Digital Tools for Theory

This post is especially written for my ENGL 671 Participatory Culture and Social Media Studies class. Here are some tools to consider for your digitizing the article project. These may also offer ideas as you develop your digital methods. This is not a complete list, these are tools I’ve used with considerations for how they help you design learning. If these don’t meet the learning needs you imagined, let me know and we’ll search for the right tool. Focus on the learning, not just representing the ideas, but how a user/learner will interact with that digitized information for learning.

Text Analysis: https://voyant-tools.org/

  • This tool helps you create standard word clouds, and includes tools for some textual analysis. Consider what this tool can visualize from a text, and if those visualizations, those focuses on words, will help you digitally present your key ideas.

Word Cloud Generator: wordart.com

  • This tools has options for customizing word clouds. Consider what word clouds can show about text – the repetition of words, highlighting key phrases. You may need to manually manipulate this information (and design) to support your point.

Interactive Video/Images: https://www.thinglink.com/edu

  • This tools offers options for interactive video and images. Consider meaningful interaction for the learning you want to happen. Don’t just add cool tools, integrate meaningful interaction points (digital rhetoric) that help users (my DH focus on people) learn in meaningful ways. If a user can quickly click through everything without engaging they won’t learn. If a user can’t find where to click, they won’t learn.

Pin Boards: https://padlet.com/

  • This tool offers virtual sticky notes, shapes, and text tools to create a virtual pin board. Consider how to break up text, how to organize and visually display text. Messy organization and lengthy text blocks could make this unusable to viewers.

Annotate Images: http://www.szoter.com/

  • This tools offers ways of annotating images with text and shapes. Consider what images in combination with text in combination with annotations offers learners.

Comic Strip: https://www.canva.com/create/comic-strips/

  • This tool offers templates for comic strips. Consider how character interaction in short comic strips could help a learner engage with your ideas.

Infographics: https://piktochart.com/

  • This tool offers free templates for Infographics, Reports, and printables. Consider how to visually organize information. Similar to other digital tools – infographics with giant blocks of text are visually unappealing to learners. Integrate designs and shapes to help offset information and represent information with visuals.
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Rules, Games and Rhetorical Theory

Douglas Eyman Digital Rhetoric: Theory, Method, Practice

In Chapter 2 of his book, Eyman reviews the applications of rhetorical theory to digital contexts as scholars work through the difficult question: ‘what is digital rhetoric?’. Eyman spends time discussing the way theorists have reimagined the rhetorical canon – notably Brooke’s Lingua Fracta: Toward a rhetoric of new media. While Eyman’s discussion is lengthy and detailed I want to focus on just one tiny detail here.

Eyman sites Porter and Sullivan (1994) saying “[b]ecause rhetoric is a situated and applied art, it generates principles, not rules. The difference is significant: principles are always interpreted and adjusted for situations (and rarely survive in pure form); rules circumscribe absolute boundaries (115)” (64 in Eyman’s text). Stated another way, context matters to rhetoric, and rhetoric must be understood in context. This is an important distinction for me, and seems to be my breaking point with Eyman – the digital in digital rhetoric cannot be the only context considered!

As a side note, I forgot my computer charger this morning, not noticing until I arrived at work. I began asking around to borrow a power cord – the IT department, Library, and Instructional Design team don’t lend chargers. While waiting for my cord to be delivered (thank you to my wonderful husband), I needed to find ways of completing digital work from my phone (an Android) – a much smaller screen, very different interface from my MacBook. I produced tweets – similar tweets to what I would’ve produced had I used my computer, but how I interfaced to create the tweets, my thought process for approaching my digital work was completely different. While this happened today as I was considering the content of this post was both frustrating and fortuitous, I am really noticing the lack of humans in digital rhetorical theory today.

As someone who studies new media, rhetoric and games, this play on principles and rules is really meaningful to me. In this chapter, Eyman’s goal is to work through existing discussions of digital rhetoric, the glows and the grows (a Lesson Study approach to showcasing praxis recently adopted by the Center for Academic Excellence at my institution – I love the terminology), specifically the ways the canon has been adapted to study production of digital texts more frequently than analysis.

