Sunday, December 30, 2007

What is going on with this blog?

Most likely it will be moving, though I have not started the new year, new blog yet. First I wanted to experiment with the "new" customizable templates, because I never really played around with the "new" version of blogger in nor out of beta. But ultimately, all of my other blogging is done via wordpress, and I am finding that I prefer it. I especially like edublogs and am considering starting this personal/academic blog there. I thought to stay here for reasons of readership, but since my sitemeter reports that I don't really have much of a readership (not that there has been anything here to read), I figure it won't hurt too much to start over somewhere new (and improved!).

I took an entire semester off from this blog. During that time I began a meditation blog, administered a blog for the ENG105 faculty at CSR, and of course maintained my course blogs.

Currently there has been an interesting (and motivating) discussion taking place in the WPA listserv regarding "time toward PhD completion." Within that discussion has come the reminder that habit in writing is super important and that daily writing is crucial. As a writing teacher this is obvious to me, yet as with doctors who tell us to eat right and exercise and then are themselves complete couch potatoes, I have been one of those dissertation writers who has not been taking my own writing advice to heart. I feel the pressure when I make time to write that it has be a large amount of time and that it has to produce something momentous (or close to it). But, that isn't always going to happen, and it is better to write a bit each day than to have a few sporadic pressure-filled marathon writing sessions. Daily writing is actually where blogging was supposed to come in -- public accountability always helps too.

A few folk on the listserv have suggested this site -- PhinisheD -- so I plan to spend some time checking that out and commiserating with other ABDs.

So I guess this has kind of turned into a new year's resolution post: to return -- more diligently -- to writing and completing my dissertation and to return to this blog (or this blog at a new location) as part of that more diligent dissertation writing process/habit.

Finally, I have also given some thought to what I want this blog to be. It started out a little over three years ago (!!!) as my attempt to move my work and my voice outside the "ivory tower" and reach a larger audience than my dissertation committee. The blog was to be an account of the research and teaching and teaching as research that my experience as a PhD student was/is comprised of. For the most part I believe that is what this blog has been -- along with the occasional (or more than that?) asides. I realize that some readers prefer to read academic blogs that are strictly that, and I have considered making my own blogging fit more into that strictly academic "genre." However, I've come to the realization that that blogs I most enjoy reading are "mixed bag" blogs -- the ones that move between pedagogical practice, writing theory, most recent movie viewing, and dinner menus. I'm sure it is the voyeur in me, as I believe it is for many of us working, writing, living, interacting in these online spaces who are also reality TV junkies and fans of memoir and the personal essay, etc. Anyhow, I'm feeling fairly certain that this blog will remain a blend of the personal and the academic. A post I read today is of this opinion:
The mix of professionalism, critique, personal obsession. This is the juxtaposition that drives the best kinds of writing.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

online writing workshops?

I spent the morning kicking around the web through a variety of websites, google searches, JSTOR articles, compfaq and CompPile searches, etc. in search of some specifics on online/virtual/electronic peer review (or writing workshops). I spent about an hour and a half. It was an exhausting search and didn't yield the kind of results I was hoping for: suggestions for specific technology, logistics, results. From the tidbits I was able to find, I learned that research favors asynchronous over synchronous peer review. This is making me re-think my original idea, which was to use chatzy, in favor of using wikis. Still, I haven't quite figured out exactly how I am going to do this: have students post a page that is their essay, and then use the discussion section to answer workshop directing questions? Should students be able (in true wiki) fashion to intervene in the original text? My impulse is to say yes, as the author can view the history of changes, but what are the drawbacks to this idea? I'd definitely like to do more reading about this. I've gone ahead and ordered myself the book Virtual Peer Review: Teaching and Learning about Writing in Online Environments, despite it being in hardcover and way to much money for me too be spending right now.

In my online travels I also came across some references to designing hybrid courses, so I'd like to look further into those as well.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Note to self (but meant to be read by anyone interested)

Do NOT assume that just because you've been assigned a hybrid course of which one credit is digital that you'll be assigned to a computer classroom that allows you to teach the technology necessary to making the digital aspect possible. Such assumptions will hurt you, when, a week before classes start you suddenly check the classroom space and see rows of tables as opposed to computers, and you nearly have a heart attack. These are things you need to ask for and agressively pursue. Please remember this in the future.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

RSS for the Fall

I spent yesterday afternoon and this morning toying around with ideas for how I want to integrate RSS into my classes this Fall. All three of the classes I'm teaching are hybrids -- a new idea that CSR is working with that has one credit of a four-credit course as a digital credit. In some ways I'll just be doing what I've been doing -- having students blog, work with wikis, etc. -- only I'll be able to have that extra credit hour a week to work in these digital arenas as opposed to doing it on top of all the traditional f2f reading and writing that goes on in the classroom. I'm also hoping that students won't be quite as shocked by and resistant to the online work now that it is "officially" a part of the class (though I've always included it in my course descriptions, students have always expressed surprise over the required blogging).

Over the past couple of semesters, I've experimented with different approaches to teaching students RSS. First semester we used flock. Second semester I had them use google reader. My concern is that students aren't checking their readers regularly. This is most important in terms of the class blog, because that is the space with the greatest number of updates and the material pertains to class, assignments, etc. For reading the blogs of their peers, it's okay to sit down when they're ready to comment, login to google reader, and start flipping through posts (although my problem with this is that it isn't the best way to really learn RSS and see the ways in which it can help manage all the web-based content out there).

So recently I've decided to take a bit more seriously the claim about email being for old people. Last week I was teaching a group of students between ninth and tenth grade as part of a program called Summerbridge (Philadelphia). We had a sesssion where we met with some admissions counselors, one of whom started talking to the kids about how they tend to communicate. I was actually surprised that all nineteen of the students present have a myspace/facebook account (they seemed so very young to me). Anyhow, the conversation led me to think about ways to integrate RSS with myspace/facebook as part of my upcoming hybrid classes -- with the thought that since these are the spaces that students visit each day, then these are the spaces in which to incorporate any class announcements or updates. The question left ahead of me: How?

For myspace I chose the SpringWidgets RSS reader (widget). And for facebook I finally found the application, myRSS, for feed subscriptions. I think these will work well for staying abrest of the class blog updates (for those who have myspace/facebook accounts). The questions I'm left with: Are these widgets/applications the best way to utilize RSS? Probably not. Are they appropriate for keeping the subscriptions to all of their classmates' blogs? Probably not. What about students who don't have a myspace or facebook?

Ultimately, I think I will have them use google reader as a supplement to these additions on their social networking site of choice. I don't want any of this to seem too cumbersome, because I really want students to see the ways in which RSS can help make their learning, researching, etc. processes more effective and efficient (and more interesting and diverse to some extent). For now I'll continue to play around with various ideas, and on the first day of class, I'll really need to get a sense of how many students have these accounts (and utilize them regularly) that will certainly affect and direct my thinking and practice in terms of RSS (and other digital practices) for this Fall semester.

Friday, July 13, 2007

summer movie watching

Yesterday, I stayed in bed, drinking tea and watching Zizek. I called it work.

Last week we saw Once. I was truly taken with this movie. I think I've thought about it every day since I've seen it. The film is so completely driven by music that D and I could sing the songs upon exiting the theater (which we did). I believe that I keep thinking about it because of how much was kept from the viewer, how much was held back. But Daynah Burnett's review for PopMatters explains it better than I can:
Still, and even though its ethos is decidedly bohemian, the film never lapses into romantic idealism. At no point do the leads make you swoon or root too hard for their union. Rather, they hold so much back from themselves and each other, it’s as though as you don’t know them, but only glimpsed them in passing.


This summer we've also seen Waitress, which is tough to watch without thinking about the murder of writer, director, acctress Adrienne Shelly. And Knocked Up -- hil-arious.

We also watched Lovely and Amazing, which I had never seen. I liked it -- better than Friends with Money (both from Nicole Holofcener).

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

headache

national grid has been working on our street since early May (maybe it was late April?). By "working" I mean digging up the street, dumping pounds of gravel in front of our houses, spray painting our sidewalks and lawns, drilling holes, letting their noisy trucks run all day long, asking to get into our basements, and just generally being loud and disruptive. I'm not exactly sure what they are doing, but they describe it as "upgrading the natural gas infrastructure in your neighborhood." From what I can tell, this involves changing the gas lines in a way that gives national grid access to our gas lines outside of our houses (as opposed to inside). While there is no mention of this being "experimental," so far we are the only street (as far as I can tell) to have this work being done. Now, mind you, our street has somewhere around twenty-five houses total. Please note that they have been here since April. How, I wonder, do they intend to do this "infrastructure upgrade" to the entire city? By what year do they expect to finish? But that, of course, is not my headache -- that one is theirs. My headache has to do with the fact that I listen to this racket day in and day out as I am trying, TRYING to work. Yes, some days I leave and work elsewhere, but I don't like being forced to leave my house simply because I can't hear myself think. Not to mention that for about a month and half I had to be guided out of my driveway by the work crew, as on one side of the driveway was a giant hole (that a national grid truck had fallen into, creating an even bigger hole) and on the other was always an eclectic array of gravel, tractors, trucks, orange cones, and the like. Right now all of this drives me particularly crazy because I have only one hour before I have to get ready for an appointment. An hour isn't enough time to really travel somewhere to work, but it is certainly enough time to work from home. If only...if only that jackhammer would stfu (I have no idea if that is really an acronym that anyone actually uses, but I just did).

