Category Archives: Activity Responses

Revisiting the Proposal: March 30

cyborgbrainDonna Haraway has been credited as one of the first to use the term “cyborg” to describe our relationship with the Digital, as we become “hybrids of machine and organism” (151). The field of English Studies, and in particular Composition Studies, has wrestled with theorizing digital space itself as well as the best practices for operating within (and toward) that space, particularly in terms of pedagogy. The scholarship published on this subject in the 1990s, such as that published by Haraway, Selfe, Inman, and others, ranged from discussions of computer interfaces and hardware (Baron) to writing in hypertext (Sosnoski, Johnson-Eilola). The MOOC now extends this discussion in ways that often feel familiar, but create very new spaces in which to theorize composition pedagogical practices and professional tensions.

My Object of Study for this course is still MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, designed to teach freshman-level writing. MOOCs, simply defined, are typically tuition- and credit-free classes offered online to any and all interested students, using a variety of methods which include recorded short lectures, discussion boards, and asynchronous activities, depending on the subject matter. There are two distinct “breeds” or genres of mooCs, which might be defined along pedagogical lines: the cMOOC and the xMOOC.

What Is A MOOC?

What Is A MOOC?

Specifically, I plan to examine Composition MOOCs, as writing courses – especially freshman writing – as problematic areas of study given the established theories of best practices that have evolved in concert with our field’s evolution into digital spaces. The subject matter seems especially useful as an object of study given that many discussions of the online or digital classroom in our field often reflect tensions associated with the history of our field’s quest for professionalization. Given the nature of MOOC-based learning systems, questions of best practices and integrity of degree programs are likely to be part of any network.

The demand for online higher education course offerings comes from a variety of sources and stakeholders. The unique characteristics of MOOCs, however, offer additional challenges, many of which mirror common discussions within our field: assessment, access, instructor training / qualifications, questions of labor, plagiarism, student engagement, retention, and pedagogy. Given recent attention paid to the trend of MOOCs by higher education publications (see resources list below), it would appear that this is an area of debate and activity that may promise productive research.

Thanks to the readings involved in my first two Case Studies, my concept of MOOCs has evolved, especially as I have traced the layers of opposition and possibility represented by the scholarship. The rhetoric of space has emerged as a distinct node in this debate, one which offers possible opportunities for discovery and exploration in terms of theorizing Composition MOOCs.

The underlying foundations of classroom writing practices are framed by physical brick-and-mortar, f2f classroom paradigms. Will the characteristics of MOOCs, framed as they are as “massive” and “open,” challenge those paradigms in a way that demands a reconsideration of our definitions of composition pedagogy? In other words, can we still talk about pedagogy and composition in MOOCs in the same way we talk about them in more traditionally (i.e., f2f spaces) informed classroom spaces? For example, teaching “digital writing” from the perspective of producing texts that will be assessed in a classroom capped at 20 may not share the same features as teaching “digital writing” in a completely digitally interfaced classroom that has no cap at all. Will we then, as Prior et al. argue, need to “remap” the canon of Composition instruction as a result of the pressures brought to bear by this new iteration of networked classroom space? Theorizing this Object of Study in terms of a digitally networked space may help answer such questions.

As I said in my first proposal, given the inherent structural nature of MOOCs, it seems self-evident to approach this Object of Study as a network. However, I believe the network (the rhetorical situation of this study) must incorporate more than the rather obvious element of online connectivity among students and teacher. There is the “incorporeal discourse” of which Foucault writes (24) – and what Biesecker might link to Derrida’s concept of “différance” in discussions of rhetorical situation — which might be explored through consideration of the structural / mechanical, economic / business, as well as pedagogical discourses. In short, the network concept offers a way to connect stakeholder discourses with those of the technical and the pedagogical. Applying a variety of theories to composition MOOCs has provided a deeper sense of the possible, leading to additional ways to think of this object of study as a network and why that may be important to English Studies.

Works Cited

Baron, Dennis. “From Pencils to Pixels: The Stages of Literacy Technologies.” Passions, Pedagogies, and 21st Century Technologies. Eds. Gail E. Hawisher and Cynthia L. Selfe. Logan, UT: Utah State UP, 1999.

Foucault, Michel. The Archaeology of Knowledge and The Discourse on Language. Trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith. New York: Vintage Press, 2010.

Haraway, Donna. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women. London: Routledge. 1991.

Johnson-Eilola, Johndan. Nostalgic Angels: Rearticulating Hypertext Writing. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing, 1997.

Jones, Sherry and Daniel Singer. “Composition On A New Scale: Game Studies and Massive Open Online Composition.” CCCC 2014.

