Composition Pedagogy

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Academic Commons

Via Infocult, the kickoff of Academic Commons, which, as a combination discussion forum/quarterly journal, looks to be a very valuable resource. From the first edition page:

Academic Commons ( offers a forum for investigating and defining the role that technology can play in liberal arts education. Sponsored by the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts at Wabash College (, Academic Commons publishes essays, reviews, interviews, showcases of innovative uses of technology, and vignettes that critically examine technology uses in the classroom. Academic Commons aims to share knowledge, develop collaborations, and evaluate and disseminate digital tools and innovative practices for teaching and learning with technology. We want this site to advance opportunities for collaborative design, open development, and rigorous peer critique of such resources.

Academic Commons also provides a forum for academic technology projects and groups (the Developer's Kit) and a link to a new learning object referatory (LoLa). Our library archives all materials we have published and also provides links to allied organizations, mailing lists, blogs, and journals through a Professional Development Center.

The first issue of the quarterly looks very interesting. The pieces that pique my interest the most are these:

Technology & the Pseudo-Intimacy of the Classroom: an interview with University of Illinois-Chicago's Jerry Graff

Graff's interest in "teaching the conflicts" as a way of rescuing higher education from itself has recently been replaced by a profound worry that higher ed is becoming increasingly irrelevant to American culture. We checked in to see what role Graff thinks technology might play in these unsettling times.

Copyright 101 by Richard Lanham, UCLA

The pervasiveness of digital media has so altered the nature of authorship and ownership that questions of intellectual property have become matters of core concern for our students and our contemporary culture. Lanham argues that these issues require an academic response, and that a basic course in copyright -- "Copyright 101" -- represents a first step in this process.

Cross-posted to Kairosnews and CCCC-IP.

Should Las Vegas high school students read Plainsong?

In early March of this year, Gerald McGee, a high school English teacher at Sierra Vista High School in Las Vegas, assigned Kent Haruf's Plainsong to his students, and then look what happened:

Seniors at Sierra Vista High School in Las Vegas, Nevada must have been confused when their English teacher took away books they were still reading: Kent Haruf's acclaimed novel, Plainsong. At issue was a brief sexual passage. Without submitting challenges to the novel to a review committee, the assistant principal ordered teacher Gerald McGee to "collect all the books, box them up and put them away immediately."

I'll admit, I haven't read this book (but I'm recalling it from my library), but Gerald is one of my best friends, and I trust his judgment when it comes to selecting books. High school students are not children, and the public high school English classroom should be a space where students discuss intelligently works of literature with sophisticated themes and moral complexity, such as they probably see played out in their own lives and surroundings anyway. A passage in a book isn't going to cause students' moral fortresses to crumble. But I guess the point is to repel "bad thoughts." Sigh. It's folly to pretend these students are sheepish, or to want them to be.

More at a thread in the Sierra Nevada High School MySpace group.

Also, Gerald writes:

1. Please view the post at the link below that is titled SIERRA VISTA MAKES THE NEWS IN NEW YORK CITY:

2. Share your thoughts on censorship with my students.

3. American rights are eroding because we are not adequately educating our children.

Thanks for helping,

Gerald McGee, M.Ed.

PS You may have to sign up with this website to get a message to my students. The whole process should take less than five minutes, but I can't think of a better way to spend five minutes.

Next Rhetoric Carnival?

What shall we do for the next Rhetoric Carnival? I thought the last one, on Richard Fulkerson's "Composition at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century,"* went pretty well, so I hope others will want to stick with articles for this thing. From that same issue of CCC, there's an article by Kelly Ritter, "The Economics of Authorship: Online Paper Mills, Student Writers, and First-Year Composition," to which I think at least six or seven smart fabulous folks would bring insights. What do you all think? Or do you have another article to suggest?

* From the June 2005 (56.4) issue of College Composition and Communication.

Now THIS is a web-writing-related firing I can get behind.