This emphasis on how – production – makes sense. Interacting with interfaces is new, as interfaces continue to change, as new tools are developed, as new ways of communicating becomes possible through these interfaces and tools, users must determine how to deploy, users make choices in how they construct their digital communication acts. What is seen, what is viewable by the rhetorician, are the ‘final’ product choices (‘final’ because interfaces can and do and should change!). As Brooke points out, reimagining the canons can add to the fields understanding of rhetoric. But, the canons were designed by Aristotle in a time when oral rhetoric had a time and place for delivery. With digital tools, no digital communication is ever complete/done/delivered. Stale content on a website is an evil in the digital age – updating information to entice users to continue to visit the site is the expectation.

This is where I think a return to principles and rules – especially influenced by games and play – can add a lot to discussions of digital rhetoric. Eyman points out that Aristotle’s canon of rhetorical practice is heavy handed in rules. For example, Aristotle offers a discrete list of fallacies – of all possible arguments to be adapted to all situations. While useful during Aristotle’s time for the fixed audience and purpose of rhetorical education (democracy and public forum government), this approach is heavily rules based so constantly adapted to meet contemporary needs and contemporary understanding of the situatedness of rhetoric. For this reason, Eyman, very wisely, frames his approach in practices.

However, because I’ve played games (and become a competitive nightmare) like Fluxx where the rules and goals change with every turn, I think Eyman’s framing on principles needs to also account for the human element behind the decisions. In Fluxx games, the strategy is often to hold on to new goal cards until you can play the rule, action and keeper cards to win. This requires a combination of cards in your hand/deck, and a lack of cards in another players. Often this also requires in-play rules allowing/requiring players to play 3 or more cards per hand (long set-ups to playing new goals can be easily overridden by other players). The cards are shuffled, they will appear in the deck in any random order – it is up to the players (and their understanding of the game) to play the cards (to run the code in computer terms).

When discussing rules and principles of digital rhetorical theory, the principles and canonical adaptations need to account for human choice. While this leads to super messy theory – because we really can’t guess what a human will do – this accounting goes beyond invention (overall aligning my discussion with Eyman who similarly finds the canons binding).

This is where game theory, play theory, can offer a lot to discussions of ‘what is digital rhetoric?’. In games, rules are meant to be played with, often players determine which rules to enact, which rules to enforce, which rules even become active in a given game. I played Life with my husband and son and they bought stock. I can’t remember ever buying stock in the game previously. In my family growing up, those rules never became active and we chose to ignore the game pieces provided. In Fluxx games the players actively choose to make rules and goals. In both situations, play depends more on principles than rules. Play theories account for and recognize the situatedness of rule enacting.

As I work through theories of play for a November presentation I’ll continue to refine this idea. Initially I see the moment in Eyman’s digital rhetorical theory discussion where play theory would further complicate the ideas, and also bring the users back into the discussion in important ways. What is digital rhetoric without the users? How can we reimagine the question ‘what is digital rhetoric?’ to also account for and acknowledge the users?

The consideration of what play theory can offer is still just a kernel of an idea……

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LMS and Critical Digital Pedagogy

I’m presenting at FemRhet 2017 in October on Ozobots and writing process. I love the idea of makerspaces, programming robots, but I want to be able to use the technologies available to meet the needs of composition learners. I want to use technology and colorful markers to help students engage with learning about their own writing process to facilitate transfer. So these theories of teaching composition tend to influence how I make meaning. I’ll come back to my coding bots, but I want to detour to theory for a minute.

Critical Digital Pedagogy, as discussed by Hybrid Pedagogy authors and recently in an post by Sean Morris titled “Reading the LMS against the backdrop of critical pedagogy, part one”, argues for critical engagement with digital technologies to understand/question in what ways power and control are reinforced. Difficult, but worthy questions about the digital technologies we use.

In Morris’ recent article, he encourages readers to question the tools provided by Learning Management Systems. Ultimately asking, in what ways are the tools provided data collectors instead of learning facilitators? Page views is an excellent example. LMS, like the one I use for my courses, tells me (the course shell owner) which students have visited a given page. I can even build alerts when students haven’t visited a page and they should have – or haven’t logged in to the system and they should have. But, and this is an important point made by Morris, content page view in no way indicates learning.

