Composition Pedagogy

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MOO: I finally get it

Last night I participated in a MOO for the first time as part of Lennie Irvin's presentation for the Computers and Writing Online conference. Actually, it wasn't an old-school text-based MOO, but a web-based MOO running on enCore. I ended up learning a lot about MOO from talking to the experienced MOOers in there. For a long time, I was one of those people who had only a vague sense of MOO as synchronous chat. I thought, what makes these any different from, say, AOL Instant Messenger? Those I talked to before said something to the effect of, "Well, you have these rooms in the MOO, and the rooms are saved -- always there when you go back." I didn't at the time understand the meaning of that; it didn't seem like a good enough reason to continue to study MOO or to use them in writing courses. So I continued with my view of "The MOO is dead. Long live the blog!" (Kairosnews inside joke.)

But I now see that MOO still has much to offer rhetorically and pedagogically if people continue to use it. What struck me the most were the connections I saw to a post from a while back on Collin's blog in which he linked to Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink. In it, Pink argues that in the emerging "conceptual age," the following five skills are becoming very important: "design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning." From what I learned about MOO last night, I'd go as far as to say that MOO is an ideal technology that could be used for bringing out these skills. Of course, writers must learn visual design and how to tell stories with images and sound, which means learning not just how to use tools like PhotoShop and iMovie, but fundamental design principles like line, color, texture, and form. But with MOO, users are forced to provide rich descriptions of rooms, objects, and ways of interacting with the objects. It's design on a different level, and I would argue very creative.

Consider Alex Reid's list of what should be in a writing program (I don't list them all here):

  • some creative writing courses, which offer opportunity for experimentation, for practicing poetic language, for thinking about character (psychology/affect) and narrative, for crossing genres, and for addressing audience in a unique way;
  • courses in poetics and rhetoric as the underlying theories/philosophies of writing, which is something often absent from creative writing courses that tend to naturalize the writing process (and here I'm NOT thinking about the conventional rhetorics of a FYC handbook, not a pragmatics/how-to of process and audience-awareness, but an encounter with the aporias of symbolic behavior--again, the point is to develop the creative, conceptual "right-brain");
  • courses in other professional genres--technical writing, business writing, and so on--that are not taught in the traditional positivistic manner, but rather in the context of creative writing and rhetoric/poetics;
  • and, of course, coursework in new media, the practical but also its aesthetics, poetics, and rhetorics, which is not to say that technology isn't infused throughout this curriculum, but that you actually have to have a place where students experiment with the media.

It's not that I don't think weblogs, wikis, social bookmarking, etc. aren't great technologies, but MOO makes a lot of sense to me in meeting these objectives, and I'm ready to get behind efforts to keep them in use.

Jumble of links and thoughts

I'm in Alabama until Saturday, and while I've been working at the library here, I've also been watching too much vapid TV and too many movies (we're talking stuff like Bubble Boy, Eulogy, and Wet Hot American Summer). So I have to hit the books, course preparation, dissertation, everything when I get back. But for now, a fluff post with no interparagraphic transitions whatsoever.

Proposals are being sought for a special issue of Technical Communication Quarterly on Technical Communication in the Age of Distributed Work. It's going to be great once it comes out, very forward-thinking.

Note to self: I want to use the famous Margaret Mead quotation: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has" in my syllabus for the class I'm teaching this summer. [Edited to add: Does anyone know what the original source for that is? I hate not having a specific page number or date/place, if it's a speech.] It's called "Group Process, Team Building, and Leadership," and it centers on work done in small groups. It's also one of the courses that fulfills the Citizenship and Public Ethics theme requirement, and usually teachers require students to do group projects on local issues, which I'm very excited about, as this will let me try out a modified version of that city writing/finds research process that Jenny and Jeff talk about. I have lots of ideas already, and a while back I used the new-for-OSX-Tiger built-in news aggregator in Safari to set up a folder of feeds from all the local publications I could think of, so that's helped a lot.

At Jonathan's insistence, I watched the original Star Wars trilogy for the first time. People are shocked that I'm such a science fiction geek but I've never seen those movies. I'm already seeing Star Wars' influence on other movies and series. For example, Data on Star Trek: TNG reminds me a lot of C3PO (telling the captain the odds that some act of derring-do won't work, social ineptitude, etc.) and Moya's pilot on Farscape even reminds me a little of C3PO as well. I must see episodes 1, 2, and 3 now.

I finally created a Flickr account, and I'm wondering why I didn't do it months ago.

Check out this cool Drupal ad for the Free Software Magazine!

For anyone who was scratching his or her head about the relevance and import of the work that's being done on silence (see also Cheryl Glenn's Unspoken), this op-ed piece should clear it up for you.

Am I, like, the only person alive who had never heard of The Red Hat Society until the other day? All the stores around here have Red Hat lady merchandise -- red hats, of course, purple clothing, ceramic figurines of red hats, purple socks with little red hats embroidered on them, etc. Cookie jars, even. I saw the cover of one of the books from far away and thought, hey, that looks like an interesting Linux user/developer group! Seriously though, I told the manager of my local yarn store that they should offer special knitting classes for Red Hat Society women and classes for friends and family of Red Hat women in which they could knit red hats and other red and purple stuff as gifts for them. She thought it was a great idea. I hope they do it; I want to do anything I can to support locally-owned businesses.