Why didn't I hear about Michael Gee until now? In case you hadn't heard, here's the story (more here). Gee had been hired to teach an introductory journalism course at Boston University. Soon after the semester started, he posted about the class on, a discussion board. His post included the following:

Today was my first day teaching course 308/722 at the Boston University Dept. of Jounralis (sic). There are six students, most of whom are probably smarter than me, but they DON'T READ THE PAPER!!! Not the Globe, Times, Herald or Wall Street Journal. I can shame them into reading, I guess, but why are they taking the course if they don't like to read

But I digress. Now here's the nub of my issue. Of my six students, one (the smartest, wouldn't you know it?) is incredibly hot. If you've ever been to Israel, she's got the sloe eyes and bitchin' bod of the true Sabra. It was all I could do to remember the other five students. I sense danger, Will Robinson.

Are you shocked yet? BU swiftly fired him after hearing about the posting for his betrayal of the trust in the student-teacher relationship. Via Christine again, there's a response from the student, who says Gee "crossed the student/teacher line in a way that no student should ever have to deal with." And by the way, she dropped the class. Normally I'm against the idea that someone should be fired for what he/she writes in an online space not associated with his/her job, but this case makes me angry. It shows an egregious violation of this student's privacy and a striking disrespect for her as a student (I don't care if he did say she was smart). I realize some might say that it's just a few gray shades' difference between this and the kind of writing about students that pseudonymous bloggers like The Phantom Professor do, but I think the former is worse, I guess because Phantom blogs about incidents involving students that are a matter of public record (in the student newspaper) and doesn't name the specific class a student is in. Plus, I have found Phantom's portrayals of students to be sympathetic, impugning the society that produced any negative qualities her students might have possessed rather than the students themselves.

Method, artifacts, and other dissertation-related notes

It's been too long since I've done a dissertation post (one week and five days, according to the list of categories on my sidebar), and I'd like to remedy that. So, first, a progress report: Several days ago, I sent out interview questions. The questions were, as you might recall, intended to help contextualize the "where are the women" discussions. Response so far has been better than I expected; I was afraid that no one would be around given that it's summer. At least two people that I know of intend to post about my project (as in, post my questions and their responses). I expected that going into it, and I assumed that some people would post their responses without talking to me first, so I'm telling those who do check with me that it's fine. And it really is fine, to be sure. Of course I do worry a little bit that people with very high Google page ranks will rip my research to shreds and their posts will be right there at the top when folks Google me, but it's a necessary risk. It'll be interesting to see how such a public research process will go.

I've been thinking a lot about process lately. Right now my committee members want me to include, along with my chapters, at least three appendices: a weblog primer, one on my project's implications for composition pedagogy (they're not requiring this one, but they said the pedagogical implications could go in an appendix should I choose to write about them), and one that's a kind of reflexive essay about my doing this project as both a woman and a blogger.

It's that last one I keep getting hung up on. I think I have a chapter's worth of stuff to say about that topic. I hope that will be okay with my committee; my guess is it will. I envision it as a chapter that addresses several issues related to method:

  1. A review and critique of methods used in previous qualitative internet research (not all of it, mind you, just the work on gender and computer-mediated communication in which I'm situating my research)
  2. An explanation of new methodological challenges presented by studying blogging (e.g. expectations of privacy) and common methods scholars have used to study them so far
  3. A definition and justification of my methodological choices (this would include defining a "feminist rhetorical approach" and what I mean when I say "rhetorical criticism" (Cf. Warnick*) and explanation of my purpose in doing interviews
  4. An autoethnographic narrative about my experience with blogging (as it pertains to this project -- e.g. why I blog, what it's been like doing my research in public, etc. -- it would also entail writing a blurb about autoethnography)
  5. A reflexive examination of my roles as feminist woman, blogger, and researcher studying gender and blogging (this would include issues of situatedness, degree of advocacy, and research ethics).