Sosnoski, James. “Hyper-Readers and Their Reading Engines.” Passions, Pedagogies, and 21st Century Technologies. Eds. Gail E. Hawisher and Cynthia L. Selfe. Logan, UT: Utah State UP, 1999.


1.  NY Times article Nov. 2012

2.  Educause resource list

3.  Businessweek article Jan. 2014

4.  Duke Univ. Coursera Comp I course page

5.  Blog written by a participant in the above

6.  Georgia Institute of Tech Comp MOOC course page

7.  Academe blog: “The Gates Foundation and Three Composition Blogs”:

8.  The Chronicle of Higher Education – “What You Need to Know About MOOCs.” Frequently updated hub of articles:

9.  “What Is A MOOC?” EdTechReview.  Image and video. 15 March 2013.



Activity for 25 March: Mapping Ecologies of Cognition

For this week’s activity, I created a Prezi to represent my application of Bateson/Norman/Gibson. Since the contents of the Prezi are rather extensively explained in the nodes, I’ll forgo duplicating them here. The choice of a Prezi for my mapping was an easy one — especially when so many of the templates are ecosystem-like, not only in form but in function as well. I had thought of creating the Prezi using images of cells (thinking of Bateson), but the choice of the tree’s ecosystem just seemed more suited as an appropriate illustrative space.

Since I’m posting this on Earth Day, why not borrow from ASU’s School of Life Sciences to add a touch of commentary about perception and our classroom as an ecology?

ASU School of Life Sciences

ASU School of Life Sciences


Outline Response: Case Study 2

Image from

Image from

This past week, I responded to Maury’s and Jenny’s outlines. Maury’s subject is one I’ve never examined closely, let alone through Network theory, so I was fascinated by her choice of subject. Maury skillfully pointed out how the vocabulary of hypertext theory and (especially) ANT gave her a way to begin exploring the way(s) LARPs “behave.” I found that her focus on the concept of “actors” to be especially productive, given how the subject matter lends itself to a singular understanding of that term. Her understanding of how hypertext theory defines her subject in terms of the actors brings into focus how a network theory application is suited to this area: “the reader/writer/player … no real distinction during the game; game only exists because the players have the agency to become writers.” Maury’s outline of how her application of hypertext theory and ANT  reveals the potential exploratory nodes actually helped me better understand how I might apply what were rather difficult theory models for me.

LaLeche League of North Carolina

LaLeche League of North Carolina

The OoC selected by Jenny was also a compelling “non-academic” subject matter for which our theorization models can reveal new understanding. Jenny’s subject of the LaLeche League made me realize how social groups unrelated to traditional “work” organizations (as used by Spinuzzi or Johnson-Eilola or even Bazerman/Miller) can also be discussed in terms of genre and even agency/power. I was already familiar with the LLL from my days (long ago) of raising little ones, and so I already saw LLL as a form of cultural resistence in many ways. However, reading Jenny’s application of genre theory reminded me of Victorian era “advice” manuals — a genre I’ve studied in earlier graduate classes. As I wrote in one of my comments to her outline: “While the Victorian [advice manual] was one of social reinforcement, would you consider the LLL an act of resistence, given the American cultural trend away from breast feeding and women’s social status?” I was also reminded of Latour and even Spinuzzi while reading Jenny’s post, especially in terms of the “implied connection between the rhetorical practices of religious organizations and a mother’s support group – a cultural system of support and, at times, resistance” … layers of networks.

I am looking forward to reading both of their case studies once finished!

Theory Application Rubrics: This Is Only A Test

This is only a testThis week, we were asked to create a “theory assessment” rubric as a means of deepening our understanding of how we might apply theory to objects of study (at least, I think that’s the reasoning!). Given my sense that I’m still a bit of a noob at applying these theories effectively, I thought that thinking through an assessment protocol would be a useful way to frame what I’m attempting with my OoS. As a comp instructor by day / grad student by night, I assumed this would be a quick and easy task. However, as you might expect, I may have been premature in that assumption.

I’ve often heard (and witnessed) that one of the best ways to learn a thing is to teach a thing. Perhaps that also applies to building a rubric — a way to learn a thing is to learn how to assess a thing. In building this rubric and preparing to apply it to a classmate’s Case Study, I tried to think of this through the lens of the rubrics I use to assess FYC student writing — which are based on clearly articulated outcomes (thanks WPA and NCTE). While those Outcomes are designed as heuristics for learning (as well as teaching) writing, I wondered whether those categories might help me think through a theory application as well — especially in terms of rhetorical knowledge, knowledge of conventions, and critical thinking.

