Tag Archives: cyborg

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”: http://academeblog.org/2012/12/03/courage/

8.  The Chronicle of Higher Education – “What You Need to Know About MOOCs.” Frequently updated hub of articles:  http://chronicle.com/article/What-You-Need-to-Know-About/133475/

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



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.