Sharing, Tweeting, and Authorial Control

The purpose of sharing information on social media is to spread content. However, in order for it to spread, it requires the creator to let go of some of the control. As Johnson-Eilola points out, the model of a single author speaking in a unified voice needs to be revised as “we live (and literally are at least partially ‘composed’) at the nexus connecting an apparently infinite number of social and technological forces of varying weights, strengths, and directions.” While most instructors of process-driven writing argue that a text can be endlessly revised and improved/updated, the revision and updating is often discussed in terms of the original author. We may have “conversations” with others’ writings, but their writing does not become our own. This type of ownership does not fit in the online environment, where words are easily copied, quoted, linked, rearranged, etc. For example, no one has complete authorial ownership of a Wikipedia entry.

One of the new media sites that best conveys the concept of writing in fragments is Twitter. A Twitter feed is composed of microblogs — some self authored, some retweeted, some retweeted with comments, some quotes, some images, and some merely links. We are not self-contained univocal writers on Twitter, but curators of information, remixed beings organizing and reorganizing our identities through sound bytes and images. Topics aren’t explored by one authoritative voice but by defined by multiple voices via hashtags. It is here that we can explore true collaborative writing.

Unfortunately, not every user of the web is able to let go of their authorial control. Earlier this summer I read a blog post I liked and I clicked the icon to share it on Twitter. A Tweet was automatically generated with the title and a link. Subsequently, the author complained because her name was not cited in the Tweet, nor was her Twitter handle. The question is, did she have a right to complain?

Yes, I could have taken the time to add more to the automated Tweet. I could have went to her Twitter feed to search if she had posted a link there and then retweeted it. I could have added my own commentary. However, if she did not want people to share an automated Tweet, she should not have that function available on her blog posts. By including it, she is not only giving her permission, but encouraging this type of sharing.

Writing online is more than just typing and posting words. The way a writer presents their words and the navigation/web functions they choose dictate how people will interact with those words. If an individual wants their ideas to be shared widely, then they need to make sharing a click away. When individuals share a blog post on Twitter or Facebook, they drive traffic to the site. Ultimately, this writer caused herself more harm by complaining, as I removed the Tweet, shutting down a possible avenue for site traffic. To use a cliché, she won the battle but lost the war. Her print mindset does not fit in with the rhetorical situation of her content. What she should of responded to those who chose to include her content on their curated Twitter feeds: thanks for sharing!

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Composition I: Defining its Value and Mission

At the community college, we have an increasing number of transfer students who simply want to grab credits and go. However, not every class fulfills a general education requirement at other universities. Some colleges only accept our second-level of composition, not our first, for their writing requirement. Naturally, students transferring to those schools simply want to waiver past our Composition I and sail into Composition II. As the English Discipline Coordinator, this has led me to reflect on the singular value of our Composition I course and what necessary skills it provides beyond helping students succeed in Composition II. If that was its only purpose, then some well-prepared students should be able to simply skip ahead.

Patrick Sullivan’s text, A New Writing Classroom: Listening, Motivation, and Habits of Mind, helped me devise a better defined vision of what I want to achieve in my own Composition I class, which encompasses more than preparing students to write academic research essays in Compositon II. Sullivan lays out a noble mission for the writing classroom, to embrace a pedagogy that prioritizes “listening, empathy, and reflection.” I gravitated to this description as a possible response to our increasingly polarized political culture and to the stress that comes from our attention-consuming digital devices. We have a classroom of students struggling anxiety and living in digital filter bubbles. Through readings, exploratory and reflective writing, and media literacy, students can not only cultivate better writing skills but better habits of mind, such as openness.

We often lament the damage of the five-paragraph essay. But Sullivan extends this to critique not just the structure, but the types of arguments students are asked to make. The villain in his text is the thesis-driven, argumentative essay, where students are asked to take a stance on an issue too soon and with little evidence. He states, “By concentrating almost exclusively on thesis-support exposition in college composition classes, we are implicitly teaching that the ability to support an assertion is more important than the ability to examine an issue.” I agree to a point.

The question is, what can a student argue? A student can argue that a summer internship led to them switching majors. This type of argument requires self-reflection and is not simplifying an issue. A claim-based essay can be exploratory as well. A thesis statement can claim that an issue has many sides, which is why consensus is hard to reach. In this case, the thesis statement would map out essay, which needs to give voice to multiple perspectives, even if the writer personally disagrees with those perspectives. Essentially, the purpose of the essay is key. If the purpose is simply to defend a thesis statement, then the assignment is not doing all it could. As Sullivan writes, “If our goal is ‘empowering individuals to know that the world is far more complex than it first appears’ (King and Kitchener 1994, 1), then our assignments must be designed with such outcomes as their primary focus.”

