A Rhetorician Researches Teaching Materials for A Literature Class

Introduction: Coming Back to this Blog

So, I haven’t posted on this blog for nearly 10 years. A lot has happened in that time. First of all, I have a Ph.D. now, which I earned from Ohio University, a place where I almost failed out of 25 years ago. I earned my Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Composition; my dissertation advisor was Dr. Ryan Shepherd, who is now at Northern Illinios University. My researched diss focused on looking at the ways different online writers and content creators used the same visual for very different ends: My Dissertation. I focus on data visuals for climate science, all in climate-affirming online contexts. I privileged physically analyze the visuals while I paired particular aspects of the visual content with the linguistic content in the visual’s respective context.

In doing this kind of work, I mostly avoid considering how climate change research and thus scientific rhetoric intersects or clashes with the more artistic writing and social aspects and impacts of climate change on people’s lives. I was hired as a senior lecturer at Ohio State University for the English Department last fall. I’ve been put in a position of having a full-time gig and have the luxury and privilege of being able to research well before I teach. As such, for this literature class (English 2367.02), I will be moving from analyzing scientific arguments and data to exploring and contextualizing environmental literature and expository writing. Given my lack of knowledge and research in the cultural and literary study of environmental rhetoric and science, I have embarked on the research phase that will help me compile background and literary readings for this class, English 2367.02. As you can see, the course description is pretty general. As long as it includes something about diversity. I do what I’d like.

The Research Process (Collecting and Brainstorming, Part 1)

Though I’m only in the collecting, skimming, and brainstorming phase, I’m putting my ideas and readings here. At this point, I’m just attempting to get historical context for American environmental writing–particularly from an anti-racist and environmental focus. As I said earlier, I’m acquainted with climate science rhetoric from a data-oriented and rhetorically-analytical positionality. In this research, I’m finding that the historical contexts and inclusion of BIPOC and non-academic sources is slowly changing my view of climate science’s connection and/or adjacency to these more narrative and historical threads of environmentalism. Until my next blog post, I will be reading and brainstorming how this work informs the general theories and trajectories of the course.


Quotation as a Site of Invention And Student Ethos

Back in June of this year, I started reading professor John T. Gage’s “An Adequate Epistemology for Composition: Classical and Modern Perspectives” from the collection titled, Landmark Essays in Rhetorical Invention in Writing. I only read half way through it.  Why? Because I had an idea–here’s where my idea started. To badly paraphrase and summarize Gage and put what he said into the interrogative: what if the epistemology (or ways of knowing)  in writing about and teaching composition go beyond students, writers, and academics moving outside of formal practices and into something more akin to guided invention. As I said, I didn’t read the rest of it (yet), so he probably answered his argument about classical composition and rhetoric’s reputation for formulaic approaches with a more modern approach, but I digress.  My idea? I began to wonder (in both the denotative and rhetorical sense) if quotation, a standard practice and pedagogical topic for first and second year composition, could be a site for guided invention.  

Though I haven’t worked out my use and extension of the canonical definition of invention right now, I am clear on my hypothesis. If I teach quotation as a site of invention, given Van Fuller’s work on quotation, Making Use of Others’ Work, Graff, Birkenstein, and Durst’s introduction to academic writing textbook, They Say; I Say, and the commonly known practices of quotation’s three main moves: introducing the quote, quoting the original words, and explaining what those words, ideas, and concepts in the quote mean, then, perhaps, I can invite my students into quotation from the creative angle.  

Moreover, I was teaching quotation as a way for students to support their arguments, make their claims more credible, and confirm that they didn’t knowingly or unknowingly take someone else’s work. To me, this approach is not only about formality and legalism (keeping them from plagiarizing), but also about teaching a form of attribution, or giving credit to the original author.  I’m not saying that teaching students these standard ideas is wrong, but I see something beyond that older method and mindset. That being said, if I open quotation up with invention and move it beyond formality and legalisms, perhaps invention and wonder-focused quotation pedagogy and methodology can actually confer an ethical and rhetorical responsibility to my composition students. More specifically, this practice and methodology might give students more insights into contextualizing and explaining quotes  (with an awareness that all interpretations of quotations are not equal or correct). 

