(ENGL516) “Friending” is a Loaded Term…

In Gina Maranto and Matt Barton’s “Paradox and Promise: MySpace, Facebook, and the Sociopolitics of Social Networking in the Writing Classroom,” the authors thoughtfully outline and analyze both advantages and disadvantages of students and teachers friending each other on social media websites such as Facebook. Maranto and Barton acknowledge that “there are dangers for teachers who create their own profiles and add their students as ‘friends’.” Even still, they ultimately argue that “perhaps teachers and scholars should work to protect the integrity of these spaces.”

Surely, there are student/teacher relationships that could be inappropriate in the context of social media; teachers have been fired for posting inappropriate photos and statuses on Facebook and some schools explicitly prohibit teachers from friending their own students. On the contrary (and this has been my experience), being “friends” with a professor can be a great outlet for continuing classroom discussion.

What I find problematic, then, is the term “friending.” I began thinking about this after reading Maranto and Barton’s article and after some classmates in ENGL516 (Computers & Writing: Theory & Practice) pointed out that there is a huge difference between a student “following” a teacher on Twitter and “friending” them on Facebook. On Twitter, reciprocity is not necessary; the teacher does not necessarily have to follow the student in return, allowing for a unidirectional social network relationship outside of the classroom. On the other hand, Facebook friending inherently goes both ways; in accepting a friend request from a student, a reciprocal relationship is established.

So the concept alone is troubling, but the term “friending” is even moreso. Personally, I don’t think I’d consider any of my college professors to be personal friends. This isn’t to say that I don’t think some of them aren’t really awesome or that I don’t enjoy having conversations with them outside of academia, but for me, it’s just not possible to consider a teacher a friend; I’ve been going to Eastern for five years now and have gotten to know some of my professors pretty well. Many of them (especially at the graduate level) insist that their students call them by first name rather than Dr. So-and-so. I appreciate this. I respect this. But I have a really hard time doing it. Maybe I’m old-fashioned in that regard.

Still, I am Facebook “friends” with teachers. Of course, I filter my status updates and timeline posts…not because I necessarily have anything to hide, but because I believe there are certain things about my life that my teachers (and bosses, for that matter) don’t need to know about. Facebook does give users the option, after friending somebody, to categorize them by group: acquaintances, co-workers, whatever. But at the end of the day, users have to “friend” other users before they can categorize and, even then, I don’t think those categorizations are public. “Friendship,” however, is. I wonder if it would make a difference if the terminology was different, because there are too many connotations that go along with friendship. And to me, this can unnecessarily plague the way teacher/student relationships and interactions on social media websites are viewed.

ENGL516 Reflections on Jackson and Wallin’s “Rediscovering the ‘Back-and-Forthness’ of Rhetoric in the Age of YouTube”

Jackson & Wallin bring up a fair point in this article: that students ought to be recognizing the digital technologies and social media that they are familiar with (and likely participate in) as dialectic opportunities for engagement and deliberation. In order to get them to see this, though, it is necessary to move beyond traditional persuasive essays and similar assignments, which are seen as more static and not interactive; a persuasive essay, for example, is rhetorical…but it does not reflect the type of rhetorical deliberation/discussion that is common on the Internet today, which moreso resembles a real, face-to-face, back-and-forth conversation.

Jackson & Wallin point out that comments on YouTube videos serve as examples of this kind of dialectic; users from around the globe frequently engage in conversations and argumentation through YouTube comments. How this might be applied in the writing classroom? I’m not a teacher, so I guess that’s really not my place, but I found myself feeling skeptical about Jackson & Wallin’s suggestions. Why not (as many classmates of mine have pointed out in our class discussions about this reading) have students do exactly what the authors of this article did? Have them analyze a digital, back-and-forth text. Have them identify arguments, stances, supporting evidence, etc. among participants of the discussion. As a student, this is an assignment I could see value in.

Another thing this article initially got me wondering was: why YouTube? Of all of the outlets for online commenting on the Web, why did Jackson & Wallin cling to the YouTube example? At first, I wasn’t so sure about it. My experiences with commenting and reading comments on YouTube videos have been iffy; usually, I find myself having to read through useless comments or spam (sort of reminds me of the discussions in the MOOC 😛 ) in order to identify any kind of argument or ongoing conversation.

