yancey and writing in the 21st century

studio photoKathleen Black Yancey in her recent NCTE report Writing in the 21st Century (pdf) touched a chord for mobile teaching of writing.

Yancey sketches a 19th and 20th century history of writing in America, and mentions the changing spaces of composing, from pen and ink, to pencil, to ballpoint, to typewriter, to stand-alone PC, to networked PC/camera.

Here, she centers on a few observations that take me into mobile learning and mobile learning software.

  • Our current model(s) of composing are located largely in print, and it’s a model that culminates in publication. When composers blog as a form of invention or prewriting, rather than as a form of publication (which I did in composing this text: see ), what does that do to our print-based model(s) of composing that universally culminate in publication?
  • […]
  • How do we define a composing practice that is interlaced and interwoven with email, text-messaging, and web-browsing? As Mark Poster observes, composing at the screen today isn’t composing alone: it’s composing in the company of others. How does that change our model(s) of composing?
  • How does access to the vast amount and kinds of resources on the web alter our model(s)?

Composing is ubiquitous, Yancey claims in a statement designed to redefine the teaching of composing from K – 12 on. And so sites of composing are open for teaching and learning on the fly. But on the fly doesn’t mean without pedagogy. It means that because we can’t control the environment for composing or teaching composing, we need a strong, well-grounded pedagogy

I’m all for saying goodbye to the print-based aims and means of composing, but people are still heavily invested in it. It’s safe, known, bounded, academic. I watch students draft and edit in Word then paste a finished version into the wiki for presentation. They love that grammar checker, spelling checker, and word count; they love that double spacing; they love that paper. They love it because they have developed writing practices suited to paper from working with paper – like interlinear editing – and have yet to become deft at online and networked versions of those practices.

Anyway, a few points for mobile teaching and learning, starting from Yancey:

  • Where in a composing process based on paper (the model students bring with them) would a second or third person enter – and how? By IM, txt, email, comment? a look over the shoulder? Where in the process is the trial balloon of posting ideas and chunks to a blog or wiki for feedback from others? What does the text look like at that point? It might be ThreadMode on a wiki, or something less structured, or (yikes) something more structured. (Going to articulated sentences too early in the process make it difficult to rip them down to restructure.)
  • What has to be unlearned or challenged as the site of composing changes?
  • Look to how txt poetry has been composed for a start, and look to how people compose txts. The other morning, I watched a woman compose and send a 3 line txt msg on her qwerty phone between ordering, paying for, waiting for a coffee. On other mornings, when the coffee line was long, I composed and snapped a pic, annotated it with a note – about waiting in line – and posted it to Brightkite for whoever was looking in. What’s the process engaged there? What’s the exigence?
  • Composing goes on between other activites in the same composing space. Even as I compose this blog post, I’m doing some directory maintenance on a server, flipping between composing in ecto and deleting files in Transmit – and still having time on my hands while wait. Not two writing tasks, but two tasks. Walking and chewing gum.
  • To teach composing open to mobile learning, we may have to start with writing that stays online, that is not meant for print. Change the ends – the delivery – and the means might have to change.
  • Look at the physical, social, and cognitive activities that people engage and draw on when composing in the interlaced social space – composing in the company of others – to develop a model of composing. Start with the environs.

And then consider what a mobile course in 21st century composing might look like.


elements of styles

thefiveclocks-1.jpgHere’s an observation from Jonathan Yardly at the Washington Post that pinpoints exactly where appeals to StrunkNWhite go wrong:

As White writes: “Avoid the elaborate, the pretentious, the coy, and the cute. Do not be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy, ready and able.” As both Strunk and White were aware, this is hard advice to follow, for it is much more difficult to be concise than to be verbose. Consider, if you will, the Gettysburg Address on the one hand and the rhetoric of William Jefferson Clinton (or, to be bipartisan, George W. Bush) on the other. It is the difference between eloquence and bloviation …

[From Jonathan Yardley – A ‘Little Book’ Bursting With The Write Ideas –]

The comparison is spurious: Compare one of Lincoln’s speech with one of Clinton’s or Bush’s and you might begin to illustrate something. But more on point, the Gettysburg Address does not follow StrunkNWhite’s advice. The GA is eloquent and it was when it was delivered. SNW suggest being plain, not eloquent.

(Yardly’s paper, too, slips under the SNW radar. The cutline – “A ‘Little Book’ Bursting With The Write Ideas” – is a cliché, and forced, and calls attention to itself as being clever. And blovation? C’mon. Isn’t that an attempt at a $20 word? A little more thought and Yardly might have found the Right Word. Or not.)

