Monday, February 29, 2016

Finding Support

In "A Selection of Strategies for Training Teaching Assistants," Irene Ward and Merry Perry, observe, "Many professions place strenuous demands on personal time. Anxiety in any area--teaching, coursework, or scholarship--will affect the other areas due to the dynamic tensions among multiple demands. Our experience has taught us that TAs function better when they are challenged to deal with issues and given the ongoing support--practical information and positive reinforcement--they need" (121). From Ward and Perry's quote, two concepts stand out: (1) there is a lot that requires a TAs' time/attention, which can cause anxiety, and (2) TAs need assistance in coping, learning, and succeeding in their new positions. What Ward and Perry seek to demonstrate in these two concepts is the WP's attempt to balance the stressful environment that TAs find themselves in by providing a support network. For many TAs, I think the support network that the WP provides is an essential aspect to, not only their growth as an instructor, but their well-being as well.

To clarify: A professor said (I think it might have been Dr. Mix), that being a graduate student is lonely. I think we have all experienced this in different ways, but the major commonality seems to be that the people who we care about (typically our family members) don't appreciate/value/understand our work as graduate students. The more entrenched you become in the discipline, in the academy, the more distance there seems to be.

Because graduate students are less likely to get support from their family, it is that much more important that they receive the kind of positive reinforcement that Ward and Perry discuss from the WP. Although a goal of most WP is to create a support system for TAs, I think it would also be beneficial if graduate students, especially new ones, had people they could talk to about the cultural disconnect between their family life and academic life. This might make the transition a lot easier and less stressful.

I think it is common for graduates students to talk about their family situations in passing, and merely shrug it off as "the way it is." However, I know it is very stressful at first, and I think that as a community we should take more responsibility for helping our new graduate students transition.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Organic Writing Assessment

At the beginning of chapter 1, "Organic Matters", Bob Broad equates writing assessment to organic farming. His argument makes sense in that he wants people to understand that it is important to understand where assessment comes from and that it should be locally developed. And that's all well and good, but the same arguments that are brought up when discussing organic farming also apply to views of organic assessment. For starters, when thinking abut organic farming you have to take into account the time and money that has to go into the process. Some farmers and teachers alike don't have other commitments and responsibilities they have to attend to. In a school where research is the focus an instructor has to split time between teaching and research they may not have the time to invest in a more thorough form of assessment. Others may have a heavy teaching load that they have to manage. Think about how many classes an adjunct instructor may be teaching. I've known some that teach six classes a semester; that's on average 150 students they have to work with. On top of that comes the cost. How much does the organic, locally-grown tomato cost in comparison to the mass produced one? Who is the perceived consumer? In teaching terms, what's the average amount of students an instructor wanting to use organic assessment methods effectively can teach? How does this affect the number of instructors that the school hires? Doe that impact the types of instructors (Full-time, adjunct, grad students, etc)? Does that change the budget? Will funds have to be diverted from something else to hire more instructors?

Secondly, if we're sticking with ag econ metaphors, what happens to areas with food deserts? How do you utilize "home gardening" techniques when you don't have a yard to garden in? There are a lot of areas where the number of composition faculty are scares and composition is taught by those not just outside the field of composition, outside the field of English. In our approaches to assessment are we universalized the idea of a writing program? Have we thought about faculty the don't lie within the norms that we're used to? One of the most forgotten groups of composition instructors are those who teach at community colleges. Many, if not most, of them have not studied or been adequately trained in writing assessment. Quite of few of them don't even have a degree in English. How are they supposed to learn how to do organic assessment? They are also the ones who generally teach higher course loads with more students for less pay. And many of their students are the underprivileged. There's nothing wrong with wanting to have organic assessment, but I think too often we look at assessment through the eyes of the privileged. Assessment is a hard thing to do and often times those with the toughest situations regarding assessment are ignored in these conversations.


I've got collaboration on the brain. That's mostly because Kelsie and I recently have been working on a collaborative teaching/research project. So when I read Latterell's claim at the end of her article--"Tenured faculty, advanced GTAs, writing center professionals, instructors, and undergraduate students are under-utilized resources in most GTA education programs" (153)--I thought, Yes, of course that's true.