Right now, I need to get back to grading. I’ll post more later this week. 

Proposal Ideas for UC’s “Being Undisciplined” Conference

Most of my life I’ve had to hear about a false dichotomy between skilled writers and skilled problem solvers. More specifically how people who are excellent at writing and English aren’t necessarily skilled in Math. I’ve also heard the converse in terms of people skilled in Math: they aren’t so skilled English. I want to break down these false barriers between Math and English. Wanting to down these walls between these subject areas informs some of the proposal ideas I have for the University of Cincinnati’s Spring of 2013 Graduate Conference called “Being Undisciplined”.

One of my ideas involves discussing how I use Mathematical and algebraic examples as analogies to how to compose and progress a written argument to a rhetorical or text-based conclusion. For example, I might show a science or math student an equation like x^2+ 2x+1=0 and then solve it. I use this example as a springboard to discuss how solving a math problem is akin to progression through an argument. Particularly how the answer, like a rhetorical conclusion, reveals not only a possible solution, but also an illustration of how the conclusion differs from the premises, or introduction and body of the paper.

Another idea I’m considering is to involve conference members through a logical progression exercise for composing sentences. More specifically, I will have the audience members brainstorm a set of topic sentences focused around the same idea. Then I will help the audience write a group of sentences linking the topic sentences together. How does this connect to Math? Well, it relates to Logic more than to Math specifically. In terms of logic, consciously linking one sentence to the next one relates to both Martha Kolnn’s concept of the Old/New Contract as well as the concept of the Causal Chain found in the study of deductive and inductive logic. The Causal Chain concept helps writers conceptualize the logical progression of their overall argument. Similarly Kolnn’s Old/New Concept allows the writing to move through and connect one’s ideas in a linear and lucid way. In fact, I could use the same set of topic sentences twice: the first set for the Causal Chain exercise, and the second set for the Old/New Contract exercise.

These are just two proposal ideas I have connecting Math/Logic and Rhetoric for UC’s Being Undisciplined conference for this upcoming Spring semester. I’ll post more ideas later.

This post reflects my sentiments exactly.

...meie igapäevast IT'd anna meile igapäev...

EvolveFish I don’t believe in evolution.

I can hear what you are thinking: Is he an idiot or something? Even though he has an MSc in animal ecology and an unfinished PhD in evolutionary ecology, he still doesn’t believe in evolution?!

But here’s the thing: evolution is a scientific theory, same as the theory of gravity, germ theory, cell theory, quantum theory, theory of relativity and many others.

Unlike religion, science doesn’t work with beliefs – you take the facts supporting the theory and compare those with facts not supporting the theory. Then you decide if the theory is correct – or perhaps you should improve the theory, choose an alternate theory or scrap the whole thing altogether.

And the theory of evolution has literally hundreds of thousands (if not millions) scientifically validated observations and experiments supporting it. You have scientific articles, monographs, experiments (yes, there are loads and loads…

View original post 169 more words

Affect and Technology: Social Motivation, Literacy, and Facebook

Quick background: I was too old to play Pokémon when it was popular.   In fact, I worked in Waldenbooks (now out of business) and sold Pokémon cards to parents when I was in my late 20’s.  Even though I don’t understand the social and cognitive complexities of playing Pokémon, I do agree with Mimi Ito: interest-driven learning with a high social component motivates children and adolescents.

In terms of adolescent learning and motivation, I see Ito’s distinction between friendship-driven and interest-driven online environments as being particularly useful.  More specifically, her distinction highlights how both of these online environments use and situate affect differently.  For example, social networking sites allow friends to chat and learn about “local peers groups, friendships, and romantic relations”(n.p.).  In other words, these sites, like Facebook, provide updated analogues of the after school hang out, like the mall, or an even older setting, the soda fountain.  In this online update of friendship-motivated, social contexts, gossiping (for both boys and girls), romantic and platonic pairings, and the comparing of garments (photo updates) keep teens in touch with each other.

