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Witte, Alison. CMSs as Genres. C&C, Sept. 2018. Posted 11/20/2018.

Witte, Alison. “‘Why Won’t Moodle. . . ?’: Using Genre Studies to Understand Students’ Approaches to Interacting with User Interfaces.” Computers and Composition 49 (2018): 48-60. Web. 9 Nov. 2018.

Alison Witte addresses the difficulties her first-year students faced when they encountered the Course Management System (CMS) in use at her institution. She surveyed students in first-year courses over six semesters to discover the factors that may have caused these problems (50). Witte found that examining the CMS interface as a genre provided insights into how students interacted with the program.

The author notes that the use of a CMS has “become a normalized part of many educational institutions’ landscapes” (48). The program’s power to shape interactions between students, instructors, and the institution, she writes, can generate “tensions” (48). She describes Moodle, the CMS in place for her university, comparing its “static” features with the more interactive and responsive features of social media sites; she notes in particular the “teacher-driven design” that permits the instructor to determine what sections to create and to provide the content (49). Witte quotes a faculty mentor who supports the university’s commitment to Moodle because the students are familiar with it from high school and “like it,” even though, according to Witte, there is only “anecdotal” evidence behind this claim (49).

In Witte’s view, if students are indeed comfortable in electronic environments, they should not exhibit the level of difficulty she observes (49). Her survey investigates which kinds of interfaces students have experienced and how these experiences might influence their reactions to Moodle (50).

Drawing on genre theory, Witte proposes, highlights the ways an interface cues users to control what behaviors and actions are acceptable, requiring users to determine the “appropriate response” in the rhetorical situation established by the interface (52). Citing Carolyn Miller, Witte considers genre “a way of understanding how a text responds to a particular recurring situation” (50). Just as Microsoft Word’s presentation of a blank page cues an essaylike response rather than a social-media post, the CMS signals certain kinds of “typified” actions (51).

Arguing that writing studies has not explored electronic interfaces through this theoretical lens, Witte contends that interfaces have generally been seen as tools to produce other things rather than as “text[s] with both expectations and formal conventions” of their own (50). Instructors, she proposes, are like other users of electronic environments in that their use of these familiar programs becomes “unconscious or invisible” because they are so accustomed to the process (51). Her study foregrounds the need for teachers to be more alert to the ways that their use of a CMS acts as a genre students must interpret and positions them in certain ways in the classroom environment (50). Teachers’ understanding of this interaction, she maintains, can help students use a CMS more effectively.

Witte notes two common models of CMS use. In many cases, the system attempts to “replicate” a classroom environment, allowing students to complete familiar academic tasks such as taking quizzes and completing assignments. A second model treats the CMS as a “repository” where students go to procure whatever they need for the class. These models share a “top-down” quality in that the teacher decides on the categories and sections and provides the material (52-53). The models limit students to responding in ways determined by the instructor and indicated by the conventions incorporated into the interface (53).

For Witte, a “guiding assumption” in the study was “that people learn unfamiliar genres by determining how they are like and unlike genres they know and by observing how the unfamiliar genre is used in context” (50). Hence, her survey asks the 68 participating students which interfaces they normally interact with (54). It also asks multiple-choice and open-ended questions about students’ experiences with Moodle, including ease of use and kinds of use across classes. Finally, students were asked what they liked about the CMS and what improvements they might suggest (54).

The majority of the participants were in their first college semesters. Witte proposes that while these students might be among the most likely to report problems with the CMS, surveying this particular population yielded good information on how best to help students navigate their early exposure to such platforms (54).

Data revealed that students used a variety of social media, Word tools for producing documents, and “Miscellaneous Web-based Interfaces” like iTunes, E-bay, or YouTube (54). They most commonly relied on the CMS to “complete course work and to find the information necessary” to do so (55). All of the students used Moodle in some of their classes. Grounded-theory coding of the open-ended responses produced four categories of “likes” that focused on availability of materials and information and ease of completing tasks. Students’ suggestions for improvement addressed usability issues, “Mobile Device Compatibility,” and inconsistency in the ways teachers used the CMS (54).

Analysis of her data suggests to Witte that students receive conflicting genre cues about the function of the CMS, sometimes assuming it is more like social media sites than it is in practice and in fact asking for more interactivity with their mobile devices and other media choices (56). They may see certain cues as inviting informal, interactive responses while other require a more “school/professional response” in which they become “passive consumer[s] of information” (56). In Witte’s view, instructors do not always articulate clearly exactly what role the CMS should play in their individual courses; moreover, students may approach the CMS with a different idea about its purposes than the instructor intends (57).

