The Course Blog, and Beyond!

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My First-Ever Blog Post

I published my first-ever blog post on October 10, 2012.  This was an assignment for a “Perspectives on Literacy” course blog in which I was told to interview someone who had experience typing on a typewriter.  My mother is a legal secretary who started her career as a professional transcriber and typist, so I interviewed her over the phone one afternoon and published a post of 1235 words, no images, no video, no sound. This purely textual post recounted my questions, her answers, connections to course themes, and my personal reflection on the experience of interviewing my mother.   Interestingly, even this first post, my induction into the blogosphere, blurred the lines of public/private, personal/professional/academic in my life and in my blogging. I submitted three more posts to the course blog that semester, all in the same purely-textual, responding-to-the-prompt fashion but all of which involved some personal content alongside professional and academic content.

In response to and alongside these experiences with composing for a course blog, I decided to establish a personal blog, titled “My Quarter Life Crisis” and published my first post on November 11, 2012.  In the last six months, I’ve published 15 total posts that mix personal, professional, and academic topics and approaches. In one video post (composed in response to a course blog prompt that required multimodal posts), I explore some of these mixed motivations for blogging. That video post was one of my first attempts as composing a video, was entirely too long-winded for a vlog post, and mostly consisted of my talking head. I’ve excerpted a relevant portion of the video here because I think it demonstrates the mixing of personal, professional, and academic that blogs allow and shows an important step in my journey as a blogger, although it’s mildly terrible, it is still my first attempt at a video post.

This winter, my “Computers and Writing” course also required a course blog, and I decided to use my already-ongoing personal blog to compose and publish those required posts for the “Computers and Writing” course.  These posts have ranged from responses to course readings, to reflections about integrating technology and digital multimodal assignments into my own first-year writing classroom, to thoughts about attending relevant professional conferences.  I think the decision to publish these professional and academic posts on a single blog alongside descriptions of my workout routine or musings about my favorite pop singers has allowed me to fulfill my original blogging purposes of representing myself and my experiences as a fragmented-but-whole person and of attending to the intertwining personal, professional, and academic “Quarter Life Crisis” aspects of entering a doctoral program, or any graduate level educational experiences for that matter.

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This Post Went Viral!

One of the most productive experiences I’ve had with blogging thus far has come out of this blending of personal, professional, and academic content on my blog.  At the encouraging of my “Computers and Writing” professor, I attended a conference on campus titled “Autism Speaks Back: Neurodiversity and Disability Studies.” After live tweeting throughout the conference and making connections on Twitter with some of the conference speakers and attendees, I composed a blog post in which I made some connections between my personal, professional, and academic interests and investment in the conference.  This post became my most widely shared post to date with several comments from people I’ve never interacted with offline, several likes on WordPress, and over 100 views in a two month period this year.  I think the successful sharing of this blog is related to the specialized nature of its content as well as my purposeful linking and sharing the post on social media outlets.  This experience has helped to clarify for me some of the distinct and overlapping purposes and potentials of self-motivated, personal blogs versus required course blogs.

My overall purpose in recounting these experiences with blogging is to mine them for some useful takeaways as I instate a required course blog for the first time in an undergraduate course that I am teaching this coming fall.  I’ll be teaching upper level writing/academic argumentation, and I’ve set up a course website on WordPress that includes a video course description, a syllabus and schedule, and a course blog.  I think the most useful things I’ve taken from my limited experiences with blogging and from discussions with other instructors who’ve used course blogs are:

  1. logistics: most undergraduates do not keep personal blogs, so setting up a single course blog and allowing everyone to publish on it can be a useful structure for the blog.  In addition, although I’ve had useful, positive experiences with open-ended blog assignments, for the purposes of an undergraduate academic argumentation course, I think more directive prompts will be a useful way to start out and move toward more open-ended, free form posts as the semester progresses.
  2. goal setting (and decision making based on those goals): the goals of required blog posts should be made explicit and be in keeping with the broader course goals, themes, and content.  Ideally, after expressing these broader course goals, students will be able to arrive at and pursue related individual goals for their course blogging.
  3. publicizing: to avoid a reading-responses-posted-online version of course blogging, I hope to encourage students to set and pursue some goals concerning how to and why we ought to publicize our course blog as whole and their separate, individual posts.