Latterell is talking about making use of all our personnel resources within the entire spectrum of GTA education, including the practicum, workshops, mentorships, etc. But even if we narrow that scope down to just the practicum, it's an interesting idea. Consider the following:

  • A practicum course could be collaboratively planned/designed by various stakeholders in the writing program, not just the director or instructor of record. 
  • A practicum course could be taught, perhaps in sections, by various people involved in the writing program, according to their areas of expertise. 
  • "Advanced" GTAs could guest lecture, like Mike gave Mary and me the opportunity to do, in the practicum class. 
  • Writing center tutors could guest lecture (or lead a workshop, etc.) about responding to student writing and conferencing with students. 
  • We could invite FYC student voices into the practicum class in a variety of ways, as well. For example, I held a focus group with a few of my 103 students last semester (and offered them extra credit for participating). I asked them to tell me about their thoughts on "discussion v. lecture" in the classroom for teaching and learning. I recorded the focus group and edited it down to share with the practicum students on a day that I was guest lecturing. Understanding what students believe about and value in their eduction should, in part, inform the instructional choices we make. 
At first, one might think that sharing responsibilities with others in this way would lighten the load of the person who is typically placed with the majority of the administrative burden. However, based on my own experience with collaboration, that's not necessarily true. Collaboration is difficult and it takes more time than you expect it to, but I think the results show an important pay off. GTAs' education would benefit from hearing a variety of perspectives related to teaching composition and they would form relationships with a variety of people who can all serve as helpful resources to them. The moral of the story, folks, at least in my opinion, is that two heads are better than one. 

How can we set up our writing program administration and institutional practices so that they value and encourage/reward collaboration like this? Are you guys skeptical about the idea or find it intriguing (like I do)? If you are skeptical, why is that?  

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

TA Training and the Balance Between Budget and Best Practices

In some ways, I feel like the least-qualified person to comment on this unit about teaching assistants and the best ways to train them for their work as both students and instructors. I’ve never been a TA nor do I have much working knowledge about how the training program at Ball State operates. At the small, private university where I teach, this is a non-issue. We don’t have graduate programs in English, and, therefore, we don’t have graduate students that need training. However, I will say that I can strongly relate to the anxiety that Ward and Perry describe in their chapter about TAs and how they are likely to feel as they enter their first semester as instructors. When I first started as an adjunct, I didn’t have a strong background in rhetoric and composition, and though I was given a textbook and a department syllabus that outlined course objectives, I felt like I was groping in the dark to find relevant classroom activities, discussion topics, and assignments. In that first year, I think my main goal was to “fill up” the 50 minutes of class time each day, and though I always hoped that my lesson plans were relevant and helpful, I was painfully aware that I didn’t have the background knowledge in composition or pedagogy to be truly effective.

As I read through the articles for this week, it was clear that this background knowledge is something to be valued in teaching assistants and should be intentionally fostered within the writing programs where they teach. However, there is a difficult balance that WPAs have to maintain when confronted with constraints of time, money, and space. The reason that TAs even exist is because they serve a financial need for most institutions who couldn’t afford to hire only full-time faculty members to teach composition. And so they hire GTAs, who likely don’t have the background knowledge and practical experience to teach to their full potential. This tension between institutional constraints and effective teaching seems to be what fuels most of the discussions about TA training, and I found myself wondering through most of the readings if the widespread use of TAs (many of whom seem to be “thrown” into a teaching role) might in some ways be a disservice to the TAs themselves, first-year writing students, and the overall discipline.

For instance, Ward and Perry make note of the “multiple and interrelated dimensions of the TA experience” as well as the “multiple subject positions that TAs inhabit” (119). Clearly, TAs have to navigate a lot of new responsibilities that are both time-consuming and crucial to their success. Is it really possible for TAs to navigate this dual role immediately and effectively? Ward and Perry address this question directly: “A supportive director of graduate studies is a great help in being able to reassure students that ‘Yes, you are expected to do well in both areas’ and ‘yes, you can do it’” (121). However, I remain skeptical. Does a system where TAs immediately begin teaching (while they are being trained as TAs and taking their own graduate classes) set them up to “do well”?

