“A structure is defined by what escapes it.” Brian Massumi, as qtd. in Johnson-Eilola 175
A colleague of mine (a fellow composition instructor who has a fondness for old typewriters — as do I) posted the following video link to a FB thread today, and our recent readings immediately invaded my innocuous audience participation.
My first thought when I saw this was of our recent CHAT readings and the concept of remapping existing frameworks of meaning (i.e., the rhetorical canon). The text-based explanation is immediately reminiscent of Hardware Theory, with the overlaying or repurposing of one technology — and its associated rhetorical practices — with another. In some ways, it reminded me of this week’s readings by Joyceand Johnson-Eilola in terms of the way we approach hypertext and web writing; in others, I could see Latour‘s ANT at work (but perhaps that’s getting ahead of myself). I must say that of all the works assigned this week, Johnson-Eilola’s prompted the strongest connective potential for my MOOC work, while at the same time presenting me with new questions (such as the distinction she makes between geographical and geometric as ways of visualizing the spaces of hypertext and reading/writing). Her article — recalling as it does Foucault’s concepts of ecologies, Spinuzzi’s activity-based discourse communities, and genre theory — suggests to me it may well be a suitable Case Study Theory node for my next step.
The idea of borders and “border crossing” (which the above video seems to do on several levels — from repurposed technology and activity to (re)mixing genres) seems to be part of everything we comp/rhet (as well as literature) scholars write about, in one way or another. Quoting Giroux, Nostalgic Angels illustrates how the theory of “border pedagogy” (198) can be applied as a means of exploring hypertext reading as mapping the intersections of activity and even tensions — nodes. Yet Johnson-Eilola’s chapters from Nostalgic Angels seem to critique the postmodernist motives and interpretive activities as an undercurrent to her exploration of how hypertext has become a theorized object. From Popham‘s “Boundary Forms” to Miller‘s and Bazerman‘s exploration of genres as border-busting devices, “the difficulties of our border constructions” (Johnson-Eilola 3) become nodes of critical activity. However, these nodes — as hypertext — do not always function in idealized postmodernist ways. While Joyce’s chapters seem to laud, and even idealize, hypertext writing as a means of exploding and remapping existing texts, Johnson-Eilola’s critique of two examples of hypertext applied as literary analysis serves as a powerful rubric by which to test the theory’s promise.
The work of CHAT by Prior et al. advances an argument for remapping not just the borders but the geographic and geometrical spaces of that node and its related activities. Johnson-Eilola, as well as Joyce, have focused this conversation on the object of hypertext, whether as a creative power of activity that makes possible new nodes and new connections — enhancing agency (Joyce) — or as system that may actually be less utopian than advertised because it all too often is “constructed in a web of institutional forces acting as a form of nostalgia (Johnson-Eilola 7).
South of the Border Sign
This concept of nostalgia struck me as a repeating theme for several of our readings. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Prior et al. write about remapping the canon in ways that made me question whether we can ever truly remove ourselves from the traditional rhetorical canon. Even their online theory-testing space at times renders this remap in traditional book-based layout or visual cues. This is a cautionary point made by Johnson-Eilola as well, as she states:
“We recognize the apparently radical enactment of nonlinearity inherent in the node-link structure of all hypertext; we proclaim in various ways that revolutionary potential; and then we immediately rearticulate those potentials in terms of our conventional, normal practices” (13-4).
Such pinpointing of nostalgia, and the tensions of contradiction exposed through critical assessment / applications, become a way to test such border technologies as hypertexts, argues Johnson-Eilola. I agree, finding that her critical analysis of applied hypertext examples recall Spinuzzi as well as Bazerman, Miller, and Foucault in that such a practice of juxtaposition of “the different discourses of hypertext can highlight some of the political, social, and technological forces constructing our lives” (14) — even our scholarly theorizing practices. But that leaves the question: what map do we use? Even Johnson-Eilola addresses this question, especially as a critique of the postmodernist views of truth and knowledge…views that remind me of Neo’s spoon dilemma:
I could go on for some time about Nostalgic Angels, but there is Latour to note. He too takes on this concept of borders — nodes and “geometrical shape[s]” (24) — as a means of making sense. However, I am not convinced he and Johnson-Eilola meet eye-to-eye on this subject. In an early chapter, Latour seems to push back against the use of borders as critical activity centers, preferring instead to focus on the “actors” and “movements” (25). It seems he is asserting that the most productive focal point is not the node-as-theory, but the tracing of connections, the patterns, and the relations “between the controversies themselves rather than try to decide how to settle any given controversy” (23). Essentially, this “Actor-Network-Theory” — a concept that reminds me of Foucault’s traces — asserts these disruptions and tensions are where we must look for clues to understand that network’s (or social group’s) construction, structure, and function (30).