Seeing a CMS as a genre, Witte contends, helps instructors think about their use of the program in terms of audience, redirecting the focus from “its technological affordances to what it does or how it is used in particular context for particular people” (57). She urges instructors to plan CMS structure in accordance with course design, for example, arranging a course built around weekly schedules by weeks and courses meant to provide materials without regard to due date by topic. The survey reveals that students may need specific direction about the type of response indicated by CMS features, like text boxes or discussion forums (57). Instructors are urged to clarify their own purposes and expectations for how students use the resource and to communicate these explicitly (57-58).

Witte also argues that casting a CMS as a genre provides an opportunity to introduce students to genre theory and to understand through a concrete example how audience and purpose relate to the conventions of a particular form. In this view, students can explore how to use their exposure to other genres to situate new genres like a CMS in their contexts when they encounter them (58); they may then carry the experience of navigating a CMS into their interactions with other texts they may be called on to respond to or produce.


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Cohn, Jenae. “Devilish Smartphones” and Students’ Online Practices. C&C, Dec. 2016. Posted 11/10/2016.

Cohn, Jenae. “‘Devilish Smartphones’ and the ‘Stone-Cold’ Internet: Implications of the Technology Addiction Trope in College Student Digital Literacy Narratives.” Computers and Composition 42 (2016): 80-94. Web. 01 Nov. 2016.

Jenae Cohn analyzes student attitudes toward online and social-media interactions, arguing that student “skepticism about how social media impacts their relationships and literacy practices” (91) has not been adequately studied in computers and writing research (83). In general, Cohn states, composition theorists and instructors believe that online media should be included in writing curricula but have not taken into account how students themselves see their use of digital communication and literacy tools (91).

She examined 75 “digital literacy narratives” from first-year students at a large California research university with a majority Asian/Pacific Islander or White population. She found that 35 of the 75 students preferred face-to-face “embodied” interactions over digital ones while another 15 were “ambivalent” (82).

Keyword searches revealed the prevalence of the “addiction” trope when students discussed uncertainty about their online activities (82). While “addiction” was not the most common keyword (most common was “technology,” followed by “computer” and “Facebook), Cohn states that it was the most common word with a “clear affective charge” (82). Cohn details case studies of four students whose narratives about their use of social media employed the “addiction” trope (82).

Cohn explores the possibility that adults have created and spread the trope that teens are addicted to social media and notes as well that “addiction” is one of a set of powerful “popular tropes” that permeates discussions of media use (91). She argues that the adoption of this trope by the student writers reflects a true student concern rather than a effort by adults to, in the view of danah boyd, “gain control over a space that teenagers have claimed for themselves” (cited in Cohn 83).

Similarly, Cohn reviews criticism of the literacy narrative as a possible invitation to students to produce attitudes that they think mirror their teachers’ views of social media use as an interference with more serious writing (85). She contends, however, that taking the narratives “at face value” provides insights into how “myriad ideological influences” have impacted student views (85). She hopes as well that her own digital literacy narrative assignment will allow her a glimpse of how students who are presumed to be “‘digital natives’ . . . actually see themselves” (84).

In her view, her examination of these narratives suggests that the students she studied have accepted a common assumption that face-to-face interaction is inherently better than mediated communication like the kind required by social media (84). In this kind of narrative, Cohn writes, the shift to a “new technology” entails what Marita Sturken and Douglas Thomas characterize as a sense of “loss of connectivity, of intimacy, of desire, of authenticity in some way” (qtd. in Cohn 85; emphasis original). Moreover, according to Cohn, students see digital and “embodied” communication as binaries, generally rejecting the possibility of overlap (84).

Examining especially narratives that focus on cellphone use, Cohn distinguishes between two types of addiction narratives. In her view, the “distraction” narrative presents virtual communication as functioning to extract users from “real” experience, substituting less authentic relationships (88). As an example of a student’s concerns about cellphone use, Cohn presents “Lisa,” who, on a trip to London, decided that her desperation to stay connected online left her unable to remember any details of her London experience. Only after curtailing her phone use did Lisa claim to able to participate in what she saw as the “normal” life superseded by her phone use (86-87).

Cohn notes Lisa’s “clear bifurcation” (87) between her digital life and her embodied one. Recalling the trip, Lisa does not mention any use of her phone to take pictures to help her recall events. Cohn suggests that a cellphone might also have allowed a student like Lisa to share pictures with friends in an embodied social setting (87).

“Jack,” author of another “distraction” narrative, also laments the power of the phone to interfere with what he casts as “normal” life (87). Thinking he would use the phone for schoolwork, he claims that he soon found himself playing games and listening to music. Jack ultimately settles into a more nuanced view in which his inability to stay away from the phone “sham[es]” him (88) but also in which he tacitly acknowledges the usefulness of the phone for maintaining connections (89). Cohn posits that Jack is “nostalg[ic]” for a life without the rhetorical complexities imposed by digital communication; Jack insists on the importance of maintaining a sense of an embodied self not entangled with his online persona (89).