While Strunk might have told told Yardly, “That’s not what I meant. That’s not what I meant at all,” StrunkNWhite never can. The book has to be silent on the more complex matters of when to be elaborate and when to be plain.

ElementsOfStyle is a book of advice for writing at an East Coast University (from 1945 for all that), most of it obvious, most presented as coming from on high and without the rhetorical principles on which it rests. Without those principles, the reading writer is stuck doing little more than following the advice blindly – and winding up in muddles. I’d bet that Yardly knows better than what he says, but nostalgia can get the better of all of us.

I believe that one of the StrunkNWhite Rules is “Don’t inject opinion.” I’d check my old copy of SNW (circa 1975), but I’m using it to level my bookcase of Plato and Burke, Richards and Perelman.

If you really must have a slim book written Back in the Day to help you understand writing, try Martin Joos, The Five Clocks, 1961. Harvest/HBJ. $1.50. It puts StrunkNWhite in context. And it has jokes.

New Media

yay print

From Wired Campus: New Report Says Digital Textbooks Are off Track –

New Report Says Digital Textbooks Are off Track

A growing number of textbook publishers are offering digital editions these days, but a new study by a student group argues that many of those digital editions do not have the features that students want.

The group, the Student Public Interest Research Groups, a collection of independent statewide organizations representing college students, surveyed 500 students from several campuses for the study. They found that students wanted digital textbooks to be more affordable than print versions, to be printable, and to be free from restrictions on how long they can be viewed. But the report said that the electronic textbooks offered by major publishers through CourseSmart, generally cost about the same as printed versions, limited printing to 10 pages per session, and expire after about 180 days. Publishers put such restrictions in place to try to prevent students from giving copies to their friends for free or trading them on pirate Web sites.

The survey showed that students feel strongly about the printed word. About 75 percent of those surveyed said they prefer a printed textbook over an electronic one. And 60 percent said that even if a free digital copy were available, they would still pay for a low-cost print version.

The report calls on professors and colleges to support more “open textbooks” that are offered free online.

Aw, bless.

New Media Pedagogy Print Culture

media arriving by post

proboscis package.jpgI have gotten so used to getting stuff online that receiving a package by post is an event.

Ok: I take that back. Most of my books come in by post. And some software. And most hardware. And spices because we can’t get much locally. Ok, and the magazines and journals. And Viv’s inks. And paper.

Ok, except for those things, I get most of my stuff online. But I got a package of stuff today. is a think- / project-tank in EC London who have been doing some interesting projects with storytelling, gps-annotation mashups, and re-remediation. Their projects involve using digital devices to map experience and understanding to material spaces: mapping day to day experience to the cityscape by way of public authoring and gps devices; mapping stories to cubes as a heuristic; re-mapping writing and images to inexpensive paper ebooks that are made to be further enscribed.

I found Proboscis by way of a mention on if:book, and started re-working course materials from wiki to paper using their in beta Generator. My work is timid so far, but last winter, Andrew Hunter offered a course Anarchaeology: Collecting, Curating and Communicating Culture making use Diffusion projects at the U of Waterloo. There are some interesting possibilities for First-Year Comp. Freshmen Map the Campus?

I have to put together a sabbatical project for 2009 – 10. Maybe London’s calling.


little new under the late may sun

Bemidji forecast.jpgI just finished reading the new Pew Report: Writing, Technology and Teens. Much of the report is old-hat to comp/rhet types, but it provides some significant triangulation with other studies. Pew rediscovers using surveys and focus groups what rhet/comp has been seeing for years in smaller cases. And there’s some interesting stuff that could be used by marketing in creative writing; to reach high school students who enjoy creative writing, look to the blogs. That’s where the future writers are working.

The summary is a little disappointing, however. From one angle, the survey found little to hang our hats on: no patterns found.

Teens have very individual writing and technology experiences. If we were to systematically profile the practices and preferences of each of the teens we spoke with, no two profiles would be alike. Teens report communicating with adults and peers using all types of media––but there is no clear pattern in how they communicate or which methods they prefer under which circumstances. It all depends upon the situation.

“It all depends” is rarely a satisfying or informative answer.

But from another angle, the final summary reinstates that the writing students are doing, the writing that’s significant to them, is at root rhetorical: situational, dependent, tailored to achieve an end. And so the challenges to teachers are also rhetorical:

That is what poses the central challenge to those who hope to encourage and teach writing to teens. Young adults are immersed in an environment of electronic communication that is vitally important to them, but that may not necessarily lend itself to lengthy, logically structured writing. In teens’ own views, those who can figure out how to tap into their distinctive, situational communications behaviors and connect them to the process of learning how to write will have taught them an invaluable lesson that will improve their lives.