And so, what might these chapters offer my Object of Study (composition MOOCs)? Clearly, the way readers move through online spaces — often by using hypertext or other socially-constructed navigational tools — reflect mediated movement. Recognizing that mediation leads frequently to theoretical tensions (a la postmodernist deconstruction), but may also be explored in terms of “border spaces” or nodes through which movement (activity) might be traced. In terms of composition pedagogy, such movement in an online space carries great significance, especially in terms of production and agency. I am looking forward to applying both Latour’s and Johnson-Eilola’s lenses in the next round of Case Study application.
Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. New York: Oxford UP, 2005. Print.
Last week’s adventure in online Lego building was (1) intimidating, (2) enjoyable, (3) illuminating, and (4) somewhat humiliating given my apparent limitations when it comes to “story-fying” my Lego constructions. (And yes, I did just make up a word.)
So that became the focus of this week’s Mindmap — admittedly one of my more minimalist Popplets. However, given the activity-based nature of our class last week, and the limited discussion of the CHAT article as an entire piece (which could easily have taken several more hours, given its richness and complexity), it seems appropriate.
The Lego build activity was illuminating because — just like this week’s Rubric activity — it was a way to visualize the applied theory evident in the CHAT article segment on “Take 2”. Using the LEGO build as well as the Rubric creation brought to the surface ways to visualize — not only the theories and the networks — but how to critically activate or test these applications by seeing them in new ways. The term “critical pedagogy” showed up in this week’s readings (Johnson-Eilola), “conveniently” juxtaposed to our recent visualization activities. So it is only natural to think of our LEGO creations (or Prezis or sketches or Word Art masterpieces) as well as the creation of a more traditional academic visualizing tool (a rubric) as employing critical pedagogy in this way. How apropos that the CHAT’s structural emphasis on hypertext reading / writing as a means of resistance could be framed by our assessment of its theorization and clarity by using both a ‘non-traditional’ means like LEGO building to demonstrate our understanding of said theory, as well as a ‘traditional’ assessment model (rubric building). I must say, having to illustrate my understanding of a theory using a Lego build is a first – but it was entirely and deeply meaningful.
This 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 thoseOutcomes 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.
How 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
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:
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.
“Given the collaborative and integrated nature of this week’s assigned readings, I’m opting to treat them all in one post.”
The addition this week of the Kairos publication on canon reform, Re-situating and re-mediating the canons: A cultural-historical remapping of rhetorical activity, extended many of the frameworks I’ve been applying thus far to our class conversations as well as my OoS. (Even more, as it pertains to teaching composition.) Coming on the heels of an operationalized theory (Spinuzzi), the authors and researchers involved with the creation of this collaborative work — itself the very epitome of a network — evoked a strong link to the Rhetorical Situation theorists we began with (Bitzer, Vatz, Biesecker). However, I think I imagined Foucault’s most throughout these readings. This seemed especially pronounced in the introductory section as the authors argued that “classical canons have always represented only a partial map of rhetorical activity” (Prior et al., “Introduction”). Even in the construction of this node-based composition, Foucault “speaks” to me. After all, this text resists in multiple ways the homogeneity of linearities that Foucault argued were germane to a book-based literacy and culture (with which Wysocki and Johnson-Eilola concur).
As I annotated the text, I remarked how appropriate it seemed that the “Mapping Page” – or the “Start Here” node – serves as the main navigation hub, yet the nature of the web text allows the reader to enter at many other points, driven not by a directed funneling of cultural convention or theoretical bias, but by reader-centered agency. Even so… it also occurred to me that the authors may have also purposely built in familiar rhetorical structures in their decision to place each node / design the overall structural image of the page, possibly creating some of the latent system (a “back door,” of sorts) to the type of navigation system assumptions we text- / book-based readers / scholars might operate under. For example, the introductory text is located in the upper left corner of the web page, which for Western readers signals the “starting point.” This despite the rhetorical choice of situating the “core text” (made especially visually relevant by it’s stand-out choice of red as the color, along with it’s circular shape differentiating it from the rest of the articles (all square).
