No Fee to Read Fee

A brief thought:  With Laquintano’s discussion of authorship in terms of what it means to write an ebook and what counts as authorship  (especially in a book with so much community input), I was quite shocked to see that Laquintano’s own name does not appear on the Sage Publication’s cover sheet for his article.  There are other identifiying marks––the DOI, the volume and issue and publication, the title––but so strange to me that his own name is absent.  I wonder what this may suggest about how Sage Publications views the function of an author and the author’s relation to a text.

And a lengthier thought:  Speaking of the community role in authorship, I found myself quite taken with Laquintano’s discussion of “Generating Publicity,” of how Ryan Fee, without charging a fee, freely gave away his ebook for free.  It wasn’t necessarily the act of giving away the book for free that surprised me––other artists give free concerts; for example, in Washington each summer the Spokane Symphony gave a free “Concert in the Park”––but what surprised me is how the community “asked questions, provided feedback, and suggested revisions” which then helped Fee “sharpen his ebook when he revised it” (480).

I would have loved to see Laquintano give us readers examples of that feedback.  As a compositionist, I am curious what sort of feedback the general public gives on a text.  Were these poker players correcting Fee in terms of his content?  Suggesting that, for example, you should fold when X happens but not when Y happens?  Or were they giving him formal critique––suggesting that his transition from this to that idea is clumsy, or that the chapter on the Flop moves much too quickly, or that chapter four needs a thesis statement?  Or, perhaps did chapter four have a thesis statement, and the readers said, “No, Fee, you need to make more productive use of uncertainty in chapter four and break out of its conventional form?”

I give these examples because I am curious how the general, non-compositionist public understands writing and revision, and I am especially curious if their comments concerned local or global issues (or both).  And I am curious too how Fee actually revised, how he did “sharpen” his text.  I would be interested too to compare the comments offered to Fee with those offered to Fitzpatrick (who pre-published her Planned Obsolences on-line similar to how Fee did with his text).

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Materialities of Literacy (Synthesis of class on Mar 26)

We began class with reviews of books that, by lucky chance, both drew on certain materialities of literacy: Justin on Ted Striphas’s The Late Age of Print, and reb50 on Jody Shipka’s Toward a Composition Made Whole. While we didn’t take up the books’ topics directly in our discussion, they framed our thinking (well, at least mine) on defaults in composition, and how it could be otherwise.

I started us off by having everyone write for a few minutes on the relationship between technology and literacy. This was my version of Haas’s “Technology Question,” “What does it mean for language to become material?” As Haas writes, “The materiality of writing is both the central fact of literacy and its central power” p. 3, the epigraph for our syllabus). We’ve been wrestling with this question all semester, and I wanted us to revisit it in light of Haas’s extensive and intensive treatment of it.

Another thing we’ve been wrestling with all semester: composing in new modes. So everyone split into three groups to collaboratively compose their response to this question with three different literacy technologies:  the iPad; notecards and a pencil; and magazine with scissors. Results were, as is par for this course, beautiful, creative and insightful (pictures below). (Sidenote: I had intended to give you a mechanical pencil with no lead, but it turns out the pencil still had lead. Interestingly, each group treated it as thought it didn’t! Perhaps to work outside to default of writing on paper?) Although we didn’t discuss each of the responses in great detail, Justin later mentioned that the act of composing in these challenging modes helped everyone to experience the material affordances of literacy technologies in a more visceral way.

We spent the bulk of our discussion on material affordances of technologies for literacy and on discussion of Haas’s methods, which are foregrounded in the book and which stand out sharply from many of the other texts we read in the class.

Some thoughts on technologies’ affordances:

  • it’s not just what tech allows us to do, but what it allows us to do quickly
  • affordances occur within contexts, especially of the experiences of the user
  • Haas writes that there are “theories of use inherent in any tool” (229) based on its design processes, but we clarified that to say that there may be things inherent in tools that we can’t grasp or get at (underlining the point about affordances as relative and contextual)

Other thoughts on technologies:

  • They are layers of accretion of many different things
  • They can be designed to reflect us within them (e.g., the iPad’s glossy screen)
  • There are bodily relationships to tech—muscle memory, aesthetic reaction, etc. (See, for instance, the Apple logo, which Eyma pointed out is an apple that has been handled.)