Naturally this is the first summer ever that I've taken off time from teaching to write and research. Of course.

Well, it feels kinda good to write about it. I haven't been blogging much with the exception of posting bits and pieces of research project, as I attempt to design it. Ranting through writing = good outlet.

my research question

Right now it seems that my research question is: What is my research question? It's maddening.

I'm struggling with it, but this is what I have so far (as with all my work thus far -- special shout out to my friend Kate for looking over all the first attempts, so that my web persona can be just the tiniest bit less vulnerable):


1. To what extent are faculty and students aware of the options available when choosing instructional technology and of the long-term cost considerations (fiscal, ethical, ideological, and otherwise) involved in adopting software for use in higher education?
a. What are the options and alternatives (particularly in terms of proprietary software options in contrast to open source models) available to faculty and administration when choosing instructional technology software such as course management systems (CMS), ePortfolio programs, and assessment software?
b. What are the fiscal, pedagogical, and ideological factors involved in the decision making processes on the part of faculty staff and administration when choosing software for their institution?
c. What are the ethical and political implications (if any) that influence the decisions made by faculty, staff, and administration when purchasing and utilizing proprietary software?


The first question I see as a kind of overarching question of the project. The sub-questions seem to actually be the questions that would have to come first. If that makes any sense at all. (Once again, I'm a bit too close to tell at this point). The other thing I'm stuggling with are the nuances between ideological and political and ethical (and even then, I guess, fiscal and pedagogical since those are both political and ideological...and...sigh). This part feels unruly to me right now. I'm still working it all out, but feedback is welcome. I should just make this a workshopping blog.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

draft of survey -- for students this time!

Here is a draft of the survey that I will give to a random selection of students enrolled in writing classes at each of the three chosen area colleges. It is similar the faculty survey that I posted the other day. Feedback is welcome!!!

SURVEY FOR STUDENTS (in writing classes)

The following survey is designed to gather information about the extent to which instructors and students are informed about the course management software (CMS) available to them as a technological aid in their courses. In gathering feedback from instructors and students regarding their knowledge about these programs and their awareness of possible alternatives, I hope to better understand the kinds of decision making processes that are involved in attaining these programs for use in higher education and in writing classes in particular.

Participation is entirely voluntary, and you may choose to leave the study at any time without consequence. All information obtained from this study is strictly confidential.

The survey is brief and should take only ten to fifteen minutes of your time. Thank you for your participation!


Please circle the appropriate answer. If you choose other, please specify.

1. You are enrolled at a:
a. Four year state university
b. Small, private four year liberal arts college
c. County community college (part of the state system)

2. What year are you?
a. First year
b. Second year
c. Third year
d. Fourth year
e. Fifth year
f. Non-matriculated

3. Describe your relationship to technology:
a. Innovator – I program/design my own software
b. Early-adopter – I am always one of the first to have the latest gadgets, games, software, etc.
c. I have used a computer since I was very young and understand its functions quite well
d. I use a computer to go online, instant messaging, and basic word processing
e. I primarily use(d) a computer for school purposes but not at home and not for much more than basic word processing
f. Feel a lack of knowledge about technology and therefore tend not to use it

4. What course management software (CMS) have you used during your time at this college? Circle all that apply.
a. BlackBoard
b. WebCT
c. Angel
d. Moodle
e. Sakai
f. A program designed by your instructor
g. A website designed by your instructor
h. A class blog
i. A software program designed and built by your institution
j. None
k. Don’t know
l. Other_________________

5. What course management software (CMS) does this class use?
m. BlackBoard
n. WebCT
o. Angel
p. Moodle
q. Sakai
r. A program your instructor designed
s. A website designed by your instructor
t. A class blog
u. A software program designed and built by your institution
v. None
w. Don’t know
x. Other_________________

6. If you chose none AND have experience using a CMS for a different course, can you please comment on the difference(s) between a course utilizing a CMS and the one that doesn’t:


If this course is NOT using a CMS, please go to questions 11 – 13.

7. Which functions do you use most often? (number in order of use with one being the feature most frequently used; please put zero if you don’t utilize the function at all)
a. My Grades ___
b. Online text/quiz ___
c. Discussion/chat ___
d. E-mail ___
e. Accessing lecture notes ___
f. Checking course announcements ___
g. Accessing course documents ___
h. Journal/Blog ___
i. Collaboration/Wiki ___
j. Other ___________________ ___

8. If the CMS has given you technological problems, have you utilized the college’s technology support?
a. Yes
b. No
c. I have not had problems with this program
If you answered “yes,” were they able to help you with your problem?
a. Yes
b. No

9. Overall, do you consider this program to be a tool that helps you with your writing?
1 2 3 4 5
not at all very much so

10. Do you find the interface easy to use?
1 2 3 4 5
difficult easy to use very easy to use



11. Do you think you write more in a class that uses a CMS (including e-mails, chat, posting messages/discussion, etc.) than one that doesn’t? Please rate on a scale from one to five with one being much less to five being much more.
1 2 3 4 5
much less about the same much more

12. Your institution’s CMS costs approximately how much per year?
a. $3,000 – 10,000
b. $10,000 – 20,000
c. $20,000 – 40,000
d. $40,000 - $60,000
e. $60,000 – 75,000
f. more than $75,000
g. I don’t know

13. To what extent are you familiar with open source e-learning or CMS platforms (such as Moodle or Sakai)? Please rate your familiarity on a scale of one to five with one being not familiar at all to five constituting a solid understanding of open source models:

1 2 3 4 5


14. Please elaborate on any questions above that you felt were limiting:

Friday, July 06, 2007

Draft of survey

Here is a draft of the survey I am working on to give to faculty at the three colleges I've chosen to focus on. Who knew that it is so freakin' difficult to design a survey!?!? I, for one, had NO idea. Until now. So, if you've never actually designed a survey, please refrain from casting stones (or, for that matter, please refrain regardless of your survey-making status), but I am open to suggestions. If you could ask a question to faculty regarding their CMS use, what would you ask???

SURVEY FOR FACULTY

The following survey is designed to gather information about the extent to which instructors and students are informed about the course management software (CMS) available to them as a technological aid in their courses. In gathering feedback from instructors and students regarding their knowledge about these programs and their awareness of possible alternatives, I hope to better understand the kinds of decision making processes that are involved in attaining these programs for use in higher education and in writing classes in particular.

Participation is entirely voluntary, and you may choose to leave the study at any time without consequence. All information obtained from this study is strictly confidential.

The survey is brief and should take only five to ten minutes of your time. Thank you for your participation!


Please circle the appropriate answer. If you choose other, please specify.

You are teaching at a:
a. Four year state university
b. Small, private four year liberal arts college
c. County community college (part of the state system)

What course(s) do you primarily teach?
a. First year writing
b. Other (than first year) writing courses
c. Literature courses
d. Other________________

What is your employment status?
a. Full-time tenured faculty
b. Full-time contract faculty
c. Part-time/adjunct faculty
d. TA/GA

Describe your relationship to technology:
a. Innovator
b. Early-adopter
c. Tend to adopt technology when it becomes the norm and have a good grasp of how to make it work for you
d. Tend to adopt technology when it becomes the norm, but skeptical of it
e. Tend to adopt technology when it becomes the norm, but unsure of how best to use it
f. Feel a lack of knowledge about technology and therefore tend not to use it
g. Do not see its role in the classroom

What Course Management Software (CMS) do you use?
a. BlackBoard
b. WebCT
c. Angel
d. Moodle
e. Sakai
f. A program you’ve designed
g. Your own website
h. A class blog
i. A software program designed and built by your institution
j. None
k. Other_________________

If you chose none, please describe your reasons for not utilizing a CMS: _______________________________________________________________________

_______________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________

If you are not using a CMS, the survey is completed. Thank you for your participation. Those of you using a CMS, please move on to the following questions:

Which of the following most closely describes your reason for choosing this particular program?
a. I wasn’t aware of other options
b. This is the standard at my institution
c. My institution requires I use this program
d. My institution strongly encourages me to use this program
e. I prefer this program to others
f. Ease of use
g. Other_____________________________________________________________

If you choose to use a CMS that is not the institution’s standard version, are you given technological support if and when needed?
a. Yes
b. No

Which functions do you use most often? (number in order of use with one being the feature most frequently used; please put zero if you don’t utilize the function at all)
a. Gradebook ___
b. Online text/quiz ___
c. Discussion/chat ___
d. E-mail ___
e. Posting lecture notes ___
f. Announcements ___
g. Course documents ___
h. Journal/Blog ___
i. Collaboration/Wiki ___
j. Other ___________________ ___

Overall, do you find your pedagogical practices to be well supported by the CMS features available to you? Please rate on a scale from one to five with one indicating that the program does not enable you to enact your pedagogical practices and five indicating that the tool actually makes your pedagogy more effective:

1 2 3 4 5

If you answered with a one or a two, please describe what features or options would better enable you to enact your pedagogy:


Regardless of whether you use your institution’s standard CMS, please answer the following questions to the best of your ability:

Were you involved in deciding whether or not the school should purchase this particular software?
a. Yes, I sat on a committee
b. Yes, I was asked to vote or give input to the committee
c. No, the software was already in place when I came here
d. No

Are you aware of who ultimately made the decision on your institution’s standard CMS?
a. Yes, administration decided
b. Yes, it was the vote of a committee
c. Yes, information technology or educational technology services decided
d. No, I’m not sure

Your institution’s CMS costs approximately how much per year?
a. $3,000 – 10,000
b. $10,000 – 20,000
c. $20,000 – 40,000
d. $40,000 - $60,000
e. $60,000 – 75,000
f. more than $75,000

To what extent are you familiar with open source e-learning or CMS platforms (such as Moodle or Sakai)? Please rate your familiarity on a scale of one to five with one being not familiar at all to five constituting a solid understanding of open source models:

1 2 3 4 5


Do you use your CMS in any way as a tool to aid in student writing? If so, describe how you use this product.


