Archive for April, 2012

From “A” to : Moving Freely, Not Fearful

“English studies maintains a fixed point of view through a singular notion of writing as static, fixed, and individually composed (typically via the essay or exam), taking place in a unified realm of thought deemed ‘English'” (127) in 2006, this is what Jeff Rice poses and in 2012 I learned what he meant. He goes on to state that the coinciding definition of writing that accompanies this thought regarding English that is produced is not indicative of the digital society that we are entering, now (127).  Our technologically savvy world is producing technologically savvy students and we have to adapt as instructors. As educators, we are aware of the demands on students, especially regarding assessment, but we are doing a disservice to them if we don’t integrate technology into the composition classroom.
In the beginning of this class, I felt as though I wanted very much to be the type of teacher that had a novel classroom with tech savvy equipment, up-to-date multimedia, and changing modes and platforms. I still feel this way, but now I realize that it takes more than just the desire to want to be this instructor. In order to make our students comfortable with using this material in the class, we must illustrate that we are comfortable with doing so as well. This may entail filtering in a new or unfamiliar program, and we need to be open-minded enough to allow our students to see that we aren’t all that savvy at some things. We talk, talk, talk, about how we are working to make the web our friend and tool, but when it comes to walking the walk, we trip and stumble.
It isn’t necessarily our fault, because some of us were brought up during a point in education where we truly believed that literacy consisted of reading and writing, as though thinking does not fall into that category, “The network, therefore, does not require learning the truths of ideas, but rather how ideas fluctuate in specific types of spaces and contexts” (131). Rice is pointing this out, but we missed the point for some time. I touched on this point in my Ignite presentation and it was even more apparent to me how interpretations not only change from person to person, but sometimes for the same piece, being interpreted by the same person on a different day. At the start of this course, I was insecure about how technology was going to fit in my classroom, I didn’t sound as though I was, but I know now that I was and I blogged about it.

Looking back on my post, there is an aspect of emotion in that blog that I don’t seem to see right away, if I ever seen it at all. It’s fear. I once thought the problem with what we are looking at regarding digitally in the classroom was power, or the inherent power associated with instruction, but it’s not the power, it’s the fear we feel when we admit we don’t know something that we somehow internalize as a loss of power when we cannot explain our way through web tutorial. In the blog entitled, “Network and New Media” I talk about Rice’s idea of what college English should be. I articulate the power I mention above, and I even talk about the forms of control associated with that power, but what I don’t identify is how that power still maintains control over me, professionally, “The reason the paradox applied so naturally to what Rice calls ‘The Network’ is because institutionally, a body of power cannot control the web”, so isn’t the field of education a body of power? Of course it is! We are the ones in control in this field, administration and legislators tell us what we can and cannot do with regard to resources, but educators make the impacting decisions for students. With that said, because we have obtained a level of status and power, relinquishing this to something unknown to us is intimidating. I do not mean to imply that we all feel this way, and I do not mean to imply that we are control freaks, but as students ourselves, we have been conditioned to be, individually, responsible for our work, thus our expertise as well.

This idea implies that we believe an aspect of our identities are connected to the work we do, and if we embrace collaborative and/or web based composition, we also must be willing to embrace the sociality associated with it and let go of our identities as professionals. Some of us think this is wrong, but maybe it just feels wrong. Maybe it feels wrong, because for so long we have been convinced that reading and writing has been approached as an activity solely for ourselves. It has been sold to us, by those who came before and we believed knew more, that composition is a skill obtained through rigorous study and practice, and if I didn’t believe this, I wouldn’t be teaching. However, this idea needs qualification, because composition was never an activity meant to keep individualized, if it was, we would have no such thing as publishers. “The world wide web is uncontrollable, and as such those in control will always fight to keep what they have controlled for eons under close watch”, when I made this statement, I did not take into account that I am one of “those” and I have to force myself to let go of this antiquated notion of control, because it is futile to believe I have control over composition. I can’t, the fluidity of it makes that crystal clear.

In light of the discussion above, I must remember that assuming control over any one teachable skill is a waste of time, precisely because of the changes those skills take on. In the third blog piece I would like to discuss, I mention this idea. I respond to Johnson-Eilola’s “The Database and the Essay”, but when I refer to the “fluid and shifting” concept I do not take into account that even though we recognize that our students learn in this fashion, and that educators ought to be open to teaching this way as well, I never articulate how. It is easy to imply that instructors need to be aware of the shifts in composition, designing innovative projects, but that is not enough. We have to push further, specifically push ourselves.