However, dismissing the page view also dismisses the students who did learn by engaging with the page and the page content. Dismissing the page view ignores the ways lack of page view can be an early indicator that a student needs help. Ultimately, critical digital pedagogy should ask us to consider all the alternatives, not just the ones that allow us to dismiss corporate technologies adopted and funded by universities to manage students.

Do LMS have issues? Yes, of course they do.

Do faculty often adopt tools and systems without critical engagement? Of course they do, but not everyone.

Morris calls for stepping back and analyzing the tool. I agree, we need to choose tools that meat pedagogical goals, not ones that are available, easy, or used by everyone. But we also don’t need to use tools in the way they are designed! We instructors and students are the ones asking these hard questions, so why do we have to answer philosophically? Why can’t we decide to subvert the use instead to meet our pedagogical needs?

Wholesale dismissal reduces the productive conversations that could occur from the questions Morris (and other critical digital pedagogy, critical pedagogy theorists) poses. And this is my struggle with critical digital pedagogy – instead of arguing for engaged pedagogical praxis that open classroom space for students to critically engage with digital systems, critical digital pedagogy dismisses the systems as anti-teaching. At one point Morris discusses, in an off-hand reference, that design can be subverted, but not time is spent on that discussion. The article focuses on raising questions about tool design, discussing the student behavior tracking (Skinner and behaviorism, yay), then dismissing LMS. Fine, the systems have issues, but students are real people, with real lives. Asking students to manage a myriad of new systems every semester as they navigate higher education seems cruel.

In this way, critical digital pedagogy ignores the humans using the systems, and the pedagogy of the teacher.

Which brings me back to my robots. I love Ozobots because they move, they dance, and they light up. These sensory cues offer real connection to represent writing and writing process differently. To create a path for the robot, students must draw a line (or use a code sequence) for the robot to follow. The students use different colored markers in wavy lines, circles, script, and so much more to find ways for the Ozobot to drive through their representation of the writing process.

Ozobots were designed to teach kids to code, to teach them in a fun way that involves colors and markers so young kids could engage with the ideas. The ozobot website typically offer mazes to help young students engage with STEM based fields. I critically engaged with coded design, and decided the robots offer so many more possibilities. In subverting the robot design I create space for students to engage with writing process, to use colored markers (college students LOVE markers!), to work together to develop a path for the robot to embody their very real, lived struggles with writing. They have moments of catharsis, moments of transfer, and, importantly, so many moments of fun when they engage. This was made possible by critical pedagogy. This was made possible by subverting designed usage, and considering the ways students could engage differently to support better writing learning. When students present their maps they discuss the real struggles to use markers and a robot to represent their processes – they engage with subverting the technology.

As I continue to read critical digital pedagogy as I prepare my materials for my Ozobot presentation I continue to become frustrated with the missing human element in so many of these discussions. Why can’t we subvert from inside the system? Why can’t we allow technology management to be a little easier for our stressed out students? With questionable job prospects, increasing hours worked while attending school, and huge student loans, is critical digital pedagogy from within the system really such a horrible thing? #subvertthesystem

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Critical Attention and Digital Tech

Selfe, C.L. (1999). Technology and Literacy: A story about the perils of not paying attention. College Composition and Communication, 50(3), 411-436.

I haven’t read Selfe’s call for critical attention, critical awareness of technology since grad school. I had forgotten how much I like this article. I want to talk about why I assigned it, and why so many of her suggestions continue to be necessary reminders.

First, I assigned this article in my Social Media grad class that meets tonight as an introduction to the field of Rhetoric and Composition, specifically digital writing and social media. Most of the students in our program study and teach literature – so before we jump into digital rhetoric and digital humanities texts I really want to discuss the foundational ideas about literacies and technologies that shape so many of our research questions and influence public discussions of technologies. I’ve read one too many “ban all phones because teens are depressed” articles recently that never ask – are teens more depressed now? Do these teens have an outlet for discussing their experiences, their depression? Do they have people to help them work through these ideas who destigmatize mental health, take them seriously, and work to help them feel comfortable and confident? In most cases, the depression (causation error – thank you rhetoric training) linked to facebook results in a call for banning phones and facebook. While I don’t want to extoll the virtues of facebook (or my favorite twitter), and I’m not just arguing for the need to include digital technologies, I really do believe that to address the issues teens face we need to critically question the values influencing the cause and effect issues in our logic.

