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Notes from Next/Text Rhetoric

What follows are my notes on the Next/Text meeting for Rhetoric and Composition. At first I was really vigilant about preceding people's comments with their names or initials, you know, so they'd get credit for what they said. But then things got so rapid-fire that I got lazy about it. These notes represent what we, as a group, said, and each of us made contributions: myself, Cheryl Ball, Cindy Selfe, Daniel Andersen, David Blakesley, David Goodwin, Geoffrey Sirc, Janice Walker, Jeff Rice, Johndan Johnson-Eilola, Karl Stolley, Kim White, Michael Day, Victor Vitanza, and Virginia Kuhn. To give a little background, Next/Text is one of the projects of the Institute for the Future of the Book, which is part of the Annenberg Center at the University of Southern California. Next/Text is focused on classroom textbooks in particular. Our meeting was devoted to imagining how we in rhetoric and composition would go about creating a completely new electronic textbook -- new, as opposed to CD-ROM companions to print textbooks: your basic linear, text-with-images, PDF-esque, "take a book from the tradition of print, digitize it, and smack it up on the Web."

As we started out, we briefly discussed institutional constraints and realities -- the old hiring, promotion, and tenure. In any discussion of online/technological work, we can't put those aside or dismiss them. Although this part was kind of bracketed after the initial comment, I suppose it was always in the background. For a while, we talked about generalities: basic needs, realities of textbook publishing, realities of online projects which someone starts (a faculty member) and others work on and contribute to (e.g., graduate students/T.A.s, non-tenure-track instructors, etc.). There was a stated need for what we, for lack of a better term, called a datacloud with portals and axes that help to organize content (which I'm going to call tags here, because that's basically how they'd function). I kept smiling and thinking of a conversation I had once with (the brilliant) Geoffrey Sauer, who emphasized the need for me really to connect scholarship with what it is I do online. I was trying to offer ideas of what I thought he was driving at, and he kept saying, "no, it can't be just another archive!" I relayed Sauer's call for some new online endeavor that wasn't just another archive to the Next/Text group, who agreed vigorously.

Next/Text Meeting: Rhetoric Textbooks, Digital

I took copious notes at the Next/Text Rhetoric meeting of the Institute for the Future of the Book, but I still need to work on massaging them into blog-post suitability, and I have an imminent deadline for an article for S&F Online. Plus, I'll be out of town with spotty internet access until May 7, so posting will be pretty much nonexistent until then. For the time being, check out Jeff's notes from the meeting, Dan's notes, and the pictures I took during my stay in L.A. By the way, the folks at the Institute are terrific hosts. Great food and accommodations -- my first-ever stay at a bed and breakfast.

Recent presentation on blogs and social bookmarking

On April 6, I did a presentation as part of a Technology-Enhanced Learning Seminar at the University of Minnesota's Digital Media Center. The topic was "Web 2.0: Promoting Collaboration and Student-Centered Learning," and I was the third person to present in this four-person panel. If you like, you can view the presentation; it isn't the best one I've done by any means, but you can get a sense of how I've used weblogs in my teaching and how I will use social bookmarking. Bradley Dilger is cited liberally throughout the social bookmarking section of my presentation.

Notes on 2006 CCCC Blogging SIG

NB: Mike Edwards contributed heavily to these notes. In fact, most of what's here is his work, so I want him to get credit for it.

The CCCC Blogging SIG had a large and productive meeting Thursday night in Chicago. We began by discussing some of the initiatives the SIG had proposed the previous year, including the one-page paper handout guide for teachers new to blogging (which, we might hope, will continue to be revised collaboratively and kept up to date as necessary), as well as thoughts about assessment of weblog writing, outcomes of weblog use in writing courses and professional endeavors, and a possible large multi-institution study investigating the classroom uses of weblogs.

