Learning/Activity Inventory

Goal number one for the course challenged me to develop a working knowledge of the complex, ongoing relationships I will encounter as a composition professional and educator. On the first day of class, we were asked to reflect on and take stock of the composing practices we have: where do we compose, with what software, in what environment, how do we research, etc. That’s a good practice, and it’s one I ask my own students to do in composition classes, but after 516, I have a deeper appreciation for why I might continue such a practice. I think Geoffrey Sirc was getting at some of these same questions in his “Box-Logic” piece. What are students producing, and how? Are they only words-in-a-row, analytical-expository or argumentative essays? How are they composed—with shallow reference to sources that students might barely engage? If our material conditions situate our student writing in, as I loosely quote Sirc, a “mildly bored” and “middlebrow” style, when will substantial learning take place? My own and my students’ composing practices are important to take stock of periodically.

Digital literacies certainly interweave the domains I experience in terms of writing pedagogy, communication technologies and composing practices. Selber’s framework of functional, critical and rhetorical literacies made, to be informal here, a whole bunch of sense. As a composition instructor, I think it’s important for me to know how literate my students are in a given application. So, for instance, if I ask my students to begin a blog, I’ll want to consider pedagogy. I might first take some class time to get in and play around with a blog-building application to spend time exploring and discovering with my students the functionalities and tools of an application. At the same time, and as I noticed we did in class when we explored wiki sites, twitter, gliffy, Google Sites and other technologies, critical discussions might be opened. What are the default settings? How do the default settings impact the composer? If they are changed, what more might be discovered?

At the same time, and with such questions, I might be encouraging my students to also be thinking of or thinking ahead to becoming rhetorically literate. How will they compose in this environment? What might they have to say, and how might they express it? Selber’s literacies, it seems to me, are not independent stages of development; rather, they seem to be closely intertwined. In class, I noticed how I became more blog-literate throughout the semester, and I think it was important for us to take time in class and discover and explore the WordPress site where I eventually created my blog. The discovery process took some time; for instance, I didn’t use images in my blog at for the first few entries, but then I noticed how much more interested I became in my classmates’ and others’ blog entries when they used images or videos (I’m thinking specifically of Aylen here, and Derek Mueller and Johndan Johnson-Eilola), so I thought, well, if I want to make a persuasive blog, maybe I need to start putting some images and some links into my entries.

I’d also like to take a quick look at goal number two, “Compose a series of texts as a distributed, recursive process that adapts to rhetorical contingencies, that responds to distinct audiences and genres, and that requires thinking and rethinking ideas,” before moving to how I might evaluate myself. I think that the cookbook overview, and this present post as well, have helped me draw connections between prior blog posts and my keyword project, and both the cookbook and this reflection have given me pause to notice discursive connections within the texts I have produced (much of that came through to me more clearly in the overview piece).  I also take this cookbook/blogging practice to be ongoing; in other words, I will be thinking and rethinking both the content/texts/blog posts I composed this semester as well as ideas that are slowly forming, ideas that are now just sprouting (as I discuss further down in this post) based on the connections I have made through this cookbook.

Looking at my blog through the semester and setting the goals for this course against the evaluation spectrum, I think I fall in that space between acceptable and exceptional on the evaluation spectrum. I think I certainly tilt toward the exceptional end for number two: sustained, regular rhythm. I posted at least once a week (this is my twentieth post of the semester) and tried to respond to comments, when I felt like it warranted a response, as quickly as possible.

For the third evaluation point, evidence of connective thinking, I think I tilt toward the exceptional end for the work in my cookbook. In an early entry, I was prompted into linking in a response to this post, and throughout the rest of the class, I think I regularly linked and drew connections between readings we did in class and the topic(s) for the week. Here’s a question I pondered at times, though: how much linking it too much linking? Do I really need to link to the Amazon page of Stuart Selber’s “Multiliteracies” text in every post that I mention it? And to what site should I link to if I do–Amazon? Or maybe the publisher’s website, or the Google Books site? Does thinking about my audience play into these decisions–is it more of an academic entry (publisher’s page, then) or an entry targeting a more mainstream audience (perhaps Amazon or Google, then)?