Cohn emphasizes the degree to which these two students saw themselves as completely passive before the power of their phones to distract them (88). Authors of the second kind of addiction narrative Cohn analyses, the “loner” narrative, also tend to see themselves as controlled by the technology and “pathologiz[e]” cellphone use (90) as a deviation from what they see as the normalcy of embodied life (89-90). In this kind of narrative, virtual interaction actually threatens normal existence (89). “Loner” narratives present the availability of cellphones as a temptation to “avoid face-to-face interactions” (89) and to “compensate” for “shy behavior” that is seen as “a source of shame” (90).

“Carly” sees herself as addicted to texting because she finds it emotionally easier than face-to-face interaction, while “Albert” describes himself as unable to articulate verbally in a classroom, isolating himself instead in a darkened room where he addictively communicates with strangers online (89-90). Both of these students arrive at a conclusion that virtual devices have benefits but that fellow students should seek “balance” (89). According to Cohn, they continue to endorse the view that “fluency in face-to-face interactions is more normative than fluency in online interactions” (90).

Cohn argues that writing teachers should teach critical literacy before assigning literacy narratives so that students can be more aware of how popular tropes can influence their conclusions about their literacy experiences (91). She notes that teachers should be alert to the ongoing rhetorical framing of literacy practices so that prompts can elicit more nuanced observations and attention to how different communication modes can accord with the exigencies of differing contexts (92). The article provides specific suggestions for classroom activities that can help students see both the distinctions and overlap among the different communicative practices they employ and can encourage them to value a wide range of skills (92).

 


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Kelley, Brittany. Fan Fiction as a “Gift Economy.” C&C, June 2016. Posted 06/22/2016.

Kelley, Brittany. “Chocolate Frogs for My Betas!: Practicing Literacy at One Online Fanfiction Website.” Computers and Composition 40 (2916): 48-59. Web. 02 June 2016.

Brittany Kelley investigates the literacy practices of a fan-fiction site, the Ashwinder archive included in the Sycophant Hex fan community, a “site for quality Harry Potter fanfiction” (Sycophant Hex, qtd. in Kelley 49). Noting prior research on fan fiction that casts it as a locus for “resistance” within consumer cultures, Kelley contends that the interactions within the fan community she has studied are more complex, with unique “affective econom[ies]” (49) that both derive from and expand upon larger social forces (50).

Citing Kathleen Blake Yancey’s 2004 call for composition studies to embrace “this moment right now” for its unique window on what writing and identify mean in an age of increasing digital expansion, Kelley argues that fan fiction deserves attention because it would seem to embody the democratization offered by new online environments (49). For Kelley, however, an important reason to study fan fiction is what it can reveal about evolving digital practices, how they shape writers, and how these practices “change the ways in which texts are produced, circulated, and received” (49).

Kelley documents the degree to which sites like Sycophant Hex are governed by hierarchical gatekeeping processes, such as “vehement” assertions from administrators about the importance of correct English grammar, at the same time that they play a “teaching role” for novice writers who are encouraged to use the site’s resources to improve their writing (50). Contributors are also held to high standards with regard to accurate use of the Harry Potter “canon” and are reminded that while they “own” new characters, invented settings, and events they create beyond those that appear in the books, the “intellectual property” belongs to J. K. Rowling (51-52). Thus, Kelley posits, the site offers access and agency tempered with elements of control.

Kelley’s particular focus is the nature of the exchanges that govern interaction on the site. Though these exchanges take place within a rule-bound context that requires strict adherence to the canon and that channels writers into categories of permitted activities, Kelley argues that the more salient feature of such sites is the degree to which they are governed by the development of emotional relationships and a “‘goodwill’ ethics of exchange” (52).

Citing Henry Jenkins, Kelley posits that continued interaction within the group is the incentive for participation in the exchange of symbolic and social rather than financial capital (52-53). She sees this incentive as affective and emotional, noting for example that plagiarism, which is loosely defined on the site, is seen not so much in terms of legal ownership but rather as “a direct offense against the affective economy of the website” (52).

Kelley illustrates this “goodwill” ethic through a case study of one successful fan-fiction writer, Chivalric. In Kelley’s view, this writer’s practice demonstrates how writers establish long-lasting and emotionally rich relationships with the “betas” who voluntarily edit both for surface correctness and for plot and character development (56). Members of the fan-fiction community serve as betas for each other, generating what Kelley describes as a “gift economy” in contrast to a “commodity culture” (53).

