“Don’t Bite the Noobs!”

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Love them or hate them, online media (blogs, wikis, forums, etc.) are new aspects of composition classrooms that are quickly becoming part of the norm. With Tryon’s “Writing and Citizenship: Using Blogs to Teach First Year Composition,” Hunter’s “Erasing “Property Lines,”” and Benson and Reyman’s “Learning to Write Publicly,” one of the main connecting ideas between the three articles are the difficulties instructors experience in creating an authentic environment for students to write genuinely and for students to feel like that their writing is making some sort of difference on the world (with hopes of connecting with at least one other person). Luckily, the four authors mention and present different solutions and statistical proof on how online media can assist in conquering these dilemmas.  

 

ned-stark-blog.jpgWith this group of reading, I instantly started comparing the differences between blogs and wiki pages. Generally, blogs are written by one author and have content that is open for criticism by outsiders. According to Tryon, students become better writers because of this instant publication of their writing. Through this instant publication, students are capable of escaping the perception that they are “passive consumers” of writing and instead are becoming “active participants” of a specific writing community (Tryon 128). In the case of Tryon’s experience with his “Writing to the Moment” course, he was lucky to have readers outside of the classroom comment on his students’ blogs. As intimidating as that may be, this aspect of the course blogs made it so much more impactful for Tyron’s students because it showed an establishment of his students becoming part of that community. Rather than having the criticism in the comment section bring down their writing, students were able to strengthen their writing by incorporating the criticism into their next writing or using it to further establish their stances present in the blog; “blogging’s ephemerality, its focus on the everyday, and its no-holds-barred argumentative style” (128).

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Wiki pages are generally content manifested together through a community of different authors who are able to add their own content and are also be able to edit other community members’ writing. Despite the strong community aspect to wiki pages, these authors also have a “lack of ownership attached to mistakes” (Hunter 48). Unlike blogs, wiki pages are more of a group effort where authors can directly communicate with each other on their writing and how to fix it.

 

Although blogs and wiki pages are separate online genres, they share a commonality by emphasizing on some sort of community development and individual growth through that community. In a way, blogs and wiki pages fit Benson and Reyman’s use of Walker’s take on network literacy, “understanding a kind of writing that is social, collaborative process rather than an act of an individual in solitary” (9).

 

I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but I’ve always felt tension when incorporating new media in the writing classroom –both as a student and an instructor, especially with blogs. Having gone through my undergraduate career, I can say that the strictly writing courses were tedious. Don’t get me wrong… I learned a lot, but they felt so repetitive. The saying, “Don’t Bite the Noobs!” in Hunter’s article stuck out to me because I think it’s something that we all can incorporate into our classrooms. Writing itself is such a hard thing. Even as a graduate student, I still find myself stumbling with words when typing the simplest of things: Facebook statuses, Instagram posts, and even text messages. Knowing that a community is open to new individuals definitely eases the tension and is something that can be beneficial for students.           

    

 

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Blogging: Authentic or Manufactured?

 

“Learning to Write Publicly: Promises and Pitfalls of Using Weblogs in the Composition Classroom” by John Benson and Jessica Reyman offered a study that was meant to inform college writing teachers the pros and cons of assigning blogs in and out of the composition classroom. For the purpose of their study, blogs were defined as a public Web 2.0 writing forum technology. They acknowledge that blogging can give students the valuable experience of writing publicly amongst people of varying backgrounds and education. Blogging as a composition activity or assignment prepares students for professionalism in the digital age, where interconnectivity and writing in public forums is an aspect of daily personal and professional lives. Their examination of the students’ preparation and content on four composition class blogs, a course entry and exit questionnaires, and interviews with composition instructors showed that instructors will face challenges fostering digital literacy by forcing blogging as an activity.

While Benson and Reyman found that blogging offered opportunities for learning about writing in a public space, instructors still encountered issues of protecting students privacy. Blogging does create a writing atmosphere that is public and open, but student writing still needs to be assessed and evaluated in a protected environment which is difficult to create online. The balance of creating a public blog space for composition students while maintaining a safe space for learning can be very difficult, as also seen in “Writing and Citizenship: Using Blogs to Teach First-Year Composition” by Charles Tryon. Benson and Reyman concluded that writing course blogs have the potential to teach digital literacy and citizenship, if instructors are responsibly protecting the students privacy (which means that the space should not be entirely public). This balance means that for a successful blogging environment, teachers have to “manufacture” a public environment without it actually being public. As we see in Tyron’s article, students writing to an entirely public audience can subject students to a space that is not conducive for student writing. Benson and Reyman hope that despite the challenges of blogging, writing teachers will still use blogs a collaborative tool to help students engage with digital literacy and learn how to professionally interact with meaningful, public forums.