Finally, Latterell brings up some concerns about TA training and practicums, primarily that this common procedure reinforces negative ideas “that teaching writing requires minimal expertise” and “is not valued, even by the rhetoric and composition field.” The fact that so many training programs focus on the “how to” of teaching writing gives the perception it’s an easy task that one can accomplish without much of the background knowledge I mentioned earlier.

Clearly, these are important challenges that WPAs must consider. Personally, I agree with the sentiments of most of the authors who advocate for a greater degree of TA training. I think to be truly effective, TAs should receive some sort of training before they actually begin teaching, which would give them at least some time to learn the theory behind practice and be more informed and intentional as they develop lesson plans. I wish I had been given some of these opportunities before I began teaching.

On T.A. Training

I found this week’s readings to be some of the most approachable and enjoyable of the year, simply because I am currently in that space of new teaching assistant. I think that these readings help to show those of us that are new T.A.s that feelings of anxiety, lacking of confidence, feeling overwhelmed, and having a conviction that you are not able to juggle your workload while still being the “good student” that you were in undergrad studies are all perfectly normal feelings. It also illuminates the difficulties of training T.A.s, which revolve more around time, money, and space, than some struggle between WPA and TA. It is unfortunate that spending time, money, and space in one area of T.A. training takes away from other areas. However, this just means that we must set clear goals and outcomes for what we want and expect out of T.A.s. Personally, as a T.A., I have found our training at BSU to be extremely helpful, interesting, and enjoyable. The only thing I wish we spent considerably more time on is technology in the classroom; I am awful at blackboard. 

Ward and Perry’s suggestions for improving already stable T.A. training programs is probably my favorite area of the readings, as it offered up a ton of cool ways to think about training T.A.s. As a result, it offers up tools for T.A.s, even if the WPA does not mandate them at one’s specific location. For example, the practice of having T.A.s write reflections in journals throughout their time as T.A.s. We don’t mandate this here at BSU, but after reading the section, its something I am going to start practicing. As a potential future WPA, Ward and Perry’s section is something I would definitely return to when constructing T.A. training. 

From a WPA perspective, I think that Latterell’s chapter was helpful in its emphasis on theory in addition to practice. Even in the space of Teaching Methods courses, Latterell insists that we must entrench ourselves in the history, theory, and aims of composition as a larger field, and not make the mistake of teaching them the practice (the how) without articulating the beliefs behind them (the why). I think this emphasis is warranted. I thought the books that we read in id601 did a pretty good job of rooting us in history and theory, and provided reasons as to why, and not just how. In addition, the genres of composition pedagogy book certainly included “multiple perspectives” for writing pedagogies, which Latterell also emphasizes. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Consistency in Assessment: Is It Possible?

In Chapter Two of A Guide to College Writing Assessment, O’Neill, Moore, and Huot outline the concerns related to consistency in assessment:

“[T]he problem for writing assessment (Huot and Neal 2006, 1) was ‘framed’ (Schon 1982, 40) as what could be done to make independent readers agree on the same scores for the same papers. This is not an easy or inconsequential task. Without consistency in scoring, students’ scores on their writing would depend upon who read the papers rather than who wrote them. Without consistency in scoring, it would be impossible to argue for the validity of decisions based upon such scores.” (19)

I think this issue of getting readers to score writing exams in a similar way deserves its own blog post. I remember having a conversation about "calibrating" grades during my TA training at another institution. We spent a couple of hours working in small groups to discuss the ways we could all score essays similarly. Each group member graded the same essays using the same rubric and then we compared the grades we had given them. While some of the essays were clearly very well developed, many of them were B or C range. But there’s a big difference between a B and a C and as graders, we struggled to agree on what constituted each grade. That’s where the rubric was supposed to help. But it proved to be less useful than intended. By the end of the session, I remember being frustrated because we had not “calibrated” and we continued to take very different approaches to grading and scoring. Other programs try to implement calibration sessions (here’s a link to one guide, for example:)

