Composition Pedagogy

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Next Rhetoric & Composition MMTOR?

Massive Multi-Thinker Online Review, that is. I think it should be about John Logie's new book, Peers, Pirates, and Persuasion: Rhetoric in the Peer-to-Peer Debates, now available from Parlor Press. You can order it or download it for free as a PDF. The book has a Creative Commons license too. More about the book:

Peers, Pirates, and Persuasion: Rhetoric in the Peer-to-Peer Debates investigates the role of rhetoric in shaping public perceptions about a novel technology: peer-to-peer file-sharing networks. While broadband Internet services now allow speedy transfers of complex media files, Americans face real uncertainty about whether peer-to-peer file sharing is or should be legal. John Logie analyzes the public arguments growing out of more than five years of debate sparked by the advent of Napster, the first widely adopted peer-to-peer technology. The debate continues with the second wave of peer-to-peer file transfer utilities like Limewire, KaZaA, and BitTorrent. With Peers, Pirates, and Persuasion, Logie joins the likes of Lawrence Lessig, Siva Vaidhyanathan, Jessica Litman, and James Boyle in the ongoing effort to challenge and change current copyright law so that it fulfills its purpose of fostering creativity and innovation while protecting the rights of artists in an attention economy.

Logie examines metaphoric frames—warfare, theft, piracy, sharing, and hacking, for example—that dominate the peer-to-peer debates and demonstrably shape public policy on the use and exchange of digital media. Peers, Pirates, and Persuasion identifies the Napster case as a failed opportunity for a productive national discussion on intellectual property rights and responsibilities in digital environments. Logie closes by examining the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the “Grokster” case, in which leading peer-to-peer companies were found to be actively inducing copyright infringement. The Grokster case, Logie contends, has already produced the chilling effects that will stifle the innovative spirit at the heart of the Internet and networked communities.

So what do you think? Want to do it? What's a date we can shoot for?

(Cross-posted at Kairosnews.)

Blogging: The Semester in Review

The comp class blogs didn't go so well this semester. It wasn't a disaster by any means; it's just that the participation was a lot more forced than I would have liked. I attribute this to a couple of factors:

1.) I was teaching three classes, all of which had (group) blogs, and what with my adjustment to my new job and all, I wasn't able to be as active on all of the blogs than I had been before, when I was teaching a 2-1 load. In fact, the semesters I've used blogs in my teaching before had been the ones in which I'd taught only one class. I didn't leave as many comments under posts as I probably should have. I did, of course, leave comments and post to the blog, but not as often as I had before.

2.) Facebook and MySpace. The way I have used blogs in my teaching has been as a type of community-building writing space; that is to say, community building was the primary goal of the blogging activity. I had worked to achieve this goal by suggesting topics for blog posts, but encouraging the students to blog about other topics they were interested in instead, if they chose. The class blogs were, in practice, a very expressivist environment. This worked out pretty well because the major writing assignments were research-oriented, so the blog was a space for personal writing. However, the class blog became superfluous in terms of social software; Facebook and MySpace are the killer apps for that. It bears mentioning that the last time I taught using blogs was Fall 2004. In Spring 2005 I taught speech and only had a blog for making class announcements, and I had a dissertation fellowship in academic year 2005-2006. Needless to say, Facebook and MySpace have really taken off since 2004.

So next semester I'm going to try something different. I have Moodle sites set up for the two classes I'm teaching, and while I'm still definitely going to have a once-per-week posting requirement, it's going to be much more oriented toward the course content. In composition classes, the content is often chosen by the students (depending on how one does it, of course), so there may not be the kind of shared content you'd have with a literature course. The classes I'm teaching next semester are content-driven, so it'll be easier to write weekly prompts that are tightly integrated with the content of the course, with posts consisting of reading responses for the most part.

