Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Vacation Experiment: Deleting All Work Email As It Comes In While I Am Away

I am on vacation. A true vacation, the kind where I won't look at work related items until I get back in the office. No work reading, writing, or (in the case of expense reports), arithmetic. And definitely no work e-mail.

Not only am I not going to even look at work e-mail, but to avoid the pointless and soul-crushing backlog of messages I'd find on my return in two weeks or so, I've done the following, all captured in this auto response message people who e-mail my work address get:

July 9, 2015
If you are getting this after 12:31 pm on Friday July 10 and before Monday, July 27, 8 am, know that I am automatically deleting the message you just sent. 
I'll be vacating -- truly and surely -- work thoughts, work office, work e-mail, work state of mind during the two work weeks that fall in that window. 
Consider me digitally vaporized, as it were, from this inbox.  My laptop will be secreted in a secure location over 200 miles from where I will be. My phone's data plan will be turned off, its Wi-Fi shut down; it'll be just a phone, one that I won't answer unless I know the person behind the number I see incoming and also know that the person is friend or family confirming where we will eat or what we will drink or when we will go and who else will be there. 
And because I am digitally vaporizing myself, so too will be your incoming email.  To avoid a backlog of messages on July 27 at 8 am, I am setting an inbox rule to automatically delete anything that comes in. If you are writing me on something urgent, resend it on July 27th. Though chances are very likely that you will have resolved the item before then and what I will be missing is a long chain of messages that at the end reveal the problem is solved. 
I know this may seem rude, inconvenient at best, for me to tell you that I'm deleting what you've sent with a request that you resend it. But consider this: with the backlog I would've had on July 27th, you very likely would've been sending me a beseeching reminder by the 28th or 29th or 30th anyway, were my response still needed. So this is better. You know that I am not going to see your message at all unless you send it on the July 27th, when it will arrive fresh to my eyes, on top, and not sitting there two weeks old and buried among the zombified deluge of the unread. 
And if my response is not needed, then what difference does my deleting the message make?
__
Paste this -- bit.ly/1qEx6Pv -- into a browser  for a note on the rhetoric of auto responses.
Nick Carbone
Director of Digital Teaching and Learning
Bedford/St. Martin's Imprint, Macmillan Education
nick.carbone AT macmillan DOT com

Now I really do not know whether this will go over well with all recipients, but at least it's honest. And as a strategy, it makes sense. Conservatively 200 messages times 10 work days is 2,000 messages. Why lose a whole day or two just sorting through that when there will be other, more important, work to be done?

I suppose some you reading this may hesitate to try it for fear of being viewed as irrelevant and replaceable; will bosses ask, "if (to use me as an example) Nick can ignore fully two weeks of email, including company pronouncements and announcements; colleague queries and requests; and customer beseechments and entreatments, just how useful is the schmuck?"

Two things on that, and why I think this policy makes sense. First, the practice demonstrates efficiency, not indifference. Important things will rise more quickly to the top of my attention this way and get taken care of more quickly. Second, I don't kid myself -- of course I'm replaceable. Looked at one way, I am, like everyone with a job, a hiring line, a budget item, human resource, by definition not permanent nor stable because people and their jobs change. People retire, the work goes on. People leave for better jobs, the work goes on. People are fired, the work goes on. People die (which in my case, were it to happen, would be, I admit, tragic and untimely), but work goes on.

So it goes.

But in the end, work works better when it's workable, and this new vacation from work e-mail method allows me to do more of the work that matters when I get back. And that's important to me, the professors I work with, and the company I work for. So I think this will work.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

On Why I Call People Who Are Writing Writers

You are a reader. You are reading this now, and as I write this (making me the writer), I am thinking of you, dear reader, because as the writer, that's one of my many jobs. I am the writer of this blog post, thus I am a writer at the moment, even though my title is Director of Digital Teaching and Learning. But while I write, I am a writer. Seems logical, doesn't it?

Still, the term 'writer' carries some very specific cultural connotations. In our literate culture it is an elevated term, an honorific of sorts that one earns, or takes on, by virtue of  job title and/or aspiration. It is also a term some people guard or that others are wary of claiming for themselves.