I love the emphasis on the exploratory. However, I am struggling to figure out how to deepen my use of reading and still have room for significant student inquiry. When students are driving the questions and the assignment content, it’s difficult to consistently find space for readings. Course planning often feels like Sophie’s Choice. Perhaps the difficulty I am having lining up Sullivan’s model course and my own course is related to his model course being a basic writing course, where the exploratory projects may have less source and length requirements. Whatever the case, I do want to make an effort to increase my use of texts that are relevant, engaging, and difficult enough to stretch students.

Going into this new academic year, I am looking forward to deepening my use of reading, listening, reflection, and exploration in Composition I. This is necessary foundational work, which should not be bypassed. I understand students desire to minimize their financial costs and time commitment, but education should not be about cutting corners. Perhaps this is the set of readings I will begin with – the meaning of education.

The Remix of Professional Development and Classroom Experiences

The following is an excerpt from my promotion packet “Education and Growth Statement”:

The beauty of working in the community college environment is the breadth of exploration one can do within a discipline rather than working within a niche. In the course of a year, my various roles and teaching interests led to me a journalism conference, a developmental education conference, and a conference for writing program administrators (WPA). Instead of working within an academic silo, I am able to approach the same concerns and topics from multiple angles. For example, the Fake News era was addressed at both the journalism and WPA conference in different ways – one through the professional lens and one through the academic lens. Taken together I was able to develop a more holistic lesson in content curation and media literacy.

In the particular academic niche I explored for my dissertation, digital rhetoric and writing in new media environments, remix is an important concept. A simple example would be a meme, which adds a particular message with a previously unassociated image, such as feminist theory and Ryan Gosling movie clips. Separately, there are both great, but together they create a memorable message. As those of us who have studied composition know, everything we create is a remix of our past influences and experiences. What I like about this concept in relation to new media writing is that to be successful, it requires a degree of openness – an openness to let new ideas and influences reshape our perspectives and creations, an openness to let go of authorial intent and let our messages take on new paths with new collaborators.

The value of my doctoral studies is not simply contained within the pages of my dissertation. The value is all the unexpected ways the knowledge I have gained has reshaped the way I teach. One line of inquiry I explored was how the work of John Dewey can relate to new media writing. One of his concepts I focused heavily on was experiential learning. For those of us looking to help students move beyond limiting mindsets, experiences are much more persuasive than verbal arguments when it comes to expanding one’s viewpoint. This strand of my dissertation helped me reinvent a common Composition I essay, the I-Search Essay. My students now use research to design a plan of action for themselves and then go through the experience of enacting that plan. It also informed the way I teach the problem-solution essay to my Composition II students, which is in conjunction with online activism.

My goal when I design my classes is to create educative experiences. An experience is educative if it “arouses curiosity, strengthens initiative, and sets up desires and purposes that are sufficiently intense to carry a person over dead places in the future” (Dewey). To create such an experience, I must be open to changing my plans in order to suit my students and whatever current events may arise. Again, the concept of remix come to mind, as my expertise and course outcomes and objectives come into contact with a new audience. At the beginning of the semester and prior to every class, I make a plan. However, when I walk into the classroom, I am always prepared to have it be modified by my students. Whenever possible, I offer choices and collaborate with students about the direction we would like to take, whether it be for the day or for the next major assignment.

The added bonus is that when students have choices when it comes to the presentation of their assignment, the class can have a meaningful discussion about genres. In my Winter 2018 section of Composition I, I let my students choose between a traditional thesis-driven essay or a presentation for their final reflection. This allowed us to have a discussion of presentation slides versus paragraphs, which also gave us a new way to explore the concept of outlining.

After the semester ends, I get to reconceive my courses again – this time in light of the student feedback I have received. The journey to bring together my doctoral studies and my Delta classes has been a long one. What works conceptually does not always work practically. Also, what our online students can achieve at home with older computers and spotty Wi-fi is much different than what face-to-face university students can achieve in high-tech media labs. Finding the right level of technological difficulty and the right way to sell students on non-traditional assignments took some trial and error. In my Composition II sections, I found students have had the greatest level of buy-in when I tied the assignments to the Kiva Program. Twice I have been able to acquire a grant from Kiva U so that my students have been able to give $25 microloans. Having our online efforts tied to an established organization and being able to tangibly contribute to this organization increased my students’ level of engagement.

