Sunday, March 29, 2015

To Tweet or not to Tweet

When I selected “Networking” as my blog post topic, I was not at all certain of what to expect from it. Social networking and teaching had never been something I had associated with one another. Reading Dorothy Kim’s The Rules of Twitter reminded me that the internet itself is a learning experience, something that we might not think about while we’re following links and scrolling down our Facebook timelines, Tumblr dashboards, or Twitter feeds. She put terms to concepts I’ve known of but not thought to define—the digital mediated public space as a protest space and a place for public grief. She puts an emphasis on the ethics, rules, and etiquette of using a microblogging platform, and rightly so.

Her introduction to this mediated public space is to point to those predicting “the demise of the social media microblogging platform.” Considering everything that has happened and will keep happening, I couldn’t help but feel incredulous. Kim points out the use of hashtags such as #Ferguson and #BlackOutBlackFriday—both of which I was aware of while they were happening because of social media. These are signs that the microblogging platform is still going strong, despite what the “white male pundits” who “always imagined [Twitter] as safe, suburban—by default—white, and upper-middle class” are lamenting. I recall during the December of 2010 when the Arab Spring began and the only news I was hearing about it was from bloggers and tweeters experiencing it. Kim goes on to say Twitter “was never a porch, it has always been a mediated public space, a hacked public space.” This is the Twitter I know and appreciate! This porch business, narrow and limiting, has nothing to do with the online space I know.

Twitter as a platform for learning is an interesting concept, which we’ve touched on during the semester. The ongoing conversations “annotating” the texts we read, entire tweet conversations mulling over the same question or related issues that come to mind is only a fraction of what one could do on Twitter. In addition to how we’ve used it, the idea of public lectures and live tweeting conferences are interesting new ideas to me, ideas I'm not certain how one would apply to a classroom. The hashtags encouraging open discussion can be another means for students to connect with the information out there. Students who know how to use Twitter and know the etiquette and ethics can engage in the hashtags and open forums. Kim rightly points out that “harvesting, quoting, and using others tweets without consent, attribution, discussion, or compensation/credit is a major problem.” Any students writing essays on subjects that require cited sources from Twitter need to know how to source correctly and ask permission to use the material. We do it for academic journals and websites, Twitter should be treated the same—by both journalists and academics.

Like Kim, my Twitter is a “space of activism and justice.” While I do not actively Tweet—unless there is something of particular interest to my father who is a prolific Tweeter—I keep an eye on my feed for news and happenings among those I follow. I have seen feeds set ablaze by current events—raging at the events happening around the world going largely ignored by the major news groups, by society, and by governments. If students understand, as Kim says, that “you will earn respect by what you say and what you do; by who you defend and who and what you fight for,” they can garner a truly interesting perspective on events and a chance to explore it with those involved, if they dare to engage.

But what might a “Twitter assignment” look like? The articles linked by Kim, such as #TwitterEthics Manifesto, could be efficient starting points in teaching students the do’s and don’ts of Twitter (and online) life. Social Media is a Conversation Not a Press Release by Zeynep Tufekci builds on that. The resources are there for students to explore and learn. They could even take a hashtag such as #Ferguson and explore the what, how, and why’s of it.

And finally, to the class, what do you think? What do you use Twitter for, how do you see it used, and why do you see others use it? Do you think there’s a place for it (or other forms of social media) in the classroom?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Whose standards?

In the chapter “Standards and Assessment for Digital Writing,” DeVoss et. al. try to answer, or at least pose, some difficult questions.  Initially I assumed that this chapter would be more about the technology available and the suggested methods assessing digital work.  I was wrong.  Rather, this chapter made me reconsider what a writing class is, and what it will become. And more general, but still interesting question, what will it mean to be literate person and a functioning member of society in the near future?

