Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Your Blog Face

I have often found students feeling stymied by the task of choosing a title for their essays. I’ve been there too. I often just get done writing this THING, this organic fusion of thoughts and experiences and facts and outside opinions, and now I have to name it? And not just any name, but something that both gives a fairly clear sense of the actual content of the essay and yet offers a hint of creativity or language play. It’s no wonder academics “cheat” by introducing a colon to the mix; thus, as McDonald’s two-sided Styrofoam McDLT containers kept “the hot side hot and the cool side cool,” the two-sided academic essay title can keep the creative side separate from the quasi-literal side.

Which is taking longer to decompose? The styrofoam containers or the McDLTs?

Similar to the agony of choosing a title (an agony bloggers are not free from), there can be much hand-wringing when choosing an appropriate image to represent your blog. Much like an essay title, this image “labels” the blog. It offers a specific visual to the reader that to some degree influences the tenor of the site. Most popular blogs simply have a logo that incorporates their blog title that serves this function as the blog’s image. We in the 109.02 class are not ready to create custom logos for our oh-so-many followers yet, as I assume that no one in the class is strong enough at HTML to introduce a comprehensive design change, replete with logo. What we can do is let a graphic do the representation for us.

My particular choice of clipart shows a young man, “The Genuine Drafter,” fretting in front of a chalkboard, who appears to be contemplating what he wrote and what he will be writing. I am quite happy with this image, as it captures in the face of the young man what I call “the sweet agony” of the writing act. I have considered changing the image because it looks as if the young man might be currently engaged in a math problem; however, at the picture’s size, all that can be made out for certain is that there is writing on the board, and, truly, the expression of the writer is what I most want my blog image to, ahem, express.

A rejected image. Consternation, yes. Sweet agony? Nuh uh.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Coming this Fall on MTV: Real World Freshman Comp Class

This past autumn, I was fortunate to take part of an English course at The Ohio State University designed to offer experience and guidance in writing articles for professional journals. For the course, designed and taught by Dr. Cindy Selfe, we students were prompted to select a previously written (in some form) essay that we see as being a strong candidate for publication. We selected our work and the target journal and set about revising for the audience we now hand in mind. Additionally, we assumed the mantle of reviewers for the pieces that our clasmates wrote. The entire course was not only an opportunity to better understand the process of producing and re-producing (AND . . . re-producing) an article for a professional journal, it also gave "real-world" application (that is to say an actual audience and purpose) for the writing we were doing in the course.

This real-world application for freshman composition is often harder to achieve for many reasons. As graduate students with backgrounds in Rhetoric and Composition, we in Dr. Selfe's course shared a common discourse community that--despite our specializations and journal selections--kept genre from being an issue in peer review. Likewise, our experience with writing cannot be discounted. Finally, despite what we may believe, I would hazard a guess that most school administrators and department heads (even publicly vocal former heads) would argue that the writing in our classrooms should be designed to be applicable primarily for the writing done in other classrooms (and secondarily to keep T. Rex from symbolically destroying the fabric of the universe). That is to say, composition is first and foremost an instruction in academic literacy. And, in many senses, this class is no different.

However, by turning our attention to blogs while simultaneously writing many conventional schoolroom compositions, we in 109.02 may are trying to better acquaint ourselves with both the academic essay as genre and the blog as genre. A better understanding of both makes for a better understanding of either. At least, that's the hope.Like other classes that try to make such writing tasks more palatable, freedom of topic choice is key. Such is so for the blogs we write, and it is so for the outsider blogs we are expected to read and comment on each week.

Despite this freedom, I am fully aware that most students would not participate in reading blogs weekly (no matter the topic) and contributing comments unless a grade depended upon it. And depend upon it it does, so we will be participating in something quite artificial, even as we venture into the "real world" and comment upon the blogs of others. So the best I can hope for is that at some point during any given comment, the spirit of the conversation inhabits the writer, the 109.02 blogger, and she or he finds herself or himself posting comments of interest, out of the need to communicate, expressand further the conversation--even if the spirit grips for merely half a sentence.

Of course, I may be seller the 109.02 bloggers short. They've had some fun reads thus far.

Monday, January 11, 2010

It begins . . .

As we embark upon the coming semester of weekly blog posts, let us remember, 109.02 class and followers, that the writing and reading we will be doing online is indeed real writing and reading. It is not "less than" the writing that you will be expected to deliver in the form of essays, nor is it necessarily easier to convey messages and emotion. We will investigate how form and function is similar to most classroom writing and how it differs.