One of the key lessons I try to impart to my students is that all learning and all experiences are of value. We are building a network of connections in our mind, which enable us to better grasp and relate to a variety of people and materials. I am a better teacher for having read research essays on cross training, on artificial wombs, on the Palestinian conflict, on feminine products and third-world countries, etc. It is why it is hard to consider a time when I am not working and not growing as an educator, as everything has the potential to impact my class: pop culture, parenting, travel, etc.

Last Post of the #CCCWrite Reflective Writing Club

Today is the last required post for the Online Network Reflective Writing Club:

  • Take some time to reflect back to the start of our Reflective Writing Club.
  • What were your objectives for this experience? Do you feel that you have achieved them?
  • Discuss any unexpected outcomes you have had as a result of the Reflective Writing Club.
  • Discuss any new or improved skills you’ve acquired through this blogging club and share how they will contribute to your work.

Is it strange that my favorite part of the Reflective Writing Club was the weekly deadline and expectations? I often say that I wish I were one of my own students, required to read, write, and reflect in a communal setting every week. For the past few weeks, I have gotten to be a writing student – brainstorming assigned prompts, reading examples for inspiration, and enjoying feedback. And like many a student, I often do not complete my work until I am under the pressure of a deadline.

My main objective was to write more and connect with more educators on Twitter, which I achieved. I really enjoyed how this club was facilitated, as it was structured and engaging enough to keep me motivated, yet it did not require an overwhelming commitment. It gave me a purposeful assignment each week and led me to follow some new inspiring instructors.

Going forward, I hope to use this activity as an example of an emerging form of professional development. As a community college faculty member, I do not have a large allowance for conferences, workshops, classes, and books. When I was finishing my dissertation, all my PDA went towards my doctoral credits. During this time, I could not travel to national and international conferences, but I could connect with educators around the world through Facebook and Twitter. Since then, I have become an advocate for these non-traditional means of professional development.

If anyone reading has suggestions for other writing or creative online education groups, please comment or message me on Twitter.

 

Education for Discovery, not Vocation #CCCWrite

Today is the start of my latest educational online group endeavor, the Reflective Writing Club sponsored by the Online Network of Educators. The opening writing prompt is “What do you know now that you wish you had know then?”

“Identify a time in your past and think critically about differences between then and now. How have you changed? What do you know now that you wish you had known then about yourself, your profession, other people, technology, or life in general?”

This was a challenge as I believe many lessons in life require refreshing, as we slide off course into the uncomfortably silent classrooms, stand in front of the cupboard engaged in mindless munchies, perform the perfectionist procrastination (see this blog post as Exhibit A), and live the harried life of the overcommitted. However, I was able to look back at my young self and recognize that I have learned a thing or two about life, in particular about the role of education.

When I remember my early 20s, I see myself in my unflattering office khakis, staring at a screen, waiting for the next task or email during the endless 8 a.m. to 5 p.m shift. I had done everything that was expected of me: pursued a career-oriented path, worked every internship I could find, paid off my college loans six months after graduation, and obtained a public relations position with a good salary and benefits. I was miserable and bored. Instead of creating a life that fit me, I fit myself into the life I thought I was supposed to have. I developed ulcers —stressed by the series of bland days that stretched in front of me and by the many cups of coffee I drank.

If I could go back to my undergraduate years, I would tell myself to slow down and appreciate the opportunities for discovery. A straight path is the quickest way to the reach the wrong destination. It’s a hard mentality to embrace, though, as a first-generation college student. College is seen as necessary step to a financially secure future, not a place to find oneself. At the community college, we are now putting students on guided pathways because excess credits are a waste of time and money. Who can afford to explore?

Last week, I sat with our Admissions staff to discuss all the wonderful opportunities and programs we offer through our English discipline. They listened politely and seemed appropriately impressed at times; however, at the end, they still wanted to direct students to a specific career with a comforting salary. I heard how students come to them and share how they love to take pictures and how they reply that this is a hobby, not a career. Excuse me, what? I was that student. I loved to write and I was made to shape that love into one particular job title, which ultimately was not the right one for me.

