Text Manipulation

af3a6bae13b55d8f4bfe545ced9de53bd42c5992ecb541183568a5126baa931aThroughout my short academic career, I’ve noticed the different interpretations of what ‘writing’ actually is: a report of facts that proves an argument, an organization of ideas that supports a particular stance, a creative gathering of words that illustrates a point by exhibiting artistry through words. Writing is such a hard thing to do and I feel like its difficulty is constantly overlooked because of its everyday use and presence. The inclusion of technology does make the act of writing and teaching it even more difficult, but of course there are gains through this added difficulty: easier access to resources, more ways of creating new content, and having templates to actually write on.     


I’m beginning to notice a pattern. There’s always seems to be some sort of trade off(s) when implementing technology into the writing classroom.  The three readings for this week (Johnson-Eilola’s “The Database and the Essay: Understanding Composition as Articulation,” Devoss and Rosati’s “It wasn’t me, was it? Plagiarism and the Web,” and McGee and Ericson’s “The Politics of the Program: MS WORD as the Invisible Grammarian”) all touch on how the use of technology affects student writing through an outside influence that determines the “rules” that need to be followed when writing, as well as appropriating the sources that are made available on the internet and how it could and should be used in their writing. There are different layers that come into writing: having correct grammar and other writing mechanics, finding and incorporating research, and being creative and original. An issue that all three articles address is for composition teachers to manage these three layers of writing in the classroom for their students.


37016815Although I have yet taught a class on my own, I do have plenty experience in tutoring. A constant reoccurrence I noticed with my tutees is their concern of their writing having correct grammar. I had one particular student who would always point out specific sentences that they had difficulty constructing. Every time I asked him what was wrong with his sentence, he would always reply, “Ugh… I’m not sure. Word underlined it with a blue line. I think my grammars wrong.” In “The Politics of the Program: MS WORD as the Invisible Grammarian,” McGee and Ericson address how the immediate grammar corrections in Microsoft Word can be detrimental to a student’s process in becoming better writers because it stifles them as they write (454). I do see how grammar check in word processors, like Microsoft Word, can be helpful, mainly by showing students a mistake and how to fix it. The issue with this is that it potentially shifts a student’s focus of their writing completely on the sentence level. In Devose and Rosati’s article on plagiarism, they claim that a major reason why students are prone to plagiarising is “because of the often-appearing-unconscious cultural principles of written work. Cultures vary in how writing, authorship, identity, individualism, ownership rights, and personal relationships are perceived, and these variances in values and approaches to text affect student writing” (195). In academic culture, many first year students mistakenly equate good writing with correct grammar. This false fixation on correct grammar push students to “have a near desperate need for certainties and “right” answers; a computer program gives them those certainties more readily than all-too-human English teachers” (McGee and Ericson 462).


Further branching off of Devose and Rosati’s take on plagiarism through students’ perception of “often-appearing-unconscious cultural principles of written work,” a lot of students do not realize it when they are plagiarizing (197). Research is a such an important aspect to academic writing and students always feel pressured in reaching every aspect of it. In their article, Devose and Rosati use Howard’s term, “patchworking,” to further accentuate the importance for students to use different sources and texts to incorporate in their writing, but also the faults that it can lead students because of their lack of guidance on the matter. Patchworking “allows students a place to borrow from text, manipulate it, and work through new concepts by piecing their writing with the original work” (194). In a way, I can see connections of patchworking with Johnson-Eilola’s use of intertextuality and articulation theory -using bits and pieces of other works to connect and to create something that is original with new meaning; “If we start to understand connection as a form of writing, then articulation theory can offer us a way to understand the “mere” uncreative act of selection and connection as very active and creative” (226). Although academic writing may simply come off as data collecting and reporting, there are creative ways of structuring so.   