After a discussion of the affordances of the Wiki on our WikiComp experiment, we moved on to methods. Some thoughts from that discussion:

The specific results from Haas’s book don’t matter so much—many of them might be different today anyway. What we can take away is the methodology—the rigor and the occasional lacunae, such as when the tech of the computer is more rigorously described than the tech of the pen/pencil/paper. Reb50 suggested that the methods for the book allowed her to make room for future literacy tech developments. Lauren noted that Haas’s work means we can look at tech in this rigorous, quantitative way. Eyma wondered what these experiments might look like today—what questions and technologies would we choose?

Haas also offers us thoughts on how to do histories of technology, which we have encountered through Gitelman, Baron, Schmandt-Besserat, and others. Technology is a historical activity, although unLauren has some trouble with drawing clean historical analogies (and so does Gitelman). Kerry asks, can we have historical analogy as well as accumulation?

We each shared something we took from the book: I like that this book still holds up through its theoretical and methodological approaches, despite its focus on dated technologies and said that it was an inspiration for me in that way. Lauren liked the idea of “text sense.” Red liked the tracing of history of embodied tech (Latour’s “follow the actors”), and how we can “materialate” ourselves through tech (a coinage we all thoroughly enjoyed). Adam appreciated the work from Vygotsky—the embodied practice and socially available tools. Peter liked the ways of discussing reading and writing together. unLauren said the term “notemaking”(as opposed to “notetaking”) emphasized something creative about composition. Reb50 appreciated the instantiation of learning “acquisition”—all of the ways that we absorb culturally embedded ways of dealing with tech. Justin liked the “double whammy” of materiality in the book—how it affects the difficulties of writers. Kerry noted the relationship of bodies in space in the book00how we’re always interacting with things, even when we’re not aware of it. Kate liked the idea that we can’t move forward without looking back (the Janus face), and that as reader-writers, we have to read our own texts.

And for the record, Kate makes some mean minty brownies. Talk about material affordances!


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Haas and Intimacy

I found much to appreciate in Haas.  I like her continual association between reading and writing; it is the same association that is the foundation of Seminar in Composition and the Ways of Reading textbook: reading informs writing (she takes this issue up heavily in chapters three and four) and writing informs reading (though Haas doesn’t address this dynamic as much).

This connection between reading and writing and technology reminds me of a continual discussion in my home.  I’ve been considering a laptop, Kindle, or iPad for reading and writing at school – less books to schlep around, less paper for printing.  I am hesitant to do so.  Because I’ve a hunch that it would change dramatically how I read and write, I found Haas’s discussion of how technology mediates reading and writing fascinating.  While I suspect that if her experiments were done today the results would likely be the inverse (I hypothesize that more text would be created on the computer than via pen and paper), the spirit of her research rings true for me: that these are not neutral technologies and that technology has a large role in cognition.

I’m wondering, though, if my hesitancy to read on a Kindle is more than just a fear of how it would change my comprehension and note-taking and writing.  Haas, in comparing pen and paper to computer writers, notes that “Other writers reported that the ‘intimacy’ that they had developed with pen and paper is difficult to achieve on the computer” (55).  Intimacy, for me, is the key word here.  I suspect I have some sort of intimacy with my pens, papers, and books.  Yes, I have a favorite pen, and of my four copies of Moby Dick, there is certainly one that is a favorite, but I’ve never thought of this as  “intimacy.”  Intimacy, for me, carries a heavy emotional connection, and I realize that I do, in fact, have an emotional connection to the various technologies I use to do my work as a student.

I’m wondering where this intimacy stems from, and perhaps this is a question we can take up in class.  I suspect it is because much of my identity is wrapped up with my career as an academic, and much of that career is wrapped up in reading and writing, and much of that reading and writing is wrapped up in a pen, pencil, book, and computer.  I realize I have an intimacy with an Apple computer, such to the point that I won’t even consider using another computer to do my work: following out the intimacy metaphor, would that be adultery?  I admit that this intimacy makes me a little uneasy, because I do not like thinking that I am so emotionally tethered to material objects.  But I am.  We are intimate.

