Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tech Camp 2010

Wysocki, Ann Frances. “Opening New Media to Writing: Openings and Justifications.” Writing New Media: Theory and Applications for Expanding the Teaching of Composition, 1st ed. Wysocki, Ann Frances, Johndan Johnson-Eilola, Cynthia L. Selfe, and Geoffrey Sirc (Eds.). Utah State University Press, 2004.

Yancey, Kathleen Blake. “Writing in the 21st Century.” A Report from the National Council of Teachers of English.

Lovett, Maria, Katherine E. Gossit, Carrie A. Lamanna, James P. Purdy, and Joseph Squier. “Writing with Video: What Happens When Composition Comes Of f the Page?” RAW: (Reading and Writing) New Media. Ball, Cheryl E. and James Kalmbach, (Eds). Hampton Press, March 2010.

Based on the three readings assigned for Syracuse Writing Program’s Tech Camp 2010, I was struck by the common argument insisting on the production of new media in the composition classroom over the (perhaps) more commonly adopted strategies of analyzing new media or applying new media to traditional print forms of writing. Lovett et al. made a strong argument for considering the production of new media texts in their “Writing with Video: What Happens When Composition Comes Of f the Page?” They assert that “When students become producers rather than simply consumers of new media texts they gain a fuller understanding of the ways in which new media shape how writers structure, organize, understand, and evaluate information” (5). For me, this seems an exciting way to facilitate classrooms where students are more active in their educational pursuits rather than passive consumers of it. Plus, students already come to the classroom with a range of new media literacies, literacies that hold weight in the ever growing image-driven world, as Lovett et al argue. The authors also point out the agency students already hold when entering the classroom, a writerly authority that should be fostered and upheld rather than dismissed or discouraged: “Students are experts of their own experience and educational pursuits, and when given the opportunity, they are often eager to share what they know. The course encourages students to demonstrate new technologies they are using, such as podcasting or sound editing techniques” (16). It seems new media fits in well when taking a more student-knowledge-centered approach.

Just tasking students with producing new media, however, is only a part of the calls for using new media in the writing classroom. As with any composition, textual or digital or otherwise, it’s important to acknowledge the social and political and material contexts, possibilities, and constraints. In Anne Frances Wysocki’s Introduction (“Opening New Media to Writing: Openings and Justifications”) to her coauthored book, Writing New Media: Theory and Applications for Expanding the Teaching of Composition, I was immediately interested in an early acknowledgement to the “materiality” of new media texts. The term and its multifaceted definition are taken from Bruce Horner’s Terms of Work for Composition: A Materialist Critique. The “materiality of writing” is described as referring to “socioeconomic conditions”; “networks for the distribution of writing, controls of publishing (in whatever forms), and global relations of power articulated through these”; “particular subjectivities”; “social relations”; and “the materiality of the work of teaching composition” (qtd. in Wysocki 3-4). For me, through recognizing what material restraints and possibilities come from producing new media, it seems as though students would simultaneously be analyzing and applying new media to their writerly tasks. Through even blogging, for example, participating writers might be privy to considering what material constraints and possibilities are evident: the labor involved; the technological access, knowledge, and skills required; the rhetorical power of content design and architecture; the political and ethical implications of arguing something publicly; the social implications of speaking to certain local and global audiences; the legal implications of borrowing words and images and ideas from other texts; etc. The materiality of writing as is described by Horner and summarized by Wysocki, then, seems an important aspect of teaching with new media that deserves careful attention from instructors. Using a blog as a means of writing in the classroom just to use a blog is a step, but I can imagine a much more fruitful and critical approach would be to consider as a class the material aspects of this kind of work.

I’m fairly convinced. My immediate concern, however, again goes back to the frequently posited questions we hear whenever calls for adopting new approaches in composition courses are made: How might I, the instructor, negotiate the inclusion of new curricular assignments and outcomes when I’m already pressed for time as it is? Should I eliminate other practices to make room for more of a focus on writing with new media? Just because I add in a component where students analyze, apply, and produce new media, wouldn’t it be naïve to assume that students will garner a better sense of purpose in their writing? These were concerns articulated numerous times by numerous writing instructors during Tech Camp.

