming teachers or ministers--specifically because those positions carry with them power over others which the nerd could not win by dint of his or her own personality and social skills. That's bad enough, but Woe unto us all when one of these becomes an academic administrator!" (129). I find this piece really interesting in presenting the administration not as the dark side, but as a side with different concerns from the faculty. It articulates the necessity for faculty and administrators to act differently because of their particular roles. It makes sense. It’s useful. I do wonder, however, how faculty without administrative aspirations, or students how have never taught or been in administration, would respond to his tongue-in-cheek treatment of the faculty ranks.

Selections from Administrative Problem-Solving for Writing Programs and Writing Centers

The pieces in this text all have the same basic format: they introduce an institutional context and set of challenges to allow the reader to speculate how they might address such situations. Then, they provide insight into how actual administrators at the institutions handled the circumstances, or in the case where the situation presented wasn’t an exact replica of a real life situation, they provide suggestions for addressing these circumstances. As a whole, I think these scenarios are useful to helping readers understand the vast array of contexts and challenges that might meet at WPA. Published in 1999, many of these scenarios clearly date themselves, while others seem more timeless. I think these are useful to have new or potential WPAs review, but do wish an updated version of the text existed. One thing that I think would be particularly useful is to have students in a WPA class use the genre presented in this text to chart the state of their own program, whether it is one they are leading, one they are a student within or even one they are observing as part of an interview/observation study.

A bit more on the individual situations in the pieces I explored:

Bullock, Richard. “In Pursuit of Competence: Preparing New Graduate Teaching Assistants for the Classroom.” Administrative Problem-Solving for Writing Programs and Writing Centers. Ed. Linda Myers-Breslin. Urbana: National Council of Teachers of English, 1999. Print. 3-13.

This selection deals with TA training. Teaching Assistants at a mid-sized, state supported institution are struggling greatly with their first semester of teaching and clearly need more preparation, but the master’s program is reluctant to add additional required credits to their load specifically for teacher training related activities.

Cooper, Allene, Martha Sipe, Teresa Dewey, and Stephanie Hunt. “What Happens When Discourse Communities Collide? Portfolio Assessment and Non-Tenure-Track Faculty.” Administrative Problem-Solving for Writing Programs and Writing Centers. Ed. Linda Myers-Breslin. Urbana: National Council of Teachers of English, 1999. Print. 44-52.

In this scenario, the Writing Program Director pilots a portfolio system for assessing exit competencies of first-year writing students. This pilot is an attempt to replace an outdated exam, develop dialogue across program faculty (full-time, part-time and TA) and to meet assessment criteria established by the administration. In addition, to negotiation these goals, the WPA must address building tensions between TA and adjunct faculty.

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “Mobilizing Human Resources to Re(Form) a Writing Program.” Administrative Problem-Solving for Writing Programs and Writing Centers. Ed. Linda Myers-Breslin. Urbana: National Council of Teachers of English, 1999. Print. 73-96.

This scenario paints the picture of the fictitious Cicero University. Cicero is a university in reform. The institution’s new president is beginning an effort to reduce the college’s overall size, while also attempting to recruit in such a way as to diversify the population. Meanwhile, the Writing Program itself is still relatively new, only existing for three prior years. The mix of faculty supporting the program (an autonomous entity separate from the English department) consists of only one other compositionist (also new to the program) and a mix of part time faculty and TAs, but the number of TAs has been reduced. The administrator is tasked with modernizing methods of writing instruction, creating philosophical coherence and adding value to other degree programs.

Kimball, Sara E. “Computers in the Writing Center.” Administrative Problem-Solving for Writing Programs and Writing Centers. Ed. Linda Myers-Breslin. Urbana: National Council of Teachers of English, 1999. Print. 133-145.

This piece finds its context in the writing center of an institution. This center operates with its own budget and is in the process of developing a plan for creating and maintaining online writing center services. The administrator must determine the needs that can be met through online services and how he/she will implement, staff and maintain them. Special consideration should be given to who the audience for the online services will be and how training in software programs will be facilitated (and funded).

Maid, Barry. “How WPAs Can Learn to Use Power to Their Own Advantage.” Administrative Problem-Solving for Writing Programs and Writing Centers. Ed. Linda Myers-Breslin. Urbana: National Council of Teachers of English, 1999. Print. 202-211.

This selection takes place at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 1982. The department is composed largely of literature faculty who are active publishers, but who must teach first-year writing as about half of their load. The first-year sequence has an exit exam at the end of each class. As the newly appointed WPA, the reader must determine how to address the curriculum in a context wherein most faculty teach to the tests and very little actual writing takes place. You are in the position where you must remove the test to create a new curriculum that will actually enact change, but you must do so in such a way as to use your power as WPA, but not offend those in the program who have say over your tenure decision.

Haviland, Carol Peterson and Edward M. White. “How Can Physical Space and Administrative Structure Shape Writing Programs, Writing Centers, and WAC Projects.” Administrative Problem-Solving for Writing Programs and Writing Centers. Ed. Linda Myers-Breslin. Urbana: National Council of Teachers of English, 1999. Print. 212-222.

This scenario looks closely at where aspects of the writing program are located within an institution. It asks the reader to address how he/she might respond to issues related to the location of a program. It addresses not only issues of where physical office space is located and the politics of those locations, but also where within the institutional context different aspects of the program (writing center, WAC, etc) are located, whose power are they under, and why.


I find this genre really useful for helping me think about how WPA work gets done. In addition to the selections that I’ve reviewed (those that were used in the 2010 WPA class), I would really be interested to take a closer look at these selections soon:

  • Paul Bodmer’s “Introducing a Developmental Writing Program at a Small, Rural Two-Year College.” 
  • Howard Tinberg’s “Examining Our Assumptions as Gatekeepers: A Two-Year College Propsective.” 
  • Rita Malenczyk’s “Productive Change in a Turbulent Atmosphere: Pipe Dream or Possibility.” 
  • Ben W. McClelland’s “A New Millennium for the Writing Program: Introducing Authority and Change to Traditional Folks Who Employ Time-Worn Practices.”

