Saturday, December 29, 2007

The December post: Season of Migration to the West?

I've been doing all of my blogging in December (which hasn't been much) at my African Soul, American Heart blog. But I am back in the US, and have a little more time to blog before the month runs out.

The African Soul project has taken over my life, so I am now starting to think about presentations and publications related to the project. The Modern Languages Department at NDSU is hosting a world literature conference in the spring (11th annual), so I am starting to think about a paper with the working title of "Season of Migration to the West," which would provide an analysis of Eggers What is the What? (WW) in the context of the most famous Sudanese novel, Season of Migration to the North (SMN), and maybe Heart of Darkness (although that might be too much for a 20 minute paper). The most disturbing thing about SMN is the violence against women, and the tragedy at the heart of WW is the main character's loss of his girlfriend to a brutal attack. Eggers' fictionalized the life of Valentino Deng, so I don't know what the veracity of this episode is, but there were two brutal attacks in the American Sudanese community in 2005 that this (likely) fictionalized event could be based on. These parallel fictional events highlight that, 35 years apart and worlds of Sudanese experiences apart, violence against women and the need for feminism in Sudan remains one of the most necessary stages of economic and social development for the country.

My idea is way off topic so I'll have to talk to the organizer, and even if I don't present at RRCWL, I will need to keep reading and thinking through this idea. Ideally, I need to figure out how to connect it more effectively to what I have learned from my trip to Sudan, where it is obvious that feminism is desperately needed, and is perhaps being embraced (at least in part) by a recognition that girls in Sudan must be educated.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Mystory Naked

I have a draft of a Mystory which features Bobby Orr flying through the air. The Mystory, by the way, has been useful to me as I have asked myself "why am I going to the Sudan?" "How does this trip fit in my life picture?" The mind-body problem is at the heart of mystory, and the trip, and especially the trip as research, helps me clarify that I would rather start with the body, follow with the mind. I'd rather do then write than write about doing.

Today, my Dad, who feeds me Bobby Orr information religiously, sent me a story about some new and naked Bobby Orr paintings.

I'll have to think about their role in MyStory.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Please help me help southern Sudan

I sent this message to my email address book last night, but if anybody reads my blog, they probably aren't in my address book.

Dear family and friends,

As some of you know, and many of you don't, I am working on a documentary film project entitled African Soul, American Heart. This documentary will tell the story of my friend and NDSU student Joseph Akol Makeer, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. Joseph was displaced from his home as a 10 year old boy, walked hundreds of miles across Sudan with 25,000-30,000 other boys, lived for 3 years in a refugee camp in Ethiopia, then ten years in a UN refugee camp in Kenya, before arriving in Fargo almost 5 years ago. For the last 10 years, he has also been the primary caregiver for 4 younger siblings who arrived at the UN Refugee camp in 1998. Their parents are no longer alive.

He is going to return home to Sudan for the first time in 20 years, and I am part of a three-person crew that is going to travel with him and film this amazing homecoming. Our crew will be in Joseph's village approximately 8 days (Dec. 17-25), and while we are there, we also hope to be able to deliver some humanitarian aid.

This is where I really need your help.

Our team has raised $11,000 in about a month, and we are getting close to being able to cover many of our expenses. This trip will be a real success, however, if we can bring direct aid to Joseph's village, which is going through the process of re-building after a 20 year civil war. If you can help me raise another $5,000 before we leave on Dec. 10th, we will be able to purchase bulls, goats, and other basic needs when we arrive in Sudan.

Our fundraising theme has been 500 X $50. If 100 of you who read this message can contribute $50, we will add $5,000 to our goal. If anyone can contribute more, your generosity will make a tremendous impact. If you cannot contribute $50, but you can contribute $5, please know that $5 can make a difference in a village rebuilding after 20 years of civil war. If you can't contribute financially at this time, please send me an email and wish us all luck--the many kind words I have received already have all been very valuable to me.

This link goes to our website donation page:

There is a "Pay Pal" logo on that page; if you click it, you can either make a donation through your Pay Pal account, or you can use a credit card to make your donation. If you would rather send a check / cheque (for all my Canadian family and friends), the address is

African Soul, American Heart
c/o Deb Dawson, Executive Producer
300 NP Ave Ste. 308
Fargo ND 58102

Your Canadian donations go even further these days, and we can cash Canadian cheques easily in Fargo.

Please also forward this message to any of your friends or family members who might be interested in our supporting our project. You can follow our progress here:

I look forward to hearing from many of you!


Sunday, November 11, 2007

T-Minus 30

Joseph, Deb, and Matt are more or less set to leave for Sudan in about 30 days. I have been asked to join them; I'm exploring the logistics. Very daunting task thinking about traveling to southern Sudan, but I see that Dave Eggers made the trip (again) this summer, Jen Marlow and David Morse made the trip this summer, the folks working on the New Seeds of Sudan made the trip, maybe as recently as this fall. I guess it is do-able!!

Fund raising for the project has gone well. I don't have an exact total, but I think we are over $10,000.

What is the What? The Interview.

I've been reading What is the What? again just came across an interview with Valentino Deng, the Lost Boy whose story Dave Eggers worked with.

The Valentino Achak Deng Foundation
has pictures from a trip to the Sudan this summer (2007) as well as many other interesting stories, blog notes, and information.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

iJot's possible uses.

I mentioned an entry or two back that I went to a workshop where I was exposed to a myriad of new tools. I messed around the Grazr and Pipes and then lost my steam and didn't play with iJot. Today, as I was scrubbing floors and cooking dinner, I kept thinking of what I can do with iJot:

1. my colleague Amy Taggart is going to take over my WPA duties before too long, and iJot, with its expandable note system, seems ideal for listing the dates and activities I do as WPA, so she can see the big picture, then expanding out any item she wants to look at.

2. Class schedules--duh, why didn't I think of that on Friday.

3. Trips--I might be heading to the Sudan in about a month, and I would sure like to see a nice neat list of things I have to do to get ready, then expand some of the more complex one (i.e. "Get shots" expands out to about 20 items!!)

Dan Weinstein's use of iJot for our conference schedule was sweet--I am beginning to grasp the power of OPML! Now I just need to stop blogging, also known as info management -.05.

Non-fiction visual language links

Neil Cohn has an entry that links to three interesting uses of visual language (i.e. comics) for non-fiction purposes: comics that show engineering projects kids can do at home, "adventures in synthetic biology," and a 55 page comic-essay on the value of combing the two mediums, uhh, I mean genres, uhhh, the two things we call comics and essays that nobody seems to be able to define.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Lance Strate Links

I was back on John Walter's blog looking for the Nick Carr link, and in the process noticed a link to Lance Strate's blog and an essay Strate published in McLuhan Studies Issue 3, "Media Transcendence." A few paragraphs jumped out at me:

"McLuhan's media ecology approach is in part a form of materialism, based on analysis of the human body and its extensions. In contrast to Marx's dialectical materialism, however, McLuhan gives us a rhetorical and grammatical materialism. But McLuhan's perspective is also grounded in the North American tradition of pragmatism. By medium, McLuhan refers not only to the material, but also to the means, modes, and methods by which we operate on the material world."

"'The medium is the message' expresses with perfect economy the idea that how we do something has much to do with the results we obtain, no matter what our original intent may be. This idea is present in Henry David Thoreau's observation that "we do not ride on the railroad, it rides upon us." It is there in Mark Twain's wonderful quip, that when you have a hammer in your hand, everything looks like a nail. It is entirely absent, however, from the slogan of the National Rifle Association, that "guns don't kill people, people do." If you believe that guns themselves have increased the potential for violence, then you are with McLuhan."

I'm going to have to let those paragraphs speak for themselves--I'm blogged out.

One Laptop Per Child (OLPC)

I've been reading and hearing about the $100 laptop for a while, but I haven't been following the development of the project closely. John Nelson from DSU updated me at lunch today, and I just visited the website. John was talking about participating in the buy-one, get-one program so that he and others at DSU might be familiar with the laptop, enabling them to eventually spend some time teaching with the laptop in a developing country. Great idea.

As I was clicking through the site, I thought about the refugee population in Fargo, and wondered if I should and if I could get others to participate in the 1+1 program as a way to get laptops into the hands of children in Fargo who might not otherwise have easy access to computers at home.


Morning workshop on multimedia introduced me to SoundSlides (very cool) and good refreshers on Audacity and iMovie.

Afternoon workshop on information management linked up a set of tools new to me: Grazr, Pipes, and iJot. I'm going to need to think through the need, use, and time investment for these tools. Intense and interesting stuff.