This last observation—that which read: Just because I add a component where students analyze, apply, and produce new media, isn’t it naïve to assume that students will garner a “better” and more “organic” purpose in their writing?—is of particular interest to me. Yancey’s NCTE report, “Writing in the 21st Century,” attempts to contextualize, I think, some of the historical reasons for why students may not treat writing experiences as organic processes within composition classrooms. Yancey suggests that writing has historically been treated as a “rudimentary skill” or as a having the “predominant role in the testing of students” (3). Yancey offers a few broadly described goals in her disciplinary call for writing instructors to pay attention to the rise of new media and visual argumentation in the classroom, attention leading to new curriculum and pedagogical approaches. Perhaps because her focus was different and perhaps because of the minimal space she was afforded due to the nature of the genre she writes in, Yancey does not provide her readers with strategies or theoretical frameworks to guide instructors’ implementation of new media approaches to composition. I was left wondering, then, how students have responded to producing new media in the comp classroom. Do students really walk away feeling as though they achieved a more meaningful purpose than they would when writing more traditional print-based texts? It seems taking Wysocki’s argument for acknowledging the material constraints is a step towards tailoring assignments so that they speak to more organic rhetorical situation. Still, I can’t help but suspect that no matter our commitment to designing assignments for students in hopes of creating more organic writing experiences, it’s us still designing them. Students are still complying with our agendas. Students are still writing for a grade. Students are still concerned, therefore, with the “rudimentary skills” their instructor will assess by. Since a grade is attached to their performance, writing in the composition classroom is still rooted (as it has been historically) with testing. I wonder, then, if my struggle with interrogating this issue of “organic” writing has more to do with assessment practices than with students producing new media in the classroom. I am by no means trying to argue that there’s an easy way out of this dilemma. We teach in the university and grades and assessment come with the territory. I suppose I’m just compelled to complicate the issue a bit more based on the materiality of writing, as Wysocki suggests, and situate the issue within the politics of assessment and education more generally.

I’ll end here with a return again to Horner, as cited by Wysocki. I think I do this in attempt to offer some personal relief for the complicated questions that remain unanswered for me (and for many instructors, I imagine). While we may aspire to consider at all times the materiality of writing, it was a relief to me to hear of Horner’s recognition that “no representation of teaching or writing can exhaust the full range of their materiality” (xix, quoted in Wysocki). By recognizing that writing classes sometimes decontextualizes writing and, damn it, it’s ok that this happens, then it seems a reasonable task to also take a critical approach to acknowledging this with our students as well. At the conclusion of our time in tech camp and having considered some of the arguments of the authors we read together, I feel even more driven to have open dialogues about these issues of materiality, this being an important principle to apply to my upcoming teaching endeavors where new media practices will be more central to our writerly processes and our written products.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

CCR 760: Textual Coordination and Curation

Discussion Questions for Investing Textual Curation

We are interested in focusing on three topics of discussion that were gathered from our readings. Based on the kinds of technical communication described in our readings:

  • How do conceptualizations and practices of invention transform?
  • How are these authors alluding to what counts as “good writing”?
  • Who has authority in the kind of writing described by our authors?

A theme that seemed to resonate for us throughout each of the texts was authors’ tendency to view textual coordination as a type of “remixing” of already existing texts:

  • Slattery explains ways in which TCers borrow, move around, and re-use information. One strategy he describes is “Modifying,” a strategy where “writers were more often responsible for changing text and images than for creating them” (356, emphasis added).
  • Jones found in his study of corporate writers collaborating that “the writers focused less on producing text and more on developing, coordinating, and structuring the newly adopted corporate intranet” (456, emphasis added).
  • Describing the curation in Chambers’ Preface to Cyclopædia, Kennedy explains that “the Encyclopedic Author is…a compiler, assessor, and re-composer of texts” (123, emphasis added). She illustrates that “rather than aligning himself primarily with the first canon, invention, he sees his work as more closely integrated with the second canon, arrangement” (125).