On the other hand, the interest-driven sites that have teen writing with peers online repurpose their natural social motivation to focus on a topic or to reinforce a particular skill set.  Like the social networking sites, communities like Faraway Lands push peer-to-peer interaction into the foregrounded, but in a more pedagogical fashion.  For example, peer-to-peer, and adult mentor-to-student interactions motivate Clarissa to improve her writing.  As Clarissa differentiates her online, creative writing community from her school writing community, “ [Online creative writing is] something I can do in my spare time and not have to be graded on it…You know in school you’re creative, but you’re doing for a grade so it doesn’t really count?”(n.p.) It doesn’t really count?  Count for what?  Ito answers my question:  “The evaluation and appreciation by peers who share her same passionate interests feels both more authentic and consequential to her” where Clarissa gets opportunities to network and publish her work” (n.p.) like an adult writer would.  As Ito says, school would not afford Clarissa such opportunities.

As both a novice academic writer and writing instructor who is interested in online writing communities, I’ve come to realize the importance of socially motivated learning in online writing.  Additionally, I wonder how, as a novice academic writing and writing instructor I could borrow and apply what Ito discusses to my own (which I somewhat do now) and my students writing practices. For example,  I could encourage my students (maybe even require them) to respond to Facebook newsfeed posts and take screen shots of the comment thread and submit the hardcopy to me for my consideration.  On a social networking site like Facebook, I do think that Ito’s contention that “[s]kills and literacy are a by-product of social engagement” (n.p.) does have traction.  Granted, Facebook doesn’t necessarily engage teenagers (or college students) in situations that work to reinforce literacy and writing skills to the level a high school- or college-level writing class can. Nonetheless,  with the presence of New York Times, Literary Reviews, and other discourse communities available on Facebook’s newsfeeds, teens (and college students) can get updates from the stories they like or comment on. Case in point, like the community where Clarissa receives feedback for her work, teens and young adults could use the postings and comment threads as places to get feedback on their ideas; and in the case of more extended discussion, feedback on their writing. I realize that a site like Facebook doesn’t provide the close reading and peer-to-peer editing that a community like Faraway Lands provide.  However, if teens and college students are going to “play” around on sites like Facebook, then that sense of play that Ito discusses be superimposed unto learning opportunities for their writing and thinking, while also honoring the social component (gossiping, status updates) teens and college students want.

African American Online Information Access and Literacy Equality (Some Quick Thoughts)

On the morning of January 12, 2012, Lisa Nakamura’s gave a lecture to our ROPES class.  In that lecture she pointed out that online social networking sites like MySpace had a major “white-flight” when Facebook began gaining popularity five years ago.  As a result, the racial disparity between Facebook and MySpace’s reveal a virtual form of segregation. Another part of this segregation is the question of access to the Web.  Given that a majority of African Americans don’t have personal computer access and are relegated to cell phones, in school, or in public libraries, to access the Web, there are many different Internets as Nakamura pointed out.  Though I was vaguely aware of this disparity, I, as a white graduate student, have high amounts of access at home, on my phone, as well as school.  Before Nakamura’s lecture, I had never considered how segregated levels of online access were.

Given what Nakamura mentioned, I began to think of online access and African American users relationship to online information.  When I read Everett’s article, I found something compelling.  Everett’s research in African and African-American online communities revealed that African Americans use the Internet differently than white populations.  He cites the L.A. Times research that discovered that African Americans are more likely to use the Internet as a tool of information than whites (151).  Even though the African American population generally uses modem (dial-up) access (which puts them behind technologically), they utilize on-line information services more. What compels me to comment on this particular finding: the stereotype of the African American as missing out on what the Internet has to offer: in other words, the digital divide many people see as a site of racial disparity. It’s not that “technological distribution isn’t uneven,” according to Everett. Instead, Everett asserts that part of the focus on the digital divide diverts attention from the fact that “significant technomastery” and “online activism” exists in the African American population, despite limited access (149).

Though Everett goes into more detail about online diaspora and the ways in which African American technomastery is so widespread and pervasive, I’m more interested in looking Stephanie Browner’s article, in light of Everett’s findings.  Considering how African American populations utilize the Internet for information more than the middle-and upper-middle class whites (the presumed majority of online users with unlimited access) Browner’s article brings up how American Literary scholars are posting more online African-American literary scholarship and literature. Three of the African American literary scholarship sites Browner mentions are The Revised Dred Scott Case, Digital Schomburg African American Women Writers of the Nineteenth Century and Chris Mulvey’s Clotel: An Electronic Scholarly Edition. Both of these projects make public previously unpublished or out-of-print 19th century African American literature.  If we couple these archiving and publishing projects with the fact that Everett found African Americans use their technomastery to procure information, couldn’t that be a way in to level out the some of the disparities in literacy?

