The Writing Hub

Shetler, Angela, Susan Thomas, Frances Di Lauro, and Benjamin Miller. “Multimodal Writing Instruction in a Global World.” Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy 17.3 (2013): n. pag. Web. 1 December 2013. http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/17.3/praxis/shetler-et-al/index.html.

All four authors teach in the “Writing Hub” at the University of Sydney. Shetler’s expertise is in professional writing, and her research includes various topics related to authorship, globalization, and digital environments. Thomas focuses on rhetorical history and theory, as well as writing across the curriculum, writing centers, and writing program administration. Di Lauro takes an interdisciplinary approach to teaching writing, and Miller researches contemporary Australian society through a lens of rhetorical theory.

This webtext presents the University of Sydney’s “Writing Hub,” a hybrid of a writing center and a writing program, as a new way to teach writing, suitable for a heavily digital society. In most Australian high schools and universities, the authors explain, writing programs are not founded in rhetorical studies, focusing instead on grammatical and mechanical correctness, and tend to stress single authorship of standard essays — much like many high schools, colleges, and universities in America.

The Writing Hub, however, incorporates a strong rhetorical foundation, focusing on five tenets: audience, context, collaboration, discovery, and writing as a conversation. In addition to common rhetorical concerns, this program also stresses approaching the writing process through the lens provided by the digital world.

Students are encouraged to write, revise, edit, collaborate, discover material for use in their writing, and receive feedback in digital environments. They also are encouraged to use multimodal composition in their writing assignments. The approach that the authors detail provides a useful model for us to follow as writing teachers.

While some of the webtext focuses on how the program is set up or on its treatment of rhetorical concerns, it treats digital literacy as a key undercurrent throughout most of its sections. Particularly, the discovery section discusses encouraging students to research topics online, using their digital exploration to arrive at a claim. Other sections — audience, context, conversation, and collaboration — incorporate discussion of writing in electronic environments in a similarly holistic manner.

When I read this in the course of my research for an assignment for Composition Theory, I was struck by this treatment of incorporating digital tools at every stage of the writing process. Digital and technological literacy need to be included as teaching goals as much as possible, and that means teaching students how to use technology to help them at every stage of the process.

Additionally, rethinking Invention as Discovery, using digital the digital world as a lens for this reimagining, is a very useful way to think about the rhetorical canons. One recurring element of my semester, at least in my two RHET classes, has been that I’m thinking more and more about what the canons really look like in the present day. If I weren’t on the portfolio track, anticipating graduating in May, and planning to seek employment outside academia, I might consider doing some major research on that topic. Alas, I really just don’t have time right now, and I’m not sure I ever will.

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101001111001101 at work

Peck, Don. “They’re Watching You at Work.” The Atlantic December 2013. 72-84. Print. Also available at http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/12/theyre-watching-you-at-work/354681/.

Don Peck is The Atlantic‘s deputy editor. He is also the author of Pinched: How the Great Recession Has Narrowed Our Futures and What We Can Do About It. Much of his writing focuses on post-2008-crash economics.

This article focuses on various practices surrounding people analytics, which involves using data about employees — or prospective employees — to predict behavior in the workplace, and sometimes to make decisions about hirings, firings, promotions, and so on. These data are collected in a variety of ways: Some companies have employees play electronic games designed to gather information about personality and decision-making skills; others examine electronic paper trails (for lack of a better term) that display how workers behave.

Peck makes the claim that this change to the way employers deal with employees is, in the long term, good for workers. He says “we’re headed toward a labor market that’s fairer to people at every stage of their careers,” that analytics might provide a way for those whose educations are lacking or who made some mistakes at a relatively early age to not “routinely get left behind for good.” In short, he says that data and the digital world are providing more opportunities for more people.