Rachel Toor, whose Monday, June 15 profile of Anthony Grafton, a historian who writes and teaches his history students to write, finds the generous application of the term irritating.  She guards the term. In the interview, which I recommend, Grafton, a good writer, modestly denies the term applies to him.  Her piece came to the attention of an e-mail discussion list for writing center directors and scholars when Steven J. Corbett, Assistant Professor  at George Mason, sent the following:
Colleagues, hope your summers are going well so far. A new post on the _Chronicle of Higher Education_ from Rachel Toor, "Scholars Talk Writing: Anthony Grafton: The Princeton historian is a teacher, scholar, collaborator, but not, he says, a writer" http://chronicle.com/article/Scholars-Talk-Writing-Anthony/230845/ starts off talking about a writing center:
Every time I walk to and from my office I pass a big poster for the Writers’ Center at my university. The poster features an oversize photo of Ernest Hemingway, and next to it, in proud and arrogant type, the following assertion: 'Everyone is a writer. Period.'
 
I try to avert my eyes, because I get irritated every time I see this poster. I go into class and start ranting. No, I say, everyone is not a writer. Just because you write — because you have to write to get your degree — that, my friends, does not make you a writer.
What do you think about this way of characterizing writers and/or writing centers? (Note: see http://lyris.ttu.edu/read/messages?id=24656464 for full email.) 

The conversation unfolded and several good e-mail messages came round, but most useful in helping me frame my own thinking were two from Scott Pleasant, Writing Center Coordinator at Coastal Carolina University. He wrote a smart take that echoes Toor's and Grafton's sentiments, but unlike Toor, Pleasant doesn't avert his eyes in irritation:

I was just saying there's a perspective from which the phrase "I am a writer" means something very different from "I write" or "I can write."

I write all the time. For pay, even. . . . But if someone were to ask me, "What ARE you?" I kind of doubt my response would be "I'm a writer." I'd probably say I'm a teacher if I really had to characterize my existential essence. . . .

. . . I've now contributed two e-mails to an online discussion, probably because I'm looking for ways to get a break from the tedious document I'm writing. If all of that makes me a writer, then fine, I'm a writer, but right at the moment, I really just feel more like a person who happens to be writing than like "a writer."

. . . If it helps them learn to write, then by all means let's call them all writers. But I'd have to see some convincing data before I would accept the idea that simply calling them "writers" helps them to write. 
(For full e-mail, go to: http://lyris.ttu.edu/read/archive?id=24656491)
While my experience isn't convincing data, it has convinced me that calling folks in my courses and workshops writers helps. But like so much in teaching, it helps because I work at making it work for me. I do not want to suggest that what helps is "simply calling them 'writers.' That's not enough. What helps is both calling workshoppers and students "writers" while also teaching them to act and think the way writers -- or people who are not "writers' but who do write an awful lot in their professional capacities --  do.

And you can see from that last sentence one reason I like to call students writers. It's easier than saying, "person who is not a 'writer' but who is learning to write based on some approximation of what I as a teacher of writing understand writers do for a probable future where they will need to write, if not a lot, well enough to succeed at the work their writing needs to do.

I have been calling students writers for a long time, and I fell into it because I had a teacher who called me and my classmates writers and made it fun to be called a writer. I took an advanced writing course my first sophomore year (I had three of those in my peripatetic road to a BA.) with Leo Rockas at the University of Hartford in a class that met for three hours, 5 - 8 pm, I think on a Monday night. The class started with us getting in a circle, and Dr. Rockas telling us we were all writers in this course, and that he wanted us to think like a writer, argue like a writer, call our work "stuff," like he said writers did, and, he too he said, we should drink. Writer's drink he said, and from a brown super market paper sack he pulled up a gallon Gallo sherry (This was in in '78 or so, before the winery went more upscale.), paper cups and invited us to imbibe (The drinking age was 18.) if we were of a mind to. He set a scene (He also taught a playwriting course, so no surprise.) and invited us to play at being, as a way of becoming, writers. In fact, the class had folks in it who wanted to be writers (myself among that crew).