Please elaborate on any questions above that you felt were limiting:

Monday, June 18, 2007

technology and ideology

In her (now outdated, but interestingly not really so much...) essay , "Ideology, Technology, and the Future of Writing Instruction," Nancy Kaplan points to some gaps in research around pedaogical tools such as textbooks and technology. On pgs. 13-14 Kaplan notes that no empirical studies "assess the textbook as pedagogic delivery system, let alone analyze its ideological implications" (emphasis mine), and studies of computer writing tools have tended to focus on effects of the computer or word processing program on the cognitive processes of the writer as opposed to focusing on the ideological nature of the technology itself. My project is less interested in the effects and effectiveness (or not) of electronic writing tools and more interested in the process by which we come to decide on particular versions of software. I might touch upon the effectiveness (or not) of these pedagogical tools -- especially if and when I might make a case for alternatives -- but overall I am more interested in getting at the considerations, awareness, conversations (or lack thereof) that go on around what is at stake (and for me this means what is at stakes in terms of corporate capitalism and its hold on higher education) when we make these choices.

It's like this: Wal*mart is an option for purchasing my daily needs. The price is right. The location is right. They carry what I need. They have a large selection. They have friendly people at the door waiting to give me my cart. Okay, so maybe these are the qualities I'm looking for when I choose where to shop. But, in terms of long (and short) term economic effects on me (as a citizen and taxpayer), on the workers (few of whom even have insurance), on society as a whole, I might not want to shop at Wal*mart -- even if it does have everything I'm looking for.

"When a technology is as pervasive and profoundly shaping as print has been, it is often difficult to perceive the full extent of its entitlements and exclusions. Its formations and empowerments seem simply natural and right. When a new tool emerges, however, the conflict it engendered by its emergence can illuminate previously obscured relations" (14-15). Kaplan explains that the conventions of a book have not only shaped the text itself, but also the world. She uses indexing as an example. Indexing has become the "natural" way by which we shape, organize, categorize knowledge, and she goes on to point out that there are digital equivalents that "are rewriting the world, restructuring what is knowable, by whom, and for what purposes" (15). The Michael Wesch video, "The Machine is Us/ing Us" -- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gmP4nk0EOE -- is an example of just that. We now organize knowledge in the form of tags, social bookmarking, etc. Ultimately the point here is simply that the tool is not just a means to an end, the tool itself shapes and structures the world. And ultimately, I want to ask, What kind of a means is it? What are the factors that shaped the technology that is then shaping us and our students? (Is it Wal*mart? Or some other lesser evil?)

In his 1985 College English article, Richard Ohmann asserts that technology cannot inherently create new ways of thinking as if "'the technology somehow came before someone's intention...'", reminding us that "'technology...is itself a social process, saturated with the power relations around it, continually reshaped according to some people's intentions' (681)" (qtd. in Kaplan 23). From this perspective, Ohmann sees capitalism at work and technology giving a hand to those with power, money, and need to maintain the(ir) status quo. He accuses the "computer revolution" of expanding the reach of the elite, "meanwhile facilitating the degradation of labor and the stratification of the workforce that have been the hallmarks of monopology capitalism from the onset" (Ohmann 683). Andrew Sledd's 1988 article, "Readin' not riotin': The Politics of Literacy"raises similar questions about the alleged empowering effect of technology. He argues that "the plan is to produce a few experts in the service of established power who will refine and program the technology, often for surveillance, plunder and massacre" (499). In the scope of my project I believe I'll be making some similar claims, but I'm also hoping to achieve a less grim outlook (than Ohmann and Sledd). While I would never make the rhetorical choice of "massacre" and "plunder." I do see the creepy surveillance function of many of these programs, but I don't view all electronic/digital tools as functioning in quite this way (one of the arguments in favor of an open source model as it puts firm dent in that surveillance feel). Kaplan is also more forgiving, willing to look at these technological tools as "enabling pioneering efforts, helping us to actualize for all what the few now possess" (25). Still, she cautions, "electronic texts don't simply materialize out of thin air; they must be created, housed, and displayed by means of systems--hardware and soft. Those structures and interfaces affect users' expectations and aspirations, shape our values and our sense of our own potential" (25). Limitations and exclusions we come across in terms of these programs might very well be "grounded in the political and economic arrangements within which systems are designed, developed, and disseminated" (26). System designers, programmers, technology managers have decided what is and is not possible in the scope of these programs. They have determined the structure of the electronic environment for all of us.

As an example of the relationship between a tool and its pedagogical uses, Kaplan uses the blackboard. While the blackboard has a range of potential uses, it limits the writing process in terms of favoring certain transformations and discouraging others: "for example, the blackboard is best at word-for-word subsitutions...worst at a complete reordering that would require erasing everything and starting over" (27). The amount of text the blackboard can actually hold also limits what we can and can do with it as a writing tool. Interestingly, the monolithic CMS, BlackBoard, takes its name from this centuries old pedagogical tool, creating a sense of convergence between old technology and new. Also, the e-learning version of BlackBoard, like its namesake, affects and shapes the writing that takes place there. All the elements of both BlackBoard and the blackboard shape how we use them. As Kaplan puts it, the technologies themselves "shape users' perceptions of what texts are and can become: who can write them, read them, distribute them and to whom" (28). And one of my problems with BB is that it creates a (too) limited and closed sense of each of these things. The fact that only students from the same class can read and write the documents contained therein merely replicates the same type of thinking about purpose and audience that the students are already doing when they create a print text for class.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

I have a new dissertation

I know it sounds crazy (or maybe it doesn't; it does sound crazy to me -- even though I'm the one doing it). I met with my committee (well the two local members) on Friday and proposed my new plan to study proprietary software programs -- those utilized as writing "tools" -- as emblematic of the corporate University. Right now it's all just starting to come together. I'm focusing on three schools:

  • a community college
  • a small, private four-year liberal arts college
  • a state research university.


I'm focusing on the following products:

  • Blackboard/WebCT = CMS
  • Angel ePortfolio2 = ePortfolio
  • ETS customizable essay scoring services – turnkey and Engine only = assessment tool for writing
  • ETS Criterion = assessment tool for writing

I will possibly look to add more ePortfolio programs to my list. I'm open to suggestions.

I will essentially be doing a reading of these products (and in doing so a reading of education as commodity) utilizing the "circuit of culture" presented by Stuart Hall (et al). Because the circuit focuses on different moments or processes and the interaction between them, the project will not only include a rhetorical analysis of the marketing of these products but will also look at the people involved in deciding on the purchase of these programs as well as those who end up utilizing or consuming these products. I'm interested in what specifically is involved in the decision-making processes that go on when institutions are debating over or deciding on these programs. And more specifically I want to know the extent of awareness that exists around these decisions as choices that are feeding the problematic relationship between higher education and corporations. I want to know how much awareness admin and faculty have of freeware and/or open source models that do the same thing that these programs do. This information will be attained primarily through interview and survey. I will also look at usage -- how the consumers (primarily teachers and students, but also administration) use these "tools" -- differently than or similar to their intended usage.

That's my "new" project in a nutshell. It's not as drastically different from the original as I'm making it seem here, but it does present a whole lot of new research and reading that I did not do for my exams.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Blogging, like exercise or anything else that takes/is work, becomes more and more difficult to get back to the longer you've been away from it.

I've been away from both blogging and other related academic work for a couple of weeks now, and it has been rough getting back into them.

This morning I reread Paula Mathieu and James Sosnoki's essay "Enacting Cultures: The Practice of Comparative Cultural Studies" from Robert Yagelski and Leonard Scott's edited collection, The Relevance of English. And rather than (re)invigorating my own project, it only served to deflate me/it.