If most folks in our field understand invention as prewriting and brainstorming towards creating original ideas, culminating as the fruit of reading, research, and writing labors, then how might these authors’ claims challenge such traditional notions? What may be problematic in privileging one definition of invention over the other?

In Jason Alexander’s plenary presentation last Thursday, he posed some interesting questions about the Cs position statement online that explains goals for how students might create “well-composed” essays. Alexander then asked his audience, “What does ‘well-composed’ mean?” and “Who gets to determine what well-composed means?” With his provocative questions in mind, we were struck by the following excerpts from this week’s authors:

  • Slattery’s title, for example, reads, “Technical Communication as Textual Coordination: An Argument for the Value of Writers’ Skill with Information Technology.”
  • Also in Slattery’s text, Carliner is quoted for describing qualifications of information designers: “They must be broad thinkers…The must be comfortable designing interfaces and interaction…have a good ‘eye’ for the visual look of a communication product and a good ‘ear’ for its verbal tone” (Qtd. in Slattery, 353, emphasis added).
  • Kennedy argues that “we can best understand this [encyclopedic] author as a textual curator in much the same sense as a museum curator: working to bring together the best textual samples available, assessing their quality, arranging entries in the most effective order, and writing a variety of additional texts to transform the gathered elements into a cohesive whole” (123).

With Alexander’s charge in mind, we ask: What is this “writers’ skill” that Slattery speaks of? How can we define for both instructors and students of TC what it means to be “broad thinkers” with “a good ‘eye’” and “a good ‘ear’”? Is it clear from our readings what “skills” are “best” and “most effective”? Can we imagine how these skills might be understood and described?

Last, we noticed these quotes as speaking to issues of agency and authorship of TC textual “products”:

  • “[TCers] seldom get to call the shots in terms of what tools they will use for this inherently collaborative effort. Client preferences almost always dictate the medium in which documentation will be published and the technologies that will be used for storing, retrieving, producing, and providing feedback on texts” (Slattery 357).
  • According to Jones, writers in his study worked on “a collection of documents rather than a document in and of itself” through “an ongoing project with no end” (Jones 462).
  • Referencing Wikipedia, Kennedy illuminates that “Originality” in Widipedia “is explicitly banned, to the point of specifying which possible peripheral forms of originality are not allowed” (120). Referencing Cyclopædia, she explains that “The basic goals of the textual situation at hand determine the form of authorship that can be successfully employed….The author’s agency, then, is indeed effected by both the demands of the rhetorical situation and form” (121).

Based on these examples (and any others you can think of), who—and (perhaps more interesting) what—has agency in technical writing in scenarios like those above? How do these constructs challenge romantic notions of the single author acting as “solitary genius” and “legal owner” over some supposedly “finalized,” “creative,” and “original” product?

Post-Activity Reflective Framework

  1. Based on the Collaboration Continuum framed by Jones, what kinds of collaboration did you participate in with your groups? What challenges/benefits were apparent?
  2. Imagining you took a different approach than you did, what other strategies/practices might have you undertaken? In other words, how might the co-authoring and collaboration have been enacted differently while obtaining the same ends?

From Slattery:

Techniques of Mediation

  • The author presents some of the patters that emerged from his study:
    • Textual re-use: “the re-use of information (such as phrasing or formatting) from existing texts to produce new documents” (355).
      • Whole-cloth (open doc, rename it, edit it for new purpose)
      • Pastiche (copy/paste from selected sources)
      • Direct and indirect incorporation (copy or change depends on the “fit”)
      • Feedback sometimes solicited
    • Remediation of information (“the need to move information from one medium to another” 355)
      • Retrieving (retrieving necessary information from/about client and/or document systems)
      • Staging (“ability to manipulate electronic and print documents”)
      • Producing (adding new information, words, formatting, etc.)
      • Modifying (more likely to change/edit rather than invent)
      • Sharing (collaborative work; social awareness needed)
      • Dissemination (media and audience awareness

Sunday, March 28, 2010

CCR 760: Diehl et al (2008) "Grassroots: Supporting the knowledge work of everyday life"

Diehl, A., Grabill, J.T., & Hart-Davidson, W. (2008). Grassroots: Supporting the knowledge work of everyday life. Technical Communication Quarterly 17(4), 413-434.