What I love about Selfe’s call is her focus on literacies and values, and her lengthy discussions of how school curriculum, public funding, values, and politics all influence what is taught and where it is taught. The inclusion or not of technology is always political – and in either case unless students are using and critically examining, we’re doing a disservice to our students. I’ve also been reading Shipka’s Toward a Composition Made Whole where she draws attention to ALL. THE. THINGS that influence composing and a composing situation (lights, food, water, desk height, chair comfort, etc.). I want to discuss what Shipka’s call for paying attention to everything surrounding composing adds to Selfe’s call for critical awareness. Both are so important!

Second, I’ve also assigned the article to my undergrads. I want them to grapple with how we ask questions about critical awareness of technology in relation to writing and why writing. So often, students complete composition courses simply because they are ‘required’. We know that affects their mindset about the course (in some positive and some negative ways). My goal is to raise awareness of all the places they compose, and all the choices they subconsciously make when they compose.

I saw a link floating around facebook – a composition course with the theme of Master of None. While theme’d courses are a whole discussion themselves, as I read Selfe’s article and considered Shipka’s call for attention to contexts of writing I thought about all the episodes, all the jokes Aziz Ansari devotes to the amount of time he spends composing a message. We all get it – we all spend tons of time making these hard decisions, but it’s rare that we stop and consider that we’re making hard writing decisions. We notice the language choices, we pay attention to the audience and audience reception, the device and so many other things. But why do we know to write in those ways? I hope Selfe can help my undergrads ask these questions. The goal is to raise awareness of how they are better writes because of my course so they can start from a better place (transfer) in all their other classes.

With all these ideas floating around, I’m excited for my students to read and discuss this article!

 

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Core Concepts, FYC, and Intertextuality

Influenced by a visiting speaker, Kara Taczak, I’m making some changes to how I teach First Year Composition to promote transfer. Drawing from both Writing About Writing and Teaching for Transfer, the new model will focus on threshold concepts or core concepts of writing to strengthen what students know about their own writing process to help students successfully transfer ‘good’ writing to new writing situations.

 

When I taught a 200 level Rhetorical Theory course we learned a lot of concepts, key terms if you will, that related to rhetoric and why rhetoric as a theory and field of research survived. Even during the Dark Ages when learning, knowledge, and schooling were very limited, rhetoric continued to be taught to Catholic Priests to help convert and deliver sermons to constituents. One of the key concepts that remained, and became a stronger aspect of theory, is the idea of intertextuality.

Teaching the idea of intertextuality from Smith’s Rhetoric and Human Consciousness is difficult. Smith focuses on Biblical intertextuality and the ways the Church interpreted the theory to benefit their Priests and constituents (it’s much more involved than this, but this summary serves my purposes here). Literature students recognized the concept and drew connections to how intertextuality operates in literature. Non-literature students never seemed to understand Smith’s discussion. I’m currently reading Stephen King’s The Drawing of the Three (#2 in the Dark Tower series) and the characters referenced The Shining in a discussion – basic intertextuality, but it’s engrained in the story so readers don’t recognize the moment as intertextuality (why did King reference The Shining at THAT moment? why not The Stand, etc.). But, intertextuality exists far beyond literature and novels, and some of the most popular television shows and movies use intertextuality in important ways.

After watching Game of Thrones (the episode that aired on Sunday 8/16), I read a blog by Erik Kane (he presented at the Undergraduate Videogame Symposium at my previous institution about blogging as a career post-English Bachelor’s – the students loved his candor) about intertextuality in GoT that could help a viewer make educated guesses on the direction of the show (there’s also compelling arguments for the need for viewers to recognize most of the intertextuality to follow the storyline development – cognitive requirements of modern viewing and fandom). While his post is looking at literary intertextuality in the television show, the use of text and a multimodal YouTube clip as support for his claim struck me as ridiculously helpful to teaching academic intertextuality – the dreaded citation.

