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)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Time --><--Space

I am intrigued by the idea of articulation as an alternative way of thinking about what we do as teachers. Anne Wysocki and Johndan Johnson-Eilola write in Blinded by the Letter that

“…this involves, then not just thinking that we should pass along discrete sets of skills to others—or pretending that those discrete sets of skills are all that it takes to have a different life. There are certainly skills needed for connecting and reconnecting information—but the relationships to communication technologies we are describing now and here ask, in necessary addition, for a shared and discussed, ongoing, reconception of the space and time we use together and in which we find (and can construct) information and ourselves.

This reconception is thus not about handing down skills to others who are not where we are, but about figuring out how we all are where we are, and about how we all participate in making these spaces and the various selves we find here.” (italics added; Selfe, Passions Pedagogies and 21st Century Technologies 366)

Wysocki and Johnson-Eilola counter the banking method of teaching with a social constructivistic proposal for revitalizing the ways we know and teach, privileging communication over the traditional idea of literacy as mastery of skills. Literacy, as an over-arching term that encompasses many different subsets—reading, writing, math, technology, etc.—has traditionally been preferred, possibly because educators who are mandated to assess student learning can more easily measure definable tasks and configurations of those tasks. Moreover, the “‘literacy myth’” (attributed to separate writings by Harvey J. Graff and Ruth Finnegan) is a “belief that literacy will bring us” suffrage, a place in dominant culture, or acceptance in traditionally privileged communities like academia (353). Communication, in the form of articulation, requires rethinking assessment to uncover learning not easily isolated. (This is where Guba and Lincoln’s fourth generation evaluation, particularly the recursivity of hermeneutic dialectics, could be applied.)

In a way, resistance to Wysocki and Johnson-Eilola’s alternative of articulation, as opposed to literacy, could be compared to the resistance to forward-moving writing technologies discussed by Dennis Baron in From Pencils to Pixels. Why change longstanding practices? Why integrate new ways of doing/thinking when the old ways still work (or sorta work)? For example, Douglas Hesse argues that we should retain longstanding essayistic literacy at the same time as new writing technologies make possible listserv “essays,” hypertexts, and other forms of computer-generated writing and communication. He asks whether a discussion thread could be presented as an essay: “Would the result be recognizable as an essay? Even suspending the interesting issues of style and voice, the main quality that threads-as-essays lack is shape and closure” (44). However, Montaigne does not necessarily give shape to his essays nor provide closure to the reader in his chrono-logic (Paul Heilker) approach.

  1. The most interesting discussion presented in Wysocki and Johnson-Eilola’s article, for me personally, is the idea that “time and space collapsing into each other” (363). What purposes are served through this? How are physically distant place brought close and virtual spaces collapsed (leading “to the idea that real spaces are likewise”)? (364)
  2. Do we want to promote the space-time compression mentioned in this article? What can we envision happening in the future as this becomes universal?
  3. A question for me to follow up on: How would Yi-Fu Tuan, Edward Soja, and Michel Foucault perceive this postmodern view of collapsed space-time?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Eks (x) Lifeworlds

I know a little about multiplestwo of my nine children are twins. They shared the same womb, the same birth date (born 3 minutes apart), the same crib (for a week), the same feeding times, the same stroller. They began swimming lessons and kindergarten together. Despite the shared environment, the twins are very different. They share the same parents but not the same chromosomes: they are fraternal—a boy-girl set. The boy weighed 8 lbs. 2 oz. at birth; the girl was 5 lbs. 12 oz.—almost 2 ½ pounds difference. The boy was brunette; the girl blond. The boy cried a lot and needed adult attention; the girl was quiet, watching everyone and everything around her, attracting everyone’s delighted attention. They developed their own twin language: he was slow learning to speak English; she began talking at the appropriate developmental time and spoke for him, further delaying his speech. He watched birds and buses and trucks; she watched faces. Together they formed a unit, twins, which required a metalanguage to discuss the differences between single- and double-births.

