Revolution Lullabye

February 17, 2016

Bacon, Review Essay: Cross-Disciplinary Approaches to Style

Bacon, Nora. “Review Essay: Cross-Disciplinary Approaches to Style.” College Composition and Communication 67.2 (December 2015): 290-303.

In this book review, Bacon reviews two recent popular style manuals: Helen Sword’s Stylish Academic Writing and Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. Bacon points out the strengths and flaws of both books, ultimately arguing that although both Sword and Pinker bring important interdisciplinary perspectives to teaching style, neither of them (but particularly Pinker) draw on or engage thoroughly enough in the research and theories of composition studies. Bacon calls for more public scholarship by compositionists on writing and style, pointing out that in its absence, other scholars and fields have taken our place.

Bacon uses Patrick Hartwell’s taxonomy of grammars from his 1985 article to construct a parallel taxonomy of style: style 1 (individual style), style 2 (house style), style 3 (usage), style 4 (plain style), style 5 (elaborated style.) She uses this taxonomy to analyze the arguments and advice promoted in both Sword’s and Pinker’s books.

Sword’s book is written to academics about academic prose, and one of Sword’s central arguments is that academics don’t need to write in a boring, stiff style. Sword conducted an empirical study of academic writing in 10 disciplines, and she uses her analysis of the data (over 1000 journal articles) to suggest specific strategies academic writers can use to write better, more reader-friendly and engaging prose.

Pinker’s book is written from the perspective of a cognitive scientist and a linguist, and Bacon points out the main flaw that she sees in it: Pinker’s arguments are detached from composition studies and seem to assume that a person who understands grammar will be a better writer. Bacon disagrees and argues that the relationship between knowing linguistics and sentence structure and being able to write with a clear, dynamic style is complicated. Describing language is different than using it.


Quotable Quotes

“Moving too hastily from linguistics to writing, Pinker makes the mistake that generations of back-to-basics school reformers have made, imagining that the way to improve writers’ sentences is to teach them grammar. Composition scholars know that the relationship between an understanding of grammar and an ability to write healthy sentences is not so simple” (300).

“Gaining metalinguistic knowledge is one thing; learning to write well is another. Confusing the two leads to misguided instruction” (301).

“In classrooms and books, we talk about the rules of usage, the virtues of plain style, and the pleasures of the elaborated style in the hope that the discussion will help writers achieve more effective individual styles” (292).

February 9, 2016

Robillard, Prototypical Reading: Volume, Desire, Anxiety

Robillard, Amy E. “Prototypical Reading: Volume, Desire, Anxiety.” College Composition and Communication 67.2 (December 2015): 197-215.

Robillard introduces a new way to conceptualize plagiarism: that writers plagiarize not from a lack of ethics nor a lack of knowledge of citation conventions but rather a lack of reading, that is, a lack of thorough reading in the conversations about the subject matter the writer is writing about. Robillard uses this concept (which forefronts the connection between reading and plagiarism) her own experience, and Philip Eubanks’ work on metaphor and writing to explore the terms and prototypes of writer, to write, reader, to read. Robillard argues that our common conception (our prototype) of reader and to read privileges volume of reading, which causes us as teachers and scholars to think about reading in terms of how much we (or our students) are doing instead of what and how we are reading. Robillard suggests that our reading processes, including how we find and collect our sources with which we write, is social and affective, and she wonders if conversations surrounding ownership of writing and plagiarism can extend to ownership of sources and plagiarism of those sources.

Quotable Quotes

“What I want to consider instead are the effects of telling a different kind of narrative of lack. What happens when we conceptualize my transgression not in terms of a lack of ethics or a lack of knowledge of how to cite, but a lack of thoroughness, a failure to read enough? What happens when we shift our frame for understanding plagiarism as a transgression against writing to a transgression against reading?” (200)

“I believe that conceptualizing my experience this way draws attention not just to a disciplinary ambivalence toward reading but also to a lack of disciplinary attention to the how of finding what we read.” (200)

“I want to call our disciplinary attention to a different tension, one between the prototypes of reader and to read, for the ways it affects our disciplinary conceptualizations of and conversations about reading and the relationship between reading and writing.” (200)

“Can a source be stolen in the same way that an idea or a particular passage can be stolen? Do we, in any sense, own the sources whose ideas we build upon when we theorize reading and writing?” (212)

“Reading brings pleasure; indeed, ask undergraduate English majors why they signed up for the major in the first place, and you’ll probably hear something about their love for reading. But that love usually involves identification and affective attachment that many critics would dismiss as sentimental and immature” (209).

