Effective Online Writing

n this week’s blog I’m supposed to write about teaching writing online. I could regale you with student success stories from my online course. I could point to the ever popular Turn It In, a must-have for the savvy college comp professor on the vigilant trail of plagiarism. Nope. Not gonna do it.

Instead I want to share with you some insightful tips for using social media effectively and watching what you write. Social media is writing online, among a few other things both savory and salacious, but we’re not going there. No no, gentle reader. We’re going to the heart of the pithy post, the terrific Tweet, and the sensational status update: respect for and knowledge of the audience. That, and a bit of fun, after the break.

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Shifting Social Relations in a Digital Age

If research about digital, network-enabled information and communications technologies and the extent to which they are transforming social, economic, and political relations in unanticipated—and in many cases, undesirable—ways (concerning innovation, creativity, the free-flow of information and ideas, democracy, labor, and the public interest) is of interest to you, you might enjoy any one of the following reads this Summer:

Bauman, Zygmunt. The Individualized Society: How to Change Our

Experience. Malden: Blackwell, 2001. Print.

Bourdieu, Pierre. Firing Back: Against the Tyranny of the Market 2. New

York: New Press, 2001. Print.

Conley, Dalton. Elsewhere U.S.A.: How We Got From the Company Man,

Family Dinners, and the Affluent Society to the Home Office, Blackberry Moms, and Economic Anxiety. New York: Random House, 2009. Print.

Deibert, Ronald J. Parchment, Printing, and Hypermedia: Communication

in World Order Transformation. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997. Print.

Garson, Barbara. The Electronic Sweatshop. How Computers Are

Transforming the Office of the Future Into the Factory of the Past. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988. Print.

Gee, James P. “Communities of Practice in the New Capitalism.” Journal of

the Learning Sciences, Vol. 9, No. 4 (2000): 515-23. Print.

Hughes, Jason, Nick Jewson, and Lorna Unwin. Communities of Practice:

Critical Perspectives. New York: Routledge, 2007. Print.

Lanier, Jared. You Are Not A Gadget: A Manifesto. New York: Vintage

Books, 2010. Print.

 Niedzviecki, Hal. Hello, I’m Special: How Individuality Became the New

Conformity.  San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2006. Print.

Roszak, Theodore. The Making of a Counter Culture: Reflections on the

Technocratic Society and Its Youthful Opposition. New York: Anchor Books, 1969. Print.

Rushkoff, Douglas. Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and

How to Take It Back. New York: Random House, 2009. Print.

Teaching Critical Literacy in a Digital Age

For those of you interested not only in how and in what ways new media and information and communications technologies can be adopted and used in educational settings, but also in how to teach students to become more aware of and able to critique the numerous social, cultural, and ideological functions that rhetorics of technology serve, here is a list of some books and articles you may find useful.

I highly recommend Mark Andrejevic’s iSpy as a must read.

Ebert, Teresa L. The Task of Cultural Critique. Urbana/Chicago:

University of Illinois Press, 2009. Print.

Andrejevic, Mark. iSpy: Surveillance and Power in the Interactive Era.

University of Kansas Press, 2007. Print.

 Gee, James Paul, Glynda Hull, and Colin Lankshear. The New Work Order:

Behind the Language of the New Capitalism. Boulder: Westview Press, 1996. Print.

Thomson, Iain. “From the Question Concerning Technology to the Quest

for a Democratic Technology: Heidegger, Marcuse, Feenberg.” Futures of Critical Theory: Dreams of Difference. Ed. Peters, Michael, Mark Olssen, and Colin Lankshear. NewYork: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003. Print.

Selber, Stuart A. “Technological Dramas: A Meta-Discourse Heuristic for

Critical Literacy.” Computers and Composition Vol. 21 (2004): 171-95. Print.

Toscano, Aaron A. “Using I, Robot in the Technical Writing Classroom:

Developing a Critical Technological Awareness.” Computers and Composition. Vol. 28 (2011): 14-27. Print.

Warnick, Barbara. Critical Literacy in a Digital Era: Technology, Rhetoric,

and the Public Interest. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002.

Customized Search and Information Delivery=Censorship

I recently came across an interesting TED Talk about “filter bubbles” while doing research on critical literacy in a digital age.

In it, Eli Pariser reveals the extent to which the combined use of algorithms and consumer/user-mined demographic information is leading (perhaps inadvertently) to significant degrees of censorship by omission, as individuals receive search results reflective not of information most relevant to what they are looking for, but filtered by companies like Google according to information as seemingly irrelevant to a topical search–say, about coverage of the uprisings in Egypt for example–as the kind of purchases a person makes, the make and model of the computer they use, their geographic location, etc.