GPACW Keynote

Richard (Dickie) Self delivered the keynote. I was particularly struck by the notion of listening to the non-human actants in our cyborg communicative interactions. He talked about listening to "access," listening to the files and the demands they make not only on users but on creators, listening to the wiki. I have typically thought of these things in terms of "the social life of information," media ecologies, and infrastructure support, but "listening to the actants" is a nice refinement on those concepts, and foregrounds the cyborg-ness of our communications.

It also seems like Dickie is a bit of a McLuhanite! He acknowledged that we need to engage ourselves and our students in "learning a living" and "living well with our technologies." He also drew on Bernard Stiegler, who I am not familiar with, but who seems to have adopted a McLuhan-esque view of history and technology.

GPACW 2007: My Session

My session turned out to be just me, with John Nelson responding. I marched through the similarities among hot and cool, immediacy and hypermediacy, and film and database as terms for describing the formal features of media. I need to keep strengthening the "so what?" I admitted in the Q&A that my interests were primarily formal and not social and rhetorical, but I made the claim that we in rhetoric and composition never did really hammer out the formal properties of media. I got thinking later that the social and rhetorical dimensions of media are harder to describe in general, and perhaps that is one reason why I keep coming back to formal qualities, and/or am interested in the social-rhetorical dimensions of media use and reception in specific instances, but not in general.

I also think I need to separate out the qualities of media more effectively. I think hot and cool can be applied to "objects" (images and text), and that hot and cool can be applied to "narrative strategies," and that hot objects can be assembled in cool way--using some of the principles Jeff Rice covers in The Rhetoric of Cool, for example. Cool objects can also be assembled in fairly hot ways. I was recently introduced to Home Videos, a visually simple (even strange) animation with intensely, uncomfortably real narrative elements.

Maybe I don't need to run through the history, connecting M., B&G., M.; maybe I just need to work on refining hot and cool, updating with / through other scholarship, not worry so much about the "mapping" concept. What I really need to make sure I do is stick with this writing project, and have some sort of product by Jan. 1, 2008.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

GPACW 2007: Session 4

Lee Tesdell and students. "Software Editing and Revising Tools: What Do Instructors and Students Say about Their Role in Writing Instruction?"

Instructors a little suspect when it comes to tools; students pretty positive. One instructor values EasyBib, which has come up a few times today.

Dan Weinstein with Corey Karber and Lisa Stien
Title: What's in Your Wish Whoosh? Collaborative Learning Environments Revisited
Dan talked through his class about online collaborative writing; one of his favorite suite of tools seems to be Zoho, which has spreadsheets, wikis, and project management tools. Dan set up the students part by asking them, "what 5 tools would they include in a browser"? Corey went with a research database, the Firefox scrapbook extension, a thesaurus/dictionary, Google Docs, and any chat software. Lisa went with research database with a split screen approach, chat, sample templates (exploratree?), notes, and a bib-maker. Impressive array of tools and implementation.

GPACW: Session 3

Justin L Blessinger. "iMacro Browser Plug-in: Research Facilitator, Anti-plagiarism Tool, and Streamliner of Insipid Tasks."

Justin demonstrated iMacro, a plug-in for Firefox. He illustrated how he has written a macro to automatically take him to a specific spot in his CMS, and then he demonstrated a macro that opened his research tools--Ebsco, Lexus Nexus, ProQuest, etc., all in separate tabs. Also demonstrated a macro that would do a full search of a set of search engines--a plagiarism tester as well as a research tool. He is going to share this on the conference website. iMacros can be found on delicious, although not a big community. Interesting--need to think about other tasks!!

The next presentation session focused on Endnote Web; nice system; need an institutional purchase or individual software purchase. Not sure how much more powerful it is than Zotero, the free plug in.

My GPACW Slides

GPACW 2007: Session 2

Matthew E. Morain. "Authorship and Editing 2.0: Challenging students to reclaim the "we" in Wikipedia"

Nice review of the debate around wiki-pedia. References Alan Liu's "Developing a Wikipedia Research Policy" as one of the key articles. Matt handed out his assignment "A Better Wikipedia" with great instructions--hope he posts this someday. He also notes that Wikipedia maintains a good school-use page, and provides suggestions.

Barb Blakely, "New TAs and Multimodal Pedagogy."
Barb talks about the WOVE curriculum, Wenger's "inventive participation" rather than dutiful participation--good distinction. Emphasizes "learning to be" a WoVE instructor, rather than training to be a TA. Students designing units a successful assignment within TA class. Workshops were not especially successful--surprising!? Community of practice most useful.

Sybil Priebe, "It's Just My Blog. And a Reflection Tool. And an Imaginary Colleague. And . . ."
Using the Pecha Kucha method, SP presented images, blog excerpts, scholarship in just over 7 minutes. Yoga reflective music. Will she post it to YouTube? Add her own audio for that. A call to blog.

Casualene Meyer, "Ethos, Pathos, Logos and Logistics: Blogs in an Online General Education Literature Class."
Great line: "Rubrics do not create relationships." Commenting on student blogs = creating relationships, filling out the rubric does not.

GPACW 2007: Session 1

Attending GPACW today--might as well take my notes here.

Teresa Henning, "Preparing Students in the age of Distributed Work."
Nice contrast between Ford Era and Distributed Era.
Lists Spinnuzi's positive views of distributed work--more rhetorical skill needed.
Deleuze's list: wage fluctuation, deskilling, work is no longer centralized, distributed surveillance, "constant metastability punctuated by ludicrous challenges, competitions, and seminars."
Johnson-Eioloa: Symbolic-analytic worksers: materials (info and symbols), work products (reports,plans, proposals, videos), etc.
Literacy requirements: abstraction, system thinking, collaboration, computer proficiency.
Matches up symbolic-analytic work with rhetorical writing instruction. Strong connections here; good works cited page handed out; solid integration of scholarship. I wonder if the scholarship of distributed learning has taken into McLuhan's notions of job vs roles; distributed work seems likely to be a form of taking on a role.

John Nelson and Todd Quinn, "Writing Projects Under Glass: Librarians, Faculty, and Students Collaborating with Ongoing Writing Projects."
Todd functioned as information consultant for John's class and Dan Weinstein's classes in composition. Dan had groups of 5 working on wiki pages; John had students working with blogs. Todd acknowledges that this was a lot of work and that librarians cannot do this for everybody. Also suggested that wiki worked better than blogs; blogs too isolated (no RSS feed); being on the same wiki page = being on the same page (metaphorically as well as literally). Makes sense in another way; blog connotations for students are still often the personal reflection genre; wikis more obviously a work space. A bit more conversation with blogs; not so much personal interaction with wikis. RSS feed tracking essential for instructor and librarian; might need to consider an online reader that can be shared by class.

Phil Block, "The Online Writing Center and the Impersonality of Electrons."
Reflects on experiences as an online writing consultant. Strives for a movement from hypermediacy to immediacy, although does not invoke Bolter and Grusin. Lee-Ann Kastman-Breuch's work would be useful here. More problems than benefits, perhaps--lag time, processing time, meta-discussions, messenger window closes out, etc. Concludes with the possibility of free collaborative work tools outside a CMS that will be cross platform. Google Docs gets a plug.

Jade Faul & Nickie Kranz, "Computer-Mediated Communication Etiquette."
Context of netspeak in class; quickly changing conventions. Defining a discussion board as "informal" will likely result in informal language use. Could try to re-define "informal" as one strategy; seeking a middle ground--wants to be approachable, but also expects a greater level of academic or formal discourse.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Fargo is a global village, part ??

I know I have written about this before, but every once in a while the world converges in Fargo. This past weekend I had the great pleasure to spend quite a bit of time with John Dau, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, as well as other Sudanese refugees. John and his cousin/friend Joseph spoke at the North Dakota Human Rights conference Friday and Saturday and were very warmly received. Sunday, I was part of a group that hosted 5 screenings of a documentary John is featured in, God Grew Tired of Us. John is an inspiring presence to be around--6'8" tall, quiet yet passionate, driven and wise. He thanked America for all it has done for Sudan, but persuasively pointed out "you must do more." He said that without aid for Southern Sudan, it will lapse back into civil war. If an infrastructure can be built, it will give his people hope and they will not want to fight any more. Enemies will converge in clinics and schools, but without the infrastructure or hope, they will fight.

I also got to hear damali ayo speak as part of this same Human Rights conference. She is a performance artist and activist from Portland who brought us 10 Action Steps for fixing racism in America. Very accessible ideas with tremendous personal and pedagogical implications.

