Composition Pedagogy

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Composition Colloquium

The Semester in Review

On Monday, a student in my Modern Composition Theory seminar requested an overview of what we'd done during the semester for the purposes of studying for the rhet-comp comprehensive exam. So I took an earlier handout I'd given them -- a list of the semester's readings in chronological order -- and grouped them roughly, which is what the student had asked me to do.

We used the Norton Book of Composition Studies in the class, and (as it's on the reading list for the PhD comp in rhetoric and composition) I intended it as a foundational text to sample the ideas in the field's history. The students are working on their own projects as well, which entail a lot of focused reading in their areas of interest.

So yeah, these are my headings I'm putting these readings under, and I know there are possible objections. I could have put Bartholomae in some other panel instead of the one I labeled "Current-Traditional Rhetoric: Defining It, Discrediting It," and we talked about that a little in class this afternoon, as well as other cases, like the Matsuda piece, which I guess could go in the computers and writing panel. Also, yes, I realize that there are differences among social process, social-epistemic, cultural studies, critical pedagogy, and post-process, and we talked about all of these distinctions today. Still, I was a little nostalgic for ComicLife, having not used it in a few months, so I decided to get a little creative with the handout, if you count using one of the program's templates as "creative."

The 2011 CCCC Intellectual Property Annual

The Conference on College Composition and Communication is going on right now, and this very afternoon is the CCCC Intellectual Property Caucus meeting. You should all go if you're in St. Louis for the conference; it starts at 2:00 this afternoon.

Every year, the Intellectual Property Committee publishes an Annual (PDF), and I encourage you to check out the 2011 issue. Here's the table of contents:

Introduction: Copyright and Intellectual Property in 2011
Clancy Ratliff

The Defeat of the Research Works Act and Its Implications
Mike Edwards

Open Access Initiatives
Annette Vee

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: What Golan v. Holder means for the Future of the Public Domain
Traci Zimmerman

“Sentence First—Verdict Afterwards”: The Protect IP and the Stop Online Piracy Acts
Kim D. Gainer

A Dark Day on the Internet Leads to a Sea Change in Copyright Policy
Laurie Cubbison

Occupy Trademark: Branding a Political Movement
Timothy R. Amidon

Fashionably Late to the Sirc CCCarnival

I'm responding, past deadline, to Michael Faris's carnival prompt, in which he suggests that we read Geoffrey Sirc's "Resisting Entropy," a review essay published in College Composition and Communication's most recent issue.

Disclosure: I got my PhD at the University of Minnesota, and Geoff was on my dissertation committee. Knowing what I do of the institutional context here, I appreciate this article on a whole other level (not necessarily a higher level, to be sure). The U of M, for a very long time, offered first-year writing in three different departments: English, Rhetoric, and General College. I taught it in the rhetoric department: Rhetoric 1101 was the required course. English had their own course -- their graduate students taught a 1-1 load to our 2-1 in rhetoric -- and General College, a unit that mostly served underprepared students, had theirs. Geoff taught in General College for many years. "Pockets of expertise," the situation was called, until a c. 2005 "strategic positioning" plan, intended to make UMN one of the top three public research universities in the world, up there with UC Berkeley and the University of Michigan, was carried out by upper administration. When that happened, they did a lot of restructuring: consolidating some units, eliminating others. The General College was shut down, and a new unit, the Department of Writing Studies, was created. See this history by David Beard for more detail. Tenured professors had their lines transferred to other departments accordingly. Sirc is in the English department, not Writing Studies; my understanding is that he'd already made arrangements to have his line transferred to English prior to the formation of the new unit, so nothing personal. Still, my institutional memory informs my reading of parts like this on page 510:

You know what’s great? Henry James is great. You want to teach students how to be more conscious writers? Show them Henry James—what he wrote, how he wrote, what he thought about writing, his technologies of composition, and how they impacted his prose. “Writing studies,” you say? His is, indeed, writing worth studying. If you’re not going to teach a course exclusive of outside reading, why not use the most interesting reading there is? It’s long past time to revisit how and why literature became exiled from the composition classroom.

Yeah, so this response probably won't bring anything new to Sirc's argument; if you're looking for a dazzling critique, it's not happening here. OK, here are some other things that jumped out at me as I read:

"classroom practice based in the fantastic possibilities of form and content", p. 513

"interrogating all the forms and tools at their disposal," p. 515

"Choosing content from the entire cultural heritage of writing," p. 516

Like Kenneth Burke said in The Philosophy of Literary Form, "use all there is to use." Burke was talking about criticism, not writing classes, but both Burke and Sirc (via Hawk) are dealing with Coleridge, interestingly enough.

