Category Archives: First Year Comp

the high summer turn, books, and a consideration of method

I don’t look forward to it, but the week of the 4th of July strikes high summer – the turning point of summer towards autumn. The green starts to fade, the wildflowers start to seed, and I have to get my fall book orders in and start some serious work on syllabi.

The bookstore asks faculty to get book orders for fall in to them by April – five months early. Lately, the request has become a demand as they try to set deadlines for book orders. If I know the course is ready, I try to get an order in during spring. But for upper-division clases, and classes that need revision, I use the first month of summer to re-think the books. If a book didn’t work in the last offering, I want to change it – and that means reviewing student feedback on the course that comes in after the course is over.

I changed books in three of four classes this semester. Tech Writing remains the same: Graves and Graves, A Strategic Guide to Technical Communication. For A&E, I’m staying with OUP’s So What? but have changed the target text – the text we’re all reading to see how scholarly argument proceeds. This year it’s Jenkin’s, Ford, and Green, Spreadable Media. It’s written in the scholary register that students in Argumentation are expected to use.

For the Comp Theory grad seminar, I updated to Villanueva and Arola, Cross-Talk, 3rd edition – not because it’s a better edition but because the 2nd is no longer in print. And I dropped Wysocki, et al, Writing New Media for a broader source book, Lutkewitte, Multimodal Composition. That was a sacrifice, but new media has moved on and a sourcebook provides a better starting point for grad students in theory.

I made the biggest change in E-Rhetoric. For the second time, I’ve dropped Stoner and Perkins, Making Sense of Messages for Longaker and Walker, Rhetororical Analysis. Stoner and Perkins is far stronger on method, but Longaker brings in more focus on rhetorical concepts. Cheaper, too.

I keep finding that undergrad students are not enamored by a focus on method. They want to get to the rhetorical concepts and use the ad hoc methods they have developed informally in high school and their first couple of years at college. It’s frustrating. I say, “Look, there’s a method to this madness, a set of practices your professors use to figure out what a text means and how it works. We don’t work by intuition. You can learn the method. It takes some practice, but it will hold you in good stead.”

“Nah. Let’s just start and you can tell us when we’re right. We learn video games by trial and error. Let’s try that here, ok?”

A focus on method lets us develop far more insightful and significant analyses, but the process is intially tedious, requring repeated close observations and close description before bringing in rhetorical concepts. So I’ve toned down the emphasis on method for the looser hit-or-miss approaches students are in the habit of using. I’ll sneak in method by way of exercises and illustrations of how to proceed. It’s back to correcting student making instant conclusions and moving away from the analytical terms of rhetoric to informal terms, but those corrections are how we tend to learn: by closer and close approximation. Anyway, I’ll remix a lite version of method from Stoner and Perkins and bring that in as How to Proceed. Scaffolding.

course guarantee syllabus boilerplate


In keeping with the commodification of the teacher-learner relationship, I’m providing students in my classes with this guarantee.

I can guarantee that what we are studying in this course, both subject and method, is applicable outside the classroom in your daily and your professional life. This course is designed so that what you learn during the course you can use in other situations and other courses, both at the university and elsewhere, now and later in life. However, there is no guarantee that you will actually make use of what you learn in this class outside of it, any more than buying a toothbrush guarantees you will use it to keep your teeth and gums healthy. That use now and later is solely up to you. Don’t squander what you learn.

Maybe the last sentence is too much, but I’m hoping it will stick with students. Free to share and adapt.

#critlit2010 and a reseeing of critical literacy

Boat Ride LineMade a quick leap and signed up for the Critical LIteracies course – and am just getting oriented this morning. Skimmed through How This Course Works – which is how I would like to see a grad course in social media work. Then turned to The present and future of Personal Learning Environments, Ron Lubensky, for a solid OV of characteristics of PLEs.

I’m afraid my understanding of PLEs is limited. I’m fine with critical literacies and pragmatics and semiotics, but I’m still an outsider to the PLE discussion. I’ve been reading about them, and I get the sense of the matter, and I’m motivated to move towards them, but I haven’t really tinkered with the concepts yet. Need to tinker. And that means moving over to diagrams and notes.

But there are others out there on the course who are making their way through things who provide if not models then ideas, strategies, and suggestions. Like #CritLit2010 reflections – third week, from maferarenas. And, on the wiki, the administrators list some soft milestones and activities.