Finally, I heard Jennifer Baumgartner, a Fargo native who lives and works in NYC now. She co-authored Manifesta as her breakthrough book, and she continues to work as a writer and activist. She repeated a message I had heard from John and damali--that I need to act, in very simple, small, and straight forward ways. It struck me as I listened to Jennifer that I really could organize a few friends on campus and let our administration know that straight young male white faculty at NDSU support diversification of faculty and student bodies, support getting a real maternity leave in place, as well as a real family leave policy, support the importance of service being counted towards tenure, support the highly marginalized (less than 10% of faculty) un-tenured female faculty members on campus.

Jennifer said that when she left Fargo, she thought of it as place where not much happened, but as she continues to return home (her parents are still here), she has come to see that the people of Fargo are much like the people of NYC (and that many of the people in NYC are from Fargo!), and specifically that there are tremendous pockets of activism and progressivism and energy in this city, and while she did not say it, that Fargo is very literally, not just figuratively, a part of the global village.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

How do "we" really do research?

I've been trying out some new strategies for teaching research in my first-year composition class, and although students seem to have appreciated the practical information I shared with them and allowed them to try out (an intro to databases, keyword and natural language searching, from broad to narrow to research questions, etc.), I am always struck by how different my own research strategies are. I am struck by how "we" academics produce research based on years and years of study, by the delving into personal databases of information, often to write about texts we have been reading, teaching, and/or studying for years.

So it struck me--why am I not asking students to write about the texts they are most familiar with? Why am I not asking them to draw on their personal databases? The answer, in one respect, is that I am--I let them define research projects. But I don't think I have ever framed research for my students in this way, nor do I spend enough time on letting them tap their personal databases. I'm actually being flooded with ideas as I write, so I am just going to list a few options I need to consider for the future.

--I think I am after a research process somewhere between the I-search and the My-story.
--I'd like to talk to, perhaps video or audio record, people talking about their research process, especially some advanced undergrads, in order to share that process with first-year students.
--I use a profile assignment in class that is generally quite successful, but perhaps I could move it from the start of the class to the middle of the class, and the students could be interviewed about their ongoing research (i.e. the expert being interviewed.

Okay, maybe the flood was a trickle, but those are enough notes for now. Back to work on this fine Sunday morning in North Dakota.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Secondary Mnemonics

As part of a small thread about MEmorials on Invent-L, Greg Ulmer reminded some of us that choragraphy includes commemoration as the frame for e-mnemonics. He nudged us to look at "Yellowstone Dessert," the final chapter in heuretics, which I hadn't looked at in a while, and indeed it is a coal mine of ideas.

Heuretics offers up ideas like:
--"learning in hyperrhetorical is conducted more with memory than with argument or narrative" (189).
--"The Greeks developed mnemonic picture writing as a supplement to the alphabet in order to deal with the information overload that resulted from manucript culture" (Bolter 56) (191).
--mnemonics formalized in Rhetorica ad Herennium; St. Martin's Guide the print culture equivalent. "Heuretics is part of a movement that will be to the St. Martin's handbook what the handbook is to the ad Herennium. To adapt a phrase from McLuhan and Ong, electronic is not secondary orality but secondary mnemonics" (191).
--"the electronic citize may negotiate the data environment of cyberspace the same way an orator memorizes immense quantities of written materia, or the way an actor learns a play. The difference between chorography and oratory or acting is that what the latter two memories suppress (the performance of a tour through the places) is made manifest in the former. A more obvious difference is that in chorography the mnemonic scene is entrusted to writing, where it may be manipulated critically, not kept in the head (and body)" (192-93).

I was also reminded of Basho: "Do not follow in the footsteps of the master, but seek what the master sought." In working on my MEmorial project, I was aware that I was not using the popcyle as a tool for invention, although I have already composed a MYstory shaped by the popcycle (at least partially) that clearly informed my MEmorial project. Although a MEmorial, the "ME" for me was present in the linking of Sudanese Lost Boys and Roger Maris--no one else was suggesting that connection, no one else I am aware of is living in Fargo, working with Lost Boys, visiting the Roger Maris museuem. Just as students ignore the St. Martin's Guide or the Call to Write or whatever textbook we assign when we assign composing, I started from but also significantly ignored Ulmer's advice in composing my MEmorial. A good lesson in patience to me as assigner of writing.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Michael Halloran, Remembering Saratoga

I have the pleasure this morning of listening to Michael Halloran deliver the keynote address at the Linguistic Circle of Manitoba and North Dakota's 50th annual conference.

He is framing his talk with Kenneth Burke, which interests me, because I am always trying to figure out similarities and differences between Burke and McLuhan, and Halloran's opening use of Burke makes me think of War and Peace in the Global Village. Me paraphrasing Halloran paraphrasing Burke heard that humans are inclined to war, but can be drawn away from it by literature, art, symbolic action in general. Halloran's talk, however, moves in the direction of examining symbolic purifications of war; he is puzzled by Burke's tendency to overlook the materiality and brutality of war.

The good stories of Saratoga, he suggests, are used to serve the storyteller's immediate needs and goals. The stories of Saratoga and Daniel Morgan specifically seem to have enabled an American tradition of thinking of war as inevitable and noble. Where Burke sees war as an aberration on peace, Halloran wonders if America in particular has constructed a tradition of thinking of peace as the occasional respite from war.

Bruce Maylath followed with a great question and contextualization of the battle as a turning point in defining America and Canada, and as a Canadian, I can certainly say that our national narrative is one that presents us a nation of peacemaker rather than warmongers. I'll let the Americans decide if they are a nation of warmongers or not, or more reasonably, if they are a nation of gunfighters, an argument I have seen. The most famous moment in Canadian military history, perhaps, is the Battle of Dieppe, a failed invasion of France that led the way to D-Day, but also led to thousands of Canadian deaths. How many other countries focus on their military loses as a way of shaping identity (albeit the implication being that Canadians needed to be more autonomous and stop following the British--deadly habit).

Halloran responded with a re-emphasis on his point that the storytelling of Saratoga functions as a suppression of U.S. diversity--the southerner Morgan (a slave owner) essentially emerging as the savior of the north.

Great talk, interesting discussion. Hope I did it justice.

Friday, August 31, 2007

A New Blog Home?

I've become fond of TenADay--it has done a lot of good work for me / helped me do a lot of work. But my university finally decided to host blogs, and I feel some institutionally loyalty to blog here. And some personal loyalty: a few people worked very hard to install Word Press, set up authentication for NDSU users, answer administrator's questions, etc.

The Word Press interface is seductive, and works with Safari, which I use less and less now, but I am composing this entry with Safari, and just had to hand-code that link up there. Looks like WP will also import Ten A Day if I should chose to do that. I suppose that won't shut Ten A Day down; maybe I'll have to do that and see what I think of the results. I will definitely have to make sure the NDSU blog site is stable and will have legs; I'd hate to have my blogging completely cut out from under me.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

rethinking 120 before it happens

I'm still happy with the course I have planned for this semester, but I was just flipping through the McLuhan Casebook from the late 60s--four chapters from Understanding Media followed by many, many book reviews and other responses to the media of the 60s. It did make me think about my class and the lack of a single supplementary text to anchor the course. I like the idea of students choosing their own topics (or having others in class commission topics of interest to them), but I think one reason students sometimes struggle with fairly open assignments like that is that the assignment and the student lacks an anchor. A single text might provide that anchor.

I used Fargo Rock City by Klosterman in that way for a couple of years, and I have used White Like Me by Tim Wise. Both worked reasonably well, but not so well as to keep them in the rotation. So my weekend thoughts went this way:

1. Propose a topic for investigation / examination (research topic doesn't seem like the right term).
2. Identify a central text on that topic for review, and perhaps rhetorical analysis.
3. Research the topic more fully (work on secondary research skills); write a commentary that builds on review / analysis and secondary research skills.

Disadvantages: undermines some sense of community via common text. Creates a real challenge for new TAs--feeling comfortable responding to diverse topics and texts. I do need to keep my multiple audiences in mind.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Thinking ahead

I just finished the first week of classes, which followed a full week of workshops--the semester is all downhill from here. We adjusted our placement procedures this year, and as WPA, I ended up fielding I don't know how many emails and calls. I've gotta admit that I actually like this part of the job--extremely fast-paced, problem-solving in nature, intense information management, I can generally help students and they are genuinely grateful (not always true of students in my classes : (

I wonder how many other WPAs like this part of the job? It seems gruesome to many of my colleagues.

In the midst of doing laundry on a hip and happening Friday night in Fargo, I started to think about the research I need to do this semester / year. My target conferences are GPACW, C&W, and WPA. I want to do something with McLuhan's hot and cool, Bolter and Grusin's immediacy and hypermediacy, Lev Manovich's film and database, and Scott McCloud's big triangle at GPACW--not too ambitious. I actually need to go back through this blog and find my notes.