Perhaps, just as it seems Shipka and Chewning were doing in their visual construction of their research text and Prior et al. suggest by offering multiple versions of the “Core Text,” these authors are creating a “mapping overlay” for us, using both the canon of rhetorical tradition as well as their remapped and reconceptualized view of rhetorical activity. While I do not believe they intend to suggest a 1:1 trade, the layout does seem that the same logic is at work, the same understanding (Foucault’s rules) of how knowledge sharing works for readers. In other words, I wondered if this is a means of foregrounding the multimodal levels of this network of ideas in a way that makes the invisible structures — whether the gaps or the traces –- (Foucault) more visible? Reviewing my Foucault notes, I discovered a statement that captures my sense of these two rhetorical activity theories existing within the same plane. Foucault is writing of objects, but might we see the concept of rhetorical canon / rhetorical activity an object of analysis as well? Of course, this is precisely what Prior et al. seem to be doing in their proof of concept. Foucault writes that “[b]y deriving in this way the contradiction between two theses from a certain domain of objects, from its delimitations and divisions, one does not discover a point of conciliation…. One defines the locus in which it takes place; it reveals the place where the two branches of the alternative join; it localizes the divergence and the place where the two discourses are juxtaposed” (152). At the same time, I imagine Foucault would see the traditional rhetorical canon as every bit a “traditional history of ideas” (166), a force of sorts that hides or resists the types of “discontinuities, ruptures, gaps, [and] entirely new forms” (167) which Prior et al. propose as necessary to the transformative effects of technology and multimodalities. Through this juxtaposition of theories, the Prior et al. collaborative text (could we even refer to this as an “event”?) seems familiar as a “redistributions” (Foucault 5) of the familiar nodes of rhetorical activity.
The authors’ definition of CHAT is based on activity theory, so it is no surprise (but a delightful discovery) that the “Core Text” offers not one but three activities of reading and knowledge making by presenting what at first glance seems to be the same text delivered through three forms: PDF, Audio, and HTML. I took the time to review all three forms, and found that the Audio version provides the “motives” (Miller 152; Bazerman 309) behind the rhetorical activity, narrating as he does the “traces” of the creative context that are lost in the PDF and HTML versions: his daughter crying, music, sounds of nature outside.
“You Are Here”
Place, then, becomes part of the discourse – a reference to the book Cognition in the Wild – a very relevant concept to analyzing multimodal and networked spaces of work and creativity. His design magnifies his point about the limits of the traditional canonical elements of invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery, and addresses his question, “What mediations, what kinds of detours, might delivery of a text involve?” (Prior, “Core Text: PDF” 6). This approach offers us what I might call a more “open” means of applying a sense of reading and/or texts as engaged with a system of networks, a map which demands we consider a complete “remap the territory” (Prior, “Core Text: PDF” 17) that we call rhetorical activity instead of a “retrofit,” in large part due to the binary framing pattern of speaker / audience on which the original canon was built. Given the complications and multiple possibilities for identifying just the act of “reading,” what Prior refers to as “lamination” (“multiple frames or fields co-exist[ing] in any situated act”), such thinking carries considerable weight for our work with networks.
Prior’s “Remaking IO”builds out from here, providing a case study in which such a remapped canon might apply to multimedia tests. However, I did wonder once again: are we still relying on the basic “genetic” elements of a traditional canon – the way we refer to language, text, author, reader, reception all seems to suggest that there is a multi-dimensionality here which may still rely on much of the same knowledge base. I was reminded of the 3-D chess set in Star Trek. The pieces in this 3-D game are the same, as is the goal, but the board has changed and therefore requires us to re-see the connections and possibilities from a very different sense of motion (potential energy of nodes once again – activity theory). With the new “board,” some new moves are now accommodated, and the flow of activity has been altered – or has it merely been expanded? This is the image I think of when I read Prior’s explanation of remapping and lamination.