The author posits that ignoring database design makes the influence invisible, well I cannot argue that, but now I see that requires some examining. Database design’s influence is only seemingly invisible, because we ignore the impact that it has on us as instructors, not necessarily the students. There is a tension in this discussion: we are aware that our students are technologically advanced, because we watch their cell phone usage and ipod manipulation closely in our classrooms, yet when we apply curriculum to the same conversation, some of us tend to shy away. We are fully aware that students are tech savvy and that the concept to them is quite familiar. We see, everyday, that these gadgets are glued to their hips and are significant tools of communication within their social lives. However, we ignore the experience students obtain as valuable. We do not value what students have taught themselves in regards to technology, because sometimes we approach knowledge learned outside the classroom as inferior. It’s this mistake that makes database design’s influence seemingly invisible. The conflict resides in the fact that we know students are tech savvy, and we ourselves utilize this savviness with respect to our professional lives, or else we wouldn’t use programs or sites like or Grammarly. Consequentially, we are addressing a paradox that many of us hesitate dealing with, because we are conflicted about confronting student who may very well be more advanced with technology than we are.

This is where I would like to infuse some of Jeff Rice’s “English <A>”, because the discussion is based on the premise above. Grammar A is the individualized education that most of us (with the exception of those born in the mid to late 80’s and after) have been exposed to in our academic lives. We have been convinced, or rather conditioned to believe that Grammar A is our tool to advancement, “This model, with its emphasis on standardization, rote performance, and subjection to the ‘great’ individual author also indicates the origins of non-social composing” (56). However, after having been exposed to so many examples of composition study, it is clear to me that composition is completely opposite to individualized thought. At best, individual study only invokes greater curiosity to be developed, and socializing is a key factor in developing this said curiosity. The one theme I argue is that intimidation of institutional breakdown is at the heart of why digitally is seemingly unstable. It is not the digital realm that is unstable. What is unstable is the idea that a standardized skill set is stable, the only thing stable in teaching writing to students is the student and even that is questionable at times, “To do that kind of work would make the user (or writer or course or subject) the individual at the center of all activity, not a part of the network. Instead, the network I imagine <A> creating is a flexible, shifting, never stable entity (or even entities)” (62). Thus, to teach with this in mind, we must allow the students to remain flexible, while we allow ourselves to be, as well.

Finally, I decided that the last post I wanted to include here had to be something that I was willing to go out on a limb to produce. I certainly cannot pretend to behave as though I am now a member of the professional web page designing world, just because I was able to navigate my way around Wix. Nevertheless, I opened an account some time ago, chose a design and format, and then abandoned it altogether. Why? Why would I go to such lengths to design this page and then leave it? Could it be that I felt like only playing bridge, thereby excluding myself from the experience of any other card game? (Weathers 135) or maybe I refrained from the fluidity that Johnson-Eilola cogently points out, or as Rice articulates, maybe I’m intimidated from the connections and links that <A> imposes on me and my antiquated ideas of learning? Whatever the reason, I did in fact move entirely away from the site and all the great resources it offers.

Ultimately, I identified what I was doing. I noticed that I wanted to remain in my comfort zone and keep what I know close and dear. But if there is any one thing I have learned through this semester, it is, that this notion robs my students. It robs them of an instructor willing to make errors in their presence. It robs them of an expanded and innovative curriculum. It robs them of the best example of composition, and that is that there is no best example, precisely because the examples change throughout time. I have to understand that the best part of learning to compose is composing in new and unfamiliar environments, because it allows me to situate myself as a writer and thinker, simultaneously. If I am going to demand that my students think for themselves, then I have to be willing to un-think what those before me embedded in my brain matter. Not all of it, but the portions that force me to believe in institutionalized learning, as opposed to free thinking. If I am free to think, make connections, socialize, and link ideas, I am also opening up a space where I am comfortable doing this even when I know little or nothing about the ideas I entertain. When I do this, it makes the learning experience of my students just as open, “The socialized experience makes writing always relational” (Rice 65). Thanks Jeff!

Wix (Curriculum Vitae)

Wix (Curriculum Vitae)

So, since the onset of this class (English 516) even though I have been intrigued by the several different new media composition tools, digital art, and multimedia environments, I have still remained within my comfort zone. I notice that although I am willing to try and incorporate digital literacy into my classroom, I am still a bit intimidated by it, and the thought of throwing myself to the wolves, aka, the world wide web. I feel as though I have grown a fairly thick skin for criticism, yet I haven’t truly embraced the lot of multimedia platforms, so my skin is still not quite as thick, because I haven’t experienced the complete and utter exposure that one does when they are willing to be overwhelmed by digitality. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed, it’s a new age, novel programs, and innovative ideas that we’re attempting to embrace.

Furthermore, we’re attempting to embrace this digital monster, and learn while we do it. Being in that position makes some of us feel insecure and confused at times, but that’s a great feeling, because it forces us to be curious. In order to demand a certain curiosity of our students, ought we not be as willing to discover the unknown as well? Perhaps instruction should embrace this idea as much as embracing the novel idea of the web, too?

This digital CV that I have created on Wix is by no means as avant garde as some might like to think (namely myself, even though I felt oddly techy while working on it), but it is a starting point, or maybe even a middle ground as I work through my own comfort zone, or lack there of. The more we question, research, examine, create, and further this cycle, the better off our students are. I have to admit that I opened this Wix account on the evening we discussed the site, which was roughly a little less than a month ago or more, and then I walked away from it. I left it dead in the water, and when I thought about it I felt scared, as though something would jump through the screen and bite me. The main reason why I decided to pick it up where I left of is because I am currently seeking employment and I thought, by necessity, I should finish what I started.