The twins, in a simplistic way, resembled multiliteracies in that multivalent bonds formed between the two babies, the family, other people, and the environments in which we lived. As The New London Group writes in A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies, “The challenge is to make space available so that different lifeworlds can flourish, to create spaces for community life where local and specific meanings can be made” (16). The twins needed to explore individuality within the community they inhabited in order to establish separate and viable identities. The multivalent quality resulting from interaction among different communities shows “their boundaries [became] more evidently complex and overlapping” (17). Moreover, neither was “a member of a singular community,” and each negotiated “multiple discourse of identity and multiple discourses of recognition” (17). The twins needed proficiency in inhabiting their individual lifeworlds (17). In other words, they needed a teacher or two or more, and the first one on the scene is usually the mother.

With this analogy, I am also demonstrating some understanding of conversationalisation, which “involves institutionally motivated simulation of conversational language and the personae and relationships of ordinary life” (16). I am making a private metaphor public, appropriating my memories “to serve…institutional ends” (16). The New London Group says that the process “in part destroys the autonomy of private and community lifeworlds” (16). I disagree. The private cannot be severed from the community in that the community molds portions of the private and the private molds portions of the community.

What does this analogy have to do with framing my understanding of multiliteracies? Like most people, I think in metaphors, in analogies. To find a representative example that I am unlikely to forget means finding an access point into a new concept and a higher likelihood that that knowledge will be retained. But to be more explicit…

The existence of multiple forms of literacy—multiliteracies—seems more relevant to the understanding and teaching of “ways that allow [students] to participate fully in public, community and economic life” (9). Reading in isolation from other forms of literacy bears little relationship with the lifeworlds of many young adults in the 21st century. More apt is the wired vocal/aural/visual/tactile connection to multifarious electronic wizardry gadgets, computers included.

The New London Group’s statement on a theory of pedagogy clearly points to social constuctivism (30-31). Practical applications follow, with the charts and tables particularly helpful. I also appreciate the lists (Available Designs, Designing, and The Redesigned, 20; Design Elements, 25; Situated Practice, Overt Instruction, Critical Framing, and Transformed Practice, 35).

  1. Eleven years ago Lester Faigley presented his CCCC’s address (After the Revolution), and wrote: “Very simply, the Internet is not the world. Use of the Internet is even more skewed than consumption of the world’s energy resources” (39).
  2. For a long time people in the U.S. did not know or refused to acknowledge that oil consumption needed to be controlled. The 70s Arab Oil Embargo disappeared from communal memory (maybe Lois Lowry’s The Giver stored it for us). What kinds of unsustainable practices are we ignoring about Internet technology and its use that are likely to surface in coming generations?
  3. What does it mean to be computer literate (Ohmann: Literacy, Technology, and Monopoly Capital, 27)? Isn’t computer literacy really computer multiliteracies?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Conundrums and Cautions; Composition and Computers

Reading Lester Faigley’s transcripts of in-class discussions conducted online using InterChange made me think about online experiences of my own. The first is really an aggregate of online courses I completed as an undergraduate (two-thirds of my B.S Liberal Studies courses took place off campus and online, with a handful of weekend and correspondence courses in the mix). Online discussion took place asynchronously on Blackboard Discussion Boards. Teacher participation varied. At least one teacher monitored conversations and policed student interactions. At the other extreme, a teacher absented him/herself to the point that almost all students gave up on required discussions (tied to grades) by the fourth of an eleven week course. This meant that a student who wanted to complete the assignment—respond to at least one other student each week—could not complete the task. The second experience was a group project in Second Life (just two of us, Sarah and me) designed as a derive. We traveled together, communicated through written dialogue from different geographical locations (in both real and virtual worlds), and applied theories of space and place in order to gain an understanding of our virtual environment. This was a student-centered, student-driven research project, one that I hope will help me develop other such effective technological explorations.

These experiences involved discussion and students. What do my experiences say to me about teaching with computer technology in light of today’s readings?

Much of the online discussion during my undergraduate days followed the “traditional notions of education that permeate our culture at its most basic level: teachers talk, students listen; teachers’ contributions are privileged; students respond in predictable, teacher-pleasing ways” that Gail E. Hawisher and Cynthia L. Selfe mention in The Rhetoric of Technology and the Electronic Writing Class (35). Open-ended questions allowed students to make connections between readings, but often, especially in my scrupulously patrolled anthropology class, the questions were designed to elicit right answers, in the instructor’s view. Most of us accepted the scholarly authority of this anthropologist; however, one man refused to acknowledge any possibility that humans evolved. He began to attack other students’ viewpoints, then he attacked them as people. After a mild warning to the entire class failed to stop his forcefulness, the instructor publicly reprimanded him. I don’t know whether behind-the-scenes dialogue took place.