Kelley presents Chivalric’s process to support her claim that literacy practices among fan writers are “deeply heteroglossic” (53). Writing produced by these writers integrates many elements and voices: the intellectual creations of J. K. Rowling; an extensive set of categories and tropes created by community members over time; discussion and debate on forums; specific group-governed genre expectations; and the ongoing interactions among authors and beta readers (55). Many of these intertwined voices are documented in the notes, acknowledgments, and dedications that accompany texts (56).

Further analyzing the heteroglossic nature of these sites, Kelley draws on Mikhail Bakhtin’s distinction between “centripetal” and “centrifugal” language practices to examine Chivalric’s short story, “Divorce.” Centripetal or “unitary language,” in this view, is language that is bound by clear directives from the language community, in this case the accepted uses that can be made of the Harry Potter characters and themes. At the same time, Kelley writes that Chivalric’s story, which won one of the competitive challenges generated on the site, demonstrates centrifugal force in that it gives the standard tropes and story material a “unique twist” (55) that results in an original, “transformative” telling that expands readers’ understanding of the conventional materials Chivalric incorporated (54, 55-56). This story, Kelley argues, comments on the power relationships among two Harry Potter characters, legal and political machinations in the post-canon world of fan fiction, and implications of gender in the particular category into which the story falls.

Citing Matt Hills, Kelley notes that prior research casting fan fiction as an avenue for resistance to dominant cultures has been criticized as an attempt by scholars to justify their attention to the form and to cast fan writers as “mini-academics” taking on the role of cultural critics (50, 57). She argues that her study reveals the degree to which academic views of digital environments as “somehow democratizing and hence liberating” should also recognize that “these spaces are still beset with the tensions of power structures” (57).

In her view, the hope that the access offered by such sites will allow for “widely shared and discussed knowledge” free of the bonds of entrenched power systems should include the caveat that much of what ultimately gets distributed “already fits nearly within dominant narratives” (57). The practices Kelley has examined, she contends, are still subject to issues of “race, gender, sex, class, sexuality, etc.” (58).

Noting scholarship on the possibilities of importing fan-fiction processes into the classroom, Kelly cites Michelle Knobel and Colin Lankshear to caution that it may not always be possible or advisable to do so. However, she notes that fan-fiction communities adopt many features of formal writing instruction, such as peer review and revision, and that components of fan-fiction engagement mirror the goals of writing classrooms. In particular, these sites feature learning that is “entirely self-directed” and that is enabled by the kind of intense emotional engagement that fosters learning (58). For these reasons, Kelley urges more “in-depth investigation of the writing practices of these online communities” (58).


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Head, Samuel L. Burke’s Identification in Facebook. C&C, Mar. 2016. Posted 05/10/2016.

Head, Samuel L. “Teaching Grounded Audiences: Burke’s Identification in Facebook and Composition.” Computers and Composition 39 (2016): 27-40. Web. 05 May 2016.

Samuel L. Head uses Kenneth Burke’s concept of identification to argue for Facebook as a pedagogical tool to increase students’ audience awareness in composition classes.

Head cites a range of scholarship that recognizes the rhetorical skills inherent in students’ engagement with social media, particularly Facebook, and that urges composition specialists to take up this engagement with “very real audiences” (27) to encourage transfer of this kind of audience connection to academic writing (27-28, 29). Noting that, according to the National Research Council, new learning depends on “transfer based on previous learning” (qtd. in Head 28), Head contends that, while much scholarship has explored what Facebook and other digital media have to offer, “the pedagogy of transfer with students’ previous experience and prior knowledge of audience in social media requires more scholarly analysis” (28).

In Head’s view, among the skills developed by participation in social media is the ability to adjust content to different audiences in varied contexts (28). He offers Burkeian identification as a means of theorizing this process and providing practices to encourage transfer. Further analysis of transfer comes from work by D. N. Perkins and Gavriel Salomon, who distinguish between “low road transfer” and “high road transfer.”

Low-road transfer occurs when a learner moves specific skills between fairly similar environments; Head’s example is the use of cooking skills learned at home to a restaurant setting. High-road transfer, in contrast, involves using skills in very different contexts. This kind of transfer requires abstract thinking and reflection in order to recognize the applicability of skills across disparate domains (30). Burke’s theory, Head writes, offers a means of evoking the kind of reflection needed to facilitate high-road transfer from the very different contexts of Facebook and a writing class (30, 31).