And, a small question that perhaps we could also take up: I like how Trisha, in her post this week, situates critique with the past and invention with the future, and, I admit, all this talk of futurity is exciting.  I can’t recall any of my other graduate courses––or undergraduate courses for that matter––speaking to futurity so often.  I like it.  And yet, I find that in my own life, sometimes it is all to easy to be thinking constantly of the future and the hope that it brings at the expense of living in the moment, appreciating where we are today.  And so, I wonder if to critique brings us to the past and if to invent brings us to the future, what sort of verb could bring us to the present, and what could be productive in the time we inhabit now.

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sleepless in st. louis

Hey everyone,

I’m having some thoughts over here in St. Louis and thought I’d share.

Last night I had drinks (is this okay to say?) with Doug Downs, who is my old mentor and was also one of the people asked to have his article (along with Wardle) revised for the WikiComp.  He thought it was such a weird request and is really curious to see what students do with his article, but he also thought it strange that he is, well, not dead: “Shouldn’t I be dead before they start re-thinking my work?” He also mentioned that he is still re-thinking his work.

This had me thinking and giggling, but mostly thinking, as I read through Haas and all her talk about materiality and how technology does or doesn’t change writing. In some ways I don’t think we have begun to understand how technology will help us make in the future sense, except as a medium for making, but I wonder how we could understand it more in terms of making materialities happen. As in, beaming people into our classroom. Almost?

Here we are re-thinking Selfe’s article, and she is alive and now so are her words (they are unfrozen), but we have not used technology to …have a (actual?) conversation with her about her article, about how we can make from here? I am mostly thinking about this after the Selber conversation, where we asked, okay, but so? What do we get from this? If Selber were there to discuss his book, what might we walk away with? What might we be able to compose out of his ideas? Annette kept asking: what is productive here? This is the forward move that Latour wants thinking to make. I like to call it affirmative invention, rather than looking back in critique.

I was thinking about a graduate pedagogy (or even undergraduate, if you are into the Writing about Writing textbook), where we read the articles, books, etc., but then we also have a conversation with the authors via skype or google or some other named entity.  This conversation would not be about liking or disliking the book, but about making and affirmative invention from the point of the book. That is, I wonder if this could be some kind of new way of thinking about the works we read and how to compose a future out of those works. Right now it seems we all sit around and talk about it and say some great things, but are unsure how to collaborate to write from that point. Instead, we re-hash or let the work, the piece or vitality of the words, die at the end of our class or perhaps end of our essay, etc. This proposition might not solve this at all, but I wonder how we could have some less likely conversations by skyping in authors like Selfe and others (so many r/c people are still alive!). This also might make authors more accountable to writing (composing!) something that actually matters.

Although, I ‘m quite sure that if we talked to Selfe about her article, it would drastically change what we felt able to say, able to re-compose. We might feel de-authorized.  In the interest of actually thinking toward futurities, though, this could be a perpetual way of keeping works alive.  This would also be a different way of understanding how technology and writing (or composing!) are co-constitutive. I think it also asks us to think about resonate materialities of human bodies and voices on screen.

As for the cognitive question: I’m still working through it, but my impulse is to think that would no longer be the right question to ask.

Okay, I’m off to the Latour panel!



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March 19 Synthesis: Computer Literacy vs. Computer Lib

We began with two lovely book reviews: Red provided us with an introduction-via-visual-artifacts to The Computer Boys Take Over by Nathan Ensmenger, and Kate detailed the historical strengths (and maniacal moments) of Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture.

I asked everyone to produce three cards based on our reading of Selber and then to play them in relation (or un-relation) to the headers from Selfe’s article, which we’re still grappling with as a group. (Time willing, I’ll try to organize a visual synthesis of some of that work to add to the blog later.) One of my favorite ideas that surfaced during this part of class was the idea that we need to pay attention to “maintaining literacies.” One card we kept returning to as a class, courtesy of Renee, reminded us that “In Burkean terms, educators remain divided over whether education should be a function of society or whether society should be a function of education” (7).

