Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Gaggle of Galloping Google-Doccers

I haven't tried the whiteboard on Blackboard/WebCT (or whatever we call it this year--eLearning?), but I found its collaborative uses limited. Now, cooperative use, that was a different story. Discussion boards allowed generative questions, the chunking of individual text, and asynchronous peer review (that did not work particularly well). Google Docs isn't a perfect program either: only 10 users at a time can edit. (I know what we learned last Tuesday. Well, at least one thing.)

However, I see real possibility for using Google Docs as a collaborative writing technology. Doing collaborative work "'assists with deeper levels of knowledge generation and promotes initiative, creativity, and development of critical thinking skills' (p.33)" (5), according to Palloff and Pratt (2001) in Decentered, Disconnected, and Digitized: The Importance of Shared Space, by Beth L. Brunk-Chavez and Shawn J. Miller. Teachers often conflate cooperative learning with collaborative learning, but the very real differences between the two can mean the difference between effective and noneffective pedagogy. Stacey (2005) points out differences between the two, according to Brunk-Chavez and Miller: [I]n cooperative learning, students divide the work among themselves and later assemble it into its final product to be evaluated" (4). This is what we are doing with gDocs Presentations. Each person takes a slide, loads a chunk of text and maybe an image, and leaves the document to be organizaed, titled, and unified by a self-designated leader or two (maybe). With collaborative learning, "partners do the work together and while the work may be delegated, the final result is negotiated" (4). However, collaborative learning also empowers students, with
authority over both the process and the product [...] transferred to the groups. The "answers" are not predetermined, and as we well know, students working collaboratively will often arrive at unexpected, unforeseen, or even conflicting solutions or answers. (5)

I see this as the desired outcome for collaborative learning. And only portions of the work would be delegated in this model, perhaps the initial setup of the document and preparation of the final draft for submission. Even those tasks should be interactive. Collaboration, it seems to me, should result in a single voice not peculiar to any one of the collaborators, but rather a synthesis of all the voices into something new. Similarly, the text of the collaborative document should be synthesized, with threads and fine detail appearing throughout and interwoven with each other like a fine tapestry. So when I next design a collaborative assignment, I hope to engage students in the artistry of knowledge-making, not a cooperative activity similar to bringing dish to a potluck dinner. But, "[t]he real problem that became evident in [the] study...[was finding] that many of the instructors simply didn't seem to want to instill any sort of truly collaborative activities in the first place" (21). This refers to CMS rather than Google Docs, but the criticism is equally applicable.

Other terms to remember:

Instrumental and substantive theories (17)
"learning as protected activity" (9)
teaching as "protected activity" (8)
"digitizing as protected activity" (10)

Questions the authors ask (20):
  1. "If instructors, when critically examining the tools available for collaboration online (particularly for composition courses), find that the tools fail to meet their needs, why then are we not ourselves working more collaboratively with programmers and others who may be able to create more usable digital spaces?" (My follow-up: What would such collaboration look like?)
  2. "And, if we do find the tools we have adequate, have we considered the unspoken, rhetorical implications of these tools before we present them to students?"

Monday, March 17, 2008

WoW or WheW?

World of Warcraft is attractive as a game, but I do not have enough experience to be able to judge its merits as a teaching tool. I downloaded the 10-day trial last night at midnight after returning from Colorado (and a conference) and played for 3 hours. Tonight I played for 2 hours and checked several times for "friends" who might be present. I was disappointed to always be alone and fending off beasts. Admittedly the white tiger was pretty cool but I got tired of constantly releasing Sylaura's spirit and racing down a path to reclaim her corpse. In fact, my wrist is physically tired and somewhat painful--a tendonitis flare-up, I think.

Landscape was initially quite beautiful but became darker and more foreboding in certain countries or lands. I did not take notes while playing, which might have been useful for writing this blog. (I was too busy trying maneuver escape from beasts and returning the avatar to her corpse.) I let the Spirit Healer heal Sylaura once for a 25% hit on everything she had.

Sylaura did better than I'd hoped in that she completed one quest and attained Level 2, I think through sheer perseverance. I don't know that my skill grew much, certainly not enough to be able to escape the clearing where all sorts of murderous animals and hominids snuck in on her.

I don't think I had any system problems, but I was not able to figure out how to use my headset. It took awhile, too, to find a way to use the mouse instead of the arrows to manipulate the avatar. I tried to contact other class members but the "Friends" list showed everyone as offline.

