A Brief Note on Steven Lynn’s Rhetoric and Composition: An Introduction

When I asked Dr. Courtney L. Werner, a friend and colleague at Kent State University where we earned our PhDs (find her blog here and connect with her on Twitter here), what I should read that captures the theoretical breadth and historical depth of her discipline of study–Rhetoric and Composition–I dutifully wrote down what she told me: Steven Lynn‘s impressive Rhetoric and Composition: An Introduction. I think that it has been about three or four years since I jotted down her suggestion, but I’m happy to report that I finally got around to reading it over the past few days and I’m certainly the better for it.

For those of you who might be like me–not really knowing anything about Rhetoric and Composition when going into graduate school, but wanting to learn more about this important discipline after learning of its existence–I recommend Lynn’s book as a thorough starting point.

Lynn begins his book with a chapter on the relationship and interconnectedness of Rhetoric and Composition. He guides his reader through seeing them separately and together while peppering his discussion with an exhaustive and concise (what a balancing act throughout the book) theoretical-historical context.

In the chapters that follow, he designs them around the five canons of rhetoric as an art: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. Each chapter combines discussion of the historically relevant development of the canon, its major contributors, its past and present scholarship, and applications for the classroom. The final chapter on delivery has a lot of helpful material for first time composition instructors, too.

During my time at Kent State, I am glad that I taught in the writing program and I am glad to have had the opportunity to learn from and share ideas with graduate students and faculty in the Rhetoric and Composition Program, including Brian Huot, Pamela Takayoshi, and Derek Van Ittersum. In retrospect, however, I wish that I had made it a point to join a Rhetoric and Composition seminar (for credit or to audit), because I see now how it would have enriched my scholarship and pedagogy in pivotal ways. If you are like me in this regard or still on your path to a terminal degree, I recommend Lynn’s book for learning Rhetoric and Composition’s ideas, debates, and scale as a student, incorporating its ideas into your daily practices as a teacher, and opening up new possibilities in your thinking as a scholar.

Lynn, Steven. Rhetoric and Composition: An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010. Print.

Recovered Writing, PhD in English, Teaching College Writing, Assignment Design: Team-Based Competitive Blogging with Portfolio Integration, July 1, 2008

This is the fifty-second post in a series that I call, “Recovered Writing.” I am going through my personal archive of undergraduate and graduate school writing, recovering those essays I consider interesting but that I am unlikely to revise for traditional publication, and posting those essays as-is on my blog in the hope of engaging others with these ideas that played a formative role in my development as a scholar and teacher. Because this and the other essays in the Recovered Writing series are posted as-is and edited only for web-readability, I hope that readers will accept them for what they are–undergraduate and graduate school essays conveying varying degrees of argumentation, rigor, idea development, and research. Furthermore, I dislike the idea of these essays languishing in a digital tomb, so I offer them here to excite your curiosity and encourage your conversation.

Before I could accept my teaching fellowship at Kent State University, I needed to take the graduate seminar, “Teaching College English.” I was fortunate to have the opportunity to take this class from Professor Brian Huot. At the time, I thought my primary concern was putting together my first syllabus, but through the seminar, I learned the importance of meeting student needs, considering outcomes, meeting students on the page, helping students improve their command of rhetoric and multimodality with a portfolio, and considering student work holistically (something that I continue to do with the Georgia Tech WCP’s WOVEN modalities and programmatic rubric).

In this first of four Recovered Writing posts from this seminar, I am sharing a project with support for portfolios. Since I wrote this project, technology and teaching have come a long way, but the ideas in this assignment can be repurposed in many different ways.

Also, I enjoyed looking at the attached screenshots of WordPress circa 2008. I miss the earlier design for WordPress.

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Brian Huot

Teaching College English

1 July 2008

Competitive Team Blogging with Portfolio Integration

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BoingBoing crew photo by Bart Nagel, http://boingboing.net/2006/07/30/astronauts-reveal-bo.html

Introduction and Pedagogical Concerns

The five, seemingly innocuous persons in the photograph on the title page are the eccentric collaborative technoculture team of the insanely popular BoingBoing.net blog–“A Directory of Wonderful Things.”[1] They are Mark Frauenfelder, David Pescovitz, John Battelle, Cory Doctorow, and Xeni Jardin. BoingBoing.net began as a ‘zine in the 1990s by Frauenfelder, and later oozed online and evolved into the A-list blog that it is today. Through its various mediums–print, website, and blog–it has been a collaborative effort encompassing the various talents of different persons with complementary skills, abilities, and loves. Additionally, the collaboration of the “Boingers” is not only very synthetic, but also technically required in order to generate the copious content posted to their blog every day. Without this on-going large textual corpus, the popularity and repeat viewership of BoingBoing.net would not have been possible or sustainable.

