Revolution Lullabye

May 25, 2011

Lettner-Rust, Making Rhetoric Visible

Lettner-Rust, Heather  “Making rhetoric visible: Re-visioning a capstone civic writing seminar.”   Present Tense: A Journal of Rhetoric in Society 1.1 (2010).

Lettner-Rust explains the philosophical foundations of an upper-division capstone course on civic writing at her institution, a course that asks students to address, through writing, speaking, and research, a public issue of civic importance. Using Isocrates’ explanation of the goal of education – to create the “active-citizen-orator,” Lettner-Rust argues that the goal of rhetorical education at the university, especially at the upper-division level, is to push students to use their knowledge in cross-disciplinary ways (like the cross-disciplinary public sphere), using open-ended inventive heuristics rather than rules.

A course that emphasizes rhetoric is key at the end  of a students’ education.

Notes and Quotes

in line with calls for “rhetoric across the curriculum”

colleagues across campus are confused about the purpose of the course

“instead of the writing curriculum being a service course to the academy, rhetoric should function as an integral part of the knowledge-making paradigm throughout the academy.”

“The product of the course is a rhetorical education, a process that allows students to enact rhetorical principles.”

learn rhetorical principles – kairos is a key one

students are asked to evaluate their purpose, audience, context; choose appropriate rhetorical devices to meet those needs; analyze and evaluate the effectivenss of their rhetoric and of others’


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)

February 3, 2009

Peeples, Rosinski, and Strickland, Chronos and Kairos, Strategies and Tactics

Peeples, Timothy, Paula Rosinski, and Michael Strickland. Chronos and Kairos, Strategies and Tactics: The Case of Constructing Elon University’s Professional Writing and Rhetoric Concentration. Composition Studies 35.1 (Spring 2007) 57-76.

Using two scenarios (discussions on new faculty hires and acquiring space), the authors show how the complementary perspectives of chronos/strategy and kairos/tactic work as a theoretical framework for describing how programs are designed, developed, and enacted. Their theory draws on both the ancient Greek notions of time (chronos and kairos) and de Certeau’s terms to describe the space from which a person acts (strategy (one’s own, independent) and tactic (undefined, opportunity-driven.)) Their piece attempts to bring case-study story-telling, a method often used by administrators to explain program design due to the very local, contextual nature of program creation, up to a theoretical level by introducing rhetorical terms that can describe common techniques and methods faculty use to carve out their own institutional spaces through majors, minors, and concentrations.

Quotable Quotes

“What we find most powerful about this framework is the way it emphasizes the rhetorical, productive, compositional nature of program development; we write and re-write our programs. As a heuristic framework, the combination of chronos/kairos and strategy/tactic helps with the ongoing inventional process of program development….gives us a way to move beyond situated awareness and toward applying rhetorical analytical skills to our own efforts at program development.” (58)

Notable Notes

emphasis on tactics is not often talked and theorized about in journals, giving a space for it here. Kairos is a key component in the development of programs.

our action – strategy and tactics – form our social realities and our discourse (58)

we need to be more deliberate and conscious of what courses of action we are taking to develop programs, to be aware of the moves that are available to us.

Phelps, The Institutional Logic of Writing Programs

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “The Institutional Logic of Writing Programs: Catalyst, Laboratory, and Pattern for Change.” In The Politics of Writing Instruction: Postsecondary. Eds. Richard Bullock and John Trimbur. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers, 1991. 155-170.

Instead of focusing on what the relationship between rhet/comp and literature can be in an English department, Phelps takes a step back, widens the scope, and discusses what a independent writing program can do for the institution as a whole. Higher education is going through a multifacted crisis (the devaluing of teaching and undergraduate education due to the focus on research, the absence of community due to specialization, and the employment of under-paid, under-trained part-time and graduate teachers), but the theoretical foundations of a writing program makes it a prime candidate for a site of institutional change: the field of composition highly values quality pedagogy and undergraduate education; a writing program serves the whole institution and therefore must reach out across disciplines; and the large, diverse cohort of teachers allows for the construction of professional communities. Writing programs must confront several challenges to be viable. In addition to negotiating the local political and institutional constraints of each university, writing programs have unique budget, space, technology, labor, tenure, evaluation, and structural needs that must be administratively met in order for the writing program to be viable.

Quotable Quotes

“The most important contribution I think writing programs can make, though, with respect to higher education at large, is to exemplify the struggle to foster community in the face of the prevailing mood of skepticism, critique of all cultural institutions and their traditions, radical individualism, and loss of fellowship that troubles our colleges and universities” (167) – through community building and professional development of professors, part-time, grad students, undergraduates

“With luck, and propitious local circumstances, this situational fit enables writing programs to become a positive force for change by enacting their own logic: operating experimentally and hypothetically; nuturing a fragile sense of community in talk, text, and collaborative work; and seeking interdependencies where they can find them.” (168)

“the concrete practices of community” (167)

Notable Notes

rhetorical concept of kairos – fitting into the historical and situational context – by having writing programs lead institutional change (168) 

the field of rhetoric/composition as a model, a logic for writing programs to develop and follow

get out of the trap of quibbling over departmental structure

use Syracuse as a model

Ernest Boyer (Carnegie Foundation) – higher ed reform that Phelps bases her argument for writing programs on

Themes of the disciplines that work for institutional change:

  1. writing helps students become active learners and meaning-makers
  2. common literacy strategies adapted for diverse rhetorical situations
  3. collaborative work
  4. communicate patiently through hands-on talk and text – create a community (163)

Challenges 164-166

Writing program acts as collaborator and as a catalyst, an experimenter, for change.

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