Composition Pedagogy

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Online Portfolio of Work Related to Rhetoric, Digital Media, and Feminist Theory


Dissertation Prospectus

Preliminary Exams

Outlook: What's next for blogging? In Bruns, A., & Jacobs, J. (Eds.), Uses of Blogs. Forthcoming from Peter Lang Publishing. Original questions and answers posted July 24, 2005.

Between Work and Play: Blogging and Community Knowledge-Making (Essay in Lore: An E-Journal for Teachers of Writing)

Review Essay on Blogging, October 2002

Sites of Resistance: Weblogs and Creative Commons Licenses (PDF)

Making the Adjunct Visible: Normativity in Academia and Subversive Heteroglossia in the Invisible Adjunct Weblog Community

Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca on Data Selection

"Push-Button Publishing for the People": The Blogosphere and the Public Sphere

Neither Compelling Nor Arbitrary

Thoughts on Burke's "Four Master Tropes"

Response to Burke's "Semantic and Poetic Meaning"

Genre Theory, Genre Analysis, and Blog as Genre

Blogging as Privileged Speech

Anarchy in Academe? A Cultural Analysis of Electronic Scholarly Publishing

Musings on Foucault, Power, and Resistance

Thoughts on Aspasia and Diotima

Feminist Theory

Gender and Open Source

Performativity: Draft of 3W Encyclopedia Entry

Essentialism: Draft of 3W Encyclopedia Entry

Whose Voices Get Heard? Gender Politics in the Blogosphere

Feminist Knowledge Claims and the Postmodern Critique

Identity Politics: Genealogy, Problems, Legitimacy

Theorizing Butler

Can Narrative Do the Work of Theory? A Look at Toni Morrison's Beloved

The Problem of Experience in Feminist Theory

On Theorizing Gender

Intersectionality, and I *Heart* Nomy Lamm

Notes on the Sex/Gender Distinction

Conference Notes

CCCC 2005

CCCC 2004

Feminisms and Rhetorics 2003

Two posts on Computers and Writing 2003

Roundtable on the Status of Qualitative Internet Research (from AoIR 2003)

Rhetoric Seminars

Seminar on Richard Fulkerson, "Composition at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century," College Composition and Communication, June 2005 (56.4)

Composition Theory, "Good Writing," and -- Impending Theory Wars?

More on Fulkerson

Seminar on Kelly Ritter, "The Economics of Authorship: Online Paper Mills, Student Writers, and First-Year Composition," College Composition and Communication June 2005 (56.4)

"It don't matter. None of this matters." Or, composition pedagogy and Ritter's article on plagiarism

More on Authorship, Intellectual Property, "Templates," and Student Writing

I'm no good at these things

But I'm going to give The Namesake Series a whirl anyway. Brendan proposes:

In This is Spinal Tap, David St. Hubbins shows Marty DiBergi a tape from the "Namesakes" series, in which celebrities read works by authors with the same last name. For example, Denham Elliott reads T.S. Eliot and Dr. J reads the collected works of Washington Irving.

What if you ran an "intro to theory and pop culture" course along similar lines? Each unit features a theorist discussed in class and related to a namesake in pop culture [. . .]

Here's my attempt:

  • Habermas on Kate Moss
  • Chaim Perelman on Rhea Perlman
  • I.A. Richards on Mary Richards
  • Raymond Williams on Venus Williams
  • Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick on Kyra Sedgwick
  • Laura Mulvey on "Mulva"
  • Homi Bhabha on Homey the Clown
  • Stuart Hall on The Wall
  • Kenneth Burke on Delta Burke

More later.

Tutoring in the Popular Imagination: Daria as Case Study

First, a bit of setup: In the movie Is It Fall Yet?, Quinn Morgandorffer -- my favorite character in the Daria series -- gets her PSAT score. She and the other girls in the fashion club compare scores, and Quinn is disappointed. She thought she'd get a higher score than the other girls, and she wants to get into Pepperhill, a well-known party school. She decides to get a tutor, David, a nerdy college guy. The guys, of course, think that's oh so cool, so the other girls get David to tutor them too. The representations of their tutoring sessions in this movie speak to a lot of cultural notions about what it means to tutor and be tutored. First, there's the general frustration and uneasiness that results from needing extra help (Why do I have to do this?):

More below the fold.

Link Roundup

Advice for new graduate students from Fontana Labs at Unfogged.