I’m not so sure I agree. As I read this article, I didn’t really imagine many new chances for people who have fallen through the tracks. Rather, it seems to me, people whose data profiles (which, again, in some cases are formed by their performance on a video-game app) don’t totally jibe with everything a company is looking for might never even get a chance. While there’s no doubt that the digital world has enabled some people to find new ways to get an education or earn a living, reducing people to ones and zeroes is more than a little unsettling, and the idea of basing most personnel decisions on such data rather than on qualitative, personal assessments is downright scary.

Then again, people analytics, while not a totally new field, is developing and evolving rapidly. I just might be wrong.

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Collaborating in virtual space

Almjeld, Jen, Natalia Rybas, and Sergey Rybas. “Virtual Teaming: Faculty Collaboration in Online Spaces.” Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy 17.2 (2013): n. pag. Web. 11 November 2013. http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/VirtualTeaming/Home

Jen Almjeld is an assistant professor of English at New Mexico State University. Her research interests include digital literacy, new media, and online identity formation. Natalia Rybas is an assistant professor of communication studies at Indiana University East. Her research interests include feminist and critical studies of technology; online teaching and learning; and critical cultural communication. I could not find much information on Sergey Rybas other than that he is an assistant professor of English at Capital University in Ohio. Based on content in the article and in the other collaborators’ online profiles, it can be presumed that he attended graduate school at Bowling Green State University, and it is likely that he is related to Natalia Rybas.

In this article in the Praxis section of Kairos, the authors recount their experiences teaching three different classes at three different universities in two different regions, using a collaborative project that teamed students in all three classes with one another. The idea to design a project that would combine students from each class arose out of a social meeting among the three professors, old friends from graduate school who were interested in similar things.

The three classes were organizational communication, writing in the professions, and online identity. The project, in which students used Wiki software to help local organizations tackle problems of global or national importance, had several goals, including teaching about multimodal composition, collaboration in virtual space, and several different types and contexts of writing and organizational communication. The article describes how the students from the different universities interacted, how the teachers modeled collaborative behavior and designed the project, and how students formed new identities based on their roles in the project.

This article, overall, is fascinating. The idea of having three classes work together despite covering different (but related) subjects and being geographically separate is incredibly ambitious, but from the testimonial, it sounds like it worked fairly well. I think that the most interesting aspect of the article is its description of how the teachers had to coordinate their separate class schedules and model the collaborative behavior. I was left wondering one thing, though: Might this have worked better if the three classes had been designed as essentially one class, taught by all three professors, touching on each separate subject, offered at all three universities simultaneously, and scheduled in concert? I didn’t really get the sense that the way it was done offered a concrete advantage over a more comprehensive team-taught course. Perhaps it was just not logistically possible at the time; I’m sure such courses will pop up in the near future around the country, if they haven’t already.

At any rate, this is one of the most interesting articles I’ve ever read in Kairos, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite publications.

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Networked power

Jones, John. “Networked Activism, Hybrid Structures, and Networked Power.” Currents in Electronic Literacy 15 (2012): n. pag. Web. 10 November 2012. http://currents.cwrl.utexas.edu/2013/networked-activism-hybrid-structures-and-networked-power

John Jones, an assistant professor in the Professional Writing and Editing program in West Virginia University’s English Department, specializes in digital communication, digital literacy, professional writing, and rhetoric and composition. His academic work has touched upon social media, Wikipedia, and other intersections of technology and communication. More information can be found at http://english.wvu.edu/facu/john-jones.

In this essay, Jones examines the networked social activism that has become prominent in the digital age, with a particular eye toward how power in networked organizations differs from power in organizations with a hierarchical structure. To examine these issues, he uses the 2010 Wikileaks disclosure of U.S. government documents as a case study.

Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, has asserted that governments are predominantly networked systems that actively take part in conspiracies, with its members hiding what they do from outsiders. Assange’s organization to harm conspiracies by restricting their access to secretive informational channels and exposing them as conspiratorial networks. Jones, however, challenges Assange’s theory, saying that he has failed to take into account the hierarchical element of conspiratorial power structures. However, Jones explains, Wikileaks’ activities, the U.S. government’s response to those activities, and the organization’s response to the government’s actions all show how power and activism can work in networks without strong hierarchical power.