Ultimately, if I can be allowed a moment of cheerleading, I hope that these blogs serve to be sites of agency for you--places where you feel that you can express, analyze, synthesize, champion, and reject ideas without too much restriction (of course, with a concurrent awareness of an audience nonetheless). If much of the communication in our lives take the form of static or noise, let these blogs be distinct, proud voices that carry over the rabble. And let's have fun with them too.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Guest Blogging Experiment, 2009

In last year's 109.02 course, the bloggers undertook a covert mission to guest post on a classmate's blog about that particular blog's subject. After everyone read the guest posts and commented on them, the original bloggers wrote follow-ups about the experience of having someone else post on what had been up to that point mainly their text (of course, the inclusion of comments always complicates the ideas of authority and authorship).

Upon reflection, the "invasion" into their hypertextual space gave the bloggers many things to think about.

  • There were discussions of how the guest bloggers opened new avenues for content on the blogs: "What this means to me, to have this post on my blog is that I have a new perspective on how to shape this blog. When I picked this topic, flipping cars for a profit, I thought I had to write only about how I flip cars and what to do right and what to do. From having this post on my blog, I can talk about the cars them self. Not just about my experiences in flipping cars."
  • There were realizations that the text can alter the style of the author: "I found in Chase Hardwick’s post the guest writer was more of a joking funny guy compared to Doc Hardwick’s more informal type of posts. He did well by staying with the theme of Doc Hardwick and found a study that showed that in “moderation” (this is a different meaning to everyone) alcohol is beneficial to ones health. But the picture was the main tip off that gave away the fact that it wasn’t Doc speaking in the post."
  • And in some cases, the little differences in style stood out to the original authors: i also have noticed a lack of enthusiasm considering a Halo topic is my most favorite topic to write. the writer uses the i have played halo before enthusiasm as opposed to my Halo Geek jargon. Also being that i am a huge Halo fan I would have put a video link from the website G4TV from the episode were they talk about the game Halo Wars. I also noticed that the picture was placed in the middle of the blog and i like to place my pictures in the left hand corner of the post.
So what will this round of bloggers notice about the differences of style, the notion of authority, the constraints of topic or genre? We shall see. Do you want to surf through their musings on the subject? Be my guest.*

*Horrible, horrible pun.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Back it up!

Oh, the multi-purpose phrasal verb. You take on so many interpretations.

As the students of the 109.02 class dive headlong into the first draft of their second papers--for which they are to read a blog/online article summarize it, and respond to it--I thought it was a good opportunity to discus the merits of the reverse outline.

Written after a draft of a paper is complete, a reverse outline is an attempt to describe the text that has been written, whereas a traditional outline, usually sketched before drafting, is typically an attempt to impose (prescribe) a structure and focus for the paper. When writing a reverse outline, an author writes down a few words that describe the topic of the paragraph. When the author discovers more or fewer than one paragraph topic, he may need to reconsider that paragraph. This also provides a wonderful opportunity to check a paper's organization between paragraphs (a popular understanding of the nebulous "paper flow").

Traditional outlines are written and assigned with the intent of helping the author collect his or her thoughts and organize them. Reverse outlines--well, they are written and assigned for just the same reason. Neither outline is essentially superior to the other; typically, their applicability to a writing task is dependent upon the author. Do you need to organize your thoughts before writing? Be traditional. Do you need to get your ideas out first before ordering them? A reverse outline is for you. Most experienced writers find time for conducting both outlines, even if just on scratch paper (like me), in the paper's margins (like me), or in their heads (like . . . well, you get it by now).

Remember the things to look out for when writing a reverse outline:

  1. Paragraphs that have more or less than one central topic.
  2. Paragraphs that do not work in transition to one another or in their place in the paper as a whole.
  3. Paragraphs that are not meeting the expectations of the assignments (for example, in this assignment, the readers would expect to see a summary of the original blog early on in the paper)
Long live the reverse outline! And while we're revering backward things, let's hear it for the moonwalk, Kriss Kross's clothes, and Cooper's Dream from Twin Peaks!

Perhaps next week we'll look at another meaning of "backing up," that of supporting our writing with examples, statistics, anecdotes, and the like.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Setting an Example, Yadda, Yadda, Yadda

The students in 109.02 are embroiled in the business of discovering meaty blog posts to summarize and respond to for their second essays. I thought, in the spirit of lifting the veil of what can be a challenging assignment, I would briefly model the sort of thing they will be pending the back half of the quarter working on. This may be my bet chance at a modeling gig, save for, perhaps, hand modeling a la George Costanza.

But really, who could compete with silky mitts such as these?