I don't serve sherry in my courses or workshops -- though when I've had a class of all adults, I've met them for drinks and spotted them a pitcher of beer or two -- but I like the fun of calling students writers, of getting them into the role-play of being a writer while being in my course. And I start that from day one. Consider this first day of class writing prompt from 1993:
Hello Writer,
      Since for most of you thinking of yourself as a writer may be a new notion, I'd like you to recall your history as a writer. Your history can include talking about any writing experience you've had in the past, including shopping lists, essays in high school, letters, journals, any and all writing you've ever done.
      You can talk about how you feel about writing. You can talk about the best writing you've ever done. You can talk about what kind of writing you like to do. You can talk about what you think makes writing good. You can talk about what has influenced your writing.
      You can talk about your writing habits--where do you write best?, when do you write?, how many drafts do you do? You can be specific or general.
      Here, for example are some things other writers have said about writing. I'll start with one that is especially true for me.
      "I hate writing but I love having written."
     --Dorothy Parker.
I can imagine this kind of prompt might disturb Toor -- equating even the making of a shopping list with being a writer.  But you can see too that idea was simple -- when you write, you're a writer is the formulation here. You may not be a particularly competent writer, I tell my students, no more than I am a competent (all right, if you must know, I stink) golfer when I golf.

But when I play golf now, in my increasingly late 50's, I play with the same kind of imagination I played any game as a kid: I imitated and imagined I was Reggie Jackson at the plate when I played baseball; was Jack Nicklaus when I played golf; Jim Brown when I was a running back; and James Bond when I played baccarat (which I played only once and only so I could pretend to be James Bond). I pretend to be, when I play, if only for a little bit, those who are good at what I am about.

Of course it's hard to imitate a writer per se. The only novelist whoever wrote for an audience in a stadium, with a play-by-play announcer and analyst was Thomas Hardy, and most students don't know him. But my courses and workshops focus on teaching folks who are writing some of the things writers do: the habits of mind they follow; the strategies and work habits for writing and revising and revising and revising they explore.

Stephen North, in "The Idea of the Writing Center" (1984), famously wrote,
Let me use it, then, to make the one distinction of which it still seems capable: in a writing center the object is to make sure that writers, and not necessarily their texts, are what get changed by instruction. In axiom form it goes like this: Our job is to produce better writers, not better writing.
One step in making better writers, a fun step, is to start by calling the students writers. I do not expect students to identify themselves as a writer ever more, though some of them may go on to careers where they do that, write for a living and with a job that has writer in the title, careers, maybe, in journalism, the literary arts, professional writing, ghost writing, research writing, speech writing, copy writing, comedy writing, and so on.

No, I call them writers in large part too, on top of the fun of it, to get them to understand some of the responsibilities a writer takes on. In the game of writing, the writer must find a purpose for writing, an argument to make, and an audience who will read their stuff. To learn to do that, the student must inhabit the writer role, and must be able, to analyze and reflect on how they are doing, step outside of themselves, seeing themselves as a writer in that context, in that course or workshop writing activity. So the appellation, then, serves for me a necessary metacognitive function.

Grafton, the subject of Toor's profile, a man who writes well but doesn't think of himself as a writer, does, however, even if he may not call them such, think of his students as writers. He says to Toor, "Where writing is concerned — as with scholarly research — I work very hard with my students, and the better the writer, the harder I push him or her."

It's hard when you teach writing -- whether in a course you teach, a workshop you lead, or a writing center where you tutor -- to not think of students as writers. It makes the teaching and learning of writing less fun in the end. Where good learning is hard fun, less fun hurts instead of helps.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

#worthassigning: five online essays by Charles Moran

In Case You Don't Know Charlie Moran, An Introduction

On Father's Day, June 21, 2015, Charlie Moran died at home, with his wife, Kay, and his two children, Seth and Amy, by his side. He lived a wonderful life, energetic and generous, as this profile, published after his death in the North Hampton Gazette, illustrates. I recommend it for a fuller sense of the man and his remarkable contributions to teaching writing, his community, and his family.

