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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Play and Design

A few things influencing this post:

  1. I’m reading Yancey’s Reflection in the Writing Classroom for a grad class next week, and as I prepare a new FYC curriculum for Fall 2017. YAY to trying out new things and new ways to increase writing transfer. Obviously, this is influence my thinking about curriculum design (of next week’s grad class and Fall’s courses)
  2. I was accepted to present at MAPACA on play (gamified learning curriculum) – so i’m playing with the idea of play, especially how to influence playing with writing in a composition course, playing reflectively to increase learning. Play in support of learning is a really interesting, complex topic.
  3. I’m in a one-room apartment with my 5yo while it’s raining – shocking almost no one – he’s bored. YAY to in-between moving 🙂
  4. My former colleague asked me to review a piece she’s working on about visual rhetoric. As I was reviewing the introduction, my son was showing me his drawings. So much visual rhetoric.

My 5 year old has started playing Pokemon. My freshmen roommate watched Pokemon, but I missed the card playing game by a few years. Later when I taught at IQ Abacus my kids all played on the Nintendo DS, so I caught bits and pieces of the game as they explained to me. So now we are learning to play with my 5 year old.

My observations so far, Pokemon requires a lot of math, a lot of reading, and some strategy. Great skills to develop in young kids. My son is certainly more interested in early phonics because it will help him read a Pokemon card.

How all this comes together:

Pokemon requires a player to add energy to a Pokemon in play, then if they can, they attack the in-play Pokemon of their fellow player (yes there is a Peta game critiquing this, you’ve all read my thoughts on that game). For all this to come together, the name of the Pokemon, the type of energy required to attack (and the amount), the name of their attack move, their hit points (how much damage they can take), their attack points (the damage they inflict) are the ‘key’ elements of the card. So my bored, stuck-inside-because-it’s-raining 5 year old decided to draw new Pokemon cards. He drew exactly these elements – a name (random combination of letters – he’s barely 5!), a Pokemon creature (some similar to his favorite cards some random monsters), energy symbols (mostly leaf energy for some reason), hit points and damage points. While his card was lacking much of the design elements common in the original cards, he included the major elements in his pretend deck.

As I’m thinking through ways of designing my gamified curriculum game to support freshmen composition, across multiple weeks (versus an intense week) I’m considering how to design quests that allow students to discover the meaningful elements of composition theory. What I noticed about my son’s cards is how he emphasized the most important aspects of the game – the Pokemon name, look, energy type, hit points, and damage points. While much of the remainder of the design requires elaborate boxes, color, and text – his drawing focused on the vital elements of the game. His drawing represented play through design.

It was lucky (for me) that I was reading on reflection as he showed me this, and that I had just taken a break from editing my colleagues paper as I really saw his design as playful content. He designed the Pokemon in a way that was pleasing to himself (agency) while representing the major components of the game (play). After talking to him about his cards I started a brainstorm list of the elements associated with play, here is what I have so far:

agency

freedom

choice

rules

The element that comes less naturally, reflection, comes less naturally in most situations. The tie between these ideas comes back to design – designing quests to allow students to experience these various elements of play while reflecting on their learning in ways meaningful to writing practices reflection supported in the core curriculum. What will supporting game design look like?

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Quantity of Writing in Social Media

Last week I co-facilitated a Media Literacy Institute. As we discussed ways of integrating movies, television, pop culture, games and social media into classrooms I reflected on my own use of social media in classrooms (I gamified some of the lessons asking for Twitter posts, so I actively encouraged social media use).

As I finish preparation for my next course – Teacher as Writer – I’m rereading Yancey’s On Reflection. This is helping me reflect on the MLI and project forward to the classroom space i’m creating for the next course. This reflection space is interesting and complex for me. Yancey’s discussions of reflection return to ways of using reflective assignments and reflective teaching to help strengthen student understanding of their own writing – to help students develop agency over their writing to increase their comfort when confronted with various school and real-life writing situations (tons of important room for student recognition of the rhetorical situation as part of this pedagogy).

For these two grad classes, I’m teaching mostly K-12 teachers. So I’m reflecting on my practices, my pedagogies, and the ways I helped students at the MLI develop their own understanding of writing and media literacy. Additionally, this course was attended by K-12 educators who can use these principles in their future classroom spaces, so as I reflect on my classroom practices I must also reflect on how I created a reflective space for teachers to consider their applications of the assignment they experienced during the week. Since my next class has a similar student population, I’m then projecting forward to how to create a reflective space where educators both learn the course content (writing) and consider ways of integrating the principles covered in their future classrooms. Educator training is such a complex mix of content and modeling.