Moving on to Van Ittersum’s Data Palace, dealing with another canonical element – memory – provides a pivotal tool for applying this concept. Van Ittersum writes that one goal of CHAT is to “direct our attention” to new nodes of activity, expanding our approach to rhetorical activity to incorporate systems terms – the role of the culture (the laminated layer offered by cultural-historical theory) AND the individual (the rhetorical canon’s binary core). Van Ittersum’s work points to an experiment that may impact the way I explore MOOCs in terms of seeing this a system of transfer and navigation, along with tools of memory (like using digital tools to maintain our note-taking records, for example), to see online activity as the means to “mobiliz[e] information within complex systems of tools, environments, situations, and people” – which in every way describes online classroom spaces like MOOCs.
Karen Lunsford’s work on “Remediating Science” in terms of socialization was a fascinating look at the “other” directional flow of this networked means of understanding rhetorical activity, one that rests heavily on cultural-historical theories of genres, I think, when that genre is both the text as well as the delivery / medium. Lunsford demonstrates that while conventions and rules (Foucault, Bitzer, Vatz, Biesecker, etc.) may inform the discourse community’s knowledge framework (i.e., what should a journal article look like), the digital system of publication itself “informs, shapes, and itself evolves thanks to the need to remediate a standard means of discursive practice – sharing of knowledge, a publication” when that publication moves to a digital space (Lunsford). She refers to the negotiations among those involved as an attempt at “alignment” of all the activity taking place (or being forced forward) between nodes – the researchers, journal editors, discourse community members, peer reviewers, publishers. CHAT, then, successfully “direct[s] attention” to ways in which the rhetorical activity of a science journal editor “is situated in concrete interactions” (Prior et al., “What is CHAT?”), framing the ways these nodes function and interact to “co-construct” this culture’s “material, formal, and social practices” (Lunsford).
Finally, as I pointed out in my MindMap blog commentary for this week, the project of Jody Shipka/ Bill Chewning in “Live Composition” modeled for me what Prior et al. refer to as “images of rhetorical activity” (“Introduction”). The purpose of this article seemed to be to demonstrate how applying views made possible by varying network activities (audio narration, text-mediated narration, image-mediated narration), as well as moves to “recontextualize” the event (the act of narrating) and the composition activity at the center of the analysis, cause us to “pay attention” to the nodes of production as well as the text being produced (the artifact). The synchronization of each of these nodes creates yet another distinctive “remediation” of the narrative event, demonstrating and making visible (Foucault) the complexity of this human activity in ways that a traditional process model might not capture in such a degree.
The article is multifaceted, and at times seems to be approaching the text from multiple entry points. The introduction sets the stage to begin “rais[ing] questions about whom and how many people are recognized as active participants in the production of a process narrative” (Shipka and Chewning). Each iteration privileges different information and lenses, whether the student voice, the teacher’s curricular designs, the researcher, or the reader’s response / interaction. Further, just as the CHAT lens is designed to do, the authors point to “the importance of attending to what participates in the production and reception” of this narrative. Their attention to the types of “mediations …[and] kinds of detours” that might be produced through these means are also under scrutiny (Shipka and Chewning).
At the forefront of my mind as I was navigating (not “reading”) this text, I found myself recalling the importance of Foucault’s attention to the “here/not here” of trace as part of conceptualizing discourse and history. In addition, I was reminded of Spinuzzi’s comments on disruption/innovation via “resistance…and chaos” (20) –- both in the way the authors describe their motivation behind the classroom activity at the center of this piece, as well as in the very design of the delivery.
Such disruptions were also part of my experience as a reader of Shipka and Chewning’s rhetorical activities in the form of their article’s design and flow. For “Telling 4,” I found myself at an impass when the .wmv file refused to play on my Mac. So in order to “participate” in the telling, I had to circumvent this software issue. Perhaps this was an intentional move on the authors’ part, to select a non-universal media player, as a way to suggest (draw our attention to) the barriers, borders, or limitations of the network’s reach? Or perhaps this was simply a glitch, with no rhetorical meaning intended at all. Yet, because we are using the CHAT theory to explore the canon as an activity, rather than static nodes or rule systems, such an event or deviation certainly must become part of the analysis – a continued lamination of parts (Prior, “CHAT”) in this complex human activity of discourse and discourse analysis.