As for me, I first came to know Charlie, I think, back in 1991, when I began as a graduate student in the PhD program at the English Department of U. Mass, Amherst. I started teaching there in a computer networked classroom -- a local area network built on Novell, with WordPerfect as the word processing software, a simple tool for making class announcements, and what was then a new program for real time online classroom discussions in writing called Daedalus Interchange.

Charlie, along with Marcia Curtis, oversaw the graduate student teachers who taught in the two networked classrooms; both he and Marcia innovated pedagogically, she focusing on perhaps one of the best basic writing programs ever developed, and he on traditional first year writing courses. Most of my time in those classrooms came with Charlie as my course director. Through that, and as I also took graduate courses with him on teaching with technology, he opened up doors to an online world of teachers who taught writing with computers (a novelty then), a world where I found a way of intellectual and professional life I enjoy and cherish to this day. 

Things You'll Notice About Charlie's Academic Writing

The other thing Charlie did, besides being a great teacher, and did productively, was write and encourage his graduate students to write and publish. He was a teacher-scholar who pursued both parts of the hyphenate equally, the art of one and the discipline of the other informing each other. He shared his insights with the field at large in his body of published works, at conferences, and via voce in the classrooms and offices at Bartlett Hall. His work models how to be a teacher-scholar.

He collaborated with graduate students on essays. He collaborated with colleagues. And even when he solo authored, his work often referenced or thanked those who read drafts, helped his thinking. This is no small thing, this collaboration.  The UMass Writing Program encourages GTA's to explore and use collaboration in the design of courses, via peer review, the sharing of drafts, discussions to foster ideas, and for asking for co-authored projects by students. Charlie practiced what he taught his first year students; that practice made him a better teacher of those things he asked his students to learn.

In looking over the pieces I've found online that he's written or co-written, I notice some wonderful things. The chief quality that comes through is his devotion to teaching and learning, evidenced by a deep respect for students and teachers. His pedagogical inquiries, his application of theory, always put students and their learning at the absolute center, and teachers in close proximity. Even when an essay doesn't evoke a student directly, reading it you can see that students are central to his concern. 

A look back shows that Charlie's brilliance as an academic writer came from his ability to observe and reflect. So many of his pieces observe students, or his own or colleagues' teaching practices, or larger trends (automatic writing assessment engines; testing mania). Whether looking at small acts of practice or and larger trends, he looked to see how they supported or distorted the central mission and necessary relationship teachers and students share. 

A Tangent: Charlie as Observer and Teaching Mentor

I remember, in rereading some of his essays, how great he was at doing teaching observations of graduate student teachers he was assigned to mentor. Charlie would come into the computer networked classroom, find a terminal that wasn't going to be used, and sit unobtrusively. Charlie would sit and write on the keyboard, creating a running narrative of what he observed about the class, the teaching and the dynamics, noticing things the teacher could not. I don't have those reports any longer, but I remember things like, to quote approximately, "this class has a row of male jocks, all with ball caps and broad shoulders sharing the back terminals, almost like a frat row in the classroom." Or, "as Nick leans over an helps two students, students a row back, swap files and both type feedback into one another's draft, they are discussing the drafts as they type, but also other things, using off tasks asides, it seems, to keep them largely on task."

He'd capture the telling detail, the nature of interaction, and do so on the fly in long, generous reports that came from continuous typing as he looked; his hands operated independently of his eyes and ears, transposing what his mind made of things as he continued to watch and listen.

Discussion afterwards about what he noticed, what interpretation he had based on what he could see, became apprenticeships in reflection. He'd ask questions that would lead, at least in my experience, to teaching insights, finding strengths, and finding weaknesses, and talking about both with equal comfort and candor.

Reflection imbues so much of Charlie's writing in the essays below. Some of pieces are about his adjustment to technology -- or in one case, going to a classroom where it was absent. One essay frames modestly his work based on his own classroom observations as auto ethnographic, not seeking to make a big claim. But those pieces are finely wrought, hand-crafted jewels of insight that, even though the technology in question may be twenty years past, offer lessons in adjustment, observation, reflection, patience, and humility which matter still. They serve as useful models in faculty professional development, as ways faculty can explore their own teaching, can explore whatever technology they have on hand, whether it is very new or somewhat bewhiskered. 