Head reports on Burke’s identification as a means of persuasion, distinguishing between classical rhetoric’s focus on deliberate efforts at persuasion and the “subconscious” aspects of identification (32); without identification, according to Dennis Day, persuasion cannot occur (cited in Head 31). Identification allows communicators to show that they are “consubstantial” with audiences, thus “bridg[ing] division” (31). This process invokes shared values in order to win audience adherence to new ideas (32).

Head explores aspects of identification theory, including “cunning” identification in which the values shared between audiences are not genuine but are rather created to generate persuasive identification and therefore work to the extent that the audience believes them to be genuine (32). In particular, he notes analysis by George Cheney that discovers “three main strategies” in Burke’s theory: “[t]he common ground technique,” which focuses on shared aspects; “[i]dentification through antithesis,” or the establishment of a “common enemy”; and “[t]he assumed or transcendent ‘we,'” to create group allegiance (qtd. in Head 32). Current scholarship such as that of Tonja Mackey supports Head’s claim that components of identification inform regular Facebook interaction (33).

Head reports on Facebook’s algorithm for determining how users connect with friends. This process, according to Eli Pariser, creates a “filter bubble” as Facebook attempts to present material of interest to each user (qtd. in Head 33). Head suggests that students may not be aware that this “filter bubble” may be concealing more complex combinations of ideas and information; introduction to the theory of identification in the classroom may make them more alert to the strategies that both link them to like-minded audiences and that direct them away from more challenging encounters (33).

Postings by an anonymous “example Facebook user” illustrate the three Burkeian strategies pointed out by Cheney as they inform a Facebook timeline (34). This user establishes common ground by sharing photos and posts that reflect a religious affiliation as well as an interest in fantasy that connects him to many friends. He establishes a common enemy by posting and then collecting likes in opposition to “mandated health care” (34). Finally, he generates a sense of the “transcendent ‘we'” by appealing to group membership in a National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) experience (34). These examples, in Head’s view, demonstrate the degree to which identification is a natural component of Facebook interactions.

For Head, the transfer of this inherent identification to an academic environment involves explicit instruction in the theory of identification as well as reflection on the students’ part as to how these actions can be applied in more formal or novel settings. Students can recognize the strategies and moves that constitute identification in their own Facebook interactions and then can locate similar moves in other types of writing, finally applying them consciously as they connect with academic audiences (35).

Head contends that more teachers need to use platforms familiar to students, like Facebook, to teach rhetorical skills and awareness; he urges teachers to share their experiences with these media and to publish analyses of their findings (36). He reports that his own students enjoyed beginning their rhetorical curriculum with a medium with which they were already engaged, using their own work as a starting point (35). He concludes with a schedule of suggested assignments for making the tenets of identification visible in Facebook and transferring awareness of them to academic projects (36-39).


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Shepherd, Ryan P. Facebook, Gender, and Compositon. C&C, Mar. 2016. Posted 03/06/2016.

Shepherd, Ryan P. “Men, Women, and Web 2.0 Writing: Gender Difference in Facebook Composing.” Computers and Composition 39 (2016): 14-26. Web. 22 Feb. 2016.

Ryan P. Shepherd discusses a study to investigate how gender differences affect the use of Web 2.0 platforms, specifically Facebook, as these differences relate to composition classes. He argues that, although a great deal of work has been done within composition studies to explore how gender manifests in writing classes, and much work has documented gender differences in online activities in fields such as psychology, education, and advertising (16), the ways in which gender differences in Web 2.0 affect students’ approaches to composition have not been adequately addressed by the field (14).

Shepherd notes that discussions of gender differences risk essentializing male and female populations, but cites research by Cynthia L. Selfe and Gail E. Hawisher as well as Nancy K. Baym to contend that evidence for different behaviors does “persist” across studies and should be considered as composition teachers incorporate digital practices into classrooms (15). Without attention to the ways online composing relates to “aspects of identity and how these aspects shape composing practices when integrating social network sites (SNSs) into FYC [first-year composition] classes” (15), composition teachers may miss opportunities to fully exploit Web 2.0 as a literacy experience and meet student needs (15, 24).

The data come from a survey of FYC students about their Facebook activities and attitudes toward Facebook as a composing platform. Developed through multiple pilots over the course of the 2011 academic year, the survey gathered 474 responses, mostly from freshmen enrolled in some form of FYC at Shepherd’s institution and at other “large, doctoral-granting institutions” from which Shepherd solicited participation via the Council of Writing Program Administrators’ listserv (17). The survey is available as a supplemental appendix.

Shepherd argues that Facebook is an appropriate site to study because of its widespread use by college students and its incorporation of “a number of literacy practices,’ in particular what the 2004 CCCC Position Statement on digital writing calls “the literacy of the screen” (15). Shepherd first explores discussions of Facebook as it has been recommended for and incorporated into writing classes since 2008 as well as studies of student use of the platform (16). He then considers comprehensive work outside of composition on gender differences in the use of Facebook and other SNSs.