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Additional Selections from The Allyn & Bacon Sourcebook for Writing Program Administrators

Chase, Geoffrey. “Redefining Composition, Managing Change, and the Role of the WPA.” Eds. Irene Ward and William J. Carpenter. The Allyn & Bacon Sourcebook for Writing Program Administrators. New York: Longman, 2002. Print. 243-251.  (Originally published in 1997).

This article addresses composition’s continual propensity for change. It aims not to argue for whether or not first-year composition programs should continue to exist (an argument of some) or what specific form they should take but instead to explores what directions should we move in with this problematic curriculum. The article advocates for an “it depends” response to this question. How any department will address the future of composition must depend upon its local condition, the perception of its internal coherence and consideration of its external relevancy. The author demonstrates who these three factors were used to help reshape his intuition’s curriculum, while remind the reader that his or her institution may not benefit from the same changes because of differed conditions, coherence and relevancy. Each institution should approach changed based on their unique positioning.

Discussion: The introduction of these three factors for determining the path of change for a writing program is quite useful. I think this piece is useful for providing “invention” material for thinking about programmatic change or simply just assessment. I particularly like how this piece focuses on the unique circumstances of each department in an isolated moment in time, rather than suggesting one cookie-cutter solution for all departments. This factor alludes to one reason WPA work is so very complex. 

CCC Task Force on the Preparation of Teachers of Writing. “Appendix E: Position Statement on the Preparation and Professional Development of Teachers of Writing.” Eds. Irene Ward and William J. Carpenter. The Allyn & Bacon Sourcebook for Writing Program Administrators. New York: Longman, 2002. Print. 362-365.  (Originally published in 1989).

This position statement outlines the skills and opportunities that teachers of writing should be afforded. These teachers should have the opportunity to write, to read and respond to writing, to read their own texts perceptively, to study writing as a process, to explore writing as a process, to assess progress of writers, to study research in the field, and to student writing in other disciplines. In addition, the position statement asserts that colleges/universities, teacher education programs, teacher and administrators at secondary schools, and the state department of public instruction should all work to foster these opportunities for teachers of writing. 

Discussion: While I thinks the organization and style of this type of document is extremely useful, the piece is aged and as a result does not consider multimodality, digital media or technology in general; all of which are, to me, really important for contemporary writing teacher preparation. I would like to do some exploring to see if a similar document exists for the contemporary context. 

Council of Writing Program Administrators. “Appendix F: Evaluating the Intellectual Work of Writing Administration.” Eds. Irene Ward and William J. Carpenter. The Allyn & Bacon Sourcebook for Writing Program Administrators. New York: Longman, 2002. Print. 366-378.

This piece introduces the concern of justifying the work of WPAs for purposes of tenure and promotion. It shows the unfortunate case where a WPA might be unsuccessful with their tenure case, despite being a productive faculty member, because the nature of their work was not readily identifiable using the “exchange value” or “use value” associated with the traditional system of academic judgments. Therefore, this piece outlines how the work of WPAs might be characterized as intellectual work to qualify for tenure and promotion. The chapter demonstrates how the WPA’s work might fall into five different categories of intellectual work: program creation, curricular design, faculty development, program assessment and program-related textual production. The authors demonstrate how each of these categories constitute intellectual work and then develop a framework for developing a tenure portfolio based upon such categories. 

Discussion: I found this piece to be quite enlightening. I have long worried about the role digital publications might have on tenure and promotion, but I haven’t considered the way the work of a WPA would be interpreted for those purposes. I think this article is useful to introducing both how the academy works as well as specific issues to the WPA. I think this is a useful one to keep for future classes, for sure. I think it would be particularly interesting to pair with an example tenure portfolio, if a WPA willing to share such example could be found.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Selections from The Allyn & Bacon Sourcebook for Writing ProgramAdministrators

I began reading for my six-week (plus or minus) independent study on Writing Program Administration today with three selections from The Allyn & Bacon Sourcebook for Writing Program Administrators. For each of these pieces (ordered by how I read them), I am providing a brief summary. In addition to this brief summary, I am providing a short discussion about whether I see this selection as being useful to the scope of a future WPA class, which my colleague Mark Blaauw-Hara (also blogging) and I are designing. This class design will introduce students to WPA work with an emphasis on responding to what we have called the “apocalyptic turn” faced by the academy. This class will focus on exploring how WPAs can serve as agents of change in the face of difficult academic climates.

Schwalm, David E. “The Writing Program (Administrator) in Context: Where Am I, and Can I Still Behave Like a Faculty Member?” Eds. Irene Ward and William J. Carpenter. The Allyn & Bacon Sourcebook for Writing Program Administrators. New York: Longman, 2002. Print. 9-22.

This selection poses as a series of questions to help a new administrator come to better understand their role and location within their institution and department. The author helps the reader to consider whether they hold a task or a position within their department and then helps them to probe into the exact nature of what it is they are assigned to direct. Next, the article asks the reader to situate their program within the college by first considering what department it falls under and then where it fits within the institutional context as a whole. Building on this framework, the article then has the reader situation their university and then the state of higher education as a whole. Lastly, the article considers where the money is with respect to all these considerations. Through this guided tour of the academy, the reader comes to see their position as one that is deeply complex as a result of the intricate politics afforded by all of these considerations. The article, by way of this Socratic method, helps the reader to see how their concerns must broaden as an administrator and the drawbacks of not seeing the full picture of their context.

Discussion: This article was eye opening for me even after having served as an administrator. It helped to reveal deficits in my understanding of my own institution and made me question the precise role (task or position?) that my own administrative position entails. I think this is a perfect selection to start any WPA class because it helps contextualize the problems and challenges WPAs face, but also help those who have only served in faculty positions understand and empathize with the complexity of administrative work.

Ward, Irene and Merry Perry. “A Selection of Strategies for Training Teaching Assistants.” Eds. Irene Ward and William J. Carpenter. The Allyn & Bacon Sourcebook for Writing Program Administrators. New York: Longman, 2002. Print. 117-138.