C&W is the conference that I really thought about tonight, the conference with the "aah haa" moment. The theme is "open source: technology and concept," and while I haven't got much to say about open source technology, I keep trying to do what I would just call "open projects"--the Trivium Wiki, a CMS for our department website, other wikis for classes, blogs for classes--and I quite frankly haven't had any luck getting buy-in on any of these projects (except for Andy, but he is easy). It might be worthwhile to do a little reflection, a little research on online communities, and figure out what I keep doing wrong. Initial thoughts--the Trivium wiki is not open enough; too strong of an authorial stamp already on the piece. The department CMS; not enough time for others, not a sufficiently dynamic site or concept. We might be able to carve out a dynamic slot on the site, but ultimately it is going to fall on a few shoulders. Something like this could be turned into a potentially interesting paper; I wonder how well other departments have done with their CMS approaches? Clay wrote about the limited success at TTU about 5 or 7 years ago I think.

I also hatched an idea for a new MEmorial, and MEmorials ideally are "open projects" but I have some ambitious ideas for this open project that might limit participation. I want to establish a physical and virtual MEmorial for the citizen-victims of war around the world. The physical MEmorial would be at the International Peace Gardens located on the Manitoba-North Dakota border (ME having live most of my life in either MB or ND); I would like to turn the Peace Garden into a Mecca / pilgrimage site for Global Peace. I would like to see people make pilgrimages from all over the world to this remote, rural location, and then send post cards to the White House, to 10 Downing Street, to any world leader or organization the visitor thinks is responsible for war in the global village, and let those recipients know that they made the long trip to the Peace Garden as one way to express their commitment to global harmony. Would anybody make the trip?

My thinking on the virtual at this point is a video upload site; video blogs, video postcards, even more carefully produced and constructed video pieces that call for reductions in global violence in various forms. The virtual and the real would need to be connected, of course, through one site, probably with a web cam at the Gardens; maybe people can download images from the Peace Gardens, photoshop themselves into the pics, and then upload or send their own post cards? That defeats the purpose of establishing a real pilgrimage / mecca location, which might be a sad but realistic compromise.

And what would this have to do with C&W? A proposal for an open project that would acknowledge up-front the challenges of building community and getting contributions. More PR for the genre of MEmorial?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Sequence of assignments

I didn't chose a supplemental text for my fye class this semester, but as I am prepping the semester, I wonder what a sequence would look like if I had taught White Like Me again, and used an assignment sequence like:

1. memoir (grounded in research)
2. profile (read partner's memoir, follow-up interview + research)
3. rhetorical analysis (of WLM, or maybe Heart of Whiteness)
4. commentary (too much like memoir?)
5. proposal (instead of commentary)

A sustained topic like white privilege would probably wear most of my students down over 16 weeks. Maybe a graduate pedagogy or theory course that started with WLM and the topic of white privilege could explore how various approaches would handle such a topic.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Why do teachers resist teaching?

I'm wrapping up a full week of training new Teaching Assistants and facilitating a couple of additional workshops. The week has gone well, even though my entry title might suggest otherwise. I was just prepping one more session for later this morning about teaching peer review, and I was pulling together material from a graduate student who just wrote a good MA paper on peer review. She taught peer review through very deliberate, obvious steps--some might even say JR high-ish or high schoolish--but had good results.

Doing this work got me thinking about "why teachers resist training?" or why teachers (including me) might resist this kind of training? What struck me is that teaching a fairly deliberate approach requires a lot of confidence in that approach. It also assume as high level of pedagogical articulation--you really need to know what you want. Because many writing teachers (including me) don't want to box students in, and allow for invention, we sometimes want to back off of teaching when it actually gets too specific and articulate.

Betsy also reminded me of the McLuhanism--education is violence. Articulating specific expectations for a writing assignment or a writing process is an aggressive move. Doing so is not far from telling someone how to think or act, and even though education seems to be reasonably engaged in the act of helping others think and act, it can also be approached more environmentally--setting up assignments, courses, curriculums that provide a context for thinking and acting, but not a program for thinking and acting.

I guess I am getting myself into some familiar agency-structure questions about education, aren't I?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Theory-practice relationship

I've had lots of blog posts run through my head in the past couple of weeks, but I haven't found the time to get them on the screen. Thanks for the comment, Elizabeth--I will respond eventually!

Just working on my Pre-semester workshop for new TAs this morning, and I am thinking through how to talk to them about the theory-practice relationship. I've been skeptical of the theory-practice relationship for a lot time, having read Fish and Rorty, the other neo-pragmatists, having taken 3 classes with Tom Kent in grad school, and being a bit of phenomenologist at heart--seems to me that almost everything I "think / theorize" comes out of practice; my theories are indeed descriptions, not prescriptions.

What's prompting this reflection, however, is that I need to explain to new TAs how our first-year writing program's theory, a rhetorical-formalist, genre-based program, is related to our university's General Education goals. I don't have much problem seeing the connections, but the Gen Ed goals were concocted without my input, before I even arrived at NDSU, so it raises an interesting new relationship for me about theory-practice: our program's theory is not driving the goals, nor are the gen ed goals precisely driving our theory; each were arrived at independently. What we in the writing program have done is matched up our theory with the goals as best we can (although as I write I realize that we tweaked one goal to get a better fit) in order to create a semblance of coherence. I've always preferred coherence theories of truth to correspondence theories of truth, so again I have no problem with this relationship, but maybe what I am trying to get at is "what drives what, if anything?" Or can we abandon causal thinking in favor of emergent, situational, coherence thinking? Instead of saying we have a rhetorical-formalist, genre-based theory guiding our program (a label I came up with to try and describe what we do), maybe what we have is a pragmatic, situational program that responds to a variety of factors (institutional goals, personal preferences, personnel training, changing technologies, etc.) in ways that "we" think will lead to good classes, engaged and satisfied teachers, institutional buy-in, and decent results come assessment day.

Have I really said anything here?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Rhythm Science

Just finished reading Paul D. Millier (AKA DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid)'s Rhythm Science. I've become a tunnel-visioned reader, analyzing, interpreting, and evaluating everything in the context of McLuhan, but until I develop other research interests, I guess I am stuck with those blinders.

I had heard and read others talking about Rhythm Science, but I finally got around to purchasing the book when I realized it was part of the MIT Pamphlet series, an series of books inspired in part by The Medium is the Massage--short texts, innovative in typography and design, not densely scholarly in citations, but clearly informed by a scholarly career. RS and N. Katherine Hayles' Writing Machines (another title in the series) are both much more autobiographical than MM, and neither are as visually interesting as MM, but RS offered me more than WM, which actually annonyed me because Hayles' called for "media specific analysis," a blatant but unacknowledge re-working of "the medium is the message," IMHO.

But I digress. Here are a couple of thoughts / reflections.

Miller / Spooky has actually used McLuhan's voice in his DJ work. He uses McLuhan on the CD to say "'electric circuitry . . . the flowing' is taking us on an 'inner trip . . . which involves us in depth in things that had formerly been merely superficial, visual, external and detached from our own beings.'" M/S goes on to argue that the opposite might actually be true "the specialization, fragementation, and routineization of work, space and life" has prevented the kind of in-depth participation McLuhan describes, and this particular description of postmodern life (for lack of a better label), continues to be problematic for me as I work with McLuhan. What M/S goes on to express throughout RS, it seems to me, is a desire for the kind of depth participation McLuhan describes, he just seems to think that very few people have achieved that depth participation. That might be the kind of account I am looking for and trying to articulate myself.

The mechanical age, as much or more than the electric age, seems to have influenced a culture of specialization, fragmentation, and routineization of work, space and life (think of some of Dickens' characters); the electric age seemed to presented the possibility of depth and integration, or a move from mechanical to organic metaphors, but the mechanical, modern infrastructure in place, the heavy weight of the way things are, and the mechanical, specialized nature of even many "electric" processes (i.e. writing code?!), has limited the impact of electric circuitry on our lives. Many educational theorists, however, now point out that our mechanical approach to schooling is dramatically out of synch with our students' "in-depth" living (although the "good students" learn to play along).

I am starting to digress again, and have exceeded my 10 minutes, so I will have to follow up with sequel.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Misunderstanding the Assignment

I am using Doug Hunt's Misunderstanding the Assignment in my TA Strategies Class this fall, and just finished re-reading the book. Now I need to remind myself why I decided to use it!

1. Accessibility: The TAs I have taught the last three years have often struggled with the more traditional academic article approach, or even the collections of essays I have tried. They have particularly been mystified by the debates the articles are often a part of. Perhaps steering away from the debate is going to turn out to be a bad idea, but I thought I would try a book that doesn't try to argue strongly for a position so much as try to increase readers' understanding of what happens in a first-year composition course.

