On Tommaso Venturini’s “Building on Faults”

Venturini, Tommaso. “Building on Faults: How to Represent Controversies with Digital Methods.” Public Understanding of Science. 21.7 (2012): 796-812. Web. 17 February 2013.

Summary: In this article, Venturini aims to explore and explain the method of presenting social controversies through what he refers to as a controversy-website.

keywords: controversies, cartography, actor-network theory, visualization, representation, controversy-website.

Claims I agree with:

“To be of any use, social maps have to be less confused and convoluted than collective disputes. They cannot just mirror the complexity of controversies: they have to make such complexity legible.” (797)
“Representing a controversy is like building on a seismic fault. To endure the shake of disputes, descriptions must be quakeproof.” (799)

Claims I disagree with:

“public debates (vaguely defined as situations where actors disagree ) constitute the best settings for observing the construction of social life.” (797)

Passages to keep:

“To trace a phenomenon means converting it into a piece of writing. This process (also known as ‘inscription’ or ‘formalization’) plays a pivotal role in modern science. No matter if you investigate nuclear forces, legal bindings or neural synapses, if you work within the framework of science, you will eventually deal with words, charts or numbers. This holds also for social sciences, whose rationale is to provide formalized accounts of collective phenomena.” (800)

“Yet, the enthusiasm for digital innovation should not prevent us from acknowledging four simple facts:
1. search engines are not the web;
2. the web is not the Internet;
3. the Internet is not the digital;
4. the digital is not the world.” (803)

“No controversy can be reduced to a binary opposition between two alternative viewpoints. Controversies always involve a plurality of different questions and only a few of these questions can be answered with a simple yes or no. The positions of actors in a controversy are always complicated and nuanced.” (805)

Sources to help read this article:

Venturini’s previous article in the same journal.

Actor-Network Theory in Plain English





Lowell Monke’s “The Human Touch”

In this article, Monke essentially makes the claim that we have too much faith in technology and rely on it too heavily without even thinking about it, especially when it comes to our implementation of it in K-12 classrooms. Furthermore, he argues that computer availability, contrary to popular belief, does not lead to test score and school performance improvement and that, in using computers in the classroom, specific kinds of learning are left out. Finally, Monke makes the case for concentrating computers and other “high tech” technologies in the higher grades of K-12 education and “honor the natural developmental stages of childhood.”

While this article was written almost a decade ago now, I’m still surprised that it was written as recently as 2004. With the kinds of claims Monke makes against the use of computers in schools, I probably would have guessed that this article was even older (maybe 1994 rather than 2004).

In general, I disagree with Monke’s sentiments about technology and computer use in the classroom. And personally, I was a bit offended by his comment that it was “students who had curtailed their time climbing the trees, rolling the dough, and conversing with friends and adults in order to become computer ‘wizards’ who typically had the most trouble finding creative things to do with the computer.” Here, it seems like he’s trying to make the point that it’s impossible to know how to use a computer and to have a social life at the same time–an argument that is idiotic.

I also had some issues with Monke’s argument against 2 dimensional, abstract learning. He explains that children don’t learn well through abstractions and that’s all computers have to offer. But what about children who learn through flashcards? These are pretty common educational tools, especially in a child’s early schooling years, that are effective in using abstractions (two dimensional drawings of real objects) to teach.

One good point that Monke did bring up that I have never thought about is that “Clinging to the belief that computers have no effect on us allows us to turn a blind eye to the sacrifices that schools have made to accommodate them.” He explains the amount of funding that goes into introducing a computer lab to a school, maintaining it, and protecting it. In the meantime, this often leads to budget cuts for other areas of the school. I think this is a legitimate and current concern, and I wish he would have spent more time discussing this point in the article instead of the many others that (for me, at least) fell flat.