This article provides, as the title suggests, strategies for training TAs. The authors situate the needs and pressures that TAs encounter when beginning their work as new teachers. This treatment brings the challenges of TA training into focus. The authors then provide a series of questions that writing program administrators and graduate program directors can use as a heuristic to begin thinking about reshaping or reconsidering their own institution’s training practices. Finally, the chapter provides several sets of suggestions for approaching TA training. They provide a list of what is seen as typical in programs, then what they perceive as being the minimal acceptable requirements for a training program and finally suggestions for making existing programs more robust.

Discussion: I think this piece may be useful to the unit we have considered on professional development. It does give many good ideas for training practices in relationship to TAs. It may be, however, that other resources out there are more detailed in evaluating the effectiveness of specific approaches to training. In that case, those readings might be preferable to this reading, which is less “results” driven.

Hout, Brian A. and Ellen E. Schendel. “A Working Methodology of Assessment for Writing Program Administrators.” Eds. Irene Ward and William J. Carpenter. The Allyn & Bacon Sourcebook for Writing Program Administrators. New York: Longman, 2002. Print. 207-226.

This piece situates the role of assessment in the work of a writing program administrator and outlines different kinds of assessment and their functions. The piece maintains an optimistic tone about assessment; the authors suggest that assessment is an ethical obligation and can be a productive practice in improving efforts of those within the writing program. Placement, exit and programmatic assessment are all explored in detail, with the authors providing commentary on the uses and limits of various approaches to these mechanisms.

Discussion: This piece will be useful particularly because of the optimistic tone it takes. Rather than adopting the panicked “fight or flight” stance that is echoed so often in relationship to assessment today, these authors reveal why WPAs cannot simply ignore or avoid assessment and how this daunting task can actually be used productively. Thus, it fits nicely into a course design that emphasizes WPAs as change agents.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Blogging for Community Development: A Class Analysis

Blogs can serve as a means for facilitating interaction between students within an online writing class. As Breuch indicates, in “virtual environments, interaction occurs through writing instead of through speaking. Scholars have cited a number of advantages of this move, namely that virtual environments encourage students to practice writing” (148). Through commenting, students can provide feedback to their peers, while practicing the skills they are hoping to refine through the writing class. Although interaction between students is afforded through voluntary or obligatory class blog commenting, blog assignments do not necessarily foster class community.

Community is more than interaction; it has positive effects on the development of the students. Saffer and Anundsen indicate that we all share a “human yearning for a sense of belonging, kinship, and connection to a greater purpose” (qtd in Palloff and Pratt 27). While students in a classroom might sense a shared purpose (i.e. grade acquisition), this greater purpose alone does not generate a benificial community. Instead, the class needs to develop a type of “conscious community,” which Palloff and Pratt describe as “community that emphasizes the members’ needs for personal growth and transformation, as well as the social and survival aspects of community” (28). In other words, the type of community that is most beneficial to students is one wherein the participants use mutual respect and care to help facilitate learning. In instances where this kind of community has formed, students are supportive of their colleagues, avoiding “‘outbursts’ of verbal violence” that were commonplace in early courses that used online tools to facilitate dialogue between students (Amy 113).

By analyzing one online class’ use of blogs to form community, it becomes apparent that specific patterns of response and elements of course design may actually impede community building, but that community may develop organically outside of a systematic course design. These classroom exchanges are from a six-week online graduate class on teaching writing at a distance. The class consists of twelve graduate students.

During the course of the class, students were asked to produce five blog posts. Each of these posts was to be a summary and review of an article related to the course subject matter. The post could be no more than five hundred words and was to begin with the citation for the article being reviewed. No replies on the blogs were required by the professor, but students were told from the beginning of the semester that they would be required to analyze the means though which community was fostered as a result of class blogs (i.e. this assignment).

Patterns in Response
For the purposes of this analysis, the comments from the beginning of the semester until June 10th are considered. June 10 was elected as the cut-off date for this analysis because it was the day before the last blog assignment was due. The last week of blogging was excluded because it was anticipated that any increase in blog commenting during that week would be motivated by an awareness of this assignment (a community formation analysis) rather than a natural draw toward engagement. The students in the class were randomly assigned a number (one through twelve) to serve in place of their names throughout this write up.
Figure 1
Since posting was not a requirement in the class, not all students elected to post comments to the blogs of their peers. Even though not all students posted comments, each student in the class did receive some comments on their blog. There were a total of 57 comments. As Figure 1 shows, 42% of the comments (24 posts) were done by two of the students in the class. Five of the students in the class posted less than three times, with the class average for posting being 4.75 times. Thus, while there was no stated expectation for posting, students tended to post an average of one comment per required blog post.
Figure 2
Figure 3
As Figure 2 and 3 demonstrate, the students who received the most comments on their blogs (Student 3 and Student 10) were also the ones who commented the most on their own blogs. These students replied to responses on their blogs more than other students in the class. Replying to comments seems to have a correlation to overall blog comment traffic in this case. Interestingly, the students who posted comments most often never replied to comments on their own blogs and also received very few posts in reply to their own original blog entries.

Both of these tendencies might be conceived of as problematic for community building. Students that post often are communicating by pushing content into the class blogosphere, but not responding to reactions to their own material. Meanwhile, other students are engaging peers, but only when those peers take the time to come to their own turf (i.e. others start the conversation on their peer’s blog). If blogs are to truly create community amongst students, the channels of communication ought to better represent dialogue. Otherwise, comments on blogs can come across as one-way communication much in the same way that an initial blog post can.

Contributions of Course Design
Obviously since blog comments were not required by the course design, students had less incentive to engage in response. However, this requirement (or lack there of) is not the only characteristic of the design that might be said to contribute to the modest development of community through blogs. The blog assignments themselves had tight parameters and were largely summary of the work of others. Thus these posts might appear to be more like notes than the beginning of a discussion starter. This style of blog might foster community in the same way that more open or reflective blogging assignments might. The opportunity for students to develop ideas and make connections to experiences might provide peers more content with which to engage.