Is calibration possible? Certainly we can get together and talk about what kinds of things the program wants us to emphasize in our assessment and we should be using the Writing Program’s grading criteria:

But instructors still emphasize different concepts or skills. Some of us use rubrics and some do not and I think that works to our advantage because we are not forced to evaluate in a way that doesn’t fit our own teaching style. Still, I wonder if we are adequately preparing students for the writing proficiency exam (*sigh). While I was reading this chapter of the book, I kept thinking: I wonder how the writing proficiency exam is graded. I wonder what the score sheets look like and how readers are trained to score them. I wonder if we could find that information and then use it to build those specific skills into some of the assignments in our classes. But I was also wondering if that should be part of our role as writing instructors. This makes me think of high school teachers preparing students for ACT/SAT exams and I certainly don’t want to be teaching for a writing proficiency exam. I hope that I am teaching students enough already so that they are more adequately prepared for that exam but I honestly have no idea what that exam looks like or how it’s graded. Perhaps it should be more transparent for instructors in the writing program, even though the exam isn't administered through the writing program (right?).

“Without consistency in scoring, it would be impossible to argue for the validity of decisions based upon such scores,” the authors of A Guide to College Writing Assessment stated (19). What does this suggest about the writing proficiency exam at Ball State and what are the implications for our writing program?

Also, here's the link to the exam grading criteria (which I think is vague and still doesn't show us the score sheets):

And here's the link to information about how the assessment works:


Thoughts/Questions about Teaching Observations

The brief section in chapter 7 of A Guide to College Writing Assessment that addresses teaching observation made me consider my own upcoming teaching observations and how within our program teaching observations play a dualistic role of WP assessment and individual instructor professionalization. This made me wonder, if teaching observations are meant to fulfill two different purposes, shouldn't the observation be geared towards different things. To be more specific, if an instructor is being observed to promote/facilitate professionalization, shouldn't this observation look different than an observation that is collecting data for the WP. I could see an argument being made that all teaching observations are moments for professionalization, but I feel like depending on the instructor the need is different, especially for new TAs. In other words, new TAs are going to need more guidance than a more veteran faculty member. I'm not saying that they shouldn't be held to the same standards and expectations. Not at all. I just feel like their teaching observation should be doing something different in order to fulfill their varying needs. Maybe this is the case already and I am just not aware of it. If so, I am interested in what the differences are.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Problem with Education Technology

A follow-up to our discussion of technology last week. This came across the WPA listserv. I haven't read the book yet, but I'm looking forward to it.

"Likewise, alas, with the formal position statement from our colleagues at CCCC:

'Writing-to-a-machine violates the essentially social nature of writing: we write to others for social purposes. If a student’s first writing-experience at an institution is writing to a machine, for instance, this sends a message: writing at this institution is not valued as human communication.'

When we read this, even now for the umpteenth time, we find ourselves simultaneously wanting to cheer and cringe. Cheer, because we’re proud that our national organization is promoting the cause we’ve dedicated our lives to: teaching writing and literacy as something social, as a form of human communication, which brings people together and gives them a voice. Cringe, because it’s naive and wrongheaded. Education in the United States is not social, human, or empowering, and we can’t blame that on the machine."

Ben Fink & Robin Brown, The Problem with Education Technology (Hint: It’s Not the Technology), Utah State UP, 2016. E-book is just $5.00.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

WPAs, mutlimodality, and new media composing

 Andrea Lunsford redefined writing in this way: 

A technology for creating conceptual frameworks and creating, sustaining, and performing lines of thought within those frameworks, drawing from and expanding on existing conventions and genres, utilizing signs and symbols, incorporating materials drawn from multiple sources, and taking advantage of the resources of a full range of media.
(qtd. in Leverenz 37-8).

It is crucial that WPAs consider alternate definitions of writing like this one in conceiving of how their writing programs should take shape and what ought to be in the curriculum. Incorporating multimodality into the program is one way to do this that we are familiar with, but it is important to remember that not all writing instructors have the same degree of familiarity with multimodality, and they may not see how it relates to academic writing.