Notable Notes

Historical divide between composition and literature led to composition’s focus on writing (lack of attention on reading and its relationship to writing, conceptualization of reading), Tate-Lindemann debate about the place of literature in composition

Reading as assemblage – how to we find, curate, collect, design our reading? (212-213)

Prototype of reader and to read = a reader reads literary (fiction) texts for pleasure, solitary act, it’s simpler to identify as a reader than to identify as a writer (206-207), we seek help for our writing but we don’t seek help for our writing (208)

Prototype of writer and to write = writer is a writer of literary texts, writing means inscribing words on a piece of paper and can be common, non-literary texts (emails, notes) (203-204)

Visibility and invisibility of reading and writing (200)

Differences between someone who cannot read and those who cannot write – deficiency narratives, the connection between thinking and writing (204)

Philip Eubanks Metaphor and Writing

Students who don’t read = lack a desire, dedication, effort, laziness (208-209)

January 22, 2015

Reid, Teaching Writing Teachers Writing: Difficulty, Exploration, and Critical Reflection

Reid, E. Shelley. “Teaching Writing Teachers Writing: Difficulty, Exploration, and Critical Reflection.” College Composition and Communication 61.2 (December 2009): 197-221. Print.

Reid argues that students studying to be writing teachers need to challenged in their pedagogy class with writing assignments that are difficult, that encourage open-ended exploration about questions or inquiries that have no good answers, and that invite students into critical reflection about their writing. Reid’s argument joins a larger conversation about writing teacher pedagogy and the pedagogy course in particular, which she argues has been under-theorized and under-discussed. Her argument uses her own students’ written reflections, collected from her six semesters teaching composition pedagogy at two different institutions.

Reid’s argument for giving students difficult writing assignments and prompts is grounded in her observations that writing teachers are often naturally good writers who don’t practice the same kinds of writing processes they teach their students. By increasing the difficulty of the writing assignments these future writing teachers write in the pedagogy class, they gain empathy and insight into their future students’ struggles with writing. Reid explains difficult writing assignments aren’t just longer. Instead, difficultly can be created schematically (through requirements of certain length or format, or requiring students to adopt a particular stance in an argument); relationally (by requiring a publication or presentation or peer review step); or exploratory (by asking students to connect personal experiences into their arguments, frequent short assignments, or asking them to tackle an unanswered or unanswerable question.)

Notable Notes

Reid makes the argument that the traditional seminar paper often assigned in graduate courses might not be the best format for teaching our students to explore and inquire in their writing. She suggests making the seminar paper a multi-part process that is constantly revised.

importance of learning how to tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty in writing (210-211)

Mariolini Rizzi Salvatori’s theories of difficulty (her work is on reading difficulty)

Quotable Quotes

“Encountering difficulties as writers, with opportunities to discuss and respond to those difficulties, prepares pedagogy students to be flexible, engaged classroom teachers who can move between theory and practice, between learning and teaching, as they respond to the needs of their own students.”(205)

“Our goal in designing assignments to favor writing difficulty, of course, is not to make the whole course more difficult, but to privilege the kind of difficulties that increase new teachers’ experience of being writing-learners and thus strengthen their engagement with the teaching of writing” (207).

“We should also preserve space in our pedagogy classes for writing that doesn’t foreground difficulty; for writing that emphasizes play, experimentation, or discovery; and for writing, difficult or not, that is not evaluated. Moreover, while we may not be increasing the number of assignments in a course, we are raising the bar in some of them; difficult writing need not replace other kinds of learning, but we should be aware that we may need to cover less ground with our students in order to fully engage them as writing-learners. Furthermore, we need to design our classes to ensure that writing teachers who are experiencing difficulty in learning to write find support and have the opportunity to experience success. “ (207)

“Students who experience writing as difficult, but who can identify that difficulty as an opportunity for greater learning, and who then can come to see writing-learning as something that may be collaborative, productive, and satisfying, can build those same ideas into their writing class designs. That is, they can identify more strongly as writing teachers and connect more directly to the theories and practices of the field. “ (208)

“If we intend for students to become more astute at noticing how their own writing experiences, and particularly their own encounters with difficult and exploratory writing, help prepare them to be better teachers, we need to directly ask them for such reflection; we may also need to model, discuss, and praise reflective responses that draw the complex connections we hope for. “ (213)

“By highlighting the need for inquiry and flexibility, and positioning everyone as a learner—including ourselves as we remake our own pedagogies—we position everyone as a teacher. “ (218)

“Writing assignments that create difficulty, encourage exploration, and provide opportunity for directed practice in critical reflection thus reinforce one another in preparing teachers to participate fully and flexibly in the discipline of writing education. “ (214)

