Donna 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?
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.
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.
“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.
(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.
Over the years, higher education has experienced a variety of shifts, some qualifying as seismic (such as admitting women), others deserving more modest descriptors (for example, electronic textbooks). Add to the seismic column the distance learning classroom. Yet even that arena of growth has seen variations that now may seem tame; for example, distance learning programs have a surprisingly long history, as this graphic from the website Straighterline illustrates.
Creative Commons image; author M. Branson Smith
In my own lifetime as a composition instructor, I have witnessed the growing demand for online course offerings – and with that growth tensions between pedagogy and university business models. However, the field of English Studies appears to be progressively engaging this trend, if publication records are any indication. (See this link for the CCCC annotated bibliography on online writing practices.) A thread in this conversation appears to invite intense scrutiny, and is my chosen Object of Study for this course: MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses.
“What Is A MOOC?” EdTechReview. Image and video. 15 March 2013. http://edtechreview.in/dictionary/198-what-is-a-mooc
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. Specifically, I plan to examine Composition MOOCs, as writing courses – especially freshman writing – are 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. For example, MOOC-based composition courses, such as that described in a paper being presented by Sherry Jones’ and Daniel singer at the 2014 CCCC on incorporating gaming in the classroom, also open up new potential for digital pedagogy.
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. As I am largely unfamiliar with MOOCs, opportunities for discovery and exploration are rich, and I anticipate unexpected nodes and layers emerging as I progress.