However, the addition of an assignment wherein students had to assess the level of community in the class most certainly increased awareness of community building as being a relevant classroom issue. It is likely that many students engaged more actively in the blog commenting because they would have to complete this assignment. As a means to save face, students might have participated more to ensure that they did not appear to be less engaged than their peers, or because they wanted to appear to be good classroom citizens before both their peers and their professor.

Community Beyond the Course
While the blog interaction might be characterized chiefly by one-way communication, other tools within and beyond the classroom context aided in the development of classroom community overall. This particular course was held synchronously through two-way video communication. This use of video conferencing allowed students and the professor to see facial expressions and hear tone of voice. In addition the video conferencing software, WebEx, allowed for continuous chat throughout the class period, both class-wide and private between two users. Some students also elected to use Google Chat to further class-time discussions and interaction also took place between some students (and the professor too) via Facebook throughout the class time-frame.

What each of these tools provided the class, which blogs alone did not, was the opportunity to feel immediate connection to one’s peers as well as the chance to move engagement beyond the class material. Rather than commenting and awaiting to see whether a peer would agree with one’s response, in-class discussion with video gave students the opportunity to experience the warmth of a classroom full of head nodding as well as encouragement one would not ordinarily find in face-to-face classroom. The chat feature allowed students to shout out “good point” and “I agree” as students contributed. This continual positive support throughout the learning experience aided greatly in developing a sense of solidarity and camaraderie amongst the students. These qualities both aid in the construction of community.

There is likely no single formula to follow to guarantee community forms in any classroom environment. Multiple factors will determine class culture each term. However, from this analysis, it appears that there are things faculty can do to encourage community development through blog interaction.

Faculty can, as Guglielmo does, be careful to foreground community as a value in the classroom context. By drawing student attention to its value, they are more likely to see the authentic motive to participating. Additionally, building in activities that give students responsibility for fostering community or even analysis of such environments can serve as a means to give agency in community development.

Perhaps such constructivist approaches might have a more positive effect than a system of penalties for lack of engagement. Community should be a support structure to students, not simply an additional hoop they must jump through. Therefore, faculty might best serve students by giving them access to a series of options for facilitating community engagement in their classroom and then orchestrating some type of analysis to help students understand why such community can benefit them during their educational experience.

Works Cited
Amy, Lori E. “Rhetorical Violence and the Problematics of Power: A Notion of Community for The Digital Age Classroom.” Distance Learning and the Teaching of Writing. Eds. Michele Gibson, Marcia Dickson, and Jonathan Alexander. Hampton: Cresskill, NJ. 2005. Print.

Breuch, Lee-Ann Kastman. “Enhancing Online Collaboration: Virtual Peer Review in the Writing Classroom.” Online Education: Global Questions, Local Answers. Eds. Kelli Cargile Cook and Keith Grant-Davie. Amityville, NY: Baywood Publishing Company, Inc., 2005. Print.

Guglielmo, Letizia. “Feminist online writing courses: Civic rhetoric, community action, and student success.” Computers and Writing Online (Spring 2009). Web. 10 June 2012. Palloff, Rena M. and Keith Pratt. Building Online Learning Communities: Effective Strategies for the Virtual Classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007. Print.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Decentralized Forum Spaces

Guglielmo, Letizia. “Feminist online writing courses: Civic rhetoric, community action, and student success.” Computers and Writing Online (Spring 2009). Web. 10 June 2012.

Gulielmo's article provides an examination of how four specific interventions in her online writing class impacted student success. Her goal in these specific interventions was to create a site for civic participation in her online class so that "instead of preparing students for the work they will do outside of the classroom, [she would] reinforce for students the need for civic participation within this virtual learning space" (Gulielmo).

More specifically, Gulielmo believed that fostering a feminist teaching and learning space would help students take initiative in forming this civic community because such pedagogy emphasizes "personal and group discovery through open discussion, collaboration, and process-based writing and reading activities [and is] broadly inclusive and embracing, nonhierarchical, student-centered communities" (Selfe qtd in Gulielmo). Desiring the ability to build such a community, Gulielmo relies on the discussion board of her CMS.

Gulielmo uses four strategies to help create this atmosphere: she provides an audio course site overview that emphasizes decentered teaching; she encourages students to post introductions to themselves that go beyond the academic (and posts one of her own); she invites the students to work collaboratively with her to establish the netiquette and posting expectations for the discussion board; and she makes use of a “Questions” forum on the boards to provide an outlet for students to voice concerns and questions.

Using responses to periodic class surveys and close analysis of the discussion board posting patterns for two of her online classes, she discusses how these strategies helped foster civic engagement in her classroom (which she believed would lead to success). Gulielmo demonstrates how by the end of the term her students were “aware of a shift in what might be termed a traditional instructor role”; it is likely this awareness began as a result of the direct way that she articulated her expectations from the beginning of the term using the audio comment she provided that emphasized her approach to decentered learning.

She provides another audio file to introduce each additional intervention—the self-introduction posts, the forum posting expectation discussion thread and the questions board. Each of these audio files shows the warm tone that Gulielmo has with her students as well as how she continuously emphasizes the student-centered nature of the classroom. In each of these posts the listener can hear the way she’s given students agency in making choices about how they participate in the community of learners.

This article provides a strong rationale for why these four exercises might be useful components to an online writing class with a discussion board feature. The article reminds the reader of the importance of articulating their teaching philosophy with students so that they become active participants in the philosophy rather than casual observers. Considering Gulielmo’s successes and challenges in this particular study, the online writing teacher walks away with practical suggestions for creating forum spaces that are student-centered.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

E-zines as Composition Class Text and Genre

Alexander, Jonathan.  “Digital Spins:  The Pedagogy and Politics of Student-Centered E-zines.”  Computers and Composition 19 (2002):  387-410.  Print.