I believe that BoingBoing’s collaborative blogging model has something to offer our students in an ever-increasingly technologically mediated world. Also, the writing aspect of blogging, which has been talked about in the literature by numerous persons, is a useful tool in the freshman composition and college writing classroom. Another important aspect of the blog is the archival aspect of blogging that lends itself as complementary to a portfolio centric writing classroom. However, team blogging necessitates some aspect to engender caring on the part of students in order to distinguish it as something more than merely writing online. This is achieved by forming groups to create a themed blog based on their major or interests, and requiring each team to report to the class as a whole on the “success” of the blog in terms of viewership and comments. This friendly competitive atmosphere will motivate students to work above-and-beyond in order to have better statistics than their rival groups. Therefore, team based blogging should be considered as another viable multimodal model for college writing courses, because it fulfills a number of important developmental tasks promoted by the Kent State Writing Program.

Competitive team blogging with portfolio integration for the College Writing I classroom is a pedagogical tool aimed at achieving several important goals: providing students a space and theme they are interested in, increasing student investment in a work that they “own” outside the context of the classroom, and improving teacher response by emphasizing explanation over marginal remarks, and embracing multimodal compositional practices by shifting student portfolios from physical media to the Internet.

The theory behind competitive team blogging is that students will care more about the creation, maintenance, and contribution to a collaborative work focused around something that interests them than artificial, individual assignments to be handed into the teacher. Their care for their blog and their writing posted to it will come with an audience larger than the class, department, and school. Reminding students of this broader audience, combined with their real-world data showing the origin of the viewers, should motivate them to work harder on this than assignments for a teacher-only audience.   Additionally, team blogs allow for all written work done by the student to be contained in an archive that’s always present, which encourages students to look back at past work, and more easily prepare revisions based on their own considerations and those provided by their team and the class as a whole.

This document on the implementation of competitive team blogging with portfolio integration contains a step-by-step methodology, a worksheet of topics to cover regarding collaborative blogging, a student handout on blogging and team blogging, and illustrated instructions on creating a collaborative blog with WordPress.com.[2] Additionally, this teaching tool is intended as a guide for teachers, and is aimed at that audience. Each teacher who implements team blogging should tailor its employment to his or her class. Obviously, this pedagogical tool would be much more difficult for someone with a 4/4 teaching load as opposed to a 1/2 teaching load. However, I encourage alterations to this project that makes it practical and meaningful for you and your students.

Methodology

  1. Introduce your students to your methodology and the reasons behind it. Be up-front and open with your students regarding competitive team blogging with portfolio integration. For example, tell them that they’ll be doing “team blogging” all semester, and maintain an emphasis on their contributions to their blogs throughout, and stand firm on the place of team blogging in the classroom. I don’t mean that you should not be a reflective practitioner, but the core idea of team blogging should be maintained and other alterations to lessons and assignments should be made if need be. Additionally, some students may or may not blog, and they may not be accustomed to extended teamwork. You’ll have to teach your students how to do these things, as well as teach them about other aspects of online content creation and commenting (these may be extended throughout the course).
  2. Gather student information. It’s expedient for the teacher undertaking the semester-length team blogging exercise to assign members to each of the groups. This is easily accomplished during the first week of class by requiring all students to email the teacher a numerated list of at least three interests or hobbies as well as their major. The teacher should tell the students the purpose of this exercise, and allow friends to request making their own team as long as they provide a convincing explanation for their team’s focus.
  3. Form teams. Following the gathering of student interests, form the class into four or five teams based on similar or complementary interests. Explain to the class that this will form the basis of their collaborative work over the course of the semester. Allow the students time to get to know one another, exchange contact information, and decide on the final theme and title for their team’s blog.
  4. Develop team roles. Have students review and write critiques or reports about popular collaborative blogging sites such as Gawker, Boing Boing, etc. before class. In class, open discussion about the purpose of blogs and the way in which collaborative blogs handle content creation from a number of authors. This means, guide them through understanding the roles of webmasters, editors, and content contributors. Finally, have the teams pick their first round of roles, which will alternate periodically throughout the semester in order to allow each member a chance to wear a different hat and experience different responsibilities.
  5. Create blogs. Devote a class in the computer classroom to guide the students through creating a collaborative blog with a free service such as wordpress.com (see Appendix 1 for instructions).
  6. Integrating blogs into the writing classroom. Non-graded individual assignments should be tailored as posts for the student’s team blog. If your class isn’t always in a computer classroom, require students to type up and post their handwritten class work before your next meeting.
  7. Building team competition. After four weeks of blogging, prepare your students for weekly group presentations. These presentations should be about five minutes in length for each team, so that no more than half a class is devoted to them. These presentations should include the following information: the editor’s choice of best post, the group’s choice of best post, site traffic numbers, and other interesting information such as incoming links and search terms visitors to their blog used to find their posts. Other ways of increasing competition is to offer prizes at the end of the semester for the best blog, and this can be decided by the teacher or by the class through the use of ranked voting (i.e., the class rates each team as either 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc, and the team with the least amount of votes–meaning higher ranking–wins). Cheap prizes such as KSU keychains or t-shirts may be given to the winning team, or the teacher may solicit local businesses for donated giftcards.
  8. Team blog as portfolio. The fearless teacher combines portfolios with team blogs. This would entail having students post all of their assignments, including the required graded papers, to their team’s blog. The teacher may use the comments on those posts to leave feedback, encouragement, and critique on each student’s graded post. Additionally, students will have the opportunity to revise their papers in a new posting, which they must link back to their original post. At the end of the semester, each student must write a post that includes links to their last revisions, which in turn will link back to their earlier drafts. This nesting should facilitate easy evaluation of the portfolio assignments.
  9. Reflective Assignment. For your students’ reflective assignment, they should reflect on the blogging process as well as the writing process that you model for them throughout the semester. They will realize that they will have produced an extraordinary amount of material individually and even more so cooperatively through semester-long blogging, which will add to their developing sense as a writer.