Returning to the idea of selecting key concepts, for Fall 2017 I’ll focus on discourse community, audience, purpose, and ethos. I’m using They Say/I Say as the course textbook. As I’m finalizing the design for my internet-theme’d, Teaching for Transfer influenced pedagogy, i’m working in a way to use a blog post (internet-based reading and writing, with all it’s messy author-audience relationships and imaginings) to help students understand why citations matter (ethos, discourse community). In the GoT post, Kain uses a few interesting rhetorical moves that are helping me work through the connection to be made between theme (internet) and key concepts (learning about writing to write better).

First, the post begins with an image (yes there is a title, but i’m choosing to begin with the image) of The Magnificent Seven (his term). For those who watch, GoT has an endless supply of story lines and tons and tons of characters (i’m not a lit major so excuse my lack of literary terms to describe this). In using an image of the exact group he’s discussing, he focuses the reader’s attention on the small portion of the HUGE GoT world he’ll discuss in this post. This is such an important move in academic introductions. We humans have been discussing and theorizing since before the Ancient Greeks (the Greeks happen to be the most well preserved recordings). In selecting a topic for an essay, the hardest concept to teach students is how to enter that HUGE conversation and focus the point. Blogs, by including multimedia, allow for images to do much of that work for the author – IF the correct image is selected. From a Pfannenstiel’s key concept point of view, this allows Kain to focus his discussion on the purpose of his conversation within the larger discourse community.

Next, Kain establishes the background knowledge necessary to understand his claim – he contextualizes the mission and the characters involved. Again it speaks to the discourse community, establishing the necessary background information needed for the post without assuming too much or too little about the reader of the post (ethos and audience). The attention to audience here is really important, he makes educated guesses about how to introduce this information so his audience appreciates the information without feeling like he’s belittling their knowledge of GoT.

Now comes the intertextuality (with some ethos thrown in when he includes both the show and the book). We (readers) are being asked to re-examine existing information from the show as evidence for Kain’s analysis. After including the originals (again, the video clip and the passages from the book), Kain analyzes the information by explaining the clips along side his analysis – let me say that again in case any of my students read this post, by explaining the clip along side his analysis. He doesn’t assume the readers will draw the same connections, so he includes the original source, then analyzes it and adds his point.

The goal of this post isn’t to explore GoT theories, but to consider how the video clip functions as an academic citation – through intertextuality. While intertextuality isn’t a key term (it’s a difficult idea to grasp), it is influenced by and influences discourse communities and practices within discourse communities.

To develop a connection between the Magnificent Seven and GoT lore, Kain includes a video link with a clip from season 1. This is an expected rhetorical blogging move – include the thing that you reference for readers to know especially in the form of a video. This is also, essentially, a citation. Here is where my information comes from. Citations and intertextuality help an author establish ethos, they lend credibility to a discussion and claim by referencing other sources in very specific ways.

The specific clip selected is a choice to present the findings from the original in a very specific way. When I search on YouTube for “Old Nan tells a story” I have approximately 5,300 results. While yes, many are commentary and fandoms (so easily excluded) – this is the same situation student writers often find themselves in, wading through massive amounts of text to find the one that properly supports their point. What’s so important for comp instructors (and librarians) is the information literacy skills required/developed to wade through these videos. It’s the same required of wading through sources to find ones that actually support and develop the student-author’s text. If we consider any of the other videos in the YouTube list of 5,300 we can discuss all the reasons those videos would support Kain’s argument less well than the video he included. This is a real, lived citation making intertextual claims, embedded within a blog argument, to support Kain’s analysis of the episode.

Importantly, students read posts all the time that require them to understand these videos as citations, as intertextuality. They experience, analyze, and judge posts daily that rely on their ability to understand intertextuality and citations in writing. Will finding and analyzing such everyday lived posts help them transfer what they know from everyday sense-making to the academic essay, or will they still see citations as a ‘chore’ and ‘requirement’ of writing that simply make their lives hell?

Now, we’ll see if this focus on rhetorical moves of an existing blog post helps students understand the key concepts as they move through their academic papers this Fall……… show of hands for who watches Game of Thrones! 

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Arguments Illustrated: A book review

An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments by Ali Almossawi

At my previous institution I taught rhetorical theory courses at the undergraduate and graduate level. I’ve been missing out on teaching rhetorical theory – history of rhetoric – so when Amazon recommended An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments I bought it.