In this article, Jonathan Alexander shares his first experiences working with e-zines in his composition classroom.  He provides the rationale for examining e-zines as a classroom assignment and then, by way of a detailed narrative, presents the assignment sequence he uses with his students. 

Alexander elects to use e-zines in the classroom as a result of his desire to move beyond the artificial audiences so often created by first-year composition assignments.  He hopes that focusing upon publication in public e-zines will foster a greater sense of audience than class booklets or assignments merely shared with fellow students via a class listserv or shared folder. 

Thus, in his ten week composition class he leads students through an assignment sequence that first asks them to analyze and consider the genre of actual e-zines, then he asks them to write an article for an e-zine (along with a narrative about their writing choices), then he has the class work toward developing an e-zine of their own, negotiation choices of title, audience, purpose and submission guidelines. 

The detail of Alexander’s narrative is enriched by the way he justifies his pedagogical choices by situating them in literature of the field.   His successes and challenges are documented not only through his own reflection, but key examples from student writing from the class listserv that demonstrates how students responded to his activities.  These examples show student engagement, but also student resistance.  Alexander seems most encouraged by the moments of resistance these assignments afford because out of these moments of dissent an authentic writerly voice is often observed.  The course design itself, after all, originally arose out of Alexander’s desire to create “if possible, a classroom space that would explore alternative thinking and invite students to consider more radical critiques of culture” (406). 

While Alexander’s writing certainly sparks his reader’s interest in his assignment sequence and its affordances for the writing classroom, the article provides only a limited amount of detail about the actual classroom context in which it was delivered.  The author mentions several times that the class took place during a ten week semester and it is clear that a class listserv and email was used extensively during the negotiation of the assignments for the course.  

Still: was this an online class?  Were these the only interactions the students had?  Or was there a face-to-face component that only isn’t mentioned because of its inability to be recorded?  These questions are important, but unanswered, ones for understanding how the community he describes in the article was formed.  The example student texts demonstrate a level of comfort with both fellow classmates and the professor to be authentic and to sometimes push the envelope.  I have to wonder how Alexander fostered this community, if the class was in fact entirely online.  If it wasn’t, I wonder how an online class might develop such community.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Is it "a way with words" or "away with words"?

Wysocki, Anne Frances. "Awaywithwords: On the Possibilities in Unavailable Designs." Computers and Composition 22.1 (2005): 55-62. Print.

Wysocki’s article serves as a detailed discussion of how assumptions about the natural properties of things constrain how we use them.  As the author explains through a metaphor about water being used as a weapon, we are limited if we think natural properties specify the limitation of things. Instead, particular uses of things (water or communication methods) cannot be separated from the time and space in which they are used.

Wysocki shows that communication is most effective when it is approached through “entwining context, purpose, audience, and communication strategies (including material choices)” (56) but we must also ask “how our materials have acquired the constraints they have and hence why, often, certain materials and designs are not considered available for certain uses” (56). 

She considers the role that spacing between words evolved as a result of the move from oral delivery to silent reading.  The usage of space on the page ought to be considered carefully because it affects how we read pages and understand them.  Students should “consider how they use the spaces and not just one time that can be shaped on pages.  They also need to question how they have come to understand the spaces of pages so that they can, if need be, use different spaces, potentially powerful spaces that—as Howe, for example, has described—have been rendered unavailable by naturalized, unquestioned practice” (57). 

She moves then to another naturalized practice—that of seeing image and word as a dichotomy.  Kress sees words as “governed by a ‘temporal and sequential logic’” while images as “governed by a “spatial and simultaneous logic” (57).  She presents these categories as problematic, but shaped by human practice.  For example, while we might suggest that images are unique in the way that they can be taken in at a glance, images like Brueghel’s “Children’s Games” (below) defy this characterization.

Our notion of image is the result of human practices, much in the way that our use of space is the result of shifts in human experiences.  Thus, Wysocki suggests that we should consider how we have shaped material practices and how those practices have consequences for how others behave. 

Wysocki’s treatment of materiality and humanity is important for the writing teacher, and particularly for the online writing teacher.  First, she demonstrates how we ought to be suspicious of traditional notions of the role of text and help our students to think critically about the norms they accept as well.  More importantly though, she opens an opportunity for us to analyze the course materials as a medium that might appear to have natural characteristics as a result of the way they has been habitually presented, particularly through course management systems.  The online writing teacher might think carefully about the notions Wysocki presents about the consequences of “how we use paper, ink, and pixels to shape—for better or worse—the actions of others” (59).

Video Presentation of Review of Pinterest as Pedagogical Tool

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Pinterest as Pedagogy: Considering the Uses for the Online Writing Classroom

Scott Warnock posits that online writing courses “force an environment that is not just writing intensive but also often writing exclusive” (xi). He marks this immersive characteristic as a strength of online writing pedagogy saying “we couldn’t ask for a better lab or workshop to help our first-year students develop their ability to communicate using the written world” (xi). As such, Warnock suggests that faculty who are new to online writing instruction begin with the CMS (Course Management System) their institution provides them because “[y]our goal is to get past the technology and start thinking about teaching (22).

Warnock’s suggestions for working with technology in an online writing classroom are intuitive for practitioners who subscribe to an approach to writing pedagogy that privileges text as the primary mode of expression. However, not all new online writing instructors will feel at home in this pedagogical framework. There are those, for example, who have responded to Diana George’s call to have students become producers and not merely consumers of visual communication and to stop allowing the visual to “figur[e] into the teaching of writing as problematic, something added, an anomaly, a ‘new’ way of composing, or, somewhat cynically, as a strategy for adding relevance or interest to a required course” (13). Will the CMS figure as an appropriate venue for these such writing classes?

In my case, no. Most CMS platforms treat the visual as an anomaly rather than a central component of any material produced within the platform. There are discussion boards where you can *even* add a picture, rather than there being tools expressly designed for visual communication. Thus, individuals hoping to bring the visual into a more central role in their online composition classrooms might be better suited to look elsewhere for a tool to bring this value into their classroom spaces. But where? As I began to consider this question, I thought of the online pinboard site, Pinterst.