In this essay Sosnoski and Mathieu address a particular complaint against cultural studies and its alleged lack of pedagogical success: "its reliance on 'cultural critique' as a pedagogical technique" (325). By this they mean the way that cultural critique is imposed upon students and viewed by them as a "moral imperative" (326). In this way, they argue, 'cultural critique' is not rhetorically an effective technique. They point to advocates of cultural studies, such as Libby Miles, who complain that this technique ends up being "formulaic and flat" (qtd. in Sosnoski and Mathieu 327).

Sosnoski and Mathieu study the complexities of the problems with this common form (cultural critique) of cultural studies pedagogy. One problem is based on students entering the classroom determined "to resist or refuse any teaching they find 'political,' 'feminist,' or promoting what often gets misnamed 'reverse racism'" (327). Sosnoski and Mathieu argue that this resistance isn't necessarily due to an inherent conservatism, but rather is driven by the dominant culture -- corporate controlled media -- that "constructs a conversation that labels pedagogies that ask students to be critical of social and cultural practices as merely code words of the plotting advocates of critical correctness" (328).

Sosnoski and Mathieu argue that students view 'critique' as requiring that they renounce their daily lives and associated cultural practices, and through an understanding of this student perspective we can begin to understand how this pedagogical approach can be viewed as a "moral imperative." Sosnoski and Mathieu seek to "introduce students to a form of cultural criticism that makes productive use of students' everyday experiences and critical abilities rather than merely inspiring their ire" (328).

Nothing here so far is particularly "new" or "different." Sosnoski and Mathieu are addressing, and even tentatively aligning themselves with, common arguments against a cultural studies approach/pedagogy. And, on the other hand, Cultural studies, which is itself often conflated with or misconstrued as critical pedagogy, does also share some similarities with critical pedagogy and these types of pedagogical approaches are often put under the canopy of radical, emancipatory, or liberatory pedaogy. Critical pedagogy has its roots in Freire who would indeed find Sosnoski and Mathieu's goal of making use of or starting from the everday lives and already in place critical abilities of their students as an admirable goal and one inherent to critical pedagogy. The question of course is how does one do this while simultaneously avoiding the pitfall of the "moral imperative" that Sosnoski and Mathieu are so concerned with.

The proposed "answer" (according to this essay) comes in the form of a cultural studies-oriented first-year writing course created by Mathieu and Jennifer Cohen. In order to escape the primarily negative function/outcome of critique, the pilot composition course, "Reading, Writing, and Enacting Cultures," asked students to examine current university culture (in this case focusing on its electronic presence by comparing the web page of their university and its coverage of a topic of the student's choice to that of another university).
Asking students to perform this concrete comparison allowed them to begin criticism as a place of their own interest and choosing. Also, rather than asking them to 'critique' by using an existing theoretical model, their criticism was derived from comparing one cultural site to another. Rhetorically, comparison allows students to look critically at a practice without forcing them into an impossibly negative space, which often results in resistance or cynicism. (333-334)
Comparative criticism (as opposed to other existing theoretical models) is not restricted to current conditions; it can also address possibility -- i.e. the future. By asking students to "imagine better ways to teach and learn" through the 'imaginative' essay on an ideal university, Mathieu and Cohen claim to have escaped "the purely negative space of critique" (334). They believe that "helping students articulate desires for a better world and to initiate discussion about different views of the ideal is a worthwhile political and pedagogical goal" (336).

In the essay's final section, "Don't Stop at Criticism: Enacting Culture," Sosnoski and Mathieu address the idea that writing pedagogies that have emerged from a cultural studies perspective tend to cast students as merely ananlysts. They point to Alan France as an example of a scholar who has critiqued textbooks that solely ask students to "analyze the culture around them as a sort of cultural critic by closely examining and picking apart texts," leaving students in an analytical but passive position (337). Mathieu illustrates ways in which the course she and Cohen created urged students to take action by making Web pages to publish their views. Some of these writings now exist as actual links on their University's official Web page.

Here is an example of a cultural studies based writing class that is critiquing campus culture. It is essentially doing what my own project argues a cultural studies based writing course should consider doing. This is how I ended up deflated. How is my argument different? How do I distinguish my argument from arguments already being made?

1) It seems that the choice of studying and analyzing campus culture was a somewhat arbitrary choice for Mathieu and Cohen (although I don't know that this is the case, as they don't detail their exact decision making process); whereas I tend to argue that it should be not just one choice among many, but the very starting point for a cultural studies based writing classroom.

2) I would like to call more attention to the ways in which corporate influence in education is not so obvious, more transparent -- for example, in the form of proprietary software, academic labor, writing practices that contribute to the creation of a labor force under capitalism. So that the exploration doesn't begin and end with what is lacking, missing, underdeveloped from one University website to another, but how decisions being made -- corporate ones -- are directly and indirectly affecting the campus that students inhabit both part-time and full-time.

3) My project is based, in part, on a gap identified by Richard Ohmann in his Afterword to Left Margins -- the pedagogical project that Ohmann noted missing from the cultural studies collection in 1995 was a critique of campus culture. Mathieu and Cohen's class helps to fill such a gap, but it is only one example. Where are the others? Are there others? These are questions I might also grapple with. One example alone can't necessarily fill a gap.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Doing Nothing

I am almost too good at "doing" nothing -- to the point where the guilt feelings that accompany it are a bit overwhelming. I was raised in house where it wasn't unusual to "do" nothing. My mother always jokes that she is going to open a business that involves teaching people how to sit around in their pajamas, drinking tea, and not doing much of anything at all. We were all very good at just "hanging out." I was never bored on summer vacations. I never yearned to get back to school simply so that I could get out of the house. I loved the idea of endless days of nothingness.

Of course it is different now. I am an adult and do in fact have many things that I must *do*. However, so far this week I have never made it out of my PJs before noon, and I'm always starting my second cup of tea around 10:30 or 11. It is with that second cup of tea that I sit down and write, so that I am at least doing "something."

After I hit "publish," I'll probably head back to my oversized, comfy chair in the living room and continue on with nothing in particular.

My mother would be proud!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

first day of summer vacation

Yesterday I turned in my grades (finally!) shortly after noon. At about 4:30 I was abruptly hit with a terrible sore throat and runny nose. My body has been so wound up with stress that the minute I let my shoulders move away from my ears a bit -- bang -- I'm overcome with a summer cold. I'm pretty bummed about that as it really delays the start of my summer plans, which involve a lot of intense physical activity (including cleaning) and moving around. So I didn't get to tackle my overhaul/spring cleaning of the our front enclosed porch today, but here is what I did do:

This morning I read Convergence Culture until lunch.

After lunch I went out in the yard and planted the last few annuals that I had not yet put into the ground. It was exquisite out. And I forgot for moment how miserable I feel -- except for the fact that my nose kept running.

I came in and flipped through the latest REI catalog, allowing myself to daydream about summer adventures on bikes and in the woods, on the trails, etc.

Went back outdoors with Cheyanne, set up a lawn chair, and sat down with Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, which I've never read before and is one of my summer fun books. I got about three pages into it, and it began to rain. Got up, put the lawn chair in the garage with my cell phone now folded into the cup holder.

Not too bad for the first day of summer "vacation." I'm trying to really recover quickly here and not let this cold take over my life. I have Ultimate frisbee scheduled for tomorrow night and a big gym workout planned for Thursday...and maybe a yoga class on Thursday morning, so I really can't be sick for too long.

Tomorrow I have plans to help stuff envelopes for Pride at the local gay and lesbian community center. Seems like a worthwhile, yet somewhat mindless task to take on immediately following the end-of-semester mayhem.

I have definite intentions to get back to blogging this summer, as I'll be starting to write the chapters of my dissertation, but for the next week or so, I'll be taking it easy. Any blogging I do will be about my attempt to gorge myself on pop culture, as I ease myself back into my diss work.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

HELP w/ citation

I have no idea where I got this quote and citation from:

“The computer classroom has often been hailed as…a social-democratic space, helping to promote a liberatory pedagogy by fostering student resistance, empowering students by decentering the classroom” (Walker 119).

I can't remember anything about reading this, where I got it from, who "Walker" is (jill? Henry?). If anybody recognizes the article? essay? book? this might be from, please contact me.

---
Update:
Walker, Janice R. "Resisting Resistance: Power and Control in the
Technologized Classroom." In _Insurrection: Approaches to Resistance in
Composition Studies_. Ed. Andrea Greenbaum. Albany: SUNY, 2001. 119-32.

Thanks to all those who came to the rescue!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

How do *you* stop procrastinating?

For two days now I've been procrastinating, paralyzed, putting off my prospectus revision. It is due to the department tomorrow, and it feels too big. I can't even get myself to open the proper documents, because it feels impossible to pull it all together by tomorrow.

Intead

I've been looking at houses online, reading Cary Tennis columns on Salon, (re)reading e-mails, watching Clancy's "take" on Take 20, rearranging my netflix queue, getting cups of coffee and cappucinos, writing silly blog posts, reading articles on Kurt Vonnegut. I need to

stop.

But how?