2. Relevance: What could be more relevant than "seeing" how somebody else negotiated a semester of teaching first-year composition? I started to record my classes last semester, but I ran into some technical difficulties, and I was not capturing the students' perspectives. The 11 person research team was able to capture classroom data, student interview data, instructor interview data, and author analysis.

Upon re-reading it, and thinking about it as a teacher of teachers, I'm thinking about the following complications and possibilities.

1. The course taught isn't very much like the course we teach at NDSU. It seems to be a cultural studies class of sorts, asking students to analyze TV shows about the family, read and analyze free will in pieces of fiction. A syllabus and assignment sheets would have been a nice addition to the book. The big ideas are front and center, the teaching of writing happens inductively through workshops, conferences, and "Mr. Paragraph" classes. I do think this difference will turn out to be valuable in the long run, but the new TAs might have preferred to "see" a course more like ours.

2. I am excited about the possibility of "re-playing" some classroom scenes and some 1-on-1 conferences. I'm not saying the teacher handled situations incorrectly, but the book gives real situations (students in class who keep asking "what do you want?"; students in conferences who say little or nothing) that we might try to role play to give the new TAs (and me!) other strategies for handling these common situations.

3. I would like to design a smaller scale study modeled on this book. I have only 4 new TAs to work with, and they are primarily engaged in the process of learning how to teach, but I want to try and introduce them to the scholarship of teaching and specifically classroom research. My interest in computers and writing has me thinking that I would like to research the most overtly technologized assignments in English 120 and see to how our students are understanding them. I would probably ask the new TAs to function as the eyes and ears in my class (to put me under the microscope, rather than them), to conduct one interview with a select # of students, and probably to survey the 120 class as a whole. I used this mixed methodology with TAs two years ago and we published "What's Going On?"; maybe this year's cohort can develop another article.

A quick search revealed that Misunderstanding the Assignment was reviewed in Composition Studies and College English, but it doesn't seem to have made much of an impact on the field. I think its project is worth extending--good book.

Online tools

I just discovered a new McLuhan resource, which I tagged in, and included a note that looks like a blog entry. I have been thinking that notes seem like blogging (250 words or less).

I was actually trying to use Zotero for the first time, but the Zotero icon is not yet appearing on my Firefox browser; need to keep messing around I guess.

Set up a Furl account on Friday; don't know if I will be able to use Furl and and Blogger. Testing the tools is interesting, but using and managing them all is difficult. Good thing I set up the Suprglu account.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

FYC as Intro to Writing Studies: The Next Big Thing?

Doug Downs and Elizabeth Wardle's lead article in CCC has gotten people on the WPA-L fired up. I tend not to post much to lists because I read them in digest and always feel out of the flow of the conversations. The 3-5 times I have posted to various lists in the last 3-5 years, my post almost always kills any conversation, or at least signals that the conversation was over two days ago. Also, as I think about preparing new TAs, I am also thinking about my own learning style--definitely an observer / watcher type more than any other style. Even kids in high school noticed my style.

Back to FYC as Writing Studies. I've been using and advocating something a tiny bit like what Downs and Wardle describe, but I have been using popular press kinds of articles, mainly about "new literacy," not writing specifically, so I guess I am philosophically sympathetic, but I could go much further in practice. Their article did make me think about scholarly articles I could assign in my fyc class without making a radical shift this fall, although I haven't made any decisions along those lines yet. I'm thinking about things like an article on peer review (Nancy Welch's "Sideshadowing"? -- too theoretical?), something on revision, etc. I also just started watching Take 20; I need to wath the chapter where people recommend a piece of scholarship.

What I really wanted to reflect on, however, is one of the posts on WPA-L that suggested that this article signals "the next big thing" in fyc and writing studies. I have no objections to this approach being the next big thing, but I wonder how we, as a field, could measure, evaluate, assess, document in some way, that "the next big thing" actually leads to some kind of improvement in something. That something might be better student writing, but I actually doubt that. That something might be TA training, which seems more reasonable (TAs are more likely to learn about scholarship in reading, writing, research, etc.), or that something might be "better classroom dynamics," although one of my nagging questions as I read the piece was "how boring / exciting is this classroom / pedagogy?" Geoff Sirc has challenged all of us to engage our students, and I am just not sure how well this approach would accomplish that goal. The student comments included in the article suggested some success in this area, but I wonder what the majority of the class thought? The authors acknowledged the high percentage of students who "failed" under this approach; my hunch is those are the students who might succeed under a pedagogy that doesn't so obviously remind them that they are novice writers who are unlikely ever to acquire the habits of expert writers.

Last thought on why I don't think student writing would "improve." Connors and Lundsford documented that student rate of error in writing has not changed statistically throughout the 20th century (I think this research was updated, but I didn't see the resulting article). Types of errors changed, but not overall error rate. I did some research about 5 or 6 years ago on a program publication that lasted 20 years and survived 3 theory changes in the department. The writing assignments changed, so the students' writing changed, but I got the impression that the program wrote the students, and each "big new thing" in the department lead to changes in assignments, teaching methods, and genres taught, but there was no evidence that student writing, as a whole, got better. Theory / approach changes often seem like window dressing; I'm not saying such things are useless (window dressing can be a valuable change), but changes in labor practices, infrastructure, staffing, etc., are more likely to get observable, documented, positive change. The Chronicle of Higher Ed, citing changes at Princeton, Duke, and a few other Ivy-ish places, called this change the "million dollar solution" to first-year writing. THAT would be the next big thing if public institutions like mine put up the money to take fyc even more seriously.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Back online

Took two weeks to re-visit the roots, rural Manitoba, and had a great time. I'm guessing not too many people have ever visited rural Manitoba, there being no real tourist destinations in towns like Virden, where I grew up, or Carberry, where my extended family grew up and still lives, but these places are quite beautiful in subtle, prairie ways, and, as McLuhan predicted, these people are pretty plugged into the global village. There were some throw back elements--not many wireless access points--but also cutting edge elements--my cousin monitors much of his farming operation over the Internet. I won $40 at Men's night in Carberry--a bit of a 50s masculine throw-back kinda event in which my skinny bookish masculinty seemed a bit out of place--but my high school reunion was hosted by one of my openly gay classmates. My vegetarianism was challenged to the max--I must have eaten about 4lbs of French Fries in Carberry, the potato capital of Manitoba--but my cousin's husband managed to track down some sort of faux chicken burger at the local grocery store.

I'm back in the midst of administrative work, which tends not to lead to much blogging, but I'd like to try to carve out a bit more research time this summer.

Friday, June 22, 2007

CFP Idea

Computers and Composition has a CFP for Graduate Education. Thinking of a few ideas, like:

1. "You will never teach this course again." -- I wonder how true this is for other PhDs who graduated within the last 10 years (could be a survey component)? I wonder how true this will be for the PhDs over the next 10 years. I did take a course on Visual Communication as a graduate student, but it looked nothing like the Visual Culture and Language (U-grad) course I teach. I wonder what kind of VC course our graduate student(s) will teach.

2. Andy and I have thrown around the term "electrate competencies." Can we nail some of these things down? How far do graduate programs need to go? And obviously there is not one model. Some programs will attract students because they aren't tech-heavy. How is "electrate competency" different from "critical technological literacy?" What are the low tech electrate compentencies? Does "visual thinking" count?

3. I've gotten to know Quinn Warnick from a few conferenes. He is in the graduate program I graduate from 10 years ago--I wonder how different his Program of Study has been? I wonder what his skill set was like coming in, what it will be like going out? I wonder what graduates of that program will study / do / be capable of 10 years down the road?

GAming school

Gaming school? Forget re-locating for college, I am sure my son will want to move to NY for middle school.

This story also made me think about my "field." If I simply studied what I wanted, without concern for employment, I would definitely have gone into "game studies." I had built up a pretty substantial understanding of game theory while working on my MA, and had read an awful lot of sports literature. I probably should have pursued that avenue a little more vigorously, although now, interestingly enough, my interests, which were very fringe in the early 90s, are now mainstream. I wasn't interested in video games at the time, and I am still only minimally interested in video games, but they are a medium worth paying attention to. I wouldn't even call myself a sports fanatic, which I think most people assume when they hear about my interests. I just know that sports and games in general penetrated my sense of self at a very young age and in a way that I can't quite shake. And why should I? They are engaging, fulfilling, generally good for mind and/or body, although they can be excessively time consuming, bad for your body, perhaps mind crushing.