Instead, I wondered why the authors didn’t analyze something like an online forum or even a Facebook discussion thread. I posed this question to the rest of the class. Surely these are better examples of meaningful debate than would be found in the average YouTube comment thread. But then some classmates of mine pointed out something that wasn’t so obvious to me at the time: the very public/random nature of YouTube seems to afford more opportunities for diverse comments from diverse people. On the contrary, a Facebook comment thread or even posts in a discussion forum typically take place among people who either know each other, share a similar interest, or both. Fair point.

This got me wondering about the nature of arguments and discussions online based on the outlet for the message and the known (or unknown) audience. In other words, I’m considering how an argument I make online might change based on whether or not I know who I’m broadcasting my thoughts to. On a Facebook comment thread, for example, I think I’d be more careful about what I say. I wouldn’t want to create any negative vibes between myself and any of my Facebook friends. I think in most instances on Facebook, I’d be more willing to drop an argument or “let it go” for the sake of maintaining harmony in my relationship with that/those person/people.

On the other hand, I think I’d be more willing to deliberate in an open forum for comments like YouTube due to the mere fact that I don’t know who’s on the other side of the screen reading and responding to my comments. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. In fact, I’m thinking this is probably part of the reason for there being so many trolls in these public yet generally anonymous forums.

Anyway…this is definitely a tangent to the overall point of the Jackson and Wallin article, but to me it’s something worth thinking about nonetheless.

the home stretch

“on the morning when I woke up without you for the first time/I was cold so I put on a sweater and I turned up the heat
and the walls began to close in and I felt so sad and frightened that I practically ran from the living room out into the street
and the wind began to blow/and all the trees began to bend/and the world–in its cold way–started coming alive
and I stood there like a businessman waiting for a train/and I got ready for the future to arrive”

The Mountain Goats “Woke Up New” has been my mantra for about the past week or so. I had a hard time getting back to work and school and all the real world stuff after my trip to Vegas. The last five weeks or so of this semester are going to be hell, I know. As a result, I’ve rebelled. I’ve been reclaiming what’s mine, slowly but surely. Been making a real effort to make sure that I set a good chunk of each day aside to do things I want to do and limiting the time I spend on things I “have” to do. So far, I’ve been sort of successful, I guess.

Spent the weekend at my mom’s house because I can’t deal with being in Ypsi anymore, so I’m not looking forward to heading back in the morning. It’s been great catching up with my mom, Tom, and my grandma. Wish I had more time to do this more often. I love that my mom’s house is right next to a busy set of railroad tracks; the trains fly by every night and blare their horns and I can hear the wheels scraping at the rails like it’s all happening five feet away. I remember staying here for a month about this time last year and keeping the windows open every night just to hear the trains pass by. I didn’t care if they woke me up.

I wish it was warm enough to sleep with the windows open tonight.

Things are slowly but surely coming together for summer and for the next school year, but I can’t help wanting to look beyond that. I want to look beyond it so bad. But then I feel bad because I should be making the most of my years in college and all that, right? My former ENGL121 instructor (who I now work with in the Writing Center) asked me the other day, “So…you’ve only got another year here, huh? What do you want to do when you graduate? Or are you trying not to think about that just yet?”

I told her I didn’t know. That I’d love to get back into publishing, but that that’s not really what my Master’s degree is for. I felt dumb. What am I doing here? But then I started reading Alberto Cairo’s “The Functional Art” today and didn’t want to put it down. “Information architecture.” I’ve heard the term before, but it’s never really resonated with me as a possible career path until today. I wish I had discovered this book years ago (though I guess that’d be impossible, because it wasn’t published until 2013).

Still, I guess I don’t know with 100% certainty what I want to do career-wise once I’m finally “done” with school, but the good news is that I’m pretty damn sure what I want to do with just about every other aspect of my life once this time next year rolls around. And that’s exciting. Even more exciting? Six weeks until what will probably be the last “real” summer I get to enjoy. There’s so much I want to do and, as usual, I’ll make a list and be happy if I get to check off even half of it…

In the meantime, I’ve made a promise to myself (for the sake of my sanity) to drive to the west coast of Michigan on the first super nice day of spring and spend the day sitting at a lighthouse. That day can come any time now.

