Wednesday, December 19, 2007

10/24 Readings: Hypermedia


10/31 Readings: Visual Rhetoric

I love the idea of reading vintage ads online, as we did, but what are other ways in which students can learn to engage with visual rhetoric, as well as hone their own fluency in this area? Here are three of the assignments that I did for 207, along with my specific goals for each focused on visual rhetoric.

One assignment was a rhetorical analysis of a website. In this, I specifically asked them to address not only the written rhetoric of the site, but the visual rhetoric that accompanied it. We spent some time going over the ways that images could be read, and we also spent time in class examining the impact that page layout, font, and other design choices can enhance or undermine the rhetorical effectiveness of a page. This was a fairly successful assignment, but I found that students really had a hard time doing detailed analysis of both visual and written content at the same time. The next time that I do a class like this, I may have them do them in two separate, smaller steps, and then edit the two documents together to finish.

The assignment immediately following this was an iMovie that was originally to be on any topic a group could agree on. However, luckily there was a contest on campus looking for videos about respect; this gave me the perfect opportunity to assign contest entries, giving my students far more motivation than they might normally have had. Clearly, in this assignment, visual rhetoric was key. I felt that the assignment was fairly successful, but I wish that I'd had more time for it, as I would have been able to spend more time on storyboarding. This might have led to more deliberate choices by some groups...however, there were some very good things turned in for this one.

The final assignment in the class was for students to pull together a multimodal document that addressed some issue related to writing. The consideration of visual rhetoric was key for this one as well, obviously...but some students still didn't make the connection between the text and the visual elements. In several cases, the final product was visually attractive but had little substance, or the visual attractiveness was completely unrelated to content. I'm not completely sure how this can be addressed in the future; one thought, however, would be to require all students to work with one specific category of text. If everyone was working on a physical artifact, or on a webpage, it might be easier to discuss ways in which text and visuals could work together in their documents as a class.

This was a major area of focus for this class, and I was pretty pleased with student understanding in this area for the most part...but I really want to refine my teaching techniques and ideas here for the future. The book we used, Picturing Texts, was a great help, but I'd still like to bring in other material. Any ideas, Kris/others?

11/07 Readings: Race Online

Out of this week's readings, what really resonated with me was the first Monroe chapter. I'd love to see updated and expanded versions of some of the studies she talks about here, as I'm sure she would. The issues around computer access keep changing, and they're more complex than what's covered here.

Two examples:

My mother has taught in inner-city high schools for about forty years. She's been in the district she's in now since 1980; it has always had monetary issues, since it's a steel down that has been losing its factories for quite some time. However, the district received an abundance of computers some time back, through corporate assistance. According to most of the studies in the chapter, this would be wonderful. End of story, right?

Nope. First, at those times when students can use computers, this leads to questions of personnel. Since most rooms she's been in have had one or two computers, what do they do when a few people are online, and the rest of the class is doing something else? How do they assist and monitor all students at once? Second, questions of repair are huge. Apparently, there are insufficient district staff to maintain all the computers, so computers often break down and just sit there indefinitely. In neither of these cases are student needs really being met.

The other place that I've seen interesting issues of access are in libraries, particularly in the economically-depressed city where I used to live. I used to live right downtown, and since I couldn't afford home internet access, I often walked to the library, where there were at least 30 computers set up for patron internet use.

Interestingly, though, the demand was FAR higher than the supply (as, apparently, more of those "don't want to"s have gained interest). Therefore, people had to wait, often for quite some time. Often there was even a lengthy wait to sign up to formally wait for a computer in the first place! Once people were on them, there was a time limit for their use. However, that time limit was across the board, regardless of what people were doing, resulting in people waiting hours to try and apply for a job online because someone was playing poker. I'm not saying that both of those aren't important, of course, but is there some better way to ensure that people can apply for jobs and do online schooling? That library district would tell you that either of those things were easy to do at their branches, but that wasn't the case.

Just a few thoughts on this complex issue...have new studies been done that provide new data and reframe this debate further? I'm curious!

11/14 Readings: Online Gender

Through our explorations tonight, the class seemed to come to the same conclusions I did about the exaggerated visual rhetorics of gender in SL. In many cases, the understandings of feminine gender in-world seem to be based on the most sexually exaggerated media images IRL. Many of the easily available clothing options would get you arrested for public obscenity in the real world if you were to move or get hit by a stiff breeze...and they'd only be flattering if you were built like a fashion model. And, although there are many woman-friendly spaces in-world, to call many other spaces "sexist" would be putting it mildly. So why, then, do I think that SL can also be used as an online safe space for women and girls?

The major reason is based upon one word: play.