When I think about my two dream projects, they are both game/sport related--my curling documentary, and a book-length project building on McLuhan, Understanding Games. I noticed some of the spark and excitement I had back in the early 90s when I was working on my MEmorial and the Roger Maris connection to the Lost Boys of Sudan. Maybe I have moved back into my field wihtout precisely realizing it!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Usable Glue

I've been working on an analysis of McLuhan and Fiore's The Medium is the Massage, but I keep thinking / wondering why Greg Ulmer has never done a really visual, or at least visual-verbal, text. He has included images in his work, and he does have interesting visual-verbal material online (much of it more visual than verbal), so perhaps he is making that medium divide (word = pages, images = screens). But if I were any kind of decent designer, which I am not, I think I would start working on a book called "Usable Glue," and I would try to make some of his concepts (or borrowed concepts) like felt, punctum, electracy, more visible, and I think I would try to play around with his sets of instructions. It might be interesting to try and work with his text in the way Fiore worked with McLuhan's text. Is Ulmer a master of the aphorism or succinct theoretical phrasology (hard to beat "the medium is the message / massage / mass-age")? Are his concept illustratable? I guess I tried this once: what do you think?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Looking for images

I've been thinking about some ways to revise my "MEmorial project" and have been searching for images of Maris sitting in the locker, looking really worn out (a picture I have seen in print). I did come across one of his Camel ads images, but I also came across Jennifer Ettinger's website, where she is still trying to sell the painting that appeared on the cover of the book my brother and I published about ten years, Thru the Smokey Endboards: Canadian Poetry about Sports and Games.

Jennifer has a cool new show at the Nat Bailey ball park in Vancouver.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Me and Mac (the scholar, not the computer)

I was just thinking, just trying to rememberer, "how/why did I come to McLuhan, and why am I such an advocate now?" His name was floated occasionally in the classrooms of U of Winnipeg, but always quickly dismissed by the professor. He started showing up in fragments while working on my dissertation--a history of writing instruction in western Canadian universities (snore)--those traces, I realized, were pretty interesting. I gave a seminar presentation on him during my last class in graduate school; it was very well received; Don Payne suggested I had just outlined a research agenda. If only I had known what that meant! The "agenda" remained hidden (as all the best are) for about 4 or 5 years, even though Anthony Ellertson expressed great enthusiasm for McLuhan in a graduate course I taught in about 2000. I remember worrying about the lack of political edge in McLuhan's work, I worried about the gross over-generalizations, I worried about the cultural studies critique of McLuhan. But I remembered Anthony's enthusiasm for McLuhan, and I saw that enthusiasm again among other students when I taught The Laws of Media and tetradic analysis. And I saw it frequently when I assigned The Medium is the Massage, occasionally identified by students as the most interesting book they have read. As a scholar, I started to see the political potential embedded in McLuhan's work--my potential to use his work as I saw fit. And I started to see and understand the formal experiments, which, strangely enough, I think I had been trying since I started in 'zine in high school. In short, I became an advocate because I could see McLuhan working for students--generating excitement and engagement--and that excitement in turn rubbed off on me as a scholar. Charlie Lowe has said to me a couple of times, "I like the way McLuhan makes me think," and that seems to sum up why I am pushing this drug.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Visual rhetoric and the encyclopedic tradition

I was just reading a book chapter by Charles Hill on teaching the reading of visual communication in the writing classroom, and Hill points out the common argument that our writing classes already try to do too much, and adding visual rhetoric does nothing to eleviate that problem, but only do to a history of specialization did we ever decide to separate out written and visual communication. He goes on to call for a broad-based rhetorical education, interdisciplinary in nature, which seems good and right, but I couldn't help but think about McLuhan and the encyclopedic tradition of rhetoric that extends back to Cicero, at least, and then I wonder, what if just "English" could become "Rhetoric?" Nothing new here, but in my constant quest to figure out why McLuhan should matter, I am almost always struck by how this professor of literature was able to make literature matter to his students in the 50s, esp. 60s, and 70s, and I am always struck by how effectively he reads and uses literature as part of his histories of rhetoric and technology.

I am also in the process of thinking about The Medium is the Massage (MM) again; part of a revision to a paper I am working on. I need to figure out why learning to read that text is relevant to learning how to read (and I suppose produce) similar kinds of texts. Part of my argument is that we in rhetoric and composition don't really perform many readings of visual texts, and certainly not image-text experiments like MM, instead limiting ourselves to ad analysis, and the rhetorical reading of film. The influence of MM seems to be pretty profound--I am starting to collect the MIT series of books influenced by MM.

Unrelated: I just noticed that I only made 25 entries between January and now, and that 7 of those were during videoblogging week. I made no entries in March, and if I handn't made an entry on May 31, I would have skipped May 2. Very irregular with my blogging / thinking.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

I must have written this entry before...

I am working on my MEmorial project, but I keep thinking about McLuhan for compositionists. I keep asking "why McLuhan?," maybe phrased in Jeff Rice's language, why invest in McLuhan when the field hasn't for the last 40 years? Is the payoff really so great? I'm thinking about the way postmodernism is pursued as a goal--to have a postmodern pedagogy, to be more postmodern--and I think about the ways that McLuhan complicates that goal. He is sometimes labeled a proto-postmodernists, but I think he is best described as an antimodernist. Elizabeth Flynn has used "antimodernism" as foil to "save" postmodernism, to show the ways in which postmodernism is a better critique of modernism than antimodernism, but if the critique is reversed, I think antimodernism can hold up as a viable critique of modernism, which in and of itself ain't all bad. Maybe what McLuhan, in part through his Laws, can really get us is a break from dialectical thinking, from the Hegelian logic of progress, without giving us what is often perceived as postmodern uncertainty and drift. The Laws provide a structure for making sense of competing world-views as technologies, and for recognizing ebbs and flows historically, but also recognizing the human all to human need to recycle.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Ten Minutes A Day

Because I call my blog 10 Minutes a Day, I'm compelled to blog about this article. I know that 4th graders find 10 minutes a day difficult because a) college students find 10 minutes a day difficult, and b) my 3rd grade son tends to break down in tears after 2 or 3 minutes of writing.

The teacher who wrote this piece shreds her students' work in order to really emphasize the process--the message--of 10 a day. Write, free yourself, suppress the editor; the medium, not the content, is the message. Of course us bloggers like our content, and we archive these musings, but it might be cool to have a "shred" button for a blog other than the delete button: each entry goes through little electrode teeth, and maybe even builds a big pile of shredded entries at the bottom of one's blog. We could then at least measure our shredded work.

Was that 10 minutes worth?

Monday, June 04, 2007

MEmorial for Lost Boys of Sudan

I've been working on a really different project for me, a MEmorial, as theorized by Greg Ulmer. The project is hosted on a wikispaces, so feel free to contribute (you will need to request membership).

I don't think my final product is particularly electrate--I can't seem to keep words out of my compositions--but the process, as Ulmer suggests, is pretty fascinating, I learned a lot (about Sudan, about Maris, about composing with images and video) doing the project, and I think the connections I make between the Lost Boys of Sudan and Roger Maris are pretty interesting, but I guess I will need some readers to let me know (hint hint).

I am also trying out a new way to collect my various web "projects:" SuprGlu. I am actually using it as my "official" home page, at least for now. Aggregates this blog, my Bloglines blog, my entries, and my Flickr photos. Anything with RSS can be aggregated, and they provide room for links to static pages too. So far, so good. Need to add a photo.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Rhetoric of Cool

Just finished Jeff Rice's Rhetoric of Cool; got it Thursday and went cover-to-cover pretty quickly. I have been very interested in Jeff's work ever since I dreamt about him about 3 years ago; he has brought McLuhan and Ulmer together more consistely than any other scholar I am aware of.

Because I was familiar with some of the content of the book through his earlier journal contributions, what I liked best was actually the repetition--seeing/hearing him re-iterate the historical argument that composition missed an opportunity in 1963 to ground itself in the emerging technology, the emerging new media, and ultimately in "cool rhetoric," but the field in general chose to stick with print, not just in products but in logic. He makes some really compelling arguments that even the most visual texts and scholars in our field who embrace the "visual" do so from a print-logic biased.

I am frequently struggling with how to frame an argument for the role of McLuhan in composition studies, and what Jeff's book seems to do for me (after one quick read-through) is help me more clearly articulate his reading and use of McLuhan, which in turn will help me articulate my position. By linking McLuhan to cool rhetoric, and by really pushing the envelope for digital and electronic thinking, I can see that Jeff, like his mentor Ulmer, is a little more thoroughly immersed in the logic of electracy than I tend to be. I have been using and playing with the idea of "working at the interface" a lot lately, and by "working at the interface" I mean that I see myself working at the interface of literacy and electracy, print culture and visual culture, text and image, visual and acoustic space. Where Jeff offers the cool compositional strategy of juxtaposition in one chapter, I tend to use Scott McCloud's six patterns of word-picture relationships as a more detailed, and probably print-logical, way to approach the general strategy of composing through juxtaposition. Where Jeff emphasizes the rhetoric of cool, his articulation of that made me realize that I try to teach the rhetoric of hot and cool, and that I think students gain an understanding of both by seeing them placed side-by-side: working at the interface.