I’ve always wondered what would have happened if the students in the class had been left to rebut, rebuke, or shun the guy in a student-centered action. In this class, “[t]he use of computers…seemed to come between [the teacher] and students, pre-empting valuable exchanges among members of the class….The use of technology in [this class], far from creating a new forum for learning, simply magnified the power differential between students and the instructor” (Hawisher and Selfe 40, 41). This was a micromanaged class in many ways, down to the prescribed vocabulary, format, deadlines, and paper topics. Not that this was bad for some, in that we did learn. As Marilyn M. Cooper writes in Postmodern Pedagogy in Electronic Conversations, “…I do not mean that teachers should tolerate inappropriate behavior in electronic or any other class conversations, but rather that teachers need to find new ways to deal with it” (160). But the technology component, the necessary medium for communication, made high demands on student receptivity to new ideas from the moment the syllabus became available, and those new ideas made strong challenges to conservative religious and political beliefs. To some extent, the software set up a panopticon with the teacher in the middle looking out at the cells (discussion threads) occupied by each student. Some students, including the man who lashed out, felt Othered. Maybe a less traditional banking approach to teaching would empower such students to voice close-held beliefs and at the same time open their minds to critically thinking about oppositional ideas. As Cooper argues, “This is not to say that teachers should not offer their own perspective or other perspectives that are not known to students, but rather that these perspectives must be clearly connected with the students’ experiences and must be offered as perspectives, not as the official or correct view” (159). To me it seems that online educators, especially, must consider Cooper’s statement. Without the face-to-face interaction of a traditional classroom, the teacher-student relationship relies entirely on the quixotic written dialogue or multi-logue.


1. I was surprised that I bristled when I read this from Hawisher/Selfe:

"Writing instructors can use networks and electronic bulletin boards as disciplinary mechanisms for observing studetns' intellectual contributions to written discussions. The institutional requirement of student evaluation contributes to this practice as instructors seek ways 'to give students credit' for conference participation....We know after all that electronic conferences are, in some ways, spaces open to public scrutiny, places where individuals with the power of control over technology can observe conversations and participants without being seen and without contributing" (42-43).

How do we, as teachers, determine when a listserv, discussion board, chat room, blog, social networking group, or any other assigned and evaluated online posting (either for a grade or for completion) crosses the line from pedagogically sound to disciplinary and inappropriate? Hawisher and Selfe write that "[w]e can, if we work at it, become learners within a community of other learners, our students" (44). This is all well and good, but how do we do it?

2. Cooper quotes Spooner saying that "in the postmodern age, the reader, not the writer, is the real tyrant: multi-tasking, channel-surfing, capricious and fickle, free to interpret, misread, manipulate, and (horrors) apply. We're all guilty; we start at the end, in the middle, we don't finish, we joyously juxtapose bits of what we read with other readings, other experiences. But the point is that this is our most natural process" (141).

Spooner describes a graduate student pretty well, perhaps scholars as a whole. I suppose this is a rhetorical question, but is it any wonder that the pedagogical underpinnings of teaching with computers should be so under-theorized, at least in the early days of its classroom application (the late 1980s and early 1990s)?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

(Un)Equal Educational Opportunity

My towns’ (three incorporated and one unincorporated communities strung together) high school had been condemned when I was in first grade. After bussing 7th through 12th graders sixteen miles away for one year (a long way, it seemed), junior high students were moved ‘home’ and the gymnasium was curtained with gigantic canvas tarps hung from ropes into large cubicles for elementary classrooms, including mine, until Christmas of my 3rd grade year. In 1968-9, I was in the ninth grade at a small junior high part of a consolidated school district and appointed to a school-community-educator committee. Our task was to join with representatives from other parts of the district in expressing what our small school needed (along with a couple of other small schools) from the district. Educators from a university moderated and guided the committee for nine months. In all that time, at twice a month meetings, we tried to define what we wanted, “equal educational opportunity.” I remember making lists, talking about why certain items appeared on the list—one of these was the return of our local high school—but our descriptions never satisfied the scholars. We wanted up-to-date books, solid buildings to replace prefabricated Quonset huts, and autonomy. We wanted a return to independence and financial self-sufficiency, a return of the pride we felt as a community that took care of its young. We were a feisty, hardworking coalmining and agricultural community, and we wanted a return to the excellence, the higher educational standards that preceded our absorption into the giant.