However, it is apparent by Lunsford's definition that notions of writing are changing, and it's important that WPAs and writing instructors get on board with the changing nature of composition so that they can ensure that their students are equipped with the digital literacies they will need to compose in new media. 

Leverenz describes new media as contrasting with the 8.5 by 11," "word-only" texts traditionally associated with composition. She notes that these can include videos, flyers, posters, websites, and pamphlets (39). However, these are only a few of the options available in terms of constructing a new media composition.  Students can work with a range of mediums if given the opportunity, such as graphic design and photo essays. Cope and Katalantzis contend that teaching writing has to shift toward changes in the culture occurring in personal lives, the public sphere, and workplaces (qtd. in Leverenz 39). Learning the traditional genres of academic writing is important because these are often the ones that allow students to advance to the next level academically, which in turn can lead to economic advancement. However, these new media forms of writing are infiltrating our culture, and the skills that students learn from composing them could be used in other settings and could also lead to personal and/or economic advancement. 

The challenge is making space in the curriculum for new media composing, which cannot be simply an add-on if it is to be taught well. When students seem to struggle with traditional academic writing, it can seem like a difficult decision to devote curricular space to new media composing because it can divert time away from traditional composition. I do not think that a writing program should prescribe for their instructors exactly how to incorporate new media composing into their courses. The instructors are in the optimal place to know the context of their own courses and what they have sufficient skill and knowledge to teach. However, new media composing ought to be encouraged in writing programs, at the very least, and ideally, writing program instructors would receive some kind of training in how to incorporate it.

Leverenz writes that WPAs have a great deal of bureaucratic obligations which can lead them to postpone thinking about multiliteracy or new media composing in a serious way (44). However, it is worth prioritizing, ideally with a lot of flexibility for the instructors and students using it in their courses.

Feral Children

In his 2001 article "Ten Commandments for Computers and Composition," Todd Taylor states:

"As of the year 2001 almost none of us attended computerized kindergarten; thus, instructors and students alike tend to lack the tacit understanding and socialization necessary to operate successfully in the new computer environments. In a way, we are all feral children in the new classroom because we do not yet know how to behave" (237).

I want to use this space to serve the purpose of reexamining such a claim.

Are we are all still feral children? 15 years later, are we domesticated? What is the difference? I tend to interpret the feral child as a teacher who is completely unfamiliar with technology, fears it, and thus rejects it. Meanwhile, I believe that those of us who are domesticated are very familiar with technology, comfortable with/in its presence, and thus embrace it. While being domesticated is certainly better than being feral, such a position is dangerous because it can result in an uncritical stance on technology.

The goal, then, is to situate oneself somewhere in between--it is necessary to be familiar with technology, and thus to be fluent in digital literacies. When such fluency leads to emphatic embrace that rules out healthy skepticism, we become dangerously domesticated.

Where are we? Not as individuals, but as a department? It may seem unreasonable to assume that we could trace and identify a collective location on the feral-domesticated spectrum. But I think such a practice is healthy and beneficial, even if we fail in finding its location. Besides, a lack of ability to locate ourselves may be an indicator that our location resides with the feral children.

Lets start with goals. In the 103 and 104 course goals, outcomes, content, and format sections, there is no mention of key terms "computers" or "digital." There is, however, the terms "a variety of media" for both 103 and 104. Of course, "a variety of media" does not have to include computers or aspects of digital literacy. In considering this alongside the reading, this seems problematic. However, if we consider the spatial layouts of the classrooms that teach composition (at least those that I have worked within, such as 112, 113, 114, and 115), I think that the lack of those key terms fits within our approach to writing. First, we must consider that out of the five possible spatial layouts for classrooms teaching composition with and through computers--lab design, theater design, pod plan, perimeter design, and laptop design-- the composition classrooms 112-115 would fit into laptop design, which is designed for a program that "encourages each instructor to shape courses in individualistic ways within the program's broad, general rubric" (236). In my short time here, with my limited understanding of how the Writing Program functions, I would argue that our program embraces this model. I also think that this is a good model to embrace. But now I want to return to Todd's assertions that, as WPAs in charge of Writing Programs, we simply must be as up-to-date as possible with computers and their abilities in the composition classroom. Does our program do enough to ensure that this is true? More to the point, how does a program that "encourages each instructor to shape courses in individualistic ways" continue to develop and push for an agenda that is computer-based without losing our commitment to individualistic ways of shaping courses?

