Revolution Lullabye

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).

 

February 7, 2009

George and Trimbur, Cultural Studies and Composition

George, Diana and John Trimbur. “Cultural Studies and Composition.” 71-91.

George and Trimbur argue that when composition instructors use cultural studies to organize their pedagogy, they are continuing the movement in the field from focusing on individual writers (process theory) to acknowledging the social and political context of the world the students are writing, thinking, and learning in. This politcal turn, proponents of cultural studies in the composition class argue, represents the diversity of the students, allows for rhetoric to be incorporated in the writing classroom, and accommodates the postmodern goal of recognizing and analyzing fragments and subsets of culture. Cultural studies began as a phenomenon in the UK in the 1960s with the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) at the University of Birmingham, and the major New Left thinkers there (Hoggart, Williams, Thompson) looked to Althusser and Gramsci to destroy the power dynamic inherent in the high/low culture split and to begin investigating how people’s cultural practices in turn create the social order and class consciousness. This decidedly white, male, middle-class movement expanded with feminist and race critiques of cultural studies in the 1980s. Those in favor of using cultural studies as the content of a composition class argue that its use of popular culture is inviting to students, it teaches close analysis of texts and artifacts, and leads to civic and public writing. Those against it contend that a focus on cultural studies as a content in the composition classroom leads to a devaluing of writing itself, as the textbooks used don’t include a lot of student texts and the work of producing and writing isn’t foregrounded in the curriculum. Some also see cultural studies as an attempt for leftist teachers to politically indoctrinate their students.

Quotable Quotes

Shift: “emphasis from the personal experience of the individual to the lived experience of participants in the larger culture” (83).

“The arrival of cultural studies marks a wider resurfacing of political desire in academic work”, “a need on the part of American leftist academics to articulate a role for themselves in public formus and to cope (at least rhetorically if not actually) with the globalization of capital and its relentless war against working people and the poor” (72).

Problem with cultural studies pedagogy: “uncritical populist celebration of popular culture, in which the audience is ‘never wrong’ and the practice of everyday life is persisently resistant to the dominant culture” (84).

Notable Notes

Lidna Brodkey 1st year course, “Writing About Difference” at the University of Texas, recounted in “Federal Case”

Cultural studies in composition on the scene in the late 198s, 1990s

Sources about foundational cultural studies theory: Richard Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy; E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class; Raymond Williams, Culture and Society and The Long Revolution; Stuart Hall “Two Paradigms”; Althusser; Gramsci; Lawrence Grossberg “The Formation of Cultural Studies”; Johnson “What Is Cultural Studies, Anyway?”; Baudelaire, Paris Spleen; Engel, Conditions of Working Classes in 1844; Frankfurt School; Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor; Bourdieu; Habermas; Barthes; deCerteau; Walter Benjamin; Women Take Issue: Aspects of Women’s Subordination; Paul Gilroy, There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack

Cultural Studies and Composition: Raymond Williams, The Future of Cultural Studies; Gere, Long Revolution; Ohmann, Graduate Students; Trimbur, Writing Instruction, Cultural Studies, Articulation Theory, Radical Pedagogy; Berlin, Rhetorics, Poetics, and Cultures; Schilb, Cultural Studies, Postmodernism, and Composition; Faigley, Fragments of Rationality; Berlin/Vivion; Fitts/France; Pratt, Arts of the Contact Zone; Sullivan/Qualley, Pedagogy in the Age of Politics.

Critiques of cultural studies: Richard Miller, As If Learning; Joseph Harris, Other Reader; Frank Farmer; Susan Miller, Technologies; Hairston, Diversity, Ideology, and the Teaching of Writing.

February 17, 2008

Arrington, Phillip and Shirley K Rose. “Prologues to What Is Possible: Introductions as Metadiscourse.”

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Arrington, Phillip and Shirley K Rose. “Prologues to What Is Possible: Introductions as Metadiscourse.” CCC 38:3 (Oct 1987): 306-318.

Introductions are both text about text, or metadiscourse, and text about content, and contemporary composition textbooks do not do an adequate job teaching students about this dual role of introductions. Arrington and Rose use Aristotle’s description of the purpose of introductions, situating the text in a greater context and identifying the audience and speaker, and Grice’s maxims to analyze four student-written introductions. One of the main problems for students is that the formulas they are given for writing introductions do not help them balance writing for both the teacher and a larger audience, and teachers should show students how to understand the constraints and contexts of the writing situations they will encounter.

February 16, 2008

Connors, “Personal Writing Assignments”

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Connors, Robert J. “Personal Writing Assignments.” CCC 38.2 (May 1987): 166-183. 

Connors investigates at the history of the writing subjects teachers assign students from ancient times until today by looking at how textbook assignments evolved over time. He discovers a shift in the mid to late 1800s from impersonal assignments that asked students to comment on an issue in the public sphere to assignments that narrowly focus on personal feelings, ideas, and experiences. Personal writing never completely took over writing instruction, he argues, and he points to the rise of the research paper, the use of literature in composition classrooms, and the emphasis on argumentative and expository writing as proof. Connors claims that instructors must find a middle ground between personal and impersonal writing assignments, tasks that allow students to start from what they know but to branch into an larger public conversation.  

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