An interesting in Johnson-Eilola’s article is his example of Fair Use as a corporate example to writing. Although this may be a far stretch, YouTube and hip hop (possibly contemporary music in general) always come to mind when the concept of Fair Use comes to mind. As an avid YouTube watcher, I’ve noticed a lot of my favorite content creators speaking out on the Fair Use policy with YouTube, mainly addressing how the company isn’t honoring its own policy. In regards to hip hop, practically every song samples beats from other songs of course paying the respective studio the rights to use the sample for profit. One of my favorite rappers right now is Chance the Rapper and he’s known for sampling a ton of content without the actual rights to the song. To counteract Fair Use, he’s actually an independent artist and usually puts all his music for free.    





Better Spaces, Better Thinkers

I don’t know how I missed this the last few weeks (or maybe I did notice but did not pay much attention to it), but I think it’s funny that after each blog post here, there is a list of “Possibly related posts: (automatically generated).” Who generates these posts? How do they determine what are related to the blog posts? Much like MS Word’s grammar check, these automatic posts seem arbitrary and make one wonder how much of what we do here on these digital media platforms are structured and determined by these “unseen” forces. McGee and Ericsson’s article starts out with a quote from Mark Weiser that warns us of the “most profound technologies” that “disappear… and weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.” This is the age that we now live in, where the ubiquity of digital technologies directly impacts how we communicate and perform literacy practices in ways that we don’t necessarily think twice about.

The connections that I was able to gather from the readings this week and which struck me as salient are Continue reading

Greased Pig: Nailing our role as FYC instructors

Just when I think I have a grasp on what the role of the composition instructor is supposed to be, a new comment, article, blog posting, book chapter acts as a beckoning finger, a mental hyperlink meant to lure me from the comfort and safety of my own home page of understanding.

Richardson suggests that it is our job to teach safety and accountability to our students as we shepherd them through making educational use of participatory media. Sure, why not? If our main focus as FYC instructors is on not only writing, but also on improving the overall literacy of our students then making students aware of the effects of their own participation as well as the participation of others is absolutely a part of that.  In some ways we are just being asked to modify or expand upon pre-existing lessons on topics such as plagiarism, audience, voice, etc.

Richardson oversimplifies the divide between the techno-savviness of educators and their students — certainly how much divide can there really be between a 23 year old and the 18 year old high school seniors she is teaching?  And there do exist seven year olds who have never set a finger on an iPod or visited a website.  We must be careful to avoid ageist generalizations on both ends and keep our focus on which literacies are most relevant and how we can obtain or maintain our own relevance as educators.

But truly, does reporting from a camera phone or to a blog equate news that is anymore “true” or educational than the news that used to come through the phone tree of the community busy body? Even in the days before computers people who were socially literate knew that information from a known gossip could not necessarily be counted on, but should be questioned and examined in light of the possible motives behind passing on the information. I do buy, at some level that amateur reporting is in many ways more truthful, and less tainted with motive, than conventional reporting but I’m not exactly sure that the critical muscle to examine such things is so vastly different than those which we have been using all along. Teaching the type of examination necessary to determine what sources are and are not reliable really falls under the critical thinking umbrella (which we are asked to touch on in our teaching as well).

If we are meant to teach FYC students to be socially literate critical thinkers as well as readers, writers, editors, collaborators, publishers, reporters, viewers, designers, activists and composers, then that drastically changes our identity as a discipline and the things we need to know in order to be effective composition instructors. For me the challenge is exciting, and I am always open to reinterpreting my role. My partner teaches seventh grade Spanish and, several years ago was having behavior issues with many of her students. At that time I asked her, “What is the most important thing you can teach them in your class?” It wasn’t much having to do with learning Spanish – they could pick that back up freshman year of high school and be right back on track – it was more having to do with being a respectful class member, figuring out what the boundaries were in a junior high environment, etc. Once she let go of the fantasy that she alone was going to imbue them with the music of the Spanish language, she was able to relax and understand that her class, much like FYC is about exposure, not mastery.