Essentially, Pariser’s research suggests that the quest to deliver customized, highly targeted information to individuals is currently resulting in unanticipated dangers with regard to the Internet’s claim to provide equal access to information for all. What Pariser advocates is that users be informed, and put back in control, of the kinds of filters search engines like Google are using such that individuals—not algorithms and databases—determine what details are deemed relevant and made available.

This subject is particularly important if/when we consider the fact that Google search has become a first line go-to source for information and everyday research.

Graphic Novels and Visual Rhetoric

Here’s an article from Scott Eric Kaufman’s website (he’s a Professor of English) on the use of panel transitions in The Walking Dead. I first started reading him on the Lawyers, Guns, and Money blog which covers politics. He’s quite funny there, but his work on visual rhetoric is particularly interesting. At some point this year, he’s supposed to be putting out a book on visual rhetoric, so you may want to watch for that.

Take a look at what he’s doing in the article, but follow the link for more good stuff:

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Moral Decision Making in Fallout3

Here’s an article by Marcus Schulzke that I found interesting but didn’t have room for in my presentation:

More than anything else, the Fallout series is unique in giving players an open world in which they can make genuine moral choices. Moral dilemmas are not presented for passive contemplation – they are an integral part of gameplay. As Sicart points out in his study of virtue ethics in games (Sicart 2009), virtue ethics is player-centric.

I like it because it highlights how one could use a more entertainment-oriented game as a teaching tool and because it helped me articulate what I think goes into role playing games that are fun to play, as opposed to ones that fall flat.

WordPress Adds “Request Feedback” Feature

This is interesting. It looks as if WordPress has added a new feature that allows bloggers to “request feedback” on a post before publishing it. Here’s a description from WordPress’ blog:

When you click on Request Feedback, you can enter email addresses of friends who are willing to help. They’ll receive a special private link to see your draft, where they can leave feedback on your post (see image above). Their feedback will appear in your post’s Request Feedback area when it arrives, so you can make changes to your draft accordingly.

I can see using this in a composition course that’s using student blogs. What would be really neat, though, is if writers could request feedback from multiple reviewers simultaneously, and all the reviewers could see each others’ feedback. It would be more like a group conference that way.

Resources for Digital Storytelling

In my previous post I advocated for digital storytelling as a way to approach teaching a unit on digital literacy in a first year basic composition course. I want to follow up with a list of resources for those who want to learn more about the history, methods, and uses of digital storytelling in the learning environment.

A good place to start is with the Center for Digital Storytelling. CDS was at the center of the development and growth of digital storytelling as a medium, and has promoted media access and democratized self-expression as a civil right. It has fostered adoption of the medium among many organizations in the Bay Area, the U.S. and has presented workshops around the world.

The following are some links to galleries of digital stories:

CDS Stories

Creative Narrations: Multimedia for Community Development

Digital Stories Gallery at UMBC

Digital Stories in the Classroom: Profiles from UMBC’s Community of Practice

Digital Storytelling Asia

NWP – Literacy Through Technology: The Power of Digital Storytelling

Digital Storytelling Finds Its Place in the Classroom

Tips for Digital Storytelling

The Tor Project: Protecting against online monitoring

Many of our class discussions have circled back to the concern over the monitoring of our online browsing habits.  Some interesting points were raised about how new media and consumer sites can be used to track our online movements, which in turn, can be leveraged by marketers to build detailed user profiles and wage targeted ad campaigns.  And while this is not a new phenomenon–advertisers have been using media like television and radio to get ads out to consumers for decades–the specificity of the information gathering and the invisibility of it is something new.  This, I think, raises some important issues about digital literacy because how many of us are guilty of skipping over the user agreement section and just clicking on the opt-in box without bothering to read or fully understand what it really means?  It doesn’t help that these user agreements, full of technical jargon and legal language, are designed to be unreadable.  And because this tracking of our movements takes place in the background, it’s rendered invisible and isn’t something we tend to think about.

The echoes of this class discussion were on my mind when I stumbled upon The Tor Project, which is free software that can be used across a Mac, PC, or Linux platform to safeguard against network security and traffic analysis tools.  Basically, it’s designed to prevent online tracking systems  from gathering information about your location and browsing habits. Military and law enforcement use this to protect their communication and online intelligence gathering efforts.  Activists, journalists, and some businesses also use Tor to anonymize their browsing habits and protect information and sources.  Tor is supported by The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco based organization concerned about defending civil rights in the digital world.  They have an interesting section about online behavioral tracking.