The recent Blogging For Kids With Disabilities event hasn't gotten NEARLY enough uptake, in my opinion, so please go and read (and link to) the posts now. Laura's posts about her son's severe verbal apraxia are here , here, and here. A humble query: Wouldn't a "culture of life" allot far more resources for these children and their parents?

An interesting thread about teaching and research at The Valve. Matt Greenfield asks:

I am talking to a colleague about how my semester is going. I find myself talking about “my work.” And I feel a twinge of uneasiness. If my research is “my work,” what should I call my teaching? Is it someone else’s work? Is teaching work done on behalf of someone else, or work done by another version of me?

This dissonance, as well as the question of whether or not instructors should bring their own research into the classroom, is discussed.

An excellent article about students in two-year colleges in the Chronicle. I can just see John Lovas nodding vigorously in agreement.

[W]hat I've found surprising, during my 18-year teaching career in the community-college arena, is not how many of my students aren't well prepared for college, but how many of them are. One of the best-kept secrets in higher education today is the proliferation of honors programs at two-year colleges.

Those programs are designed to accommodate students whose SAT scores would allow them to get into "prestigious" colleges, but who find themselves at a community college for any number of personal reasons.

[. . .]

For many of those students, the local community college is an attractive alternative, because of its low cost, proximity to home, or popular programs. Tuition is often two-thirds or even half what students would pay at a four-year college. And they can usually cut expenses even further by living at home.

I'm nodding too. In the class I taught this summer, which had only ten students, two or three had gone to community colleges. They cited the reasons above (proximity to home, low cost), but they also pointed out that their community colleges' career and personal counseling services far surpassed those of the University of Minnesota -- not that the U of M's are bad or anything, but there are so many more students that the counselors don't seem to have as much time to meet repeatedly with the same person. One student, referring to the community college he attended, said, "There, you could meet with someone every single day if you wanted." Anyway, just my two cents. I recommend the article highly.

Seems that this service is treading a little close for FERPA comfort. I guess it's good for enrollment and retention, though.

How'd I miss this one? A university is hiring Smarthinking to assess student essays:

In a move that may take outsourcing past traditional levels, Kentucky’s community colleges this fall have started a pilot project in which an outside company is reading and providing evaluations of student essays in freshman composition courses. The program is small to date — only 48 students are having their papers assessed in this way — but Kentucky officials are enthusiastic about the potential for expanding the effort. And the company — Smarthinking — sees this as a service it would like to offer other colleges.

“The idea is that we can take the grading burden off of professors, and free up their time to do other things, such as working with students who need extra help,” said Burck Smith, CEO of the company, which has previously focused on providing outsourced tutoring centers for colleges in which students receive assistance online.

Not everyone is enthusiastic about the prospect of outsourced grading. “I’m appalled,” said Douglas Hesse, board chair of the Conference on College Composition and Communication. “This is abdicating something that is crucial to instruction,” said Hesse, a professor of English and director of the honors program at Illinois State University.

[. . .]

Faculty members have long complained about the “laborious grading process,” yet at the same time the system needs to find ways to educate more students without getting much more money, Cook said. Currently, class size tends not to exceed 25-30, she said, but the system would like to double or possibly quadruple that figure. “Our faculty have said that to scale up, they need more support,” she added.

Sounds kind of assembly-line to me. Lots of people have commented under the article; check it out.

Terrible Take-off on Issues in Writing Program Administration

I should preface this by saying that I don't subscribe to the WPA listserv or read the archives very often, so this isn't meant to address any debates or specific people on the list. These arguments are simply what I imagine might enter the minds of writing program administrators. By the way, sorry about burying it below the fold, but there's horizontal scrolling for the whole page involved if I don't.

Question re: daily writing prompt

Have any of you ever asked students to write a Celebrity Vs. Thing as an in-class exercise? If so, how did it go?

More on Authorship, Intellectual Property, "Templates," and Student Writing

This will probably be my last post about the Kelly Ritter article; that seminarnival never did seem to take off, huh? Anyway, recently Prof. B. posted a To-Do List for September. The whole post is great for its general agenda-setting, but I was struck by this part for another reason:

coming up this week, Congress is still going to vote on permanently repealing the estate tax. Also on the agenda: cutting capital gains and dividend taxes even further, and cutting entitlement programs. The fiscal irresponsibility here is just mind-boggling: we're running a huge deficit, we're fighting a war, and we've just had one of our major cities and several minor ones wiped off the map. And they still want to cut taxes?!?!? Call your congresspeople and send them letters telling them (politely, but firmly) to get their heads out of their asses and run the country responsibily.