I would not use WoW in a classroom because I know that I could spend a great deal of time trying to master the game, and I would not want to introduce someone to the game who might have difficulty escaping its allure. Still, I concede that the game might be useful in some way as a learning tool. I'd like to hear more--convince me if you can.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Mind Your P[lagiarism]s & Q[uota]s

One out of 100 people in the U.S. are in jail or prison. Margaret Seltzer aka Margarat B. Jones committed the taboo of presenting Love and Consequences as her memoir, not the fiction it really is. The WPA mailing list adds yet more threads about plagiarism and dishonesty to the archives. Why does it seem like the problem of plagiarism is escalating? I think DeVoss and Porter, in Why Napster Matters to Writing: Filesharing as a New Ethic of Digital Delivery are onto something:

From a rhetorical perspective, Napster represents a crisis in delivery, the often-neglected rhetorical canon…Napster should matter to writing teachers because it represents a paradigm shift: from an older view of writing as alphabetic text on paper, intended for print distribution, to an emergent and ill-understood view of writing as weaving digital media for distribution across networked spaces for various audiences engaged in different types of reading….But the shift is not merely a shift in genre…There is also an economic shift, a shift in the terms of rules and ethics governing the sharing and distribution of writing, what rhetoric has traditionally called delivery. (179-180).

This crisis in delivery, involving understanding and correct use of copyright law, extends beyond the digital to print. The boundaries blur; the rate of noncompliance increases; the speed of detection accelerates. The crisis, as I see it, is no longer so much limited to the act as a cultural shift in values. Are we retreating from the idea of individualistic authorship to a more sustainable collectivization of common knowledge on the fast track—copyrighted material moving swiftly into the realm of fair use? (Devoss & Rosati, “It Wasn’t Me, Was it?: Plagiarism and the Web, Computers and Composition 154-55)

Certainly we must design assignments that encourage synthesis of sources and critical thinking that defy quick and dirty unattributed copying from internet or paper text sources. When I think about the time it takes to track down suspected plagiarism, document it, and report it through appropriate institutional channels, it makes me tired. But it also makes me concerned about fairness. Even though I uncover a smattering of plagiarism in my students’ writing (practiced by students intentionally sometimes, unintentionally often), I suspect it’s a little like the saying about mice: if you see one, there are another 20 in the house. If preventing plagiarism is futile, how do we go about reinventing the idea of authorship?

As I read the opening of Karla Saari Kitalong’s A Web of Symbolic Violence, I recognized many people I know in the code copying and subsequent questioning of ethics. Over and over I have been told to look at page source to find what I need. In the announcements for an online scheduling page that I help maintain, I was frustrated with the lack of formatting options. I looked at page source for the rest of the document, copied and pasted some code, and got what I needed: now the announcements are more accessible as technical documents.

  1. Is copying code for such purposes plagiarism, dishonest? When does it cross the line? When code copying is encouraged as a way of learning, how do we, as teachers, identify a line of demarcation?
  2. My brief journey into MySpace involved going to a template page and copying page source for a background. Was that plagiarism? How do we make sense of availability versus authorial rights?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

To Erase or De-Race: A Rant on Cybertyping

I'm trying to remember what I was thinking when I designed Maitland Revolution, my avatar in Second Life. I flashed through skin colors, cheekbones, body sizes, hair and eye colors, clothes, and settled on being male and athletic looking, but not a Mr. America. Maitland was named after a character in a book, but he resembled me in his clumsiness--he had a penchant for falling out of space (not so different than driving off the edge of a highway) and walking underwater. I become confused talking about him because I don't know whether he is in the present or the past, whether he might reappear if I decide to follow him beyond my password (if I can remember it).

Maitland resembles the "'fluid selves'" Lisa Nakamura writes of in the Introduction of Cybertypes: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity on the Internet:

And as Caren Kaplan points out in Questions of Travel, tourists operate from a position of privilege and entitlement (62); to be a tourist is to possess mobility, access, and the capital to satisfy curiosities about "native" life. Chat-space participants who take on identities as samurai and geisha constitute the darker side of postmodern identity, since the "fluid selves" they create (and often so lauded by postmodern theorists) are done so in the most regressive and stereotyped of ways. (xv)

Maitland is stereotyped in that he is an avatar with limited variation from other avatars (unless their creators happen to be computer code gurus. I know that Second Life material/not material and real/not real goods can be designed—can avatars be varied beyond the embedded digital code? Maybe a little mutation here and there, or evolution, given enough time? I know that when bandwidth got sucked up, Maitland lost his clothes and fell on his face. Why not create, god-like, some digital designer genes/jeans?) In a sense, Maitland is stereotyped as one of the avatar race, a cybertype, and “being raced is in itself a disorienting position. Being raced in cyberspace is doubly disorienting, creating multiple layers of identity construction” (xv). Here my exposition dissolves because, in all seriousness, the real issues of race in any space are daunting. I could have decided to make Maitland an avatar of color but I chose not to, and at the same time I made him male but mentally positioned him much as I might position a younger, lither, female me. I don’t remember having the choice of making Maitland obese—chunky, Shwarzeneggerish, yes, but not fat. Is the world of avatars obesity-free? If it is, why? And what of the women—are there any Twiggy-thin female avatars? Ah…and when I was there in Second Life, I saw no children.

