Tag Archives: technology

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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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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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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