We expressed some ambivalence about the color-coding system I imposed, but that system did allow us to start a discussion about why all the “functional literacy” cards ended up clustered around student-centered concerns, while many of the rhetorical/critical literacy cards ended up being played in relation to assessment, curriculum planning, grants, and politics—in short, situations where we explain our work to others. I grew fascinated with the relationship between this clustering and Adam’s smart blog-post-mention of the difference between how we as teachers tend to learn things and how we ask our students to go about learning those same things.

The cards had pressed us to talk mostly about specifics and moments of interest, so after the break we allowed ourselves time to air to some of the bigger “issues” that we had with the text. Concerns about the rubric-y, assessment-y language of the text resurfaced. As did concerns about what it means to take scalability (and Selber’s fractal metaphor) seriously. I harped on market-speak and corporatization. unLauren shared the tidbit that Googling “digital literacy” takes you straight to a Microsoft microsite, where you can become literate in using stuff that is made by Microsoft.

A little bit of ickness was expressed with regards to the idea of having students (re)design websites from feminist or African American perspectives. Conversation pressed us to consider whether our own (potentially excessive) comfort with words and essays was intruding, making Selber’s design projects seem riskier or more unusual (hazardous?) than they might actually be. Relatedly, we worried about the practicalities of calling student attention to things like the issues faced by contingent or NTS faculty. I tasted some fears of institutional determinism.

We asked: aren’t these things that Selber calls for already happening? Are we on a path where the will inevitably happen? Where is/isn’t that true? Why write a book in this form? Who is the audience? Is it people who want to teach with tech but are scared to start doing so? Administrators who need an “authoritative” monograph to cite when they go looking for funding/institutional support? Teachers who may do some of these things but who think that it is appropriate to draw less systematically on technology?

We worried a little bit about where innovation, messing around, and fruitful but time-intensive failures go in such structured curriculums. We wondered about where code fit in and where Trisha’s students learning about spoken word poetry fit in. We wondered what it really is that separates a text like Multiliteracies from a text like Papert’s (beyond our ability to imagine the Papert card with its warm, fuzzy beard).  Trisha told us about the fabulousness of CMU’s Arts Greenhouse program.

In the end, we took a few moments to remind ourselves of some things that we admired in the text, and we collectively articulated some usable takeaways. unLauren distilled Selber’s still salient argument: English teachers can teach these things, and it is important that they do. Justin complimented the wonderful charts and encouraged us to consider the ways in which this book would be imminently usable for a WPA working across disciplinary lines. Red acknowledged that Selber had encouraged her to think about how functional, critical, and rhetorical literacies could/should/might come together in the class she teaches, where students are about to start using video.

ProfVee pointed out that one of the radical claims Selber makes is the claim that graduate students should have access to all the same teaching/technological support that faculty members have, which brought us back to a semester-long keyword: Futurity.  We addressed the—also pretty radical—idea that programs like the ones Selber describes and dreams can’t rely simply on innovative, individual teachers (or: problems with the cowboy model of teaching with and through and about digital media and /or computers). ProfVee also referenced broadly the ways in which this text suddenly seemed imminently usable in the context of our department’s strategic planning process. The scary 1984 bureaucratic machine was invoked.  We cringed a little.

But Ted Nelson’s amazing 1974 book Computer Lib / Dream Machines was also invoked, so all was good. We left thinking about how to love and understand computers/computation in a way that gets rid of the punch-card mentality. At least I did.

At the very end, we also made explicit the idea that our wiki-comp edits might be expanded to include Latour’s compositionism or something like Jody Shipka’s vision of composition, and the horizon receded in a pleasing way.

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Lit/Tech Systems as Dynamic, Contingent, and Negotiable: Selber’s Multiliteracies

Hello, all. For your readerly enjoyment, some potential conversation starters. As always, feel free to digress and/or to bring our wiki edits to bear.