Nothing came of the meetings.

My class of 29 students was split between two high schools, and we spent two hours a day on the bus to attend an overcrowded school. Twelve hundred students crammed into a building during my sophomore year. Split sessions – 7 a.m. to noon, noon to 5 p.m., and swing session, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.—challenged the kids I grew up with to keep up, to participate, and to learn to adapt to what was good for us according to the more affluent, more powerful majority.

We wanted equal educational opportunity; they wanted to redistribute the assets and tax proceeds of small appropriated districts. In the name of economic expediency, we lost our community identity, and all across the nation, similar consolidations occurred.

I see similarity in the expansion of school districts and the expansion of technological literacy. Cynthia Selfe writes about some of the dangers of inequity in Technology and Literacy: A Story about the Perils of Not Paying Attention: “In the specific case of the project to expand technological literacy, the claim is that a national program will provide all citizens equal access to an improved education and, thus, equal opportunity for upward social mobility and economic prosperity. If we pay attention to the facts surrounding the project’s instantiation, however, we can remind ourselves of the much harder lesson: in our educational system, and in the culture that this system reflects, computers continue to be distributed differentially along the related axes of race and socioeconomic status and this distribution contributes to ongoing patterns of racism and to the continuation of poverty” (Selfe 101). The disparity of spending between urban and rural schools, between predominately white and Italian/Hispanic/French ethnic groups, and between middle class and working class communities echo loudly in the technological divide Selfe describes. But for both, the powerful stand in the central core of the panopticon and assign those with little or no power to the outer circle. Selfe writes, “The people labeled as ‘illiterate’ in connection with technology – as expected – are those with the least power to effect a change in this system” (107). My community made no headway in bringing high school students home until it gained a seat on the school board, and then improvements came slowly.

For people of color, the distance from agency, let alone power, is often profound. Andrew Walton, in Technology Versus African-Americans, states: “As the world gets faster and more information-centered, it also gets meaner: disparities of wealth and power strengthen; opportunities change and often fade away” (16). This, despite the buy-in to the American dream. “Blacks,” says Walton, “are subject not only to notions of a steady rise but also to the restless ambition that seems a peculiarly American disease” (18). Is it this disease that gives rise to a need for a cyber-underground like Black World to re-create the oral tradition Smitherman catalogues—“call and response, mimicry, signifyin’, testifyin’, exaggerated language, proverbial statements, punning, spontaneity, image-making, braggadocio, indirection, and tonal semantics”? (qtd. In Walton, 79) And does an “underground” signify revolution?

Jeffrey T. Grabill argues in Utopic Visions, The Technopoor, and Public Access: Writing Technologies in a Community Literacy Program that “writing with computers in nonschool contexts is a significant area of inquiry that needs the experience and expertise of computers and composition professionals. But, work in this area demands that we confront complex issues of public access and participate in the design of writing technologies” (299). We’re back to the panopticon—who’s in the middle? Who’s isolated on the outside looking in?

When Foucault asks “why at certain moments that regime undergoes a global modification” (Truth and Power 113), the question of time and timing arises. Giddens has the answer, insisting that “[s]ocial activity is always constituted in three intersecting moments of difference: temporally, paradigmatically (invoking structure which is present only in its instantiation) and spatially. All social practices are situated activities in each of these senses” (Agency, Structure 54).

  1. The question of access to technology for marginalized communities and individuals seems to have no concrete answer. If access is denied, the population is alienated and isolated. If access is provided, the population is marginalized as non-owners of the technology and the control of its access. We experience this problem as a binary. How can we—can we ever—resolve it?
  2. Despite living through the Clinton-Gore technology boom, I did not recognize the political manipulation that led to economic and social consequences (recovery from recession, proliferation of dotcom millionaires) and broke down when the bubble burst. The glitter of technological advances inspires similar naiveté in me and in others. I don’t believe I’m grazing alone in the field wearing blinders. Is there something more teachers can do than talk about the potential dangers of technology?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Nudging Power after a Two-Way Sprint to Third

I used to think that Foucault was difficult to read and understand and often beyond my ken. That changed when I first read his Heterotopias and then Panopticon. A third piece now joins the other two: Truth and Power, from Power/Knowledge. Although sections sometimes become dense and intellectual, Foucault tends to communicate with his able interviewers, Alessandro Fontana and Pasquale Pasquino, in ways that reveal a somewhat cocky self-awareness and yet maintain a measure of transparency.