The great thing about SL--the main reason so many of us love it, I'd say--is that it offers infinite opportunities for play. If someone wants to experiment with appearance, an avi could be a safe outlet for such play. Honestly, looking at some of the things I wore as a teenager, I kind of wish that I'd had the opportunity to work out some issues of gendering myself in-world before taking them IRL, as the photographic proof would surely be less embarrassing in later years. And, yes, there are people in-world who might respond a certain way to a female avi in a provocative outfit...but wouldn't that happen IRL as well? Could that be an easier way to get used to some of the reactions of others to various forms of genderplay?

Further, since this sort of play with appearance--whether it's a ridiculously cut neckline or an endless round of debates over purses--is such a major part of SL, it might offer a space for some people, particularly women and girls, who think that online interaction is a bit intimidating, to play with appearance as a gateway to the more social aspects of the SL experience. I've ventured into SL alongside people of varying genders who were tremendously nervous about going online and meeting people; when they started their experience through, essentially, playing "dress-up" with an eternally changeable avi who's better than *any* doll, they got more comfortable with their separate online identity, and were then more willing to interact with others through it.

Additionally, SL offers the ability to make some physical and non-physical spaces "safe zones" for members of certain groups by requiring membership. People can network selectively outside of those groups and expand their horizons, while returning to those groups to talk about what they've seen and share experiences with members of a select group. Also, as people learn more about SL, they can start creating new things, giving them rhetorical opportunities that may not be possible in their real lives.

In short, I'd love to experiment further with "safe spaces" in SL with a group of women and girls at some point; although the ways to use it would take some experimentation, I think there's real possibility here.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Post That Time Forgot (10/10 readings post)

Allow me to be completely honest. I had a great idea for this post. I mean, we're talking the "woke me up in the middle of the night with its shining brilliance" kind of great idea. The problem, of course, is that I didn't get my lazy butt out of bed to write the idea down; instead, I went back to sleep and (of course) woke up in the morning with no coherent memory of what that idea was. I've been hoping ever since that it would come hasn't, so I need to just buck up and write a frickin' response. Grr, grr, grr.

Two issues, separate but interrelated, stood out to me in these readings. The first is the question of what types of genre and methods of work we value in publication and research, and why. The second is Inman's view of little narratives as defining specific research and publication goals. I'll explore each of them in separate chunks.

As a young scholar, I'm trying to get a handle on the specific types of work that are valued within the field. One thing that already disturbs me is the implication of lesser "worth" in hiring and tenure decisions that is sometimes put on collaborative work. This is tangentially dealt with in our readings for this week, but it's such a related issue (particularly considering the high degree of collaboration we've seen within our course readings so far) that I want to address it. Why might collaboration be looked down upon? Well, some might say that individual authors don't do as much work, and collaborative work should therefore not be valued as highly as works with individual authorship. I admit, some of my objection to this is motivated by self-interest, as I'm engaged in a variety of collaborative work right now, but this just doesn't make sense to me, particularly as many of the people making this assertion also teach writing. Is the total word count from someone what counts, or is it the ideas? Don't we often encourage students to work with one another to varying degrees? If many of us are all about peers working together in the classroom, what does it mean that many aren't as enthusiastic about the same thing in the professional realm?

Issues of genre: along with issues of collaboration, it also boggles my mind that websites or other virtual publications are not as valued as traditional forms of publication. Maybe I just spend too much time online, but I'm very aware of how much work goes into web-based documents, as well as how many people can see them. If someone puts a really interesting bit of scholarship up on a website, where people can easily dialogue with them, growing the conversation, isn't that at least as valuable as putting it into a journal with a limited subscriber base? If someone maintains a blog that dialogues with others in the field, isn't that at least as important as giving a one-time conference presentation that few people attend?

This is where Inman can come in...after all, if we have these separate little narratives going on within the field, communication between those involved in those narratives is vital in order to grow them. Additionally, the communication between narratives is deeply important, in order for all of us to have some idea of what's going on in the field. Wouldn't the web be one of the best ways to do this?

This may not be as coherent as I'd like it to be, but sometimes I'm just confused by things.

One additional note...I have an additional theorycrush on Inman, just for putting that little narratives idea into his piece. It is fabulously geeky, in the best sense: one that understands that the wider picture can only grow when specialists focus on their own areas, instead of entirely diluting their efforts. It makes me feel much better about my work...occasionally I freak out that I need to be developing a grand unified theory for EVERYTHING rhetorical in order for my work to matter. Inman provides excellent reasons why this is not the case, and I kinda lurve him for that.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

207 Musings and Incorporating the Benefits of Distance Ed. (10/17 reading response)

(First, I have to mention one thing: I love the reference to "traditional interpersonal email communication" in the Blair/Hoy piece. Email is being referred to as traditional, and that's totally without irony. And I have no problem at all with it. How awesome is that?)