ENGL516: Connections Between Online Teaching & Online Tutoring

In signing up for ENGL516 this semester, one of the things I was hoping to get out of the class was a way to make connections between ways of online teaching and online tutoring. I’ve worked in the University Writing Center for almost two years now, and since I got into the world of tutoring by taking ENGL479 (Peer Tutoring) during my last year of undergrad, I’ve been curious about online writing centers. Specifically, I have wondered how (or if) it is possible to recreate the f2f experience a student receives in a traditional, on-campus tutoring session online.

Yesterday, I read an article by Lisa M. Lane entitled “Insidious Pedagogy: How Course Management Systems Impact Teaching.” In this article, Lane makes the argument that most faculty teaching online classes these days are simply not familiar wit how to get the most out of Course Management Systems (CMS). Furthermore, she argues that CMS setups shape teaching pedagogy through their design and function.

The downside of this, she claims, is that the design of many CMS focus on “presentation and assessment” in the form of lectures, discussions, and tests. This reflects the “traditional” view of classroom teaching, where teachers spew out information and students write it down and are expected to memorize it for the test. This is contrary to the pedagogy that many teachers claim to have these days. We know these “traditional” notions of teaching are not what’s best for students, so why are CMS setup to perpetuate them?

At the end of her article, Lane calls for more “opt-in systems” that allow teachers to essentially build the course, as opposed to “opt-out systems” that are basically pre-made and lead to teachers feeling overwhelmed. She also maintains that teachers need to focus on considering their pedagogy first and then thinking about how a CMS can help them teach according to it. But is this really something that can be learned through training? Why not just train teachers how to actually use the programs?

Anyway, this article got me thinking about online writing centers and how the software/systems in place to handle online writing consultations can also impact tutoring pedagogy. I began thinking specifically about the current setup of EMU’s University Writing Center Online and the nature of the consultations. Students submit a paper through the website, along with a description of the assignment and a list of the writer’s concerns. From there, a tutor responds to the paper via e-mail with comments and suggestions within 48-72 hours.

I think most writing center tutors would agree with me that having a f2f writing consultation–or at the very least, a real-time one–is ideal. As a peer tutor, I was taught the importance of body language, eye contact, and personal space in a consultation. I was also taught to value having a real dialogue about a student’s work, rather than just spewing out feedback and making corrections to the writer’s paper myself. And like I said, I don’t think I’m alone here in thinking this way.

But with asynchronous online writing consultations such as the current system that EMU’s UWC has in place, it is pretty clear that our basic pedagogy is not well supported. An e-mail consultation does not allow for the dialogue that is needed to hold a productive consultation. I’m not trying to bash our current system–especially because I know first-hand the effort that goes into these online consultations by the consultants to make the experience as useful for the writer as possible–but I do hope that we can someday have more synchronous online consultations in the future. Schools like U of M and others already offer live video chat consultations in their writing centers, so hopefully this is something that will not be too far off in the future for EMU.

In fact, me and some other UWC consultants put together a student survey at the end of last semester as a way of gauging the overall awareness of our current online program, as well as the demand for more synchronous methods of online tutoring. With any luck, EPEO will have this survey out soon and it will be a catalyst for some changes in the way the UWCO functions.

Reflections on the Coursera MOOC Experience #edcMOOC

This week, I began an “E-Learning and Digital Cultures” MOOC through Coursera as a part of my ENGL516: Computers and Writing, Theory and Practice class. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept of a MOOC…it stands for “Massive Online Open Course.” These are essentially classes that are offered online to everybody; you don’t need to be admitted to a college or university to join, and there are classes available in a wide variety of subject matter. Coursera is just one of many websites that offer MOOCs. All of them are free of cost and many are taught by professors from major universities across the globe. And while students who complete a MOOC do not directly receive college credit, many of the courses do offer a certificate for students who pass the course.

While a good friend of mine had told me about Coursea a few months back (I think she was enrolled in a class on psychology at the time), I was not very familiar with the concept of a MOOC until I began my class this week.