I was also reminded of our early exploration of “How Stuff Works” as applied theory – and in doing so, I just couldn’t resist if that site had entries on Theory. Much to my delight, it does – Game Theory – as well as a critique of said theory, demonstrating the application of some sort of rubric. I looked into this after having produced a rather minimalist rubric as part of this week’s activity assignment, and found that the criticism in this article actually employed some of the elements I’d proposed. A good sign, perhaps. But will it work on a classmate’s Case Study?

First, here are the criteria from the “clean” copy of said rubric:

  • Selected Theory is summarized – context, authorship, background or origins
  • Specific criteria of theory identified and defined
  • Application of criteria appropriate to OoS – logic of connections is clear
  • “Mis-fits” or gaps of application identified and discussed
  • Discussion or explanation of how the local experience is illuminated (invisible made visible) by the Theory in productive ways – new understanding
  • Case study builds upon the assertion that the theory fits the OoS by demonstrating new connections and applications.

measuresuccessHow to measure these, though? Using a model of the type of rubric I use for my FYC students, I knew I’d need a range of demonstrated application: from “Highly Effective” to “See me after class.” (No, really, the lower scale actually reads “Unsatisfactory.”) But how exactly does the rhetoric of a rubric – the term “effective” – play out? What IS “highly effective” when it comes to making “criteria of theory” visible or opaque for a reader who may not have explored a theory as thoroughly as the writer / Case Study author? I’m still thinking through this."Clean" Theory Rubric

“Clean” Theory Rubric

 I opted to “test” my rubric using Suzanne’s Case Study (“Dorothy Does Not Approve”), Bazerman’s Genre Theory as applied to her OoS of UPS (a “news-sharing network”). Here are my results, using said Rubric:

Microsoft Word - Theory Rubric ENG894 Applied to SSink.docx

Suzanne’s election to use the assignment prompt questions as guided application provides a useful means of identifying and defining the criteria of said theory, as well as a way of illustrating ways in which connections between the theory and its application to an OoS make sense logically: Nodes, Agency, Relationships Between Nodes as a function of Network, Content, and Growth Potential. Moreover, her decision to compare UPS to AP provides a clear demonstration of how this application can work for other, similar applications. Suzanne was also able to point to limitations of the OoS as revealed by the Theory when she states, “Bazerman also points out that there are rules and laws that govern how content is formed and organized (81, “Speech Acts”). These constraints allow an object to be recognized as belonging to a particular genre, but these precedents limit agency. For the UPS, the process of selection and editing also limited the choices that others in the network could make.” One area which I did not see was a discussion of the limits or failures of this theory in terms of applications, assuming that there is no such thing as a “perfect fit” when dealing with theories. This is the only reason one category received a “Somewhat Effective & Clear” rating.

Overall, I think this rubric works, but it is very limited and likely cannot capture many of the nuances of what we’re seeing as very complex and intersecting systems of conceptualizing our Objects of Studies through Theory. I wonder if it will serve our Case Studies when we begin applying multiple theoretical constructs.


Case Study Gumbo: Responses

(My alternative title to this post was going to be a music reference: “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.” But then, I thought the video link I posted below would be more fun.)

building bridges MIT

Photo credit to Donna Coveney of MIT

I found the applications of theories by classmates Daniel and Leslie to really expand the thinking I’ve done so far on my own OoS. In fact, building bridges between such operationalizing of network objects suggests they are not so different at all. Leslie’s comments on the hardware theory’s impact on her writing center space reminded me at some points of Daniel’s (as well as my own OoS of Composition MOOCs), especially with Leslie’s observations about ways data is transformed through back end and front end access points. Daniel’s treatment of Google Analytics is all about transformation of data, by the software as well as the hardware, and of course the human agents who apply the information thus gathered for future analysis and interrogation.

This passage in Leslie’s Case Study also reminded me of Popham’s article on “Forms as Boundary Genres,” in that the forms used by students and moved along the network system to different nodes / operators effectively transformed / were transformed by the localized exigency of the user and the activity. Given the nature of that movement, which Leslie points out resembles the serial / parallel bus structures of hardware theory, I could not help but think of the networks of a MOOC space, a thought I also had while reading Daniel’s Case Study. In my response to Daniel’s post, I wrote about his attention to Foucault’s “conditions of existence,” an idea that “seems [perfectly] suited to a discussion of the inner workings of a website, a “text” or locus of activity that for many readers conceals such rules and conditions.”