These studies vary in their results, with some showing that men and women do not differ in the amount of time they spend on SNSs and others showing that women do spend more time (17). Some studies find that women use such sites for more personal uses like email, compared to the finding that men are more likely to “surf” (17). Women in some parts of this body of research appear to engage more in “family activity,” to provide “more personal information in the ‘about me'” areas, and to worry more about privacy (17). Shepherd discusses one article about student use of Facebook that reveals that women use varied media more often; the article expresses concern about student comfort with online spaces and urges careful scaffolding in incorporating such spaces into classwork (17).

Shepherd presents his findings in a series of tables that reveal that gender had “a more statistically significant effect on more questions and often with more significant differences than any other independent variable” (18). The tables focus on the aspects in which these differences were evident.

In Shepherd’s view, gender difference significantly affected participants’ “rhetorical purposes,” their “different view[s] of audience,” and their varying “rhetorical stance[s]” (21). In general, he states that the data suggest that women are more concerned with “communicating with a broad audience,” while men appear more likely to see Facebook as a way to engage in “direct, personal communication” (22). Evidence for this conclusion comes from such data as the degree to which women and men invested equally in comments and chat, but women were more likely to post status updates, which Shepherd suggests may be a type of “announcement . . . to a large group of people at one time” (22). Women are also more likely to visit friends’ pages. Shepherd’s data also indicates that women think more carefully about their posts and “were more mindful” about the effects of photos and other media, even to the point that they might be thinking in terms of visual arguments (22). Shepherd believes these findings accord with conclusions drawn by Linda A. Jackson, Kevin S. Ervin, Philip D. Gardner, and N. Schmitt in the journal Sex Roles, where they suggest that women are more “interpersonally oriented” while men are more “information/task oriented” (qtd. in Shepherd 23).

In general, women were “more aware of audience on Facebook” (23). Shepherd cites their tendency to consider their privacy settings more often; he proposes that women’s tendency to post more personal information may account for some part of their concern with privacy (23). Moreover, he found that women were more likely to be aware that employers could access information on Facebook. In short, it may be that women “tend to have a greater awareness of people beyond the immediate audience of Facebook friends than men do” (23).

Shepherd sees differences in “rhetorical stance” manifested in the ways that men and women characterize Facebook as a location for writing. In this case, men were more likely to see the platform as a site for serious, “formal” writing and argument (23). The data suggest that men saw many different types of Facebook activities, such as posting media, as “a type of composition” (23). Shepherd posits that because women tend to do more multimodal posting, they may be less likely to think of their Facebook activities as writing or composition (23). He urges more investigation into this disparity (24).

Gender is just one of the differences that Shepherd contends should be taken into account when incorporating Web 2.0 into writing classrooms. His study reveals variation across “age, year in university, language, and attitude toward writing” (24). He suggests that women’s tendency to reflect more on their writing on Facebook can be helpful in course work where reflection on writing is called for (22); similarly, women’s use of multiple forms of media can be leveraged into discussions of visual rhetoric (22). In particular, he writes, students “may not be aware of the rhetorical choices they are making in their Facebook use and how these choices relate to the audience that they have crafted” (24).

Attention to gender, he contends, is an important part of making exploration of such choices and their effects a productive literacy experience when Facebook and other SNSs become part of a composition class (24).


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Dush, Lisa. When Writing Becomes Content. CCC, Dec. 2015. Posted 02/21/2016.

Dush, Lisa. “When Writing Becomes Content.” College Composition and Communication 67.2 (2015): 173-96. Print.

Lisa Dush compares the concept of “writing” that has historically grounded writing studies to the new forms of written communication engendered by technological change. In these new forms of communication, what has always been thought of as writing must now be understood by keeping in mind its nature as “content.” Extant ideas of what “writing” means, she contends, should not “be erased”; rather, the field should understand and acknowledge the tensions created by writing’s migration into new spaces and forms (183).

Dush argues that “writing” and “content” are metaphors with “attendant bundles”; those surrounding writing can be hard to identify (179). For Dush, writing implies an “agentive composer” producing what Jodie Nicotra calls a “discrete textual object” (181); an audience that can be analyzed and known to some degree (177); specific spaces; and specific and known social and professional roles such as “author, editor, and publisher” or relationships such as “famous author to fan, good writer to bad” (179-80). For Dush, this metaphor does not capture the emergent features of writing for digital spaces and does not furnish the conceptual tools to adequately critique or respond to the changes (181).