Perhaps that’s little more than the old maxim, “Start where they are.” But it makes a case for looking at the electronic textual environment rather than brushing it off. That’s enough, I guess.

Blogging New Media Pedagogy Print Culture

looking forward to looking forward

We’re beginning to wrap things up in Weblogs and Wikis. Starting tomorrow, we’re back to face to face meetings with two ends: project presentations, and some discussions of implications – looking back and looking forward.

The discussion idea came to me late last week when I ran into a posting on The Ed Techie, a blog run by Martin Weller, a professor with the IET (I’m not sure we ever met when I was in MK years ago). Whither the blogosphere? looks briefly at the fragmentation of discussion spaces occurring with Google Reader, Flickrr, Facebook, and Twitter. Not that there’s anything to lose sleep over. People are still reading and writing blogs, even as they start to use other spaces. Ed sees the fragmentation as succession.

What I think is happening is another example of technology succession. The blog was the primary colonizer for the barren landscape of online identity. The presence of this colonizer changed the environment, which made it more amenable to secondary colonizers, e.g. YouTube, Flickr, Slideshare, etc which relied on the blog to spread. This in turn made the environment even more friendly towards the social flow apps, which started out linking to blogs, but have gradually taken on their own life. This resulting ecosystem will vary for each of us – for the people above the third wave of colonization has taken over the dominance of the blog and forced it into a smaller ecological niche. For others, the blog is still dominant, but these other tools flourish around it.

For me, it’s a matter of ends. Blogs are still used because they still serve rhetorical purposes, still provide a space for a running discussion.  Other spaces provide a space for different rhetorical situations (Twitter), or serve a different set of rhetorical purposes (Facebook, Second Life, Flickr).

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about.

Martin’s post started me looking for a way to frame up a discussion on the (social – rhetorical) implications of blogging and wiki writing. They are always just below the surface, but I don’t think I ever worked at bringing them out in class. Now that 16 students have finished 10 week projects, they are in a pretty good position to stop and think about what All This Might Mean.

Class discussions on implications tend to digress into hearsay, anecdote, clichés, and yawns. To avoid that, I’m starting with some class notes [link to come], and a set of links to sites that just begin to tease open some implications.


Then there’s the Wikipedia reminder for would-be posters that neatly puts students and professors alike in our place:

Remember that millions of people have been taught to use a different form of English from yours, including different spellings, grammatical constructions, and punctuation. Wikipedia:Manual of Style

Nothing like shaking the ethnocentric tree a little to get things started.

The trick to this discussion will be to focus groups on specific groups of people: university teachers, for instance, or marketeers, or administrators, freelance writers, technical writers, students who are only 12 years old right now… Keep a human face on the implications, and keep grounding matters in the material world of symbol users.

I’ll let you know how it all turns out.

Print Culture

reference to not reverence for The Literary

One of those read-it-fast-and-set-it-aside-for-later pieces. Sebastian Mary at if:book gives a useful OV of the present state of the Web in literary (and Literary) publishing: friday musings on the literary. The Web is a cultural space where the high and low, working out their relative positions, bring the ideology of The Literary to the fore.

Mary traces a complex discussion, starting with Stephan Page at the Guardian on the ebook (“serious literature can still thrive thanks to the internet” – and can you get more patronizing?), through the literary ideology – “inseparable from print” –

People use the Web to share work, peer-review their writing, promote activities, sell books and find others with the same interests. But this activity happens almost always with reference to the ideology of the literary – in particular, to the aspirational associations of broadcast-only, hard-copy-printed, selected-and-paid-for-and-edited-by-someone-else-and-hopefully-bought-and-read-by-the-public publication. For those submitting to such magazines, the hope is that they will move up the literary food chain, get published in better known journals, and perhaps – the holy grail – finally after decades of grim and impecunious slogging, be anthologized by Faber.

to promotion of the literary (possibly a lost cause), to authors seeking feedback and validation, and publishers trying to Build Community, culminating in an all or nothing a careful dance:

Finding new writers; building a community to peer-review drafts; promoting work; pushing out content to draw people back to a publisher’s site to buy books. All these make sense, and present huge opportunities for savvy players. But […] to attempt to transplant the ideology of the literary onto the Web will fail unless it is done with reference to the print culture that produced it. Otherwise the work will, by literary standards, be judged second-rate, while by geek standards it’ll seem top-down, limited and static. Or just boring.

Read that closely: reference to print culture not reverence for.