Tyron also held the same hope despite the difficulties his students encountered when engaging with a public audience. He thought that the students no longer passive spectators but instead contributors to larger conversation gave students the opportunity to be a part of something greater than what can transpire in the classroom alone. He also found that the opportunity to blog inspired students to participate in a meaningful social and political way. He found blogs as a successful and valuable way to get students grappling with rhetoric and audience while learning about citizenship, democracy, and digital literacy.

Struggling with the issues of digital literacy is an undertaking that all composition teachers should be discussing and working towards. Writing using public and social forums is a form of composition that also addresses the complexity of teaching students to write across the curriculum. Whether a student’s interest is sociology or chemistry, there are many people writing publicly about the current issues, questions, and problems the field is facing. Allowing students to engage with conversations occurring digitally and publicly, gives students the opportunity for a tangible writing experience. One that they can understand the meaning and importance of. While I understood the concerns of Benson and Reyman that we saw transpire early on in Tyron’s article, I also think it is important for students to experience public criticism of their writing. Personally, I think it would be fascinating to allow students to engage with a public, non-manufactured audience, and take the feedback or commentary from their readers and incorporate it in revision exercises. I think that any opportunity that allows students to engage with criticism and revision can be turned into a positive one, and in a blogging platform, it could be massively helpful in teaching students responsible digital citizenship. In my experience, students respond to authenticity more than manufactured scenarios. I think even if it is encountering and embracing criticism, the authenticity of keeping blogging public can truly inspire students to write and read content that they have a passion about.

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Blogging

 

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In the article “Erasing “Property Lines”: A Collaborative Notion of Authorship and Textual Ownership on a Fan Wiki” Rik Hunter explores the academic value of fan based blogs in regards to the symbiotic, social and technological, relationships. Wow Wiki pages, one of the top websites on the internet, is a participatory blog where fans, players, and observers voluntarily post their writing about the interactive game World of WarCraft. World of WarCraft, a lineage video game, is regarded as highly academic because it demands high level critical and active learning and engagement; for example, the game’s “..manipulation of texts, images, and symbols for making meaning and achieving particular ends” are functions that correlate with academic functioning and thinking. The members and readers of WOWWiki blog collaborate and create a collective knowledge and ownership, where many share a mindset creating hyper-social interactive writing, therefore bridging readers and writers with social interaction.  The postings are then moderated and the moderators give feedback, edit errors, and require bloggers to provide credible sources and factual evidence to their claims. The site also has a guideline of posting and communicating in appropriate ways and how to navigate tension and conflict. The article argues the academic benefits of fan blog sites and how they are used.

 

This is an interesting perspective about the academic elements of blogs and video games. This brings up the idea of how to use academic gaming into the classroom to build on students’ executive functioning. Until this video game/ curriculum is created, this is best approached as an example of a well functioning blog and forum.  I could not help but bring up that a well oiled and functioning blog works because the audience and participants are invested in the topic(s) and in this particular case game. It cannot run as smoothly in the classroom environment because not all the participants are motivated, interested, or enthusiastic about the topic(s).

In the article “Writing and Citizenship: Using Blogs to Teach First-Year Composition” Charles Tryon argues for the use of blogs in classrooms. Tryon’s article partially supports and coincides with the article “Learning to Write Publicly: Promises and Pitfalls of Using Weblogs in the Composition Classroom” where John Benson and Jessica Reyman conducted a study to demonstrate the strengths and weaknesses of blogging. The positives support Tyron’s positives: blog writing allows students to experience writing in a public space in multiple contexts with real communication value. This also involves an awareness of audience; however, Benson and Reyman exposed that sometimes audience is unknown or varied within a classroom blogging context. Students also become aware of genre and genre conventions in blog writing, however, Benson and Reyman state that some web blogs assignments can complicate a students understanding on genre because some genres are not applicable in the blogging format. Both authors state the benefits of blogging, through social engagement and collaboration, that are typically lost in the more traditional essay writing. Blogging also contains purpose and real life meaningful interactions that can supplement both reading, writing, and discussions.  

As a student I have been introduced to the academic blogging sphere while in grad school. I see the benefits of blogging: the immediate interaction, the ability to read, internalize, and then respond thoughtfully and accordingly. I like it because I can proofread and sculpt my opinion as I write, but most importantly the discussion thread is “permanent” and therefore I can see the thread of comments at any time which help as I gain perspective. I do have to say that sometimes I have a hard time with my language; I want to have a more colloquial tone and approach while blogging but then have to remind myself that this is still an academic environment.

Blogging is effective because it requires a whole new literacy. One can have computer literacy in terms of mechanical skills as well as technological literacy, social and cultural environments, but it is necessary to use those two skills and apply them in a cyber literacy.