Dush defines “content” as “conditional, computable, networked, and commodified” (176; emphasis original). “Conditional,” she writes, refers to the degree to which creators of texts cannot easily know exactly where and how their work will be used; content is “characterized not by being finished or published, but rather by [its] availability for repurposing, mining, and other future uses” (176). It is “computable” in the sense that it is composed of numeric data, a form that allows “machine audiences” to “mine, rank, process, match, reconfigure, and redistribute it” (176); its format may change and fragments might appear in such places as search-engine lists (177).

“Networked” denotes the relationship of content not to the “speaker-audience dyad of classical rhetoric” but rather to audiences so vast as to call for machine analysis; because the audience cannot be authoritatively known, texts must tend toward “adaptation” to various audiences rather than “prediction” of an ideal fit (177). Dush cites Clay Shirky to note that the networked nature of content favors the production of more rather than less text, and “more arguably, democratic participation over hierarchy” (177).

Finally, content is “commodified.” Dush builds on John Trimbur’s distinction between “use value— . . . how well a thing meets human needs— and exchange value—value based on profit” (178; emphasis original). She illustrates this feature by noting that a tweet is not valued for its utility but for “the number of clicks and retweets it accumulates,” thus metamorphosing into advertising revenue (178).

Dush argues that recent attention to multimodal composition has not abandoned the metaphorical implications of “writing” as opposed to “content” (181), an approach that is not attuned to “what Jim Ridolfo and Danielle Nicole DeVoss call ‘rhetorical velocity'” (qtd. in Dush 182): that is, the rapid circulation of material via the manipulation of managers and strategists, both human and machine. Dush points to the ways in which this shift from “writing” to “content” risks a “disempowered” view of writers (183). She quotes Rahel Anne Bailie and Noz Urbina, authors of Content Strategy: Connecting the Dots Between Business, Brand, and Benefits, who recite a list of the ways that “[w]riters can’t be expected to be experts” and should therefore be subordinated to managers versed in content manipulation (qtd. in Dush 184). Dush responds that writing-studies professionals should take up this challenge: “[T]o avoid being written out of the work of writing, perhaps writers must indeed become experts at working with writing-as-content” (184). Such a focus, she argues, should be part of the curriculum at all levels of writing instruction (184).

This refocus, she writes, should embrace the fact that some of this approach already appears in some writing curricula, and, moreover, central aspects of writing-as-content lend themselves to applications and critiques grounded in rhetorical theory (184-85). She examines the “quad,” a figure from Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach’s Content Strategy for the Web, that surrounds a “core strategy” with four quadrants: substance, structure, workflow, and governance (185-86). Substance, Dush states, involves choices about the appropriate information in a message; she relates structure to James E. Porter’s arguments addressing the relation of circulation to delivery and cites work “in writing studies about composing in networked space” (187). Workflow and governance are the “people components” that echo writing studies’ emphasis on the “social and material nature of writing” (188).

Dush suggests that in considering where elements of content management are already being taught, for example in technical communication and in courses such as Writing for the Web, compositionists can move beyond document design to considerations of platforms and the rhetorical concerns that arise as information moves across them (188). Course designers should consider including more “content” vocabulary both in curricula and in course titles in order “to better signal to employers that our students are prepared to do content work” (189). Multimodal courses can move beyond applications that limit students’ ability to apply strategies central to content creation like tagging and search-engine optimization (189).

Dush addresses challenges raised by the shift to “content” such as inadequate working conditions imposed by the need to be constantly connected to social media and the disparity between the “humanistic” values of writing studies and the profit- and efficiency-driven impulses of the content-oriented workplace (191). She sees as important concerns the degree to which writing itself may be “devalued” and the possible corollary that writing as traditionally understood will no longer be “a feasible profession” (191).

For Dush, in order to foster the values of writing studies while addressing the shift to content, the field should determine appropriate “core strateg[ies]” to place at the center of Halvorson and Rach’s quad. Using knowledge of content management to further humanistic organizations and causes, developing critical language to interrogate such phenomena as the effects on working conditions and consequences for users, and resisting the naturalization of the changing relations between writers and industry should direct the field’s response to the shift (192-93). Ultimately, Dush writes

the risks of ignoring writing-as-content or, likewise, dismissing it, are that we may miss an important opportunity to expand the conceptual, research, and pedagogical purview of writing studies in ways that are appropriate to the digital age. (193)

 


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Costello, Lisa A. Research Paper to Blog Post. TETYC, Dec. 2015. Posted 02/05/2016.

Costello, Lisa A. “Blogging a Research Paper? Researched Blogs as New Models of Public Discourse.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 43.2 (2015): 180-94. Web. 31 Jan. 2016.