The first thing I noticed was that there’s really no understating the “Massive” part of the acronym. I tried to do a little bit of searching around the course page to see if there’s actually a number of enrolled students listed somewhere, but I wasn’t able to find anything. Still, to give an idea as to the size of the class…in one thread in our discussion forum for this week alone, there are close to 400 posts and 8,600 views. And in an article titled “All About MOOCs” by Rosanna Tamburri, it’s suggested that MOOC class sizes of 40,000 students or more are not unheard of.

On our 516 class blog, the latest discussion thread has 16 posts…

While participating in the discussion forums in the MOOC is not required by the teachers, it is recommended to prepare us for the final assessment (which is actually the only thing we’ll be officially graded on). I have to say, I’m having a hard time feeling like I’m getting anything out of the discussion forum. It’s enough of a challenge to skim through hundreds of posts, let alone to make a contribution that isn’t repetitive. I tried bringing up some new points and asking a couple of questions here and there in my posts to generate more of a discussion. I think a couple of people responded, but the “discussion” (if you can even call it that) derailed soon after, as people began posting their own interpretations of the videos or readings–basically saying the same things that had already been said dozens of times.

To me, the discussion forums in the MOOC don’t seem like discussions at all; they seem to function as more of a space to “dump” one’s thoughts without really trying to engage in conversations with the rest of the (huge) class. I wonder why this is. Is it the class size that’s making it so difficult (we don’t seem to have these issues in our 516 discussions)? Do people just like to spew their own opinions and ignore everybody else’s input (my answer to this is yes regardless)?

This isn’t to say I’m not enjoying the MOOC experience. Personally, I loved the short videos that we watched for this week and I really like having the option to kind of pick and choose the readings we want to do based on our own interests. I also have a feeling that the forum discussions will improve as people drop stop participating in the class (hate to say it), which, according to Tamburri, is essentially inevitable. In “All About MOOCs,” she explains that “dropout rates for MOOCs are exceptionally high. Dr. Siemens estimates that about 10 percent of registrants in his MOOCs (albeit smaller versions of the high-profile U.S. type) complete the course.”

the timing of things.

how do you explain…

setting your alarm clock for 8:30AM (meanwhile, forgetting to set the alarm on your phone as a backup like you normally do) and waking up at 8:20-something–apparently by the free will of your own body–seconds before a sporadic power outage that resets your alarm clock completely? How do you explain the few blurred moments of consciousness where you (at least partially) acknowledge the dull background noise from the television that you left on and its dim flickering lights…and then the few seconds later where you lunge into full-on awareness when it all goes quiet and dark, and you realize it’s a good thing you came into this awareness because you would have been late for work otherwise?

How do you explain the timing of anything?

I remember exactly where I was this time last year and the feeling of certainty that every day would be pretty much the same as the one before. And then this one little (?) thing happened at what might have been the worst possible time. And a few weeks later, I was making a huge mistake. Soon after that, a confession; a realization. Eventually, a new commitment. All because of this one thing that happened at this one time.

How do you explain the people who fall into and out of your life? I’ve been wondering for years but I’m happy wondering.

it’s getting serious.

Everything’s happening in cycles lately; one minute, I genuinely feel like there’s nowhere else I should be than right here, right now (right now? Sitting on my bed in old sweatpants and a robe and mismatching socks, wishing all my bedding wasn’t still in the dryer because it’s cold but also feeling thankful for this time to myself after a real long day). In these moments, I see the next five, ten (?) years of my life laid out in my head. A perfect, linear sequence. One thing after another.

But I don’t usually feel so sure. Most of the time I wonder if we all make decisions to feel better about or to defend other ones–to build up some kind of a reality in our heads that might not actually exist. Ever. For anybody. I hate this cycle.