To begin, Hodgson uses the example of a student who creates an essay in the form of a podcast, and says that “as the writer, you are controlling what you want the reader to see.  So that kind of platform can really change how you persuade somebody” (DeVoss et. al. 91).  This, however, will most strongly benefit student if there is “ongoing discussion of the rhetorical choices that digital writers make, and the observation of their effects,” it is only through this that “students begin to understand better how to assess their work as digital writers” (91).  Certainly a self-awareness of why students make the decisions they do, and what effects these decisions have on the audience, will go a long towards strengthening their ability as digital writers, but it will also improve their non-digital writing.  This then begs two questions: first, is digital writing different from traditional writing? And second, is the benefit of teaching digital writing that the improved writing is then transferable to non-digital writing, or is the benefit of teaching digital writing that the genres/mediums that students will be expected to write in academically, professionally, and personally, increasingly be digital?  Eve Bearne thinks the latter is likely, as she outlines what multimodal abilities students should have by way of offering a ‘metalanguage’ to out of touch instructors (104-5).  DeVoss et. al. seem to take a more measured approach, as they argue that although digital technology has changed the way people collaborate or design, ultimately “writing is the same as it ever was—a task that requires writers to examine the rhetorical context and craft messages suitable for the intended audience” (105).

With that question out there, the next thing I would like to explore is the, potentially, changing role of the English instructor and the English classroom.  Hodgson has developed his own methodology for teaching his students how to use new technologies for digital writing, but is this the future—or at least a future component of English instruction?  Put more directly, “will digital writing be seen as part of a larger set of technology standards?  Will technology use be seen as an essential part of writing standards? Or both?” (90).  I was unaware of the different sets of criteria that determine technological standards, but apparently they do exist.  For example, McREL requires a person to “[understand] the nature and operation of systems” or “of technological design” (95), while Ribble and Bailey put forth the requirements for ‘digital citizenship,’ calling for people to have “full electronic participation in society” or an understanding of “the conduct expected by other digital technology users” (97-8).  Certainly the idea of literacy is changing, and—though it may seem odd now—the idea of citizenship is now undergoing a change, as social, political, professional, romantic, and academic lives of people increasingly have there strongest presence online.  As these shifts occur, whose responsibility is it to ensure that students are becoming technologically literate?  Will much of this fall under the realm of instructors like Hodgson, by nature of its tie to digital writing?  What of digital citizenship, should this be up to the English instructor (at some grade level) to teach, or will such questions necessitate the development of some digital civics/home-ec hybrid?  If I’m not mistaken I think Allen (maybe Brian) said that he is already seeing much of this fall to the English teacher, as these are important things to teach but have no clear home in the current academic structure.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Sentence and Solaas