No children. Why? Was I in the wrong Second Universe? Or perhaps just as “mythologies of race that are nostalgic” are constructed narratives, so are the childless, fatless, thinless, spaces of online lives like Second Life. They are lives of “‘sadness without an object’” (Nakamura 26).[i]

Angela M. Haas’s Making Online Spaces More Native to American Indians: A Digital Diversity Recommendation speaks to a less theoretical and more practical push for online survivance (I think this might be survival + resistance, although the author writes survivance + resistance.) In other words, Haas is writing that American Indians’ access to the Internet, though limited, is growing, and in this growth, tribes like the Cherokee Nation are establishing online tribal identities they intend to

· preserve language, culture, history, and identity;

· demystify Nativeness and combat stereotypes and fetishism…;

· [and] provide “contact zones” for Natives and non-Natives to foster community and alliance-building.

One of the survivance tactics is digital rhetorical sovereignty, which “gives Natives a reason to be wired” and promotes the development of the items listed above. From my surfing with Jeanette, I have the impression that tribal presence, if not Native presence as a whole, is growing online, and in uniquely Native ways.

1. How can Native American people and tribes avoid being exploited voyeuristically or fetishized as a consequence of online presence?

2. Nakamura writes: “Cybertyping’s purpose is to representatively bracket off racial difference, to assuage fears that the Internet is indeed producing a monoculture. The greater fear, however, which cybertyping actively works to conceal, is the West’s reluctance to acknowledge its colonization of global media, and ongoing racist practices within its own borders” (19-20). Question: Did we learn anything from the American Civil War years that could translate into a peaceable resolution to end “colonization of global media” and “racist practices within [online] borders”?

[i] More than a year has passed since I conjured Maitland’s code and looked at his back. My memory of the “game’s” capabilities may be faulty, and new possibilities are likely to have been programmed in during the intervening period.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

[For] Crying Out Loud, the Fat Lady's Singing in Front of the Funhouse Mirror

I admit that I was uncomfortable while reading the articles for Thursday’s class, and I’ve avoided writing this blog entry because I haven’t been able to dodge the issues. In Fleeting Images: Women Visually Writing the Web, Gail E. Hawisher and Patricia A. Sullivan quote Tina: “The very idea of choosing a face to accompany my online words horrifies me” (268). I wrote “Yes!” in the margin, and double-lined and starred the lines. I feel like hiding my face, my body, all of me, and as Hawisher and Sullivan argue, “it is difficult to hide visible markers of difference” (270). For me, the marker is big(ness), obesity. If I could hide my body, I could represent myself textually as an intelligent woman who has fun (sometimes) and has led a full and active life. But when a photo is called for—as a way to identify myself to someone I know professionally and will meet at a conference, as a graduate peer interested in a writing project, as a newbie MySpace and Facebook member—I am traumatized. I look for photos I can crop to a head-and-shoulders view, or one in which the scenery dominates. And as long as the photo is available, I am uneasy. I find Bordo’s “everyday interpretation through two analytical moves”—homogenization and normalization—a difficult concept to apprehend when representations lie far outside the socially constructed and accepted normal and “how [images, photos, visual representations] go about representing that which the self continually measures, judges, disciplines, and corrects itself by” (271). Such measuring, judging, and discipline results in episodic self-flagellation because even when attempts at weight loss and conformity are successful for a time, the 75% to 95% recidivism[i] rate[ii] can seldom reach the goal of normal. (Compare weight loss recidivism to the 2003 Bureau of Justice Statistics indicating 5.3% recidivism rate for sex offenders within 3 years of release from prison.) What about the social construction of normal creates a non-productive, even detrimental climate for body image among the obese?