The questions I have after this article:

  • How will students create their own discussion norms in a classroom?
  • How will a teacher demonstrate appropriate tone and language of blogging?
  • How do all students feel apart of the community and therefore feel motivated to be involved?
  • How are we going to scaffold blogging for those who do not know the blogging structure nor explored this type of communication outside of the classroom?

 

 

If A Blog Gets Created And There’s No One To Read It, Does It Make A Sound?

With the use of blogs and wikis, students may reach unexpected audiences and collaborate at unexpected moments in contrast with traditional reading and writing experiences.

First in regards to audience, Charles Tryon advocates using blogs to help students gain an identity as global citizens in “Writing and Citizenship: Using Blogs to Teach First-Year Composition.” The unlimited reach of blogs makes student writing available to a global audience. When students receive comments and feedback about their writing from the greater public, the writing they have done for the public sphere in the blog gains a more profound validity than classroom writing.

While blogging may open up student writing to a global audience, some dangers come with that level of access. In “Learning to Write Publicly,” a qualitative research study done by John Benson and Jessica Reyman, the authors note that only about one or two students out of sixty-seven, who were observed blogging in a first year composition class, had concerns about the public nature of blogging, and the other sixty-five viewed blogging as totally anonymous or like talking to a “close friend.” Despite the propensity of students to over-estimate the amount of personal information that can safely be shared (a phenomenon well known by now and mocked on websites such as Failblog or in this SNL sketch), the authors of the research study still note that the exercise in rhetorical awareness is hugely beneficial to students because even just going through the motions of having fellow students comment on their work (albeit required comments by the teacher) expands a student’s notions of audience.

Coming from more of a K-12 perspective, Will Richardson proposes many methods for limiting the audience of student blogs, so that students can practice writing for a larger audience (even if it’s just the whole class) without risks of allowing students to overshare or discover unsavory content. Richardson sees the blog as more of a pedagogical tool that should be managed so that students can use new media tools more effectively outside of the classroom. Richardson’s perspective, that of the private class blog, is training wheels for real-world blogging. I, in any many instances think it’s more appropriate for the classroom to be a safe space, but many students will learn the harsh lessons of over-sharing outside of the classroom one way or another.

Take me for example, long ago (2005), I e-mailed a letter to the editor of SF Weekly about iPods. The newspaper had run a story about how podcasts were a “medium for dissent.” I received notice that they were going to print my letter and I became excited. I eagerly waited for the next edition of the weekly to come out, and when I raced to the page where the “Letters to The Editor” were, I discovered that my letter had been saddled with a sarcastic title “Manifesto from the Outer Sunset.” My glee turned to disappointment as I realized the editors were making fun of my letter, one containing a few too many Marxist sounding words (common man, upper classes, dissent).

Long story short, it has taken YEARS for that letter to the editor to stop showing up in the top 10 results when you Google my name (and yes I know that by linking to it in this post, I am counteracting that effect). The lesson I learned from all of this is that—the internet follows you. I’m sad to say this is not the only lesson I learned about discretion in regards to the internet and new media, but it was a valuable learning experience, and in retrospect, a shareable blunder.

Students are invariably going to make mistakes when trying to take part in civic discourse, and eventually we do have to take off the training wheels and let them ride their internet bikes into ditches. Especially nowadays, there is more recourse for internet blunders (privacy settings, delete functions) so most of the time students will bounce back unless they do something as profoundly shocking as UCLA student Alexandra Wallace posting a YouTube video containing a racist rant about Asians in the UCLA library. Wallace had to publicly apologize and withdrew from UCLA, but I think cases like hers are an extreme example.

Extreme examples aside, students must get used to the fact that when they write online, audience changes. Wikis provide an intermediate experience, and one distinctly different than blogs. With wikis, students collaborate on a document or web resource. While the wiki can be changed by anyone, the wiki retains a history of all changes made so that the wiki can be reverted back to previous versions. A student will experience a different type of audience on the wiki, not that of commenters, but of authorial discussions about the nature of the content on the wiki. Students must feel bold in changing the work of others, but also be comfortable with the fact that their writing will most likely be edited and/or deleted. The notion of authorship and audience completely changes on the wiki: from singular to shared authorship, and simultaneously an unlimited audience (on the internet) and a limited audience (fellow authors of the wiki). In “Erasing “Property Lines”: A Collaborative Notion of Authorship and Textual Ownership on a Fan Wiki,” Rik Hunter observes these phenomenons regarding audience and authorship in the context of a World of Warcraft Wiki, WOWWIKI.

I wholeheartedly agree with the notion that it is beneficial and possible crucial to teach students how to use these tools critically. We might not save them from a few badly written letters to the editor, but we might save them from life altering viral video status if they are a little more aware of the power of these tools. We can show them how to use a tricycle and maybe someday, they will build something like this.