“Finally, if we are brave enough to argue that there are better and worse ways to teach writing, generally, then we need to be equally courageous in exploring and recommending better pedagogies for educating writing teachers. Composition pedagogy may indeed need to be “remade” for every class, but it should not be remade from scratch, without reference to common goals and practices. Even as I have been creeping along hoping to dodge or hedge this conclusion, I’ve found myself wondering: how can we face our pedagogy students’ ques- tions about what they should all do in their disparate classes, if—despite our necessary reverence for local contexts—we don’t face each other about what we should all do in ours? “ (217)

“Students who become English majors are often “naturally” good writers. The composition pedagogy class may thus be students’ first opportunity to experience writing as a difficult task, and then only if assignments are deliberately designed to challenge them as writers: posing for them serious difficulties, both cognitive and affective, in discovering and then communicating what they mean.”(201).

“A crucial step toward understanding one’s writing students— toward being rooted in the field—comes in sharing an equivalent experience of difficulty, rather than only sharing equivalent topics or genres of writing.”(201)

“The pedagogy class provides an important opportunity to be deliberately guided through difficulty in writing by an expert in the field.” (201-202)

“Writers who don’t perceive that they need such help are unlikely to believe that the benefits of the drafting process are worth its messiness and disruption, even if they experiment with it in a class or workshop. Until writers encounter real problems, not just infelicities, they have no true need for either guidance or revision opportunities; they may offer both to their students, but they can maintain their own identity as nonrevisers and thus remain disengaged from what they’re teaching. Moreover, pedagogy students need to be aware of the difficulties they face and the role of guided learning in meeting those challenges in order to fully engage with the field of composition pedagogy and put down roots from which to grow.”(202)

“Experiencing writing difficulty can also give writing teachers opportunities for increased inquiry into the whole concept of how learning and teaching might happen each day in a writing class. That is, as difficulty breaks down the writing process from a “flow” to a series of trials, queries, reader responses, and revisions, participating in the process can prepare students to see teacher intervention as a planned yet flexible set of assistive activities rather than as an intuitive, Hollywood-staged, “O Captain! My Captain!” ethos. “ (203)

October 25, 2013

Artze-Vega et al, Privilgeing Pedagogy

Artze-Vega, Isis, et al. “Privileging Pedagogy: Composition, Rhetoric, and Faculty Development.” College Composition and Communication 65:1 (September 2013): 162-184.

This article, written by seven scholars who work in the “border” between comp/rhet and faculty development, demonstrates the connections between comp/rhet scholarship and faculty development work and argues for more collaboration between these two fields. The authors define faculty development as a “transdisciplinary site,” (166) list the ways comp/rhet theory and work prepares scholars for faculty development work, explain how faculty development research has informed their own teaching and scholarship, and argue for greater emphasis on faculty development theory and training in comp/rhet graduate programs. Their article includes an annotated bibliography for faculty development scholarship.

The essay makes a case for the political importance of comp/rhet scholars taking on faculty development roles: these administrative positions give comp/rhet scholars the opportunity to affect change on the institution and influence higher education in directions that could privilege teaching and learning.

Notable Notes

How comp/rhet scholarship and training prepares people to take on faculty development positions:

  • “established focus on pedagogy and the trend toward preparation for administrative duties” (166)
  • valuing of teaching and learning
  • insights into how students learn that can be applied across contexts and disciplines
  • good writers/rhetoricians, can prepare professional reports, materials, etc
  • understand that all learning, writing is rhetorically situated
  • interest in how people learn
  • WPA work is oriented to teaching/educating, not just managing
  • work often with instructional technology and digital media
  • familiar with networking through WAC, WID, writing centers

How faculty development scholarship can impact writing education

  • research on student motivation
  • research on student development, especially young adult/adult education
  • research on the impact of the holistic student experience on student performance in individual courses

how a faculty developer can be an “intellectual bureaucrat” (Richard E. Miller, 1998) – make change at higher institutional levels (171), opportunity to be a campus leader.

Problems with the faculty developer position – sometimes seen as an inferior scholar, funding issues (necessary to build strong relationships and connections across campus) (176-177)

Possibilities for graduate education: courses dedicated to faculty development, include faculty development as a possible career path and area of scholarly inquiry, internships in CTL (centers for teaching and learning) or other faculty development positions (training TAs, WAC and WID work, etc.)

Quotable Quotes

“Success in faculty development begins with admitting that we have more questions than answers and with accepting the challenge of continually revising our teaching and reassessing our learning” (177).