Following the initial discussion, we split up into five small groups focusing on action in specific areas. The groups discussed their areas and reported back when we reconvened. Here are the results of our discussion:

  1. Securing grant funding for a large, qualitative multi-institution study on weblogs in writing pedagogy: This group thought it would be most appropriate to start with simply laying out the steps in the grant-writing process. So:
    1. Put out open call for researchers on Kairosnews and other weblogs: have you done classroom- based blog research, and would you be willing to share the results? (This, initially, might likely involve a simple survey with questions about the number of students involved, the longevity of the study, what the classes were (tech comm? FYC? Advanced composition? Literature courses? etc.), and so forth.)
    2. Mine past CCCC programs for presentations on qualitative blog studies to get a sense of what classroom research people have already done on blogs.
    3. Use the information gathered to shape the drafting of possible research questions focused on the consequences of assigning weblog work. (Feedback here with considerations for shaping those questions is welcomed!)
    4. Review grant guidelines again given the information gathered. (CCCC research initiative and the NCTE Citigroup technology grant are possibilities; again, other suggestions are welcomed.)
    5. Compose a budget. (Possible line items include funding for research assistants to code data, consultants with expertise in qualitative research, SRSS software.)
    6. Flesh out the grant proposal, especially with expected outcomes from the study. (One possibility suggested might be an annotated bibliography, in the manner of Bedford, of weblog scholarship.)
  2. Assessment and outcomes considerations for weblogs and teaching, possibly including questions of genre (Facebook, MySpace, et cetera). This group analytically framed its approach as a highly specific (and provocative) question: what constitutes an "outcome" for a single blog post? Top-down solutions for constructing outcomes seem problematic, so what happens if we look for a Web 2.0-style bottom-up mode of analysis; using "dynamic criteria mapping" to see how evaluative criteria (as tags) cluster themselves, and possibly setting up a space for that online -- what would that look like? (Well, let's do it and see!)
  3. Institutional blogging / social software considerations. Action here seems fairly straightforward: Compose a position statement to push to the resolution committee next year; something that covers comprehensively all these areas we're talking about, partly to help move away from the problems of ad- hocracy.
  4. Weblogs and professionalization. Again, fairly straightforward: we need to move the profession towards a space where we're more aware of blogging as professional activity. To what degree can we "get credit" for blogging? And, deriving from that, how can we start thinking about blogging as professionals? (One question that was asked in response: if blogging becomes a professional activity, does it lose some portion of its value as teaching/writing tool?) It might be useful to compile blog posts that illustrate the professional virtues of blogging (viz. Deborah Hawhee's post in order to respond to those frequent doubts and questions about the professional value of blogging. There's a need, as well, to map and illustrate (viz. Clancy's map of p2p review) for our colleagues how academic interaction operates on blogs.
  5. Rethinking the design and architecture of weblogs and other social software tools as a necessary component of our discipline, and possibly thinking about weblogs as a "gateway technology." With blogging, there's a need to move beyond composition's ubiquitous pedagogical imperative and ask other questions: perhaps about the pitfalls of institutional support (e.g., those who see it as not "cool" to use university blog spaces because of the perceived lack of "ownership"); about how to aggregate or represent or link to student work (e.g., the question of whether to use a hub or a distributed model; about doing more work with design rather than plugging content into preexisting templates.
So: an ambitious agenda, with lots of stuff to do. The next necessary question would seem to be: are there people who would be willing to shepherd these projects, either individually or collaboratively? Finally, two questions and an announcement:
  • Would it perhaps be useful and productive to merge the efforts of the Blogging SIG and the Wiki Rhetoricians SIG -- perhaps into the CCCC Social Software SIG?
  • Would a SIG blog be useful? (Consensus: yes.) There seemed to be broad agreement that the easiest solution might be adding a SIG category for posts at Kairosnews. [Done.--Clancy]
  • And now the announcement: During the meeting, Collin proposed that Kairos name the Best Academic Weblog award after John Lovas. We felt that it was the best idea presented the whole night. Mike emailed Doug Eyman, who wholeheartedly agreed. Thanks to everyone for a great meeting.

Cross-posted at Kairosnews.

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Digital Scholarly Publishing: Beyond the Crisis

I might as well start my MLA panel-blogging with a report on my own session. It was titled "Digital Scholarly Publishing: Beyond the Crisis," and the other presenters were David Blakesley and Kristine Blair. Mary Hocks was also scheduled to present, but unfortunately she couldn't make it.