Monday, April 09, 2007

Timeline of Cultural Studies

Timeline of Cultural Studies
This timeline comes primarily out of the narratives of cultural studies as told by Raymond Williams in “The Future of Cultural Studies,” Lawrence Grossberg in “The Formations of Cultural Studies: An American in Birmingham,” and Stuart Hall’s “Cultural Studies and its Theoretical Legacies.” The connections between cultural studies and composition have been made with the help of Diana George and John Trimbur’s chapter on cultural studies in A Guide to Composition Pedagogies edited by Gary Tate, Amy Rupiper, and Kurt Schick. As each essay stresses, cultural studies is not a stable entity, so every account of its “story”or history is provisional (making this a more difficult timeline to create, as timelines force chronology, than the previous critical pedagogy timeline). With that caveat – here is my timeline:

30s/40s/50s: Raymond Williams in his (1989) piece "The Future of Cultural Studies" (edited transcript from a 1986 lecture) focuses on the influence of cultural studies on adult education during this time period. (This is Williams' "alternative" reading of the history of cultural studies, which he says is normally sited through texts). Williams also points to traces of "what you could now fairly call ' Cultural Studies'" in the works of Leavis and Scrutiny (153).

Appearance of "mass culture" after WWII through "the rationalization, capitalization and technologization of the mass media" (Grossberg 24) is key to the emergence of cultural studies.

1956: British New Left emerges against the backdrop of the Hungarian Revolution -- as Hall points out it (in "Cultural studies and its Theoretical Legacies”) was a moment in which a certain kind of marxism was disintegrating, and this fact problematizes the view of British cultural studies as a marxist critical practice. Notion of this as the founding moment is cultural studies is, according to Hall, a mistake/misreading. And, according to Hall, "there was never a prior moment when cultural studies and marxism represented a perfect theoretical fit" (265).

According to Lawrence Grossberg, the New Left developed, in part, to confront the ways in which traditional marxism failed to address "the beginnings of late capitalism, the new forms of economic and political colonialism and imperialism..." (25).

1957: Richard Hoggart: The Uses of Literacy

1958: Raymond Williams: Culture and Society

1960s: Brought in subcultures that resisted some aspects of dominant structures of power and became part of the focus of work being done in cultural studies.

1963: E.P. Thompson: The Making of the English Working Class

1964 (or 63?): Richard Hoggart founds the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in Birmingham

1968: Stuart Hall becomes director of CCCS

1969: England establishes its first "open" learning university. This Open University signifies a shift, according to Williams in that tie between cultural studies and adult education; however it is at this moment, sites Williams, that "what became Cultural Studies occurred": Whereas students (in adult ed) had been demanding that education/discussion be in relation to their own experiences and situations and that they retain some right to decide on their own syllabus; the Open University "deliberately" interrupted this. So it was on the one hand popular access, but it also inserted "a technology over and above the movement of the culture" (157). Williams defends the more "more basic right" of these people "to define the questions" (157).

1970s: British cultural studies advances within "the problematic of Marxism" (Hall "Cultural studies and its Theoretical Legacies" 266). Problematic = a struggle, an actual problem.

Ideas of Gramsci radically displace ideas of Marxism within cultural studies (Hall "Cultural studies and its Theoretical Legacies" 267) – Centre trying to produce an "organic intellectual." Gramsci also served a "middle-ground" for those who feared readings of Althusser that took him to “the post-structuralist realm of the necessary lack of correspondence” (because those ignores the materialist question of the role of ideology) (Grossberg 28).

This Gramscian position “defined cultural studies as a non-reductionist Marxism which was concerned with understanding specific historical contexts and formations, which assumed the lack of guarantees in history and the reality of struggles by which historical relationships are produced” (29). Grossberg describes this as a “conjuncturalist theory,” which does not assume all practices equate to culture (anti-totality/humanism of Williams) and recognizes real structures of power. It sees history as being produced by individuals as they struggle within determinate conditions.

Cultural studies emerges as "a disciplinary formation" in the confrontation between the humanistic Marxism of Williams, Thompson, and Hoggart and the anti-humanism of Athusser's structural marxism.

Political and theoretical work being done on gender and sexual orientation “interrupted” the work of cultural studies.

The New Right emerges in Britain, and the "traditional left seemed incapable of offering coherent strategies and responses" (Grossberg 26).

80s/90s— Thatcher regime managed to undermine the infrastructure in Britain, while the left is distanced from the majority of the population (seen in academics/students—in part) and unable to secure ground from which to organize opposition.

These political and historical concerns placed cultural studies in some cases on one side—for example, when it criticized post-structuralism and psychoanalysis for abandoning materialism—but most often CS placed itself between two extremes—for example, Hall’s call for a space for CS between structuralism and culturalism.

1980: Stuart Hall: "Cultural Studies: Two Paradigms" -- reading Williams and Althusser against each other

1986/1989: Raymond Williams: "The Future of Cultural Studies" -- ultimately, Williams does not really see the sense of approaching cultural studies in terms of an intellectual history as it may obscure from us "a historic opportunity for a new Cultural Studies formation" (161)--whose time is now. "Cultural Studies has been about...taking the best we can in intellectual work and going with it in this very open way to confront people for whom it is not a way of life, for whom it is not in any probability a job, but for whom it is a matter of their own intellectual interests, their own understanding of the pressures on them, pressures of every kind, from the most personal to the most broadly political..." (162).

Williams focus on cultural studies’ role in adult education is a point of convergence between cultural studies and composition, as Diana George and John Trimbur point out in their chapter on cultural studies (2001 Tate, Rupiper, Schick 78-9).

Richard Johnson: "What is Cultural studies, Anyway?"

1987: Martin Allor describes the term cultural studies as a "cultural commodity" (Grossberg 21).

1988: John Trimbur: "Cultural Studies and the Teaching of Writing"
Ties in with Williams' account of cultural studies' work in adult education, as Trimbur sees composition emerging out of the need to "represent students and adult learners stigmatized as uneducable because of cognitive deficiencies, the culture of poverty, or the restricted codes of oral culture" (Tate... 80).

1989: Lawrence Grossberg, in "The Circulation of Cultural Studies," describes cultural studies as an ambiguous term used to refer to what had been previously thought of as "critical theory" (i.e. competing theories (lit theory and anthropology; communication and pop culture) of the relation of between society and culture, ideology and art, etc.)

80s/90s: Cultural studies appears on the scene in composition studies (Reagan-Bush era reaction much like critical pedagogy).

1991: Schilb, John. “Cultural Studies, Postmodernism, and Composition.”

1992: Stuart Hall: "Cultural studies and its Theoretical Legacies"-- is not telling the definitive story of cultural studies, not the only way of telling this history of cultural studies. Hall wants to point to certain theoretical moments and what those moments have been like for him. Cultural studies has "no simple origins" (discursive in Foucault's sense of the word). Cultural studies "has a number of different histories" (263).
Entering the era of "post-marxism"

James Berlin and Michael Vivion, eds: Cultural Studies in the English Classroom -- cultural studies restored rhetoric as central to the curriculum displacing the previously privileged (by English departments) poetics.

Lester Faigley: Fragments of Rationality: Postmodernity and the Subject of Composition

1993: Lawrence Grossberg: "The Formation(s) of Cultural Studies: An American in Birmingham" -- Grossberg traces a somewhat brief (with a fairly narrow focus) history of the conception of and debates within cultural studies. He spends a lot of time making clear his point that since its inception cultural studies has been an unstable and changing “field.” While there is no single cultural studies position, it is important to understand its history, its projects that have shaped its identity. He refers to this as cultural studies’ “unity-in-difference.” He offers two histories of cultural studies -- the "normative" or "standard" account and the "war of positions" account -- ultimately arguing that the development of cultural studies is not linear. A linear or teleological account of cultural studies "ignores the continuous debates within and between the positions offered" (31). Grossberg chooses eight theoretical problematics or sites of warfare and then lays out five positions illustrating a more fractured and uneven trajectory of CS:
I literary humanism (Williams and Hoggart)
II effort to define a dialectical sociology
III Centre position (culturalism) -- studies of youth subculture and encoding/decoding mass communication
IV structural-conjuncturalist position
V a postmodern-conjuncturalist position

1994: Composition textbook: Signs of Life in the USA

1995: Karen Fitts and Alan France: Left Margins: Cultural Studies and Composition Pedagogy

1996: James Berlin: Rhetorics, Poetics, and Cultures: Refiguring English Studies.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Timeline of Critical Pedagogy

I am being asked, as part of my prospectus to include a genealogy of both critical pedagogy and cultural studies. In moving toward this goal, I have started to create a timeline of critical pedagogy in order to gain a clear(er) picture of the historical trajectory (a BIG thanks to my friend Shari for her help with all of this).

Here is what I have so far (with the italicized portions being my vague thoughts):

Timeline of Critical Pedagogy

late 19thC./early 20th C: much of American critical pedagogy has its roots in the progressivism of this time period, exemplified in the work of John Dewey and his philosophy of Pragmatism. Dewey's educational philosophy included an emphasis on student-centered learning and participation in democratic life that is also at the heart of much contemporary critical pedagogy.