This post might be a little fractured; that's kind of the day I'm having.

I loved reading about 207 in the Blair/Hoy piece, partially because it's just interesting to see scholarly work about a course that I'm going to be teaching soon. It serves as a bit of a reminder to me about the junctures between the halves of my teacher/scholar identity. Thus far, because of my craft/visual/material rhetoric focus, I haven't really been using the classroom as a source of scholarly material. However, in a class like 207, I might be able to do so. After all, I'm planning a good amount of "non-traditional writing" for the class; some of it is most explicitly visual, which might be a place for me to jump off from in research.

Second, I adore the reminders about the usefulness of this "non-traditional" work that this piece subtly brings out. After all, the students in this 207 section were basically using it as a workshop site to bring together pieces of writing that were vital for their continued education. Those pieces frequently included visual rhetoric in a variety of formats. Yet there was no way on earth that someone could successfull argue that this work was artificial or unrealistic, as some have tried to say about class assignments where students designed webpages.

In some other 207-based thoughts, this week's readings really made me consider some of the benefits offered by the type of tech use that occurs in online classes. The durability of asynchronous interaction, particularly when it comes to group work, could really deal well with some of the problems I've noticed with peer review in my classes. Too often, students either rush through these sessions and don't offer significant input, or they focus on one or two papers and run out of time for those of other group members. Also, I like the close connections between instructor and student or fellow students that can be fostered through the heavy use of alternate means of communicating that are forced by the lack of face-to-face meetings in a class.

Granted, I don't think that online classes are without their flaws. However, they clearly offer some unique advantages to students and instructors both. The problem: How does one get these and other benefits into a traditional classroom?

I have encountered some instructors who seem to think that, for lack of better wording, online work isn't "real" work. They add it on randomly, without it appearing on the syllabus, as a "supplement" to the classroom interaction. The problem I've seen with this is that this "supplement" often takes as much, if not more, time than the work that's going on in class and/or the "official" homework. Particularly when we have a lot of material to cover in a class within a limited timeframe, it seems very possible that students could be overloaded and overwhelmed if all this material were added on to an existing traditional syllabus. Additionally, I hate the lack of respect for the validity of online work that this can show.

So do we cut traditional work from the syllabus? Well, honestly, what can we cut? If we're teaching GSW, there's precious little that we can change in the syllabus anyway. If we're teaching another course, we might still have limited options. Sixteen weeks is not a long time. (And I don't even want to consider what quarters would be like. :::shudder:::)

The only other thing I can wonder is whether or not it might sometimes be a good idea to have some days in traditional classes when students don't have to be in the classroom? Might it be an idea for a three-day-a-week class to meet virtually once every week or two, in order to communicate in a different, and possibly more thoughtful, way?

I realize that there are compromise positions that can be taken here...but I'm not yet sure how I want to negotiate them, particularly when I teach 207.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Potential Assignment for 207 based on concepts from "Box Logic"

Note: I'm not sure whether this would be an introductory or a final project...I'm leaning towards final, I think. Before this assignment sheet would be given out, students would have to read "Box Logic," or at least some excerpts from the piece.

Assignment 5
The Writing Box

As you've learned, both from Sirc's "Box Logic" and the rest of your explorations this semester, writing can be approached in many ways. It is frequently a mix of internal resources, outside research, chance conversations, random explorations, and that indefiniable element, "creativity." One particular act of writing can take place within one medium, or through a combination of several media. Writing can be approached by a group, or singly. In short, it's extremely difficult to define.

However, since I have faith in your abilities, I'm sure that you can handle some difficulty. So, here's your question: what is writing?

How you answer this question is up to you. However, I have a few expectations:

1. If you want to work in groups of two, that's fine. If you want to work alone in order to hone your individual vision, that's fine too. For purposes of this assignment, however, no more than two people from this class may work together. You may call on others, such as consultants from Student Tech, for assistance, but I am expecting the final work to be your creative output.

2. You must use at least two different forms of technology as defined by this list: written text, visual art, music, video, web animation, webpage design.

3. No more than 50% of your source text (i.e. whatever material you use to create this work) can be your original creation. You must find other works to include.

4. Whatever uses of other work you do MUST be within copyright guidelines, whether that be fair use, a Creative Commons license, or direct permission from the copyright holder. Also, all works included must be cited in some manner.

Keep in mind that there are no wrong answers to the question you're answering; each person's take on this will undoubtedly be different. I look forward to seeing your work!