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!

Computer-Mediated Classroom Design (9/26 Readings)

Reading these pieces made me think about the computer classrooms I've used...both the ones that I took classes in and the ones that I taught in. I've worked in both proscenium and perimeter settings, but not in a pod, which hardly surprises me, given the difficulty and expense of setting one up.

Here are my thoughts as both teacher and student:

Proscenium: As a student, I've found these to be dull, for many of the reasons given. You really can't see or hear the teacher well; if there's anything that she's trying to teach, it's extremely difficult to follow. As a teacher, trying to get students to follow what I'm doing in the front of the room is challenging, if not impossible. I can go to the back of the room, but students who are bent on websurfing tend to track my movement around the room, in order to open a new, work-related, window when they think I can see them. (Strangely, however, they're never as good at this as they think they are....)

However, whether as a teacher or a student, I do find these rooms challenging in terms of simple navigation. Getting to an individual terminal requires the interruption of several people. Also, as a larger woman, it makes me feel extremely self-conscious, as my chances of getting through a row without bumping someone are minimized. In the majority of these classrooms that I've been in, the desks have been in a fixed position, so there has been no way to remedy this, either for my own comfort or that of others.

Perimeter: I haven't taught in a perimeter-style classroom, but I have been a student in one. I felt extremely isolated from other students; group work with anyone not sitting right next to you is difficult at best in this layout. Also, even as a very confident writer and computer user, I felt extremely exposed to the instructor, as she could walk up behind me at any time. It might be odd, but this really took away from my experience.

Pods: I've seen them, but never worked in them. I'd like to, though, as I think they'd handle a lot of the issues I've seen in other classrooms.

This brings me to the other layout...the godsawful one of our classroom in Hayes. In some ways, it's like the worst of both worlds. We have all the isolation of perimeter, with all of the difficulty of teaching and group work you get with proscenium. Also, if the printer is operating, it's all but impossible for anyone at the instructor's station to hear comments from the back of the room.

I don't know if I'll be designing the layout of a computer classroom anytime soon, but if nothing else, I'm glad that this week's reading gave me the chance to articulate why ours pisses me off. :)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Musing on "Literacy Crises"

In Computers and the Teaching of Writing, it becomes clear that one of the things that fueled the initial drive to try computer-mediated writing instruction was the furore over a literacy crisis largely fueled by "Why Johnny Can't Write," a 1975 Newsweek article. This surprised me at first but, on further reflection, I've no idea why.

As a Rhetoric and Writing PhD student, I have to be almost grateful to literacy crises. After all, the original start of First-Year Composition, which some would say is the entire raison d'etre for our field, came from the effect of a literacy crisis in the early twentieth century. At any time since, whenever there's been stirrings of another crisis...well, sure, difficulties have been caused for those in the field. Some people think that once people are assigned to take care of a problem, it's supposed to...just go away, or disappear, or something else very convenient. However, any of those rumblings of crisis get more time, people, and money allocated to the teaching and studying of reading and writing. So we really have a bizarre relationship with this crisis cycle.

As the daughter of a teacher and a trucker, I have to admit that so-called "literacy crises" piss me off. As the daughter of a high-school teacher, I've seen a lot of public/media response to various educational problems at the secondary level, and it often focuses on blaming the teachers, instead of looking at any more complex issues of funding, structure, and assessment. As the daughter of a trucker who doesn't have a degree, it irritates me that the literacy crises are almost always based on the new entrance of an underprivileged group into the hallowed halls of higher ed. God forbid we should have any sympathy for, or understanding of, the complexities of home language, the differences between "good" and "correct" writing, or a myriad of other socioeconomic complexities. Let's just call it a crisis.

As a scholar with an interest in visual rhetorics and computer culture, I find the bubblings of a new literacy crisis kind of fascinating. This time, after all, many students definitely have very strong reading and writing literacies that aren't based on prior formal education or socioeconomic lack. They're based on new communication technologies, both online and off. This seems to present an interesting quandary. For some, it boils down to "computers are good, but they do bad things to writing." For those who are willing to look at it in a more complex way, it's an intriguing interplay of new literacies, old demands, a shift to the visual, and changing communication needs on a societal level. Over the next decade, it'll be interesting to see how this develops.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Blogging Communities (Readings, 9/18)

I was really intrigued by several things said about blogs in this week's readings. Barton's concept of the subjectivity and intimacy of blogs can lead to some interesting places in their academic use. The Colby et al article provided some fascinating perspectives on networked academic blogs as either a salon, a performance space, or the agora. Both of these articles make sense on their own, and there are some parts of each argument that I can completely buy. However, if these ideas are explicitly combined, and put in perspective with some phenomena I've experienced online, things can get really cool.