Back to the main title – as I’m considering this reflective space of content, modeling and reflection, I was also reading about social media as we discussed these spaces at the MLI. Most articles I read last week about the direction of Facebook and Twitter reported the number of unique accounts created each day as proof of the health of the spaces. While I understand that a new person becomes age eligible to create an account everyday, is new account creation a valuable measure of social media health? This afternoon I looked at my Twitter API data scraper for the MLI and noticed the number of unique tweets created – over 1200. This led to my question for this post (that took me forever to get to) is the amount of writing important when social media is used in a classroom?

In most of my semester long courses, I require students to post 2-3x per week (depending on number of course meetings) as a sign of engagement with the course and with the course curriculum. For the MLI, a Twitter account was necessary, pre-posts were required, a gamified curriculum offered, and yet not everyone in the class posted on Twitter. Is that necessarily a sign of engagement failure, or a sign of lack of comfort with a specific social media tool.

Again, returning to numbers, what if anything does over 1200 unique posts, most during the week of the Institute mean? It shows we did a LOT of writing – which is a YAY to my Rhet/Comp heart. It’s a solid number for representing trending topics in the twitterverse, but is that meaningful. The measure so often associated with Twitter – trending hashtags, large quantities of posts – appears as valuable data in most API scrapers. But, from an educator standpoint, as I reflect back and project forward, is this meaningful data? Am I, in ignoring the ‘meaningful measures’ subverting the designed use of this social media space, or simply using the affordances to meet my pedagogical goals.

Ultimately, I want to be more reflective in the classroom space about our Twitter usage. I want my students to recognize their contributions, not just fulfill course requirements. For the MLI this reflections and projection related mostly to ways of integrating Twitter or a similar back channel in K-12 learning spaces. But we didn’t always connect this back to pedagogical goals, and possible sites of subversion of the designed affordances. Would that be helpful?

Like usual, I have no answers for my questions, but as a scholar working on a pedagogical piece on Twitter I need to reflect on what I’m doing, what Twitter thinks I’m doing, and how my students work within this space in the classroom.

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Book Review

Copyright Clarity: How fair use supports digital learning by Renee Hobbs

Hobbs overview of copyright law, specifically as it pertains to education (primarily K-12 but also very applicable to higher ed), is incredibly helpful to understanding what instructors and students can do with digital media. Her inclusion of examples, examples that included the ‘can we digitally publish this’ were so helpful to all grade levels, with various levels of technology access.

This book can be a quick read. I’ve previously read Hobbs’ Digital and Media Literacy text so some of the text was carry-over from media literacy ideas, but there is a need to read both texts as the focus on copyright raises important questions to help students understand their freedom in copyright (hint: it’s not everything, but it’s pretty darn close). The quick read comes from the overlap in chapters 1 and 2 – these were fairly repetitive with so much “we’ll deal with this specifically in chapter 3 (or 4 depending on the concept)” that I breezed through the chapters in 30 minutes. Similarly, I spent little time with chapter 5 as it deals specifically with film. I use videogames more frequently in my work, and the required play of videogames shifts this conversation significantly so I didn’t find helpfulness. However, this is a really helpful chapter for other scholars and teachers.

The focus in this book is on the idea of transformativeness, attention to the creative process and how the original was was used, repurposed and reused as it relates to Fair Use. What I found most important from this are the questions that educators should be asking about their use of media – AND teaching to their students.

Hobbs wants educators to consider (paraphrased from page 48):

  1. Did their use (their = student/educator) ‘transform’ the work for a different purpose – or did it copy the original intent and value?
  2. Was the amount of the original material used appropriate given the copyrighted work and original use?

The goal with these questions is to highlight the necessary ambiguity in copyright law to allow intellectual sharing and protection – while also highlighting the important work education and assignments (therefore students) can and should do with cultural material.

There are several things happening here of incredible importance. The first, and Hobbs notes this in chapter 1, educators need to engage students with cultural materials. Students engage with culture everyday, mostly unconsciously, we are in an excellent position to help them consider the ways they engage culture, the ways the create (and can create) culture, the ways they need to be critical of their own cultural engagement.

Second, for this to work students need to think critically. I had a class in the Spring that struggled with critical engagement. They wanted the right answer – in a composition course. Then tried to write 5 paragraph essays for their final research essays. None of my examples resonated with this group – they continued to culturally turn off. I have ideas for using Twitter more effectively in future semesters to ask students to bring the culture for critical engagement. My only criticism for Hobbs would be – every example included shows things going so well. What happens when we have the off-teaching day where the critical engagement for the entire class isn’t there. For higher education educators one day can be such a huge portion of the curriculum. (The Digital and Social Media text had a few examples of things not working and on the fly decisions that went well – but sometimes even those on the fly don’t work, what then???? How do we reengage? a timeless pedagogy question I know!)