I like this resourceful approach to teaching writing (and everything else too) -- not closing off any category of texts. And in the longer quotation above, he's right about literature's place in the writing classroom! He's RIGHT. It makes me mopey about the situation writing program administrators face: the reality that not everyone thinks about composition pedagogy with the passion and seriousness that Sirc does, the warnings that if composition cedes any territory to literature, then first-year writing classes will become literature survey courses using essay exams, or worse, author-title-significance quotation-based short-answer exams. The dreaded slippery slope. I want to reject that argument, of course, but at the same time, it's true that some who teach FYW don't have quite the work ethic that one might like. Small wonder when we take working conditions into account, but I could see something like the slope happening. Besides, in the wrong hands, writing-about-literature classes can embody the same "bland, sanitized pedagogy" as the one "teaching clear, correct, citation-based essay form to students, using a literarily thin corpus of nonfiction readings as prompts" (511). Not that Sirc is putting literature out there as a silver bullet, certainly, but I've never understood the arguments for taking it out of writing classes entirely.

One of the highlights of the whole piece for me is on page 517: "Let me add, in sad disbelief, that some of the contributors to this volume actually have their undergraduate students read composition scholarship. Oh, my people, my people!" No comment.

Throughout the essay, I thought about the need for WAC as I read. It was nice to see Sirc acknowledge that at the end (518):

Until other departments are willing to take ownership for teaching students to do the writing in their field (either in first-year seminars or writing-intensive [WI] courses), it seems composition programs will remain a compromised, scapegoated service unit, having to fulfill their required, impossible mission by addressing presumed goals of academic writing, having students perfect the re-representation of thinly voiced, unimaginative prose, written in response to middlebrow nonfiction essays, in courses inflected more by politics than poetics, ideology rather than desire.

Sigh. By the way, I forgot to mention that earlier in the essay, Sirc addresses the conviction on the part of some writing teachers to try to awaken in their students a sense of civic engagement. For a long time, I accepted this responsibility at part of FYW. But really, why shouldn't it be everyone's responsibility? I still revere Lazere, but I don't buy this aspect of curriculum design anymore.

Indirect Assessment of ULL's First-Year Writing Program

I recently received an Instructional Improvement Mini-Grant (link goes to a PDF) to do a somewhat large-scale indirect assessment project for our writing program. I, along with my most excellent research assistant, have distributed a survey to 512 students so far, with maybe about 35 more surveys expected.

Here is our survey. You can see that it's based on the Consortium for the Study of Writing in College's survey instrument created by:

Charles Paine, Robert Gonyea, Paul Anderson, Chris Anson, “Continuing the WPA-NSSE Collaboration: Preliminary Analysis of the Experimental Writing Questions and Next Steps” Council of Writing Program Administrators Conference, 11 July 2008, Denver, Colorado.


I've made a lot of changes: omitted some questions, reworded some, added some others. I wanted to distinguish, for example, between students taking our complete writing sequence and those who transferred in. I can already tell that interpreting the data will be challenging; I've realized that we're going to have to cross-reference a lot of what we find in the surveys with the syllabuses from fall 2010 and spring 2011. For instance, the question that asks, "During the current school year, for how many assignments did you: Narrate or describe one of your own experiences," I've noticed in my casual glancing that it seems like quite a lot of students are answering "No assignments," when my strong sense is that a lot of teachers, especially in English 101, assign a personal essay or personal narrative. We'll have to go through the syllabuses and do some basic coding of what types of assignments teachers are giving, and how many teachers are giving those types of assignments.

We've also been recording the numbers of students in each class we visit in a Google Docs spreadsheet. Our enrollment cap for first-year writing is appallingly high at 27 students (believe me, I've registered my disgust on more than one occasion). But one reason for this is the attrition rate -- teachers may start out with 27 students, but they finish the semester with far fewer. It's like overbooking flights, as one of the members of our first-year writing committee said. This "start out with 27, end up with 17-18" idea holds up in our course-embedded assessment, for which we gather 100 samples of student writing. While one would think that we'd only have to get papers from four sections of first-year writing, we always have to get about seven sections' worth of papers to be sure to reach our 100-sample goal.

So we wanted to track the number of students in each class -- at least the number of students who were present on the day we visited. Most of our visits were in late March and early April, so we get a decent sense of how many are attending class toward the end of the semester, though of course I'm sure that in many of these classes, there were some students in good standing who just happened to be absent that particular day.

