These are a Few Of My Favorite Posts (Part 1)

What stood out from this week’s reading was the idea of asking students to write about their favorite posts or posters on the class blog. Rather than allowing to vanish over time, the assignment forces students to look back over the work the class has produced. Such an exercise has two important functions: it reviews the material, develops critical skills and encourages the social production of knowledge.

I would recommend a variation that would add another important skill, synthesis: students could review the blogs from the course and pull out ideas that seem most significant. Since my final project is an overview of the salient points of the course, along with some of my own new ideas, I thought I would mine your posts for the most relevant concepts for my own purposes (teaching face-to-face, text-based classes with online support), which I would then possibly include in my final paper. Such recycling of material fits in with my developing idea that teachers should encourage students to use the smaller pieces of writing, both their own and that of others in the class, to create a larger whole in an integrated and continuous process.

Remixing and Repurposing

This idea of reusing material leads naturally to Mark West’s post about remixing and repurposing, “There is No Such Thing as Originality, Just Authenticity.” He states that even the most “experimental of experimental artists are still ‘repurposers.'” He defines this repurposing not as changing a specific work but transgressing and remixing genres. What seems to matter to me is that writers borrow from a range of works and types of writing in order to synthesize something that is at once a remix and uniquely the writer’s own. It’s important for students to understand that the line between plagiarism and “entering a conversation” is vague, but manageable if writers are trying to do something new with the material, and the easiest way to do this is to include a wider range sources. “If Philip Roth or someone else,” Mark writes, “takes my blog post and remixes it in a bestselling book, I plan to send a thank you note, not a subpoena.”

A brilliant example of this “repurposing” is described in Nate’s post, “From Social Media to Games.” “Welcome to the Desert of the Real” is a critique of the U.S. military, the author calls it “reverse propaganda.” “So we’ve got a video, made with a video game, on a socially networked video sharing site, talking about a social issue, made by a video game designer,” Nate says. “It’s almost more meta than I can handle.” The short film, instead of showing a heroic vision of the soldier’s life, illustrates the psychological alienation that war can create, the eerie sense of being isolated from the people and country the soldier is supposedly defending, isolated from other soldiers, his home country and himself, and isolated from a sense of purpose. Showing this video in class would be an excellent way to show how students can reinvent material, formats, or genres to make them their own.

Integrated Reading and Writing Promotes Critical Thinking

Alissa’s post, “Integrated Consuming and Producing” reminds me a lot of an excellent article I have just read for my own research project, “The Changing Space of Research: Web 2.0 and the Integration of Research and Writing Environments” by James P. Purdy. Purdy argues that research and writing are no longer separated physically or conceptually. Before research happened first in the library, then writing happened elsewhere. The internet and new technologies such as blogs and wikis allow these to happen in the same place at (nearly) the same time. Referring to the Integrated Reading & Writing Program and Philosophy at SFSU and Richardson’s discussion of the Read / Write web, Alissa writes, “Post-secondary reading is a difficult endeavor and we have to teach students to be critical consumers of college-level texts while teaching them to be critical producers.” In other words, encouraging writing as an integral part of research practically requires critical thinking, and shifts the focus, as Purdy explained, from the consumption of knowledge to the production of knowledge, the goal of every writing teacher.

Megan offered an important qualification, however, “Web 2.0, Class Consciousness and Critical Thinking.” Pierre Bordieu, in his book Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, claims that people are “habituated into certain levels of aesthetic appreciation based on class.” Megan ponders whether Bordieu is right that social standing partially determines our critical abilities. If this is so, Megan suggests, “then the whole democratizing potential of web 2.0 ‘experts’ seems negligible at best. She poses important questions for the writing teacher: “Can the critical apparatus provided by education close Bordieu’s class-determined cultural appreciation gap? How would an instructor achieve this goal in a freshmen composition classroom?” In response, I would say that a teacher should be aware not only of class differences but also cultural differences when approaching critical skills, at least to recognize that different groups understand critical thinking differently. A teacher should attempt to widen and develop everyone’s critical skills without claiming that there is one right way to think critically. (As an example, Japanese business workers would evaluate someone’s proposal as a group to reach a consensus, being very careful not to offend the writer of the proposal. A critical comment might be, “It would be a little difficult.”)

Instructors Modeling Writing

In “Instructors Modeling Student Writing,” Oliox (who is that?) wrote about the importance of teachers modeling writing, something that is often missing. Students only see “class syllabus or writing prompts or the short criticism, compliments, or commentary on paper feedback.” Oliox gives a couple of examples of instructors at SFSU: Joan Wong modeling the messy writing process with an overhead project and Mark Roberge actually doing the assignments he has assigned. Warnock, of course, insists on the importance of the teachers presence online, so that students can read examples of the writing the teacher is looking for and to see that even instructors have difficulties expressing themselves from time to time and might even make mistakes. I heartily agree with Oliox and Warnock that this is essential.