This article was extremely difficult to follow. I began reading it because it was very interesting, but in the end I just felt dizzy. I think I will have to come back to it and read it a couple more times to get optimal understanding. However, the subject matter of the essay has strong connections to Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus. The way Wikileaks operates, and the way it was able to fine tune that operation after the government crackdown, show us that the digital age allows for powerful connections among different groups that would have been impossible a decade and a half ago.

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Memory and skills in the time of automation

Carr, Nicholas. “The Great Forgetting.” The Atlantic November 2013. 76-81. Print. Also available (under the title “All Can Be Lost: The Risk of Putting our Knowledge in the Hands of Machines”) online at http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/11/the-great-forgetting/309516/.

According to the biography on his website, Nicholas Carr has written for myriad periodicals, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Wired, The New Republic, The Guardian, and more. He has authored several books, including 2011 Pulitzer Prize-nominated bestseller The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. His focus as a writer is on technology and how it affects culture and economics.

In this article, Carr asks the question: What happens to our skills when so many tasks are automated? The examples he opens up with are frightening but all too familiar. In 2009, just a few months apart, two passenger planes crashed, killing everyone aboard. Most people who follow the news heard about the second of the two accidents, an Air France flight across the Atlantic that sent 228 people to a watery grave. In both crashes, unexpected conditions caused the autopilot to fail, and the pilots were caught off-guard. Ultimately, what doomed each flight was the fact that the pilots were used to spending much of their time essentially monitoring the autopilot, environmental readings, and other computer functions and get too little practice actually flying planes.

As computers have gotten more and more sophisticated, Carr argues, we’re letting them do more and more tasks for us — and we start to forget how to perform those tasks ourselves. We let them spell our words. We get them to show us where to go. We depend on their capability to give us any information we want, as long as we know how to look for it. Carr points out that the idea behind automation and the other benefits software provides is to free up our own time and resources to do other things. However, psychologists have found that people usually fail to take into account that leaning on the crutch of automation affects us cognitively.

What I really like about this article is how it examines the oft-neglected rhetorical canon of memory. Several weeks ago, in a discussion of some of our Digital Rhetoric texts, a classmate and I honed in on a new way of looking at memory: information literacy (the words are hers, derived from our conversation; I liked the terminology so much that I’ve adopted it). Whereas rhetoricians of past decades, centuries, even millennia had to utilize their memory to recite their speeches, and call upon their stored knowledge, we often rely on iPads and teleprompters when delivering live, verbal speeches, and use our phones to look up any fact that we can’t remember off the top of our head. The problem is, thanks to a phenomenon that psychologists call the “generation effect,” we don’t really learn things as well when we simply read or recite facts as we do when we actually put them to use. While I still stand by that definition of memory that Bethany and I came up with, this article challenges that notion. After some rethinking, I may have to revise my position.

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A multimodal composition, by any other name…

Lauer, Claire. “What’s in a Name?” Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy 17.1 (2012): n. pag. Web. 10 November 2013. http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/17.1/inventio/lauer/index.html

Claire Lauer is an assistant professor of technical communication at Arizona State University’s School of Letters and Sciences. Most of her research concentrates on multimodal composition and studies of how the digital landscape has changed the act of communication. More information on Lauer and her research can be found at https://webapp4.asu.edu/directory/person/964446.

In a webtext that incorporates dozens of audio files from interviews with other scholars alongside transcripts of the clips and contextual explanations, Lauer examines the varying terminology we use when talking about compositions like hers. Focusing on the terms multimodal, multimedia, new media, and digital media, Lauer digs into what each term means, whether — and when — we can use them interchangeably, and why we have such variation when discussing communication that incorporate multiple modes, or media, or whatever. Through her interviews, Lauer argues that the uses and definitions of each term are audience-oriented; contextual; historically situated; limited “in scope and what they can represent”; defined differently by each discourse community that uses them; defined with precision; and explained in relation to one another.