Hi all,
So, the thing I want to talk about right now is Alex’s “Digitizing Chaucerian Debate.” I’ve had the pleasure in the past to see this type of creative, role-playing blog posting in action, and to lead a corner of it myself. In my first semester of this MA program, I TA’d for Alex’s Arthurian Literature class. It was a large group; we were divided into four different subgroups – one under each TA and each named for a different heraldic animal from Arthurian legend (mine were the Eagles). Each group had the same characters from the entirety of Arthurian legend to choose from, ranging from Arthur and Merlin to Hank and Sandy from Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Although I did not see my students quite “grapple... in textual combat” or “hatch… subplots within and between texts as the course proceeded” (Mueller 197), I did see a level of enchantment, rigor, and play with the texts throughout the semester that I do not believe would have existed had there not been some sort of creative/analytical blend.
            Throughout my semester, I had students who braved writing in archaic dialects and verse (always hilarious), students who developed a strong relationship with their avatar over the course of the semester (the student who picked Sir Kay is especially memorable, for by the end he was irreconcilably cantankerous in his blog comments), and even students who used the creative platform to investigate pressing social issues (one exceptional student placed her character, Ygrene, in the story The Saga of the Mantle as a way of investigating the feminist implications of the piece). Overall, it was obviously apparent that these students were, through roleplaying and having a decided lens to read and play through, engaging with the texts and the concepts within them in a way I have not seen in any other classroom I’ve been in. Even the “problem students” felt it their duty to post on their given day – it was the only assignment of the whole semester that generated no late submissions.
            But this leaves me wondering how something like this, a blog posting system based around character-driven avatars, could be adapted to a classroom that does not have a dynamic set of interrelated characters. Are there some (Literature? Humanities? School?) classroom situations that are wholly unsuitable to this type of collaborative discussion? This is something I’ve thought about much since that class, and the resurgence in Alex’s article for this week made me think this Blog post format was the best place to figure it out. So how about it? Do you guys think that this type of engagement can be augmented to any type of classroom (even if any=any Humanities class)? How about just any English classroom? Literature class?
            My gut instinct, as well as Alex’s warning description of the first time he tried this blog format in his Brit Lit survey course (196), makes me think that in order for this to work, there needs to be some sort of creative aspect, some point of view that the student can reliably latch onto and springboard off of. I don’t think it need be so restrictive as all the characters in the same ‘canon’ such as it was for my Arthurian Lit. class. Alex’s “Quitting Your Classmates,” with its bevy of characters from the history of English literature, has Satan discoursing with our dear Miller (197-198), as well as many other examples of things only the nerdiest of Lit majors would write. And I think this might be able to be expanded where the syllabus includes primarily (or even exclusively) nonfiction – instead of characters from stories, students could be ideologies from the essays.
            The irreducible limit I reach is with point of view. I’m not sure this type of environment would be useful (unless drastically altered so as to be nearly unrecognizable) in a classroom environment that did not have varying positions for the students to use as basis with which to investigate their own opinion. I would, however, love for anyone to come up with a scenario where this would work outside of these parameters. Got anything?

Thanks, and see you all Tuesday,

P.S. Here’s a link to my group, the Eagles’, blog page. Take a look if you’re interested: 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Teaching with Multiplicity

The Gist

In Chapter 3 of Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext and the Remediation of Print, Bolter explains the complicated relationship between text and hypertext. Even though the two forms can be considered separately, it is difficult to completely sever the two since hypertext is in actuality “the remediation of printed forms” (45). Just as an author is the architect of a text, the computer-programming author helps determine what links are contained within a hypertext, regulating the additional information or narrative. Bolter shows that hypertext is a natural progression, combining tech and writing, when he says, “Hypertext shows how programming and conventional prose writing can come together in the space provided by the computer, by putting at the disposal of writers data structures that programmers have used for decades” (38). While there are affordances and constraints with both forms, including the control of authorship and the redefinition of word and image, Bolter concludes that at this cultural moment, print may seem more “natural” and “simple” to most people; however, he does hint that it might seem more natural for hypertext to eventually take over (46). I guess we’ll see.

Additionally in Chapter 3, Bolter creates the analogy of hypertext and the work of avant-garde writers. He says, “In its emphasis on process and on the reader’s awareness of the medium, hypertext seems to belong to the literary tradition of modernism, and indeed modernist writers such as James Joyce can be regarded as forerunners of hypertextual writers…” (44). In Chapter 7 he elaborates this analogy, showing how some printed texts attempt to act like digital hypertext stories and how early hypertexts were very much like printed works. He goes on to lend some thoughts about how people can deal with the complex structures in hypertext, specifically narratives. He suggests that rather than trying to create completely new strategies to tackle the complex structures usually found in hypertexts, we should try to take advantage of the techniques that we may use when we try to make sense of complex or avant-garde works. Now, doesn’t this sound like something we could teach?

