Revolution Lullabye

February 19, 2009

Scott, “The Practice of Usability”

Scott, J. Blake. “The Practice of Usability: Teaching User Engagement through Service-Learning.” Technical Communication Quarterly 17.4 381-412.

Teaching about user-centered design and usability is different from practicing it. This article, categorized as teacher research by the author, centers on the author’s introductory technical writing students, who are asked to enact user-centered design principles in their service learning projects at an Orlando-area HIV planning council (which distributes services to HIV patients in the area.) The students demonstrate knowledge of user-centered design principles, which (like participatory design) integrate the user in the process of design, treating the user(s) not as clients but rather as collaborators. This kind of design process is complex, messy, and complicated, and the author finds that even though students intellectually understand the merits and values of the process, they do not succeed in enacting it. Scott concludes that more time is needed in the classroom – and in the scholarship of the field – dedicated to discussing and talking about the practices of user-centered design. These practical issues, which he describes as metis (flexible intelligence) are breezed over, but they (how to gain access to users, how to communicate with them, how to set deadlines, how to research the institution and the potential users) are the key to implementing a user-centered design and having a successful service-learning experience for both the students and the community organization.

Quotable Quotes

The study shows how his students “gradually came to understand usability as a situated, dynamic, messy, and difficult process and set of practices involving various user-engagement challenges and requiring the flexible adaptation of usability methods” (384).

Our scholarship on user-centered design or service learning “often stop short of foregrounding or even addressing practice-level issues” (406). We need to make “such practices visible” (406)

“By foregrounding the context-specific, complex, difficult, and dynamic practice of usability for students, we can help them develop a flexible intelligence that can serve them as technical communicators and rhetors more generally” (406).

Notable Notes

Cited works: Spinuzzi, Robert Johnson (user-centered design), Huckin (service-learning and technical writing), Linda Flower, JT Grabill

connection between participatory design and user-centered design

data included student assignments, interviews with the students, and pre-and post-course questionnaires, coding responses

25 students from two sections of introductory technical writing in Spring 2005 (research done the following semester)

best to introduce concept of usability in advanced technical writing class or as part of a two-semester sequence because of how much time a complicated service project takes incorportating user-centered design.

ease-based v. user-based design (401)

focusing on practice-level issues is like the classical pedagogical technique of imitation (mimesis) – not straight imitation but rather “a creative process of rearranging and reconstructing rhetorical elements in light of kairos” (404)


Barthes, The Death of the Author

Barthes, Roland. “The Death of the Author.” In Authorship: From Plato to the Postmodern. Ed. Sean Burke. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP Ltd., 2000. 125-130.

Barthes argues that it is not the author who speaks in a text, but rather, language itself. The concept of a single (male) author is one rooted in Enlightenment individualism, an idea so powerful that it reduced the text to an explanation and an understanding of the author. Instead, Barthes claims, an author and a text are born simultaneously (126); the former does not give birth to the latter, for the act of writing is not an act of reporting ideas but, rather, a performative act. Writing and texts do not have single, solitary lines of understanding: they are multivoiced and understanding them can only be a process of disentangling the lines, not completely deciphering them or figuring them out (129). The work of assigning meaning to a text, of compiling the voices into some sort of understandable whole, does not belong to the author/writer. It is the duty of the reader. Barthes calls for “the birth of the reader” at the expense of the Author. (130).

Quotable Quotes

“The birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author” (130).

“A text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination” (129) author-reader

“Everything is to be disentangled, nothing deciphered” (129)

“Life never does more than imitate the book, and the book itself is only a tissue of signs, an imitation that is lost, infinitely deferred” (128).

A text is a “multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash” (128)

“Writing is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin…Writing is that neutral, composite, oblique space where our subject slips away, the negative where all identity is lost, starting with the very identity of the body writing” (125).

“The voice loses its origin, the author enters his own death, writing begins” (125).

Notable Notes

not assigning an ultimate final meaning to a text is to refuse God (and reason, science, and law) – very postmodern (129)

assigning an author limits a text, closes it, allows it to be criticized as an object

Lu, An Essay on the Work of Composition

Lu, Min-Zhan. “An Essay on the Work of Composition: Composing English agains the Order of Fast Capitalism.” CCC 56:1 (Sept. 2004) 16-50.

Composition scholars and teachers need to think beyond a static, global, monolith and capitalistic English and question how multiple “englishes” are being used by the students in their classroom. The English that we use is not static; rather, it is a dynamic, enlivened language that is constantly being negotiated, composed, and designed by its users. Lu brings in the New London Group concept of design, thinking of composition more broadly as design-oriented, showing how through extended examples (like the “Collecting Money Toilet” sign in China) how we might begin to see the use of alternate englishes not as mistakes, but as specific choices by an individual drawing on their discursive resources (their own language expertise, inheritance, and affiliation and their own vision of themselves and their relation to the community and power.) Lu challenges composition scholars to be responsible global citizens, keeping in mind that they have the unique opportunity to teach almost every member of the university community (required first-year course) and that the research, pedagogy, and methods of American composition are used as the benchmarks for the rest of the English-speaking and English-learning world.

Quotable Quotes

All users of English are “actively structuring the english they are acquiring, its relation to other englishes, and the relations of peoples invested in the competing englishes” (26).

“In every instance of discursive practice, all users of English are working with and on very specific, often complex and sometimes dissonant, discursive resources and for potentially complex and conflicting purposes” (26).

Call for “approaching writing as a matter of designing mediated by individual writers’ actual discursive resources” (36).