“These courses [in composition theory and pedagogy], we feel, could benefit from a closer alignment with insights developed in the field of faculty development: principles of learning from a general perspective, explicit discussion of institutional politics beyond the writing program, inclusion of models for leading and adapting to change within institutions, and broad exploration of curriculum design and assessment. Such training will prepare students to be effective participants in a wide range of institutional and department cultures as well as potentially providing them with access to an alternative (and greatly satisfying) career path” (176).

“Both groups [faculty developers and comp/rhet scholars] believe that continued professional learning is a desirable professional norm” (174).

“We [WPAs} know that teaching and learning are not the same thing, and this insight is central to faculty development work” (168).

“In order to be effective, professional development needs to be sustained not only over the course of a year but over the course of a career” (168).


October 22, 2013

Toth, Griffiths, and Thirolf, Professional Identities of Two-Year College English Faculty

Toth, Christina M., Brett M. Griffiths, and Kathryn Thirolf. “‘Distinct and Significant’: Professional Identities of Two-Year College English Faculty.” College Composition and Communication 65.1 (September 2013): 90-116.

This article brings together three separate studies that investigate the professional identities of two-year college English faculty. Together, the studies assert that two-year college English faculty members have a distinct identity and specific professional challenges and opportunities unique to their institutional positions. The authors call for more inclusivity and attention to the needs of two-year college faculty in the discipline’s main professional organizations (CCCC, NCTE, etc.); better graduate student training to prepare two-year college faculty for their particular profession; and more disciplinary action directed at the contingent labor issue, which is one reason why two-year college English faculty feel marginalized and lack professional autonomy.

Notable Notes

The three studies (all use interviews, coding of transcripts as main methodology)

1. “Professional Organizations and Transdiciplinary Cosmopolitanism” – looks at the professional organizations that two-year college English faculty belong to. Findings: many belong to several (national/regional/local) and many two-year college English faculty members more readily identify with the professional organizations that focus on the needs of two-year college faculty and students (like TYCA or developmental education organizations) than disciplinary ones like CCCC because two-year college issues seem marginalized in the discipline-specific organizations.

2. “Positioning and Footing of Two-Year College English Faculty” – examines how two-year college English faculty assert their professional identity and autonomy at their own institutions. Findings: participation in professional organizations or in professional activities like research/textbook writing increases faculty members’ ability to enact change at the departmental level of their institution (things like curriculum, assessment, placement.) Many faculty members at two-year institutions feel constrained by outdated departmental policies and curriculum – these faculty members have more autonomy in the classroom rather than the department.

3. “Organizational Socialization of Part-TIme English Faculty” – looks at how beginning two-year college English faculty (3 years or less) are socialized in the profession by their local institution and department. Findings: departments/programs need to make an effort to introduce new faculty into the institutional and disciplinary norms and values of teaching English at a two-year college, but this is best done through informal connections/mentoring that encourages the professional identity of two-year college faculty instead of more patronizing, forced workshops or mentoring.

70% of two-year college faculty are contingent (106)

50% of all college composition courses are taught at two-year schools (93)

Quotable Quotes

“[The studies] demonstrate that two-year college English faculty face distinct constraints – as well as opportunities – in enacting their professional identities” (111).

“Activities that positioned incoming adjunct faculty as professoinals and colleagues fostered professionalization more than mandatory trainings and required mentoring” (110).

“Together, these studies suggest that professional autonomy is a compex construction derived not only from professional expertise, but also from shared recognition of that expertise by departmental colleagues, administrators, and policymakers” (112).

“Even though faculty drew on disciplinary knowledge within their classrooms, they often did not perceive themselves to have the authority- the footing – to assert their understanding of those norms and goals to effect departmental change” (104-105).

“This cosmopolitan translation from national disciplinary conversations to local context reflects the distinctive professional profile of two-year college English faculty: the kinds of pedagogical and administrative knowledge required in the two-year college English profession are often highly situated and context-specific” (98).

October 15, 2013

Dadas, Reaching the Profession

Dadas, Caroline. “Reaching the Profession: The Locations of the Rhetoric and Composition Job Market.” College Composition and Communication 65.1 (September 2013): 67-89. Print.

Dadas argues that the discipline and specifically hiring committees need to investigate the locations  in which the composition and rhetoric job market process occurs and work to make hiring practices in these spaces more humane, ethical, and non-discriminatory. Dadas interviews 57 rhetoric and composition scholars who have either gone on the job market and/or have been a member of a hiring committee within the past ten years. She codes the transcripts of her interviews through grounded theory in order to find trends and patterns in the responses. Dadas’ article is organized around three locations of the composition and rhetoric job market: the phone interview, the Internet (including video/Skype interviews and the academic job wiki), and the MLA convention. She notes how each of these locations have embedded discriminatory practices: the phone interview, with its lack of visual cues, relies on the auditory modality and can force candidates to disclose disabilities that they otherwise wouldn’t; video/Skype interviews overemphasize appearances, visual cues, and the use of a sometimes spotty and new technology; the academic job wiki can increase candidate anxiety and spread false information about searches; and the MLA convention is cost prohibitive to many graduate student candidates who wouldn’t have normally attended the conference because it is not a central one to hte field.