At least for next semester, then, my course discussion spaces are going to be spaces for discussion about the course topics specifically. Many of us have talked about blogging's becoming domesticated as more and more instructors start using it in writing courses. I think that's probably inevitable. The writing context (the university, the classroom, the GRADE) is, of course, going to determine to some extent the attitudes of students and of instructors in the blog space. That's not at all a new observation. I guess my point is that as long as the writing on course weblogs is going to be determined somewhat by the institutional context, it isn't necessarily bad to go ahead and make it a Writing Space for This Class. There is a writing-to-learn rationale for that approach, after all, and it does help students hone skills in adapting their writing styles for different occasions and contexts.

Making a class blog as much like a regular old blog in the 'sphere as possible, the way I've done before, is fine, but whereas the writing may be more "real" and done with the student's "authentic voice," (quotes definitely intended to scare) the exercise may not really teach them much. Writing for an audience besides the teacher, perhaps, but they learn this through Facebook and MySpace.

The Stakes of Engagement with Literature

A while back, Mark Bauerlein at The Valve made a comment that has stuck with me ever since, or part of the comment, anyway:

We’ve done such a poor job of training young people to appreciate the value of literature that most of them see no point, and nothing at stake, in their engagement with it.

Today, Avedon Carol pointed me to Ursula LeGuin's acceptance speech for the Maxine Cushing Gray Award. This excerpt illustrates especially well those stakes:

There have been governments that celebrated literature, but most governments dislike it, justly suspecting that all their power and glory will soon be forgotten unless some wretched, powerless liberal in the basement is writing it down. Of course they do their best to police the basement, but it's hard, because Government and Literature, even when they share a palace, exist on different moral planes. Each is the ghost in the other's bedroom. A government can silence writers easily, yet Literature always escapes its control. Literature cannot control a government; poets, as poets, do not legislate. What they can do is set minds free of the control of any tyrant or demagogue and his lies and disinformation.

The Greek Socrates wrote: "The misuse of language induces evil in the soul." Evil government relies on deliberate misuse of language. Because literary skill is the rigorous use of language in the pursuit of truth, the habit of literature, of serious reading, is the best defense against believing the half-truths of ideologues and the lies of demagogues.

The poet Shelley wrote: "The imagination is the great instrument of moral good." Believing that, I see a public library as the toolshed, the warehouse, concert hall, temple, Capitol of imagination — of moral good. So here — right here where we are, right now — is where America stands or falls. Can we still imagine ourselves as free? If not, we have lost our freedom.

Award for Innovation in Basic Writing Pedagogy

I saw this on the WPA-L listserv; I can think of a few people who, if they're teaching basic writing this year, could be contenders. <-- What I'm trying to do there is make it clear that community college composition courses do not automatically equal basic writing courses; I see this conflation too often, and it bugs me.

Conference on Basic Writing's 2007 Award for Innovation

The Conference on Basic Writing's Award for Innovation recognizes
writing programs for innovations that improve educational processes for
basic writers through creative approaches. Please note that only
innovations that have been implemented will be considered for the award.
The award will be based on

Originality - the creativity and uniqueness of the innovation
Portability--the extent to which the innovation lends itself to
application in other institutions or contexts
Results and Benefits - specific details, data, and observations derived
from the innovation, focusing on specific educational benefits to
students

Please note important deadlines:
December 1, 2006: Nominations due
January 2007: Award recipient notified
March 2007: The Winner will be honored with the presentation of a
plaque at the CBW Special Interest Group (SIG) at
CCCC in New York. The winner will be invited to give a
brief presentation about the winning program
to the SIG attendees.

PMLA-related disappointment

You may know that there are lots of web sites that consist of collections of brief quotations uttered by political leaders. They're decontextualized sound bites, pretty much. I tell my students that they may not use these sites as sources for their papers; this is because the quotations are insubstantial and out of context, and they simply will not suffice as evidence to support an argument (it's in the syllabus, even). Imagine my disappointment, then, when I saw the following in the October 2006 PMLA, by brilliant feminist critic Susan Gubar:

It's no laughing matter that the Supreme Court is being reconfigured, along with our traditional civil rights and liberties, by a president whose commitment to education remains in doubt ("You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test"), whose military aggression has harmed people here and around the globe ("I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we're really talking about peace"), and whose tax cuts injure many health and welfare programs ("They misunderestimated me"). As large numbers of women are put at risk by the widening divide between rich and poor ("I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family"), by the incursion into civic arenas of religious ideologies that reinstate traditional sexual hierarchies while failing to mask proliferating ecological disasters ("I trust God speaks through me"), have the goals of feminists been put in jeopardy?