I finally made a New Year’s resolution for myself the other day, even though it’s almost a month late. I really want to figure out a way to balance out the academic, professional, and social aspects of my life (is it even fair to say that there is a social aspect to my life anymore?) because I can never seem to tend to more than one of them at once. I’ll get caught up on my homework, but only if I become a hermit and ignore everybody I care about. And vice-versa. There are rare times–when the planets and the stars align–where I manage to adequately tend to all three for a day and I feel great. But today, I did nothing but glaze through pages upon pages of theory, type out post after post, and jot down reminder after reminder to make sure I don’t forget that my life is dominated by academia tomorrow…and the day after…and the day after…

Most days are like today, but I do have lots to look forward to.

“I have lost something. But you know what? It’s never too late to get it back.”

On “Rhetoric of the Image” by Roland Barthes

Barthes, Roland. “Rhetoric of the Image.” Visual Rhetoric in a Digital World: A Critical Sourcebook. Carolyn Handa. Boston/New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004. 152-163. Print.

You know that feeling of relief when you look at the syllabus and see that you have a nice, short, 10-page text to read?…

…And then the feeling of panic when you get about two pages into it and are struggling to make sense or each sentence?

That was me with this Barthes piece. Let me just go ahead and put it out there.

A One-Sentence Summary: In this selection, Roland Barthes seeks to answer the question, “can analogical representation produce true systems of signs and not merely simple agglutinations of symbols?” (152) by analyzing the rhetorical components of a print advertisement.

Keywords: linguistic, connoted, denoted, sign, signifier, signified, message, coded, non-coded

Barthes begins by asking whether imagesccan really function as a language in themselves. And if they can, how do images create different meanings? He then begins describing a print advertisement for Panzani:ImageWhat Barthes claims is that there are three types of message found in the ad itself: the linguistic message, the denoted message, and the connoted message. He uses terms like “signified,” “signifier,” and “sign,” which threw me off when I first read the piece because it had been awhile since I’d seen those terms. As I read, I tried to gather what each meant…do signs create signifieds? Or do signifiers create signifieds? I eventually got confused and Googled the terms for a better understanding. The way I see it now is:

Signifiers are the form a sign takes and signifieds are the concepts that the form represents. Both of these components together make up a sign. Hopefully I’m not too far off in my understanding here.

Anyway, from what I understood, the linguistic message that Barthes refers to is the actual text found in the image itself. In the Panzani ad, this would be the labels with the company name on them. Here, the text itself is denoted while having connotations…the word “Panzani” *seems* Italian, and considering other elements of the image, leads us to think of what Barthes coins Italianicity. Hmmm.

The denoted messages of the ad (also referred to as “non-coded”) are more literal and include the depiction of, say, the tomato actually representing a tomato. Seems simple enough, but the role of the denoted message, Barthes would argue, is vital; it functions to naturalize the image’s connoted messages. He claims that “the denoted image naturalizes the symbolic message, it innocents the semantic artifice of connotation, which is extremely dense, especially in advertising.” (159)

There are a lot of connoted messages at play in this ad, too. For example, the bag being open and spilling out onto the table signifies a recent return from the market. Not to mention, the image itself looks like it could almost be a still life painting. He later goes on to explain that anybody could have their own interpretations of the ad, which is a characteristic that is unique to this particular system. Specifically, he states that “what gives this system its originality is that the number of readings of the same lexical unit or lexia (of the same image) varies according to individuals.” (160) But isn’t this also true in many kinds of text–especially creative writing?

I think my main struggle with this article had to do with the language and terms used…they seemed overly complicated to me…but I am interested in how this same system might be identified in another type of image.

Selections to keep:

“Of course, elsewhere than in advertising, the anchorage may be ideological and indeed this is its principal function; the text directs the reader through the signifieds of the image, causing him to avoid some and receive others. By means of an often subtle dispatching, it remote-controls him towards a meaning chosen in advance.” (156)

“If our reading is satisfactory, the photograph analyzed offers us three messages: a linguistic message, a coded iconic message, and a non-coded iconic message. The linguistic message can be readily separated from the other two, but since the latter share the same (iconic) substance, to what extent do we have the right to separate them?” (154)