Laura L. Sullivan writes in Cyberbabes: (Self-) Representation of Women and the Virtual Male Gaze that she

believe[s] that the objectification of women’s faces and bodies pervasive in mainstream mass media forms one of the cornerstones of women’s oppression. Women internalize this objectification and in turn feel bad about ourselves (how we look gets translated into who we are and how much (self) worth we have), because no woman can ever measure up to the stereotypes promoted by mass mediated images.” (192)

Every month, women’s magazines next to the grocery checkout counter promote quick weight loss and decadent chocolate desserts on covers that feature a famous/beautiful/successful/normal woman, someone that other women want to emulate. I don’t see those models as mindless—they inspire a certain amount of envy; a feeling of loss, even grief. I think that those models’ images were meant to speak to women “as objectified images to be consumed by the largely [fe]male viewers” (192, I have substantially changed the context of Sullivan’s statement by replacing male with female). Sullivan’s concern with the male gaze on female images online is legitimate as long as the demographic profile shows males’ access and use exceeding that of females. And her emphasis that “the public nature of this medium is not to deny the way that sexism, classism, and racism influence and limit access to the technology of the Internet…[and] may reinforce and amplify such oppressions in new ways” (193). One of these ways is through weightism, yet for at least 20 years, movements such as Big is Beautiful have existed. Leonard Nimoy, in an interview for the New York Times about The Full Body Project: Photographs by Leonard Nimoy, a book of photographs featuring nude obese women, talked about how he became interested in the project and his initial difficulty: “The nudity wasn’t the problem,” he said, “but I’d never worked with that kind of a figure before. I didn’t quite know how to treat her. I didn’t want to do her some kind of injustice. I was concerned that I would present this person within the envelope of an art form.” I don’t intend to critique Nimoy’s art nor to question the result of his efforts. I found his book when I decided—with great trepidation—to see what popped up in a web search for “obese women photos.” While not as bad as I feared, I wonder whether a man behind the lens can avoid viewing any woman without a trace of male gaze.

Susan Romano writes in On Becoming a Woman: Pedagogies of the Self about textual construction of online female identity in a sometimes hostile male environment. Male antagonization requires that females “accept, refuse, ignore, or challenge” the male characterization of women as a group, and each option “carries an array of immediate discursive consequences for the women students undergoing this form of interrogation. Indeed, the onus placed on women is striking” (255). Romano calls on Haynes and Le Court in her construction of “a new rhetoric of the self—for feminist performances in online environments” (257). I don’t quite understand what she means by this because she skips immediately to explaining the classroom example later in the essay. She calls her tactics reformist as opposed to Haynes’ and Le Court’s revolutionary mode (257). Roman’s posit of the “metaphors of recombination” offers hope for synthesizing a self-awareness, self-possibilities, and self-esteem (265).

  1. I opted out of the first wave of feminism and didn’t know that a “new “feminism had arisen until four years ago. Now I hear there is a third wave. Where is this wave in its evolution?
  2. I’m not sure how Romano’s “new rhetoric of the self” differs from “healing the inner child” or “building self-esteem.” Is she simply renaming preexisting programs in feminist terms?

[i] Recidivism is an appropriate term for a lapse of behavior that returns the person to previous habits, but a strong connotative association with relapse into criminal behavior demonstrates how obesity is viewed in the medical field and in society.

[ii] Rosenbaum, Michael. Physiological Barriers to Weight Loss Maintenance. Medscape General Medicine. 2007; 9(3):18. Accessed 23 Feb. 2008 .

Thursday, February 14, 2008


I'm all for the social construction of spaces, but in our Gmail Chat today, there was no pause, no place. The chaos frustrated me and cast me out, revealing (or suggesting) that my identity, as constructed for classrooms and face-t0-face social interactions is geeky and out of place. Is it age? Is it personality? What makes me supersensitive about being an outsider in this insider chat?

Okay, enough of the emotional reaction. Pedagogically, I would not want to initiate a synchronous chat in which my students could exclude me--they can do that on their own time. If I used it, I would set up small groups that met at different times and guide the conversation for instructional purposes.

You can see that my thinking right now is punctuated, its syntax slowed down by the staggering speed of the chatter(s).