Dadas focuses on the MLA convention timeline, asking whether or not it is in the best interest of candidates and search committees to have a coordinated timeline for the job search process. She points out that having a common timeline helps candidates compare and negotiate job offers, but questions whether or not the MLA conference – a conference that can be seen as marginalizing the field of composition and rhetoric – is the appropriate fulcrum for the comp/rhet job search process.

Dadas argues that hiring committees should practice empathy and think from the candidate’s perspective when deciding on the job hiring process and the locations in which they will interview candidates.  Dadas points out that one simple way to do this is for hiring committees to ask candidates what hiring practices could help them perform their best in the job search process, and that fair and ethical hiring practices don’t necessarily mean the same hiring processes for all candidates.

Notable Notes

need to look at timing and structure of job searches (84)

2008 recession led to an increase in phone/internet interviews over MLA convention and a jumping of the job search timeline by many institutions (80).

looks at the literature on the job market – almost all the scholarship focuses on the health of the market, the number of jobs, not the job search itself

relies on theories of location/place/space, both virtual and non-virtual (68)

Quotable Quotes

“We need to educate [equal opportunity offices] that ‘fair’ does not mean ‘the same for all.’ Only in challenging these institutional constraints can we work toward a more flexible process that allows all candidates to perform their best.” (85).

“Based on the dissatisfaction of many of the survey participants and on a decades-long acknowledgement that rhetoric and composition occupies a marginalized position within English studies, I pose a question to our discipline as a whole: is it best that we make MLA the center of our hiring universe?” (83).

“We have to talk about [the job market]. We have to theorize it. We have to give grad students some control over the parts that they can control so that the parts that they can’t control don’t feel so overwhelmingly difficult. And I think we should do that as a discipline, not just program to program” (Survey participant, qtd in Dadas 67).

Rose, Mastrangelo, and L’Eplattenier, Directing First-Year Writing

Rose, Shirley K, Lisa S. Mastrangelo, and Barbara L’Eplattenier. “Directing First-Year Writing: The New Limits of Authority.” College Composition and Communication 65.1 (September 2013): 43-66.

The authors repeated and expanded a study conducted by Gary A. Olson and Joseph M. Moxley in 1989 on the responsibilities, power, influence, and authority held by directors of first-year writing programs. The study is based on 312 responses to an online survey distributed through the WPA-L listserv and a direct-email list of department chairs, and respondents included WPAs, chairs of English or independent writing programs, directors of college writing programs or writing centers, and those who report to directors of first-year writing. In this article, the authors focus on two trends in their results: 1. the perceptions of the most important roles and responsibilities of the first-year composition director and 2. how administrative responsibilities differ among WPAs with tenure, WPAs without tenure but on the tenure track, and those WPAs who hold non-tenure-track administrative lines. What Rose, Mastrangelo, and L’Eplattenier note in their results is that, compared to Olson and Moxley’s 1989 study, the responsibilities that WPAs take on – hiring and training teaching staff, determining curriculum, developing assessment models, writing policy statements, and managing student/grade/personnel issues – are more often shared and negotiated among several people (most notably the chair and other members of a faculty council) depending the particular contexts of the institution, department, and the WPA herself (especially in regards to whether or not the WPA has tenure.) The authors argue that the WPA is not a powerless position (as Olson and Moxley contend); rather, through both new articulations of WPA theory through postmodern and feminist lenses as well as the growth of the discipline in the past 25 years, the WPA position has become more situated, negotiated, and nuanced.

Notable Notes

NTT WPAs (those not on the tenure track) are often given roles “related to management and supervision” like supervision and hiring of teaching staff, scheduling and staffing, establishing common syllabi, handling disputes and political problems (61-62)

not-yet-tenured WPAs are often given responsibilities that are “clearly pedagogical rather than political in focus,” probably out of a desire to protect new faculty pre-tenure and because many are fresh out of graduate school with a current understanding of comp theory and pedagogy (60).

as compared to the 1989 Olson and Moxley survey, many respondents noted curriculum and assessment as WPA responsibilities, probably due to pressures on higher education and accreditation (55)

most important responsibility of the first-year writing director (as noted by chairs in the 1989 survey, chairs in the 2012 survey, and 2012 directors of first-year writing) is communicating well (which includes staying in touch with the chair, being accessible, etc.) (53)

explains definitions of power, authority, and influence described by David V.J. Bell and used by Thomas Ambrose in his article “WPA Work at the Small College or University.” (51)

interesting power dynamic present in many of the responses: female WPA/male chair

limitations – very few (5) responses from two-year schools, which further emphasizes the invisibility of the 2-year college WPA in our scholarship (47)

WPAs as “middle management” (45).

