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?

Friday, January 30, 2009

Arrested by the Details

On the Internet, no one can hear you shiver. Greetings from the rime-slathered Arctic region formerly known as central Ohio. I swear icicles are forming on hawks in mid-flight.

Fear not for the intrepid writers of ENG 109.02, for we are finding warmth and comfort in our words. We are embroiled in writing narrative essays, ways of constructing meaning about the experiences we have had. Our memories are burning bright on the page, with the brilliance of a thousand suns (or, at least, the functionality of a dependable space heater). And what gives our memories that roasting-by-the-fireside glow? Well, the heat of the devil's touch is, as they kind of say, in the details.

With parrot-like fanaticism, I stress the importance of "showing" the details of one's story rather than settling for simply relaying facts. The effect is striking--good "showing" brings the reader into the story with you. I've linked before to Professor Dennis G. Jerz's website that does a wonderful job explaining the difference between showing and telling.

We don't "show" every moment in our narratives; we couldn't. We choose to "tell" certain parts, backgrounding them, so that the moments of showing are that more vibrant and noticeable. Recently I've come to think of these selected moments of showing as short YouTube clips, where we are practically pressing the Play button in our computers to animate the story and bring the reader in.

In the following clip from the sadly-defunct Arrested Development, note how the video starts with a short sentence, a tell: "Job was being taken out to lunch." What follows--what we see, hear, and feel as a result of the action and dialogue--are a lot of details that shows what "Job was being taken out to lunch" entails.

When we go to write stories, we must be prepared to show the sights, the smells, the sounds, the feelings, the gestures, the dialogue, the comparisons that take a simple sentence into an overly dramatic reading of a menu. Remember: when in doubt of whether you are showing and telling, always check for club sauce.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Computer: Snarky's Machine?

I’d like to expand on last week’s contemplation on the importance of outsiders’ comments to blog posts. The ability to participate in and perhaps shift the conversation into new directions and the notion that, as long as the original post is still accessible, no conversation is truly “finished,” offer writers and readers of blogs a sense of community and a broader epistemological opportunity than those who share other types of texts. However, there are potential pitfalls. I mentioned the potential of gravitate to blogs that conform to an already established worldview and how the comments can potentially serve to simple support that view with little attempts at challenge, negotiation, or complication. However, there is a phenomenon in tone prevalent in many blogs that can also serve to simply disrupt communication rather than participate in it: the snarky comment.

Snark, often roughly understood as a sense of snide and detached delivery, has come under fire recently in a book by New Yorker movie critic David Denby. Denby posits that the prevalence of snark that he sees in the national conversation is damaging to public conversation. He sees snark as little more than bullying, a position that has been met with supporters and detractors.

For the purposes of the class blogs, I would expect to see little evidence of snark in the comments, like in the previous quarters. Most of the students’ comments are attempts at supporting one other through the act of public writing that there is little desire to get snarky, even when there are disagreements. And this is probably a good thing. While snark—especially when it’s smart and when it’s pointing out the absurdity of another’s actions or opinions—can be strong and effective, but blog comment sections are teeming with examples of snark for snark’s sake. While they can be enjoyable to read, often they are lame and lazy attempts at engaging in some demanding and (what should be) stimulating issues.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Comments: Acorns of the Blog Post Tree

One of the blog's most definitive features is that it allows for its readers to leave immediate comments to the original text. While any piece of writing can--and does--inspire reaction, that reaction often stays private in the reader's mind. Sometimes, it finds it way into public conversations (in the classroom, over dinner, at city council meetings, in letters to the editor), but the blog allows for, enourages--thrives on--immediate feedback to complicate the original text and further the conversation. Beware the blog that diasbles the Comments function; by denying others participation in the discussion, the blogger is far too concerned authorship ans authority to realize the full potential of online writing.

This is not to say that all comments to blogs are gems. Indeed, one of the drawbacks of blogs--of any text, for that matter--is that we as readers often seek out what we already favor. Thus, the comments section can turn into an echo chamber, many different different simply assenting to the original idea. Likewise, like the blog posts themselves, the comments can fall short in areas of knowledge, reason, vivacity, or respect. Nonetheless, reading beyond the original post, clicking the links and reading the comments, gives the reader a deeper perspective on the the issue at hand. And, often, people in the comments section prove themselves knowledgeable and witty. Most importantly, the comments section promotes a sense of community on your blog, one that anyone who can be respectful in sharing their opinion is invited to join.

As far as the 109.02 class goes, I'm already heartened by some of the conversation going on in the comments section (see Ethan and Paige's comments for a couple of strong examples).

Friday, January 9, 2009

Feeling Lucky?

It is time yet again for students in 109.02 to keep public records of their opinions in the form of blogs. In so doing, we investigate a pervasive and increasingly salient form of expression and communication by--in part--performing it. We will form a small community on a distant prairie of the Internet, but if past classes are any indication, we are not fully incapable of reaching out and tapping strangers on the shoulder. We have many ideas to share and negotiate with one another in the coming weeks, not to mention images and links, important aspects of posting to blogs that we will investigate in time.

So on the onset of this third effort of class blogging, I wonder where our words will go. Will we be able to make a splash outside of our classroom? Expand our virtual community? Come to some enlightened definition of terms like "writing," "audience," and "reading"? Will this third time be the proverbial charm? Perhaps, but I prefer to move forward keeping Branch Rickey's words at the front of my mind: "Luck is the residue of design."

I mean, that's why I write a syllabus, right?