Other pieces are more contemporary, and many of the links, you'll see, are made available via the National Writing Project, an organization Charlie devoted some of his best thinking, leadership, and writing to. 

All of the pieces, too, are well-written. Charlie has an accessible academic writing voice, making his work especially useful for people new to a field as well as important to those long versed in the literature. Charlie cites important and complex thinkers as needed, but still writes in a way that uses specialized terms and jargon minimally, in sentences of ordinary length with strong verbs. He writes, really, what seems to me speakable prose; that is, you can read it aloud and hear a cadence easy on the ear. 

So for all these reasons, I think the following works of Charles Moran are worth assigning, and if you do assign or read them, I hope they open the door to reading some of the excellent work he's done that doesn't happen to be readily available online but can be found easily enough in a campus library's academic journal catalogs, or his work in books, perhaps the in stacks. 

Five Online Essays by Charlie Moran that  Are #WorthAssigning

I've included a small excerpt from each essay, so you have a sense of its flavor, and sometimes a note two about the essay and why I recommend it specifically. These are in chronological order, oldest to newest.

Title
with Nick Carbone, Margaret Daisley, Ed Federenko, Dix McComas,Dori Ostermiller, and Sherri Vanden Akker, "Writing Ourselves Online." in Computers and Composition 10(3), August 1993, pages 29-48.

Excerpt
At the beginning of our project, six of us divided into pairs. We looked at each other's online language in "Class News" bulletins, in online prompts and messages we left for our students, and in the comments we volunteered in Daedalus INTERCHANGE sessions. In addition, we observed our partner's classes, focusing on our partner's live classroom presence. Then, with our partners, we co-wrote drafts of the three sections that follow. We also met regularly as a full group during the semester and the subsequent summer to reflect upon what we were seeing and writing and to focus and refocus the project.  
As we proceeded with our project, it became clear that each of us had a different online voice. Yet each of us was, according to our student-teacher evaluations, a "good" teacher. Like the Lake Wobegon children, we were all above average. We could, therefore, freely speak of "difference," but we could not so easily speak of "good" or "bad" ways of presenting ourselves online.  
Further, it became clear to us that our online presences existed in a complementary relation to our live, off-line presences. Together the two worked, though in each case differently. We knew of a strand in the literature in our field that assumed that we should each adapt to the computer-equipped classrooms in the same way (e.g., Barker & Kemp, 1990; Handa, 1990; Kiefer, 1991; Klem & Moran, 1992; Spitzer, 1990).  
These studies begin with the assumption that technology drives change. Because we were teachers, what we saw was perhaps inevitably different: that different teachers will successfully use technology in different ways, adapting it to their different goals and needs. We came to believe that the relationship between teacher and technology was what Paul Levinson (1990) has termed a "flexible, feedback process" (p. 7). We write, therefore, as soft technological determinists (Pool, 1990, p. vii) who know that we influence, and are influenced by, our environment. How the teacher uses a given teaching environment depends upon the character of that environment, of course, but it also depends upon who that teacher is. As William Carlos Williams tells us, "It all depends. . . ." 

Note My recollection -- apologies to my co-authors if I am wrong -- is that Charlie wordsmithed most of the excerpt above, from the article's "Note on Method" section. I draw on this essay because it shows a bit how Charlie mentored graduate students -- all of us listed as his co-authors were graduate students who were part of his course director group. We meet regularly as a team on a range of issues related to teaching. Charlie used the project to help us learn how to observe teaching, to work with fellows as peer mentors, to practice good teacher reflections, to collaborate on an article, and to meet the needs and goals his role as a course director required. So as a teacher-scholar, the experience was as much about how to work productively, getting as much value from the work we had to do as possible. I also remember that after the article was accepted, and final draft sent in, Charlie turned to us and said something like, "my habit is to put these behind me once their done and turn to the next project," and so we didn't talk about it after it was sent, but moved on.