And for the record, I love y'all! I'm just exhausted by the experience.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Yes, We Have No Bad Bammers[i]

Reading Geoffrey Sirc’s “What is Composition…?” After Duchamp shifts styles from theoretical doublespeak to gangsta rims like a click of the mouse on a speedy link. Negotiating the angles takes more than concentration, it takes gyration—mental gymnastics for codeswitching and mathematical (in)equalities. I’m not convinced that Sirc’s equations make sense in the inter(disciplinary con)textualization he asserts. However, when he combines his points into a sum(mary) of the whole, the his argument calls for a broader definition of composition. A shift in technology to glass-as-paper, document-replacing-product, and use-value-trumping-exchange-value (202). Sirc laments that self-replicating composition is museumifi[ed], with nostalgia for the “exchange-value as exhibition-value” (202). Sirc’s description of what composition is (or should be) at this time departs from Bartholomae’s as a proponent of process, who disappoints Sirc when Bartholomae mistakes his willingness to have students “fracture open the text” as innovation toward a new kind of text, but, rather, the resulting composition is an already privileged form of academic text (180-182). Of particular interest is a shift away from composition as “product-oriented” as opposed to “idea-generative” (195), and that Gervais’s maneuvers with hypertext are collected in the term “restricted teleintertext,” which are two or more texts written over a period of time (sometimes very long) by the same person (196).

Sirc’s extended discussion of Bartholomae’s question, “What is Composition…?” (with composition assumed to equate with and allowed to substitute for art—in the existential and eternal question, “What is Art?”) is facilitated by juxtaposing it with the art of Duchamp. Other authors take up the challenge to implement composition-as-art. For example, Kathleen Blake Yancey, in Made Not Only in Words: Composition in a New Key, adopts composition/art structured in the form of music in her CCC (December 2004) incarnation of her “Chair’s Address” at CCCC, but she also composes with visual and aural components, a truly multimodal composition. Quoting Daley, Yancey writes states:

“…The ability to negotiate through life by combining words with pictures with audio and video to express thoughts will be the mark of the educated student” (“Speaking”). Specifically, [Daley] proposes that the literacy of the screen, which she says parallels oral literacy and print literacy, become a third literacy required of all undergraduates. (305)

Later, in Quartet three, Yancey asserts that

new composition includes rhetoric and is about literacy. New composition includes the literacy of print: it adds on of it and brings the notions of practice and activity and circulation and media and screen and networking to our conceptions of process. It will require a new expertise of us as it does of our students. And ultimately, new composition may require a new site for learning for all of us. (320)

That new site is technology, and here we get back to the fundamental question opening our discussion of Teaching with Technology: What is technological literacy?

Yancey is not alone in her call for increased emphasis on “composition in a new key.” Diana George writes in From Analysis to Design: Visual Communication in the Teaching of Writing that “current discussions of visual communication and writing instruction have only tapped the surface of possibilities for the role of visual communication in the composition class. Or, even more to the point—our students have a much richer imagination for what we might accomplish with the visual than our journals have yet to address.” (12) She comments on the tension between visual rhetoric and composition, with the visual a “problematic” or “a strategy for adding relevance or interest to a required course” (13). In other words, some people think of the joining of the written word and the visual as a how-to/way-to-do-the-impossible in 11 to 16 weeks, or more to the point a gimmick. George quotes Bartholomae and Petrosky (from Ways of Seeing) in another example of the disappearing lines between sensory literacies and the written word:

Seeing comes before words. The child recognizes before it can speak. But there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it…(7-8)

Taken beyond the visual to sight, smell, touch, and taste—a sort of virtual world of the (un)composed possibilities that invite but do not privilege the written word because of utility, Yancey’s appreciation and use of the visual/aural and even spatial (recall the darkened room, where she seemed to float in the spotlight incognizant of the audience, not because she didn’t know they were there, but because she could not see them) position composition as a more adaptable Art, suitable for exposition and performance. (Here I think of Dene Grigar, DTC professor and performance artist at WSU-Vancouver.)

Anne Frances Wysocki, in with eyes that think, and compose, and think: ON VISUAL RHETORIC (I try here to display the visual rhetoric evidenced in her article’s title), adds Aristotelian definition of rhetoric (“the use of the available means of persuasion to achieve particular ends), extended to include visual rhetoric, to a 20th century rhetoric that is situated in culture and comes up with this sum:

I want us to be aware not only of the particular visual strategies that a composer chooses when constructing texts aimed at persuading audiences toward specific ends; I want us also to be aware of how the strategies that we choose reinforce (and can perhaps help us be aware of the question) values, habits, and structures of our places and times. (184)

Wysocki outlines justifications for including visual rhetoric for teaching (composition) with computers, emphasizing the nature, prolificacy, usefulness of the visual in understanding and affecting cultural values. Yet by concentrating her focus on the visual, she neglects the wider possibilities attendant in Yancey’s address to CCCC.

  1. Is composition bammer?
  2. Is composition in a new key, especially the visual, appropriate for academic or scholarly audiences outside composition and rhetoric?

[i] Definitions (Sirc 187-88): bad—bootsie, janky; bammer—busted and disgusted like half the definitions up on here (mod7316)