While the site was not designed with pedagogical endeavors in mind, that fact does not preclude it from being re-purposed for pedagogical pursuits. After all, many technologies used in higher education today were not first designed for the classroom (I’m looking at you blogs and Twitter). Pinterest is not a one-stop-shopping answer to all your technological needs as a teacher, but the interface does provide some unique opportunities for the classroom that faculty might consider, especially if they are looking for a means to bring visual communication into their online pedagogy. I would recommend that teachers of online and hybrid first-year writing classes, in particular, begin to consider the affordances of this technology more closely.

Pinterest ( is an online pinboard site. Think of that trusty corkboard you’ve had in your office with the same four things pinned to it for the last six years. It’s just like that, but on steroids only the Internet can provide. It allows users to upload images or capture them from the web to “pin” to an online pinboard of their choosing. Since each user can have multiple pinboards, it allows folks to organize the visuals they elect to collect. Basically, it’s a visual bookmarking tool. It’s used by crafters, parents, fashionistas and the like to keep track of visual inspiration.

It also has a social component. Users can search the site by topic or keyword for images pinned by other users. They can also follow friends and other users. Pinners can opt to follow all of a friend’s pins, or just a specific board. In addition, when they find a image of interest, users can elect to re-pin it, comment on it, or “like” it. In addition to engaging the pins of others, users can also invited others to boards they own so they can pin to it collaboratively.

Getting Started
Currently the site is accessible by invitation only. Those interested in the site can request an invite from the page directly or someone who is already a part of Pinterest can invite them (want an invite? Comment and let me know). Once invited, registration is easy, particularly if you use Facebook or Twitter to connect to the site. Just complete the simple for or connect to your other social media and you’re ready to start pinning.

Navigating the site is fairly straightforward, once you learn the basics of the interface. Justin W. Marquis, a blogger for Online Universities, details how to get started with Pinterest in the short video below.

Potential Uses
Teachers could start a pinboard and add each of their students to the board. Students could create accounts and boards of their own for class usage and share the links with their professor, just as they would with a class blog. Professors could then provide the class a list of student boards and the students could then follow one another if they wished. With this housekeeping established, the faculty could then begin exploring the activities for which they might wish to use the boards with their class.

Here are five examples of how Pinterest might be used within a writing classroom:

1. Visual Research Organizer - As Marquis suggests in the video above, students could use Pinterest as a place to gather the sources they are using for a research project. They could pin articles and websites to a board marked “Research” and then have an easy way to get back to those resources as they are writing. In addition, students could share their research boards with their professors so that professors could track their progress. Additionally, students could comment on their pins to provide annotations and the MLA citation for an item, much in the way they might in an annotated bibliography assignment. Faculty could provide comments on the board regarding additional sources they might recommend or perhaps even corrections on the MLA format.

2. Presentations - Marquis also suggests that students could use a Pinboard to give presentations on material, rather than using Prezi or PowerPoint. Faculty might ask students to present by moving through a pinboard and using the images as talking points. Alternatively, the pinboard and comments below each image could serve as a stand alone presentation, which would be particularly useful in an online class that does not require audio/visual capability on the behalf of the student.

3. Discussion Thread - Faculty might use an image as a conversation starter by posting it to the class pinboard, perhaps with a prompt in the comments section, and ask students to reply to pin with a comment. Alternatively, the student could be asked to repin the image and provide his or her reply to the prompt in the comment on his or her own board. At the end of the semester he or she might have then a set of responses all tied to images. Students also might be asked to start discussion threads by selecting images and prompts themselves.

4. Visual Essay projects - in a similar vein to the presentations, students might be asked to create visual essays and use Pinterest as the medium of delivery. They could even compose such projects in groups as a result of the collaborative nature of the pinning site.

5. Ancillaries to Writing Projects - One Writing for the Web teacher, Deneen Gilmour, is having students produce multimedia texts and requiring Pinterest be a part of the story the students produce in some productive way. She shares in a Mashable article that “[o]ne student, Meghan Feir, turned in a story that fulfilled the requirement beautifully. She created a pinboard on Pinterest that gathered tips, recipes, blogs, shops, restaurant menus and more for people who need lactose-free or gluten-free diets” (qtd in Holt).

* * *
Pinterest has potential for becoming a useful tool in the online writing teacher’s tool belt. It is easy to use and learn. The platform allows collaboration and engagement between users and defies the text-based bias that results from so many tools used in the online writing classroom.

The current draw back to this tool is also its strength: there has been little written on its uses in the classroom. A majority of the education and writing related pins currently on the site are related to secondary education. Much that’s been written about it focuses on this student audience as well. As a result, it would require more imagination for a college teacher to use it in the classroom for the first time. However, he or she would have the advantage of bringing a tool into the classroom in a refreshing new way.

Works Cited
Diana George. “From Analysis to Design: Visual Communication in the Teaching of Writing,” College Composition and Communication 54.1 (2002): 11-39.

Holt, Kris. "Teachers Pin with Their Students." Mashable. 22 Mar. 2012. Web. 01 June 2012.

Warnock, Scott. Teaching Writing Online: How and Why. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 2009. Print.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Composition as Viritual Gumball Machine Collection

Sirc, Geoffrey. “Writing Classroom as Factory.”  Composition Studies 36.1 (2008):  29-38.  Print.

In this piece, Geoffrey Sirc takes the reader through an in-depth look into the life of Andy Warhol.  Along the way, he pauses to demonstrate parallel’s between this artist’s life and the life of the composition classroom. 

First, he reveals several sites of conflict in composition pedagogy through the lens of Warhol’s life experiences.  For example, Sirc demonstrates how even this brilliant artist was anxious about the self he presented to the world so much that he was content to allow Allen Midgette to impersonate him.   Sirc suggests that the writing class student faces the same anxiety and thus opts to plagiarize because they believe the text the have found more closely resembles the text we want than what they could produce themselves. 