This is a perfect example of the comfort zone that we all like to remain in. Even though it made me a bit uncomfortable to work with it (I made a horrible mess of the page too many times to mention) every time I fell, I was able to get up and try again. I forced myself to get up and try again, because I need to be able to refer professionals and colleagues to this page. So, with that said and without further ado….here is me…..academic me.

Toward New Media Text: Taking Up The Challenges of Visual Literacy-Selfe

First, I think it’s important to articulate that the activities illustrated for us here are very helpful in looking at our own Cookbook presentations, because they give us insight, perspectives, and results that we might otherwise not see in the beginning phases of the project. So, Kudos to Professor Mueller for the advocacy!

Next, I want to talk about something mentioned on page 71 that has been simmering for sometime now. It is the very last paragraph on the page that begins, “Finally, I would suggest, many English composition teachers have downplayed the importance of visual literacy and texts that depend primarily on visual elements because they confront us with the prospect of updating our literacies at the expense of considerable work, precious time, and a certain amount of status. Teachers continue to privilege alphabetic literacy over visual literacy, in other words, because they have already invested so heavily in writing, writing instruction and writing programs–and because we have achieved some status as practitioners and specialists of writing” In the margin of the page, I have a sticky note that I wrote this on, “So, it seems the inconsistency in alphabetic vs visual composition is less about what/how students learn and more about what/how teachers demonstrate what we know?” I’m still not certain how much of that I believe, but it seems to be the case, in a sense.

How can we, as professionals, be so certain with what we think we know about writing, learning to write, or teaching it, when even a scholar such as Cynthia L. Selfe states, “we have achieved some status as practitioners and specialists”? If we look at this from another professions’ stand point, maybe the wider perspective is a little bit easier to see. Physicians attend post-secondary institutions for a good while, in order to receive their credentials and skill base to practice medicine. Then, they are responsible for interning for another stipulated amount of time to put these practices to work. They are not masters of a skill set, they are practitioners who are mastering their skill set. Thus, although physicians carry a good amount of status and entitlement with their chosen profession, they are in fact practicing medicine, or else when patients are given a diagnosis that they question, the practitioner would not suggest a second/third opinion to confirm or deny the diagnosis. With this viewpoint in mind, are we not practitioners ourselves? Is it not possible that we, as professionals learn as much about a subject, familiar or unknown, as our students do? Is this not why we teach….to continue to develop what we know? I think it is. So, why is it so difficult for some instructors to teach with this in mind? I’m not implying that all instructors are narrow-minded about what they profess to know. I am suggesting that we need to incorporate a more inclusive stand with regard to curriculum: a wider base for our students to work with and a little more humility for our teachers to practice with.

As professionals, we study in order to “specialize” in one area of the field or another, it has been this way for many years now. However, I believe our students get much more out of their work, when instructors are instructing as student as well. The more variety we teach, the wider the scope of the learning, because as instructors, we widen our own literary perspective. This is the key to maintaining job security in our field: knowing that the more we learn, the less we truly know.

Box-Logic by Sirc (WNM)

After reading this chapter, it made me think of the lecture Derek gave on Wikirage. Not sure if I have the name correct, but on page 123-124 the author begins, “The logic of the box…” and this description is very similar to a thinking process. It’s the type of process that was presented in Wikirage and the type of process that I know I experience as I write, or pre-write.

It’s all the thoughts that I jot down, even the ones that make no sense to others, but perfect sense to me. It that part of my writing where I’m not writing, but my mind is. My fingers follow along to the stream-of-conscious banter that is happening while I’m thinking out my main ideas. They’re not main ideas yet, but small chunks of “short, amorphous” think-tank strategies for furthering cohesion. My sticky notes, marginalia, and ripped corners of paper with ink-blotted scribbles are theories and evidences in their prepubescent stages.

That is what Sirc is saying here. Now I understand why web designers get offended when people say that what they’re doing isn’t composing, because this chapter proves to me that it is. Actually, I think I felt this way all along, but I needed something to push me. The nudge I get from this chapter reveals something I felt was true all along, and that is, composition has no business being defined as a process that involves only alphabetic structure. If we narrow it to that alone, we rob students of the vast choices of creativity and innovation that design, in general offers.

This doesn’t mean that I think a structured research paper or essay is in any way less valuable. What I think it means, is that composition is now in a place where, perhaps, it may stand alone in its discipline. Maybe, we need to redetermine how it should be organized curriculum wise, and revamp our institutions to allow it, its own branch of study. Maybe, composition does not need to ride the coat tails of reading and literature anymore. It’s clear to me that the composition community, in its own right, has a much larger space to examine its purpose and implementation, than I ever assumed before.