Title
"From a High-Tech to a Low-Tech Writing Classroom: You Can't Go Home Again," in The Quarterly, Vol. 22, No. 3, Summer 2000. Available at http://www.nwp.org/cs/public/print/resource/782

Excerpt
I begin to resent, too, the amount of new work I seem to have to do. For instance, I've had to go all the way to my office to get to my computer to put together a writing exercise for the class, print multiple copies on blue paper, and cut the pages in half to distribute to the class. I wrote, "All this cutting and copying is time- and resource-consuming!" 
I resent the grade book I have to construct for myself and my need to discover a new way of organizing the course. I wonder: should I purchase a three-ring binder? And an ominous note: I begin to feel that as a teacher I have to become more active, because I'm feeling that not much is happening.

Note This is one of my favorite pieces, and I share it in workshops with faculty who are just beginning to take deeper dives into using technology. It focuses on what is lost when one goes back to not using the technology after coming to rely on it, and so it reverses the anxiety many faculty feel when they start to use technology. Charlie does a great job of making a simple brick and mortar classroom feel strange. The essay also shows Charlie at his reflective best, for example in this expert you see it in his "ominous note" about starting to do more in the classroom -- filling time and air -- because it's harder for him  to get students engaged without the technology he became used to using.



Title
"Computers and Composition 1983–2002: What we have hoped for" in Computers and Composition 20 (2003) 343–358. Available at http://rhetcomp.gsu.edu/~bgu/8121/Reading-Moran.pdf

Excerpt
In accounting for the optimistic and positive tone of our journal, the cultural cross-currents I’ve referred to are important. But at least as important as these cultural forces has been the agency of particular people at particular times. As a community we reflect the values of our leaders (they’d hate to be called this, but they are and have been)—three generous, energetic, and hopeful teacher–scholars: Kate Kiefer, Cynthia Selfe, and Gail Hawisher. These remarkable teacher–scholars have drawn to their work others who share the same generosity, energy, and optimism. This group, call it a de facto (and partially de jure) editorial board, has shaped the journal and the community, infusing both with temperament, enthusiasm, and vision.

Note I love this short excerpt because it captures so much the spirit and generosity of Charlie. In this project, he acted as both emcee to, and historian of, the nearly 20 years the central journal in the field of Computers and Composition had been publishing, rereading every issue to prepare the article. That he rightly acknowledges the founding editors, citing their work as a team that engaged collegially with their readers and authors, bespeaks too, in a single-authored piece, his belief in collaboration and community building. As a piece that looks at the history of one journal, it's a great survey piece for an introductory course on teaching writing with computers.

In 2003, the same year Charlie published this piece, Computers and Composition initiated The Charles Moran Award for Distinguished Contributions to the Field. The editors write:
The award celebrates the first 20 years of the journal (1983-2003) in which Charles Moran not only contributed over 30 publications-books, articles, chapters-to the profession but also supported the growth of the journal and field in multiple ways as a valued member of the Computers and Composition Editorial Board. We can think of no other person who better exemplifies what it means to be an esteemed scholar and colleague in these rapidly changing times of the information age.




Title
With Anne Herrington, "Challenges for Writing Teachers: Evolving Technologies and Standardized Assessment." in Teaching the New Writing: Technology, Change, and Assessment in the 21st-Century Classroom, edited by Anne Herrington, Kevin Hodgson, and Charles Moran. Copyright © 2009 by Teachers College, Columbia University. Available at http://www.nwp.org/cs/public/download/nwp_file/12466/Teaching_New_Writing_Chapter1.pdf?x-r=pcfile_d