The best decision I made was to go back to graduate school, not to invest in a career, but to invest in myself. Even though it was not my intention, through exploring my passions, I found my true vocation. After a year of classes, I left my office job and entered the classroom. I now live the life that fits me and am no longer plagued by ulcers, though I still love coffee.

Blogging: The Case Against Immediacy

In our New Media Writing class this week, we are preparing to enter the blogosphere. Part of that preparation involves considering the genre of a blog. As an introduction, we read Andrew Sullivan’s essay, “Why I Blog?”. When I first read this piece nearly a decade ago, I felt the wave of techno-optimism as a true public sphere emerged online where everyone could have a voice. Today, I feel less optimistic reading about the power of free expression, as we have become inundated with perspectives and have begun to treat all perspectives as valid, even those that perpetuate the oppression and the suffering of others. It’s become difficult for many to differentiate between fact and opinion, between well-reasoned analysis and false causality. Because of this, I believe we need to abandon our goal of speed when it comes to posting, commenting on, and sharing information online.

In his essay, Sullivan writes, “We bloggers have scant opportunity to collect our thoughts, to wait until events have settled and a clear pattern emerges. We blog now—as news reaches us, as facts emerge.” Having access to information at all times has created a world that is constantly being fed bits of stories, not just online, but on our 24/7 cable news stations. We do not need more truths that are likely to changes as details emerge. We do not need more cherry picked facts with commentary instead of context. What we need to do is redirect our attention to the longview, to the aggregated facts. Our attention drives the media cycle.

Our blogs can still be expressive and written in one sitting (ala Doogie Howser-style). However, when facts are involved, verify them. Proceed cautiously with emerging stories and new studies. Speed is not the ultimate value. Let’s approach blogging as an endurance sport.

Introduction to Multimodality

The key shift between composing for a print environment and composing for a digital environment is the number of “modes” available to aid in the storytelling. Modes are different forms of expression: linguistic, visual, aural, spatial, and gestural. In the discipline of English, we are most familiar with the linguistic, the selection, arrangement, and delivery of words. I like to say to be a new media writer you need to be a jack of all writer-605764_960_720trades and a master of one. For most of us, writing will be our “master trade.” The trick in new media writing is not relying solely, or too much, on our strongest and most comfortable form of expression.

While writing may be our strength, it may not always be the most effective mode. As the cliché goes, “A picture tells a thousand words.” Visuals can give viewers a more immediate understanding of a concept or situation. In addition, visual choices regarding size and color drives a viewer’s attention and shapes their understanding/perception of the message. Visual choices, not just linguistic choices, are a part of every paper we compose. For example, academic papers should look a particular way. We would not use pink Comic Sans for a font choice.

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In conjunction with the visual is the spatial. Appearance and function often work together. The spatial mode involves the arrangement of a piece and how people move about it. This movement can be how someone opens and consumes a brochure, how we navigate a website, or even how we sit in a classroom. The rhetoric of place is a fascinating area of study if you are into architecture, landscaping, or urban design. However, in this class, we will mostly look at layout and navigation. When we move from a print environment to a web environment, the spatial mode also expands, as web texts are not isolated — they can easily connect to other texts via hyperlinks.

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Another change as we enter the digital environment is the introduction of sound. Instead of reading an interview, we can hear an interview. As a standalone mode, sound allows 1-1260977459Qiyistories to become more portable. I can listen to a podcast while I drive and do household chores. As a supplementary element, it brings personality/culture to the individuals and places featured. We can use music as a new way to express tone: this is serious, this is relaxing, etc. This can get us into trouble at times if the music we have chosen is not appropriate to the situation or editorializes the content in negative manner.

The final mode is the one that we will employ least in this class, the gestural. Unless you celebration-1295014_960_720are delivering a monologue via your webcam, this won’t be a factor. The gestural is the way our bodies communicate: our expressions, our hand gestures, our posture, etc. If you are wondering an emoji could be counted as a gesture (I was), the answer is yes. At least, some scholars are arguing that they be considered as such. In this way, the gestural may find its way into your social media posts.

As you can see, we can express ourselves in many ways and can constructive meaning, at times, without even realizing it. In this class, we will be utilizing multiple modes whenever we construct a text. Our focus will not be on the technical aspects of page layout or audio editing; it will be on making good choices to create an effective, cohesive text where all the elements are appropriately selected and arranged.

For a more in-depth explanation of the five modes discussed, see: https://www.amazon.com/Writer-Designer-Making-Multimodal-Projects/dp/1457600455