Quotable Quotes

“Although Olson and Moxley defined power in the duties of a writing program director and concluded that composition directors were relatively powerless, respondents to our survey suggest that our understanding of the situated and strategic negotiation of WPA agency has become more nuanced, accounting for the agency of others with whom we work as well as our own” (63).

“Our discipline’s understanding of power, especially as it relates to writing program administration, and how it functions has shifted dramatically in the last quarter of a century due to feminist, Foucauldian, and post-Foucauldian theory, as well as our own maturing as a discipline. THe power of writing program directors, whether they are first-year program directors or other program directors, continues to be a topic of interest to composition studies scholars because power itself is so fluid and complicated” (63).

“The WPA’s job is now recognized as collaborative and inter relational, with the WPA observing and interacting daily with constituencies who have multiple – and sometimes contradictory – agendas” (50).

“We draw from the survey results, respondents free-text comments, and the literature to suggest that a more useful method of thinking about WPA’s agency is to recognize that these different political instruments are always negotiated, that they are consistently and constantly changing, and that the rhetorical situation in all of its complexity always impacts a WPA’s ability to make change. A rhetorically and politically astute WPA can examine which political instrument – influence, power, or authority – would have the greatest impact, as well as the compromises and negotiations she or he is willing to make to accomplish his or her long- and short-term goals” (51-52).

“A WPA’s activities create cultural capital that determines his or her role within the institution” (45).

October 9, 2013

Symposium on Massive Open Online Courses

“Symposium on Massive Open Online Courses.” College Composition and Communication 64.4 (June 2013): 688-703. Print.

This CCC symposium brings together two short essays by Steven D. Krause and Jeff Rice who reflect on their experiences as students enrolled in a massive open online course (MOOC) sponsored by Coursera. This seven-week MOOC offered in July 2012 was entitled “Listening to World Music” and led by University of Pennsylvania professor Carol Muller. The purpose of the symposium is to understand how MOOCs change (or replicate) the traditional face-to-face classroom learning environment and to speculate on how MOOCs or other forms of distance/digital learning could impact the teaching and learning of writing.

“It seemed wise to learn more about MOOCs, and it seemed wise to learn about them from learners – who continue as perhaps the most consistent source of information about writing and learning to write in the field” (689).

Krause, Steven D. “MOOC Response to ‘Listening to World Music.'” College Composition and Communication 64.4 (June 2013): 689-695.

Krause’s response focuses on the MOOC’s writing assignments and the evaluation of those writing assignments. The writing assignments (2-3 paragraph responses to a choice of weekly prompts), coupled with the video-taped lectures and the discussion boards, were part of the course’s basic curricular structure, not really all that different from the structure of lecture-driven courses. At the beginning of the course, the MOOC had registered over 36,000 students; however, only a small percentage (2,731) of that number actually finished the course. To deal with the vast number of writing assignments that needed to be assessed, Muller and her graduate assistants turned over the grading to the students themselves in a kind of “crowdsourced” assessment, with peers evaluating each other’s writing responses based on an (under-explained) 10-point rubric.

Krause notes the problems of this kind of under-directed peer evaluation and response and contrasts it with the research on peer evaluation in the classroom, which does work well given the correct guidelines and constraints. He points out that one of the key issues of this crowdsourced grading is accountability – there is no mechanism to reward or correct good responses or peer evaluations.

In his conclusion, Krause moves beyond discussing and critiquing the MOOC’s writing assignments to comment on the failures of MOOCs and some of their untapped potential. The MOOC he experienced was “content without teaching,” focused only on the delivery of prescribed content, and that delivery itself had a pretty low production value.  However, Krause contends, MOOCs could break out of this static pedagogical delivery model and tap into the collaborative, social, and multimodal possiblities afforded in the digital sphere.

“After all, a MOOC is first and foremost a content delivery platform, one significantly more interactive and dynamic than a traditional printed book. Perhaps future Coursera MOOCs will do better at breaking out of what is essentially a nineteenth-century pedagogy of lectures, tests, and writing prompts that go nowhere. Perhaps it will turn out that writing ‘papers’ for a MOOC makes no sense because it doesn’t take advantage of the possibilities of networked writing” (694).

