Rhetoric

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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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Notes for a Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda Article

For some time now, I had been planning on submitting a proposal for a special issue of Technical Communication Quarterly on distributed work. However, due to the fact that I'm neck-deep in dissertation work, I have to prepare for CCCC and other talks/engagements, and the fact that I couldn't decide on a topic in time, I'm just not going to be able to do it. It's probably for the best. It would have been impractical to write a draft of a manuscript in April, May, and June that has nothing to do with my dissertation topic AND finish what are currently mighty ugly and sorta stinky drafts of chapters 3 and 5. I'm hearing Dana Carvey as George H.W. Bush in my mind: "Not gonna do it! Not...gonna...doit."

I had a lot of ideas, as I said, and if I could have just decided on one, I could have developed it into something, but again, it's best to focus on my dissertation and publications that could come out of it (one would hope). This is the idea I ended up deciding on that never fully baked, or even half-baked, but maybe someday I can come back to it. I was going to address this question from the CFP:

How do we teach technical communicators who expect to go into the support economy? What are our political-ethical responsibilities and our logistical challenges? What changes do we need to make to pedagogical theory?

I had the idea that the standard technical communication course, with its focus on genre, could be revised to reflect the collaborative, peer-productive practices that Web 2.0 technologies embody. This course would emphasize a dynamic relationship between author and audience, like The Cluetrain Manifesto advocates, as well as networked communication rather than discrete pieces of writing like the memo and feasibility report. Here are the notes I put together for the proposal; in reading this, you'll see how I write to myself when I'm planning a project:

The standard technical communication survey class generally consists of students from a variety of majors, most of whom intend to pursue careers in industry. Because the course serves students in diverse fields of study, the assignments often reflect a focus on genre, with content as interchangeable: resume, cover letter, memo, proposal, progress report, feasibility report.

But is the standard TC course, in fact, designed this way? If so, why? Are there TC scholars and pedagogical theorists who have explicitly recommended that it should be taught this way? I have a suspicion that part of the rationale behind the design of the courses has to do with administrative expediency. What I mean is, the course has to serve lots of students from different majors and has an instrumental purpose for many of them, so students should be able to customize it for their needs; student satisfaction is higher if they can integrate TC with their other courses/internships, etc. Not that scholarship/pedagogy and administration are mutually exclusive here – the principles of flexibility and customization are sound pedagogical principles for student-centered course design – but as with any course, there are administrative factors to consider such as the course’s objectives, place in the curriculum, and enrollment trends.

The subject matter that students write about could still be malleable in a TC course that builds in distributed work patterns facilitated by Web 2.0 technologies, but how would such a TC course be designed? Maybe the focus would just be more attentive to processes, organization, information/knowledge management, and collaborative strategies than to genre. But to be sure, genre isn't going away, and it needs to be taught too.

Right now I'm worried about a few things:

1. Making a case that most TC courses are designed this way (A very smart person suggested looking at the sample syllabi in TC textbooks, but I'm not sure which textbooks are the most widely used and influential, or how to find out.)

2. Making a case that distributed work/Web 2.0 work processes accurately represent what students will actually be doing when they enter the workplace (with students' diverse fields of study and career choices, I fear this one will be impossible to argue persuasively)

3. (As it follows from #2) Making a case that revising the standard TC survey course to integrate Web 2.0 technologies and distributed work principles would better prepare students to write in the workplace than the generic approach does

4. Theory (what theory to use, how to use it, etc. I have a feeling that there might be a theory that would help me sidestep the empirical question implied in #2, but don't know what it is)

I'm not sure how to approach this paper without confronting those BIG claims/problems in 1, 2, and 3. It would be more manageable if I could refine the claims somehow.

...and there was the impasse. Maybe these notes will help someone with a project, at least.

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On Foot Composition

Want to know what my voice sounds like? Download this mp3 and find out. It's my response to Jenny's call:

A call to y’all: your voice (and feet). My podcast piece for 4Cs–titled “On Foot Composition”–will involve a reflection on mobile writings. My hope is to assemble many voices talking about writing through and with mobility. The assemblage on assemblage, in other words.