Abstract from article:

This article introduces a simple mapping tool called Grassroots, a software product from a longitudinal study examining the use of information communication technologies and knowledge work in communities. Grassroots is an asset-based mapping tool made possible by theWeb 2.0 movement, a movement which allows for the creation of more adaptable interfaces by making data and underlying database structures more openly available via syndication and open source software. This article forwards three arguments. First is an argument about the nature of the knowledge work of everyday life, or an argument about the complex technological and rhetorical tasks necessary to solve commonplace problems through writing. Second is an argument about specific technologies and genres of community-based knowledge work, about why making maps is such an essential genre, and about why making asset maps is potentially transformative. Third is an argument about the making of Grassroots itself; a statement about how we should best express, test, and verify our theories about writing and knowledge work” (413).


The authors report their experiences with and reasons for developing a mapping software called Grassroots, an interface comparable to Google Maps except Grassroots also works in conjunction with Web 2.0 features that permit users to design their own routes and store information. The authors draw on their research in WIDE (Writing in Digital Environments) and CACI (Capital Area Community Information) projects. These studies often included field observations, usability evaluations, and interviews with citizens working with designers for creating knowledge work. Based on their research, the authors examine how knowledge work is accomplished in the writing and using of mapping software, especially in regard to the rhetoric of mapmaking, the problems with mapping use in communities, and the potential possibilities made through Grassroots. They argue that since “the ability to create usable knowledge and meaningful action are too often assumed by planners” then, “Actual writing—work—is invisible” (419). Therefore, the authors present Grassroots as a means of making “visible the knowledge work activity that is required for common forms of civic participation” (422). Grassroots is illustrated as being an interface that is more accessible for users to accomplish their specific rhetorical and community-building needs in mapping: users can create their own maps; add photos, texts, and other media; augment information; add tags for searching; share and collaborate; etc.


  • Knowledge work: “By knowledge work, we mean analytical activity requiring problem solving and abstract reasoning, particularly with (and through) advanced information technologies and particularly with and through acts of writing. Johnson-Eilola (2005) notes that knowledge work is also typically concerned with the production of information, as distinct from the production of material goods, and he also points out that many of us do not just work with information, we inhabit it. Thus knowledge work, or what Johnson-Eilola calls symbolic production, is the making of largely discursive performances that, quite literally, do work (pp. 3–4)” (414).
  • Asset-based community development (Kretzmann & McKnight, 1993): “whereby community building is based on seeing communities as active participants of change and not passive clients (see also Turner & Pinkett, 2000)” (415).
  • GIS: Geographic Information Systems (GIS) tools as they have developed are principally geospatial databases meant for experts, although their use has been transferred to public domains as well” (418).
  • Web 2.0: “The Web 2.0 movement perhaps can be best described as the untethering of content and information available via the Web from the very places and pages with which we usually associated that content. That is, the information or content itself becomes the product and is created and distributed in such a way that it can be easily syndicated, repurposed, or added upon in ways quite possibly unimagined by the original content creators or distributors” (424).
  • XML: “Extensible Markup Language (XML) is not a traditional coding language, but rather a set of rules and standards for creating and distributing a semantically appropriate language for content, in a way that styles can then be applied separately and that allow for the contextual granulation of larger pieces of information into more discrete, separate units” (425).
  • Grassroots: “a simple tool ( largely on Google Maps so it allows users to create map locations using addresses or by clicking on the map, and we also added the ability to draw routes on the map” (415). This way, Grassroots acts not only as a map, but as a database for storing routes and other map additions added on by users. The authors “understand Grassroots to be an asset-mapping tool, by which we mean that it is intended to enable communities to name, locate, and thereby create maps of their communities using variables of their choosing and focusing as much on capacities as deficits” (427).