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    Course Website and Blog

  4. multimodality: I hope to encourage students, through the video course description, course readings, and assignments, to explore not-only-textual modes of composing on the course blog.  This multimodal composing seems relevant to me in an upper level academic argumentation course because many of the arguments students encounter are not-only-textual but multimodal.  By asking students to produce these kinds of arguments themselves, I hope to encourage more conscientious production as well as consumption of digital, multimodal arguments in the course and beyond.
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Some Thoughts on #4C13

*One computers and writing particular theme that I noticed at C’s was a divide in views about technologies. The different views I noticed revolved around crisis rhetoric about mechanized writing assessment versus a forwarding of reflective, mindful teaching practices using a range of digital technologies (this second strand of views was represented in several GRAD STUDENT sessions that I attended; not trying to draw some weird, stark agist divide, just saying grad students are awesome).

*Giroux’s featured speaker session about the public good and education spoke to this divide in views of technologies a bit.  He celebrated new media outlets and their possibilities for public intellectuals to construct alternative narratives, especially in light of his claim that mainstream media makes no space whatsoever for public intellectuals.  He also celebrated young people’s and grad students’ influence in developing new languages, discourses, and democracies (he didn’t explicitly mention digital technologies or new media in making this point, but I certainly heard it that way and made those connections).  But, he also lamented a lack of rigorous critical pedagogies that felt a bit like print literacy crises fear-mongering.

*Live Tweeting is fun!!!  I had fun following people I met or whose sessions I attended on twitter, and I think I doubled the number of people following me on Twitter by doing so. I was able to “attend” concurrent sessions by posting to and following others’ Twitter posts during the conference. Read Merideth’s blog for a much better analysis of the Cs Twitter feed.

*I definitely noticed myself recognizing people who had cultivated some sort of digital presence, whose faces I’d seen in video essays or on Twitter or Facebook or even in the comment sections of academic blogs I’d perused.

*And finally, my most biased observation of all: the Michigan presentations I attended stood out to me as some of the most rigorous, thorough teaching, research, and presenting at the conference.  I was shocked (a bit naively, I realize) to find conference presenters still speed reading aloud full academic papers trying to fit it all in under the allotted time.  But Michigan presenters had re-mediated well and also just conducted research that went beyond a level of, “I read about this and tried it in my classroom, isn’t that neat??” I say all this as a way to solidify for myself the kinds of research and presenting I want to aim for when I next attend a conference, as hopefully more than just a consumer of others’ presentations.

Overall, I was just so pleased to see so many teachers excited about research and teaching (and researching teaching), and I came away with more ideas and materials for actual classroom activities and assignment sequences than I realized I would.  Ideas and activities I am already and will continue to be incorporating into my classroom!

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Also got to see my favorite attraction in Vegas 🙂

Pedagogy Continued (or Pedagogy Strikes Back)

So, as promised, I am writing to follow up on the experience of incorporating a brief, low stakes, in-class, digital assignment into my first-year composition course today!  Students submitted their final draft of a personal narrative/argumentative essay today that we had been drafting for several weeks, and then we moved into a new unit/major writing assignment, the theme of which is writing processes.  When introducing this unit in the past, I’ve had students draw their process and then we discuss their depictions and experiences of process. So, today in class, I asked that they represent their process visually through some sort of digital media.  I had prepared a visual

My "Model"

My “Model”

representation of my own writing process using Comic Life and provided that for students as an example, and then encouraged them to use ComicLife or whatever program they were familiar with or preferred to visually represent their own processes.  Most of my students used Comic Life, a few of them used Prezi, and one student made a video.

Some successes:

  • Students asked a lot of questions about composing, saving, exporting, and sharing their compositions.  We were all able to answer these questions together without any awful, uncomfortable, scary de-centering classroom authority Apocalypses of any kind. Some students had a more difficult time navigating the program than others and a few students expressed a lot of frustration, but approaching the assignment as low stakes and entirely in-class helped to alleviate any full scale freak-outs.
  • We were able to discuss a broader range of processes than just “writing” processes and we were able to expand our notions of what constitutes a “text”.  We had briefly discussed this expanded notion of a “text” before in class (with the help of the rhetorical situation), and today’s digital/visual in-class activity helped to reinforce and demonstrate that lots of compositions, not just text based compositions, involve processes, authors/speakers/composers/designers, audiences, and contexts.

    We Made Knowledge!!