I realize solving the literacy disparity will take more than educators and progressive public figures encouraging primary, secondary, postsecondary, and working class African Americans to look into these projects.  However, these archiving projects (among others) could be instrumental in equalizing the problem of online access by providing a wealth of information about African American cultural heritage (Our Cultural Heritage Commonwealth: The Report of the American Council of Learned Societies Commission on Cyberinfrastructure for Humanities and Social Sciences, as qtd. in Browner).  In terms of promoting literacy among African Americans and given that these users already use the Internet primarily for information, these large database-sized digital archiving sites could start eliminating disparities in literacy rates, and continue to increase African American’s online use of information.


“Sermons” on the Dismount


My deconversion from theism (Christianity and less specific beliefs in a higher power) motivates this series of writings I’ve titled “Sermons” on the Dismount.  The title operates as an ironic misnomer.  I only want to write about my experience, not preach on the advantages of having a naturalistic view of the universe, nature, and phenomenon; that’s why I put the word sermons in quotes.  But like a sermon, I will write what I feel and how I slowly dismounted from the belief in a God, or gods, the supernatural, and other religious and mythical explanations for the world.

These “sermons” operate within and from a naturalistic point of view.  In other words, I subscribe to the theories of evolution, the big expansion, and abiogenesis.  To me, science explains how the world (and all of its phenomenon-natural or otherwise) works.  I state this at the outset of this series for one reason.  I hypothesize that many readers, sympathetic and empathetic to the theistic vantage; will attempt to debate my point of view.  I realize that this series invites debate and emotional responses. Despite that, I am still going to post this set of writings, and I will decide who I debate to whom I respond.

My Slow and Certain Deconversion (part 1)

 After my second divorce, I moved in with my parents.  Two years before my divorce I went to church twice a week: on Mondays to rehearse my bass playing and harmonies with the church band and on Sundays to play in the contemporary service.   Once I recovered from the initial shock of the breakup, I began working a minimum of forty hours a week.  Inevitably I worked on Sundays–particularly when I was a team leader at AWS. None of the personal assistants working under me willingly worked on Sundays.  If going to church and playing in the its band really meant so much to me, I would have tried harder to get one of my subordinates to cover my Sunday shift.

I still believed in the Christian God and prayed in the morning, in the evening, and when I felt uneasy or anxious. Not going to church and band practice (which included a prayer group before we began to practice) gave me a chance to start questioning organized religion and theology in general.  Though I had read about evolution in college, on my own, and believed it to be a plausible, I started seeing that evolution couldn’t be reconciled with the Genesis account.  With more and more space between the Lutheran church, and myself I began forging my own relationship with God, as I understood him.

This personal relationship focused on a god I could talk to and his name was not Jesus. Another newer feature of this personal relationship included getting to know myself better: what I thought and felt without the filter of Christianity.  In other words, instead of praying away my doubts about religion, myself, and praying away my problems, I began to see myself as an individual who could solve my own problems, or go to someone else–whether they were believers or not.  Case in point, I began talking to an old friend of mine who was (and is) not affiliated with any organized religion.

I started to find my own way in the same way he had found his.  He lived (and lives) by his own spiritual principles, many of which he formulated after reading myriad books and contemplating those principles for many years.  Similarly I began listening to his experiences and how he applied his principles to those experiences.  At first I adopted some of his viewpoints and applied them to my own life and “spiritual journey”. I started drinking kumbucha and green tea, eating better (high diary fats, olives, leafy greens), weaning myself off of psych meds, and following a more predictable sleep routine.  I was still doing God-centered twelve-step work; but all the while I questioned if there was an actual higher power.  I questioned it because I believed I was doing the spiritual recovery, not some bigger, immaterial and invisible force.