ENGL516 and the Confusing World of Copyright Laws and School Plagiarism Policies

Yesterday, I read “Moving Beyond the Plagiarized/Not Plagiarized in a Point, Click, and Copy World” by Leslie Johnson-Farris. In this article, Johnson-Farris criticizes college policies on fair use in student work, claiming that many of these policies are written with only economic issues in mind. In this sense, the policies only exist to prevent students from using copyrighted materials in their work improperly when they should also be addressing the student’s rights and ownership in terms of the work that they create. And since plagiarism is not a simply black or white, “done, or not done” distinction (313), educators need to spend more time talking with their students (ideally on the first day of class and then more throughout the semester) about why copyright laws are in place, what their importance is, what fair use is, and how student work is protected as well.

I was surprised to learn that some online plagiarism detection services, which many instructors require students to submit papers through to check for plagiarism before turning in, ironically take control/rights over all student work that comes in for submission. Turnitin.com is an example of one of these websites. Fortunately for me, I’ve never been asked to use such a service for a class, but I’ve also never realized how problematic this is for students who aren’t given a choice. In making students submit (forfeit?) their work to these websites, aren’t instructors pretty explicitly demonstrating that it’s more important to ensure that students aren’t using other peoples’ ideas than it is to ensure that students’ rights/ownership of their work is actually being protected?

As Johnson-Farris puts it, “If administrators, instructors, and copyright holders wonder why students hold so little respect for the intellectual property rights of others in a digital age, we should probably look no further than how we view student work.” (317) I agree with her that maybe it is time for educators to spend a little more time talking about these things in classrooms (for example: why do we use MLA or APA?) and for administrators to rethink their policies through a different lens: one that includes protection of student work as well.

MOOC Debriefing: A Reflection on the “E-Learning and Digital Cultures” Experience

Up until the start of ENGL516 this semester, I had never heard the term “MOOC” in my life, though I was vaguely familiar with the Coursera website; a friend of mine had told me about a free class that she was taking out of curiosity. I was fascinated and intrigued by the idea of free online classes, especially having never personally experienced anything other than the traditional on-campus, face-to-face class. As our ENGL516 readings and discussions on MOOCs and our participation in the “E-learning and Digital Cultures” MOOC progressed over the last couple of months, however, my optimism took a turn towards skepticism. Overall, I would argue that MOOCs are a viable learning outlet for people who are genuinely interested and motivated in a particular subject, but that they are no substitution (not even close) to the traditional classroom experience or even a small online class like ENGL516.

The main issue that I think prevents MOOCs from being effective, at least in my experience with the “E-learning and Digital Cultures” Coursera class, is its sheer size. I don’t know what the exact enrollment in our MOOC was, but with many of these classes reaching enrollment in the tens of thousands or more, the ability to form a sense of community in the classroom simply is not there. This was particularly evident in the discussion forums on the MOOC, where any given thread could have hundreds of posts but not much actual discussion. Instead, the forums turned into a place for students in the class to dump their thoughts or summarize an article; very rarely did I see any real back-and-forth conversation happening. And sifting through the dozens of repetitive posts to find anything worthwhile to respond to was a true exercise in patience.

One suggestion that I have (and that I think I have mentioned before) is to break large MOOCs up into smaller groups for the discussion forums. Personally, I am a part of a few different websites with discussion forums where there are hundreds or even thousands of members, yet there remains a sense of community and the forum posts turn into meaningful discussions and debates. Perhaps breaking a larger MOOC’s forums down so that there are only a few thousand (or less, depending on the size of the class overall) students posting in each one could make for better conversation, though I’m not sure.

Another aspect that I felt was lacking in the MOOC experience was that of any interaction with and feedback from the instructors of the course itself. While they did set up a couple of Google Hangouts to allow students to get to know them better, I was unable to attend. I think it would have helped the class feel less impersonal if they had taken the time to post on the discussion forums more often; I believe that, just as in a traditional face-to-face classroom, instructors can play a huge role in guiding or mediating discussion. This mediation was missing altogether in the MOOC, though I believe this all goes back to the problem of the sheer size of the class.