Unsurprisingly, this goes back to knitting for me. The knitting blogosphere is salon-like in that someone reading knitting blogs learns a great deal of intimate detail about those writing them (which also, of course, links back to Barton). Even though I read Modeknit/Knitting Heretic for knitting info, I'm still worried about the author's husband, who is going through treatment for a particularly ugly type of cancer. However, sharing this information has more of a purpose than simple intimate revelation for the author; it's sparked off debate and discussion about cancer prevention and treatment, as well as the fundraising for same, throughout the online knitting community. Part of this is due to basic human concern for someone who's suffering; part of this is due to Annie's fabulous snarkiness and wisdom. We care because she's earned her place in the salon.

The knitting blogosphere can be a place that allows someone to learn how to perform, both as a blogger and a "real knitter," through the encouragement of others and the sharing of information. Additionally, knitting podcasts have exploded in recent memory into a celebrity-making vehicle all their own.

Insofar as functioning like the agora, there's no question that this happens within the knitting blogosphere. After all, the Yarn Harlot has had a huge deal of influence over both knitting trends (many yarn store owners call the sales boost that anything she's working on experiences the Harlot Effect) and charity fundraising for her chosen causes, as she's rallied knitters to donate $339, 632 to Doctors Without Borders to date.

Okay, so thus far, knitblogging is fitting into each of the three types of activity set out by Colby et al. However, there's a larger function here, partially fed by the intimacy discussed by Barton, that really excites me: the formation of community.

The vast majority of knitbloggers are aware of the "stars" of the community. However, smaller networks also form, whether driven by blogrings or shared interests, where several bloggers are talking to each other on and through their blogs on a regular basis. Sounds a lot like the class blog, right? However, I find this phenomenon even more interesting in some ways, because these bloggers have, in many cases, never met. They've certainly never been put together and forced to interact as is done in a class. Still, they've formed a community of mutual support and exploration, much like the academy.

So, what interests me most here is the potential for this kind of interaction among scholars of all levels. I mean, interacting through class-based blogs is wonderful, no doubt, but what about this kind of interaction with no outside prompt? I've started to see this through networked research and work blogs held by academics; is there any way to encourage this phenomenon in other levels of learners? After all, the community formed here seems to be, in many ways, much like its own academy, but it's one without borders or compulsion, which can certainly spur learning in whole new ways.

This phenomenon is frustrating, as its deliberate creation by instructors is (by definition) impossible, but tantalizing. Does anyone else have any thoughts on this?

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Reading Post 1

Writing New Media (Ch. 1)

"Opening New Media to Writing: Openings and Justifications," by Anne Frances Wysocki

I kind of have a academic crush on Anne Wysocki now.

The reasons? Well, this chapter blew off the top of my head, and has made me reconsider the immediacy of the need for addressing "new media" (in Wysocki's terminology) and the materiality of texts in my FYC class, while simultaneously juxtaposing this need with my own research interest of material/visual rhetoric in needlework and other crafts. So, you know, that's a start.

But the thing that sealed it? Well, I was admiring both the cover and interior design of the book as I read. (No, seriously. I've done a bit of design work myself, and I worked in publishing for six years or so, so I definitely notice good design.) The cover is really subtle and gorgeous, with a lovely layered effect. And the interior is clean and readable, but still interesting, with title and author information sideways in the left and right margins of the spread. The fonts chosen are attractive, and they clearly vary for carefully chosen reasons related to meaning.

Shortly after that, I was peeling the bookstore sticker off of the back of the book, and as it came back, I noticed the designer for the cover and interior...Anne Frances Wysocki. (Swoon.)

Okay, but to be serious, this chapter, with its emphasis on looking at the materialities of writing, has inspired me in some ways, but troubled me in others. I completely see Wysocki's point about teaching students to understand the material constraints on text; one small example is the use of a style guide. I'm aware that, when they ask about why we require MLA, it's easier to blow them off, but I try to explain why a style guide is useful in furthering communication in a discipline.

However, there are many other places where the distinct shape of our program might put constraints on what we can or cannot usefully examine. I love some of the exercises in the text, but how many of those could be usefully integrated into a 111 curriculum?

One thing that occurs to me is the use of webpages for a final critique. It's not getting students to produce new media, but it is getting them questioning the reasons behind the design of a page. Is that enough of a start, though?

I'd love input from classmates on this; what do you guys think?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

English 728

Weeeeeeell...THAT certainly didn't work. However, I'll use this blog for English 728 this semester. Beyond that, who knows?