Spinuzzi: Traffic Systems (image from NobleEd.com)
This last week’s introduction to Spinuzzi created all sorts of unifying connections to the Popplet! And yet…
The trouble is, I have been thinking that now is the time to integrate a 3-D element. I had been considering creating a separate Popplet to link in, the bottom layer as theory (which works rhetorically as well as visually, as it would provide the foundational support to all that connects on the application layer), the superimposed layer as application or operationalized theory — an act of dispersion, perhaps? My hesitation to integrate this layering thus far is that producing such layering on a 2-D map will inevitably create a loss — and, I think, a significant one at that, given the way we’ve been conceptualizing networks. Placing all the network connections and elements on a single plain does have its merits — for example, the rhetorical implications of equality of elements and influence. However, that also creates a dilemma — we risk falling into Foucault‘s trap of the History of Ideas’ linearities. Unlike wire-frame software programs like AutoCAD, our Popplet space does have its visualizing limitations. It’s great to show the breadth of our connectivity of ideas, but not the depth.
This became especially clear to me as I was trying to show visible and overt connectivity through our little gray lines (which cannot be optimized through coloration) between the theorists — for which I’ve tried to create labeling mechanisms via color. Also, the space cannot truly capture the layering of these connections, such as an image of the body’s circulatory system here:
PC World Screen Capture from Zygote Body program
Before breakthroughs in computer imaging, we might render this complex system using page overlays. (Remember those books with clear plastic pages that created layers upon layers of details, from sailing ships to the human body?) However, technology makes it easier to convey knowledge multimodally…sometimes. Foucault emphasizes the importance of the seen/not seen when it comes to discourse analysis, as does Spinuzzi, Biesecker, Miller, and Bazerman. So even while I’m creating a Popplet to demonstrate knowledge network nodes and connectivity, the rhetorical situation that IS the Popplet space is defining the WAYS I am able to render this.
(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.)
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.
The Power of Analogy: MOOCs and Hardware Theory (How Stuff Works)
The Value of the Lens
The value of what we might call “hardware theory” (for this project, this reference is to the collected “How Stuff Works” readings) is both practical as well as theoretical when used as a lens through which to analyze my object of study: a Composition MOOC. In fact, it appears to be a nearly flawless fit, given the overlapping functionality of the vocabulary used to define MOOCs in this instructional video:
Further, the theory provides concepts that are key to understanding not only the hardware but also the relationships between hardware and software when used to make and exploit connections. These very same concepts often mirror the issues, practices, and structural considerations of an online composition classroom space like a MOOC.
those in higher education toward online learning in general (but especially for freshman writing courses) seem to be based most commonly in pedagogical theories (Kolowich). For example, Jones and Singer, in an article to be presented at the 2014 CCCC, make the observation that these tensions exhibited toward educational MOOCs are not just manifestations of “techno-phobia,” but “a conflation of the … model with the whole of the MOOC movement” (1). In other words, the individual writing classroom application is interrogated in the context of a larger trend. While framing the subject in this way seems to drive many of the discussions in our field, and often incorporates a discussion of access-as connectivity, a narrow focus on pedagogical theory may not closely examine network paths as physical / mechanical components that allow such connectivity to take place. Therefore, it may be productive if we first examine this structurally to reemphasize how a MOOC’s networked structure may actually reinforce some of the Compositionist’s pedagogical outcomes (i.e., WPA and NCTE frameworks) as Glance, Forsey, and Riley explore in their article.
The Network as Infrastructure / Space
A MOOC, as the above video describes, is “learning in a networked world” (Cormier), but is in some very basic ways very much like off-line courses in that it involves students, assignments and materials, a facilitator, activities that promote knowledge or data generation, assessment, and an infrastructure or space where this learning and communication take place. Applying a network / hardware lens in order to define this object of study builds upon these pre-existing instructional design systems, frequently using language that carries over from the face-to-face composition classroom (assignments, essays, peer review, due dates, writing process, etc.). Yet, as Cormier states, “a MOOC is not a school; it’s not just an online course. It’s a way to connect and collaborate while developing digital skills.” Interestingly, a MOOC is described not simply in terms of knowledge or skill dissemination; it is described in more dialogic, distributed agency terms. Cormier even describes it as “an event around which people who care about a topic can get together and work and talk about it in a structured way.” Therefore, an additional means of analyzing this educational space is needed, in order to account for the digitally-mediated spaces of access and the means by and degrees to which the technology itself informs and defines this as an object of study.