Feedback is, as always, appreciated. Now for something fun, which will definitely be an appendix in my dissertation: all the little artifacts I'm collecting, like the representations I wrote about recently. Here are some more quiz images, which I haven't had time to write about yet but hope to soon:

Many more below the fold:

In Memory of Maxine Hairston

In the last seven months, the community of scholars in rhetoric and composition studies has lost three highly respected and admired members: Candace Spigelman, John Lovas, and now Maxine Hairston (see tributes by Rebecca Moore Howard and various others at The Blogora. I couldn't find a general site for Hairston, so for her name I linked to her "Ideas for Grading," which seems to capture appropriately, in her own words, her passion for helping students learn. I never got to meet her myself, unfortunately, but Michael Keene, my advisor from my master's program and a former student of Hairston's, has asked me to post this essay, derived from his essay in Against the Grain. I'm happy to do it:

TAKING RISKS: A Tribute to Maxine Hairston*

Michael Keene

University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Maxine Cousins Hairston, born April 9, 1922, to Louise Hennessy Cousins and Richard Clyde Cousins in Ironwood, Michigan, died July 22, 2005.

Probably one of the most remarkable things about Maxine—to me, anyway, a man who is by his own admission a slave to habit—was her willingness to take risks. To go back to graduate school after her kids were not quite grown, to take on being freshman director at Texas when she knew the folks who gave her the job were giving her what they saw as a glorified secretarial position, to build a major national career on that basis, to first embrace and then become a primary advocate of process pedagogy, to become a strong critic of the literary establishment (“mandarins,” she called them [and worse in the earliest version of “Breaking Our Bonds,” which I got her to tone down]), to be a leader in the separation of the rhetoric and writing program at Texas from the literature program, to take on people she thought were making a grave mistake in introducing politically one-sided approaches into freshman composition, and then to walk away at the top of her career, throw herself into tutoring disadvantaged kids, fighting for the Democratic Party in Texas, and supporting Planned Parenthood, to earn yet another college degree and keep doing her books—what a great risk taker she was! She passed on a little bit of that to me. Here’s a story about one way that worked. This would have been in about 1985, when she was 63 or so.

"The personal," disrupted

I think I just had, to use Sam's term, a duh-piphany. Let me explain. Michelle's comments here in response to the recent pair of articles claiming that blogging will hurt one's career ("the mere act of opening up could cost you a job") made me think all of a sudden about what Mike has been saying about personal writing, and I finally put my finger on something. I'm sure it's blindingly obvious to the rest of you, but here's my new understanding: Due in part to blogging and other kinds of quickly, easily, and widely disseminative self-publication that the internet makes possible, as well as a complex confluence of factors in the social and political milieu (shifting notions of public/private, to offer one example), and the market (imaginary rather than material capital, middle class' living paycheck to paycheck, carrying debt, depending more on the market's caprice*) the context and meaning of personal writing have changed. "The personal" is becoming a site of struggle. To put it another way, "opening up" is set in opposition to "corporate values,"** and I'll admit that "the demonization of the personal" is a strong phrase, but judging from the articles in the Chronicle (and the subsequent forum discussion) and The New York Times, the personal is obviously seen by a lot of people as being to a considerable extent verboten.

So "the personal," in composition theory, can be conceptualized in terms of rights, as something at stake to which students have a right, a right that they should exercise. In the current context, I think one could make a persuasive case for this.

Viewed in this manner, any personal writing, regardless of subject matter, is political precisely because of its status as "the personal," which is in a very dramatic political and economic sense being called into question.

* Not to say that living hand-to-mouth is anything new. I'm probably way off on this point. I'm thinking of stories like Prof. B.'s, just to provide a reference.

** Edited to clarify: not just "corporate values," but one's status or potential status as a producer, one's means to make a living, as well as the right to express publicly an identity other than "worker."

More on H20

The more I explore H20 Playlists, the more impressed I am. Prepare for proselytization. You can search the playlists for a specific term and then subscribe to the results via RSS. You can also subscribe to individual playlists if you want to be notified when new items get added. It's clear to me that they want this to be kind of similar to Open CourseWare; many of the playlists are associated with courses -- so far I'm seeing Stanford, Princeton, and Harvard represented a lot. Also, each item on a playlist has a box next to it that you can check. You can add checked items to your library and then make your own playlists from them. They want us to mix up these readings in all kinds of ways!

Here are some of the many neat playlists I've found so far:

User Innovation

Open Education

Public Spaces/Public Spheres

Introduction to Social Anthropology



Wayne Marshall's Music Playlist (Good hip-hop and reggae links)

Digital Cities: Urban Processes and Urban Futures in the Information Age

Community Based Production

Women In Business Resources

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