Here's Landismom's letter re. the estate tax, if you want a template.

To refresh your memory, Ritter points out the use of the terms "template" and "model" in everyday practice, using teaching materials as an example (p. 614-615, emphasis in original):

In my own discussions of teaching materials and research findings with colleagues, particularly those new to the teaching of first-year composition, I often hear queries such as "Can I steal that assignment?" or "Do you think I could use that syllabus as a model (or a template)?" In creative-writing courses, teachers often encourage students to "mimic"canonical authors so as to internalize traditional styles and to understand the value of voice and poetic form. These are only select examples of how the creative, collaborative notion of intellectual production in the humanities often leads to "borrowing" ideas back and forth, between complicit and entirely well-meaning individuals.

Remember that last part of B's post: "Here's Landismom's letter re. the estate tax, if you want a template." Nothing out of the ordinary, right? Activist organizations offer templates for us to edit and send to our representatives all the time: at NARAL, NRDC, the Sierra Club, and the Feminist Majority Foundation, just to name a few. In fact, you can go to just about any advocacy organization's site and click "Take Action," which is usually on the main menu of links, and it'll take you to a template letter like any of these. You're welcome simply to sign your name at the bottom and click "send," or to make a few changes to the template, or erase all the text in the box and write your own letter.

When I was six years old, my parents were watching a documentary on public television that showed men with clubs beating baby seals. They were so cute, with white fur against the white snow, but then when they were beaten, splotches of red spread out over the snow. I was absolutely inconsolable. I cried and cried, on and on until my dad, who I imagine was really at a loss here, said, "Well, write a letter to the governor!"

The governor at the time was Fob James, a staunch conservative who probably cared not one jot about baby seals but whose staff was obviously touched enough by my letter, scrawled in my six-year-old hand with crayon ("Dear Fob James. Tonight I saw baby seals getting killed on TV and it made me cry." etc.), to write an personal reply to me which is now in my parents' safe deposit box. When I go home next week, I'll see if I can get both letters out and scan them.

I said all that to say this: In a representative democracy, writing letters to elected officials is one of the most meaningful rhetorical acts one can perform, at least as important as writing an essay for a composition course*. Yet what essentially amounts to plagiarism -- passing off something someone else wrote as one's own -- is perfectly acceptable in such letter-writing for expediency. No one so much as bats an eye at it. Students do get mixed messages about authorship; the same teacher who'd turn a student in for plagiarism if he or she used someone else's essay as a template wouldn't think twice about using one of these templates for an action letter. I'm not teaching this academic year, but Ritter's article has given me so many ideas for illustrative cases to bring into the classroom to discuss authorship and plagiarism in a more sophisticated way.

I'll end with Using virtual lectures to educate students on plagiarism, by Laura A. Guertin (via Tracy). She makes a case for using these virtual lectures, which didn't seem that compelling at first, but in the article she points to the fact that with prerecorded lectures, students get a consistent message about plagiarism that's the same no matter how many times you replay the lecture. Sure, no one can anticipate every problem that may arise, and I doubt I'll try this in my own teaching, but I still think the article is worth a link.

* And yes, I know audience is a factor here; those template-driven electronic action letters rarely, if ever, actually get read by elected officials, or even by interns. If we're lucky, they at least get counted.

"It don't matter. None of this matters." Or, composition pedagogy and Ritter's article on plagiarism

Yeah, it has taken me a LONG time to add something to this conversation. Consider this a prelude to my actual post about Kelly Ritter's article, "The Economics of Authorship: Online Paper Mills, Student Writers, and First-Year Composition" (CCC 56:4 601-631).

But first, I have to get something off my chest. Somehow, we started calling this thing a Rhetoric Carnival. I had originally suggested that we do something like a seminar or carnival, but really what we're doing is far more a seminar than a carnival or a carnival, conference program. Actually I don't care what we call it; I just don't want anyone to think I don't know the difference between the two. I know it's stupid, but still.

Okay, other posts: Rebecca and Mike have posted already; their stuff is well worth reading. Also, Brendan's comic kept popping into my head at various times during the article.

Now, to the article. For those who aren't Aqua Teen fans, you'll have to go here, or better yet, rent season 2, disc 1 and watch "Mail Order Bride"; I've just given you the perfect excuse. The frame below comes from a scene in that episode. I find the scene a fitting metaphor for [writing within] the rhetorical context of many writing courses (hope that doesn't sound too harsh).