1970: Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed -- the "go to" text for critical pedagogy

1980s: radical educators in the US speak out about education as "sorting mechanism" (McLaren qtd. in Tate, Rupiper, Schick 94) and as an apparatus of reproduction of the ideology and power of dominant groups; boom in critical pedagogy scholarship during Reagan-Bush years (Tate, Rupiper Schick 95).

1980: Shor's Critical Teaching and Everyday Life = critique of community college system

1983: Giroux's Theory and Resistance in Education

1985: Giroux and Aronowitz: Education under Seige

1986: Giroux and McLaren "Teacher Education and the Politics of Engagement: The Case for Democratic Schooling" -- argues for school as "democratic public sphere"

Problem is that twenty years later, after working in various classroom spaces with critical pedagogy, the university's potential as "democratic public sphere" is being infringed upon by corporate interests and a corporate administrative mentality. It is not enough to simply say this space should be democratic, so lets enact that in our classrooms; first we need to carefully make note of the ways in which the space within which our classroom exists (and even that classroom itself) might not be democratic, where and when are the moments in which we do not exercise control or have a voice in our education, our teaching, and so on because of corporate interests.

1987: Shor's Freire for the Classroom: teachers from varied disciplines contributed essays to this collection illustrating the applicability of Freirean pedagogy in their classrooms

In this text, Shor points out that "it's a tricky business to organize an untraditional class in a traditional school.". This difficulty in implementing critical pedagogy when the majority of students are accustomed to receiving some form of traditional, mainstream education is taken up more recently by William Thelin in his works on "blundering", and is an idea that has also become a part of the debate between Thelin and Russel Durst (Jeff Smith, in his article, "Students' Goals, Gatemkeeping, and Some Questions of Ethics), seems to be making an argument similar to Durst's .

1988: Giroux's Schooling and the Struggle for Public Life -- points to "cultural production" as opposed to reproduction b/c Giroux (and Aronowitz) see schools not as merely reproductive apparatuses, but also as sites of resistance (Tate... 96).

The 90s bring in a more cautious approach to critical pedagogy. Hurlbert and Blitz's collection illustrates educators debating and arguing over all aspects of critical pedagogy (in stark contrast to Shor's 1987 celebratory collection); Maxine Hairston expresses great concern over a composition instructor's ability to handle political topics in the classroom, and Gregory Jay and Gerald Graff provide a critique and an alternative ("teach the conflicts") that they'd still justify as radical or progressive.

1991: Hurlbert and Blitz's collection Composition and Resistance

1992: Maxine Hairston makes her now famous attack on critical pedagogy, arguing against the idea of the politicized writing classroom

1993: Jennifer Gore's The Struggle for Pedagogies -- she lays out the differences between Shor's critical pedagogy and Giroux's critical pedagogy, and in so doing, critiques Giroux's scholarship.

1995: Gregory Jay and Gerald Graff's "A Critique of Critical Pedagogy" is included in Michael Berube's and Cary Nelson' Higher Education Under Fire -- in it they site the ways in which critical pedagogy implemented can fall into the "banking model" Freire warns us against.

1999: Pepi Leistyna Presence of Mind: Education and the Politics of Deception

Russel Durst: Collision Course: Conflict, Negotiation, and Learning in College Composition

2000: Amy Lee: Composing Critical Pedagogies

William Thelin and John Tassoni, eds: Blundering for a Change: Errors and Expectations in Critical Pedagogy

2001: Joe Hardin: Opening Spaces: critical pedagogy and resistance theory in composition

Andrea Greenbaum: Insurrections: Approaches to Resistance in Composition Studies

2005: William Thelin: "Understanding Problems in Critical Classrooms"

2006: CCC "Interchanges" Durst/Thelin

Robert Yagelski: "'Radical to Many in the Educational Establishment': The Writing Process Movement after the Hurricanes"

I know I am probably missing a lot. Any suggestions? Offerings? Addendums? Additions?

Now the goal is to actually turn this into a genealogy with the goal of illustrating silences around or gaps in attention to the situatedness of these pedagogical practices, these critical pedagogy classrooms in the corporate university.

giving student feedback -- an observation

This semester I've been giving a lot of feeback to my students via e-mail. I do this for two of their assignments in particular: close readings and group presentations. After a group presents I try to come straight back to my office and type up all the notes I took during the presentation and send them to each group member (along with individual feedback on his/her particular role in the presentation).

What I've been noticing is that students respond! I get an e-mail back. Sometimes the e-mail simply thanks me for my feedback, some point out the specific ways in which the feedback was helpful, some make clear their understanding of a point I've made, some defend themselves, and so on. I love this!

I know this is nothing truly new or earth-shaking. Instructors, including myself, have been responding to students electronically (in various forms) for a long time. Last semester, though, I tended to respond electronically in the form of comments on their blogs. I still do this, but I notice a big difference when I write them an e-mail. Students rarely (to never) pick up the dialogue that I attempt to start when commenting on their blogs -- even with all the in-class time spent talking about the potential for dialogue through these online spaces; however, for whatever reason, they seem much more compelled to hit that reply button. Maybe the "email is for old people" mentality hasn't quite hit my campus yet...?

Monday, April 02, 2007

Day Two: CCCC

Dennis Jerz from Seton Hill and Sally Chandler from Kean University brought along some graduate students and put together a panel/session called “When Student Experts Remix the Discipline: New Media in the Composition Classroom.” And there was pretty good turnout, considering that these graduate students were “up against” the likes of David Bartholomae and Gerald Graff in the Grand Ballroom.

Student 1- Mike Rubino presented on multiple-authored blogs and collaborating in academic environments. He pointed out differences between academic discussion blogs, which seek to toss around various ideas on a shared topic and focused message blogs, which have a singular message they want to get across to the readers.

Student 2- Matthew Harabin presented ways to teach with EBay in order to develop students’ analytical and critical thinking skills.

Student 3- Amanda Cochran studied blog desertion, focusing specifically on why college students desert their blogs. She argued that this is not a “bad” thing, that it actually shows a “wising up” of these students, as they take in horror stories about bloggers who end up being punished (lost jobs, incarceration—such as the Egyptian blogger arrested over his critiques of religion, etc.) over something they’ve written. Students also showed concern over their blogs being inaccurate representations of their writing skills. This “moving on” she argued is a positive representation of students’ understanding of new media. She described students “moving on” to “gated communities” like Facebook and MySpace.

I guess I don’t see MySpace or Facebook (though I have never used the latter) as “gated communities” per se. Anyone has access to them, and there is ample information about the possibility of losing jobs (or not getting hired for one) on account of a myspace profile. Now I am not weighing in on the controversy here over whether or not this is fair or an invasion of privacy or what kind of “space” (public or otherwise) that myspace might be. I’m just not sure that a “moving on” to myspace or Facebook can accurately be described as a “wising up”, but I found the topic of blog desertion interesting. A couple of audience members described it maybe not as desertion per se, but rather as a kind of moving on. I also wasn’t entirely clear on Amanda’s distinctions between academic and social blogging. Isn’t all blogging supposed to be social?

Student 4 – Nadia Lahens presented on fan fiction and entertained the audience with a quote taken from Anne Rice’s website: “I do not allow fan fiction….” Rice goes on to say that writers of fan fiction must obey her wishes (I don’t have the exact quote for this).

During the discussion one audience member mentioned that we all laughed at Rice’s comment, but that to some extent her comment is understandable – that we are all somewhat protective of our own work. I personally laughed at Rice’s comment because it’s not as if Anne Rice created the vampire story herself. Her lack of recognition of her own “remixing,” her own version of fan fiction, is what made me laugh (an annoyed kind of laughter...more like a grunt, I guess).

Finally, Sally Chandler presented on youth culture in the (composition) classroom with a focus on remixing and its reliance on parody. She discussed the differences between digital and material space: digital space is immersive, interactive, symbol mediated, and information intensive. The mindset is or has to be different when working in a digital space as compared to material space. How, she asked, does this affect our teaching of writing? This difference is the same as differences based on race, class, gender that we’ve spent years addressing. Chandler drew on an example from last year’s Cs. She attended a panel on remixing as writing where the panelists showed that students see remixing as standard. Some audience members, however, was concerned about plagiarism and argued that patchwriting is not remixing. The panelists stood their ground, arguing remixing = writing, while Chandler was left agreeing with both sides. Ultimately she argued that we need to re-imagine what constitutes the writing process. Often times our reactions (as illustrated by the reactions of last year’s audience members) are material world reactions where economy is based on scarcity, but, as Chandler points out, the information is economy is not – where the more something is used/circulated, the more it is worth. We need to reassess our view of the writing process based on our use of new media literacy.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

CCCC07: Outtake One

My lovely traveling partner for this year's conference, Megan, was, very unfortunately, too sick to go. This is really much more unfortunate for her, having to deal with a long-lasting and hard-hitting cold/sinus infection, than it was for me, though having her there would have been wonderful.