I think that simply endorsing an ideology which protects the individual teacher's right to construct and teach a class from his/her own values, experiences, beliefs, etc. is proof enough that we satisfy the 1st commandment, putting people first. I think that our program principles, in being as open-ended as they are (remember the wording "a variety of media"), are being satisfied as well. And I honestly haven't been here long enough to discuss the 3rd commandment concerning starting simple. I will say, however, that it seems to me that we are lacking in numbers 4, 5, and 6.

As a new instructor, I have not had hands-on training with any technology. I was not made familiar with how to use Blackboard, for example, and I still am uncomfortable with the site and how to post things. I am learning as I am going, but it has been a 100% independent process. I have not been shown how to activate turn-it-in or safe-assign. I have not been educated on any sites that may be useful in the composition classroom. I don't even know how to work with Vizi, which was developed in-house and contains many of our own alumni. The only things I know about Vizi were told to me on our very first day of graduate school orientation, when Dr. Ranieri passed out information and discussed it with the entire English department. This was maybe a 30 minute presentation couched within a dozen other presentations in the first few hours of me being on campus. I am not suggesting that I couldn't go out of my way to ask for help. I believe if I did I would immediately get help. But I think as a WP administration we should devote more time than that. We ought to teach our instructors how to use these spaces and tools, especially if we believe them to be important or valuable assets to our program. If hands-on instructor training is too expensive or out of the budget, then we should re-examine our budget, or at least spend time with first year teachers on how to work with blackboard, possible pedagogical tools, and how to use Vizi.

In terms of the 6th commandment, consulting with others, I think that this is a fantastic idea, and one that need not rely on the already over-worked, multiple hat wearing WPA team. I would love if teachers had a space where we discussed teaching with technology (maybe a FB group? Even if it was among just the graduate students, it would be helpful. Come to think of it, Alyssa made something like this last year. Is this still up, Alyssa?). I know that I would love to share with others the fantastic collaborative possibilities for 103 and 104 classes inherent in I know that my peers in Rory's "Teaching with Tech" class have all spent time learning, writing, and developing agendas through online spaces and tools. But if we continue to teach independently, and fail to share our own unique findings, then we greatly reduce the opportunities we have as teachers and scholars.

As Todd pointed out, graduate students are some of the best prepared to teach with and through computers. Perhaps this is why, when we prep student teachers, we overlook the importance of undergoing hands-on instructor training. When I look over our 10 commandments, I feel all the more compassionate for the difficult work and heavy workload WPAs have. But I also feel like we could be doing more to channel the power of the Internet for use in our classrooms.

So, are we domesticated or feral? Probably somewhere in between....What (and where) do you think?

Monday, February 8, 2016

Technology, writing, program administration, and multiliteracies

In terms of technology and writing, one of the most profound moments I've had as a teacher and learner came when we read Gitelman and Pingree’s introduction, “What’s New about New Media” in Rory's Teaching with Technology class last semester. In this introduction, Gitelman and Pingree write about the ways we define “new” media and that, really, all media (and technology) were new at one point in time, so what makes media (and technology) “new”? 