While Lauer’s discussion of the terminology of multimodal composition is fascinating and useful, her accompanying breakdown of how the webtext came into being, from conception to final execution through several years of work, is arguably even more valuable. She explains how she derived her definition categories from patterns she observed in her interviews, and recounts the ups and downs she experienced in executing the delivery of her webtext. The artifact was originally designed in Prezi, and then in Flash, and ultimately in HTML5.

I think that the content of the webtext provides a very interesting look at what we’re thinking about when we name and label anything. As Lauer’s use of the Romeo and Juliet quote — which also drives the rose-themed visual presentation of the webtext — implies, the aspects she unpacks of the definitions of terms apply much more broadly than simply in the discussion of multimodal vs. multimedia composition. Indeed, whether you call a soft drink a soda, a pop, or a Coke (even when it’s actually a Dr Pepper) may depend on consideration of audience, context, and other factors.

The explanation of how Lauer built the webtext, however, is the part I enjoyed the most, and that I think is the most useful. Her tale, which she likens to Homer’s Odyssey, informs readers about considering the limitations of medium and those of the rhetor. It also points out some strengths and weaknesses of a few potential delivery vehicles, and discusses how the authoring of this artifact differed from the act of writing a purely text-based composition.

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Nonfiction remixed

Mueller, Derek. “Tracing Rhetorical Style from Prose to New Media: 3.33 Ways.” Praxis Wiki, at Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy. Last modified 25 May 2013. Web. Accessed 13 October 2013. http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/praxis/index.php/Tracing_Rhetorical_Style_from_Prose_to_New_Media:_3.33_Ways

Derek Mueller is an assistant professor of written communication in Eastern Michigan University’s Department of English Language and Literature. He is interested in the intersection of writing, rhetoric, and technology, particularly social media and visual rhetoric. More information about him is available at http://www.derekmueller.net/rc/index.html and http://www.emich.edu/english/faculty/facultypages/dmueller.php

In this piece, Mueller details a project for his “Writing, Style, and Technology” class in which he requires students to examine in depth and rework a brief nonfiction passage in a variety of modes and media. The idea behind this assignment was to explore style and rhetorical elements, and discover how changing delivery methods could affect a composition.

In the six-week-long project, students first select a three-paragraph passage, then analyze its style. Next, they choose three out of four ways to remake the passage they have chosen: a Twitter stream, using elements of experimentation already present on Twitter (for example, literature recast as tweets) as well as staples of the site such as @mentions, hashtags, retweets, and hyperlinks; a three-panel imagetext triptych, accompanied by a text explanation of their rhetorical choices; a webcomic; and an intensive analysis of the piece’s syntax, sentence by sentence. The project caps off with a five-minute presentation accompanied by slides showing their work, delivered in the style of Ignite videos.

The project outlined in this video sounds like a very interesting way to examine rhetorical choices in a multimedia world, and understand the capabilities and limitations of various delivery methods. Through this project, students can see how style and delivery shape one another (I’d argue arrangement is similarly affected in the same way). By using a text passage as a starting point, students can see how the academically hegemonic mode has already crafted a message, and by reworking it in various ways, they can see how that message can be improved (or not) with different approaches.

I particularly like the Twitter stream, which may be one of the best examples of the dynamic quality of hypertext, and the webcomic, which provides an excellent example of combining words and images. I don’t really understand how the syntactical analysis is supposed to work, despite reading that section of the article three times. It seems like less of a hands-on remake and more of a dry, academic analysis. It might be a useful technique for examining the stylistic choices an author makes, but it doesn’t fit with the hands-on and fun spirit of the rest of the project. If I were to use a project like this in a classroom, I would probably find a substitute for this option, perhaps a Prezi or a YouTube video.

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