“So the writing assignments in ‘Listening to World Music’ left me with a feeling I fear some of my own students might share: it didn’t really matter what I wrote because no one (including myself) cared, and I was destined to get the same grade no matter what I did. It was garbage in/garbage out” (694).

“And as we all know as both educators and students, a textbook is not the same as a teacher. If education were merely about content delivery, then Socrates would have been the last teacher and Phaedrus his last student” (694).

The crowdsourcing grading: “It was a strange feeling: even though the class consisted of thousands of students from all over the world, this review process was oddly lonely, even more anonymous than the discussion forums” (693).

Writing assignments in a MOOC: “simulataneously a bold effort at thinking outside the box and a foolish exercise that was doomed for failure at the start, an example of both the grand promise of MOOCs to challenge education orthodoxy and the delusional, wishful thinking of pundits and administrators who think MOOCs will solve various education crises” (690).


Rice, Jeff. “What I Learned in MOOC.” College Composition and Communication 64.4 (June 2013): 695-703.

Rice, who was enrolled in the same MOOC as Krause, questions why he ended up not completing the course. He points to the lack of affect in the MOOC structure: the MOOC relied on “nonsocial” videotaped lectures, multiple choice quizzes, anonymous discussion boards, and short writing assignments that failed to keep him engaged in the course (699). He draws on Richard Lanham’s argument about the attention economy, arguing that the interactive, networked, and inventive environment of the Web cultivates more desire and attention than the packaged content available in MOOCs like “Listening to World Music.” Rice argues that digital writing invites participation through aggregation, and that participation leads to occupation and desire. In their current form, MOOCs treat participants as spectactors, unable to invent and truly engage affectively in the material.

“Our current emerging institution, we might argue, is aggregation. Texts, images, ideas, videos, responses, and critiques are aggregating virtually into shifting identites of information encountered in online spaces” (701).

“This aggregation keeps me occupied with a sense of learning unique to network spaces. Being occupied is a feeling, an affective state central to a learning experience or occasion. Being occupied is a state of desire. Being occupied is an occassion for digital aggregation (i.e. learning and expression). When I am occupied, I encounter (as opposed to just ‘watching’). In other words, I want occupation. Pretaped lectures and a message board don’t provide me with that same feeling…My issue with Coursera was not just that its method of content delivery has nothing to do with how content is aggregated online, but that I cannot be aggregated aswell in this particular setup. I am left as spectator. Message board commenter. Watcher of videos. Writer of two paragraphs” (701).

“What Coursera lacks, many higher education courses taught via lecture and graduate student breakout discussion lack as well: emotional occassion” (702).

draw on Jim Corder (the occassion) and Gregory L. Ulmer (avatar)

“The overall question of whether or not to endorse online learning because it will save/destroy higher education – at the level of MOOCs or some other type of iteration – is not a question worth asking because it falls into the cliche trap of face-to-face value or the fear of alleged corporatization. Neither response gets at the issue of desire or occasion regarding learning and how such desire might be facilitated in a digital age where attention functions differently than lecture formats and message boards deliver” (700).

MOOCs as part of a long line of other forms of distance learning (like correspondance courses) (696).


October 7, 2013

Cleary, Flowing and Freestyling

Cleary, Michelle Navarre. “Flowing and Freestyling: Learning from Adult Students about Process Knowledge Transfer.” College Composition and Communication 64.4 (June 2013): 661-687.

Cleary cites a gap in the research on writing transfer in adult students, arguing that adult students (students older than the traditional college student) have significant personal and professional writing experiences that impact how they approach academic writing situations, tasks, and assignments. She studies a group of 25 adult students enrolled in an introductory course at a college dedicated to adult students at a larger university. Her methodology relies on interviews, which are based on discussions of the students’ own writing assignments and drafts and their descriptions of their writing processes. Her article includes two case studies from the larger sample size – Tiffany and Doppel. These two students, who have different academic identities and professional/personal backgrounds, approached the academic writing process in markedly different ways. Cleary argues that Doppel, whose has a more varied background in writing situations and genres, has a more robust store of writing process analogies to draw upon in order to succeed in academic writing. Doppel, as compared to Tiffany, does more prewriting, drafting, revising, and peer cuing (asking peers/supervisors for feedback on his writing), which makes him more comfortable with academic writing tasks.

Cleary argues that writing teachers should not just focus on their students’ writing processes themselves but how the students frame, think about, and describe their writing processes (the analogies that they use.)

Notable Notes

survey of literature on writing transfer/adult education (662-664) – depends on developing rhetorical flexibility, problem solving (not specific genres)

peer cuing – peer feedback comes not just from classmates but from a student’s already-developed network of friends, advisors, family, co-workers

the more varied the writing background, the more analogies/frames a student has to think about the writing process

appendix with interview questions, sample writing log, descriptions of global v. dimensional analogies.

