Tag Archives: genre

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.



Reading Notes: Spinuzzi

Spinuzzi, Clay. Tracing Genres through Organizations: A Sociocultural Approach to Information Design. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003.

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)

Mindmap: Applications

Mindmap for 4 February:

4 Feb Connections

4 Feb Connections

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

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.