I’ve encountered some of the readings before, and most of the topics and subjects are familiar. What’s new for me is the context – PLEs – and that highlights alternatives that I seem to have missed, or didn’t exist, when I first read them. Ira Shor’s CHAPTER 1: WHAT IS CRITICAL LITERACY, for instance, reviews stuff I first encountered as a 3rd-year teacher of freshman comp and tutoring. Then, I focused on addressing critical literacy in the BW classroom using Mac Pluses, and looked to Shor, Friere, Shaugnessy, Rose for theory – and attitude – to generate practice. Then (c. 1988), the classroom was the dominant workspace and it was hard to move mentally outside the room that housed those computers. Then, it was tough to place students in a position where they could use the technology to resist the dominant discourse and forge their own – although some did. Now, with the net, laptops, smartphones, mobility – and the trendy fuck-the-expert attitude students are bringing to the classroom – the observations of the past take on a new spin:

While Fox stipulated goals for questioning the status quo, Robert Brooke (1987) defined writing, per se, as an act of resistance:

[Writing] necessarily involves standing outside the roles and beliefs offered by a social situation–it involves questioning them, searching for new connections, building ideas that may be in conflict with accepted ways of thinking and acting. Writing involves being able to challenge one’s assigned roles long enough that one can think originally; it involves living in onflict with accepted (expected) thought and action. (“Underlife and Writing Instruction,” 141)

Brooke offered an intelligent argument that writing itself was synonymous with divergent thinking. Still, I question the direct link of composing with resisting. Some kinds of writing and pedagogy consciously disconfirm the status quo, but not composing and instruction in general. Think of all the books written from and for the status quo. Further, it is also easy to find composition classes that reflect traditional values and encourage status quo writing (“current-traditional rhetoric,” see Ohmann, as well as Crowley, 1996). Human beings are certainly active when writing, and all action involves development and agency of some kinds, but not all agency or development is critical. Critical agency and writing are self-conscious positions of questioning the status quo and imagining alternative arrangements for self and society (Brookfield, 1987).

This bit was hard to realize Back in the Day, but is less so now, with wikis, twitter, blogs, txting, aggregators: “Some kinds of writing and pedagogy consciously disconfirm the status quo, but not composing and instruction in general.” It’s still a task and a half to help students see that their resistance towards one discourse is done by uncritical engagement in another discourse, but that’s what education is about.

And in the same way, I can go through Shor’s list of perspectives and connect each one with enactments, again, something difficult to illustrate in 1988:

Ann Berthoff’s notion (taken up as well by Knoblauch and Brannon, 1984, and John Mayher, 1990) that “Writing is an act of making meaning for self and for others” (70). < The discussions around Flickr posts, mainly.

Related to activity theory and to cultural context, Marilyn Cooper and Michael Holtzman (1989) proposed that “Writing is a form of social action. It is part of the way in which some people live in the world. Thus, when thinking about writing, we must also think about the way that people live in the world” (xii). < Twitter, blogs. Now that we can access writing outside the mainstream of academy and print-published essays, and writing from other cultures, the interaction of context and meaning becomes clear.

They reflected Brian Street’s (1984) and Harvey Graff’s (1987) arguments that all language use is socially situated, against what Street called the myth of autonomous literacy, that is, language falsely posed as independent of its social context. < Twitter, blogs. Ditto.

Next: Can PLEs can be another means of resistance, as we redefine the open in open education?

24/7 is not as long as you think

A variation on the elevator pitch and the 160 character tweet, this one from the 2008 Ig Nobels

The ceremony saw the ever-popular 24/7 lecture series, where leading researchers from around the world discuss the technical details and ramifications of their work in 24 seconds, then explain it in layman’s [sic] terms in 7 words.

And to keep the ceremony moving

an eight-year-old girl [is] kept up past her bedtime whose role is to ensure that acceptance speeches are capped at 60 seconds.

The kiddie doesn’t sleep ’til the ceremony is over.

special friday exercise: authenticity

What makes this authentic?

From Captology Notebook: MoveOne uses video to persuade (not text)

January 23, 2008
MoveOne uses video to persuade (not text)Today MoveOn started using online video to persuade supporters. For years they’ve relied on text.

However, with the U.S. election heating up (and perhaps declining response to email), MoveOn has created a persuasive video message, re: the link below. It’s about one minute long.

The age of persuasive video is just beginning. The success of video will make text seem old fashioned.

My advice to persuaders: Get out your video cams and start practicing! (And be sure to learn what works: brief, authentic, direct call to action. MoveOn does it well.)

–BJ Fogg

The video is brief (about a minute) and makes a direct call to action (two of them, by my count).  But what features make it authentic?

View the video a few times and make some notes.  Look at the usual stuff: setting, composition, cuts, but also listen to –  even better,  map out – the words and the spoken delivery.  As a start, to what extent does the delivery sound scripted?  To what extent spontaneous?

There are other elements and affordances to take note of, so don’t stop with one.  What, for instance, do you make of the final gesture of the speaker pointing out of the video and towards a url on the web page?

for readers, it’s about the text, not the dictionary

For Students, Its About Courses, Not Subjects –

Probably everyone who teaches knows this: In a course, interest is driven by the framework of the course, not necessarily interest in the general topic.  Why is this surprising?  In the middle of a movie, I’m more interested in the movie than product placement or Johnny Depp’s personal life.

December 10, 2007
For Students, Its About Courses, Not Subjects

Students aren’t interested in online information gateways about subjects. They’re interested in information related to their courses. That’s the message this week from ACRLog, the blog for academic and research librarians, as the blogger Steven Bell attempts to counsel professors and librarians on ways to reach out to students.