The source cited in the bibliography is The Complete Bushisms. So maybe I'm a fuddy-duddy, but in my opinion this use of sound-bite quotations is not witty or clever. It's lazy, it undermines Gubar's credibility, it alienates a segment of the audience, and it mucks up the otherwise articulate and important points Gubar is making. It aids in lowering the level of political discourse to which I aspire and to which I hope my students will aspire. How can I not allow students to make this type of move when an eminent scholar is doing it in one of the field's top journals? (I mean, I'm still not going to allow it, but there it is.)

The Flyer

This is the first time I've done one of these, but here's hoping it has the desired effect:

3030 flyer

I think I'll revise it as I finalize the texts for the class, and I'm going to try to put the days and time the class is meeting on there too.

Two thoughts

1. When I was visiting my parents for fall break, I was rummaging through some old papers and ran across an annotated bibliography I had written for a literature course on the theme of courtly love in Troilus and Criseyde and The Canterbury Tales. The paper had no comments but the following:

A- (90) See CS. Good content and bibl form

The comma splice, which was utterly a careless error on my part as I knew the mechanical rule in that case, was marked on one of the pages.

The thing is, that's about representative of the comments I got on all the papers I ever wrote in college (undergrad), even in composition classes. I never got comments anywhere near as substantive as the ones I give my students. I'm wondering if it's maybe just because my papers were good, and because of that the professors didn't see much need to make that many comments (and students with weaker writing skills got more comments), or what. In my classes this semester, I've asked students what kinds of comments they've gotten on their writing in the past, what kinds of comments are helpful, etc. I think I'll share this story with them. Actually, at the time I didn't think anything of it or expect more comments than that. It is said that some students don't read the comments anyway, so maybe some professors don't see much point in making them. Do comments really help? Do they only help if the paper gets a bad grade? Jonathan and I discussed this briefly, and he had a different experience in college -- more of a range, with some professors making very lengthy and detailed comments and others making minimal comments. He always appreciated them (and I assume he got As on most of his papers). What do the rest of you think? What kinds of comments did you get on your writing when you were in college? (Or high school.) How do they compare with the comments you make on your students' writing?

[Edited to add: Lest you think otherwise, I know there's a copious body of literature on responding to student writing. I've read a good bit of it. The articles I've read, though, have tended to compare ways that teachers respond to student writing and argue that facilitative comments are better than directive comments. I'm more interested in what students have to say about the comments and what student expectations are regarding comments. I know that comments can influence students' motivation and confidence levels, but I guess I need to read more Nancy Sommers to get specifics.]

[Okay, I keep thinking of more to add. Where I went to college, the professors have high caps and heavy teaching loads. The assumption may well have been "I'll put a grade on this paper, and the student can always come to my office if he/she wants some clarification about the grade." Reading some of the comments at Dean Dad's (linked below) made me think that, especially with all the time spent on email with students, how much commentary can professors realistically provide on any one paper in anything resembling a timely fashion if they have 100+ of them to grade?--and possibly have any energy left? I guess the point is, I really don't blame my professors; I know they were worked hard and probably just trying to balance work and life. The professor who graded my annotated bibliography (now retired), for example, was the single mother of a teenager at the time.]

2. I wonder if there are any studies that examine the influence of email communication between students and professors on retention and attrition rates. In recent years, for example, professors have become obligated to email students who have missed two or three class periods in a row to inquire about their absence and do more to help them get caught up (I realize this must be different in large lecture courses). There are many factors that affect retention and attrition, I understand, including adjunct labor, but I'm still curious. It may not even be possible to design a study that isolates email communication as a factor.

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