Dealing with Hyperbaton in Narrative

So, let’s start with memory. Bolter illustrates why writers use non-linear storytelling by saying, “Memory is not univocal, and the multiple narrative paths of this fiction (afternoon) are offered to us as a means of capturing the authentic multiplicity of memory” (127). Therefore, when we participate in a hypertext story like afternoon or read a work of fiction like Composition No. 1 we are coming to terms with multiplicity, which Bolter is associating with how memory works. The problem with this is that the many narrative paths make it confusing for people to create one linear narrative. In general, it is easier for us to create linear stories out of evidence and facts supplied in a linear stream. However, the mentioned narratives do not operate as so and cause displacement. There is so much displacement happening in these and similar works that Bolter calls it the “customary rhetorical strategy,” drawing the reader away from any illusion of narrative (137). Bolter goes on to say that “In electronic writing we may interpret everything as a palinode; the hard task is to achieve fixity” (137). So, even though we may be simulating the experience of actually being in the story by making conscious decisions, we still have to play “literary detective” to make sense of the narrative. The key is mediating the tension between linear narrative and associated thought in order to make meaning (141). But how can we help students do this?

Hopefully you remember some of the skills you used when you read “The Garden of Forking Paths”. You don’t? Well, better get digging. The problems we had when reading this work come from hyperbaton, meaning “the violation of expected order” (129). As the piece starts we were thrown off because there is a violation in what many of us expected to be a historical retelling of some sort. However, we soon realize that it is fiction in the form of a retelling. Bolter suggests that we can help students recognize hyperbaton and how to deal with it through suspension of details. He says, “The technique (hyperbaton) requires suspension: the reader must hold the displaced unit in mind while waiting for the rest of the syntax. Hyperbaton calls on the reader to make a special effort at understanding and indeed threatens her faith that there is any conventional meaning to be gotten out of a text” (130). In order to help the student navigate the text, it will be our task to show students how to deal with this hyperbaton, create associations and not give up. We have to show students how to interpret the design of a semi-simulation narrative, like we see in Bolter’s illustrated examples. The idea is that students can identify valuable information, store it somewhere, and recall or retrieve it when necessary. When specifically talking about afternoon and Composition No. 1 Bolter says, “the reader works to make narrative sense of the episodes as they present themselves: to construct from these disordered episodes a story in which characters act with reasonable and explicit motives” (150). Much like a video game, readers use the knowledge they gain in order to make critical choices to move the narrative. If you make the wrong choice, you could end up in a pit with crocodiles. If you make the right choice, you could save the princess and live happily ever after. The simulation within the narrative is a good motive for students to complete tasks and create meaning. However, is it enough? Can we get students to truly “buy in” to mediums like narrative hypertext? Is it worth the time to focus on hypertext narrative or are their other better forms of simulation? Are there other ways that you can think of teaching students to piece together a narrative? Maybe we should all just play “Clue” in class and see how that goes.

Towards Hypermedia and Everything Else

Other forms of simulation? Here they come.

Bolter ends Chapter 7 briefly mentioning how hypermedia (sound, videos, animations, etc.) will soon come to be integrated with hypertext (158). As we’ve seen in our lives, hypermedia has been integrated with hypertext (just look at “The Wasteland” example from this week) and simulation is in the social media we use, the video games we play, and even in the projects we can develop for our students. The problem now, like in the stories illustrated by Bolter, is deciding what we should use to make meaning.

Showing a high school student “The Wasteland” text would be overwhelming. In fact, I am when I look at it. Is it necessary for us to know all these facts about this poem? Does it help us to have so many? What critical skills can we use when evaluating all this info? Either way, hypermedia is here and we must synthesize with digital and print texts to help our students create meaning. It is not the easiest to create simulation projects for our students but from my experience it does seem that when students walk in the shoes of someone else, they are genuinely invested more in the work. While the simulations I have students do may not look like the ones Bolter describes, I still think that the skills students can learn from deciphering hypertext simulations is worthwhile. However, I assume they take a really long time to create.

MOOCS: A Problematic Solution to the Disinvestment in Public Higher Education

I agree wholeheartedly with Bady’s cynicism of the speed, inevitability, and necessity of the MOOC movement. From 2011-2015 I direct...