Computers and Writing Online 2005: Announcement and Conference Program

I know I've blogged about this before, but I'm on the organizing committee of this conference, and I'm going to promote it; that's just the way it is. This is the big announcement, with the long version of the conference program below the fold (I copied and pasted all the abstracts here, which the Attribution-NoDerivs-Noncommercial Creative Commons license encourages me to do, I might add).

Computers and Writing Online 2005
When Content Is No Longer King: Social Networking, Community, and Collaboration

The 2005 Computers and Writing Online Conference begins on Tuesday,
May 31, and runs through Monday, June 13. This is the first-ever
online conference in our field to be open-access, Creative
Commons-licensed, and hosted on a weblog, and it promises to be
innovative and insightful. We set out to perform the concepts and values of the conference theme -- networking, community, and collaboration -- in our review process, which was open to the public and emphasized group
interaction and helpful, supportive feedback. The responders have done
an excellent job engaging the authors' ideas, and the authors'
responses to the feedback they received have really demonstrated how
enriching this public, collaborative model can be for scholarly work.
The conference organizers would like to extend a big "Thank you!" to
the authors and the responders. Included with each abstract in this
announcement is the link to the original; we strongly encourage you to
read the comments.

As with the abstracts, the presentations are accessible to anyone with
an internet connection, and anyone with an account at Kairosnews
(registration is free) can leave comments. For more information, visit
the CW Online 2005 weblog: http://kairosnews.org/cwonline05/home

Drawing upon the conference's theme of exploring the increasing value
of the network and collaborative practices within it, presenters
examine the role(s) played by social networking applications and other
technologies that are intended to foster social interaction,
community, and collaboration. Alongside studying the technologies
themselves, presenters will observe and describe the ways that
writers and users are engaging the technologies and how such
engagement is changing our ideas about writing and teaching writing,
and, more broadly, the concepts of rhetoric and composition
themselves. We very much hope you'll get involved by leaving your
comments, or, if you prefer, respond on your own weblog and leave a
trackback! Or write a response on your wiki! Or tag presentations on
your del.icio.us or de.lirio.us list! You get the idea. This
conference is meant to be networked.

=============================================

CONFERENCE PROGRAM (SHORT VERSION):

May 31: Charlie Lowe and Dries Buytaert: It's about the Community
Plumbing: The Social Aspects of Content Management Systems

June 2: Cathy Ma: What's so special about the Wikipedia?

June 4: Olin Bjork and John Pedro Schwartz: E-service Learning

June 6: Bob Stein, Kim White, Ben Vershbow, and Dan Visel: Sorting the
Pile: Making Sense of A Networked Archive

June 7: Traci Gardner: From Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine to The
Secret Blog of Raisin Rodriguez

June 8: Lennie Irvin: MOO-the Second Decade? 7:00-8:30 p.m. CDT ProNoun MOO

June 9: John Spartz: Web Accessibility and Its Impact on Student
Learning: A Qualitative Study

June 10: Matt Payne: Digital Divides, Video Games, and New Media

June 11: Marina Meza & Susanna Turci: Desiging an Electronic Bilingual
Dictionary for International Trade

June 12: Collin Brooke: Weblogs as Deictic Systems

June 13: Erika Menchen: Feedback, Motivation and Collectivity on del.icio.us

Computers and Writing Online 2005: Respond to Abstracts!

I'm on the organizing committee for the Computers and Writing Online 2005 Conference, and this year we're doing something that has never been done in our field, or I believe any other: We're having the whole conference on a weblog, including the review process. Actually, we're calling it a "public feedback process," and if you read the guidelines below you'll see that we're less interested in a thumbs-up/thumbs-down accept/reject model and more interested in an abstract-as-conversation-starter, knowledge-making-social model. Anyone with a username at Kairosnews can respond to an abstract (registration is free*), so please provide feedback by May 13.

In keeping with this year's CW Online 2005 conference theme--"When
Content Is No Longer King: Social Networking, Community, and
Collaboration"--conference organizers invite you and other interested
parties to read and respond to the proposals submitted for this year's
conference. These proposals can be found at

http://kairosnews.org/cwonline05/blog

Should you choose to participate in this process, we ask that you
consider the following suggested guidelines:

--Before jumping into the response process, look at some proposals that
already have comments posted and get a feel for what's being done.

--Read the proposal carefully and consider what you think might be
improved, extended, re-focused, clarified or otherwise revised.

--We suggest avoiding a lengthy commentary or review. Instead, introduce
some talking points and engage the author in a conversation about the
topic.

--Gradually, as the dialogue unfolds, bring in the points you'd like to
see addressed.

--Treat your responses as part of an ongoing dialogue with the author,
your fellow respondents, and casual commentators. When possible,
consider referring to previous responses.