The fourth evaluation point, evidence of experimentation, seems, perhaps, the most relative of the goals list. Blogging was familiar to me only in the sense of knowing that other people did it; in other words, I was familiar with the conventions of blogs as a reader, but I had never blogged myself. Even though I publish regularly and am read by the news-reading public in a mid-sized city, putting my writing and thinking “out there” as a grad student, as an aspiring academic in the field of comp/rhet, has pushed at the edges of what is familiar, for sure.  As for experimenting with what is possible, I point to my cookbook overview, which I placed in a Google Site. I was inspired by the scholarship of Madeline Yonker and Derek Mueller, and I wanted to submit a “paper” in a way that I had never attempted before. Formatting difficulties aside, I found the capacity to hyperlink within such a digital genre brought a sense of immediacy and a connectedness that I hadn’t really experienced since my days of writing history essays using Chicago-style footnotes. A difference, of course, between those footnotes that I loved to write and read and hyperlinking is the far greater, vast potential of links in terms of connecting and directing attention.

As for the first point of evaluation, evidence of rigor, I suppose I kept for last because I’m not sure how close I arrived to exceptional. I think my work in the cookbook is certainly acceptable and met expectations, especially in terms of inquisitive thinking about course readings. In the Wikis entry, for example, I consider some of the potential uses and complications and issues I might encounter as an instructor who might compose a wiki assignment or project for composition students. I questioned my own practices in this post on search engine literacy. I attempted to critically assess my own use of search engines while at the same time thinking about how I might approach lessons or discussions about search engines in the classroom.

On the other hand, though, I’m not sure how well I documented my thinking about writing done by colleagues. I did read the blogs of my classmates, and I regularly read the blogs of Alex Reid, Johndan Johnson-Eilola, Derek Mueller and Steve Krause. My encounters with these blogs, and the thinking that they spurred, didn’t necessarily show up in my own blog via links or references. That’s something I could have been more attentive too. I was impacted by what I read, though, and as I wrote my cookbook overview, I realized Alex Reid’s blog, and his postings on the WPA-L Listserv, have become items I seek out to ponder over and find connections within. I realize this as I think about another aspect of this cookbook that I might have developed more: blogging about my keyword project. I kept my exploration of the word “Agency” largely separate from my blogging. I think I was very focused on blogging about readings for the week and didn’t find the time to blog about some of the other readings I was doing independent of the shared class work.

In some of those keyword readings (of which I hope to blog more about over the summer as I take stock of the work I did in my first year of grad school and look forward to next year), I might have discovered a way in to my Master’s project, which is still very much in the nebulous and formative stages. In a first semester grad seminar, I vaguely remembered hearing about how genre studies, activity theory, and actor-network theory were on the cutting edge of rhet/comp studies. I took note, thinking, That’s where I want to be–the cutting edge, and stored away that info in the back of my head. In my keyword project I read this piece by Bruno Latour, and, through conversations with colleagues, have become quite convinced that my summer will be dedicated to a literature review of ANT and those in rhet/comp studies who have grappled with how ANT might be brought into or situated in the discipline. So what does all of this have to do with my cookbook? Well, it was through that keyword project that I had become increasingly sensitive to the language surrounding Latour’s work, so when Alex Reid posted this I leaned in to read, and when I did, I discovered this from Ian Bogost. So I guess what I’m saying is that, in terms of evaluation, my cookbook blog might not have made the explicit connections and linkages it could have, but, at the same time, it was because of those other linkages I’d made (in the blogroll, exploring other academics’ sites) in the cookbook that I find myself finishing my second semester of grad school, heading into perhaps my final year when I will be constructing what I hope to be an exceptional grad project that contributes to the field I wish to enter as a professional, feeling much more confident than I did when typing up my first few blog posts.

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