Quotable Quotes

“Transfer occurs when people make use of prior experiences to address new challenges; the significance of prior experience is a central theme in adult education” (662).

“The case studies…revealed that a sense of academic identity, peer cueing, and anaological reasoning all played significant roles in whether these students transferred useful process knowledge” (667).

“Simply put, students with more expreiences making things for which others will pay had more ways to think about the various parts of their writing process” (670). – low-stakes v. high-stakes (audience-centric) writing tasks


October 5, 2013

Enoch and Bessette, Meaningful Engagements

Enoch, Jessica and Jean Bessette. “Meaningful Engagements: Feminist Historiography and the Digital Humanities.” College Composition and Communication 64.4 (June 2013): 634-660.

Enoch and Bessette, citing a disconnect between feminist rhetorical historiography and the digital humanities movement, explore what digital historiography could offer to feminist historians of rhetoric.  Their essay, which is organized around three terms used by Jacqueline Jones Royster and Gesa Kirsch to describe excellence in feminist research (strategic contemplation, social circulation, and critical imagination), explains the surface-level contradictions between feminist rhetorical historiography and digital historiography, argues for the deeper connections between the two kinds of research, and offers suggestions and/or hesitations about how the two might adapt and affect each other. In the end, they call on feminist rhetorical historiographers to explore and question what the digital humanities bring to (or subtract from) their work. 

Enoch and Bessette interrogate specific digital historiography methods, including distant reading, visualization, multimodal production, and open or interactive online history projects. Enoch and Bessette point out that digital humanities often rely on the construction of online archives, which can open up research opportunities for feminist rhetorical historians (though, they do point out that the contents of these archives (e.g. Google Books) leave out many documents and works of interest to feminist rhetorical historians.) They also address two main issues of concern about feminist rhetorical historians becoming multimodal digital humanities scholars: first, that there hasn’t been enough scholarly attention to the effects of digital histories on audiences (what the histories do) and second, that many feminist rhetorical historians lack the technological skills set to produce multimodal scholarship, and the “culture of code” surrounding the digital humanities prevents women from participating in this area of research.


Notable Notes

Google’s Ngram as a useful research tool for feminist rhetorical historiographers, a distant reading tool that searches for words and phrases over the entire Google Books corpus and generates a visual graph that shows when those words or phrases appear over 200+ years.  These tools allow researchers to incorporate evidence (and find new questions) that would have been impossible for a single scholar to aggregate. (643-645) example: Aspasia

interactive online histories like the Harvard Film Study Center and Laurel Ulrich’s site DoHistory, which invites readers to read an 18th-century American midwife’s journal (Martha Ballard) and “translate” her diary, read other contemporary documents next to it and come to their own historical conclusions about events, etc. (650).  These interactive histories, though, bring to light a “different dynamic of power” between audience and scholar (650).

digital archives aren’t necessarily “disembodied” and therefore counter to the principles underlying feminist research – certain digital archives allow for “virtual proximity” with their abundance of data that researchers can use to find new connections, patterns in their digital recovery efforts.

Subheadings: “Digital Archives, Strategic Contemplation, and Virtual Proximity”; “Social Circulation, Evidence, and Distant Reading”; “Critical Imagination, Dangerous Moves, and Multimodal Histories” – these subheadings correspond to Royster and Kersch’s principles.


Quotable Quotes

“Evidence here becomes pattern, repetition, and aggregation” (645) – the kind of evidence generated through distant reading methodologies (e.g. Moretti)

“We intend this essay to function as a springboard for feminist historians (and all historians, in fact) to consider their relationship to the digital humanities” (637).

“The work accomplished in Feminist Rhetorical Practices: New Horizons for Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy Studies” enables us to put feminist historiography in conversation with the digital humanities in general and digital historiography more particularly for the purpose of considering how the two fields of study may come together and invigorate one another, how they might complicate one another, and how they may run in contradistinction to one another” (636-37).

“Whereas we once confronted a seeming dearth of archival evidence, now it seems that opportunities for digital recovery are everywhere” (639).

“the culture of code is likely to be off-putting to women at best and discriminatory at worst” (652-653) – countered by local, smaller groups dedicated to teaching women scholars how to code.

“Since a great deal of feminist historiographic work hinges on the idea that women have been all but erased from rhetorical history and the rhetorical record, a marked characteristic of feminist research has been to recover forgotten figures whose rhetorical significance is often found in out-of-the-way places rather than institutional and federal archives with enormous holdings” (637-638).

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