    We Made Knowledge!!

  • Things got real meta real fast.  We first discussed how students were representing process in their visual compositions: what images they had chosen and why (with the help of some terms from Sorapure’s article), what arguments those images they had chosen were making about processes, if their current representation of process had changed at all from an earlier written description of their process composed weeks before.  Then, we discussed the process of composing the visual artifact and compared that process to the one they had hoped to represent (this is where we introduced the expanded notion of “text”).

Some things I would do differently:

  • Warn my students to bring their laptops instead of assuming they would have them (only one did not, she used mine) or better still reserve a room on campus with access to campus computers with a wider variety of programs for composing visual texts.
  • Devise, ahead of time, a better way for each student to share their composition with the entire class. About halfway through class I realized we would need a way to share and see each others’ visual compositions (a problem I had not anticipated when I was creating my model alone and not needing to share it. Classrooms are social spaces, duh).  So, I had students upload them to shared files on Google Drive that they had used for small group peer review, but this meant that each student could only access three visual compositions instead of everyone seeing everyone’s work. (That too would have been easy to fix in the moment too, but my laptop was being used by a student).
  • Assign some out of class reflection or response to carry the assignment and our discussion of it outside of our one hour and twenty minute class meeting.

As you can tell, the successes were more substantive than the mishaps in this instance, and I will probably repeat (and update) this activity for future composition courses. Yay!!

Pedagogy!! (That’s A Double Exclamation Point By The Way)

I think Madeleine Sorapure’s “Between Modes: Assessing Student New Media Composition” has been one of the most accessible, practically useful, and thought provoking readings we’ve done for our Computers and Writing class this semester.  Because I had such a positive experience and reaction to that text, I thought I’d explore it a bit more here.  As I’ve already expressed, one of my most pressing goals for the semester and for this course  is to ease my anxieties about incorporating computers and writing type assignments into my first-year composition classroom. I think this text was so useful in pushing me towards that goal because it offers actual assignments and student compositions. In that way, the text helped me to come down out of the ether of theory and into the equally important, possibly more urgent issues of pedagogy.  It also still helped me to sort out some more theories too.

Basically, Sorapure’s use of metaphor and metonymy to structure her assignment prompts and to evaluate her students’ compositions helped me to sort out a process by which I might incorporate some more new media/multimodal type assignments into my classroom. Not that I will wholly adopt her terms and methods, but in her process of assigning and evaluating, I found some connections to the ways that I already try to teach print based composition (like being consistent and transparent with students about the goals, requirements, and evaluation of the assignment as Sorapure did with the terms metaphor and metonymy).  Turns out that bringing multimodal and new media assignments into the classroom might not be as scary as I’ve been imagining.  I might already have some useful processes and principles to draw off of (although I also recognize that I will need to remain flexible and open to new possibilities, opportunities, and also unforeseen/unpredictable troubleshooting).

I will say I’m still a bit concerned and will now recapitulate some often expressed reservations about incorporating these kinds of assignments into the comp classroom (not simply to beat a dead horse but instead to hopefully get them out of my system and move beyond them):

I guess I’m still concerned about how truly de-centered my classroom will now be. I already feel less authoritative than desirable in the classroom simply because I am so young and new a teacher, so close in age to my students, and generally run my classroom pretty informally/conversationally already.  Introducing technology and assignments based in using technology into the classroom will reveal and expose me as even more of a novice.  And now, to move beyond this anxiety about further de-centering authority in my classroom: my students have always been respectful of me and also sought me out for my guidance/”expertise” when they’ve felt like they’ve needed it. Continuing on in this honest/transparent way that I’ve begun as a teacher will hopefully encourage that kind of dialogue and “learning together” type environment rather than alienating me or undercutting what authority I do have in the classroom. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself as I incorporate a brief, low stakes, in-class, digital assignment into my classroom today! Follow up post coming soon…

Caption Fail: “Ickle Me Pickle Me Tickle Me Too”

So, my first mistake here was trying to trick the technology. Apparently, YouTube’s closed caption function is flawed enough on its own that I didn’t need to challenge it with a nonsensical recording.  I chose to read aloud Shel Silverstein’s “Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me Too” from Where the Sidewalk Ends because it is a short poem that I have loved since I was a kid. I had memorized the poem in middle school and wanted to read it aloud for this caption fail project because it as a fun, silly, sing-songy rhythm.  There are almost no matching words from the YouTube closed caption to the actual poem, so I’ve posted the actual words to the poem here:

Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me too
Went for a ride in a flying shoe.
“Hooray!”
“What fun!”
“It’s time we flew!”
Said Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me too.