“There is a plurality and a co-existence of lexicons in one and the same person, the number and identity of these lexicons forming in some sort a person’s idiolect. The image, in its connotation, is thus constituted by an architecture of signs drawn from a variable depth of lexicon (of idiolects); each lexicon, no matter how “deep,” still being coded, if, as is the thought today, the psyche itself is articulated like a language.” (160)

Claims I agree with:

I enjoyed Barthes’ discussion on the reading of an image being highly contextual and individual. Much like in written text, I agree that there are infinite meanings that anybody could derive from an image based on their own life experiences, culture, opinions, etc. Of course, in creating an ad, choices are made to draw more people into coming to the message that the advertising agency wants, but there is no way of knowing all of the messages that a person might get from the image. In fact, this is part of what I think makes visual rhetoric so fascinating.

I also agreed with Barthes’ claim that the linguistic message can influence the connoted message. I think this sort of ties into the above claim that all people read things differently. Perhaps because of this, the linguistic message is so valuable; reading a word can put a certain image or thought into our heads that would bridge a gap that was keeping us from seeing a particular connoted message before.

Claims I would challenge:

I tried thinking back to some of the images we looked at on the Slidedeck on our first day of class and had a harder time making such solid claims about connoted and denoted messages as Barthes does with the Panzani ad. I wonder if this has something to do with the fact that some of the images we looked at appeared to be unplanned or impromptu. I think I have an easier time identifying the elements that Barthes discusses in images that are more obviously staged. Hmm….based on this, I might challenge the claim that this system can be applied to any image.

Sources helpful for this reading:

The actual Panzani ad (why is this not in the book?)

An explanation of sign, signified, and signifier

A synposis of Barthes and his work (including this piece)


Rethinking What it Means to Compose…

With my new-found understanding of writing itself as a technology, I’ve been taking the time lately to really reflect on and really appreciate how easy it is for me to write. Last week, I tried to make a mental note of all the things I “wrote” in just one morning:

  1. Jotted down a note to myself on my bedroom mirror with a dry-erase marker.
  2. Sent texts to Craig from my phone’s touch-screen keyboard.
  3. Sent e-mails for work on my office computer.
  4. Wrote out the word “nowadays” for an ESL student on her assignment sheet with a pencil (she had been writing “now days” in her paper).
  5. Made up eight contracts for the Writing Project in pen.
  6. Scribbled reminders on sticky notes and left them on my work computer for next week’s tasks.

…I could go on…and on…and on…but I won’t.

With this week’s readings in my ENG516 class, I’m beginning to wonder what it even means to write or to compose. Are they the same thing? And based on some readings by Cynthia Selfe, Kathleen Yancey, and Jody Shipka, I’m beginning to rethink the definition of composition that I’ve grown to understand for as long as I’ve been writing. All three authors stress the importance of looking at composition beyond the finished product (the final draft of the paper, for example). Specifically, Selfe argues for a new definition to encompass aural modes of composition in writing classrooms. Yancey argues that we need to start looking at the factors that influence our writing as part of the composing process, including digital media. Shipka calls for further research on composing processes as a whole, noting faults in past research that has been done (it was too focused on the individual, then too focused on everything else).

So all of these authors are arguing for a broader, more encompassing definition, which I agree with. In going back to my list from last week, I notice that every instance of writing that I noted somehow involved putting actual words on the page (or screen). I think this is exactly what authors like Selfe would caution against. In determining that “words on page/screen” is the criteria for what I consider to be writing or composing, I’m privileging print over other modes of composition. Based on Selfe’s beliefs, wouldn’t every verbal conversation I had that day also deserve to be on the list?

This is something I’ve never thought about before. I think I agree with her and the other authors, but I wonder where can we reasonably draw the line? What doesn’t count as composition? And while I have no intentions to go into teaching anymore, I wonder how such a broad definition of composition could be feasibly incorporated into the classroom…especially in a first-year writing class. From what I understand, teachers already feel like they don’t have enough time to work with their students. So as Yancey argues, such a change would have to go beyond first-year composition; it would affect the entire field.