* Multiliteracies for a Digital Age asks us to imagine what conditions are necessary for the creation of computers+writing assignments, courses, and programs that are “comprehensive, innovative, and relevant” (7). And Selber’s proposal looks (forgive my excessive reductiveness) something like this:

We make technologies’ dynamics visible by learning to make tech-things and to make with tech-things (obtaining and helping our students to obtain functional literacy). We make technologies’ dynamics visible by learning to take tech-things apart along temporal and ideological axes, to extrapolate or explore how they came to be and what power dynamics/ways of knowing supported that coming to be (in other words, we critique them, obtaining critical literacy). We make technologies’ dynamics visible by dwelling on how others—audiences—construct, interact with, and are influenced by technologies (obtaining rhetorical literacy).

Of course, I badly skewed the previous paragraph because I’m curious: is it fair to say that Selber’s is a book built around the practice of visibility politics? What happens if we do? I’ve got a history of uneasiness with the term, which is why I’m interested in these questions. Are there situations in which visibility gets dangerous with regards to computers and education? What happens when we throw the distinction between transparency and visibility into the mix (the two terms often get deployed as metaphors for the same concept, which strikes me as troubling and confusing and interesting). What about the Selfe in relation to this issue?


* In the [introduction standard] summary-of-things-to-come, Selber describes Multiliteracies’ fifth, crowning chapter as “attempt[ing] to help teachers develop a full-scale program that integrates functional literacy, critical literacy, and rhetorical literacy in ways that are useful and professionally responsible” (28). There are two things here that are of particular interest to me, and I’d be interested in others’ takes on them.

(1) The question of scale—what does full-scale mean or imply in this context? Do you buy the fractal metaphor, whereby the basic structure of Selber’s Multiliteracy approach is self-similar and translatable across scales? With regards to our conversation two classes ago, the issue of the jump from local curriculum planning to cross-institution policy making both troubles and interests.

(2) Relatedly, what values are betrayed by Selber’s coupling of “useful and professionally responsible”? What does it mean to be not just responsible but “professionally” responsible? Is this problematic for any one else?


* In light of our ongoing re-visionings of the Selfe article, I’m also curious: do we think Selber delivers as much usable how-to as he promises? Are the practical elements of the text convincing? Does this book from 2004 feel accurate to our current experiences, or does Selber too need an update? Do people have favorite example assignments? Given the chance, would you take (or would you have taken as an undergrad) the courses he describes? Are there implications hidden in the fact that many of Selber’s examples seem to come from technical writing classes?


* Selber is well tuned to the frameworks provided by colleges and universities; are there ways in which we can take the lessons of Multiliteracies and learn more about the sorts of extra-curricular situations that have been popping up in our class discussions? That is, what about other sites of learning? Community workshops and/or informal gameplay? —Selber makes it clear that other sites impinge upon the classroom, but in relation to that dynamic there seems to be more critiquing and rhetorically analyzing than doing. Do you all agree? See something I’m missing? He does mention having students do real client work to engage with business communities, but I’m trying to think toward less corporate interests.

In other words, what happens when we tilt classroom discussions of institutionality toward the university as a particular institution? That’s something I see happening not in Selber’s framing (which is broad ranging) but in his examples. I fully expected—perhaps in part because of the Selfe article that we’ve been wrestling toward the present moment—the types of assignments where students are asked to critique (culturally or rhetorically) interfaces and technology services. I was more surprised by assignments that asked students to explore things like the challenges faculty face when working with/through/against institutional technology issues.  Is dwelling on something like that really an ideal use of limited time? Is this part of being “professionally responsible” rather than just “responsible”?


* We teach and practice critical and rhetorical literacies, in part, so that we can know “what we’re getting into” when we make/consume texts and media. But maybe it is worth dwelling on the fact that sometimes knowing too much about where you want to go and how hard it is to get there can be a detriment rather than an aid? (I know; I know: the slippery slope. But this relates to my next and last point.)


* All semester, we’ve been navigating the terrain between utopia and dystopia, determinisms and systems in which we as individual humans have some sort of “power” to author our own experiences. Aware of this terrain’s many perils, Selber seems to be trying to provide us with a middle-ground model that is cautiously optimistic. In the chapter on critical literacy, Selber quotes Gee and suggests to us that our goal is “to resist while advancing” (98).