Ickle was captain, and Pickle was crew
And Tickle served coffee and mulligan stew
As higher
And higher
And higher they flew,
Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me too.

Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me too,
Over the sun and beyond the blue.
“Hold on!”
“Stay in!”
“I hope we do!”
Cried Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me too.

Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle too
Never returned to the world they knew,
And nobody
Knows what’s
Happened to
Dear Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me too.

So those are the silly words I was hoping YouTube would capture. I think the captioning is so inaccurate for a few reasons. First, I was recording my reading in a public space with people walking around and talking, which the captioning seems to have picked up a bit of. Second, I read the poem really fast (even this small bit of performing made me nervous!) and with that sing song-y rhythm I had first memorized it with. Finally, the names and the content of the poem in general are nonsensical.  I guess the rhythm and silly content are important to the poem as a work of art and to my interpretation of it though, and YouTube’s captioning has lost that importance.

I’m not sure this video poem constitutes a “Stir Fry Text” as Andrews defines it, though I do think it may be an example of a cut-up.  Andrews says of stir fry texts that their “spastic interactivity” give to the texts a “unified character or personality even in its transformations.” In other words, stir fry texts work through “meaningful association, not just widely combinatorial permutation.”  The idea of a unified character and meaningful  association seems an out of place description for what YouTube has done with this particular video.  Perhaps in another video post where the captioning was a bit more accurate to the audio recording you could consider the captions and the audio a kind of meaningful, unified stir fry text, but not here because there are hardly any points of meaningful associativity between the audio and the captions in this video.

I do think maybe this video post/caption fail could be considered a cut up, a broader category than that of the stir fry text.  Andrews explains that the “literary heritage of the cut up has been richly congruent with the spirit of a lot of contemporary Web art” because of “the mechanical nature of cut ups that suits them well to Web art” and computers in general.”  More specifically, through mechanical processes, “the computer has contributed to knowledge a deeper understanding of process, of processes. Computers are processing machines, they are process machines” and “the random and semi-mindless experimentation in writing or art more generally” can be picked up computers’ mechanical processes and made into cut ups.  Sooooo, in the case of my silly poem video post caption fail, maybe the YouTube captioning feature is picking up on some feature of language and the way I’ve interpreted language that I didn’t intend or couldn’t apprehend beforehand.  Although, this seems to me to be a generous interpretation of the inaccuracies of the captioning here. And, if the mechanical processes of the captioning feature are picking up on some meaningful linguistic process or features that I’m unaware of, then I guess that might give the audio text and the captioning some meaningful associativity to one another. So, maybe it’s both a stir fry and a cut up…

I Love The Word “Consumer.” It Feels Like A Dinosaur Metaphor.

This semester I’m taking a course called “Computers and Writing” and using this here blog to do some thinking and writing about those topics.  So, technically I am a “digital native” or so my age and generational identity would seem to suggest. However, I am much more a consumer than a producer of digital media, and that fact makes me feel uncomfortable being labeled as someone who should know how to do things and make things with technology.

The most striking example of my consumery digital habits is that I unapologetically love

My Dog and My Pretty New Purple Computer: Enabling My Consumery, Digital Immigrant Ways

My Dog and My Pretty New Purple Computer: Enabling My Consumery, Digital Immigrant Ways

Facebook, and most anything else I’ve found and liked on the interwebs I encountered first through Facebook.  I have a theory rolling around in my head about Facebook being a largely middle class phenomenon. That’s not to say that only people who identify as middle class use Facebook, rather the uses and conventions that have developed on Facebook fulfill some specifically middle class needs and desires.  But I have lots of theories about different things (digital or not) being middle class phenomena.  And that is one of my biggest concerns as I jump headlong into the topics surrounding computers and writing. How do I study these new things without simply cutting and pasting all the ways I’ve been studying print composing and print literacy practices?