Another relation to network is also the most obvious: the medium. While initially the term might be read as a reference to the digital nature of the course, the medium might also be explored as a node of communication. For example, Pappano writes that “the lecture” – however brief — is still the most commonly used delivery / pedagogical tool with which to share knowledge. MOOCs frequently deliver course content via short instructor videos, but also may rely on discussion threads (a common feature of Blackboard) or blogs to facilitate connectivity or activities assigned. The home page of Georgia Institute of Technology’s composition MOOC explains that its platform is comprised of a series of instructor-generated videos, along with “recorded ‘Hangout” discussion sessions. These are “complemented by” other, unspecified multimodal materials for assessment and activity.
Nodes & Buses
Borrowing terms from articles found on the site “How Stuff Works” offers a beginning, but there are publications that highlight the usefulness of this analytical approach. For example, Jeffrey Young refers to the means by which the classroom becomes a node of dispersion and connectivity as a “platform,” a term that connotes a physical launching or foundational place upon which the classroom emerges. However, his article refers to a software component (Blackboard) much the same way others might refer to a physical classroom or institution. Thus, this hardware/software “node” of the online learning network structure opens new possibilities of discussion in terms of theorizing digital spaces, from platforms like Blackboard to Facebook, Google Hangout, or online tutoring (Fredette 32).
By incorporating the analogies afforded by such articles as “How PCI Works,” the concept of a bus — defined as “ a channel or path between the components in a computer” (Tyson and Grabianowski) – may serve in some situations as a synonym for a network node, a focal point of transference and intersection. If, as the article states, we understand a bus as a means of connecting all of the vital components of a computer to the primary hub – the centralprocessor – it is possible to extend this powerful analogy to the way an online classroom functions. In the case of a MOOC, this is especially advantageous as the concept of a “serial PCI” may be used to discuss both agency of participants as well as the relationships between nodes. The “serial bus is a one-lane road” (thanks to Leslie Valley’s research into buses for the video), while a parallel bus allows more traffic, in multiple directions. This analogy suggests a means of thinking of the multiple network paths made possible by a MOOC classroom design. Whereas a f2f writing classroom often involves one node of facilitation or direction (the instructor herself), typically in the direction from instructor to student (although in a very effective student-centered design, student-to-student learning also takes place), a composition MOOC may be designed to allow multiple avenues. For example, in the MOOC at Georgia Institute of Technology, the instructor as well as learning center tutors participate in the instruction; conceivably the student-designed multimodal assignments also contribute to the learner-centered knowledge exchange. By thinking of this system of exchange in this way, issues with labor, technology divides, and other areas of tension frequently associated with online learning may be discussed in terms of structural terms.
The structural nature of a network itself provides new ways to interrogate and explore a MOOC as an educational space. Thinking of such a system in terms like routers or switches or modems allows us to focus on the subject of information transfer, which raises the subject of agency. As instructors – whose packets of information may be disseminated through texts or eBooks as well as discussions, videos, web activities, etc. – we must examine how such information delivered from a distance might be transformed by the path and mechanisms of transference. For example, a successful MOOC experience demands that the technology – like a router — “handles the traffic to and from other networks” or nodes in a way that maintains the integrity of the material. But we might also think of the boundaries (which may be how we might see routers) MOOC students must face. What if a student experiences access issues due to technology? Further, routers serve as gatekeepers of information, moving, redirecting, or even halting information between networks. Such a concept resonates strongly among Compositionists, as student access and agency have become bywords for our field over the past several decades. Moreover, using such hardware terms allows us to consider the identity assignment function of a router when discussing issues of digital identity and persona when planning for a Composition MOOC.
In summary, some of the most compelling ideas prompted by this theory when examining my object of study has to do with connectivity, another article found at the “How Stuff Works” resource. In the FYC classroom – whether f2f or online or in a MOOC – the collaborative nature of the course design is an essential element. It is likely safe to state that Compositionists reject the idea of an FYC classroom that follows the Banking Theory model (Friere) that was so prominent in our field’s past. This hardware theory provides powerful, analogous language and imagery with which to explore what is still an emerging topic of study: the MOOC.