Finally, students have a lot freedom to use existing media (as long as they critically consider the use). We need to empower them to understand this! I love this concept – I will rely on this concept in future semester. But, I worry about the transfer of these skills. Do I think students who get it can successfully navigate these questions and consider Fair Use – absolutely. But from a book littered with examples of teachers setting strict boundaries on use due to their misunderstanding of Copyright law – what happens when I send my student out into the world and their Physics teacher considers their Fair Use of a Schrodinger Cat meme plagiarism? I understand this example is borrowing trouble (use of colloquial saying intentional) – but as I transition my composition syllabi to a more obvious Teaching for Transfer model, I’m stating the underlying goal as the transfer of understanding of writing (and digital media) practices. I want students to actively and consciously transfer good writing practices developed in my class. But what happens when good digital media practices are considered plagiarism?

Overall, I found much to enjoy with this text. As I began this review my intent was to focus on transformativeness. I see so much possibility for this in the composition classroom. But, as I began writing about this idea I also have so many questions. I look forward to exploring this further as I put together my composition syllabi for Fall semester.

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online composition course theory

Last week I perused the Kairos list of books they’d like reviewed. Many are books I want to read or am planning to use in my courses in the Fall. As I then moved books from my home office to my work office I organized the books I used in my dissertation on online composition courses. Revisiting the Kairos list, I’m noticing a HUGE gap in book-length research on teaching online (from composition scholars – I know there is research).

What I’m wondering is if:

  1. we see the existing research as comprehensive enough – to which I have a huge issue. I know Teaching Writing Online is still a highly recommend text, but I critiqued it in my dissertation 3 years ago and still think we need to move far beyond that text
  2. we are publishing in mostly article length projects. There are advantages to this, especially with amazing digital publications allowing for playful composition in our articles.

What I want to focus on here, is #1. Last week I also read a post on Hybrid Pedagogy about Critical Digital Pedagogy (I can’t find the article now, I’ll update this post with the link when I find it). What I found so important about this particular transcript of a speech was the focus on where we are as scholars of praxis with online/hybrid courses, and the potential for growth. Focusing on the idea that growth is not just inevitable, but needs to become the focus again of online pedagogy discussions is so important to me.

While my current institution fills more hybrid classes than online classes, the potential for graduate certificate student growth in online and hybrid grad classes exists. To develop this program and provide meaningful courses to post-bach professionals, our department needs to not only engage with current composition theories and coursework, but with online and digital pedagogies to provide courses that allow students to navigate for meaningful interactions.

The focus on Teaching Writing Online as translating curriculums to online space is insufficient, the hard questions aren’t raised and addressed. The messiness of online courses, the changes that occur part-way through a term to accommodate learners is missing. While critical digital pedagogy offers more critical thinking approaches to pedagogy than answers for designing learning given the tools students and faculty can access-

-and I would like to suggest adding considerations of race, class and gender since all may have an affect on student literacies when they engage with the courses – heck considerations for the HUGE variety of student literacies when they engage with digital material needs further discussion and consideration. Additionally, what do students expect from an online course, what do they get from an online course? These were questions I raised from the variety of data I found in my dissertation that still need further exploration. Just because students use Facebook or Twitter doesn’t mean we (educators/researchers) know anything about HOW they engage, so we don’t know what it will take to help students engage with critical engagement-

-the questions raised in critical digital pedagogy discussions seem to be the focus of just a few researchers (within a specific publication and their training institutes – why if you’re discussing critical digital pedagogy did you design ‘training’ based summer programs instead of a conference that would include more voices on equal footing – especially the voices of women and people of color?).

Yes, i’m actively critically engaging with critical digital pedagogy as I write this blog post, I understand the irony, but I do believe it is a solid theory to re-address the conversations that need to happen in relation to online/hybrid composition pedagogy, even the use of technology in f2f composition courses.

Through these meandering theory connections I’m wondering where the connection is between critical digital pedagogy and the NCTE/CCCC Teaching Writing Online discussions in actual practices. Why do some groups continue to work with one group of texts, while another group works with a separate set. What approaches to online course design do current online composition educators rely on for theory? Beyond developing studies based on current praxis – what are the current gaps in knowledge? What would it require to find out?

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I’m reading The Available Means of Persuasion as I sift through readings for my forthcoming graduate courses. Helping students grapple with dense ideas of rhetoric, digital media, digital media literacy, digital rhetoric, and media literacy (literacies, etc.) requires students read a breadth of approaches.