This is not to say that I do not believe that the only way to foster interaction and give legitimate feedback is in the face-to-face classroom. I agree with authors like Steve Kolowich that the lack of “human element” can be solved in an online class. Specifically, Kolowich maintains that by introducing more audio and video components and taking advantage of programs such as Moodle and Skype, instructors can foster a more personal connection to their students. As a 2009 study confirmed and as Kolowich summarizes in his article “The Human Element,” students feel more invested in a class and trusting of an instructor when they see his or her face. He refers to this as the “illusion of non-mediation,” though an overwhelming majority of our interactions with the instructors in the MOOC was text-based.

Finally, the evaluation process was of the MOOC was (simply put) a nightmare. Our success in the course was based on one assignment that was completed at the end of the class. And while the assignment itself, I think, was fitting (it required us to use different mediums such as text, audio, and visual elements to demonstrate our knowledge of various topics of the course itself), I was not impressed with the peer evaluation process. While I do believe that peer assessment can be useful and often coincide quite accurately with instructors’ evaluations, this was not the case in our MOOC.

Perhaps a lot of this had to do with the fact that assessing multimodal composition is a flat out challenge, even for experienced instructors. This is a concern that authors like Katz & Odell address in “Making the Implicit Explicit in Assessing Multimodal Composition” and one that Cheryl Ball has done a lot of work on. All of these authors make the claim that assessment of multimodal texts must, in large part, involve negotiation and construction of an assignment’s criteria because one instructor’s definition of a “well organized” paper may be completely different from another’s. (Ball 2)

So if defining these evaluative terms is hard enough for instructors when it comes to assessing multimodal assignments, how can we expect our fellow peers to be any more successful? While I do think having several different peer evaluators give feedback on each assignment in the MOOC was helpful, I still found the assessment criteria to include some evaluative terms that were never defined by the instructors. For example, part of the assessment involves determining whether or not “the choice of media is appropriate for the message.” How do we define “appropriateness”?

And personally (I’m not yet sure of my other classmates’ experience with the peer assessment process), I found that only one of my four peer reviewers even addressed all five assessment criteria in their evaluations of my work. The rest of the peers who evaluated my digital artifact assignment seemed to not have much interest in the process at all, based on their brief comments. For example, my fourth peer reviewer wrote a total of 11 words to evaluate all five criteria (we were asked to keep it closer to 250 words). In fact, looking at the evaluation I received, it seems like only one of my reviewers actually put much thought or time into assessing my work and writing out feedback for me. While this one reviewer was very helpful and gave me some useful insight, I cannot say the same about the other three because they simply did not have much to say.

I realize that, with the “E-learning and Digital Cultures” MOOC being a humanities-based class, the large size of the class (again, going back to size being a main issue) makes it difficult for instructors to give direct feedback and assessment of our work. Because of this, it makes sense to me that they would opt for peer review, but to me, it just was not effective and I honestly do not feel like I got much out of the assignment because of the assessment process. In a way, I feel as though a math class or a class that could frequently give and accurately score multiple choice quizzes or exams might be better suited for a MOOC over a humanities class. This is especially true because I do not think we’re quite at the point of having the technology to effectively machine-grade writing assignments; I agree with authors like Vojak, Kline, Cope, McCarthey, and Kalantzis that views of writing need to expand beyond mechanics and generic form if we want to come up with better writing assessment software.

Even still, it seems risky to argue that a math or science-based course would be a good fit for a MOOC if we look at it in terms of interdisciplinary writing. I think that we’re finally getting somewhere when it comes to having writing incorporated into classes in every discipline and wonder if MOOCs could be a threat to this progress.

While I did enjoy a good portion of the MOOC course material (especially the weekly videos), my overall experience with the class has led me to become very skeptical of MOOCs as an alternative to the physical classroom experience or even the experience of a smaller online class conducted directly through a college or university. For me, it all boils down to the size of the class; in order to be effective, I’m convinced that class sizes would need to be a lot smaller. However, this then leads to more difficult questions. How can MOOC sizes be cut down? Charging money to enroll might be one way to go about it, but then this defeats the idea of accessibility to education for all that Coursera claims to exist for in the first place.