Truth and Power was transcribed in 1977, the year that the computer came of age as a mature product ready for broad distribution. Apple was incorporated that year, and Apple, Radio Shack and Commodore began mass-marketing computers. Apple II also introduced the first color graphics on a PC ( Foucault must have been thinking about these developments, but even if he was not, his deliberations concerning medical practices preceded today’s wired reality in a sort of sonar blip:

…[W]ith the ways of speaking and seeing, the whole ensemble of practices which served as supports for medical knowledge. These are not simply new discoveries, there is a whole new ‘regime’ in discourse and forms of knowledge. And all this happens in the space of a few years. My problem was not at all to say, ‘Voila, long live discontinuity, we are in the discontinuous and a good thing too’, but to pose the question, ‘How is it that at certain moments and in certain orders of knowledge, there are these sudden take-offs, these hastening of evolution, these transformations which fail to correspond to the calm, continuist image that is normally accredited?’ (112)

Moreover, Foucault goes on to ask “why at certain moments that regime undergoes a global modification? ” (113) Technological advance is one answer to that “why” question. With invention and innovation come what Giddens in Agency, Structure calls time-space intersections:

I regard as a fundamental theme of this paper, and of the whole of this book, that social theory must acknowledge, as it has not done previously, time-space intersections as essentially involved in all social existence. All social analysis must recognize (and itself takes place in) not just a double sense of differance, but a threefold one...Social activity is always constituted in three intersecting moments of difference: temporally, paradigmatically (invoking structure which is present only in its instantiation) and spatially. All social practices are situated activities in each of these senses. (54)

Giddens’ labeling of the “three intersecting moments of different” varies from that of Henri Lefebvre’s trialectics of being (spatiality, sociality, historicality; from The Production of Space) and Edward Soja’s trialectics of spatiality (lived, conceived, perceived; from Thirdspace) in that the concept of time is invoked in the three intersecting moments of difference (dare I call this the trialectics of difference?). However, feminist geographer Doreen Massey includes time in her discussion of space (Space, Place, and Gender), a topic that could stand more scrutiny.

But back to the main point now—the purpose of reading Foucault and Giddens is to find an intersection between the two, as well as other readings, that will help inform teaching with technology. Foucault’s study of truth and power suggests a strong connection:

What makes power hold good, what makes it accepted, is simply the fact that it doesn’t only weigh on us as a force that says no, but that it traverses and produces things, it induces pleasure, forms knowledge, produces discourse. It needs to be considered as a productive network which runs through the whole social body, much more than as a negative instance whose function is repression. (119)

Giddens, however, says that “[i]t is not enough just to stress the need in social theory to relate the constitution and communication of meaning to normative sanctions; each of these has in turn to be linked to power transactions. This is so in the twofold sense indicated by the term duality of structure” (83). My first reaction is to call for a third, which Lukes does, but Giddens buries it in the text in overt disagreement (89-91).

Question 1: Does Giddens’ refusal to accept a third element in power transaction create an unnecessary binary—duality of structure?

Question 2: How does Gidden’s discussion of power and agency (92) compare to the same topical discussion by other authors (say, by historians such as Patricia Limerick)?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Panopticon Tech

I read Michael Foucault’s “Panopticism” from Discipline and Punish two years ago while thinking about a proposed law that would incarcerate illegal immigrants for one year before final deportation. The chapter offered a morbid historical grounding in the rise of our country’s burgeoning prison industrial complex. While reading this week, however, the assignment was to think about the chapter, along with “The Eye of Power: A Conversation with Jean-Pierre Barou and Michelle Perrot” (and Foucault), and what they have to do with teaching with technology. By the end of the fifth line of “Panopticism,” I was engrossed in an allegorical reading of digital culture—video games, internet security, and synchronous messaging, among other possibilities. This seemed too easy, too trite, but I let my mind follow the storyline and thought about issues associated with computer technology, having no doubt that the two essays were applicable to the task.