Blogging about Blogging

I enjoyed how both the Tryon and Richardson texts cheer along the blogging revolution and argue for its application in the classroom. Go Blogging! I’m writing about how blogging can expand students’ sense of audience awareness for my research paper, and it is clear from these readings that teachers have used blogs to do this and serve a million different functions at this point. When figuring out how to integrate blogging in our Composition classrooms, I think the important thing to remember is what we talked about a few weeks ago: the technology should serve our goals as a writing instructors, not be an end unto itself. For example, Tryon, says at the beginning of his article that his goal as an instructor is to nudge students toward “a sense that writing matters.” To achieve this goal, he used blogs to get students to engage with contemporary political issues. He helped his students see the role that bloggers play in politics and had students contribute to an ongoing conversation.

I think I’m pretty fully converted (and if I wasn’t already from our class discussions, this article from Computers and Composition put me over the edge), but I have yet to decide how and to what extent I’ll incorporate blogs in my composition classes. I can imagine a class blog that lists homework and basically distributes information (for practical purposes), and student blogs where they post reading responses (to push students to start engaging with their readings, record their reactions) and full-fledged essays (to aim for an authentic public audience), contribute to the class vocabulary page (to pool their resources–I wonder if this would work better as a wiki), collect links/sources for research projects (to share their critical analysis of sources), and of course, comment on each others’ posts (to build the class network/community). These are just a few uses that come to mind, and I’d love to hear how you all, web audience, use or plan to use blogs to teach writing.

Agony in the Digital Garden

Our first class session revealed much in terms of the vast range of technological literacy(s) among us that may represent the technological literacy of society at large.  But our trepidations with using computers—nowadays more so with various software/programs/applications than actual hardware—are rather difficult to pin down.  In any historical trajectory, the first place we tend to go to is to look at how Plato, in his Socratic dialogue Phaedrus, is anxious of the new technology of writing, and what it does to the originary speech.  As Walter Ong asserts in citing himself, “Plato’s objections against writing are essentially the very same objections commonly urged today against computers by those who object to them” (“Writing is a Technology” 27).  Because he’s a preeminent scholar of orality, I’m inclined to believe Ong’s analysis—after all, he had spent his whole academic career researching the subject.  However, because he is the same scholar who has made backhanded comments on Native American oral communication in saying that:

There is hardly an oral culture or a predominantly oral culture left in the world today that is not somehow aware of the vast complex powers forever inaccessible without literacy.  This awareness is agony for persons rooted in primary orality, who want literacy passionately but who also know very well that moving into the exciting world of literacy means leaving behind much that is exciting and deeply loved in the earlier oral world.  We have to die to continue living” (Orality and Literacy 15),

I’m not sure that I trust his analysis completely.  Besides the absolutism that Condescends-Other-Cultures prescribes for orality and textuality, his theory here is presumptive in the melodramatic “agony” of oral folk of which he is not a part, not to mention fatalistic in their assimilation due to inability to survive otherwise.  Another reason Ong’s theories are problematic is that they tend to overlook what happens in between Plato’s 4th century B.C.E. and today.

On the other hand, a more grounded look into the various nuances of textuality’s evolutions can be found in the work of Dennis Barron, who says that “the computer is simply the latest step in a long line of writing technologies” (“Literacy and Access” 118).  Barron takes us through an evolution of tools from the pencil to the telephone to the computer, and even provides a study of their original utilities, which apparently were not meant to be as writing utensils.  Just like previous technologies, he suggests, the computer was originally intended for more mathematical computations, and not necessarily invented to be conducive of reading/writing/literacy.

The biggest difference seems to be that using computers for literacy activities is more multimodal in terms of the number of skills that we have to use.  Reading a book, writing with a pencil, or speaking on the telephone are relatively more simple tasks and modalities compared to learning how to navigate course management systems such as Moodle or blogging on WordPress.  To jump on Barron’s idea, this is “the flexibility of digitised text” (117).  If the pencil and telephone are modern inventions, the computer and interwebs are postmodern inventions.  The difficulty we have with teaching writing in a digital age, then, is that we’re not just learning how to hold a new tool with our fingers to write cursive or speak clearly into the correct end of the tool, but we are learning to be aware of available navigation from link to link in doing our research, or the many Microsoft Word icons and features that do various tasks, and must constantly, because of their rapid creation, not only learn our way around new software and digital applications, but also (re)learn updated versions of existing ones dot dot dot.

N.B.  Our article by Barron was published in 1999.  Here is an interview with Barron on his latest book, A Better Pencil (2009), which may or may not update some of his thoughts.