Points of Interest with Questions:

  • The authors liken “knowledge work” to “invisible work” where the value of writing, especially writing done well, is not visible (414). This reminds me of Marx’s argument in Capital about the fetishism of use value where labor becomes invisible in the commodification of products (414). Could this be a case for how much power TCers have in information design and/or an argument that TCers ought to be more ethically conscious of how design and rhetorical choices are made invisible?
  • The authors see an “intersection of writing and civic activity” (415), and since they believe that some mapping interfaces “can prevent people from acting as citizens,” they explain that their goal for Grassroots is to “render visible the knowledge work activity that is required for common forms of civic participation” (422). Connecting writing with citizenship and civic participation seems very Deweyan in the sense that education, especially as adopted in the composition classroom, recognizes learning and writing as a means of civic engagement. It seems from our authors’ understanding of writing, then, that writing is understood in the field of technical communication to be (at least in some cases) grounded in democratic conceptualizations. Though researchers from both disciplines may be accepting of this theory, I’m not so convinced that many students, of FYC or techn comm, would adopt such a stance on the purposes of writing (thus, service-learning in comp comes into play). Since I’m less versed in the pedagogical practice of the tech comm classroom, I wonder: What strides are (or can be) taken in teaching tech comm that foster a more democratic conceptualization of information and interface design? Is Web 2.0 our best solution?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

CCR 760: Albers (2003) "Introduction" to *Information Design*

Albers, M.J. (2003). Introduction. In Albers, M.J. & Mazur, B., Content and Complexity: Information Design in Technical Communication. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum. 1-8.

In this introduction to Content and Complexity: Information Design in Technical Communication, Albers illustrates the purpose of the edited collection, offers some general and introductory definitions of “information design,” and outlines each contributing author’s projects and arguments. As part of his discussion, Albers explains how difficult it has been to define “information design,” providing what he sees as some promising definitions from five varying sources. It is within the very first definition provided that I found some compelling areas of inquiry as related to the topics of ethics and technical communication.

The quoted definition from Janice Redish emphasizes the importance of considering the user as a first priority for information design, prompting the technical communicator to ensure that (through the design) users are able to “find what they need, understand what they find, and use what they understand appropriately” (2). This definition certainly privileges the user as the most important agent in considering what information ought to be managed and how information ought to be designed and presented, but it also assumes that TCers can know what the user needs. I wonder, then, how this assumption might be complicated when considering that the clients (those folks paying technical communicators for information design) are not the end users and so the end users may not often have a say in such content management and design. I’m left wondering: How might this claim (that end users’ needs are the most important element in determining information design) conceal (or at least fail to acknowledge) the political and ethical implications of TCers being the ones who actually choose, store, organize, and design information knowledge that will eventually be accessed, received, interpreted, and applied by users?

I understand, of course, that some users may be consulted in the information design process, but I imagine that for at least some content on the web--like online dating search engines, for example, where users are given selective and predetermined criteria to choose from when searching for potential mates—most users never have a say in what information is to be managed through criteria or how that information is to be designed. I realize how impractical it would be for all end users to provide input on the information they seek, and so part of the TCer’s job might be to investigate and imagine the needs and wants of potential users. Still, I’m left with the old “chicken or the egg” dilemma. Do TCers design information based on what users need, or do users merely end up relying on what TCers design? I imagine it’s a bit of both, but I wonder to what extent. I suppose I’m concerned it might be dangerous to assume that it’s mostly end users’ needs driving good information design and not the TCers’ and/or clients’ own assumptions, experiences, and goals. Recognizing this dilemma, Albers thoughtfully suggests that information designers “must avoid their own affinities, prejudices, and jargon, while developing a design” (7). But isn’t subjectivity in any composition inevitable and wouldn’t it be more precise to just acknowledge our subjectivity instead of pretending we can avoid it?

Also in his short introduction, Albers sends me through another ethical whirl spin when he explains that information design “must be considered the practice of enabling a reader to obtain knowledge” (7), and argues that the potential problems in creating effective designs has to do with making the design invisible to the user:

The hard part for the information designer is making the design disappear. Rather than being something the reader focuses on, the design must carry the information to the reader in a clear manner while remaining out of sight….In a good design, readers can effortlessly extract the information they need without being conscious about how they gain information” (6-7).