In "Student Blogging--What You Should Know," Sean Rahman of Michigan State University offers a series of tips for the nascent classroom blogger. Rahman notes that some college students will be asked by their teachers blog as part of their coursework, a pedagogical decision that Rahman sees as having many positive effects. Classroom blogs, he surmises, can offer opportunities for lateral learning, create additional means of communication between students and teachers, and "generally make writing more exciting for students." Stressing that classroom blogging is different from blogging in more informal contexts, Rahman lists a series of practical tips for the student blogger. Some of Rahman's suggestions range from urging the student to be aware of the opportunities and constraints of the technology (creating back-up files of all posts and allowing for computer mishaps are covered, for example), some deal with identity (blogging anonymously) and some with community (commenting on classmates' blogs).

Rahman's post trends toward the practical, and some of it could and does apply to using computers for any sort of composition; actually, if the students haven't been persuaded to budget for technical issue in their composing processes now, I doubt that this essay will inspire them to do so. The essay is hinting at being stronger when asking the reader to consider the importance of community in blogging, but Rahman again stays at a practical level, warning the student of half-hearted comments on others' blogs: comments such as "Try to put some "meat" into your post as well--many instructors won't give full credit for 'Me, too!' comments that don't contain any content" are important for students to read, but they shed no light for the student on just why thoughtful comments are integral to the communication found in blogs.

And perhaps this is my hang-up, that in fact the more theoretical sort of explanation is better left to another article. However, I really do think that Rahman misses an opportunity for real edification, having raised the specter of the importance of comments. Why settle for what amounts to a fleshed out checklist in an article that purports to offer students what they "should know" about blogging? Why not explain to them that this is a different genre of writing that has its own rules and context, different indeed from the essays students are normally assigned in class? Why not talk about the importance of design, images, and hyperlinks? I mean, besides their rhetorical value, aren't these part of the package that can cause blogging to be a type of writing that is "more exciting for students"?

Alas, space is apparently limited in Rahman's post, and thus it shall be here. Perhaps it was the author's goal to just provide some practical tips, so in fact, the title of the post is the only clear flaw. I wonder if I ask my students to create a similar list to Rahman's, what they might produce. Most likely, they will have written about a host of things neither me nor Rahman have considered. Yes, perhaps it's time for a little student-to-teacher learning.

NOT the sort of modeling either George or I should be attempting.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Goin' on a Holiday

Lately I've been doing a lot of thinking about the notion of academic Discourse (the capital "D" is intentional). I've been playing around with the concept of Discourse as "identity kit," as introduced in the work of James Paul Gee. Specifically, I'm interested in the notion of the dominant Discourse of the academy, that which I teach in my English classroom for seventy-eight minutes, three days a week, for ten weeks. Unless I my math has failed me--which as time marches, becomes a greater possibility--that totals thirty-nine hours of contact time in a quarter to acclimate a writer into academic Discourse. Granted, this is not accounting for the time students spend reading, writing, meeting with me, meeting with a Peer Writing Consultant at the Writer's Studio, but the general idea is that our time together strolling through scholastic Wonderland, with the hopes of granting students membership in "Academese" is limited. Of course, Writing Across the Curriculum movements were designed in part to offer more saturation in the Discourse, but for this post, that way lies digression.

What I'm really pondering is what I consider probably the biggest challenge to teaching English Composition (or, really, any course): negotiating the extent of how much students need to assume the value of a given Discourse. Gee states,

Discourses are inherently “ideological”. They crucially involve a set of values and viewpoints in terms of which one must speak and act, at least while being in the discourse; otherwise one doesn’t count as being in it.

In this claim is true, and in order to acquire a Discourse we must share its values to some extant, how do we "teach" our students to value the precepts of Standard Edited American English (SEAE)? It's a puzzler--one that causes my brain to itch from the inside.

I do think, however, that I might better understand the dilemma through popular culture. It is my panacea after all. So here's my state of mind--awash in text, looking for inlets to help students value (for the time they're in school) SEAE, trying to empower the same students by asking them to slightly corrupt SEAE, overtired for all the reading on literacy and classroom learning I'm currently doing--and I'm confronted with this commercial.

And here's the joy: the literacy of freestyle rap is equated with other forms of higher learning that these commercials have covered before, like having the knowledge to be able to deliver a baby. But I do wonder . . . he knows the language, our rapping marketing rep here, but isn't he missing the boat on values too? Isn't this, rather than a promotion of the knowledge gained by staying in a Holiday Inn Express, an indictment of how it takes more (time, effort) to acquire all that which is valued by the community?

I mean, c'mon, check out ol' boy's moves. Is that the robot I spy?