I read the book in two ways:

  • the first was as a teacher of rhetoric – especially missing my rhetorical theory texts and assignments
  • the second was as a teacher of composition – especially freshmen composition that focuses on the need to teach critical thinking

As  a teacher of rhetoric, I prefer to read theory texts. The more detailed discussion, the inclusion of history that influenced the development of argument theory (thanks Smith even though I always struggle with parts of your book) helps me as a learner understand the historical context that influenced argument understanding and contemporary usage. From this perspective, I didn’t love the book. I wanted more academic description.

As a teacher of composition, I love the straight forward descriptions, the naming of argument, and the comic/illustration. I think this can help students break down the subconscious choices humans make as they communicate – and the fallacies we subconsciously use – to help them gain entry to critical thinking for application to academic arguments. This is usually the most complex discussion in composition – we are really ‘good’ communicators, and normally employ cultural conventions we don’t recognize we know (or recognize we use). This book makes a list of the more popular argument fallacies in contemporary society to help readers gain entry to the convention – to recognize the convention (with some nod to the historical foundations – enough for a freshmen comp course!)

I also think the illustration can help students understand the issues with their argument presentation. The struggle here will be providing this as feedback to students: “Here is this totally awesome book (https://bookofbadarguments.com/), look at page 12 and 13 (Appeal to irrelevant authority) to better contextualize the secondary sources”. Will that help students actually navigate and understand how to better develop their appeal? This is a complex struggle with student understanding of logic and bias. Dr P may say something earth shattering about the color pink, but physicists have more expertise in color than compositionists, is her authority on the color pink credible?

I liked this book. I want to use this as part of my feedback to students in composition courses, but I also miss my rhetorical theory courses. As I begin my work developing Fall curriculum I’m exploring ways of using the comic approach provided in this book to help students access writing feedback in meaningful ways!

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Representation and Space

Yesterday I saw a headline about Wonder Woman and the importance of representation for young girls (here’s the Huffington Post article). The video and article highlight the importance of female representations of power and success for girls and women. But, in a space highlighting representation – men overshadowing women is also a prominent feature.

The interaction between Gadot and the young fan is beautiful. What I struggle with is how the Flash actor, Ezra Miller, steps in and offers advice. The way Ben Affleck is shown applauding the interaction (while talking to Thor actor). The way the author of the post discusses all as this male support as positive. Yes, male support for female empowerment is important. Yes, male support for female emotional responses to representation is important. But, Miller stepping in and taking over the conversation, talking over Gadot is a problem. Miller’s overall message is great, affirming of emotional responses is amazing – but why not let the young fan have her moment with only Gadot?

While Wonder Woman as a movie is not perfect feminism, it is a great opportunity for representation and discussions of the importance of representation. What I noticed from this Huff Post piece is the importance of how we discuss representations and support each other. The NBA had an interesting campaign to Lean In and support women – but the question remained at what point is leaning in adding your voice to a conversation where you’re already heard.

Intersectional feminist critiques of white feminism often point to the way white women will talk-over other feminists. How could feminists engage in public spaces, while supporting each other, without being talked over? This has elements of rhetorical listening – but when a space to listen is created how can underrepresented voices feel empowered and valued to speak? In focusing on just this article/clip, Gadot and the young fan had a moment of silence that presumably held a lot of meaning to them (or at least to the young fan) – how could a public understanding of rhetorical listening attune the fellow cast members to the importance of that silent space?

To practice this – what could this look like in classroom space? How can we create comfortable silence that helps all learners feel valued for what they brought to the classroom space that day? I can see elements of mindfulness throughout this blog thread – awareness and attention to the present moment as a way to create safe space for other voices to be valued for the approach to communication necessary and meaningful for them.

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Technofeminism and Romance: A Book Review

In my ‘free’ time – or basically when I need to read something besides academic – I read Romance novels. Grad school taught me to be really good at reading, voraciously, so my fun reading is normally limited to free romance novels. This is one such read:

Ink Witch (Book One of the Kat DuBois Chronicles) by Lindsey Fairleigh

While I normally avoid books that are not standalone – because they are designed to sell the remainder of the series – I found the plot summary for this one to be interesting. A secret society of near mortals living in Seattle. The main character – Kat DuBois is a tattoo artist/tarot card reader who needs to save her brother.