Topics of Discussion Regarding Collaborative Blogging

  • How is online content created? It isn’t “automagically” generated by machines. Real people, with real investments in what is being communicated, are behind the text that you read on your favorite blogs.
  • Online etiquette and protocol. Encourage openness and cooperation and warn against flaming. Even though our blog writing exists out in the Internet cloud, a human being created it, and we must respect the person behind that content. It’s okay to disagree and constructively argue with a writer about his or her content, but it’s not okay to attack the person behind the writing.
  • Team roles. Talk about the differences between the roles of editor and contributors. Encourage group cohesion and support. The editor’s role is not to discourage team members, but instead to encourage them. Additionally, all team members should comment on and provide support for the other members.
  • Intergroup roles. Members of each group should be required to comment on the postings of the other groups. These comments need not be about the content of the postings, but more importantly the ideas and argument communicated by the post’s writer to an online audience.
  • Citations and plagiarism. As in traditional writing, all works and sources should be cited in blog posts. WordPress has a quoting feature, and BoingBoing.net has a good model to follow regarding proper attribution.

Handout for Students

Team Blogging

So, what’s blogging exactly?

Blogging is the maintenance of an online journal, available for all to read, that reflects on your life or a particular subject. For example, I’m a blogger. I maintain a blog about Science Fiction at dynamicsubspace.net. Each day, I write something relating to SF, teaching, or my personal life. Another example is boingboing.net, which is billed as “A Directory of Wonderful Things.” It’s run by several bloggers who post about interesting, political, and fun things that they find on the Internet.

You’re Blogging Now!

Team blogging is the basis for the most popular blogs on the net. Boing Boing, Slashfilm, Gawker, Valleywag, Slashdot, and many others write enormous amounts of content for their readers, because the task of writing is distributed amongst a number of contributors and administered by an editor. Over the course of the semester, each of you will get to experience the different roles in team blogging by developing your own blog in groups. Your team blogs will have a theme or subject that all members will tailor their writing towards. Also, everyone will post their assignments on the team blogs for your peers and I to read and respond to. I want you to own these blogs, so make as much of them as you can for a particular audience with an interest in your theme. To make things more interesting, everyone will have a chance at the end of the semester to vote on the best blog, and that team will get a prize!

I guarantee you that at the end of the semester you won’t believe how much you’ve each written, and how much you’ve progressed as writers. Furthermore, your blogs will explode with content that will interest many more people than students and myself.