Lisa A. Costello advocates for a “hybridized assignment” (180) in which students compose a traditional research paper and blog posts on the same topic. She researched the effects of this assignment by analyzing writing samples from a first-year course at a “regional college in the Southeast” (185). Her materials included “rationale essays” in which students reflected on their choices in responding to the assignment and comments on anonymous evaluations (185). The assignment called for the research essay to explore a problem and a range of solutions and the blog post to advance a specific solution (183-84).

Costello designed this assignment to respond to her conclusion that her students’ research projects were addressed to her as the primary audience and that students seemed reluctant to express their opinions (181). One goal in the assignment was to provide a richer sense of audience and to encourage students to recognize and experience how including personal expression in their writing affected their rhetorical presence (182).

Costello cites Kathleen Blake Yancey’s call for attention to “new models of writing” (qtd. in Costello 180; emphasis original). Yancey also urges teachers to attend to the need for students to engage more deeply in public forms of writing, especially online writing, which, according to Costello, she characterizes as “everywhere” (qtd. in Costello 180). At issue is student ownership of writing and their awareness that their writing can have effects beyond the classroom (181). Costello argues that blogs can encourage this sense of ownership, especially by tying into writing that students already do by choice in various digital venues (181, 185). Her goal is to

help students create a bridge between the writing they “want to do” with writing they “have to do” by framing that writing as personal and a part of public discourse; it is writing that has real consequences. (181)

For Costello, the hybrid assignment exploits the advantages of the two genres. While blog writing can incorporate the personal as well as invite response, thus raising students’ stake in their work, it can veer toward unsupported personal opinion; to be expert enough on a topic to write with authority requires research and critical evaluation (184-85). Costello contends that writing the research paper first provides students with an increased sense of authority and confidence (186). At the same time, the possibility of a responsive audience resulting from a blog promotes an awareness of varied perspectives that may be missing from an academic research project that will only be seen by the teacher (185).

Costello incorporates these points into her three reasons for choosing blogs as an adjunct to a research paper: Unlike Facebook and Blackboard, blog sites permit a degree of customization that increases students’ sense of ownership; blogs promote interactivity that expands perspectives; and they support the plank of composition’s mission that values participation in civic discourse (182-83). She sees combining the “new form” discourse enabled by blogs with “‘old form’ research” as a way for students to develop and communicate “nuanced opinions” (183).

She further contrasts blogs with print options like brochures and chapbooks, which reach limited, defined audiences and do not offer the breadth of rhetorical demands inherent in blogs. Blogs, she states, provide participation that is “immediate and interconnected” (184). She sees the “potential” for “instant response” as immediacy, and notes the interconnectivity achieved when students incorporate links to their research in their blogs, knowing that readers can evaluate the information independently (184; emphasis original). Moreover, blogs, unlike other formats, allow for other tools to invite audience interaction, such as videos, polls, and games (185).

Costello notes that blogs may not generate responses, but she contends that even a print communication like a brochure with a specific audience can be easily ignored. She argues that students’ sense of a virtually infinite audience alerts them to the rhetorical possibilities embedded in their positions; calling that audience into being shapes students’ sense of a public to address (186, 187). Furthermore, she writes, the expanded audience increased the odds of a response (187).

She notes that some students still feared expressing their views to possibly hostile readers (186); a student who did receive a challenge to his position asked her to guide his response and had to be redirected to understand that “this continuing dialogue in the public realm was now up to him” (187).

Costello provides student writing samples in support of her claim that converting the research assignment to a blog post resulted in such gains as “stronger personal stance[s],” increased support for points, more direct and effective organization, and an expanded recognition of varied perspectives (188-90). Of one student’s blog post, Costello writes, “This entry underscores not only that the audience is present, but that [the student] is a part of that public that can effect change” (190).

Limitations include the small sample size, the possibility that constraints on access to blogging platforms may affect participation, and the degree to which the blog format itself challenged some students (190). Some students’ sense, as one student wrote, that they were “vulnerable” as a result of expressing themselves to a blog public also affected the results (qtd. in Costello 191). Costello responds that despite the difficulties the assignment may have presented to some students, the act of venturing into a public forum “got them thinking about the implications” of presenting a position in such a space (191). She cites Howard Rheingold to argue that while possession of a tool does not guarantee efficacy in its use, awareness of the potential of a tool and practice with such tools increases agency in new media environments (192).

Although recognizing that not all students will adapt easily to the new rhetorical demands of blogs, Costello reports “[i]ncreased interest and engagement,” “increased commitment to their topics,” and “increased . . . complexity and depth” in their discussions of their topics (191). Students with practice in such rhetorical flexibility, she writes, “may be more likely to become active participants in their worlds” (192; emphasis original).