All in all, MOOCs can be a good place to explore interests and learn if one is genuinely interested in the subject matter and perhaps the entire experience will improve over time, but in the meantime I simply do not think they even remotely resemble a college classroom experience. As Aaron Bady declares, “MOOCs are only better than nothing and speculation that this will someday change is worth pursuing, but for now, remains just that, speculation.” So I will remain skeptical. Very, very skeptical.

when you dream

This time five years ago, I was asleep on my dad’s living room couch, having dreams of my baby sister finally being born. Hours prior, my dad had taken Kim to the hospital because she was having contractions; they didn’t think it was labor just yet, but they wanted to take her in just to be sure. I was somewhere in between watching TV and drifting off when I heard them leave…my dad reassuring me that he’d call if it was the real deal.

I slept with my phone next to my face all night and woke up to a phone call early in the morning. She was actually in labor!

I reflect back on these moments–this day–so often that it doesn’t seem like it’s been five years. Holy cow. My sister has become such a smart, hilarious, energetic girl; she can legitimately beat me at chess, one of her favorite movies is “School of Rock” with Jack Black, and she’s kicking butt in her horseback-riding lessons. She’s gonna be way too cool for me before I know it, but I’m so happy and proud to call her my sister. And so excited that her, dad, and Kim will be on their way up from Louisville in just a few hours. 🙂

#edcmooc Digital Artifact

This week, the MOOC is coming to an end and we’re finishing up our only “graded” (not really the best word; it’s more of a peer assessment) assignment of the semester. As part of this assignment, I’ve created a digital artifact that incorporates both text and image to convey my message, which is the idea of writing as a technology (a huge takeaway for me in both ENGL516 and the MOOC):

Image

I used Adobe Photoshop CS2 (I’m old school and also too cheap to buy newer versions) to create the artifact. Specifically, I wrote out the text and then used a selector tool to choose groupings of letters at once. I then overlaid different images of some of the tools and things that come to mind when I think about writing technologies. In choosing these images, I wanted a good mix of the more “obvious” tools that we think of as writing technologies (for example, computer and phone keyboards) as well as tools that I have grown to appreciate as writing technologies (carvings, pencils, pens, etc–the less obvious ones).

All of these images, then, make up the overall message that “writing is technology.” And as much as we discussed and read about the various digital tools and inventions that are out there these days to make our lives easier (maybe?)–and to make writing easier (and multimodal)–I have come away from the “E-learning and Digital Cultures” with this overarching message in my mind. And as we continue to think about how new writing technologies may develop or how existing technologies may be adapted to teach, reflect, create, and connect, I think it’s important to come back to this message every so often.

Writing is not an inherent skill that any human is born with. We’re not hard-wired for it (though perhaps in a posthuman world we could be). For now, we learn it through modeling, practice, and more practice. And as technologies develop to make writing “easier,” this is something that needs to be kept in mind.

 

On Martin Solomon’s “The Power of Punctuation.”

Solomon, Martin. “The Power of Punctuation.” Visual Rhetoric in a Digital World: A Critical Sourcebook. Handa, Carolyn. Boston, MA: St. Martin’s. 2004. 282-289. Print.

Summary:

In this article, Solomon makes the claim that punctuation is often taken for granted and then goes on to describe the different effects that punctuation can have in design.

Keywords:

exaggerated punctuation, illustrative punctuation, typography, design, weight, pica, tonal value

Claims I agree with:

“Exaggerated punctuation should not be used with all messages. The indiscriminate display of punctuation for the safe of design turns these marks into devices unrelated to concept; punctuation used out of context can diminish the effect of a message.” (286)

This makes sense, though it’s not something I have ever thought about.

“Punctuation marks need not be considered only in relation to texts in which they are an obvious part of the design.” (287)

Never thought about this before, but yes. I usually only think of punctuation in relation to sentences, but the telephone number example he gave made sense.

Claims I disagree with:

“Similarly, designers can improvise upon the standards of punctuation.” (282)

Here, I’m not so sure I agree that designers are improvising upon the “standards” of punctuation as he describes them in previous paragraphs. Even if a designer uses exaggerated punctuation to make a point, I would argue that it still needs to be used in a manner that is generally considered to be “grammatically correct.”