Carl and Master Shake have chipped in and ordered a Christmas present for themselves: a Chechnyan woman to be their bride (Shake: "It's my present, to me, from me, for being such a good boy this year! You see what I'm saying?!"). She arrives, and Carl and Shake arrange a ceremony (the bride, disgusted with Carl and Shake, goes in the house and won't come out). Officiating the ceremony is Frylock, who can't pronounce the woman's name. Carl tells Frylock to just say Smith or Jones. Frylock then fails to pronounce Carl's last name. Carl says, "Just say Smith again, it don't matter. None of this matters."

Of course it doesn't. It's a farce, a silly ceremony held for a marriage that was thoroughly artificial in the first place. Shake wanted someone to cook for him, and Carl wanted someone for sex. They paid their money, and a woman was delivered to their door.

I thought about this episode most of the time I was reading Ritter's article. In many cases, the whole rhetorical context in writing courses is predicated upon exchange value, a piece of writing done in exchange for a grade. I got a lot out of Ritter's article, but the most significant thing I got out of it was a certain point of view about writing courses, one I don't agree with but that does make sense in a cynical way. Why are students doing this writing, really? Well, for a grade. In my own teaching, I've asked students to write minute papers in class about their essays' purposes, hoping to get them to articulate what they hope to achieve, how they describe their audience, etc. They've prefaced these by "My purpose is, first of all, to get a grade, but..." as well as "I'm writing this paper first and foremost to get a grade, but also to..." Even when I was only one person in an audience of many, I was still the audience. I was the one giving the grade, and if they got essays online, put their names on them, and turned them in, I was the only one who'd know about it, if I bothered to check, that is (full disclosure: I do check. I Google sentences from student papers, all the time, and I submit reports to the Office of Student Academic Integrity if the case warrants it.). On a basic, practical level, yes, the writing is done for a grade. Everything else is secondary.

Obviously this isn't what I really think, and it's probably not what most students really think, either. My optimism and hope aren't completely gone. But here's how the "for a grade" and "none of this matters" logic shakes out for me. On pages 614-615 of her article, Ritter writes (emphasis in original):

In my own discussions of teaching materials and research findings with colleagues, particularly those new to the teaching of first-year composition, I often hear queries such as "Can I steal that assignment?" or "Do you think I could use that syllabus as a model (or a template)?" In creative-writing courses, teachers often encourage students to "mimic" canonical authors so as to internalize traditional styles and to understand the value of voice and poetic form. These are only select examples of how the creative, collaborative notion of intellectual production in the humanities often leads to "borrowing" ideas back and forth, between complicit and entirely well-meaning individuals.

I know others have made the observation before that because teaching materials aren't seen in our profession as real scholarship, most people aren't going to mind if a colleague uses his or her syllabus, assignment handout, discussion activity, etc. Teaching materials don't matter as much. The same person who'd give you all the syllabi and assignment prompts she's ever composed and tell you to do whatever you want with them would, I bet, likely snarl and lunge at you across the table with the brie and baguettes at a faculty reception if you casually asked for a copy of the paper she just delivered at Conference X so that you could build on it and submit it to Journal Y.

About nine months ago, Jonathan gave me a copy of Arthur Rimbaud: Complete Works. In it is one of Rimbaud's Latin compositions, written when he was 14. His teachers give him a passage from Horace, Ode IV, Book III, and he is asked to, using Latin verses, expound upon the theme of the lines, with a time limit of three hours for the examination. So he writes 59 lines of verse, drawing freely upon established characters (this includes real people and gods/goddesses) such as Orbilius, Apollo, Venus, the Muses, and Phoebus, and probably a host of common syntactical constructions and conventions I don't recognize. It's remarkable what a sophisticated poem it is for a Latin test taken by a young teenager, and he won first prize in Latin composition for it. The point of the assignment, though, is to measure the students' Latin grammar and vocabulary and mastery of the conventions of Latin verse. It's just an exercise for class. If another student had looked over his shoulder and copied, the kid probably would have gotten a bad grade and a beating, and that would've been the end of it.

I'm not calling for harsher punishments here. Rather, I want to highlight the pretend, trial aspect of writing for classes. Writing for class is practice writing; it's low-stakes; it's just an exercise.

As writing teachers, we've tried to demystify writing, to emphasize process, exercitation, the act of practicing as the best way to improve writing. Low-stakes writing is intended to reduce students' stress and encourage more experimentation and risk-taking in student writing, but stressing low stakes may increase the apathetic side of the "who cares? It's just an exercise" coin and lead to a different kind of risk-taking, the risk of getting caught plagiarizing. These are all thoughts I'm typing out as I think them; this is very much a discovery draft.