The connection between Daniel’s and Leslie’s thinking, then, emerged in this consideration of concealment or underlying structures that often go unrevealed, whether due to their existence as software / hardware “behind the scenes” movements or when they are considered from the perspective of agency. For example, what control (or creative agency) does the user of the websites Daniel discusses have upon the ways in which that data is used by those on the “back end” of the network’s framework? Similarly, Leslie’s observations about the latent hierarchies of power / oversight made me think of the user-design focus (could this be Spinuzzi creeping in?) and how the direction of information has the power to mediate the form or site of encounters.

There is so much potential application to my own OoS as a result of reading both Daniel’s and Leslie’s posts. I feel as though I’m going to need a bigger invention space than one Popplet will allow. Leslie, can I come and work on your studio  white board space?

And now, the promised audio — not a bridge metaphor precisely, but attention-getting just the same.

Synthesis Post: What did I learn from the Annotated Bibliography?

synthesis image

Michael Babwahsingh: “Putting Visual Thinking to Work”

First of all, let me say that after reading classmates’ bibliography posts, I’m convinced I must read this publication in its entirety. For this post, however, I chose to focus on readings reviewed by Maury and Summer.

I selected Maury’s post as she worked with an article that centered on rhetorical concerns of assessment models. Maury’s reference to the actual steps used to create the assessment rubric by Van Kooten and her students was – I think – particularly helpful in terms of referring back to using “existing systems” (print media networks), reminding me of some of the How Stuff Works articles describing WiFi. Such rubric building processes may suggest not only the “shortcomings” (Maury’s notes) of previous creations meant for another type of genre, but may also be worth examining in order to peer into how this new genre reveals a situational as well as theoretical gap. I’m reminded here of Foucault’s emphasis on the value of examining disruptions as a way to “disconnect the unquestioned continuities by which we organize, in advance, the discourse that we are to analyze” (Foucault 25). In the case of this article, those “unquestioned continuities” are the traditional rubrics of text assessment.

Summer’s entry focused on an article highlighting the “Language of Evaluation” and the “Language of Instruction.”

Her post reminds me further that the culture – might we say genre culture? – that guides and informs the logic and vocabulary of its discourse is often invisibly bound by the threads of its origins in text (again I’m reminded of Foucault’s archaeology as an analysis tool, which is proving useful time and again). Summer’s observation that the assignments described in the article represent “a network unto themselves between different kinds of technologies, students and teachers” etc. as well as a “network of shared skills” through collaborative work is particularly useful to me as I begin to think about how to explore the MOOC structure of my OoS. It reminds me that the concept of network can serve us well on multiple levels: visualization, logic and rhetoric, mechanical and organic structures. The web of possibilities is taking shape!

Spider Web Fractal by RavenMadArtwork

Spider Web Fractal by RavenMadArtwork

Summary of HTW Activity Posts: A Reading Overview & Mindmap Commentary

Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore! ~ Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz

In a few separate blog entries, I’ve commented on the thinking prompted by classmates’ HTW Activities  (Leslie’s, Daniel’s, and Suzanne’s). As I put these in the mix with my own reading response on WiFi and Mobile,  my mind wandered to some odd places as I attempted to fit all of these into a coherent set of connections — rhizomes again. What popped into my head was the famous phrase from “The Wizard of Oz,”

Lions, and Tigers, and Bears…oh my!

Why? Great question. I think it’s because so many of us might be considered Millennials in our embrace of technologies and networking (even if not in age range), and as such, we often use that technology without “seeing” deeply into its structure. These activities and readings bring those areas to the surface, and activities like those mentioned above — involving reflective assessments of who and what we are within that structure / network — brought that home to me.

For example, Summer‘s collaborative Popplet activity invited all of us to visualize how we are part of a cloud — a cyborg. The connections made by others, overlapping nodes, first reinforces the concept of cloud networking — supporting the argument that we are not operating in isolation, but are simply part of a transparent network of links and shared spaces. While I can appreciate that assertion on its face, when I think of how we as humans are still flesh-and-blood nodes (the organic) who are deeply entrenched in physical-based f2f communities, I wonder if this explanation isn’t a bit facile given so much of our field’s scholarship on the need to create pedagogy and learning spaces that embed f2f awareness and practices. As a composition instructor, reflective awareness of how I create lessons that embed technology (see Kairos publication review as an example of this focus).