We visited six sections of English 101. The number of students present ranged from 12 to 18, and the average number was 15. Of course, those students taking English 101 in spring semesters are likely to have either a.) failed their English 101 course the previous semester, or b.) started out in Basic Writing. So we expect to see more attrition among this group.

We visited 23 sections of English 102 (we'll be visiting two more sections before concluding the data-collection phase of the project). The number of students present ranged from 13 to 23, with the average number as 18.

I'll probably be posting more findings as we discover them. Do you know of anyone else who has done a local study using the Coalition for the Study of Writing in College survey instrument? They give permission for this, but I don't know of anyone else yet who has.

Free and Open Textbooks in Rhetoric and Writing Studies

Below is my article for this year's CCCC-IP Annual:

The issue of access is one of the main reasons our field has held a prolonged interest in copyright and intellectual property matters. We want everyone to have access to education, art, science, and culture. We want open-access publishing in general, for our scholarship and for teaching resources. But we especially empathize with college students and their diverse financial situations; many are, as we all know, accruing student loan debt, juggling class schedules and work schedules, and, in some cases, supporting their families. Admittedly, many others are racking up high bar tabs, paying high membership dues to fraternities or sororities, and buying expensive clothes, but we maintain concern for the students who are struggling to pay their bills and whose financial future is especially uncertain. Such concern means that we -- especially those of us who, like me, are Writing Program Administrators -- often agonize about our responsibility to select textbooks that are both affordable and pedagogically sound and appropriate for our students.

In this paper, I will describe two developments from the year 2010 that pertain to intellectual property and our field. One is the publication of a report titled A Cover-to-Cover Solution: How Open Textbooks are the Path to Textbook Affordability by a student activist group. The other is the publication of volume I of Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing, an open textbook for undergraduate writing courses.

Research and Recommendations on Open Textbooks

Active since 1973 (or earlier), PIRGS have organized campaigns on a variety of issues including student loan debt, the environment, and, since 2005, affordable textbooks. Since 2005, Student PIRGs (Public Interest Research Group) has had a "Make Textbooks Affordable" campaign to raise awareness about the "tipping point expense" of textbooks in higher education -- a cost that can potentially mean the difference between getting an education and not getting one. In 2010, they released a report titled, "A Cover-to-Cover Solution: How Open Textbooks are the Path to Textbook Affordability," which was based on survey research of over 1000 students on ten campuses.

The researchers review some of the problems with the current textbook market, problems that we, as writing teachers, already know about: frequent new editions of books, and shrink-wrap packaging of proprietary software with books (requiring students to buy new books in order to get the CD or access code for the software). Also reviewed are some of the cost-saving strategies currently in place: textbook rental, resale, and e-books. Student PIRGs calls these measures "a good start," but they argue that open textbooks are a more sustainable strategy for keeping textbooks affordable in the long term.

The Student PIRGs research found that open textbooks that give students the option to buy a print copy or download a free online version, like the Flat World Knowledge publishing model, will best solve the economic problem of textbook cost. The research found that 75% of students preferred to have print textbooks, so online-only book options are not ideal. Book rental is not generally an attractive solution either, as the Student PIRGs research found that most students want to buy some books but rent others.

The research group then calculated the savings each current option (renting, e-textbooks, and e-books for e-readers such as the Nook or Kindle) offers. They found that book rental saves students about 33%, reducing their book expense to $602 per year, on average. E-books and e-reader books fared worse, offering savings of 8% and 1% respectively. In a dramatic contrast, open textbooks can cut students' book expenses by 80% while still providing students with choices to accommodate their preferences: "Print copies come in black and white and color, softcover and hardcover, and students can self-print part or all of the text. Digital copies are typically free, and can be accessed online or offline from a variety of devices including e-readers, laptops and smart phones" (12). One of the most interesting findings of the study is that 76% of students would pay a small fee to go toward compensating authors of free and open textbooks (13).

Extending the Student PIRGs Research

I notice three points that are not made in the Student PIRGs report, two minor and one major. First the minor points: the report criticized textbook publishers' practice of coming out with frequent new editions without substantive changes -- and I agree with this criticism -- and they conclude, for a variety of reasons, that using open textbooks is the best solution to the problem of book costs. It should be noted that with open textbooks, the new editions issue is no longer a problem. The textbook author or publisher can make improvements and updates to the book as needed, even if it's more frequently than every two or three years, and the cost of a new edition for the student is negligible; even if he or she already bought a print copy of a previous edition, the student can view online or self-print only the material in the newer edition.