My first night there, I checked into my hotel, got settled into "my pod," and checked out the little French restaurant/wine bar next door. I dined alone -- a glass of wine, some tomatoes and basil on French bread, and a salad. I was the only person in the crowded (people were waiting for tables) place who was alone. Next to me was a group of four women. They were having a great time, their volume rising with each glass of wine. They clapped and cheered loudly for themselves when at one point they decided to order yet another bottle. Toward the end of my meal, a couple of them leaned over to me and said, "We are *so* impressed with you." I wasn't sure what they meant exactly, but they explained to me that only one of the group of four ever had the "guts" to dine alone, and she had been encouraging the other women to try it. I mentioned that my traveling partner had gotten sick, and we struck up conversation. They inquired into the reasons for my NYC trip, and I tried to explain the conference. "Is that like writing?" they inquired. Somehow we got on the topic of the Food Network, a shared TV addiction. Eventually the conversation returned to dining alone. I mentioned reading many articles about the possibilities involved in dining (and doing other public ventures) alone, as people are more likely to approach you, etc. They agreed, and said, "Yeah, like we approached you." Then they made some sort of joke about a lot of good that does you...unless you're a lesbian, and they broke into hysterical laughter. For any reader who doesn't already know, I am indeed, a lesbian. But, did I have the courage to speak up and say something? Did I respond with, "actually, I am a lesbian." No. Did I mention, that it has never really been a dream of mine to be approached by four straight women in a pretentious little French wine bar in NYC? No. Did I happen to express to them that most lesbians would be a bit unfazed by four straight women? That in fact, what I noticed most were the few topics of conversation we could share -- TV, food, work, etc.--not the fact that they were women and I am a lesbian. No. No, instead I laughed lightly and shifted the conversation. And went back to my "pod" and slept on the fact that while I had the "guts" to dine alone, I didn't have the courage to speak up for myself.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

CCCC07: Day One

Disclaimer: What follows is primarily aimed at summary of the presentations that I attended at this year’s Cs. I’ve done this for a couple of reasons: 1) is to keep the arguments and insights fresh in my mind—an archive for myself and 2) is to allow those who did not attend (including those not in the field) to get a glimpse of what went on. The italicized portions that follow the summaries are my reflective thoughts and/or questions regarding what I heard. If I’ve misrepresented anyone, please “speak”-up and let me know; it was certainly not intentional. Of course many of the presenters have their own blogs with more nuanced descriptions of what they presented (if the not the presentation itself), and I’ve tried to note that as well.

The first session I attended (Thursday morning) was “3Cs: Capitalism, Commodification, and Consumerism”:

Mike Edwards presented his paper, which covered an alternative discourse of the economic – one that doesn’t always assume scarcity, that doesn’t necessarily doesn’t look at the working class (student) as some kind of victim of capitalism, one that doesn’t assume all transactions are inherently capitalist transactions. He argued that working class (student) identities tend to be constituted by lack with the pedagogical adjustment generally being access (either to technology or even manners), but he presented the idea that the remedy is not just the handing out of resources; students need skills to utilize these resources. He turned to Resnick and Wolff’s conception of class as an economic process of appropriating value and looked at the ways that “use” and “appropriation” can be seen differently than in a strictly capitalist sense (for example, “use” of reading text could be for getting things done, learning, or appropriation and remix into new texts). He pointed out that digital technologies can facilitate these processes. In the third part of his presentation he presented the way that information goods take on more value as they circulate and that the networked writings of our students can do just that. Finally, he showed (literally, via a nice little powerpoint chart) the way that capitalism is: transaction always = market; labor always = wage; and enterprise always = capitalist (okay, his chart makes this much more clear); he turned to Gibson-Graham for an alternative: market as fair trade, for example; labor/wage as self employed, for example; and capitalist enterprise as state. In other words, nonmarket, unpaid, noncapitalist, but all economic activities.

Next up was Sean Murray who presented on the infiltration of capitalism/commercial culture into our lives and classrooms, and in particular on his concern with the ways in which the commercial world has commodified our identities. Sean is interested in a pedagogy that has students read the way in which their identities are influenced by corporate power. He then wants to link those readings of the point at which self and culture meet to social injustice on a large scale. He situates composition as being in a unique position of both plugging into that corporate culture but also being a site of resistance. He ended by expressing his reservations about such a pedagogy, which included his concern over implementing a simplistic, na├»ve (his words, not mine) narrative of unveiling “truths” with the goal of an alleged freedom (“the truth will set you free”); his awareness of pushing an (blatant anti-consumerism) agenda on students; and his fear that he is interfering with what Bill Readings calls Thought (with a capital T), which views T/thought as a question not an answer.

Finally, Dr. Lonni Pearce did a Marxist influenced reading of Working Assets as an example of a “socially responsible” company. She pointed out the conflict and tension between politics and consumption evident from the company’s website and marketing materials – a tension between the motives of capitalism (you can shop, talk, etc. and…) and the company’s representation as a political action group (…and save the world!).

At the start of his presentation, Mike situated himself as “a big fat Marxist.” I am wondering how his use of Gibson-Graham, Resnick, and Wolff can reconcile with that positioning or label. I think many Marxists might disagree.

Sean named many common reservations that get expressed concerning critical/radical/liberatory pedagogies. They’re certainly similar to reservations I sometimes have regarding my own pedagogies and my own “agenda” (and subsequent fears of “pushing it”). Sean’s presentation left me with a number of questions – the biggest one being, how specifically he makes the leap from these personal readings of self as influenced by corporate capitalism to issues of social injustice. To make this move seems to me to require a kind of pushing of the agenda on students. And, what issues is he specifically looking at on a more global scale? I’m also curious to know what experiences he’s had in terms of students who are well aware of their construction by media and commercialism--the students who are aware of the implications of their graphic tees and choose to make those purchases, construct themselves in these commercialized ways. Many students seem to be okay with this role. Sean did point to all of this in his conclusion, but I’m just wondering then how he deals with these reservations.


The next session was on plagiarism:

Clancy Ratliff gave a very engaging and entertaining presentation of plagiarism in the blogosphere. She presented anecdotes on bloggers having been plagiarized – the most hilarious ones having been her own (that is, her writing/blog being plagiarized, not her as plagiarist!). Her interest ultimately turned to copyscape an online service that helps authors detect whether or not their material has been copied (or quoted) elsewhere on the web. Clancy argued that ethically Copyscape is different than turnitin because with copyscape the author is actually paying the service to “defend” (copyscape’s word choice) his or her written material, intellectual labor, etc; whereas with turnitin there is often (arguably) coercion of students involved, turnitin makes money on these student texts, the students don’t see any of that money etc. Clancy would like to do a larger and more careful analysis of copyscape. She also pointed out that institutional views of plagiarism extend into the blogosphere (she had rather clear examples illustrating this, which can be found in her posting on her presentation).

Next was Rebecca Moore Howard who continued her work in looking at the rhetoric used to describe plagiarism and plagiarists. For this presentation she focused specifically on the rhetoric (specifically tropes/metaphors) used to describe plagiarism as it happens in the blogosphere (and compared it, at times, to the metaphors used for print plagiarism). She wondered, in approaching the project, whether or not people online are thinking differently about plagiarism. Apparently the answer is not really. Howard showed examples of blogs discussing the topic of plagiarism in terms of policing, crime, “assumed guilt,” cases, vampirism (yes, one site actually describes plagiarists as textual vampires, sucking blood and life), hunting (in which case the teacher/reader was the “hunter”, thereby making the student “prey”…and what happens in this scenario, Howard, asked…), and the metaphor of wearing ones dirty/used underwear. A couple of the sites she described treated plagiarism as crime that needs a team of investigators to investigate it (here she gave credit to a research assistant who made the connection to CSI culture). She pointed out the way that this discourse creates on online environment of vigilante culture.

One of the sessions I most looked forward to was on the global economy and class identity. The presenters were Min Zhan Lu, Tom Fox, and Joseph Harris with Bruce Horner as respondent.

Lu made the argument that given the globalizing of the free market we need to rethink class, and in doing so we need to rethink the way(s) in which we respond to our students’ careerist desires. In redefining class, Lu focused on class as bodily interaction and class as a matter of space. She noted that for those holding power territorial markers matter less and less; that class division has become the unequal distribution of extraterritorial mobility. She suggested approaching matters of class from simultaneously a local and global perspective and designing a pedagogy that enables students to acquire the specialized skills of the “new” global perspective. One route she described was a writing project that focuses on the tension between the socially constructed desire to chase supra-mobility and the more localized work sites of those who are bound by family and other factors. This writing project could detail the role of the globe trotter as depicted by mass media and ask questions of our (students) own globe trotting (or not) desires and tendencies.

Tom Fox gave a lively and impassioned presentation on the evils of textbook companies and subsequently textbook adoption (as made by committees, districts, policy makers etc). He informed us with alarm, “Companies huger than my imagination own education.” He drew the lines between arms fairs, textbook companies, education (including professional development). His suggestions: work in organized groups to empower teachers; continue to engage in a Rhetorical War of Positions on textbook adoption. He ended, “Corporate reform of education is coming to your campus soon.” (If it hasn’t already).