Creating a Collaborative Blog with WordPress.com

  1. Sign Up Now! Direct your web browser to wordpress.com and click on the large icon labeled, Sign Up Now!
    image003
  1. Have one student create the blog’s administrator account using the Gimme a blog! option, and then have each team member go through the signup process with the Just a username, please option.image005
  2. Login to WordPress.com using the blog’s administrator account. The pages that follow are from my blog’s Dashboard—dynamicsubspace.net.image007
  3. Click on My Dashboard (upper left). This is the heart of the blog where all management takes place. Now, click on Users (right) to invite the individual team members to the blog.image009
  4. The Manage Users area allows for adding contributors to the blog. At the bottom of the page, have the teams invite each member by their registered email address. Add everyone as Editor so that they can serve that function when called on, as well as contribute to the blog.image011
  5. Now that the housekeeping stuff has been taken care of, have the students log out of the administrator account, making sure to write down that information in a safe place, and log in with their own accounts. Once logged in, have them click on Write and begin exploring the text editing capabilities of WordPress.image013
  6. The Blog Stats are essential for team reflection on the progress and audience of their blog. Returning to “My Dashboard” and clicking on Manage, and then Blog Stats yields a wealth of information about the blog’s readers. This information should be utilized in the weekly team update reports. The graphic below shows the number of visitors over time.image015
  7. Blog Stats continued. These stat boxes show referrers to the blog and the most visited posts on the blog.image017
  8. Blog Stats continued. These stat boxes show search engine terms that lead visitors to the team’s blog, and clicks made by readers from their blog to external sites.image021
  9. Blog Stats continued. At the bottom of the statistics page are raw numbers of views and posts, and incoming links to their blog from other websites and blogs.
  10. Design considerations and other explorations. Encourage your students to try out different themes (My Dashboard > Design > Themes) and other design considerations that reinforce their rhetorical choices.image023
  11. Have students reflect on their own work as well as the work of others in class and on the Internet at large. Who knows, maybe they’ll develop the next “Boing Boing” success level team blog!image025

 

 

Support Files for My Module of DevLab Social Media Pedagogy and Assignments Workshop

Twitter_logo_blueAs part of DevLab’s 2014 Workshop Series at Georgia Tech, Valerie Johnson and I will be leading a discussion today about the use of social media strategically as a part of our pedagogy and tactically in our assignments. We encourage Britts to share their approaches to social media use during the workshop, raise questions about the use of social media pedagogically, and brainstorm new approaches for social media use in the classroom (repurposing, developing literacy, collaboration, asynchronous discussion, participation options, etc.). I am including my workshop notes and files below.

Notes

  • I use Twitter in the classroom for collecting thoughts before discussion, reflecting on reading before writing formal summaries, encouraging discussion/backchannel between students, and demonstrating ways of turning social media to our own purposes (collecting individual thoughts/dataset, professional discussion, and transforming/translating compositions from one media form to another).
  • Discuss WOVEN (written, oral, visual, electronic, and nonverbal) potential for social media platforms including Twitter.
  • William Gibson, “the street finds its own uses for things,” from “Burning Chrome” in Omni, July 1982.
    • Repurpose social media for our needs, purposes, and use.
    • Use social media to collect data, build a data set, and cite data in future self-focused research projects.
  • Develop digital literacy–understand how the technology works, use the technology in different ways, see models of different uses of the technology, and critique how others use the technology.
  • Audience awareness–public facing, multiple audiences, and unintended audiences.
  • Ephemerality and permanence.
  • Examine how the medium effects/shapes/is the message. Mention Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media and “the medium is the message.”
    • Transform compositions from one medium to another, share these transformations with peers to observe reception, and discuss how the message might change, lead to misunderstandings, or be more effective (e.g., Twitter > Storify > poster > essay).
    • Explore how we can use rhetoric to maximize each medium’s possibilities to persuasively communicate our message to audiences.
  • Bridging discussion across sections of the same course–especially for students on-campus and off-campus (Summer Online Undergraduate Program–see LMC3214 syllabus below).

Files

Thoughts on Microsoft’s Surface Tablet and Their Marketing Rhetoric

The reports that I have read of Microsoft’s Surface tablet product announcement yesterday have been overwhelmingly glowing and starry eyed. An emblematic example is Jesus Diaz’s post on Gizmodo today in which he writes, “Microsoft has guts,” and “Microsoft is the underdog because no matter how many hundreds of millions of people use its software, the cool and the future belong to Apple” (par. 1). Actually, Microsoft dominates the computing market–that’s how they can swing the market toward the Windows 8 interface paradigm despite its shortcomings for power users–and they have gobs of money to throw at any perceived problem–in this case, their diminutive tablet marketshare. Furthermore, Microsoft is certainly no underdog. Their market dominance in desktop and laptop computing combined with their shift toward unifying the user experience across those platforms with their phone OS and tablet OSes. I believe Microsoft is playing into this kind of underdog rhetoric, because the image of the Surface above–taken from Microsoft’s website–has the filename, “hero.jpg.”