The second minor point I noticed wasn't made is that book rental and buying used would also be options for print copies of open textbooks, likely saving print-preference students even more money. I don't know who sets the costs of book rental, but in order to create a more attractive option for students (and thus make money), the cost-setter would have to price the rentals lower than the cost of buying the books outright. The same goes for buying used: barring special circumstances, like autographed or rare editions, used copies are always going to be less expensive than new copies. Students who prefer print copies can buy them simply in order to satisfy their preference, then decide later if they want to own the books permanently or not. If they choose, they can re-sell the book and get some of their money back, offsetting both their net cost and the cost to the next student who uses the book. Because open textbooks are not published for profit, there would be no serious attempts to undermine the sale of used books, and the used print open textbooks market could flourish.

The major point not addressed in the Student PIRGs report is university bookstore markup, which is typically 30% of a book's retail cost. This percentage may go into a university's operating budget, as it does at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where I teach, making the overall textbook-cost issue less simple than it appears, especially with deep budget cuts for higher education. Certainly if university bookstores order print copies of open textbooks to stock for students to buy, the university bookstores will still apply the markup, and the operating budgets will get that money. However, the fewer dollars a book costs, the fewer dollars 30% of that amount will be. I don't mean to suggest that there's actually an incentive to select more expensive textbooks, but bookstore markup is an factor that enters into my own thinking about the economics of course textbooks.

On a related note, the Student PIRGs report alludes to the 2010 provisions of the Higher Education Opportunity Act regarding making textbook costs public. Universities that receive federal aid are supposed to publicize the costs of their classes' textbooks. My understanding of the law -- what I've done for our First-Year Writing Program site -- is that universities must disclose what their university bookstores charge for each book as well as the ISBN of each book for purposes of comparison shopping. While I agree that sharing this information benefits students and had already planned to post this information prior to hearing about the law, I have to wonder how much our university, so underfunded already, stands to lose from reduced bookstore revenue.

Open Textbook Options for Rhetoric and Writing Studies

The field of Rhetoric and Writing Studies currently has six options for open textbooks. The first, the Rhetoric and Composition WikiBook, was published in 2005 and written by Matt Barton and students at St. Cloud State University. It is not only open-access and freely available to print (permission granted under its Attribution/ShareAlike terms); it is also an ongoing project that students in writing classes can contribute to themselves.

The second open textbook option for writing teachers is Steven Krause's book titled The Process of Research Writing, which he published in 2007 under an Attribution/Noncommercial/ShareAlike Creative Commons license. Both this book and the WikiBook can be viewed in HTML format and as PDFs for no cost and self-printed by students. Students may, depending on their universities' policies, be able to use university printers and supplies for this purpose.

It's the third option, I believe, that is the most in alignment with the Student PIRGs' recommendations for open textbook publication because students can buy a print version of the book. The first volume of Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing was published in 2010, the second volume close behind in January 2011. I am on the editorial board of this book series. Under the licensing terms, Attribution/Noncommercial/No Derivative Works, students may download a PDF of the books free of charge and self-print the whole book or selected chapters, but unlike the other two, Writing Spaces is available for purchase as a bound volume from Parlor Press. Through Parlor Press's web site, students can buy volume 1 for $23.00 (price is the same on Amazon), and volume 2 for $25.00. The Student PIRGs report mentions the importance of accommodating students' diverse preferences (especially the majority's preference for print), and it points out that Flat World Knowledge is a company that follows this model of selling print copies but offering free downloads.

Or at least it appears to follow this model. The fourth, fifth, and sixth options for Rhetoric and Writing Studies are Writing for Success by Scott McLean, The Flat World Knowledge Handbook for Writers by Miles McCrimmon, and Exploring Perspectives: A Concise Guide to Analysis by Randall Fallows. The first two of these are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial Use-Share Alike license. The third is also under a Creative Commons license, but it will be available online later this month, so I cannot view the title page to see the specific kind of license. Flat World Knowledge claims to offer students the opportunity to read the book online for free, buy an electronic version for the Kindle or Nook, or buy a print copy. The "read online for free" option, however, is not as open as one might assume. On the sites for these books, I see no link to a downloadable PDF of the book. I can only read the book in HTML format or as an embedded PDF in a PDF viewer. At the bottom of the screen is a button with "Print this chapter: $2.49."

Now, under the terms of the Creative Commons license, I could buy a copy of the book (or have a desk copy sent to me), scan the whole book or selected chapters into PDF, upload the documents to my course site, and make them available for students -- so that they can view them without an internet connection or print them at only the price of paper and toner. But Flat World Knowledge makes this option quite difficult. The most truly open and sustainable textbook models are the first three options: The Rhetoric and Composition Wikibook, The Process of Research Writing, and Writing Spaces.