I don’t want to reproduce a typical book review here – instead I want to focus on a fairly minor portion of the story.

***Spoilers ahead for those interested in reading the book***

There are interesting biological facts to the Nejereet, once entering their mostly immortal state, the Nejereet female is essentially infertile. Nejereet enter the immortal state by essentially dying, freezing them at the age they died (for Kat that’s 18) – hormones, looks and all.

The secret society, Nejereet, operate under the guidance of a governing council with a rogue faction. What I find interesting about this rogue council is the scientific testing on their own people and humans to play with female reproduction. The characters converse about the stakes if humans learned about near immortal gods living among them, the war that would break out, and the need for human females to birth children for the Nejereet population to survive (even near-mortals need children). The obviously conclusion for these characters is the experiments must involve fertility because working with female humans who can birth future Nejereet is essential to the survival of their species.

There is so much happening in this moment. I’m not talking plot development, I’m focused here on the ways meaning making practices are expected of the reader. The ways female fertility is the obvious focus for scientific experiments and the survival of two species (humans and Nejereet).

The most amazing part is the ‘obviousness’ of female reproductive biology as the ultimate answer for scientific examinations of the Other. When I read Technofeminism a few weeks ago I found Wajcman’s discussions of reproductive science and technology wanting to take control over reproduction. But I was amazed at how smoothly this worked into the Ink Witch narrative, the rogue governing council were obviously the ‘bad’ guys for experimenting on reproduction and shifting the power balance.

The noticing of power balance was also really interesting to me. While fertility experimenting specifically on women reduces women to ovens instead of independent people who can rationalize and decision make. But what was important in this conversation was the shift of money and power that would result if the experiments were successful – of the use of ovens to gain power and money. The concern was less for the women, and more for the shift in power that would disadvantage the masses.

Overall, this was a minor conversation in this book. While this would be incredibly difficult to explain to freshmen in a composition course, I love the subtle expectations of sense making required from this scene. The use of these experiments to develop the good and evil in this universe so quickly is amazingly complex – female readers, as the primary audience of romance novels, are expected to understand good versus evil based on biological experiments that reduce them to ovens.

I’m really interested now in how other readers reviewed this book and the entire series. In what ways do popular (is this book ‘popular’ in the romance genre?) fiction novels reflect the lived cultural experiences of readers? Who are the readers being reflected? Where are they learning the values included? I don’t often read science fiction (unless there are werewolves, shape shifters, dragons, then sign me up!) so I can guarantee the book blurb did not sell this book as science fiction. For readers less familiar with such a genre – how do they make sense of such a technology driven scene? How can these subtleties help students better understand the functions of the rhetorical situation in all communication situations? How can this also help students understand how popular culture functions as a site of resistance and hegemony (thanks Hall)?

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Mindfulness in the Grad Classroom: A book review

The Mindfulness-Informed Educator: Building acceptance and psychological flexibility in Higher Education edited by Jennifer Block-Lerner and LeeAnn Cardaciotto

I just finished teaching a graduate course “The Teacher as Writer” in which we used ideas of mindfulness to support writing productively. I’ve been interested in this idea for a while, especially when freshmen enter the composition course convinced they are terrible writers, English is their worst subject. I want to know where those ideas originated – what they feel about writing that leads to these ideas. What I’ve (non-scientifically) discovered is this leads to epic amounts of writer’s block, papers written at the last minute, less transfer of composition learning to other situations. These (again non-scientific) findings are serious – students can gain so much from a freshmen composition course taught influenced by recent composition theory like Writing about Writing, Teaching for Transfer, Writing Across the Curriculum theories and all the amazing cross-over amongst these ideas.

After working through my own ideas of mindfulness, I chose this book to support ideas in a graduate level writing classroom. Can a whole group of educators (K-12 instructors and me) come to a strong place wit mindfulness? Since productively writing educators make better teachers, can mindfulness help us (educators) with our own writing to strengthen our teaching of writing?

The good news, according to all the great studies in this book – yes. Most surprising, even informal attention to mindfulness, attention to present moment awareness to reduce stress (to reduce test anxiety, writer’s block) can have significant positive results in students. Not just in studying and test performance, but in overall reductions in depression, anxiety, etc.