After Kris introduced us, I did my presentation. If you read my planning post, then you didn't miss anything. Still, I've attached my slides in .ppt format and in .sxi format for OpenOffice. I'd publish the whole thing here, but I generally don't present from scripts, and at the time I didn't think to open up Audacity and record the talk. Oh well. One point I think I made more clearly in the Q&A after my talk than in my post is that the MLA, CCCC, and several individual universities all have statements with guidelines for reviewing work with technology in the hiring, tenure, and promotion process. In every case, these documents support the scholars who work with technology and generally favor the legitimacy, or legitimation, of electronic publishing. Why, then, is it still so risky to do this work?

Dave talked about his work with The Writing Instructor, a print journal that has made the transition to electronic publishing. He had a handout, which I've copied in its entirety:

The Writing Instructor
Publishing since 1981 and now in its THIRD WAVE, TWI will feature...

  • Interactive and distributed peer review
    Peer review is conducted Slashdot style, with scholarly review teams and multi-tiered response and feedback
  • Born digital projects and printed archives
    Fostering hypertext and multimedia projects authored for the Web, TWI also remembers its heritage with print archives
  • Print-ready and distributable, with stable URLs, ready for dossiers and classrooms
    TWI articles can be made into elegant off-prints on the fly, by any user
  • Creative Commons licensing for easy dissemination
    New articles are published under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 license
  • Open source and open access via Drupal and the DrupalJournal Project
    Taking open access to the next level, with no author subventions or fees, using open source content management; interested journals and editors may collaboratively develop a DrupalJournal release, customized for most journal functions
  • Community driven and authored content
    Wiki-style functionality, with version tracking, facilitates distributed editorial management and production
  • Integrated blogging and commenting, with RSS feeds, news aggregator, and daily notifications
    Content stays fresh and is distributed across the Web, inviting readers back and reaching out to new ones
  • Automated feeds to indexing services like ERIC
    Simplifies the process of submitting content to major indexing services, like ERIC
  • Web-based management of all editorial processes
    All editorial management, including author notifications, review tracking, and production are Web-based and accessible

This handout represents the bulk of his talk, but he also discussed some of the problems with electronic publication. What really caught my interest was his explanation of the prejudice that e-journals aren't peer reviewed at all or aren't referreed as rigorously as print journals. You might have noticed that most electronic journals have on their main page a link to a "Review Process" page which gives a detailed explanation of their peer review process (e.g. this one from Into the Blogosphere -- though, it should be said, ITB is an edited collection, not a journal. Everyone gets confused about that. It's a one-time thing -- an anthology.), intended for tenure files. Do assistant professors who are up for tenure have to give this kind of apologia for print publications? Anyway, Dave emphasized the importance of publishing not only a description of the review process, but also the acceptance rate. I agree.

Dave also talked about a new distribution of Drupal called DrupalJournal, which would offer features that would be desirable for journal editors. In the Q&A, John Holbo asked with great interest when DrupalJournal would be available. It must be a very new idea, because I combed the Drupal main page and didn't see any mention of it, though if you're curious to see what's in the works for Drupal in the coming year (or could be in the works), check out Dries' predictions and the ones at Drupal.org.

Finally, Dave mentioned the efforts of the people who run the WAC Clearinghouse. It's a great resource which all of you should look through if you get a chance. Parlor Press, which Dave runs, releases books online (whole books!) at the WAC Clearinghouse site.

Kris was the respondent, and she had a lot to say about multimodal literacy and how our publication models aren't connected well with our students' literate practices. She also spoke about her experience as the editor of Computers and Composition Online, mentioning that multimodal scholarly compositions still have some problems. Some of them, she said, are much flash, little substance, or much substance, little flash in the way of engagement with the media. Achieving a balance is still a problem.

After the presentation, there were some great questions posed by Amardeep, Scott, and others. Maybe they'll reiterate those here. Or maybe I will, a little later. Overall, I think the session went well.