I’m also a bit anxious ((and excited)) for how these computers and writing topics may influence my teaching.  I’ve already been encouraging my students to explore these topics whenever possible or whenever they have seemed to take an interest in them.  Last semester I assigned a “Writing Constructs” paper in my first-year composition class and about half of my students chose digital-y type topics to explore, mostly about how Facebook or Twitter or Texting or E-Readers or Word Processing programs have and are influencing writing.  So many of them were interested in these kinds of topics that I sent around this “Myth of Digital Literacies” video, which I’m becoming a bit obsessed with (plus, it’s always good for the soul to get a good visual of Andrea Lunsford).  Where did I first find this video you ask? Why, Facebook of course! So, it seems, I am encouraging my own digital consumer ways in my students.

I would love to encourage my students to instead PRODUCE some sort of digital assignment or argument, but that scares me a lot because I would be relinquishing my authority in the classroom in a very real way.  They’d ask question and I’d have to answer with a lot of “I don’t know”s.  And not the kind of teacherly “I don’t know, why don’t you go explore that for yourself” rhetorical trick where I really do know but don’t want to simply give them the answers. No, in this case, I genuinely would not know how to answer their questions about using and producing digital media.  Also, I would want a digital project for them that could stand on its own and not just be the performative, cherry on top, add on to some traditionally, print-composed argument they had already written.  So these are my goals for the semester: learn some new research and teaching methods that seem fitting to the topics of computers and writing.

The Kinds of Things I Do in Grad School

In case anyone was wondering “What the frack has Aubrey been doing in Michigan for the last four months?” I have posted the links to two different assignments that I completed for my course “Perspectives on Literacy” this semester.

The first is a literacy narrative in which I try to tell the story of my relationship with reading and writing thus far.  This was extremely difficult for me to reflect on and write about.  In fact, it gave me a nice little taste of my own medicine.  I’m always encouraging my students to take a personal stake in their work and to write about the things that they love and that matter to them.  But, every time I’ve taken up a topic that held deep personal importance to me (which is becoming a more and more frequent habit of mine) it has been frustrating to write about.  Rewarding as all hell in the end, but difficult and anxiety provoking in the process.

The second assignment I am sharing here is the presentation version of a 15 page, end of semester paper that I chose to write about Facebook and how young people have used Facebook to talk about politics.  I had a lot of fun writing this one, especially because I got to use actual Facebook posts as artifacts and I got to interview some people about their Facebook use.  The process for this paper and presentation was difficult too because whenever I logged onto Facebook (my #1 most frequent literacy practice/favorite pass time/general life activity) I could never tell when I was “doing research” and when I was just procrastinating as usual.  Most of the time I’m sure I was procrastinating and just telling myself that it was research.

Finally, as the end of my first semester draws near, I am over the top grateful for these assignments.  The fact that my Professor encouraged all of us, at the graduate level, to begin our semester and our course by reflecting on our reading and writing history and the fact that my classmates all put substantial time and care into telling their personal stories about reading and writing have shown me that I absolutely landed in the right place at the right time for this crazy life decision that I’ve made. Also, the fact that those same people (Professor and classmates) encouraged me and took me seriously when I said I wanted to study Facebook because I knew and felt that something important was happening there (even though I couldn’t yet say what that important happening thing was) has been equally telling and rewarding.

That is all for now, except for this picture of Bella because she’s perfect!

Bella

Oh, Hello There!

A New Life Philosophy Called Lizbeanism

So, this is my first blog post. Where I explain what my blog will be about and my motivation for writing a blog. Here goes. I’m 24, living outside of my home state of Maryland for the very first time, and recently fulfilled my lifelong dream of getting a dog.

The Bella Bear.
Isn’t she just the sweetest?

I’ve also just begun a Ph.D. program in English and Education at the University of Michigan (the reason for my move), and have no idea what is happening to my life! I mostly Read Write Eat Sleep Read Write, repeat as needed. All this reading and writing is interspersed with sprinklings of 30Rock, Friends, some newly discovered BBC shows, lots of Starbucks and Facebook, and less and less frequent visits to the local CrossFit gym.  These are the things that will fill my blog posts!

For anyone out there who hasn’t discovered the post-feminist perfection that is 30Rock, let me clarify the title of this post and of my blog.  Lizbeanism is Liz Lemon’s new life philosophy that means “I am a dyke, against the rising waters of mediocrity.” For me this philosophy means that I hope to live my mid-twenties life by Liz Lemon’s example; so there will be lots of mediocrity.  But hopefully endearing comedic mediocrity. Hopefully.