While this book mentions some techniques, it doesn’t offer well developed formal discussions of the techniques studied to produce these results. The focus here is to justify inclusion of mindfulness in higher education – so the focus on scientific studies makes tons of sense. As an educator looking for ideas to modify and support student writers – this book falls short.

If you’re looking for evidence that mindfulness training in higher education leads to significant positive results, this book is fantastic. The references to specific practices students liked, textbooks used in formal training (in university 101, or first year experience 101 seminars) are excellent. When I initially selected the book – I skimmed Part II (titled Mindfulness-and Acceptance-Based Approaches in the Training of Behavioral Health Professionals) and Part III (titled Application of Mindfulness- and Acceptance-Based Approaches in Higher Education: Special Populations and Contexts) understanding these sections to provide more detail on mindfulness in higher education – tips for implementing lessons in the classroom – lessons we could modify to suit our needs in our classrooms.

So I love that this book provided significant research findings on the benefit of these programs, I had just hoped it would have higher education ideas for implementing these programs.

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Mindfulness in the Classroom

Today marks the first day of my graduate seminar The Teacher as Writer. This week long course is designed to help graduate students, especially K-12 teachers, write. Because the course meets Monday through Friday of just one week, including guest speakers has been the order of the day for the course.

I began teaching composition at a community college. My early experiences were lunch time classes with first-time freshmen, who did not want to be in a writing course. They affected the bored student approach to a writing course – it’s a requirement so they must automatically hate it. My second year, due to a full-time job, I was able to change my teaching schedule and was given early morning classes. I taught the 7am, 8am, and 9am courses on campus. My student population was so radically different it has changed my entire approach to writing. These students were a mix of late registrants who were stuck with the time slot (a small population) and returning adult students who completed class before work. The adult students struggled more with their perceptions and [what I would now call (thanks WAW and TFT)] theories of writing.

These students influenced my approach to the first few course meetings – I began emphasizing [mis]perceptions of writing as an entry into learning about and how to write academic essays – learning to think and write critically about subjects. Before I had the language for it, I was working to help students develop agency in their approaches to writing.

During my first faculty position I moved toward teaching upper division/graduate courses focused on digital rhetoric, videogames and literacies, rhetoric and composition theory. While writing was a huge part of these courses, and discussed, the theme was the major content. These were English majors and English graduates who still struggled with writing, but didn’t need to be convinced in their theories and perceptions – instead they wanted language to explain their choices to their business major friends and various family who felt English major only led to barista jobs (shout out to my many many amazing former students who have rockin’ jobs in the tech industry, teaching, and various other fields). I still worked through theories of writing, but the focal point stopped being those theories because of the courses taught.

At my new institution I teach freshmen and junior level composition – courses that again require me to shift my focus to helping students work through their own perceptions and theories of writing (again this second idea is more fully flushed thanks to recent scholarship in WAW and TFT). To explore these concepts at the graduate level, i’ve designed the Teacher as Writer course through the theory of mindfulness. Today we spent time using post-it notes to develop our awareness of what we need to write – we posted Twitter gifs of what writing looks like to us – we meditated with a wonderful guest speaker.

As with most lessons, some of these experiences worked and some of them did not work for students. Our guest speaker emphasized on several occasions that there is no one right way to meditate. This applies to the teaching of mindfulness as well – since mindful awareness and the drawing of awareness to the present moment is a deeply personal experience, the curriculum designed experienced are bound to fail for some students. Today, each of them failed for a few students.

As the teacher I feel a personal connection to my content – I want students to learn, I want students to enjoy their learning experiences – I want students to consider future applications of their learning (in this case successfully writing when they want to and helping their students successfully write) – I want students to see the usefulness of mindfulness. So how do I both feel the personal connection to my curriculum (especially when it fails) and mindfully approach the curriculum knowing that students need to develop agency and ownership over the practices I’m exposing them to and develop their own understanding? How do I nonjudge reactions to my curricular design?

At this point the students are writing amazingly (yeah it’s day one, but some started early!!!). That’s the goal so I feel I need to not worry about the effectiveness of the techniques I provide to support writing if the end goal is met. But is this just mindfulness?

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