Tag Archives: learning

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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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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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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STEM to STEAM

While I was teaching at NAU we developed an undergraduate videogame symposium to support undergraduate research in a topic they loved – videogames. During the second year we ran the event we used the idea of STEAM – Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math – as the guiding theory for the event, drawing the humanities into discussions of technology.

The push for STEAM education has continued to grow since our conference two years ago. I just saw a webinar hosted by Ozobots on using Ozoblockly (their programming app) to foster STEAM classrooms. What caught my eye about their webinar sign-up is the reduction of STEAM to “art and technology” as they relate to their programming color commands.

I personally love the Ozobots because of their color coding – these color codes do support easy learning of programming basics (I haven’t played around with the Ozoblockly app since I don’t have a tablet). I also love that the Ozobots light up with so many different colors – the programming of personality is really engaging.

What i’m not understanding is how this use of colors means Art. I also missed the webinar, so i’m sure it was more engaged than I’m discussing here, but honestly the Ozobot webinar description is just the starting point for my thought pattern here.

As a Humanities faculty member, when I discuss STEAM I see “Art” as the stand in for Humanities in general, more specifically Humanities based critical thinking, critical reading and critical writing. There is a ton of important criticism on the inclusion of just the A and the collapse of all Humanities fields into Art, there is also important criticism on reading the A as Art and not understanding the depth of opportunity available from a more nuanced understanding of Art. I am not going to include these discussions here, they are easily available to those interested.

What I want to focus on instead are the underlying questions:

  • Why did the advocates of shifting from STEM to STEAM (a lot of the research points to changes beginning at RISD) focus specifically on Art? Is the goal artistic creativity, tinkering, critical engagement, or something more specific to art? Since creativity and tinkering have existed in other humanities fields (remember Social Studies classes in Junior High with the student video assignments, debates – that’s one example of creativity and tinkering in the Humanities most of us experienced), why Art – basically was “Art” selected for a cool acronym, or is there something specific that has been left out of subsequent discussions?
  • Why should STEM education see a need to include Art? What is happening, maybe not well, that drives this need?
  • While STEAM is becoming more popular, why isn’t this acronym also addressed at the collegiate level? We required curricular general education requirements to support a broadly educated student (breath is the horizontal bar in a T diagram) and a major/minor for a deeply educated student (depth is the vertical bar in a T diagram). But when makerspaces and digital labs are created, discussed, funded, why aren’t humanities faculty included in those discussions?

I have a whole slew of reading to accomplish this summer to help me address these ideas. This is partly for a Graduate seminar this summer and a Graduate seminar in the Fall (which will include a publishing opportunity – former grad students let me know if you want to be involved because I know i’ll need more authors). This is also partly for a conference in October – Feminism and Rhetorics (I was accepted, YAY).

How can feminist pedagogy help STEAM? How can feminist pedagogy (i’m starting with bell hook’s Teaching to Transgress) help curriculum design that both supports student learning/engagement, and supports student critical learning/engagement with technology. I want students to develop critical reflection on their technology choices, by using technology to learn composition – to develop their own working ideas of writing (#teachingfortransfer).

As a first step, these are the questions I have at this point. I’ll continue to develop the underlying questions about STEAM which influence the approaches used by technology companies to aid teachers in integrating technology in the classroom – to find ways of disrupting the expectations for college classrooms.

 

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Let’s Talk About Grammar

I know the research on direct grammar instruction shows it has no effect, sometimes even a negative effect when it takes away from composition instruction (NCTE affirms these findings here).

As I read Warner’s piece on Inside HigherEd (here) about pushback comments to direct grammar instruction I considered the times when I’ve lectured on grammar.

Style

When discussing rhetorical moves made by academics in different disciplines, part of the discussion looks to grammar structure too. The passive construction of methodology details provided in the sciences is very important to that field, so it needs to be discussed as part of the style of the discipline. In understanding style and noticing these choices, the complexities of audience become more clear.

Well, let’s be honest, the goal of this conversation is to help students realize there are different grammatical values in different disciplines. All disciplines care about presentation, academic support, proper use of MLA/APA/AP/Chicago/IEEE/etc., argument support, clear argument development, consistent format and organization. The problem is, the grammatical details catch faculty members, so their significance to writing takes on more weight.

When discussing this with a freshmen class, it’s necessary to provide an example. So I use my son.

Marshall was accepted to [insert prestigious school here].

[insert prestigious school here] accepted Marshall.

These style choices rely on some element of grammar knowledge – students must identify the subject of the sentence, the verb, and the object to understand how the style choice significantly changes the meaning of the sentence.

This first step is where many students often struggle. They struggle to identify the parts of the sentence.

After I help them with the first sentence they are rockstars with the second. BONUS: I can see learning transfer across a short time period – which is amazing.

Grammar versus Style

At this point I often wonder, am I directly lecturing on grammar with this style example. Will this style example/discussion carry weight in their learning so they access these ideas in new writing situations.

It’s such a small part of the overall curriculum (again, focused more heavily on the argument presentation ideas above) that I doubt it carries – but it holds so much significance. While it’s grammar, I’m imparting knowledge on basic grammar functions, the real focus of these discussions is style. What is the place of style in composition teaching?

Based on disciplinary feedback, my department has considered the idea of creating stand alone style courses (there are amazing books on style that can be incredibly helpful). But not all students will volunteer for this approach to writing.

As I work through final grading for the Spring 2017 semester I begin to plan my next courses. While I’m teaching mostly Grad classes this summer, I will also be planning a curricular overhaul of FYC in the Fall. Is there a place for style discussions? I’ll also be teaching a Junior level composition – are juniors more prepared for this discussion?

Also, if I work it into the curriculum, where would it be 1) the easiest to teach based on surrounding assignments (hello scaffolding)? 2) the most meaningful to students (hello transfer)?

While I don’t think I’ll have THE PERFECT (imagine this in a big booming voice) answer, I will play around with this idea as I create new curriculum.

This might be a bigger project requiring a shift in disciplinary understanding of their own writing practices. While they often point to comma errors and split infinitives, is the underlying concern more one of style, or truly grammar. On a side note –  we all make these grammar mistakes. And may I remind these faculty of the most famous “To boldly go” split infinitive?

Now, on to exploring the place of style in an updated, Teaching for Transfer modeled composition curriculum.

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