Excerpt
Writing teachers have inevitably felt pressured to change from the forces we have listed above. But more important, teachers, and in particular those who have contributed to this book, have felt the world of writing shifting under them and have wanted to account for this change in their teaching. These teachers are embracing technology in their teaching, to support not only the learning of traditional essay texts but also new electronic text types—what Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel (2006) call “post-typographic forms of texts” (p. 23). These new electronic texts—a Web site with words and images, blogs where multiple readers and writers contribute—challenge our basic notion of written texts as linear, verbal, single-authored texts.
At the same time that new forms of writing—and thus literacy—are emerging in our culture and in our classrooms, forces of assessment and standardization exert a counter-pressure, asking us to prepare students to produce conventional, formulaic print texts in scripted ways. Paradoxically, technology is also being harnessed for these purposes by educational publishers and testing companies, taking the form of machine-scoring and responding to student writing. So it is that technology seems to be leading us forward to new forms of writing, but, as used by standardized testing programs, backward to the five-paragraph theme.
Teachers are caught in this conflict, for their students’ sake wanting to respond to the changes taking place in this thing we call writing, and at the same time wanting their students to do well in the 19th-century school essay called for on standardized tests.
Note As the first chapter of an edited collection, this piece surveys the evolution of computer technology in writing courses, moving in particular to assessment technologies. I chose this excerpt because it includes the kind of trenchant observation Charlie was so good at making: that instead of using technology to move to 21st Century writing needs, testing is preparing students for 19th Century writing. The full chapter is online and excerpts from other chapters, as well as ordering information for the book, can be found in the link with the book's title above.



Title
With Anne Herrington, "Writing to a Machine is Not Writing At All," an essay hosted online by The National Writing Project. Undated, but guess is about 2010 or 11 based on the citations. Available at http://digitalis.nwp.org/sites/default/files/files/44/MoranHerringtonms.pdf

Excerpt
Imagine the effect of this 95%-wrong feedback on the student writer and on the teacher. The feedback would at the least confuse the student writer, leaving the teacher somehow to counter the confusion—although if the student were using her Criterion card on her own, as purchased from the bookstore, there would be no teacher to intervene. If the student accepted the feedback, here are some of the lessons that would be learned: do not use e.g., or texting, or peloton, in any of your writing; do not use the dash as a mark of punctuation; shorten and simplify all sentences so that the program will be able to parse them accurately; do not use inductive, specific-to-general, sequences, but stick with deduction—topic sentence first. Among our goals as writing teachers are these: help students discover and use their voices; help them take risks with their writing; help them master the grammar, usage, mechanics, and styles of written English. In this trial, and in earlier trials we have reported on (see Herrington and Moran 2009, Herrington and Stanley), Criterion has proved not a useful assessment tool but, to quote Ed White again, “a major impediment to what we need to do for our students” (1994, 3). 
Note The essay looks at how Criterion, ETS's automated writing feedback tool, treats student writing. As you can see, Anne and Charlie found it treats students shabbily, in ways counter to what good teachers seek to do and what students need to learn about writing. Charlie's early work, as you saw above, looked at teachers adapting their pedagogy -- enhancing it, or trying to -- via technology. Here and in other later work, especially with Anne, the focus is on what comes when technology is imposed between student and teacher.








Friday, June 19, 2015

#worthassigning: Paul Ford's What is Code?

Adam Whitehurst, a colleague at the Bedford/St. Martin's Imprint of Macmillan, shared this link with folks in house:  http://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2015-paul-ford-what-is-code/.

It's a long, funny, sane piece that posits an audience of people-in-charge of big things or departments approving or overseeing a project that involves coding, and spending a lot of money on coding, and not quite getting what the is meant by code and how coding and software design happens.
So it explains that, but in eminently readable prose, like this
This man makes a third less than you, and his education ended with a B.S. from a large, perfectly fine state university. But he has 500+ connections on LinkedIn. That plus sign after the "500" bothers you. How many more than  500 people does he know? Five? Five thousand?
In some mysterious way, he outranks you. Not within the company, not in restaurant reservations, not around lawyers. Still: He strokes his short beard; his hands are tanned; he hikes; his socks are embroidered with little ninja.

“Don’t forget,” he says, “we’ve got to budget for apps.”

This is real. A Scrum Master in ninja socks has come into your office and said, “We’ve got to budget for apps.” Should it all go pear-shaped, his career will be just fine.

You keep your work in perspective by thinking about barrels of cash. You once heard that a U.S. dry barrel can hold about $100,000 worth of singles. Next year, you’ll burn a little under a barrel of cash on Oracle. One barrel isn’t that bad. But it’s never one barrel. Is this a 5-barrel project or a 10-barreler? More? Too soon to tell. But you can definitely smell money burning.