In other words, the TCers job is to make sure s/he erases any traces for how the information was designed so as to ensure the user experiences the content as painless and least confusing as possible. This seems a worthy outcome for TCers since I imagine most users just want to grab the info they need and get the hell out of there without having to waste any time considering the processes TCers took in gathering and designing the information. And though it seems a bit goofy and impractical to confront this argument with Marxist and Freirean claims that it is detrimental to knowledge construction and to the experience of knowledge seekers when gatekeepers aren’t forthcoming about unveiling the structures that so neatly design and package the knowledge seekers seek, I can’t help but see the value in doing so. I’m not going to argue that information designers need some sort of disclosure where users get the 411 on how much information designers subjectively construct the knowledge users receive. I’ll leave this blog post as unsure about this dilemma as I was when I started. I’m left unsure (and uncomfortable) with how TCers and/or researchers in the field might proceed when considering (a) how to be more forthcoming to users about the influences of TCers’ subjectivities, and (b) how to be more transparent about how information designs construct the knowledge users seek and perceive.

Oh my.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Johnson-Eilola (2005) *Datacloud: Toward a New Theory of Online Work"

Johnson-Eilola, Johndan. Toward a New Theory of Online Work. Cresskill, New Jersey: Hampton Press, Inc., 2005. Print.

Authors as Symbolic-Analytic Workers

People in this type of work identify, rearrange, circulate, abstract, and broker information in response to specific, concrete situations. They work with information and symbols to produce reports, plans, and proposals. They also tend to work online, either communicating with peers (they rarely have direct supervision) or manipulating symbols. (28)

Johndan Johnson-Eilola’s description quoted above is in reference to “symbolic-analytic workers”—those folks working under titles such as “investment banker, research scientist, lawyer, management consultant, strategic planner, and architect” (28). I imagine for individuals researching in the field of comp/rhet—like me—this passage can be read synonymously as the work of writers writing. We too “identify, rearrange, circulate, abstract, and broker information in response to specific, concrete situations.” We too “work with information and symbols to produce reports, plans, and proposals” among other genres of writing. We too “tend to work online either communicating with peers…or manipulating symbols” through various avenues of collaboration, most times without “direct supervision” or explicit direction or guidance from our mentors or superiors. For me, writers—whether we’re novice students writing in first year comp or we’re seasoned professors writing for publication—can be seen as “symbolic-analytic workers.” While I imagine for compositionists this analogy may not be all that surprising, I was struck by imagining this analogy, mostly because I personally hadn’t ever given much attention to analyzing the role of digital technology when it came to “academic writing.” Of course, I considered the possible limitations of generic formats such as Word when it comes to composing (which the author nicely criticizes on page 105 as too linear for the ‘clouds of data’ strategically negotiated and creatively assembled by today’s digital worker), and I’d considered how much technology impacted our research practices, but I guess I just hadn’t given much credit to (nor really acknowledged the potential possibilities of) digital technology when it came to our writing formats and practices. I was realizing the limitations of writing genres, but I wasn’t realizing any real alternatives for transforming them.

Johnson-Eilola, a teacher of writing and innovator of transformative approaches to genres for writing, (see Johnson-Eilola and Selber’s “Plagiarism, Originality, Assemblage,” which I need to revisit since now buying into Johnson-Eilola’s argument here) apparently makes similar connections as mine as is apparent with his likening of symbolic-analytic workers to rhetoricians. His emphasis, though, remains on the intersection of technology and rhetoric: “we might think of symbolic-analytic workers as technical rhetoricians or rhetorical technologists” (29). When it comes to the modern understanding of the term “rhetoricians,” it’s now a bit challenging for me to separate the two terms “rhetoric” and “technology,” especially when it comes to writing (which, as I can’t seem to stress enough, surprised the hell out of me).

If ya’ll are interested—as I am now—in learning about some of the ways that Johnson-Eilola has implemented a transformed approach to writing genres in the writing classroom, you might want to check out his article from Computers and Composition, “Plagiarism, Originality, Assemblage,” that he co-authored with Selber. We read this in Becky’s authorship class and I plan to revisit it since now buying into many of Johnson-Eilola’s arguments in Datacloud. See my blog below to read the summary I wrote on this text last semester.