Concluding Thoughts

I am impressed with Student PIRGs' dedication to lowering the cost of higher education, and I'm happy to see the 2010 HEOA provisions about textbook costs. Because students are a captive market and cannot choose their own textbooks, I like that they are becoming more aware of options within their current constraints. Intellectual property is an economic issue, of course; publishers buy a textbook author's copyright and make copies, and students buy the copies at a high price -- on average, each student spends $900.00 a year on them, according to the Government Accountability Office (qtd. in Student PIRGs 1).

I would like to conclude with some thoughts on our (professors' and Writing Program Administrators') options and constraints. The genres of writing textbooks are, as most of us know, readers, rhetorics, and handbooks. We have six options for open textbooks, three of which are rhetorics, two of which are handbooks, and one of which combines the qualities of a rhetoric and a reader. We don't yet have cohesive open textbooks that fall into the genre of reader (for classes that don't take a Writing About Writing approach), but as far as books about academic writing and the writing and research processes are concerned, we have a few open textbook alternatives, and we should explore these. I recommend class-testing one or more of these books -- a teacher in my writing program class-tested a few chapters in Writing Spaces with positive results -- and doing local studies to discover campus-specific implementation issues.

Works Cited

Krause, Steven. The Process of Research Writing. 2007. Web. 6 March 2011.

Lowe, Charles, and Pavel Zemliansky. Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing.
Volume 1. 2010. Web. 6 March 2011.

Lowe, Charles, and Pavel Zemliansky. Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing.
Volume 2. 2011. Web. 6 March 2011.

Rhetoric and Composition WikiBook. 2011. Web. 6 March 2011.

Student PIRGs. A Cover-to-Cover Solution: How Open Textbooks Are the Path to
Textbook Affordability
. Student PIRGs, 2010. 6 March 2011.

My first Prezi

I presented this talk today at LACC to an audience of two. But it went fairly well. Now to celebrate my daughter's first birthday!

CCCC Virtual Conference

I have the utmost respect for the Conference on College Composition and Communication. Truly. But what's this all about? Via the NCTE Inbox email newsletter, I saw this evening that CCCC is having a "Virtual Conference," a.k.a. "Flavor of the 2011 CCCC Convention," for the first time ever. The email said:

If you just can't make it to the CCCC Annual Convention in Atlanta next month, join us for the very first CCCC Virtual Conference. Designed to bring you a flavor of the 2011 Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) Annual Convention, the virtual conference offers some of the same great sessions and topics as the onsite conference -- without the cost of travel.

Well OK, I thought, I can't make it to the conference in Atlanta (I didn't submit a proposal this time around, rather), so I'll see what they're doing. I was unpleasantly surprised to see that the virtual conference means that:

Over the course of a month following the 2011 CCCC Convention, CCCC will host six 60-minute virtual sessions that were presented in Atlanta. With one registration fee, you not only have the opportunity to attend the live virtual events, you will also gain full access to the on-demand recordings of those events which you can revisit at any time and even share with your colleagues in your department. You will have the freedom to attend as many of the virtual events as you wish but still have access to all of them on-demand after each session.

Registration fee: $115.00. Seriously? This gets you:

* Live access to all six, 60-minute virtual sessions
* On Demand recordings of each of the six sessions
* Added Bonus: Access to the recording of CCCC Chair Gwendolyn D. Pough's Address from Atlanta
* Extended conversations and resource sharing in an eGroup within the CCCC Connected Community for all registrants

Sessions 1, 5, and 6 from the virtual conference are in the online program; sessions 2, 3, and 4 are not; I don't know if that means they aren't actually happening at CCCC or what.

My major issue with the virtual conference is the registration fee. I can't help but suspect that the videos will be streaming from NCTE's site and will have to be accessed there (I hope I'm wrong); for that price, they ought to make a DVD of the sessions and mail them to registrants. Actually, I think it would be great if CCCC filmed a lot of sessions, chose some that were excellent, and made DVDs of them, then offered them for sale at a low price -- like a video conference proceedings. I'd buy that myself.

And maybe I'm cynical due to having joined many online discussion spaces over the years that quickly fizzled out or never got discussion going in the first place, but I'll be shocked if the "eGroup" is the least bit active. Again, hope I'm wrong.

I like that CCCC is trying something new, but the barrier to entry here is kind of high, and I think the whole design of the virtual conference is ill-conceived. I'm not rushing to final judgment, though; perhaps there's good activity planned that they're just not explaining clearly.

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