At this stage in the meeting, you like to look supplicants in the eye and say, OK, you’ve given me a date and a budget. But when will it be done? Really, truly, top-line-revenue-reporting finished? Come to confession; unburden your soul.
The piece is multimodal, playfully so,  making a little sly fun of code and coding too as it goes. For example, when you get to the end, you're told how many words you "read" and how fast. (So yes, go to the link, read the first paragraph or two, then scroll to the bottom to see what I mean.)

The piece is worth assigning in writing courses with technology themes or issues, cultural study courses, technical communication courses, philosophy (yes, philosophy) courses, where any goal of the course is to understand humanity's relationship to machines. Turning again to Ford, he reminds us that the role of code in our lives, how we perceive ourselves and our world, is deep and vast:
What I’m saying is, I’m one of 18 million. So that’s what I’m writing: my view of software development, as an individual among millions. Code has been my life, and it has been your life, too. It is time to understand how it all works.

Every month it becomes easier to do things that have never been done before, to create new kinds of chaos and find new kinds of order. Even though my math skills will never catch up, I love the work. Every month, code changes the world in some

images illustrate words -- robot walking on bricks for interesting; child using technology to connect with another person for wonderful;  and 3-d printed gun for disturbing
Images come from Ford's piece, collected as a single image to here to fully quote the closing sentence, its use of images and its layout.
The idea that coders or programmers are the unacknowledged legislators of our world, a riff on Percy Bysshe Shelley's concluding sentence in "A Defence of Poetry," that Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world, is not new observation. Ford, however, while never using that riff, explains in a sustained and detailed way, how that legislation-by-coders gets written and enacted, with far more nuance and as much mirth as School House Rock's "I'm Just a Bill."

Depending on your approach and what you want to emphasize, you might want to ask students to first read this short HP interview Ben Cosgrove had with Douglas Rushkoff about consumers increased need for media literacy. Ford's piece goes a long way to giving students the kinds of context and understanding useful for understanding the kinds of web literacy Rushkoff advocates. The interview is short too, serving as useful pre-reading activity that can activate the minds of students, giving them ideas to link to, play off from, and discuss with one another as they read Ford's longer work.

Ford's piece touches not just on coding, but too on coding culture, making connections to the culture at large or aspects of the culture at large most faculty (and many students in the age of *Cons) will recognize:
Technology conferences are where primate dynamics can be fully displayed, where relationships of power and hierarchy can be established. There are keynote speakers—often the people who created the technology at hand or crafted a given language. There are the regular speakers, often paid not at all or in airfare, who present some idea or technique or approach. Then there are the panels, where a group of people are lined up in a row and forced into some semblance of interaction while the audience checks its e-mail. 
I’m a little down on panels. They tend to drift. I’m not sure why they exist. 
Here’s the other thing about technology conferences: There has been much sexual harassment and much sexist content in conferences. Which is stupid, because computers are dumb rocks lacking genitalia, but there you have it.
Who among us has not noticed or remarked, if only has part of graduate school rites of passage in the academic realm, on the "primate dynamics" at our own academic, industry or company sales conferences (and yet not nearly so smartly as to use the phrase 'primate dynamics' when doing so)?

Ford's piece also serves as model of bravura writing, of multimodal composing, mixing in not just the usual elements of image and video, but also the coding element of the recurring bot I urged you to see by scrolling to the bottom of the text.

So there's a lot to work with in the piece, but I especially like it because of its length and range. I think too often we worry about student attention spans, about keeping readings short, and about the belief that long reading is serious and dense. This piece finds a sweet middle: its long and fun, requires time, but makes the time pass well enough. It's a good piece for helping readers develop the skills needed to stay with a longer text, giving them practice in doing so, and could be useful in setting up a later long reading that may not be delivered with as much joy.

There will be things, and this is a good thing, students may need to re-read, to look up, to ask questions about, to talk to classmates about to see how they're understanding the piece. But that kind of reading is needed in courses because it helps bring learners to conversation.

And as you can see from just the few snippets I've quoted above, Ford's piece can spur worth discussions, and thus is worth assigning.