Sirc also describes Warhol’s exceptionally long films (6 hours) and the viewing experience that went with these works.  Folks would roam in and out of the screening room, rather than sitting the duration. Sirc uses this viewing approach to discuss reading practices in the composition class.  He explains that we teach as tough all readers maintain close attention to all that they read and never miss any detail, when really we ourselves slip in and out of texts as we read too. 

After describing Warhol’s studio, “The Factory, and the rich creative environment it afforded those that spent time there, Sirc moves to envisioning a classroom model that takes this framework as the model for pedagogical design.  Warhol’s site was a “production center crossed with a social space” (35).  Folks who spent time there praised it as a space for education.  One assistant even claimed it provided a better space to learn art than his actual art school.  Our composition classes, like the art school this assistant spoke of, don’t always have the same energy that the Factory provided.  Instead, students come to these spaces and experience what Sirc calls “curricular buzz-kill” (36).  He proposes instead “assignments that consist simply of a title—say Bar or Video Game or Sex at College—and a set length (500 words or 3 ½ minutes or 16 images)” and opportunities for students to create a series of variations on the same subject (36).  The point in this approach is to break out of the typical modes of classroom exercises and create “a laboratory of taste experiments, a studio course allowing the na├»ve exploration of forms and technologies: […] and writing” (35-36).

This piece helps us to see how seemingly unrelated moments in ordinary life can serve as lessons to those of us who are teachers.  The world around us has much to teach us about what environments stimulate learning.  As contemporary composition teachers we ought to ask ourselves not only “what can we learn from Warhol’s factory” but more importantly “what are today’s ‘factories’ and how can we appropriate them as true sites of learning, but also learn from them ourselves?”

Monday, May 21, 2012

Considering the Merit of "On-the-Fly Jottings of Pop-Crazed Youth"

Sirc, Geoffrey.  "Writing in the Post--"Man-of-Letters" Modern World."  College Composition and Communication 60.4 (2009):  W16-W31.  Print.

Geoffrey Sirc's article revolves around these questions, which he asks himself when designing writing prompts: "what does writing count for anymore, who's doing it, why, what does it look like?" (W16).  He develops his answer for what writing ought to do from a Phi Beta Kappa address given by Allen Tate in 1952.   Tate describes a “man of letters,” who is skilled in communication that is also communion.  This communicative communion ought to have a specific purpose. The purpose of this work is threefold:  to show something new about "an unchanging source of knowledge"; to tell "the false from the true"; and to preserve "the integrity, the purity, and the reality of language" (Tate qtd in Sirc W18).  

It is Sirc's intention to build writing classes that meet Tate's call to action for the modern man of letters.  He hopes that by doing so, he might "give students occasions for writing that truly count for something in their world" (W17).  To identify such an occasion for writing, he turns to iTunes.  Sirc shows how the iTunes reviewer enacts the threefold work of the man of letters.  These reivews demonstrate authentic writing occasions; as Sirc says, "this new genre of and occasion for prose proves to me conclusively that traditional school-sponsored writing is effectively over as an object of both practice and study.  If we want to teach something credible, it must have this genuine occasion of participatory communion, as these new species of pulpit oratory do" (W19).

Sirc suggests that iTunes writing would allow for a kind of classical rhetoric revival in the contemporary classroom that Robert Gorrell calls for.  He explains, “MP3 criticism is a true site of rhetoric, a key scene in the contemporary art of persuasion” (W22-23).  He demonstrates how these reviews might be seen as instances of rhetorical rebirth in particular for their use of contemporary Attic style, using brevity, figures of wit, and metaphor, for example.  Sirc demonstrates the ways in which these short jottings provide the platform for studying a variety of rhetorical techniques.  While Sirc admits that some reviews are “thoughtless raves or rants,” he still maintains that they are worthy genres to consider because so many are engaged in a “speculative, rhetorical search for truth,” (W30) which is much more than we can say for many stilted, artificial genres of the FYC classroom.

Whether the reader of this article concludes his or her reading wanting to adopt the iTunes review as a genre for inquiry and composition in his or her own classroom is not important.  Sirc’s writing reminds us to consider what business we’re in.  Are we preparing students to be men and women of letters?  Those engaged in purposeful communicative communion?  Or are we content to preoccupy them with the busy work of occasionless genres?  As we develop course materials, no matter what the course delivery platform, we must engage these questions. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Final New Media Project

For the end of this semester's New Media Theory and Practice class we had to create an final individual project using some form of new media.  The project asked specifically that we demonstrate a blend of theory and practice with an eye toward production.

Despite what I wrote about in terms of intention in my last post, I opted to focus on developing an interactive wall space during the space of my course project because it asked me to use programming elements that were furthest from my comfort zone.  I originally planned to do this piece using Adobe Flash, but elected not to since it is likely a dying cause.  So I opted instead for HTML5 and Javascript, with a touch of CSS for page formatting.  This portion of the project required the most learning, while the other elements of this project employ skill sets that I am already mostly comfortable with (Photoshop, basic HTML and CSS).  I feel that those portions of the project will be time consuming, but do not reflect new skill development necessarily, which is what I wanted to showcase for this New Media project.

In the end, I created this (mouse click to draw):

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What’s most fun about this project is that it really is an opportunity for me to bring to life some of the theory from this class and put it into practice.  While the product thus far doesn’t necessarily capture the theories that were motivating me with project, the overall rhetorical situation that I’m consider does.  Throughout this term I had three terms that captured my interest most, which I kept coming back to as I thought through material for class:  interactivity, archive and persistence.

While I did develop a product that is a interactive drawing space, I did so by modifying rather than writing a Javascript file from scratch.  In the future, I want to get to where I can write that Javascript file from scratch like I can an HTML file, but I know that will come in due time.  I’m looking forwarding to spending the summer playing with more Javascript.  Through this project I’ve been able to discern the real power that Javascript has to enhance web development.  It has helped me to see just a bit of what I can really do and that makes me more excited.  I am happy to have a specific project to work toward because that will motivate me to learn.  I can’t see myself sitting through Javascript workshops or watching videos, because I never went that route for HTML, but I can see myself Googling and trying things out.  I know I’ll keep failing with this program and banging my head on the wall trying to figure out how to get something done.  BUT!  I now have a virtual wall to bang on and that rocks!