Passages to keep:

“Punctuation is to typography what perspective is to painting. It introduces the illusion of visual and audible dimension, giving words vitality. Whether prominent or subtle, punctuation marks are the heartbeat of typography, moving words along in proper timing and with proper emphasis.” (289)

“With punctuation marks designers can create illustrations without pictures. A single line of copy set in a light typeface contrasted with a bold, larger period creates a more dramatic stop than a period of conventional size and weight.”

“Symbols in music perform comparable functions. During the performance of a piece of music, each conductor interprets the intensities and durations of these notations according to his or her own style. Similarly, designers can improvise upon the standards of perfect punctuation.” (282)

3 sources to help read: 

“8 New Punctuation Marks We Desperately Need.” by Mike Trapp. Not so much necessary to understand Solomon’s piece, but entertaining nonetheless.

Some material on typography. Someone reading this without knowledge of graphic design might be confused by some of the terminology in this article.

Background on Solomon’s work.

always landing on my feet

Last night, Ash sent me a listing for a tiny house for rent in Oahu, Hawaii. I got to missing the beaches and wishing that I had spent more time soaking up every second that we had there in 2006 (God, was that really seven years ago?)…I should have taken more time to appreciate the mountains way off in the distance on the ride from the airport to the house we stayed in. The house was beautiful and made of glass more than anything else; from just about any spot inside, you could see palm trees and the ocean. The ocean was literally in our backyard. I remember sitting in the sand at night and wondering how there could be so many stars in the sky.

I think I was a sophomore in high school when we took that trip. I was lying in bed on a school night when Ash called me.

“Want to go to Hawaii next week?”

“Ummm…yes.”

I was afraid my parents wouldn’t let me go because I’d have to miss so much school, but they did. And I loved the spontaneity of it all. I miss spontaneity, which is probably what makes the idea of renting a 300-something square foot shack in Oahu all the more appealing. Note to self: make something like this happen soon. Maybe not something as drastic as running off to Hawaii for a few months, but something that will help me break this cycle.

More MOOC Stuff (and Reflections on Transhumanism)

I feel like the MOOC is getting farther and farther away from what I was hoping it would be with each passing week. And it’s a bummer, because I started out pretty optimistic.

This week, we did more readings on humanism/transhumanism/posthumanism, and I’m having a hard time finding connections between these readings and online teaching (which is what I’d been hoping the class would have more of a focus on). The two concepts seem like they’re on totally different ends of the spectrum for me, though I did enjoy the Stacey Pigg article on student bodies that we read for 516 this week.

I guess I’m just feeling kind of tired of the MOOC at this point because of all the focus on this idea of humanism and transhumanism, which is something I just can’t get into (and believe me, I’ve tried). I do believe that there is something inherently different about being a human as opposed to an, say, an ape…but I don’t really see the point in advancing an idea of humanism. And as for transhumanism, I actually found Nick Bostrom’s “Transhumanist Values” articles to be a depressing read.

Specifically, I didn’t care for the negative way Bostrom in which portrayed the “normal” human life, such as his claim that “lasting joy remains elusive.” I get that there are some pretty awful things that happen in the world and that everybody has their trials and tribulations, but I guess I’ve just been lucky enough to always feel like I’ve got it pretty good regardless. To quote American Beauty (because I like to do this as often as humanly possible), “there’s plenty of joy in my life.” 🙂

Aside from that, Bostrom’s claims just seemed very generalized, not well-thought-out, and generally individualistic (a claim that I believe Katherine Hayles, in “Wrestling with Transhumanism” made about transhumanist notions as a whole). You can’t just list all of these ideal conditions that would be in place for the transhumanist vision to become a reality and then not explain how those conditions would ever actually come to be. Specifically, Bostrom mentions that there would have to be equal access of technologies to everybody. Okay…how? How is that going to be a possibility when not everybody in the world has even remotely equal access to things like health care? Or food? Or water?

On the bright side, Hayles article was refreshing because it exactly addressed the kinds of issues I have with the idea of transhumanism. I appreciated that she took some of the ideas of transhumanism and essentially said “even though I don’t agree with these, I still think they’re useful to think about. Let’s put them in another context: science fiction!” Now, I’m not a big scifi fan, but looking at it through that lens was refreshing. Not to mention, some of the literature she was discussing actually sounded pretty interesting.

Anyway, the MOOC will be wrapping up next week, so here’s to hoping that week 5 is a better one.