(End of Part 1)

The problem of slippage in digital, Web-based and Multimedia research and publishing

Web-based and Multimedia research involves a flattening out differences among disparate media (text, image, video, etc.), as well granting quicker and greater access to these media.  The convenience of quick and easy access in digital publishing and research brings legal and ethical issues to the fore.  One of those issues is the slippage of attribution and citation in the academic tradition, according to the Janice McIntire-Strausburg article. Ease and speed of digital access can also cause another slippage, in terms of “text rights” (Berger, 155) and authorship. A final slippage that arises from quick and convenience access is the linguistic or cultural context brought up in Iswari P. Pandey’s “Researching (With) the Post-National ‘Other’”.  Pandey finds that meanings can get lost between subjects and researchers in a Web-based environment, such as email.

As Janice McIntire-Strasburg states, “digital media encourage convergence—of audio, video, and other digital media…across networks” the phenomenon of copy and pasting for student research or other types of commentary makes easy access a slippery issue, in terms of attribution to an author (McIntire-Strasburg, 295-6).  The tradition and copyright laws allow fair use for educational purposes; students using digital and Web-basted media can easily appropriate these media for their own purpose, without attribution. Part of the loosening of the definition of authorship is the fluidity that Web-based publishing and research encourages.  In other words, because it’s so easy for students to “right click” or download an image, text, etc. from the Web, which is done in the absence of strict control or monitoring, it makes current copyright laws impossible to enforce. The current law protects “original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, form which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device” (McIntire-Strasburg, cited as Hefter &Litowitz, 1999).  In other words, attribution of authorship gets loosened when student (or any person) is able to use copyrighted materials any way they see fit, and then get credit for their work, as in the example on page 292.

With the loosening of traditional ideas about authorship that digital research and publishing can cause also comes the loosening of “text rights,” as they relate to the author and publisher.  Considering the easy and quick access students have to copyrighted material, a pertinent question arises. As Sidney Berger offers, “Who owns a picture, a musical composition, or a sentence on the Web?” (155).  Students can freely, quickly, and easily use digital media and thus reduce the “status of text ownership” (ibid).  Granted, the reason for publishing digitally based texts is the economic practicality of “speed and ubiquity” (Berger, 150).  However, enforcing the laws that protect the text rights of authors is impractical, in terms of close monitoring on the Web, and economically prohibitive, as Berger also points out.  “But it takes a great deal of money to do this [legally pursue illegal appropriations of copyright materials on the Web], and few parties can afford such vigilance and the costs of prosecution (155).  When the law can’t be enforced and the author or publishers can’t pursue legal action, the author’s or publisher’s rights to the text also slip away.

A third slippage that quick and easy access in digital researching creates is not tied to the legal aspects of authorial attribution or textual rights, but a slippage in linguistic and cultural context between researcher and research subject.  In “Researching (with) the Post National ‘Other’”, Iswari P. Pandey does discuss authorship (particularly co-authorship with research subjects); the problem of slippage comes in another form.  Pandey sees both the post national individual and digital technology being similar and thus “share a common fate: They are both often seen as decontextualized…” (112).  Though the Web and its digital technology almost erase the idea of nationhood or ethnicity (because there is such ease and speed of access), this decontextualizing effect can have produce problems for the digital researcher.  Pandey was researching digital literacy and gaming with two subjects from Nepal.  She conducted this research over emails and sent them a questionnaire in this way. Contrary to her idea that the subjects close familiarity with the English language would make it easier for her to interview them, she later reflected and found problems with her questionnaire. She realized that her questions “assumed a more western, American bias…” that created “slippages and misunderstandings”(119).  Despite the participants’ knowledge of the English language and their understanding of digital media, the slippages in linguistic meaning and cultural context became factors that slowed down the research process for Pandey.  In other words, despite Web-based and digital technology and supposedly post-national identities being decontextualized, cultural context ended up causing a slippage in understanding between research subjects and researcher.

If monitoring and preventing the slippage in attribution, authorship and text rights are costly and impractical and misunderstandings in language cause slippages between cultures slows down the research process, is it possible that quick and easy access in digital publishing and research is neither.  At this point a question of just how quick and easy digital access arises.  At this point there is no clear answer, but it is important to keep interrogating this newer process and media of digital research and publishing.