Last week’s activities asked us to apply our network questions to the Ecology readings of Syverson, Spellman, the Cary Institute, and fill in the gaps with Guattari, resulting in new connections for my mind map. And even though Syverson’s was the “applied Franken Theory” example, I really found that article the most compelling (thanks to its connection to Composition, relating back to my OoS). It situated the theory in an already moving, dynamic system with concrete nodes of application and inquiry, reminding me that this is exactly what we’re creating in Popplet.
My take-away from this week’s map has to do with the ways in which definitions shape our application of theory. Granted, that is an obvious observation, but thinking of ecology in terms like agency, networks, and nodes made me realize what a very useful theory it will be when working with my OoS: MOOCs. Even though, as Dr. Julia pointed out, the Academy sees Ecology as a “mushy” science, I believe it is that flexibility that makes it such a dynamic and useful framework with which to examine complex systems — and composition classrooms are certainly complex. One of our group members in our Google Doc activity last week posed this question: “What is “meaning” in the ecosystem? Is it the interaction among environment, organisms? Is it the tension between these?” This question of meaning must certainly begin with the way we define an ecosystem, and since meaning evolves from perspective, our role and position within that ecosystem — our agency as participants — must become part of our analysis (or so says Guattari).
Our class conversation pointed to a possible reason why I was not entirely comfortable with Latour’s ANT approach, one which Ecology may answer. When we deal with humans and technologies and communications, the variables resist the sort of “flattening” Latour asks us to do. As Dr. Shelley remarked, Latour’s emphasis is on the individual’s trajectory, not the group itself. While this certainly serves a useful purpose in some situations, in systems within which collaboration and connections are as dynamic as they must be in an “ideal” composition classroom (where the teacher is not the arbiter of perfect knowledge), I’m not always convinced the individual writer is the only player with agency. As the ecological readings point out, it often comes down to how we “scale” what we’re theorizing.
Mind Map Week of March 30th
So, in my mind map for this week, I “up-scaled” an image to try to show “the big picture.” I made several new connections between our recent readings and some of our previous topics (Foucault as well as the “Where I Write” activity) based on this sense of being part of this emerging ecology of thinking, reading, and theorizing (although I think the Ecology readings could connect to every node in my map in some way). Thus, this is why I included an image (or “snapshot,” as Dr. Shelly called it) of the entire network as one of my Popplet nodes with the subtitle, “Ecologies: What It’s Really All About.” Here is where Guaterri makes a big difference for me — humans / students / teachers are not simply observing the ecosystem. As participants and framers simultaneously, we must see ecology — not from the God’s eye view — but through a lens placed “deep in the weeds,” as part of that ecosystem, with an awareness that as the ecosystem changes we are changed as well. It’s always already in motion.
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.