He cites a recent study in the journal Portal, in which Oregon State University librarians found that students were much more interested in information if it was linked to a course they were taking. Topic-oriented information collections were much less compelling. —Josh Fischman

A course is an apprenticeship in a discipline.  It’s after the course that I’d hope students find an interest in information related to the (now free-floating) subject.

blast from the past

A thousand Internet years ago (c. 1988, the Poetry Server would email a daily poem from a  standard anthology. But years before that (c. 1700) authors would publish what-were-becoming-novels in serial volumes. And somewhere in between (c. 1860), Dickens et al published their novels in serial form: once a month or quarterly.

And now we have the soap opera, the sit com, and ER.

DailyLit: Read books by email and RSS reworks the serial tradition by emailing 5 minute-reading chunks on days you specify. The serials require commitment, however. I’m signed up for 212 installments of Tristram Shandy coming M – W – F for the next year or so.

And I know how it ends. It’s all cock and bull.

But it might be interesting to do this in a lower-division lit course, chunking Moll Flanders into five minute reading for discussion each class day.

get a taste of stanford

Stanford has made public a set of podcast lectures from a Future of the Internet course via iTunes. The lectures I’ve listened to fill a lot of little holes in the history (technical, social, and economic) for me – and the open up all kinds of really interesting implications that I’ve never considered – mainly because I’m not a CS person.

But they also give a good taste of what DE and (unedited) podcast lectures are all about.

From The

July 17, 2007
The Future of the Internet, Courtesy of iTunes

Ramesh Johari, an assistant professor of management science and engineering at Stanford University, is shooting up the iTunes U charts with a set of free lectures that attempt to chart the Internet’s economic and infrastructural future.

The first installment in the “Future of the Internet” lecture series, taken from a continuing-education course Mr. Johari is now teaching, starts with what the professor calls a “ridiculous question:” What is the Internet? But Mr. Johari quickly moves on to rockier terrain: Subsequent lectures tackle the economics of the Internet, network neutrality, and “TCP, IP, and the Alphabet Soup.”

The lectures aim to offer “a nontechnical introduction to the architecture of the Internet,” according to iTunes, so they’re not alienating to tech newcomers. The recordings are audio-only, but slides that accompany the talks are also available through the online store (iTunes users can click here to check out the lectures). —Brock Read

But I’m so used to listening (and reading and watching) closely for extended times that I can’t tell if these lectures would be generally effective in a class or not. To my mind, boredom is a function of content, not presentation, so I can listen to Prof. Johari (late of MIT) for two hours without losing interest. But I’m interested in this material, and I have a grounding in it, so I’m liking it – warts and hesitations and indecipherable questions and all.

So somebody tell me: Is a 1:40 min podcast more engaging or less engaging than a 1:40 min face to face lecture? And is this an intro lecture, or something else? Try it and see.

For me, I’m adding the lectures to my iPod, right next to Start the Week, In Our Time, and Saturday Live (which isn’t podcast, but I rip it to my iPod now and then). When it comes to iPods, I mix and match.

a guy’s reminder

I like Guy K, Mac Evangelist. And here’s one of his latest sermons: How to Change the World: Ten Things to Learn This School Year. By pointing up what he likes to see in Guy’s World, he also defines rhetorical expectations in other situations. Ok, so he has to diss the academic world on the way to True Enlightenment, but it’s a small price to get students to rethink what they are learning. In FYC, I diss what students have learned about university situations in high school – it’s an effective pedagogy.

Like this

How to talk to your boss. In college, you’re supposed to bring problems to your teachers during office hours, and you share the experience of coming up with a solution. In the real world, you’re supposed to bring solutions to your boss in an email, in the hall, or in a five-minute conversation. Typically, your boss either already knows about the problem or doesn’t want to know about it. Your role is to provide answers, not questions. Believe it or not, but in the real world, those who can do, do. Those who can’t do, share with others who can’t do.

and this.

How to write a five-sentence email. Young people have an advantage over older people in this area because older people like me were taught to write letters that were printed on paper, signed, stuck in an envelope, and mailed. Writing a short email was a new experience for them. Young people, by contrast are used to IMing and chatting. If anything, they’re too skilled on brevity, but it’s easier to teach someone how to write a long message than a short one. Whether UR young or old, the point is that the optimal length of an email message is five sentences. All you should do is explain who you are, what you want, why you should get it, and when you need it by.

Valuable reminders, and all the more credible coming from someone with a Direct Line to Efficiency. Valuable because even though we know all this in academia, and even though we teach the rhetorical differences between academic and business situations, students typically overlook those differences until they move into the new situations and are confronted with change.

Students, like all of us, get comfortable in situations and have to be jolted into addessing new ones in new way. It’s not an oversight of teaching; it’s a function of learning.

Guy’s 10 Points – obviously an Optimal Number – might help them make the shift.