A Scattershot Stump Speech

Back in September at the New Media Research @ UMN conference, I saw Lee Rainie give a wonderful, enthusiastic stump speech about internet research (his characterization, not mine). At the beginning of his talk, he told us that he was going to give us some background about the Pew Internet & American Life Project and its history and then he would gesture, scattershot-style, toward some of their current and future projects. The speech was excellent in every possible way, and when it was over, I thought, that's what I want to do at MLA.

I was invited to be on the NCTE-sponsored panel at MLA, titled "Digital Scholarly Publishing: Beyond the Crisis," along with Kristine Blair, David Blakesley, and Mary Hocks. I'm scheduled to go first, so I'm planning to give about 3-5 minutes of background on "the crisis" for the uninitiated, but after that, I'm going to talk about some of the work that people are already doing online every day. For the purposes of this talk, I'm positioning myself as a human aggregator, gathering and presenting the best ideas of what scholarly publishing could be, well, beyond the crisis.

The crisis, as I've always understood it, is an economic problem, an unsustainable business model, consisting of 1.) the conflict between the book-for-tenure model and the financial troubles (and subsequent cutbacks of number of titles published) of university presses; and 2.) price-gouging on the part of scholarly journal publishers and libraries' declining ability to afford journal subscriptions (which also affects book sales). This article in Inside Higher Ed provides a good status report on the latter. The former was heralded by Stephen Greenblatt in his famous letter to members of MLA. Greenblatt outlines the problem, pointing out that "books are not the only way of judging scholarly achievement." He suggests:

We could try to persuade departments and universities to change their expectations for tenure reviews: after all, these expectations are, for the most part, set by us and not by administrators. The book has only fairly recently emerged as the sine qua non and even now is not uniformly the requirement in all academic fields. We could rethink what we need to conduct responsible evaluations of junior faculty members. And if institutions insist on the need for books, perhaps they should provide a first-book subvention, comparable to (though vastly less expensive than) the start-up subvention for scientists.

This letter spurred a lot of discussion, at least in circles I frequent, about alternative requirements for tenure, especially online publishing. Certainly we in rhetoric and composition have been thinking about online publishing's place in the tenure and promotion process. I'm going to try to condense the major points of all those sites I linked into a few minutes of background information on the conversations about online publishing in our field.

Then, I'll segue into the scattershot ideas by making a few remarks about the work that Collin Brooke is doing and summarize some of John Holbo's many contributions to the thought about the future of scholarly publishing. Obviously there's no way I'll have time to do their work justice, so I'll need to decide what's most important in conjunction with what I'm talking about and then create a bibliography with all the articles I'm linking to here.

Then I want to focus on some particular cases.

  1. Into the Blogosphere: Rhetoric, Community, and Culture of Weblogs. This is an edited collection of essays that we published using weblog software.
  2. Computers and Writing Online 2005. For this online conference, we made the review process public (a "public feedback process") and have kept the content up at Kairosnews, with a Creative Commons license, so that others can copy and distribute the presentations -- e.g., for a course pack.
  3. Rhetoric and Composition: A Guide for the College Writer. Matt Barton of St. Cloud State University, along with students in his rhetoric courses, has done a lot of work building a free rhetoric and composition textbook using a wiki.
  4. Carnivals. Collections of posts on a given topic, like informal journals representing the scholarship that's being published on academic weblogs.
  5. Massive Multi-Thinker Online Reviews. Holbo's play on MMORPG, these are seminar-style events in which a group of bloggers reads the same book or article at the same time and blogs about it.
  6. CC-licensed online readers for courses. This is something I've been trying to plug for a long time, but it hasn't caught on just yet. There's all this Creative Commons licensed content online, and it would be so easy to reproduce essays on a given topic, group them into themes, write an introduction à la an edited collection, and assign it in a class. I'm working on one, which I'll unveil as soon as it's finished, but I'm too busy with my dissertation right now, so it has gone unattended lately.