For a more detailed look at this production process, see my end of class reflection.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Update on My Final Project for New Media Theory and Practice

For my project this semester in New Media Theory and Practice, I‘m going build a Slash Page for my digital portfolio.  This site will serve as a virtual introduction to my scholarship, my pedagogy and me.  It will both visually and verbally convey my interests.  This site will take the place of my current professional site, which I don’t think truly captures who I am or my research effectively. 

This splash page will be built using Photoshop and XHTML/CSS.  I will use Photoshop to design/edit the images of each of the components on the page.  Then I will use XHTML and CSS to put them together in a web space, animate them and make them into links into sub-pages.  In addition to this overall framework, I have one portion of this splash page that I want to make interactive.  To make this interactive component, I originally was going to use a simple Flash program, but after talking to Shelley Rodrigo, I agreed to take the challenge and develop it in HTML5.  I am not a fan of Flash because of its incompatibility with iOS, but I felt more comfortable learning a simple Flash program because I feel like I have a basic sense of how Flash works.  However, Shelley encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone and invest in the technology that is up-and-coming, rather than the one that may be seeing its endpoint coming soon.

The first thing I did to work through this project was to spend some time sketching and talking through what I wanted it to look like.  I have had a murky mental picture of this thing, but I needed to talk through what it would really look like.  To do that I spent some time with some giant paper, colored pencils and my husband, just sketching and scrapping ideas.  From there I was able to get a picture of the components I need for the project.  Next stop—building!

Here are the components I’m thinking through:

The Slash Page:
· Side of a building with a street light next to it.  
· Building covered with various bits of graffiti and posters
· Center of the building, a door covered in stickers
· On the ground are a series of spray bottles, some lying on their side, some upright
· The bits on the wall include:
o Graffiti Lettering:  TEACH.
o A series of the same poster—done 1990s punk rock poster style that say something about Research on them  (Above them a sign “Post No Bills”)
o A wheat paste image of a Twitter Bird
o Some play on a poster that has a picture of me and “tear off” contact slips.
o My name is stenciled somewhere on the wall.
The Action:
· Hovering over each item makes it animate and enlarge.  The viewer can then click on it to enter the page:
o Door – “Enters” into a bio page with links to the other parts of the page (for viewers who want an hierarchical, linear experience)
o Street light –to my blog “Cicero’s Lightbulb”
o Graffiti Lettering:  Leads to a page on my teaching
o Wheat paste – leads to a page with my Twitter feed
o Poster series –leads to a page on my research
o Wanted poster – leads to my CV, unless you click on the “tear off strips” which lead to Contact me.

The Big Challenge:
Clicking on the spray bottles will take the viewer to a new page where the same wall from the splash page is now blank.  Clicking on the wall will allow them to “tag” it.  This will be accomplished through HTML5...once I figure out how. 

Once the splash page is created, I’ll create the contents to have a seamless visual identity.  This will require making Twitter and Blogger themes using CSS that continue the display from the other pages of the website.  It will also require revising my current personal website material (and CV) to continue the street art them that the other parts of the page will have.  These content pages will likely not be completed by the end of the Individual Project in English 866, but I will continue working on developing them for the Digital Portfolio project for the Foreign Language requirement of my degree.  

On Multimodal Online Journals

Over the last few weeks in New Media Theory and Practice we’ve taken some time to review a variety of online journals that allow scholars to present their research through multi-modal avenues or present research that explores multimodal texts.  We’ve examined Technoculture, C&C OnlineCCC Online, Kairos, Enculturation, and Flow.  Each of these journals has a slightly different scope, purpose and audience, but they all have this common thread in the way they value multimodality. 

As I looked at these, I was particularly interested in observing interface decisions and design choices.  While the field has had decades to establish good design choices for print journals, it’s clear to me that we’re still developing this genre for the digital world. 

One interesting observation I had while I was looking at each of these was the dominance of blue in the design.  With the exception of Technoculture, all of these journals use blue as a dominant design color (though Enculturation’s might be said to be a bit more purple than blue).  Having noticed this pattern I started to wonder why this coincidence occurred.  This led me to an article on a site called Web Design Ledger called “55 Beautifully Blue Web Designs toInspire You.”

The author of that post, Gisele Muller actually encourages design using the color blue because of the associations that go with it.  While the connotation of sky and sea that Muller references is one reason blue might be a good design choice, another reason might be accessibility. 

In an interview with, Garr Reynolds, author of Presentation Zen talks about color choice and says, “You need to realize that lot of people are color blind, so it is safer to use shades of blue or gray than using lot of colors. There are really no hard and fast rules for colors” (Read the whole interview).

Thus, blue might be a go-to web design color because it’s more interesting than gray while retaining accessibility to those who are color blind.  Interesting stuff.

Screen Shot of Flow
Screen Shot of Flow
As I considered the design of these sites, I think I was most drawn to the ones that were simplistic and straight forward in design.  Flow, whose content I find most interesting because they welcome articles that are somewhere between journalistic and academic, was the least appealing to me as a navigator, though the page as a whole is not unattractive.  It was hard for me to prioritize my viewing experience because there was so much to choose from.  

Instead, I preferred Technoculture and Enculturation's interfaces.  
Screen Shot of Enculturation
Screen Shot of Enculturation
Screen Shot of Technoculture
Screen Shot of Technoculture
I had a slight preference for the latter because all of its navigational options were on one side, rather than on both left and right of the main column of the page.  As I think about these preferences, however, I cannot help but to assume that I have these preferences as a result of my book-biased cognition.  I think I am used to and comfortable with the linear consumption of knowledge.  Perhaps it is not that Flow has a problematic interface, but rather my mind is uncomfortable with the prospect of having to learn as a means to gain access to a document.  I wonder if the next generation will feel more comfortable in such interfaces and if my comfort will grow as these things become more commonplace?