Bridging In-Class and Out-of-Class Writing

Speaking of instructors modeling writing, Kory’s post, “Why Composition (And Digital Media)?
made a very important point about why it is important to bridge in-class and out-of-class writing. Quoting Reid, he pointed out that the writing that most students are doing online is “the one writing practice they actually elect to pursue.” In other words, these are the kind of writings that students are choosing to do themselves, and ignoring these forms undercuts or kills motivation in students who see academic writing as being utterly unconnected with the kind of writing they are interested in. Kory problematizes this, however, by adding, “Perhaps the line between what students ‘elect to pursue’ and school writing isn’t so easy to draw, but I thought that distinction resonated with the themes of motivation, discipline, and (dare I say it?) desire that came up in our latest class discussion.” However difficult it may be to distinguish, bridging the gap can encourage motivation, even discipline (since the writing is closer to what students want to produce) and even a desire to write.

Lothlorien talks about the disconnect she experienced between scholastic and personal writing in “Confessions of a Fanfic Writer, D&D Player.” “If we accept as fact that the more literary events you engage in, the more literate you become,” she writes, “then isn’t it strange that we limit the variety of literary events valued in school? What if all acts of composition were at least encouraged and acknowledged? Think of the effect it might have on a student’s sense of agency and authority, as well as supporting the development of an understanding of one’s own ideological situatedness as a writer and a reader, and general textual savvy.” Apparently, Lothlorien herself found a way to bridge these two areas of writing in order to produce academic writing that is passionate and interesting. The minimum, she suggests, is at least to acknowledge that the writing students are doing outside class are valid forms in their own right, rather than to ignore and sweep such text aside as worthless. Even better would be to encourage such writing, since any writing increases literacy and ability.

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5 comments on “These are a Few Of My Favorite Posts (Part 1)

  1. I really like what you’ve done here, Ron. Your post made me feel like “man, we did a lot this semester.” You suggest that doing this was beneficial for you, in that it helped you synthesize several threads that were important to you. I can add that it was also helpful on my end in helping me see the course anew. Thanks!

  2. Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens?

    Ron, I like what you’ve done with the synthesising. We tend to think about blogging in discreet units of knowledge, even with a very specifically themed blog (e.g. http://wordpress.org/showcase/inside-blackberry/ or http://wordpress.org/showcase/emeril-lagasses-cooking-blog/ ), there isn’t always a conscious effort to see connections. And I’m not knocking that–in fact, I prefer it–because I definitely see some benefit, i.e. it’s more audience-friendly, there’s an efficient intellectual operation at work, readers don’t have to be following the whole blog to understand each individual ones, etc. But, for academic purposes, I do think what you’ve just done allows for the rigorous reflectivity and reflexivity that scholarship requires.

  3. Yeah, I certainly second that! As we near the end of the semester, and of course our end-of-semester papers, it is easy to lose sight of all that we have accomplished over the span of the class. Reading this post really gave me an appreciation for all the work that everybody has done, and made me a little wistful about the fact that we only have a couple class meetings left. It also made me realize that the material on this blog is rich for mining, and I think I will have to revisit it over the summer when I have more time and energy to process all of the stuff we’ve come up with.

    Nice work everybody!

  4. Hi Ron — this is awesome! I have to agree with everyone that I really appreciate what you’ve done here, and that in a medium where information moves quickly, synthesizing materials is a great way to take a step back, gather and reflect on what the class has done throughout the semester. Nate put it very nicely: “the material on this blog is rich for mining”! Your post also reiterates Warnock’s ideas about the shared and collaborative nature of knowledge production and processes. I’ve learned so much from the ongoing conversations here!

  5. I enjoyed reading your post on These are a Few Of My Favorite Posts (Part 1)I would like to comment on your post starting with Remixing and Repurposing

    I liked this idea of reusing material and your comments on Mike’s post of “remixing and repurposing,There is No Such Thing as Originality, Just Authenticity.” I liked his comment about various artists experimenting with others works and inn essance being “repurposers.” Defing this “not as changing a specific work but transgressing and remixing genres.”

    To me what is important is that writers What seems to matter to me is that writers borrow, (steal, appropriate) “from a range of works and types of writing in order to synthesize something that is at once a remix and uniquely the writer’s own.”

    I also liked the comments about Instructors Modeling Writing “Joan Wong modeling the messy writing process with an overhead project and Mark Roberge actually doing the assignments he has assigned.” I think it is important to model writing as to model anything you want your students to accomplish some professors, as some bosses in the corporate world just say do this…. but they never model what they want their students or subordinates to accomplish.

    I have been in Mark Roberge’s classes and he does a good job of modeling but it would have been nice to do a little more of inclass writing… but it is expected that we are already accomplished writers at this point. This was an awesome post and I look forward to reading more of your writings in the near future.

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