Context is key. Ritter asks some important questions about authorship on the survey she distributed to students; specifically, she finds that students think of "authors" as people who have written books or other texts (e.g. articles) that got published by a press. Most didn't consider themselves authors. While that's good to know, I'm not sure that stressing authorship is the solution (not that she's pushing authorship hard). Context and audience are, I think, more important. If a person has two writing tasks, one for a class and one for the campus newspaper, on which would he or she probably bestow more time and effort? One is read by many more pairs of eyes than the other. I know I'm a weblog evangelist, but I can't help but think that making student writing public, whether in the form of weblogs, print zines, or letters to the editor that might run in the campus newspaper, would only help to heighten the stakes of student writing in a productive way, so that those students who are inclined to be somewhat dismissive of writing for course credit and likely to buy a paper from an online paper mill would take their writing-course writing more seriously.*

Reading Ritter's article helped me understand better why some people wouldn't take writing assignments for courses very seriously. I'd heard others make connections between traditional notions of textual ownership and practices such as remixing, downloading music, and other types of appropriation to argue that due in part to the influence of digital technology, college students in their late teens and early twenties have a different view of intellectual property from that of previous generations. I have to confess, though, the connection still strikes me as loose and not all that clear. Ritter's explanation of the ethical rationale of buying papers from online paper mills, on the other hand, is closely connected with intellectual proprietary practices outside the classroom context. She points out that "[i]f a student logs on to an online paper mill and buys a paper that was put there by another students or paid contributor, thereby entering into a business transaction agreed upon by both parties, the consumer-minded student, unable to distinguish authorship from ownership, might wonder where the 'stealing' is in this transaction" (p. 615, emphasis in original). I find her example quite helpful; she does a fine job of connecting tightly the intellectual proprietary norms of mainstream culture and academia throughout the article. Her clear explanation helped me to realize how someone could sincerely believe that it doesn't matter who wrote a text. Michael Jackson owns the Beatles' songs; that he didn't write them is in many ways irrelevant. Anne Rice sold the rights to Interview With the Vampire, and the production company caved in to Tom Cruise's homophobia, which took away some of the story's nuance, and she was pretty upset about it as I recall reading, but it didn't matter that she'd written it. She'd sold it to them, fair and square.

Risk Management: Plagiarism and Parking Tickets

I live in a fairly large city, and it can be difficult and time-consuming to find parking sometimes. Sometimes I park in a metered spot without putting any money in the meter. When I have quarters with me, of course I put them in the meter, but sometimes I don't have any, and that's all the meter will take. So I don't put anything in there. Most of the time I go back out to my car to find no ticket, but occasionally I do get parking tickets. I know that when I don't put money in the meter, I run the risk of getting a ticket. When I don't put money in the meter, I feel a little guilty, I guess, but I can live with it, believe me. I have no aspirations to go my whole life without getting any parking tickets. Keeping quarters with me and putting them in the meter isn't something I take any pride in. Plus, when I get a ticket, I pay it, and if I factor the cost of the ticket in with all those times I got free parking, it evens out. Either way I'm paying for parking; the city's going to get their money one way or another.

Putting it in terms of doing writing for classes, I might say something like: I've got a packed schedule with classes, extracurricular activities, and a part-time job. Sometimes I buy essays online and turn them in for my classes. When I have the time and am engaged and motivated by the assignment, of course I do the writing myself, but sometimes I don't have the time or interest, and I have to turn something in. I know that when I don't do the writing myself, I risk getting turned in for plagiarism. When I don't do the writing myself, I feel a little guilty, I guess, but I can live with it, believe me. I have no aspirations to be a professional writer. Basically I just want to pass the course with a C or above. Plus, when I get caught, I just take the zero on the assignment, and if I factor that in with all the time and headache I save not having to do an assignment that doesn't interest me, it evens out. Besides, sometimes I get A's on the papers I buy. The grade I get at the end is probably about the same as the grade I'd have gotten had I done all the work myself.

More on the Ritter article later; for now I have to get back to dissertation work.

* Much of the work Mike has been doing has been part of the larger project of making writing courses more meaningful, assigning writing that has use value as well as exchange value. I agree with him that having students share their writing could go a long way toward infusing it with showing that it already has more than just exchange value.

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