Joseph Harris presented on his own institution, Duke, and its recent controversy over the lacrosse team. He focused on one aspect of the situation and that was a signing of “Listening Statement” by 88 Duke faculty members who came to be both known and attacked as the Group of 88. At the heart of the criticism was the idea that faculty should not dare to criticize the culture of their own institution, that a faculty’s place is in the classroom (and only there), the assumption that faculty shouldn’t comment on the lives of students that don’t affect them. His suggestion: do study campus culture and invite ways of improving it.

I've run out of steam here in terms or recording some of my reactions, thoughts, questions, and I still have to get down day two, plus some "outtakes" from my adventure in NYC. More on all of that later....

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update: Mike has blogged on his presentation, as well as on some of the same sessions I've summarized above.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Survived: Part II

I made it through the second written exam and finished up with my oral exam on Friday. I emerged into the St. Patrick's day weekend snowstorm with some sense of relief and a big headache that lasted and lasted and lasted.

The next day I rolled out of bed and immediately started shoveling. I shoveled for an hour and a half--until it was time for my tennis match. The bubble was 101 degrees, and I ran around, with my headache, getting beat badly, while I mostly concentrated on trying to breath in the oppressive heat.

That evening D and I went out for what was supposed to be a lovely dinner at McGuire's, where we were treated terribly--or barely treated at all (maybe a better way of describing it). The food was good, but definitely did not warrant the $100.00 tab and shitty service. After that we met up with some of my wonderful friends for drinks.

Yesterday I attended the anti-war rally. Today my headache is finally gone.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

survived: Part I

I (barely) made it through exam one. Here is a rundown:

What suprised me most: How *physically* grueling a process it was (though I had a friend mention this aspect to me, I had no idea how much it would affect me). Most of the three days I felt like I'd been through a tremendous workout (only worse--if that makes any sense)--my hip hurt, my legs ached, knots in my upper back into my neck, my fingers and hands ached and had pins and needles. This is NOT a body that is accustomed to sitting around for long periods of time.

The questions I answered: I answered one question on Althusser's theory of ideology and subsequent debates within cultural studies around historical materialism and ideology; and whether or not I thought anything could be garnered from Althusser for the future of cultural studies. The other question was about the role of the writing classroom within capitalism--whether or not it complicates any straightforward sense of economic determinism; in what ways it might mirror capitalist relations of production; whether there is a distinction between the space of the writing classroom and that of the university.

What I ate and drank: as much coffee and sugar as I wanted (I'm sure that really helped with the body aches and pains).

Breaks: one walk, one half hour of jeopardy, breakfast/lunch/dinner, some dishes, some laundry after cheyanne got sick on D's favorite blanket, a bit of crocheting, helping D with her puzzle (that was her exam weekend project)--I think I added a total of about six pieces (out of 1,000); one hour of L Word

What I did as soon as I clicked "send": went to the gym; came home and tried to go for a walk, but the snow squalls and wind made it really tricky; went and bought a new stove (only ours is in white, and we didn't buy it at home depot, and we didn't pay that price for it)!

The worst part: knowing I have to do it again this weekend.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

the exams are coming

and in turn my blog has been neglected.

I start my first exam on Friday (as in *this* coming Friday...as in three days from now) morning. The second exam the following Friday, and my (teleconference version of) orals on Friday, the 16th. My oral portion will be a teleconference as one of my committee members is now on faculty at a school in Texas.

It may sound crazy, but I'm not sure of the best way to "prepare" for these exams. I've mostly been busy clearing space. Taking care of NUTs (nagging unfinished tasks), grading up a storm, etc., so that when the exam questions arrive in front of me, they'll have my full attention. I can't say I'm not scared. But I'm almost beyond that point. I've thrown up my hands. There is not much more I can do.

I don't know that I'll be blogging much or doing much blog reading over the next couple of weeks, but I'll try to do brief updates after each exam. I'm sure my NetNewsWire will announce something like 2,000 unread articles and blog entries by the time I return to my "real life."

Until then....

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

What's so wrong with the word scrotum?

I don't know why I let things like this bother me so much. Cases of censorship and/or controversy over silly things crop up all the time. I try not to let them get under my skin so much, but it just infuriates me that there are people in this world who are so...so...(the least offensive, but totally nondescriptive, word that I can come up with is) clueless! I know that calling people clueless isn't terribly articulate. This is why I generally try not to respond when people get all riled up over the naming of anatomical parts. Scrotum is just a word for the skin surrounding a male's testicals. I'm not sure why, to quote Frederick Muller, a middle school librarian, “If I were a third- or fourth-grade teacher, I wouldn’t want to have to explain that.” Why is that so difficult to explain? Or as Andrea Koch, the librarian at French Road Elementary School in Brighton, N.Y., puts it, “I don’t think our teachers, or myself, want to do that vocabulary lesson,” she said in an interview. And why is that? Because we'd rather have nine, ten, and eleven year olds referring to their body parts by other names? These reactions just get so lost on me. And I'm irritable as it is. I just had to sit hear and watch the evening news while reader after reader (well, I'm using the term "reader" lightly as they didn't read the whole book just the one passage) recoiled at the word scrotum.

Okay, well here is a much more carefully stated and well thought out response to the lunacy.

Friday, February 16, 2007

there's hope for me yet!

Today I met with a member of my committee who agreed to help me with what at first seemed a potentially overwhelming idea to create a survey for faculty and students regarding use of proprietary software. The logistics still seem a bit overwhelming, but the support will help a lot. The results will become part of my third chapter addressing proprietary software as clearly representative of the corporatization of the University. Not only did she help me with that, we just had some really productive conversation and brainstorming around my project that helped to clarify pieces of it for both us (I think; I hope). In addition(!), I’ve completed more than the asked for number of exam questions. Not only that(!)—but I’ve completed them before the agreed upon send-out to committee date set by my chair. Granted I still need to spend tomorrow going back over them, tweaking and such. I also still want to get a question in there that addresses the difficulty of a strictly materialist theory in a classroom that is devoted to creating the written word, which then, undeniably (at least in mind) needs to be treated as material. Discourse as material. Somehow I need to work in a question that deals with these issues around discursivity and materiality (and their seeming or alleged inability to meet).

Other than that, I feel like I might be coming down with some dreaded cold or flu type thing. Hopefully it doesn’t turn into anything as I have a “big” poker game scheduled for tomorrow night. Or maybe I’m just exhausted from the exhilarating nature of my day. Let’s hope.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

snow day

I thought to opt for a more creative title for this post, as I am quite certain that thousands of other bloggers share that headline with my today, but I decided nothing could be more appropriate than that.

As promised today I will blog about my profession -- what I *love* about it that is. <3 It that even right? Is that the little heart symbol / emoticon that I see my students make? It looks funny. I think I did it wrong. Okay, well, I love that as part of my profession I learn crazy little emoticons from my students as they attempt to add inflection and clarify meaning in blog posts and e-mails.

Of course, the obvious...I love snow days (rare as they are).

I love when students ask me for recommendation letters. This is fresh on my mind, as I've had two students from last semester recently ask me for recommendation letters. Although it is work to write these letters, I love the fact that my students recognize the fact that they succeeded and the fact that they recognize my recognition of their success. Okay -- the less wordy version -- my students know that I'm proud of them and endlessly impressed with them, and I'm glad that they know that.

I love having interesting and lively classroom conversations with a group of saavy (often young, but not always) folk. They know so many things that I don't know. Sometimes I joke and say that their blogs are my link to the outside world...only I'm not really joking.

I love that when I curl up in the big chair in our living/bedroom (don't ask) with a cup of coffee and a book I am getting paid for that work. What a deal!

I love walking college campuses. There is an energy about most schools that I've been at -- an energy that translates into collective curiousity about the world (or at least that is how it feels when I'm walking across campus watching the bustle of briefcases and bookbags).

I love having access to multiple libraries and online databases.

I love being around like-minded people and being in a place where I can talk to (in a generally civilized manner) the ones who don't think like me, and if all goes well, we both come away with something new to think about.

In all honesty -- it is actually a little painful for me to get this mushy and idealistic -- even if that was the whole point. I want to go back to #2 on the list -- the snow day. Here is what I do NOT like about snow days. On snow days I feel like I'm going to get tons of work done. I'll be all caught up on grading AND have crafted some exam questions by the day's end. This is what I think going into it. But instead, I sit down to work and have to get up and shovel. Sit down to work and need to put more coffee on. Sit down to work and have to get up to go to the bathroom because I've had soooo much coffee, hot chocolate, and tea all day.

D stayed home from work today, and we were out every hour or two shoveling and snow blowing. Actually, she has been out a total of four times today, and I've only been out twice. AND, she did go around the neighborhood helping out the neighbors with her snowblower -- because that is the type of girl she is. But I did keep the coffee coming, and I made oatmeal muffins. I also went out in the backyard this morning and made a giant heart in the snow as a happy valentine's message for D. Of course by noon there was no longer a trace of it. All in all, I've done the baking and hot drink drinking and shoveling and snow playing that one is supposed to do on a snow day, but my work hasn't exactly progressed the way I'd envisioned. So that is my issue with snow days -- they create an illusion of extra time.