--Generally speaking, we are not looking for responses that are overly
evaluative or argumentative, but rather those that encourage dialogue
leading to clarification and understanding.**

* If you're registered here, you don't have to register at Kairosnews. You can login using whateveryourusernamehereis@culturecat.net as the username, and the password is whatever your password here is.

** This isn't to say you shouldn't be critical of an abstract or feel like you can't disagree with something an author has said; we're just, as I said before, trying to get out of a terse, accept/reject mode. Also keep in mind that it takes courage to put one's work out there for public feedback, and many of these people aren't bloggers, so we're trying to make it more supportive and not so snakepitty.

Ethics and Student Blogging

These are just blinks, really; I want to keep them in mind for next year's Blogging Special Interest Group at CCCC.

Two recent posts by Lilia Efimova on blog research ethics and privacy -- good stuff.

Jill's response, which raises a question I think we as a SIG should talk about more: Should we require students to use pseudonyms when they blog for class?

Another issue I don't think we've talked about enough: what to do once the semester's over, the ethical question of what to do with the blog. On one hand, there's the weblog ethics argument about depublishing (see #4), but on the other, there's the fact that the students are blogging as a requirement, and perhaps a teacher would feel compelled to take the blog down after the learning-in-public experience is over. I've noticed that Mike, for example, chose to depublish his students' weblogs (but I don't know the specific circumstances of that case; maybe the students collectively asked him to take it down, I have no idea). I believe Charlie takes his class blogs down as well; I know he did when he used PostNuke. I myself leave them up, but students know they can go into Blogger or MT anytime they want and delete their own posts. Actually I have the permissions set in such a way as to allow them to edit or delete all the posts if they want, but I ask them to respect others' work by leaving it alone. Judging from Jill's post, she doesn't depublish students' blogs either, if she has administrative privileges on their blogs at all.

On Teaching Writing

Sean McCann at The Valve writes,

Even with these fabulous students, I find teaching writing immensely difficult--like teaching someone to dance. The boxstep is more or less easy. But after that there’s so many, myriad components of craft and talent involved that it seems impossible to systematize. Every case is different, and the only method is to pay attention and do it over and over again. The terrible thing is that for students who love to write and want to be good at it, this is all hugely rewarding. For others, though, I sometimes suspect it’s like being initiated into a weird fraternity whose rules are completely arbitary. There are those great moments when things click, but more often there’s slogging.

In darker moments I think, you can’t really teach writing; you can only aspire to be its Zen master. Am I wrong? I’m curious to know.

I might have to put that in my syllabus.

CCCC 2006 Proposal: Feedback, Please!

UPDATE: If anyone is doing anything on technology, especially weblogs, and you're looking at submitting something individually but would like to get in on a panel, email me; I have one interested party but we need a third!

I know the deadline for CCCC is tomorrow at midnight, but I'm wondering if anyone doing technology in the classroom would like to invite me to be on their panel, or if any of you would like to give me some feedback on this at the moment half-baked idea I have, which I'll be submitting as close to the deadline as possible, when it will be fully baked, or at least sound like it.

In the conference theme statement, Akua Duku Anokye writes:

[W]e find ourselves in a quandary, a middle space battling against the polarities of everyday life. We work between theory and praxis, object and subject, reading and writing, black and white, literature and composition, native and non-native, oral and visual, cognitive and affective, product and process, academic and personal, individual and group. Now we need to ask, "How does composition reconcile the binaries to build coalitions, culture and community in the rich way that Chicago has built its identity?" How do we meet the challenges of this middle ground by embracing our diversity, forging new alliances, and joining with others that care about America’s literacy needs?

The whole conference is about middle spaces and coalitions between polarities. I plan to submit a proposal about the rhetoric of innovation and access, the need to work within and respond to technological innovations and the sense of social responsibility associated with issues of access. A couple of questions keep buzzing around in my mind: Assuming coalitions could and should be built, how would we as a field go about it? If the call to "think critically about technology" has become an empty gesture, how can the original idea, which, as I understand it, is to keep socioeconomic context of technological tools in the foreground and to refrain from being technological determinists (in other words, let the pedagogy drive the technology, not vice versa -- but wouldn't some people argue that this aphorism is misguided?), be reframed in a more vital way? This is one of those times I'd like to be able to propose a completely different format, a discussion rather than a presentation, but oh well. I was inspired by, and will be citing, the discussions spurred by Will Hochman and Chris Dean's article, Hypertext 101. Collin responded, then Jeff, Sharon, Mike, Jeff, Collin, Collin, and Sharon. I'm probably forgetting some posts, but that's a good start. It was, for me, an extremely thought-provoking conversation, and I of course like the idea that the idea for this presentation grew out of blogging -- open access scholarly discussion. I have (a lot) more to say, obviously, but must pause for now and ruminate about it.

My Comic Effort

ComicLife is addictive; at least for me it's going to be, I can already tell. I'm actually late for a dinner for Cristina because of this fool thing.

One day my comics might be as good as Collin's. Not today.

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