From that point on, when we read texts by Selber, Lessig, Shipka, Wysocki and Arola, and others, I began to understand computers, “technology”, and multimodality in more complex ways. For example, one concept I understood differently, plagiarism, is what Donnelly et al. write about in their article. Their article brought up several topics: ethics and Intellectual Property rights, intertextuality and originality, and the goals of education. In my classroom, I choose to talk to students about defining plagiarism, intertextuality, the originality of ideas, epistemology, and authorship. This conversation complicates plagiarism for students, as well as gets them to think about authorship and originality. When I pose the question, “is anything we write or say original?”, many students are quick to say “yes! Of course” and then I push them a little more and others chime in, and often the class realizes that nothing is really original. This semester, my students watched a segment of “Everything is a Remix”, which breaks down the “plagiarism” (or intertextuality—depending on how you look at it) of popular songs that borrow sounds, riffs, and lyrics from each other without giving credit or acknowledging sources. Students began to see connections among knowledge production, authorship, and plagiarism that I think was productive for them. Too, when I have a conversation about plagiarism and the issues it raises, I establish that we—both me and the students—have an understanding about what constitutes plagiarism, and we are able to establish trust, that I’m not out to gatekeep and fail students, something Ingalls, Morse, and Castner Post discuss in their sections.

Plagiarism isn’t the only issue raised by computers and digital technologies; as Yancey discusses in her CCCC address, computers and digital technologies afford us opportunities to bridge the kinds of public writing students are already doing with the kinds of writing we ask of them in the academy. Yancey believes we need a new model of composition that prepares and engages students to be a part of a “writing public”—which is achieved by thinking about three things: the circulation of composition, the canons of rhetoric, and the deicity of technology. Her model reimagines composition as a rhetorical, contextual act which is produced for a real audience and produced in appropriate genres and mediums. The third part, the deicity of technology, is important in our discussion of technology and writing, because it reveals technology to be changing and changing our literacy practices. Too, Yancey believes a key idea to takeaway from the deictic nature technology is that we often use technology for purposes beyond how it’s been designed to be used. This, she writes, is what we must encourage students to bring to the classroom and encourage them to know. Yancey, then, believes in multiliteracies that encase not only print literacy but also rhetorical literacy and screen and visual literacies. 

Building on Yancey’s keynote, new media and multiliteracies are two terms Leverenz takes up in her article about remediating writing programs. Leverenz argues that WPAs should remediate not only the message about what writing programs do but also remediate the ways in which we deliver those messages. I close my blog post with this article because I’ve wanted to tie together what we’ve read about technology, literacy, and new media by connecting it back to writing program administration, and by asking a few questions:

  •  Going back to our theory and practice conversation, and in the context of Leverenz’s argument, what does a remediated writing program look like?
  • Do Yancey’s suggestions for how to have “composition in a new key” sit well with you? Why or Why not? 
  •  How do the readings from this week contradict or affirm your teaching practices?

o   Have they caused you to reevaluate the ways you define literacy? Why or why not?

  • What are your thoughts on the requirement of a multimodal project in the BSU Writing Program knowing what we now know about new media and multimodality?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Working with/in, and against, Writing Programs (GUNNER)

One interesting claim that was made in this reading is that Writing Programs, regardless of the existence of classes to oversee, ALWAYS:
*continue to function in accordance to the ideology of "administration of produced and reproduced student difference."
*Produce effects in the forms of exploited labor, testing, assessment and surveillance. 
*Limits the WPA's control. 
She then concludes that Writing Programs, consequentially, are always effective and productive, even when classes to oversee do not exist. This is proven, Gunner argues, in "the historical sequence of course-->program-->director."

WOW. How do we, functioning as potential budding WPAs, approach this issue? Do we even want to? Like Mike said on the first day, one reason we ought to consider doing this work is because "if we don't do it, who else will?"

Thus, the question returns to, if I want to be a WPA, how do I wrestle with the fact that the existence of the Writing Program functions not only to produce "exploited labor, testing, assessment, and surveillance," but also to keep me from having the power to do anything about it. 