Maury and Jenny both tackled Networking. Maury’s focus on network nesting really resonated with me, given this week’s Foucault readings and our work with mind maps and Google drawing. Visualizing the networking of our individual lives, and thinking about the hardware side of it all in my own HTW assignment (partnering with Chvonne) really exposed the 3- and 4-dimensionality of this space we’re exploring. Experimenting with the node-connection possibilities of IFTTT, and reading over classmates’ experiences with it, brought to mind the idea of mechanical vs. organic once again, but it seems the potential for complete creative independence is limited for the user. Here’s a repeat of my post onto Maury’s Google document to illustrate what I mean:

I lingered in the start gate on this one because I first had to ask myself what connections would be most useful to me. I’m not heavily embedded in FB, and I am fairly conservative when it comes to sharing or moving any photos (so no, I don’t Instagram). As I mentioned in my comment on Daniel’s post, this “meaning-making” or “meaning-making facilitative” program seems to add that organic back into the mechanical of networks, allowing us to become part of the “packet switching” function, I think. So, after I concluded what type of connection I’d find useful, the process was quite intuitive. But it did make me see the constructedness of the choices as boundaries. For example, I combined the NY Times with an email (I know, how unimaginative), but the predesigned options for “this” allowed no creativity on my part in terms of what I might value about the NY Times. So as a system or network node creation activity, this is still rather controlled.

Finally, when looking at Jenny’s Popplet of personal networks,  it’s interesting to note the variations among us. In our home, we do not own any SmartPhones and no game systems (unless our grown kids are visiting), so my network diagram is pretty simplistic. It’s a lot of hardware based hubs, which I chose to diagram through basic coloring.

So, here is how my current mindmap reflects all of these encounters (as well as my continuing journey through Foucault:

mindmap update 26 Jan.

26 January Mindmap Update


All in all,  my concept of the structural and conceptual scaffolding of networks, while certainly expanded through technology into both visible and transparent hubs as well as connections, seems much deeper now than when I started this class. Yet I’m also aware that sometimes, things aren’t always what they seem, and the very same boundaries and rule systems of meaning-making as exist in f2f discourse communities have the potential to infuse the way we use technologies.

HTW Activity Response 2: Daniel’s Social Network Nodes

I may be an oddity, because I only use one social networking site: Facebook. I have a Twitter account, but never use it. I know Google Hangout exists, but I haven’t used it either. So, I thought I’d subdivide the ways I use FB through some of its built-in naming or organizational tools that are designed to create network nodes: family, friends (with some overlap through work), and membership in groups. I completed this activity shortly after completing Leslie’s activity on Buses, and so when I began to draw connecting lines between groups, I began to think of how a single line can represent a means of transferring data … which I think this illustration implies. What this image could have included as well are unseen / untracked dispersion patterns. Facebook allows sharing, which often leads to data moving iSocial Network_ HTW Activity (Daniel)n unexpected, sometimes unintended ways. For example, I see a lot of interesting material posted on my ODU groups, which I then Share with either Friends or Work acquaintances because I see relevant applications / appreciations there. So does that mean I serve as a sort of CPU, or is that the Facebook space? And these connecting lines I’ve drawn — I’ve represented them as “serial buses,” but would it have been more accurate to represent them as “parallel buses”?

Interesting cross references here!

HTW Activity Response: Suzanne (Memory)

First, I’d like to thank Suzanne for making me realize that there is more to Google than I realized. Who knew I could make Venn diagrams on Google? (Apparently, not me before today.)

memory network

Amy’s Redundancy System

While I was making my brainstorming list, it occurred to me how stark the redundancy is in my “system” of keeping track of documents, creations, activities, and photos. I also realized that while I used to see mechanical means of storing / backing up memory items as a secondary go-to for my traditional paper trail (sticky notes on the wall, my desk, my computer screen, my fridge, and more), I’ve found myself thinking of my electronic spaces as “fail safes” — my banking system for my ideas and documents / items. Yet, when I think about the myth of stability of the Cloud and hard drives, I must admit I panic a bit. Thinking about all the digital photos I keep of family and events, especially. With a background in photography, I still have actual film negatives and prints around my house. With the advent of digital photography, I moved toward that media, amazed at how much more I can store; but how ephemeral is such media? I shudder to think what might be my reaction if ALL of my rabbit trails of memory housed in electronic or web-based devices suddenly went belly-up. So I have resolved to have paper / print backups of everything.

Redundant systems: it’s an engineering concept (and, if you watch too many movies like Dr. Strangelove, nuclear or apocalyptic applications as well), but I think it has a place in network applications / theories as well. Reminds me of some of what Foucault has been saying, with regard to a statement existing in multiple ways / multiple places — more existential than my examples based on fears of losing something, granted. But the Venn diagram also made me see that I think of each storage location a little differently – thus the labels. An interesting exercise indeed (although I’m still a bit unnerved about the continued nature of my storage systems’ seemingly transparent existence — out of sight, out of mind).

Dr. Strangelove, imdb

Dr. Strangelove, imdb