I'm looking forward to dipping back into Jeff's earlier "textbook," writing about cool, which I am sure will seem like a whole new text now that I have read The Rhetoric of Cool.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Do I have to explain myself?

After being away from the blog for so long, I wonder--did anybody miss it / me? Do I have to explain myself? Apologize? Naaah. Summer is here, high tide for blogging, so I might just start gettin' a little busy.

Just read/ watched Daniel Anderson's "Prosumer" multimedia piece from Kairos--very humbling he does such fine work, technically and intellectually. Heard him speak at C&W too; wow, great stuff. Don't know why I haven't sought out his work before now.

The idea that I wanted to record was his segment about getting students to work with still images from film as part of their literary analysis class. Made me think about the rhetorical analysis assignment I want to re-vamp this coming fall semester; I was planning to get students to do some screen capturing as part of their analysis in order to increase the visual literacy component of the assignment, but Anderson's piece made me realize that if the thing being analyzed (a segment from MTV Think) also included a video of some sort, doing a screen capture of a still would be a great addition. He mentioned quickly that he showed students how to capture a video from the web and then work with it in iMovie or another video editing program; that is a powerful little skill that untir recently had escaped me, so I might consider working that into the project as well, or maybe adding that into the commentary follow-up assignment.

Okay, there it is, back in the blogosphere, looking forward to a summer of brain flatulence. But no more than 10 minutes a day!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Ideas from David Blakesley

David Blakesley visited NDSU yesterday to talk about his new handbook with Thompson publishers, and to talk more generally about teaching and composing with technology. Stimulating day; here are some highlights:

1. David showed us and talked about his own composing practices. He frequently composes in Adobe Acrobat and InDesign, and showed us the advantages of doing so for assembling an Acrobat presentation or preparing a visually rich manuscript, like his handbook, for publication.

2. He showed us the handbook companion website, which is going to be maintained via Drupal, and many in attendance had questions about teaching with Drupal. I just found this description of the Purdue approach to Drupal, written by Jeremy Trirrel.

3. David showed Kenneth Burke's, and some of his own, "Flowerishes," which gave me some ideas for adding a visual component to the commentary assignment I use in first-year comp.

4. He talked about some interesting assignments, including some developed by Bill Covino (dialogue and one other) and David Jolliffe (inquiry contract). Definitely some ideas worth following up on.

Hopefully others captured some additional ideas I have not captured.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Scott McCloud's Excellent Adventure, uhh, presentation

Elizabeth Lawley at Rochester Institute of Technology summarized Scott McCloud's presentation from September at RIT. Scott gave roughly the same presentation at NDSU on Monday April 16th, although Sky didn't do her PPT--she was too engrossed in reading Walter Murch's In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing (great book--how cool!).

I know Scott is still looking for a host in Wyoming and Idaho to complete his 50 state tour--somebody out there needs to invite him, for your own good!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

McCloud's big triangle in context

Back to some old fashioned textual blogging.

Scott McCloud will be here on Monday, and I am looking forward to talking with him about his work and ideas. I have been wanting to write an article that updates his "big triangle" of visual communication, but I often think that such an article would be a little bit too simplistic. I just got thinking this morning that perhaps the larger, more useful context would be to synthesize some of the work done on how we seem to process images--McLuhan's hot and cool, which is problematic but also holds up reasonably well, the indexical hypothesis developed by Art Glenberg, and Jennifer Wiley's work on visually rich media (2003). I could use that scholarship to guide my revision of The Big Triangle; McCloud's ideas are consistent with most of these ideas, but a little tweaking would be in order.

Now I don't know what my blogging style is: freewriter, vlogger, linker? Identify crisis management.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Think But This and All is Mended

I had almost nothing to do with the video project: I bought the camera that was used, and I probably bought the computer. Oh, I guess I also gave Dayna feedback on her literacy narrative as she wrote it. Dayna Del Val (friend) and Caity Birmingham (step daughter) collaborated on one of the most interesting literacy narratives I have heard and seen.

Monday, April 09, 2007

My Serenity character

Your results:
You are Dr. Simon Tam (Ship Medic)

Dr. Simon Tam (Ship Medic)
Wash (Ship Pilot)
Malcolm Reynolds (Captain)
River (Stowaway)
Kaylee Frye (Ship Mechanic)
Zoe Washburne (Second-in-command)
Derrial Book (Shepherd)
Inara Serra (Companion)
A Reaver (Cannibal)
Jayne Cobb (Mercenary)
Medicine and physical healing are your game,
but wooing women isn't a strong suit.

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Monday, April 02, 2007

Video Blog 2: The curling episode

Video blogging, when not a 5 minute one-take, is much more time consuming than text-blogging. Duh.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Missing out on the carnival

I haven't blogged or even read blogs for a few weeks, only to find out today that I have been missing out on a Trimbur Carnival, a discussion of John Trimbur's article in Composition Studies. Because my blog really is a ten-a-day sort of activity, I haven't bothered to go re-read that piece. Instead, I am going to use this prompt to think aloud about Call to Write, Trimbur's textbook, the one he more or less "defends" in that article.

Our first-year writing program has used that text for three years now, but it has never sat well with our long-term lecturers, and our grad students are always slow to appreciate it, if they ever get to the stage of appreciation. Those of us with PhDs in writing studies generally like it; it speaks our language, we aren't bothered by the lack of literary content, and the organization of the text makes sense to us. Some people seem to think the text speaks down to students (Trimbur deals with "composing a shopping list" problem in his article); others think the text is too complex.

Here is what I really want to think aloud about, though. We surveyed students in our first-semester writing course; we got just over 100 returns from those who used Call to Write plus a supplement of the instructor's choice, and just over 100 returns from those students who used texts that are definitely NOT rhetorics, Thinking for YOurself and The Sundance Reader. Students were luke warm about CTW, although they acknowledged that it helped them in various ways. Students generally liked the other two texts, although one students said the he / she thought CTW would be more informational, but these two texts (TFY and SR) were fun and easy to read.

If CTW exemplifies a "meta" approach to writing courses, an approach that wants students to understand writing, and not just produce writing, the students generally seem to find this goal a bit baffling. One student even said that CTW might be a good book for graduate students, but not first-year students. If TFY and SR represent a more familiar and transparent approach to teaching critical thinking and writing, students seem to enjoy the familiarity, ease, and humor. (Maybe one of the problems with CTW is that it is humorless?). As WPA, do I want to administer a popular and fun program, a rigorous and meta-program, some combination of the above, something all together. Or does this little survey--small and flawed as it is--just exemplify a problem that the philosophical / theoretical issues simply doesn't address--writing courses are still taught by those who received or would like to receive graduate degrees in literary studies; those instructors are most comfortable assigning readings and talking about themes, those instructors do not think writing courses should be about writing, because they often think that the writing should be transparent, and the transcendental themes illuminated.

Okay, my tone is slipping here, but that seems to be the heart of the issue for me: Trimbur can convince me and many of us in our discipline that writing courses should be about writing, not just do writing, but he and I cannot convince the many instructors of first-year writing, nor the many students of first-year writing, that it should be about writing.

As one students said, the course should be about poetry.

Friday, February 09, 2007

The philosopher's (curling) stone

My best friend from high school, Graham Freeman, is one of the best curlers in Manitoba. He is currently playing in the Safeway Selectplaydowns (do bloggers get paid for produce placement?), although he lost to former World Champion Jeff Stoughton this morning.

For a couple of years now, I have been planning a documentary about Graham, and, well, me--a MyStory of sorts, a buddy story (ironically, to be sure), but also a piece of cultural analysis, and, uh, maybe some philosophizing. Hence, the philosopher's (curling) stone. The way I see it, we were best friends who left high school and took very different paths. Graham stayed in Virden, works in the grocery store by day, is a Super Curler for about 5 months of the year, got married to one of the two young women we mixed curled with while in Grade 12, has a couple of kids (one named Brooks!), and although also an excellent golfer, he plays the grand old game more recreationally because of the high demands of being a Super Curler in winter.

I left high school, got a degree, got married, got another degree, got divorced, got another degree, got married again, moved around, had a kid, more or less gave up curling, golf, and every other sport I played and loved as a kid and young adult, got a job just across the border from Manitoba, got tenure, get to meet a lot of really smart and interesting people, started curling again (but not Super Curling), and now I find myself asking not, "who has the better life," but, "how does one evaluate "quality of life?" There was no way I could have stayed in my home town and done what Graham has done, in part because I was never that good of a curler, but in part, some weird life trajectory had already made that impossible by about the time I was 12.