I want to close with a return to the larger social context, meaning, and goal of scholarly publishing -- to disseminate new knowledge -- and point out the benefits of open-access online publishing to anyone (academics or nonacademics) who doesn't have access to a large research library. I might draw upon some of the arguments presented at a recent conference at the University of Minnesota, Publication, the Public University, and the Public Interest.

Sigh. There's a lot more to say on top of that. I haven't even touched the problems related to archiving and indexing all this content, and I haven't said as much as I'd like about intellectual property and alternative copyright models. Maybe during the Q & A.

Carnivals and Academy 2.0

I'm liking this Academy 2.0 idea a lot. I agree with Collin and Alex that more mashed-up, collaborative, networked, open source-style public peer production is going on every day. Collin already mentioned the Teaching Carnivals, but I want to go a little further with the whole idea of carnivals. A carnival, in case you hadn't heard this term before, is a collaborative effort to harness good, recent posts on a specific topic. For science, there's Tangled Bank, then there's the History Carnival, the Asian History Carnival, Carnivalesque for early modern history, the Philosopher's Carnival, the Skeptics' Circle, and the Carnival of Bad History. Each carnival consists of a list of links to posts that meet the criteria for the carnival. Usually the person who hosts the carnival provides a one-sentence description of the post.

What are these, if not distributed scholarly journals? It's true that they don't have length requirements and that they're not refereed...well, they're not refereed in the traditional sense of gatekeeping. The posts are still reviewed and commented upon, but in the comments sections of the blogs or on other blogs. Point is, carnivals are clearly intended to be scholarship, however informal, and their resemblance to scholarly journals should be noted. For example, here's one I'm excited about that's taking the resemblance to a new level: the newest Feminist Carnival, which is doing a special issue on 1970s feminist thought. From Sour Duck's Call for Submissions (sound familiar?):

Yes, there's a theme: 1970s feminist thought. However, this won't be a nostalgic look at "second-wave feminism". Oh no. I'm looking for pieces that engage with the themes and ideas of 1970s feminism, while applying them to current events, or looking to the future.

You might say it's a "1970s into 2000" Feminist Carnival issue.

Examples of topics to consider:

  • women and men in the workplace (e.g., creating an even playing field, and equal pay for equal work)

  • reproductive freedom (with the advent of "the pill") & sexual liberation ("sex is fun!")

  • healthcare reform (1970s feminists took on the medical establishment and effected significant change. What else needs to be changed? Can 1970s tactics prove effective again?)

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By the way, don't forget the next Teaching Carnival at Scrivenings. The 1970s into 2000 Feminist Carnival issue will appear on November 16, which is right around the time Scrivener will be posting the new Teaching Carnival.

Wiki bits

They now have Blogger/Blogspot for wikis: Jotspot is a free, easy to set up wiki service. You can make your wiki password-protected if you're working on a super-secret document or if you want to use it in a class and have privacy concerns for your students. So far I've found it to be the easiest wiki setup I've had -- a while back James was good enough to set up a wiki for me to experiment with, but I never really got the hang of TikiWiki (but I didn't spend enough time engaging with it either). Then I tried to install phpWiki on my domain using Fantastico, but I never could login to the Admin panel.

Also in wiki-related news -- you know how you can personalize Google now? Well I chose to add the "'How to' of the day" feed, which is part of a wiki. One of today's featured articles is How to sweep a girl off her feet. Here's a bit that jumped out at me:

Here's an example of what you can say: "Hey, look, I've gotta go, but you seem like a really amazing person, and I'd like to get to know you better. Here's my number; call me and I'd love to take you out for a cup of coffee and talk. But if you're not interested, that's cool, too. I just didn't want to let this opportunity pass."

I had an experience like that once. In my sophomore year of college, I dated a guy I met at a Mighty Mighty Bosstones concert at 328. We had been looking at each other, and then when the concert was over, I had to leave with my friends. He caught up with me, tapped me on the shoulder, and without saying one word, put a little piece of paper in my hand. My friends were running off and leaving me, so I had to go, but when we got to the car I unfolded the paper to find his name and phone number. Much smoother than wikiHow's suggestion, if you ask me.

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