How do we sort out (decide on differences) students without emphasizing difference of students? How do we emphasize subjectivity and intersectionality in our students while still expecting adequate researched arguments? In other words, how do we emphasize the understanding that we all write from different spaces, with different ideologies, and towards different purposes, while still somehow "managing" student writing, adequately prepping new teachers, and following the guidelines of the larger institution? Yet another way to word this question might be how do we move away from being what Gunner calls "formalist in nature" while still doing administrative work, which entails formalities? These are all questions I don't have the answer to. And I would argue that Gunner doesn't have the "answers" either. Rather, Gunner's article seems to suggest that we must BE AWARE of these seemingly insurmountable constraints in attempting to affect change. We might not be able to affect change as instantly, or as unanimously, as we would like to. But realizing that Writing Programs are working against us, rather than for us, helps to negotiate how/what we work with/in Writing Programs to make the largest impact we can.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Ideology, Theory, and the Genre of Writing Programs

So I'm going to try not to be too ranty in this post. I have several issues with how the article was written, but once I could get over that the message was beneficial. It took me a while to get into this reading, though not necessarily because of the topic - it's completely logical that writing programs are at the mercy of previously ingrained discourse from both the university and previously held ideas on what a writing program entails . It wasn't until the section "Program Ideology and Professional Identity" that I felt like Gunner really began to connect the dots for me. I think sometimes -  especially as graduate students who are used to immersing our selves in theory -  we study all this theory and we understand the concepts behind it, but then we get confused when we come upon a situation in which relying solely on theory doesn't work. Gunner's focus on understanding the forces that are working upon and within the writing program developed a connection between the theoretical and the practical, which is sometimes lacking in scholarship. His example of using the university's mission statement language as a "more powerful discourse" that would enable some of the changes that the writing program was pursuing was a great example of ways in which WPA's can use institutional discourse to develop more agency than they may feel that they have and also an example of how only getting part of of an initiative through the system is still a win for the writing program and the portion that may not get passed through isn't necessarily off the table. In Gunner's example, the inclusion of cultural diversity in the writing program's learning objectives was taken up by a group outside of the writing program. It not only still had the potential to become part of the learning objectives, but the idea of cultural diversity as a learning abject for a university course was being brought into a larger discussion. I was afraid that much of the scholarship we would be reading would fall into the woe-is-me category or come across as jaded. This article, though it seemed to me to start out that way, connected the issues that a writing program may come across with some practical application. That more than anything proved to me how a writing program can be a center for the development of theory and epistemology.

Weiser's service--I mean RESEARCH--project

I had a few questions about Weiser's article after reading it, but I'll start with a summary of my understanding of his article "Local Research and Curriculum Development." Weiser discusses a locally situated research project, in which he surveyed faculty across the Purdue campus about the writing tasks they ask students to complete in their courses. Weiser claims that WPAs "have a responsibility to develop curricula that prepare students for the writing they will do after they complete composition courses" (101). Therefore, as a result of the responses he received from the survey, he developed curricula for the two composition courses, especially the second, run by the program. The assignments build on each other and ask students to work with scholarly texts in various ways through writing; the final assignment is a study in the genre of exam essays.

Okay, now my response... Weiser claims that this institutional research project should be seen as research and not "service or administration" (97), and, although I understand that by this he means it should be valued by tenure and promotions committees as important scholarly work and I agree with that, I also can't help but think it really does seem to be service-oriented. My issue is that Weiser only surveyed faculty in other departments about the writing they assign to students, but why is he creating curricula that responds so heavily to their input when he stated earlier in the article that faculty in other disciplines don't study writing and don't know as much about what constitutes good writing as compositionists and WPAs? Also, if he really means what he says about composition instructors needing to prepare students to write well beyond the composition course, that can't really mean in academic contexts only. So why not survey local employers, as well, or students themselves about their own expectations for "writing to live"?

Furthermore, although I understand that Purdue does not have a writing across the curriculum program, as Weiser states, I wonder where a WPA can draw that line? To me, it seems like certain WAC initiatives would need to be pursued out of a sense of obligation to the job and the students. For example, at my last institution, composition faculty in the English department would hold workshops for faculty in all disciplines about crafting quality writing assignments for students in their courses and evaluating student writing--informed by knowledge from composition studies. Weiser, on the other hand, seems to be taking information from faculty outside of comp but not giving any information back to them about writing. That sounds like service to me, and I think we can do better. The question is, where's the incentive to take on WAC projects if an institution doesn't value that and the WPA isn't getting paid to do such work?

Did you all have a similar reaction to this text, or am I being overly critical of Weiser and this "research" project?