I’m fascinated with their discussion of rhetorical agency. They explore the “the way agency is distributed across human and nonhuman actors” to understand how “multimodal public rhetoric is linked to the material concerns of technology and space” (p. 11). Their theory explores kairos, kairotic invention, and rhetorical agency as these assist a public rhetor’s preparedness for seeing the available means of persuasion.

While their attention to kairos and rhetorical agency is incredibly helpful, i’m left wondering in what ways the tools they discuss continue to use us (the users). Their aim is to inspire composition instructors to help students develop practices as multimodal public rhetors. This is amazing, I love it! But…….using the available technologies kairotically focuses time and attention on the situation, but never reflects on the affordances of the technologies being used.

Keep in mind, I do understand that a 15 week (or less!) composition cannot cover EVERYTHING. My aim here is not to critique their approach, but to wonder where and when reflection and critique of the affordances and algorithms of these technologies can feasibly be integrated into praxis.

For instance, a few weeks ago I was speaking with a colleague in the Library when he was approached by a student. Said student had questions about an undergrad honors thesis on Netflix and their LGBTQ category. After some back and forth questioning, the student was fairly happy to hear a body of research exists on YouTube videos and ‘coming out’ as genre. During the back and forth, the student commented on the prevalence of the LGBTQ queue in their stream (where I didn’t know it existed, but I have tons of kid categories). Additionally, the student commented on the types of films/shows featured (hence the ‘coming out’ genre analysis idea). When I began to mention the role the Netflix algorithm played in determining some of that information there was a significant amount of blank stares leveled at me. It’s not that considerations of algorithms influencing what viewers/users have access to is a difficult to understand concept – it just significantly complicates our traditional humanities approach (in this case – genre analysis).

As I read Sheridan, Ridolofo and Michel’s discussion of kairos as an important aspect of multimodal public rhetoric I immediately remembered the Netflix conversation. As we (composition instructors) include multimodal projects into our curriculums, is there a good space for discussing how the algorithm influences user experiences? When approaching a thesis as a genre analysis, it seems genre analysis as a method should include analysis (to the extent possible since most algorithms are kept fairly private) or at least discussion of the fact that an algorithm based on user preferences influences what a given user sees – highlighting the genre being analyzed. But, where does that conversation belong within the curriculum of an undergraduate degree? There is so much to discuss and practice at the Freshmen Composition level, adding yet another task that detracts from writing practices as transferrable simply dilutes writing learning. So where?

On a side note, I’ll begin teaching a Content Management course Spring 2018, this concept clearly needs to be a concern within that class!

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King’s Discussion of Influence

This summer i’m trying to speed read Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. As my husband’s favorite series I promised him i’d read them before the movie comes out.

While reading The Gunslinger, the first book in the series, I was asked to take over the teaching of a summer class on Adventure. While the course was initially conceived as a literature based course – I found so many ways to work in videogames, digital media, and The Gunslinger. While it looks like enrollment won’t support the running of the course, some of my initial ideas for curriculum development have helped me as I reflect on my Spring semester as a teacher to develop strong Grad institutes this summer, and strong new curriculum in Fall.

I started the book one morning as my son was taking his time eating cereal (at only 4 yo he hasn’t yet realized that soggy cereal is gross!). He asked me to read to him, emphasizing the need to start from the very beginning. So I started with King’s “Introduction”. In this introduction, King mixes reflections on his influences (The Lord of the Rings, Canterbury Tales), his fan letters (as influences), and his need to write to know the story – his need to write to discover the path of his characters.

I’ve taught videogame classes many times in recent years, and through these courses students have told me their stories of playing games and discovering things about the character they played they didn’t know until a critical juncture – then they realized who their character was. These moments of reflection, their need to share these moments of reflection are always amazing to me (PS the Dragon Age games inspire the most reflection).

As I reflect on my teaching from last semester, I’m seeing how important the “Introduction” was for King to write – a self-discovery of himself as an author as he continued the story of Roland and his quest for the Tower. I’m also remembering discussions of moments of play and their influence on self-discovery.

While my students may or may not be the next Stephen King – how can educators develop curriculum to not only support writing transfer, but to inspire these self-reflective connections to writing to learn. King learned about Roland’s adventures as he wrote (specifically discussed in section III of the “Introduction”). My gaming students learned about their character through playing, through game-based creation, interaction, and production. How can I pull these important ideas into the curriculum – create moments for meaningful AND productive self-reflection?

Ultimately my goal is to change how writers see themselves as writers. King took decades to complete The Dark Tower series and developed as a writer as a result, allowing Roland to develop differently based on the author’s maturity and self-reflection. How can I help students approach writing in a similarly positive manner? How can I help students be aware of their own growth and development so they continue to think and innovate and revolutionize?

 

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