All you have to do is record a 30-second (or shorter) description of the last time you “wrote” on foot. By this I mean the last time you puzzled something out, or figured yourself into a problem, or composed an email you would love to send, etc. Were you walking, sitting on the bus, shopping? No meta reflection necessary. Just a description. You can record this in Garage Band or any other format you’d like. Then send it my way to: edbauer [at] psu [dot] edu. No background music or anything fancy.

I put background music in my recording just for fun, but I can always re-record it if the music is disruptive in some way.

Oh yeah, and here's how I look as a Simpson (via Brendan):

Edited: This one is probably more accurate:

I'm so behind

I'm just now reading and linking to the February edition of the Radical Women of Color Carnival and the February Big Fat Carnival. It's the first-ever instantiation of both, and I hope to see many more. This is important work.

WATW by the Numbers

As most of you know, I'm writing a dissertation about rhetoric, gender, and blogging using where are the women? as a case study. I should say that I'm not looking at every post on the list I compiled, only the spikes of activity: August 2002, September 2002, March through August of 2004, December 2004, and February 2005. So here are the numbers:

Total number of posts: 102
Total number of comments: 2243 (not counting spam or those accidental duplicate comments)
Total number of trackbacks: 171

Total number of posts by men: 33
Total number of posts by women: 69

Total number of comments by men: 885
Total number of comments by women: 1059
Total number of comments by gender-free: 349

Total number of trackbacks by men: 60
Total number of trackbacks by women: 105
Total number of trackbacks by gender-free: 6

Total number of posts by men that allowed comments: 30
Total number of posts by women that allowed comments: 53

Total number of comments under posts by men: 1374
Total number of comments under posts by women: 869

Average number of comments readers left under a post written by a man: 46
Average number of comments readers left under a post written by a woman: 16

Now here's my problem. I think these numbers are kind of interesting -- they help provide a tie-in to findings in previous research in gender and computer-mediated communication, especially that of Susan Herring, that show that men's online postings get more replies than women's, etc. These numbers certainly corroborate that. I'm interested in the implications of the numbers: The fact, for example, that there are more than twice as many posts by women than by men speaks to how important this question is to this particular group of women. These women took the time and expended the effort to write all these posts; despite the fact that some of the posts are flippant and parodic, obviously they care about the issue. And, taking into account the context and patterns of online interaction, the numbers arguably reveal something about how heated these discussions are.

But: In my experience, when I even think about counting something, everyone giving me feedback on the given project gets a little too excited and wants me to go whole-hog to the empirical and quantitative approach. (Why don't you count the number of words per post?! Devise a coding scheme and code everything!) I'm not necessarily talking about my committee, just scholars in general. Although that's very valuable and interesting research, it's not what I'm interested in doing. I'm taking a naturalistic approach, mostly consisting of interpretive close intertextual reading. So far that's okay with my committee -- they seem fine with whatever approach I choose as long as I can define/articulate/defend it -- but I'm thinking about not even putting these numbers in my dissertation anywhere, lest they be held against me. What do the rest of you think? If you can give me some language to use to introduce and explain the numbers and my choice to include them, that would be especially helpful.

Edited to add: By "men" and "women," I mean people presenting online as men and women. For the purposes of my dissertation research, I'm thinking of gender as a rhetorical position (i.e., positioning oneself as...). This is because someone might strategically present hirself as a man or woman because ze knows that the audience will respond to hir in a certain way. In this sense I'm thinking of gender as performative.

Noted and Recommended

  • A follow-up to my post about the MLA forum on political literacy: Patricia Roberts-Miller has posted the paper she presented at that session. My summary didn't do her presentation justice, especially the "political Calvinism" idea she set forth. Highly recommended read.
  • Also, if you haven't seen it yet, I'd recommend taking a look at Donald Lazere's (another presenter in that forum) textbook Reading and Writing for Civic Literacy. You can download and read chapter 1 (PDF) for free.
  • Finally, via Michael Bowen with a tip from Yvette Perry, a paper (PDF) on race and blogging titled "Black Bloggers and the Blogosphere" by Antoinette Pole of Brown University. I recommend both the paper and Bowen's post about it.