He reminds us that “educational systems organize and mutate over time” and that “open systems are living systems,” suggesting potentiality and/or futurity; yet in the same passage he warns, “inertia is in the direction of reductive functional approaches, and conservative minds can buffet even the best-laid plans” (191-2). The challenge, then, seems to be: to be the bodies that change the momentum of the systems within which we work, live, and imagine.

I wonder if overcoming of all that inertia might be aided by adoption of a wilder breed of optimism? Cultivation of wilder classroom dispositions? How, as teachers-students-administrators, do we sustain ourselves over the long-haul that change requires?


** Lastly, one small request for Monday’s class: bring (or be ready to produce quickly) three mind-sized bites (either from or not from your blog post is fine). Content-wise, anything goes: direct quotes from the text, tiny anecdotes from your own teaching or studenting or otherwise living, notes on other readings/concepts Selber called to mind, reactionary statements/opinions/feelings, a definition of a (new) keyword, a question you have about the text, really anything. Ideally, each bit should be something that can be summed up in a single phrase or sentence (maybe two). Be ready to label each bit based on which one of Selber’s literacies (functional, critical, rhetorical) it seems most directly relevant to. It would be lovely if you had one for each literacy, but do as you will.


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March 12 Synthesis

To summarize our conversation Monday night, we raised questions about discipline, humor, critical purpose, intentionality, access, passitivity, goals, and piracy.

Kerry and Justin had some very productive ways to encourage humor and kairos using some of the online tools.  They turned my premise around and said if we have this tool, what could it accomplish and had great conclusions.  Trisha encouraged us to think about these tools from the perspective of the person who made the software, considering the intent and how it was critically and/or purposefully made.  These things are put out into the world and used in ways possibly different from the creator’s intention.

Sam, a visitor to our class, pointed out that access is not just physical but also experiential and functional.  Perhaps we are overemphasizing the critical angle and not privileging enough these other goals.  And, of course, our goals do differ from those of students, who often use something just because and not because of its theoretical addition to the world of literacy.

From there, we shifted to discuss the possibility of creating a class around piracy.  Many angles were considered including, as Kerry described, what type of university would allow this and what type of student would show up.  This lead to Annette’s point that we have to help students accomplish their own goals as well as ours.

This part of our discussion concluded with the notion of genre and medium.  Annette explained that MLA now has a citation for Twitter, and we wondered if that makes it a medium.  Lauren continued to wrestle with the semantics of mode, medium, genre.  The articles warned us to think of genres as larger than the technologies that transmit them.

After the break, we discussed the wiki revision project.  We have narrowed our focus to the Selfe article and are going to add pages to make it hyperlinked, embracing the wiki interface more.  We talked about our ethical concerns with reducing the article to the summary form that is typically Wikipedia, but our decision to make new pages will, hopefully, allow us to create those “mind-sized bites” that we recognize and see as working in this space.  Finally, we defined our goals for this project:  supplement rather than revising the article and creating a concept of futurity.

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Resources I keep forgetting to share

Hi, digital-literates! Great to see you again last night.

I’ve been meaning to point you all to this fabulous piece by Richard Miller (a Pitt grad alum!) on “Reading in Slow Motion” (in pdf).  The accompanying blog post, “So Much Depends on the Carriage Return,” has a great reflection on open access publishing that you might find interesting. But the erstwhile journal article speaks directly to our “Moby Dick” conversation from a couple of weeks ago–the interesting practice of working on just one reading from many different angles. I’d love to try out the syllabus he describes there.

(And, incidentally, the class he mentions at the bottom of the blog post was my “Uses of Literacy” class, from Fall 2010. I learned of the article on Twitter and assigned it to my students almost immediately, as it spoke to some pedagogical questions we were exploring at the time. A lot of my students were fascinated by the syllabus and wish they’d had a class like that at Pitt.)

Also, in our edits for the Wiki-Comp this week, the recent piece in Kairos by Derek Mueller on distant reading CCCC Chair’s Addresses might be interesting. In form, it might also lend an answer to reb50’s questions in class about what technologies such as Wordle can allow us (and our students) to do or say.

Happy editing!

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