Spinuzzi’s work is a practical application of theory, and as such serves as a fulcrum of sorts on which many of our previous theorists have “play.” Spinuzzi’s book illustrates a methodology which he refers to as “genre tracing,” a means of “examin[ing] how people interact with complex institutions, disciplines, and communities” (23), at times with results not unlike that depicted by the image above. More importantly to our approach to networks (especially those that develop by overlapping existing structures), I believe, is his insistence that this methodology concerns itself with the way workers develop “unofficial…work practices and genres, by adapting old genres to new uses” (23). He advances this method of analysis as a counterpoint to what he refers to as “user-centered design approaches” (x), which he critiques in subsequent chapters as one that creates a “victim narrative” as a way to create binaries of community and actions – in other words, dominant hierarchies. His work provides an interesting illustration of the work we’re doing, combining existing theories to create a new lens, one suitable to a specific object of study: information design. For Spinuzzi, this involves a study of traffic workers, a study that examines both “traditional” means of analysis (the designers at the top of the solution hierarchy) as well as the user-centered “innovative solutions.” Spinuzzi resists choosing one over the other – perhaps what Foucault would refer to as applying a theory of “unities” (26) – and promotes an approach that blends Genre Theory with Activity Theory to information design problems or situations (4).
Spinuzzi’s work explores two competing discourse communities (designers and users), all the while echoing many of the works we’ve read thus far: Bitzer’s systematic rhetorical situation, Foucault’s ideas on unities and irregularities / roles, Popham’s boundary forms and genres, Miller’s and Bazerman’s work with motives and action, the work by Bourelle et al. on digital assessment, Biesecker and relationships, and agency as it relates to localized discourse patterns / needs (which all of our authors thus far have touched upon to one degree or another). Perhaps the most interesting passage, I found, was his integration of Bakhtin’s ideas as they relate to communication practices. The concept of centripetal and centrifugal “impulses” (20) creates a fascinating analogy with which to consider the discourse practices of these two communities: designers and users. His suggestion that the centripetal describes those discourse communities that gravitate toward the “formalization, normalization, regularity, convention, stability, and stasis” – the official line (20) – appears to effectively characterize the sort of knowledge creation privileging Foucault points to in his work. The centrifugal, on the other hand, represents “resistance…, innovation, — and chaos” (20), features that seem more conducive to discussions of agency and the realism of the work place than its counterpart. This passage alone – combined with his list of justifications for using genre tracing as a methodology (22-23) – opens numerous points of connection to our course discussions regarding the ways we envision networks functioning and moving knowledge. This is a rich resource, which will no doubt make its way into my next Case Study.
As a final thought, the tensions Spinuzzi points to brought to mind several images: push-me-pull-you animal from Dr. Doolittle, as well as a very old Abbott and Costello movie – in particular the scene found at time hack 2:00. Both images suggest a unified network of organic origin, often faced with opposing impulses, very much like the average work place.
Abbott and Costello: “Have Badge Will Chase” (1955)
This past week’s class activities brought a lot of moving parts into one place, allowing me to begin operationalizing many of the connecting nodes (i.e., theory) we’ve been absorbing. For example, even as I wrote this last sentence, I began to question whether my use of the term “node” really captures the latent kinesthetic power and potential activity or “motive” (Miller) that node implies through relationship or connectivity. As several of our theorists have expressed (Foucault, Bazerman, Vatz), the action is where our analytical attentions should be focused. Seeing nodes, therefore, as potential activity — whether as a router or a switch (“How Stuff Works”) — is an essential component of fitting all of these puzzle pieces (theory and objects of study) together.
Potential Energy: Physicsclassroom.com
Physics refers to this idea as potential energy, which has been defined as “the stored energy of position possessed by an object” (The Physics Classroom). I seem to be constantly dipping back into the realm of physics (a class I did not pass as an undergraduate — but that’s another story), perhaps demonstrating the viability of network theory as a way to connect not only concepts but actions as well (thinking here of interdisciplinary work).
In the mindmap for this week, that idea of nodes being storehouses of energy (or knowledge, as the case may be) fits some of the connections I found myself making as I reviewed our classroom notes. The discussions of theory application and function reinforced the “power of analogy” that theory can provide. In an earlier post, I asked the question, “Is that what theory is? A metaphoric framework whereby we take an existing accepted structural system and treat it as an analogy-based means of translating knowledge or data?” Perhaps it is, indeed.
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.
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!