Friedan, Blogging, and Aleatory Research

The Feminine Mystique is one of those (many) books I've never read but intend to someday. After Friedan's passing, I read Rad Geek's tribute and noticed that he had links to Chapter 1 and Chapter 2, so I promptly read them and was, well, impressed is an understatement. It's remarkable how relevant Friedan's work still is. For example, you might remember chapter 4 of my dissertation, in which I discuss themes that are commonly brought up in the where are the women (political bloggers threads. One recurring theme is the claim that "women aren't interested in politics." If you'll allow me a bit of aleatory research, check out what Friedan has to say about this argument in chapter 2 of The Feminine Mystique, my emphasis:

I sat one night at a meeting of magazine writers, mostly men, who work for all kinds of magazines, including women's magazines. The main speaker was a leader of the desegregation battle. Before he spoke, another man outlined the needs of the large women's magazine he edited:

Our readers are housewives, full time. They're not interested in the broad public issues of the day. They are not interested in national or international affairs. They are only interested in the family and the home. They aren't interested in politics, unless it's related to an immediate need in the home, like the price of coffee. Humor? Has to be gentle, they don't get satire. Travel? We have almost completely dropped it. Education? That's a problem. Their own education level is going up. They've generally all had a high school education and many, college. They're tremendously interested in education for their children--fourth-grade arithmetic. You just can't write about ideas or broad issues of the day for women. That's why we're publishing 90 per cent service vice now and 10 per cent general interest.

[. . .]

By the time I started writing for women's magazines, in the fifties, it was simply taken for granted by editors, and accepted as an immutable fact of life by writers, that women were not interested in politics, life outside the United States, national issues, art, science, ideas, adventure, education, or even their own communities, except where they could be sold through their emotions as wives and mothers.

Politics, for women, became Mamie's clothes and the Nixons' home life. Out of conscience, a sense of duty, the Ladies' Home Journal might run a series like "Political Pilgrim's Progress," showing women trying to improve their children's schools and playgrounds. But even approaching politics through mother love did not really interest women, it was thought in the trade. Everyone knew those readership percentages. An editor of Redbook ingeniously tried to bring the bomb down to the feminine level by showing the emotions of a wife whose husband sailed into a contaminated area.

"Women can't take an idea, an issue, pure," men who edited the mass women's magazines agreed. "It had to be translated in terms they can understand as women." This was so well understood by those who wrote for women's magazines that a natural childbirth expert submitted an article to a leading woman's magazine called "How to Have a Baby in a Atom Bomb Shelter." "The article was not well written," an editor told me, "or we might have bought it." According to the mystique, women, in their mysterious femininity, might be interested in the concrete biological details of having a baby in a bomb shelter, but never in the abstract idea of the bomb's power to destroy the human race.

Such a belief, of course, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In 1960, a perceptive social psychologist showed me some sad statistics which seemed to prove unmistakably that American women under thirty-five are not interested in politics. "They may have the vote, but they don't dream about running for office," he told me. "If you write a political piece, they won't read it. You have to translate it into issues they can understand--romance, pregnancy, nursing, home furnishings, clothes. Run an article on the economy, or the race question, civil rights, and you'd think that women had never heard of them."

This quotation'll be going into the revision of chapter 4 somewhere, that's for sure, if only as a footnote. For now, back to chapter 5.

Go and Read

I figured it was time for a link roundup. Forgive the "Norm MacDonald imitating Larry King's bits" quality of the post:

Margo, Darling on hair. Margo just got her hair cut really short, and she reflects on it eloquently. It reminds me of college, when my hair was Mia Farrow short.

Not really an article to read, but check out the cover of In These Times. I'm going to have to go to Whole Foods to see if they have a copy. If not, the local co-op, where I should be shopping instead anyway.

Some evangelical Christians are also environmentalists. Find out about coalition-building ideas for the two groups. I say "two groups," but I know that the label "environmentalist" encompasses lots of different kinds of people.

Also at Campus Progress, a former pageant winner does a feminist analysis of pageantry.

The Little Professor has a smart take on plagiarism; see also the comments on the cross-post at The Valve.

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