The readings offer ways to think about the virtual world. Describing digital space in scientific terms is for the scientists. Instead I think about it visually as a vast nothingness filled with zeros and ones having the potential to form almost anything conceived by the designer. On a Second Life (SL) map, areas of space owned and occupied by gamers might resemble an existing feature on Earth, like Walden’s Pond. I haven’t looked to see how much space is now owned by SL users, but I imagine that the edges of occupied territory look a little like a quilt, with fathomless black spots marking spaces not yet dominated by human-controlled avatars building buildings and gardens and universities. Beyond the ragged edges is nothing. I wonder whether that nothingness is woven together with the binary system of program languages. To me it feels uninhabitable and foreboding, like Foucault’s description of a closed town—“It is a segmented, immobile, frozen space”—although individuals can roam and even fly around (“Panopticism” 195). (No quarantine in SL of which I’m aware.) Still, a touch of paranoia touched me when I wandered to the fringes, as though I might risk my “life, contagion or punishment” (195).

I wonder…has anyone made a video game from Foucault’s description of a plague-ridden town?

What if the plague was not physical but intellectual? We might rewrite one of Foucault’s statements to read: “Everyone locked up [at his computer], everyone at his [screen], answering to his name [on instant messaging] and showing himself when asked [by clicking off Appear Offline] – it is the great review of the [wired] and the [unwired].”[i] If, as Foucault writes, “Underlying disciplinary projects the image of the plague stands for all forms of confusion and disorder,” can we project the internet as the plague-filled town? Should we? Foucault goes on to write, “The plague-stricken town, traversed throughout with hierarchy, surveillance, observation, writing, the town immobilized by the functioning of an extensive power that bears in a distinct way over all individual bodies – this is the utopia of the perfectly governed city” (198). Certainly the internet is governed by hierarchies. Surveillance can be assumed, and our own software observes what we do, tells us when we foul up or are being attacked by Trojans, and what many of us do in our digital city of Internet is write.

Foucault eventually describes Bentham’s Panopticon, and along with his description of his research on the penal system, I recalled two stories. First, I think about the description I’ve heard from a family member of a maximum security cell block. If I remember correctly, the cellblock is circular and holds twelve inmates, all behind electronically locked cell doors. In the middle of the room is a circular bulletproof Plexiglas(?) cylinder, the guards’ watch room and only accessible from above. Between the cylinder and the cells is a donut-shaped no-man’s-land, used to escort one inmate at a time to the yard for one hour of exercise. My description isn’t complete, but enough so that a parallel can be made to the panopticon, with the exception that each prisoner can see the guards through the clear core wall. Second, the film Insomnia comes to mind. The Alaskan summer night, never more than dim, disorients Al Pacino in the role of a detective hunting down a murderer played by Robin Williams. In this sense, the Land of the Midnight Sun operates as a panopticon in that “[f]ull lighting and the eye of a supervisor [Pacino] capture better than darkness, which ultimately protected. Visibility is a trap” (200). However, the movie plot plays with the idea of the “automatic functioning of power” in that Williams remains alert but Pacino is addled : Williams doesn't suffer from insomnia as does Pacino (201).

In “The Eye of Power” from Power/Knowledge, Foucault discusses space in terms of politics and management. If I, as a teacher, influence my students to use technology through pedagogical applications, I must consider how this use will affect their education, careers, and personal lives. I must think about ethical considerations, in other words.

Why should we read Foucault in a course about teaching with technology? Foucault writes that “‘Discipline’…is a type of power, a modality for its exercise…a technology” (215). His writing presents one theoretical approach to technology that may be helpful in forming a pedagogical viewpoint.

  1. Are the internet and computer technology “disciplinary programme[s]” and if so, do they again transform the inherent power? (“Panopticism” 205)
  2. What are the overt and covert aims of powerful technologies? How do these compare to the religious, economic, and political aims that arose between the Counter-Reformation and the July monarchy? (“Panopticism” 212)

[i] The meaning of this sentence has been altered from Foucault’s intent. See page 196 for the original.