Tag Archives: writing

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.



Genre Readings & Applications: Miller, Bazerman, Popham, & Digital Assessment

ggraphic Substance over Form

Substance Over Form

The readings this week on Genre Theory (listed below in the Works Cited section) represented a bit of a paradigm shift from the more intense theoretical frameworks of Foucault and Biesecker. And yet… I found myself making both of them a touchstone reference again and again. The concepts of difference and trace, as well as disruptions, etc. returned to mind repeatedly as I read about Miller’s and Bazerman’s attempts to define genre “as a stable classifying subject” (Miller, “Genre” 151), not as a system which derives its definition by focusing on / creating a set of classifying characteristics — in essence, an object. Rather, the works by Miller and Bazerman insist that the most productive and rhetorically viable way to approach the concept of genre is much the same as Foucault and Biesecker — it’s all about the activity, the connections, and the relationships.

The  Miller and Bazerman article sets provide both vocabularic underpinnings as well as ways to apply “conceptual and analytic tools” (Bazerman, “Speech Acts” 309). Miller situates the concept of genre as a “stable classifying concept” that is not to be applied as a static form but “on the action it is used to accomplish” (“Genre” 151). This emphasis aligns her with what we’ve read of Foucault, Bitzer, as well as Bazerman, and the turn toward “social action” as the motivating interpretive force behind genre as a tool of analysis. Miller’s “Rhetorical Community” article extends this basic primer by reconsidering her use of the concept of “hierarchy” (68). She reframes her earlier use of the term by applying a new set of concepts: pragmatic or action, syntactic or form, and semantic or what she calls the substance “of our cultural life” (68). She also creates a link with Foucault when she presents genres as “cultural artifact[s]” that can change as cultures evolve (69). Thus, a genre can represent relationships and activities, not simply assessing an inventory of formative characteristics.

Bazerman‘s article on “Speech Acts” adds a considerable collection of terms to our vocabulary list, contributing such terms as ilocutionary, perlocutionary, and locutionary as analytical concepts that can be used to examine speech acts. “Locutionary” refers to “what was literally stated” — the facts (314). “Ilocutionary” refers to the intended act response of the discursive action (314). “Perlocutionary” then refers to the “actual effect” of the action (315). He establishes a hierarchy into which we can place the relationships between genres, facts, and speech acts — creating a system of nodes, a network that might represent (to Bazerman) “systems of human activity” via discourse (319). In order, this hierarchy builds from “social facts” (312) to “speech acts” (what “words mean and do”) (313), to genres (316) and genre sets (318), on to genre systems (318). These concepts are likely some of the most relevant to our current discussions, as they provide a means of making connections between  disciplines or communities in applied situations, to which Popham refers in her article “Forms as Boundary Genres.” Briefly:

  • Genre set  – “a collection of types of texts someone in a particular role is likely to produce” (318)
  • Genre system –  “several genre sets of people working together in an organized way, plus the patterned relations in the production, flow, and use of these documents” (318)
  • System of Activity – a means to “identify a framework which organizes their work, attention, and accomplishment” (319)

These terms provide us with a means to apply a genre theory as an activity-based (rather than form-based) means to focus “on what people are doing and how texts help [them] do it, rather than on texts as ends in themselves” (319).

In “Systems of Genres,” Bazerman then uses these concepts in an illustrative application of patent forms and the system in which they function to make and shape discursive meaning. His reference to the dangers of allowing our understanding of genres as merely “sediment[ing] into forms” (80) becomes clearer as he walks us through the history of patent systems and their associated texts, demonstrating as he does the activity / formative powers of the genre forms upon the culture and history impacted by this system, creating an understanding of genres as a textual variation of a “speech act” that exists “precisely where langue and parole meet” as an active node site of action (88).

The practical application of genre theory continues in Popham‘s article, which provides the clearest sense yet of how texts (or genres and the communities that use them) can locate a boundary of action — not of object. Her practical analysis of the way medical forms create a boundary space between the medical, scientific, and business communities provides an interesting example of how genre theory, combined with theories of networks and rhetorical situations as we’ve explored thus far, can be successfully applied to real world situations as a means of illuminating those “gaps” or traces to which Foucault refers.

Finally, the online text,  Digital Writing Assessment and Evaluation: Forward, Preface, and Afterword, situates our studies within the discipline of higher education and specifically writing studies. In the ancillary chapters, the authors provide the rhetorical situation our field finds itself in: in the midst of the current debate over machine-scoring essays, as well as “what writing is and what it means to write” (Lunsford “Forward”). The emphasis of this work is primarily on “developing … appropriate forms of assessment and evaluation” for digital / multimodal writing (Lunsford), and in doing so situates itself squarely in the midst of our discussion of genre theory and, thanks to the emphasis on digital spaces, network, mechanical, and rhetorical situation theories as well. In short, this collection brings the theory home for those of us engaged in scholarship in English Studies.


Works Cited

Bazerman, Charles. “Speech Acts, Genres, and Activity Sysems; How Texts Organize Activity and People.” What Writing Does and How It Does It: An Introduction to Analyzing Texts and Textual Practices. Mahway, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2004. 309-339. Print.

Bazerman, Charles. “Systems of Genre and the Enactment of Social Intentions.” Genre and the New Rhetoric. Eds. Aviva Freddman and Peter Medway. Great Britain: Burgess Science Press, 1994.  79-101. Print.

Bourelle, Tiffany, Sherry Rankins-Robertson, Andrew Bourelle, and Duane Roen. “Assessing Learning in Redesigned Online First-Year Composition Courses.” Digital Writing Assessment and Evaluation.  Eds. Heidi A. McKee and Danielle Nicole DeVoss. Logan, UT: Computers and Composition Digital Press/Utah State University Press, 2013. Web. 2 Feb. 2014.

McKee, Heidi A., and Dànielle Nicole DeVoss DeVoss, Eds. Digital Writing Assessment & Evaluation. Logan, UT: Computers and Composition Digital Press/Utah State University Press, 2013. Web. 2 Feb. 2014.

Miller, Carolyn. “Genre As Social Action.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 70 (1984): 151-167. Print.

Miller – “Rhetorical Community: The Cultural Basis of Genre.”  Genre and the New Rhetoric. Eds. Aviva Freddman and Peter Medway. Great Britain: Burgess Science Press, 1994.  67-78. Print.

Popham, Susan.  “Forms as Boundary Genres in Medicine, Science, and Business.” Journal of Business and Technical Communication 19.3 (2005). 297-303. Print.