I think our FYWP has already been experimenting with teaching multimodal composition, though, so maybe we are starting to see a shift?


“and then it flows through me like rain…”: realizations about writing technologies


The finished product with strawberry ink and makeshift brush (stick I found in my backyard, which was originally intended for carving letters).

I think I’ve always associated the term “technology” with computers. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that computers and the Internet were such new and dominating technologies as I was growing up…

So to come to the realization through readings by Walter Ong, Alex Reid, and Dennis Baron that writing is a technology blew my mind initially–though it makes perfect sense now. Sure, we are born with a natural inclination to communicate with others, but not through producing text. Instead, we start babbling by the time we’re a few months old and then we gradually move into learning how to speak single words…then phrases…then sentences. We learn to communicate through signs, too; for example, as babies, we point to things that we want but don’t know the words for. These are things we’re apparently hard-wired to do. But not until we are explicitly and intentionally sat down with a crayon and paper do we have any inclination to communicate through writing.

What a realization. Re-thinking what it means to be literate and what constitutes a writing technology is what this was all about (or what it ended up being about–at least for me). I created the clay surface of my writing technology using nothing more than some boiling water, all-purpose flour, salt, vegetable oil, and cream of tartar. What I was surprised by was how quickly the surface began to dry and how little time this gave me to do any “writing” (or, in this case, carving).


Lots of flour, water, salt, oil, and cream of tartar made for a big batch of clay!

I had initially planned on using a stick I’d found in my backyard to carve the text, but realized that it was not sharp enough to create letters with the precision that I wanted. Since I was attempting to fit 16 words onto a slab of clay about the size of a sheet of paper (and because the clay was drying fast), I knew I needed to find a more precise tool that I could use as a writing utensil. I scrambled around my kitchen and saw my set of keys sitting on the counter. Perfect. I ended up using a house key to carve my text, though I was able to salvage the stick for something; I later used it as a tool to apply the red ink that I made out of a crushed strawberry.

In my panic to find a tool that would be suitable as a writing utensil, I remember thinking “if only I could just use a pen or pencil!” But by being limited to found objects outside of established writing technologies (yes, pencils and pens are technologies in themselves. Imagine that, right?), I was able to gain a new appreciation for the writing utensils that I have available to me today. Thanks to my computer, I was able to type out and post this blog in a matter of minutes. With the stroke of the CTRL+I keys, I was able to create emphasis on certain words in my text in a matter of milliseconds, whereas it took me ten or fifteen minutes to create and apply ink for emphasis in my created text. One benefit that my writing surface afforded me that I did not think about beforehand, however, was the ability to edit in ways that modern technologies also offer. If I made a mistake, a small amount of pressure from my thumb to the clay erased it and gave me a clean slate to work with. Still, I think I prefer my “backspace” key. 🙂


Before ink was applied. Kinda dull, huh?

I’m looking at my Facebook feed tonight and wondering if I’m maybe not the only one feeling reminiscent. On my news feed, people are updating their profile pictures to ones that were taken years prior and posting songs from decades ago. Of course, maybe I’m wrong…maybe these people just really liked how they looked in these old pictures or maybe they just discovered these songs and are connecting to them in the present. But it’s comforting for me to at least pretend that I’m not so alone tonight. I somehow started looking through old pictures tonight and got really sad, in a way, about how much things have changed–even in just the past year.

And while I really do believe that the past year was simultaneously the most challenging, stressful, exciting, and overall best of my life, I can’t help but get all sentimental about the things in these pictures that I don’t have anymore: my apartment, my cat, a real sense of what the hell I’m ever doing…

I don’t know why I’m even writing this in here, you know? I went out and bought a new journal today because I ran out of pages in my other one yesterday. I’d been writing in it for almost four years–since I was eighteen. I don’t know how to start the new one. It feels weird. And I definitely don’t want to start it with something stupid like this.

On a happy note, this past weekend was just perfect. I feel like I’m just finally getting back from winter break.