I'm getting a little too discursive here, so let me just throw out some ideas, and if anybody who reads this has comments and suggestions, let me know. I think I will need a good push or two to actually follow through with this film project, but next year is probably the right year to do it.

1. Curling is a strangely gripping sport, and I am interested in trying to figure out how it grips people. The movie "Men With Brooms" provides some "Bull Durham" like philosophizing on this topic, but I would want to hear what Graham has to say, and I would like to figure out what I think about this topic.

2. Curling is a strangely Canadian sport--albeit brought to Canada but Scottish settlers. Curling culture in Canada is pretty well documented, so the question becomes: why isn't it apart of North Dakota culture? All of the natural conditions that make curling viable in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, where the sport has the greatest grassroots support, are also found in North Dakota. ND was not settled by the Scottish, which will be part of the explanation, but the modern Scandanavians are great curlers--why not their ND cousins? What can be learned about the mysterious effect of the 49th parallel by studying curling in ND in MB, by comparing Graham's life on the Manitoba Curling Tour (2005 champ, 2006 runner up) and my life in Monday night men's league play?

3. What does it mean to "stay competitive" much of one's life? What does it mean to one's life to interact with the world's best in something / anything? Graham gets to curl against world class competition regularly, in a really black-and-white kind of way (win or lose). I have had the good fortune to meet a number of people who are among the most knowledgeable in the world in their various academic fields or sub-fields. I always claim to know more about the history of writing instruction in western canadian universities than any other person in the world, but then, there ain't much competition for that title. I figure I might be a top 100 McLuhan scholar by now--slightly stiffer competition, but still pretty small field.

Those are 3 "stones" to philosophize about--I suppose I could think of the project in eight parts (eight stones). Graham's thoughts, my thoughts, two teams, head to head, but in a totally sportsmanlike, male bonding, kinda way. I also see next year as the year because the World Curling Championship will be in Grand Forks, ND. While neither one of us are likely to be competing in that event, we could meet there. The narrative arch of the documentary could follow both of us through a season, him on his MCT, me in the Monday league. I have considered "getting competitive" for that year, but I am not sure that would make for a better film or not. Maybe I could do both, and see what makes for the better storyline.


Sunday, February 04, 2007

Readings for FYC

My students are wrapping up the first unit in English 120, and it dawned on me that the unit could benefit from stronger readings. I did ask students to read "Students Have the Power to Lead," but as a piece of non-fiction and high-density information, that chapter never starts any fires. I probably need to do a better job of selling and teaching that chapter if I continue to use it. I have also been thinking about adding a good reading or two about money and the meaning of life. I am trying to get students to profile each other, and I think some stronger readings on money and the meaning of life might help them ask better questions and work on incorporting secondary sources. I bought a collection of essays that I should definitely consult, and maybe compile a casebook / course pack.

As we move into unit 2, I am realizing that using White Like Me might not be the best way to go. I should probably have students read a few of Tim Wise's commentaries, read excerpts from a few of the other books I have started to assemble, and show a few of the short films I have started to collect. Working with this kind of casebook approach, students would have more context for rhetorically analyzing Wise or other authors, and they might see that there is a context for thinking about "whiteness." Assembling these two sets of readings into casebooks might be a good model for students as we move into more independent reading and research projects for the remaining assignments.

On a completely different note, I have more or less wrapped up and sent out two articles in the last 5 days--feels good!!! Of course the reader-reports might hurt.... I'll be sure to blog about my next project--the encouragement I have received from the 4 people who read this thing was surprisingly, well, encouraging.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

I've been using for a while, mainly because my bookmark folders were getting unmanageable, and I had a vague notion that sharing some bookmarks with students or colleagues might be a good idea at some point. Right now I am working with an outstanding graduate student in our department (are you reading this!) who is shadowing Visual Culture and Language. She is an experienced blogger, great with LMS, Facebook, etc., but she hadn't used We decided to do some "team-tagging" (or tag-teaming?), and see what we could both learn about the service and its potential.

Right away, I looked at in a whole new light. My VCL tag (for Visual Culture and Language) is helpful to me, but nobody else! I did not take a social or rhetorical approach to tagging. It looks like I could rename that tag, but for now, I think we will keep it, which, when looked at from a different light, could be particularly relevant to students (this semester or in the future). I have asked Melissa to use this tag, and we talked about what we should use as tag for hybrid classrooms. I think "blended learning" is the preferred term, and sure enough, when I did a search for blended learning, I got some good and relevant hits. When I did a search for hybrid, I got a lot of cars.

Both tags need additional tags, like "photography" and "film" to go with VCL, and "blogging" or "LMS" to go with "blended learning," but even as I was realizing that, my approach to tagging started to seem logical, rather than random. There might be something to this folksonomy stuff, besides a new buzz word.

Don't get lost in my cloud!

Friday, January 19, 2007

McLuhan and Rachel Carson

I really like this analogy between McLuhan (as technological environmentalist) and Rachel Carson, the environmentalist:

"McLuhan would have considered himself a media ecologist in this sense: he was trying to create an awareness about the hidden effects of electronic technologies, in much the same fashion that Rachel Carson, in Silent Spring, exposed the unintended consequences of pesticides (Morrison 5-6, 23n3). James Morrison argues that if we see McLuhan in his true light as a "technological environmentalist," it will expose the blindness of his misperceiving critics who see him as a booster of technology; "in truth, he was no more so than Rachel Carson was a promoter of DDT" (Morrison 6). From this ecological framework, we can see that people today do not merely live in a world of the physical. The world is symbolic. We live in a reality filtered by various media; call it what you will: Plato's cave wall, the world outside and the pictures in our heads, mediated reality, second-hand world, the media environment, the media torrent. As argued above, when a new technology or new symbol system enters a culture, the entire system will change. The examination of this phenomenon is the work of the media ecologist/medium theorist." Marc Leverette, "Towards an Ecology of Understanding."

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Saving the ruined essay

Ever since I messed up the essay that I blogged about just before Christmas (or, technically, ever since I finished messing up that essay in and around January 1), I have been thinking about how to save it and strengthen it. This time, I think I have the right things figured out.

I know I need to do some cutting and trimming, but I was also feeling like the essay was not fully engaged in the right kinds of conversation, not fully engaged in an the ongoing conversation about reading generally, and reading new media specifically. I just read Patricia Harkin's CCC essay on the history of reader-response theory; I think that is the conversation I need to hook up with. She points out near the end that compositionists excluded reading from composition courses as they asserted rhetoric and writing as subjects worthy of study (and professionalization), but in the early part of the 21st century, considerable cultural anxiety about students' poor reading abilities, and anxiety about students' inability to read the changing communicative environment (the visual, the remixed, the fragmentary), gives me an entree into "seriously visible" reading (that phrase being part of the title).

Guess I should just go work on the paper, not blog about it.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Back on the horse

I scared myself off the blog because my last entry--a reflection on a paper I am working on--lead me to mess up the paper, rather than clarify and finish the paper. Darn blog--it is supposed to be infallible!

That said, I am here to try again, reflecing on some reader comments for the trivium project I have written about a few times. Let me start by saying that I really like the way people in the field of rhetoric and composition respond to other people's scholarship. The reviewers of the trivium project were quick to respond, supportive, but also very careful and smart critics of our project. I didn't get the sense that any of them wanted to force their agenda on our work. When I occasionally submit to other fields / subdisciplines, the readers are often very slow, very dogmatic, and not particularly supportive (even if they accept the piece!).

Okay, the point that got me here was a observation that our trivium project was a traditional, locked down essay with open wikipieces building off that essay structure. One reviewer pointed out that our wiki projects have a grammatical bias: the collecting and sorting of information. We were aware of this bias, and I think we even discussed, then dismissed other options. But as I read this comment, I began to think--how does the web massage rhetoric, dialectic, and grammar? Or where do these categories show up. Wiki building (wikipedia most obviously), retrieves the grammatical impulse to collect, sort, organize knowledge. I would even be willing to say the web as medium supports this function better than the other two functions. Dialectic, as philosophy, as critique, as questioning shows up in filter-blogging and discussion boards. K-logging might combine the grammatical and the dialectical, as bloggers gather and sort relevant information, but also offer commentary and critique of that information. Rhetoric, as the application of grammatical knowledge to practical political problems, might be most fully embodied in activist or political websites that show a broad understanding of an issue / issues (the grammatical function), while employing the crafts and strategies of persuasive new media discourse to prompt action and production, not just consumption.

Suppose I should just go work on the project, not blog it.