“English is best defined as an unstable process kept alive by the intense intra-and international struggle between and across English and diverse languages (peripheralized by the power of English under fast capitalism), and between and across diverse standardized englishes and their Othered, peripheralized englishes (variously labeled Dialectal, Creole, Pidgin, Indigneized, etc.)” (24)

Notable Notes

treat discursive acts as matters of design (26)

pull between assimilation of a language and exclusion

English has material consequences, must stop treating it as a commodity that can be attained, learned, exchanged – it’s dynamic

Chinglish, jiaos

even seemingly homogenous students have different discursive resources and dissonance in those resources

Mortensen and Kirsch, On Authority in the Study of Writing

Mortensen, Peter and Gisa E. Kirsch. “On Authority in the Study of Writing.” CCC 44.4 (Dec 1993) 556-572.

Reimagining authority as informed by an “ethic of care” creates a new, more dialogic form of authority than the authoritarian, autonomous model of authority that divorces authority from a contextual, material reality. Mortensen and Kirsch use a feminist framework to conceive of their alternate authority, showing how authority established through dialogue, connectedness, and collaboration in context can transform how we teach students about the kinds of authority they might construct in their writing and the kinds of authority they might encounter and enact. Mortensen and Kirsch do not reject a notion of authority, pointing out that sometimes, it serves both the teacher and the student for the teacher to take a more authoritative stance in the classroom, arguing that exercising authority (when that authority is informed by an ethics of care – a responsibility to your obligations as a teacher) is not coercion. Ultimately, Mortensen and Kirsch hope to open up ways to compose academic arguements without resorting to traditional automonous, partriarchal authority, allowing for academic discourse that is more collaborative, dialogic, and exploratory.

Quotable Quotes

“Unlike authority, care can never be fully autonomous…care inheres in relations between people and, therefore, assumes community as its first domain” (565).

We need to “shape what authority does rather than simply attempting to alter what it is.” (566).

Notable Notes

breaks down two views of authority: that you gain it through assimiliation to the standards and conventions of a discourse community; that it is inherently bad, uncritical, and repressive

authority as gendered

there is no independent, autonomous authority. It is always in context.

autonomous authority even surfaces in process pedagogy – the writer’s voice is introspective and autonomous. Even with the social turn – authority was foundational, part of the community, something to assimilate to, not constantly negotiated and emerging.

Giroux Schooling

Berkenkotter, Student Writers and Their Sense of Authority over Texts

Berkenkotter, Carol. “Student Writers and Their Sense of Authority over Texts.” CCC 35.3 (October 1984) 312-319.

The field promotes peer-response, whether through writers groups or class workshops, as an important element in the writing process, yet it is unclear how helpful peer critique is to students who are, sometimes for the first time, emerging as writers with a sense of authority over their texts. Berkenkotter shows the range of responses students might have to peer response through three case studies, each of a student who has recorded his or her composing and revision process in a series of think-aloud protocols and whose peer workshop groups and teacher conferences were tape recorded as well. One student resisted all peer critique; another student listened to peer critique but did not completely cede his own vision and authority of his writing; the third student ceded too much of her own authority, changing her essay in ways that her peers suggested but that she did not completely agree with. Teachers need to keep these varying reactions to peer response in mind when constructing their pedagogy.

Notable Notes

some students feel responsibility to writers; others do not know how to compromise their needs and the readers’ needs.

tenuous situation with a student who is just emerging as a writer

Horner, Terms of Work for Composition

Horner, Bruce. Terms of Work for Composition: A Materialist Critique. Albany: SUNY Press, 2000.

Horner uses a materialist lens to examine many of the debates in the field of composition and rhetoric, ranging from the purpose of service-learning courses to whether or not the field should professionalize to how we regard students and their writing, focusing his critique on six “key terms”: work, students, politics, academic, traditional, and writing. The volume is very circular (Horner announces in introduction that the reader can read through the chapters in any order they see fit), but each chapter (organized around one of the key terms) takes up the debates and Horner’s perspective in a slightly different way. Horner’s two main arguments throughout the text are calls to the field at large. First, he argues that the work done in composition is commodified (seen as a product that can be acquired and exchanged), and this commodification, which occurs at all levels, from the classroom to the university to the outside world, allows us to think of our work and the issues we deal with as abstractions rather than connected to material conditions. Second, that abstract view allows us to cede control of our work to faceless systems and institutions, like their effects are inevitable, rather than regarding and critiquing our decisions as conscious choices. Horner challenges the field to ground our scholarship, pedagogy, and service in the material, social, and historical conditions of the local places we work in.

Quotable Quotes

Intellectual work: “This subordiniation and subsumption of the work of teaching to the production of written texts constitute the playing out at the site of Composition the contradictions in more general conceptions of work. These contradictions are manifested in the distinction between intellectual and non-intellectual labor and in the commodification of intellectual labor” (2).

He argues for “representing students above all else workers, working on themselves, Composition, the academy, and the social generally” (35).

“Our distrust of work identified with these terms [academic and traditional], like our trust in work that appears ‘progressive,’ may ay more about the dematerialized ways in which we conceive of them than about the actual work accomplished under such rubrics” (103).

Notable Notes

see tradition not as a fixed body of knowledge but something dynamic, always negotiated, a foundation that is ever-changing and re-understanding knowledge

professionalization of composition can lead to an abandonment of the consideration of the material conditions of our work

there is a problem with the delegitimization of academic writing in the pursuit of all things “real world.” Is academia not in the real world? What does that say about our work?  There is materiality in all writing. Students’ academic writing is not inauthentic.

we always look at what students lack, look to their work to gives us clues to their being. Instead of seeing students as the result of pressures and factors being worked on, see them as workers.

our work as compositionists is tied up in our students’ work

extracurriculum – students outside the classroom work is “wholly unrecognized” and not considered intellectual work (117)

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