I certainly like the idea of a tablet that duplicates the power, file management, and options of a laptop computer, but I cannot get behind this particular product from Microsoft. Here are some reasons why.

1) Why did Microsoft have such a controlled release? The reporters/bloggers invited to the release yesterday afternoon–well after the markets had closed on the east coast–were given a very limited time interaction with the demo models. Also, they were not able to use the purported revolutionary features of the Type Cover and Touch Cover (more here on the limited time and actual experience with Surface)? It all seems like a bunch of promises without anything substantial besides the loud demo to back it up.

2) Why believe Microsoft can produce a good hardware product? Their other flagship product, the Xbox 360, has based on a survey conducted by Game Informer magazine a 54.2% failure rate (with 41.2% of those experiencing one failure experience another). Can Microsoft produce something that works as reliably as Apple’s iPad 1 with a 0.9% malfunction rate and Apple’s iPad 2 with a 0.3% malfunction rate, according to this report on SquareTrade? Also, ArsTechnica reported that Ballmer switched demo Surface units during the introduction because “the first one had trouble.” Oddly, I have not seen other reports from the event report this demo failure.

Image3) Why does Microsoft marketing need to use eye-scratching rhetoric in its Surface spec sheet? Instead of “Weight” or “Mass,” the spec sheet lists “Light.” Instead of “Thickness,” it lists “Thin.” Instead of “Display” or “Screen Type,” it lists “Clear.” Instead of “Battery” or “Power,” it lists “Energized.” This kind of over the top bending of the conversation to their marketing rhetorical spin. This all seems like Microsoft is desperately trying to get the world to see its product in their way instead of letting people look at the measurements and think to themselves, this is thin or this is lightweight.

4) Why make such a terrible commercial for the Surface? It doesn’t tell me anything about what it can do or how I can do things with it. My immediate reaction was that this was some cut footage from a late 1990s Trent Reznor music video about magnets and tiny ball bearings revolting against a computer keyboard. More high concept car commercial than useful product introduction, it is something that is You can watch the video below.

It actually reminds me of Microsoft’s first Xbox commercial, too (Note: Microsoft pushed the word “Surface” relentlessly during the introduction yesterday–here, they push “X”):

5) A more fundamental question: Why Windows 8 and Metro? This is also a question about the convergence of iOS and MacOS X. If I were strapped to an operating system that didn’t let me arrange application windows in a manner that suited ME, I would not have been able to complete my dissertation as quickly as I did. It was imperative that I could create a workflow that was as unobtrusive to my thinking and computing habits as possible. Microsoft’s Metro and Apple’s iOS are well suited for smaller screens, limited computing power, and touch interfaces. However, not all kinds of personal computing tasks and workflows are well suited to the design constraints of touch interfaces–much less small screens and limited computing power. We need an ecosystem of operating systems and corresponding programming APIs for applications that facilitate the needs of different platforms. I do not believe that the trends at Microsoft or Apple are viable long term solutions, unless of course we computer users simply have no choice or voice in the matter.

What do you think about the Microsoft Surface? What are your thoughts about Windows 8 and Metro? Sound off in the comments below.

KSU English Colloquium, Sara Newman’s “Movement, Madness, and Medicine as Portrayed in The Insane Hospital Reports”

After spending the morning watching NHK about the probable meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant and responding to student essays, I drove to school today for the Kent State English department’s scheduled colloquium with Professor Sara Newman. She presented her findings in a presentation titled, “Movement, Madness, and Medicine as Portrayed in The Insane Hospital Reports.”

Not content with the written accounts on patients contained in nameless case studies, Professor Newman performed word analysis on a randomly selected (albeit small) set of case studies from the University of Pittsburgh’s Library of Health Sciences. Specifically, she studied case studies from 1870-1882. In these, she discovered a high incidence of words that appeared in a number of interesting collocations and extreme collocations. However, she was more interested in the possibility of these words and collocations being passed on to the next generation of doctors, and if so, how that transmission took place. Thanks to the Mutter Museum’s archive of student lecture notes and the practices of student training (i.e., repetitious copying and imitation) led to the continuation of certain medical practices without self-awareness on the part of the practitioners. This figures into her larger body of research on medical pedagogy.

As is the case with colloquia, I also enjoyed the Q&A at the end, particularly the questions geared to the relationship between interpretive and rhetorical analysis.