College Composition Weekly: Summaries of research for college writing professionals

Read, Comment On, and Share News of the Latest from the Rhetoric and Composition Journals


Leave a comment

Zdenek, Sean. Centering Disability Studies in Composition and Technical Communication. CE, May 2020. Posted 08/28/2020.

Zdenek, Sean. “Transforming Access and Inclusion in Composition Studies and Technical Communication.” College English 82.5 (2020): 536-44. Print.

Writing in a special edition of College English on “Transdiciplinary Connections in Composition Studies and Technical and Professional Communication,” Sean Zdenek argues for the transformational effects of disability studies on issues of access and inclusion in both fields. Zdenek cites scholarship from both composition studies (CS) and technical and professional communication (TPC) to argue that they share the goal of moving beyond both “add-and-stir” methods of addressing disability and the view of access as synonymous with “consumption” (537, 539). Central to both areas, Zdenek proposes, is disruption of norms in which disability is the marked condition to be accommodated as an individual problem.

Central to critiques in both CS and TPC is the common practice of dealing with disability as an “add-on” or “afterthought” rather than as a basic foundation for access. Rather, in this view, disability should be a governing principle addressed “from the start” (537). Scholars cited by Zdenek see inclusion of disability studies as a “bridge” between TPC and CS because it speaks to crucial concepts inherent in rhetorical interactions, such as “adaptation, creativity, community, interdependency, technological ingenuity and modal fluency” (Tara Wood et al., qtd. in Zdenek 538).

Zdenek finds “theoretical foundations” for centering disability studies in the work of CS scholars who focus not just on the need to improve inclusion but more importantly on the importance of reimagining the “norms” and assumptions governing questions about access (537). Brewer et al. advocate for “a culture of access,” citing the Computers and Composition Digital Press and the Composing Access Project as examples of how such a culture could develop (538). TPC, Zdenek writes, can provide “practical interventions” and “expertise in workplace practices and interface design” (536), which he believes should align with CS’s values as the field moves beyond the classroom and embraces understandings of communication beyond the “printed page” (538).

Both fields, he argues, can find transformation through centering disability studies; for example, TPC, he says, tends to imagine “users” as able-bodied and to tacitly endorse an untenable “hierarchy” separating “‘normal’ and ‘assistive’ technology” (539). Zdenek quotes Jason Palmeri to argue that in fact, “all technologies are assistive” (qtd. in Zdenek 539).

Zdenek traces extant “overlap” between TPC and CS on issues of more inclusive access and encourages collaborative research into these topics (539-40). Important to both fields is the “consumer/producer binary” in which enabling participation is overshadowed by strategies to facilitate passive consumption. A disability-centered focus, in this view, would foreground the need to make communicative action easier for all users. Zdenek contends that TPC can offer CS effective critiques of technology as well as “interventions grounded in rhetorical and design principles that strive to build more accessible digital media and user experiences” (540).

In Zdenek’s view, disability studies has resisted critiquing “computer technology” (540). He suggests practices in TPC that further such critique while building the culture of access, such as “perform[ing] usability studies with diverse users” and “interven[ing] . . . through web accessibility audits and digital retrofitting,” among other practices (540-41). More inclusion of people with disabilities at all levels of research and participation, in Zdenek’s view, is essential to these efforts (541).

As an examples of an area he sees as a space for research and collaboration, Zdenek cites “caption studies,” which he argues “cuts across and unites our diverse fields” (541). Similarly, he proposes attention to the challenges of producing adequate “alt-text” and “image recognition projects,” which he sees as driven by the “values of automation, efficiency, surveillance, profit, and ableism” (541).

Ultimately, he contends, critical disability studies should be a “methodology” that is “not (exclusively) a study of disabled people” (Sami Schalk, qtd. in Zdenek 542), but rather a theoretical approach that centers the reduction of stigmatization and bias. CS and TPC, Zdenek writes, “are more alike than different” in their commitment to this goal (542).

 

 


Leave a comment

Newmark, Julianne. Technical Communication, Archives, and Colonialism. CCC, June 2020. Posted 07/31/2020.

Newmark, Julianne. “The Formal Conventions of Colonial Medicine: Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Agency Physicians’ Reports, 1880-1910.” College Composition and Communication 71.4 (2020): 620-42. Print.

Julianne Newmark presents an analysis of government documents related to health services for Native Americans from shortly before to well into the era of the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887. She addresses implications of a study like hers for both technical/professional communications practitioners and scholars and scholars doing archival research.

The Dawes Act, Newmark writes,

sought to allot, in individual allocations, 160-acre plots of formerly communally held land to individual Native heads of household. Provisions concerning farming, Christianization, and enrollment of children in school were elements of the act. (638n1)

The two government documents under study for the article are reports required of “agency physicians” in the employ of the Office of Indian Affairs (621). In these reports, the physicians fill out forms recording specifics of Native health and government-provided health care in a particular jurisdiction. The first, “Monthly Report of Sick and Wounded” (623) was completed in December 1882, by the Pine Ridge, South Dakota, agency physician Fordyce Grinnell. Newmark notes that this report was filed five years before the Dawes Act was passed and eight years before the massacre at Wounded Knee (626). The second document, “Physician’s Semiannual Report,” was written by Charles N. Brooks of the Nett Lake agency in northern Minnesota in 1910 (632).

Although Native physicians did hold some of these positions, Newmark points out that “the vast majority” of the physicians serving Native populations were non-Native, as were Grinnell and Brooks (621).

Newmark argues that not only the purpose and content of the reporting process as illustrated in these documents but also the form and structure of the document templates themselves were “paradigmatic tools of colonialism” (621). She draws on the work of Steven B. Katz, particularly his arguments in a 1992 article, “The Ethic of Expediency: Classical Rhetoric, Technology, and the Holocaust” (622).

Newmark cites this work to argue that valuing efficiency and expediency dehumanizes communities and masks “how these stories might have been told differently” (626; emphasis original). Also turning to Bernadette Longo, among other scholars of the implicit contributions of technical-writing protocols to the ideologies at issue, Newmark discusses the theory that a “military model” (624) designed to promote “an ethos of expediency” above humanistic values forces a Western mindset based on bureaucratic control on cultures that may have quite different values and practices (625).

In her analysis of the Pine Ridge documents, Newmark points to the “tabular data conventions” (628) of the report templates, arguing that they result in “anonymized (or depersonalized) lists,” with categorizations of populations as “Indians,” “Half-Breeds,” and “Whites.” Such enumerations, Newmark argues, reflect the control exerted by the colonial power and the importance given to expediency over capturing the lived realities of the residents (627). Similarly, in Newmark’s view, the use of an “umbrella term,” in this case “Chronic Rheumatism,” that is then belied by extensive lists of specific ailments later in the document, serves to both “flatten out nuance” while demonstrating the existence of “pervasive health problems community-wide” (628).

A second section of the report allows the physician to append some of his own thoughts; for Newmark, Grinnell’s unusually extensive use of this space indicates that he takes his responsibilities seriously at the same time that he reveals the colonizing agenda behind the process by contrasting the services he offers from “civilized life” with the treatment Native communities could expect from “their medicine men with the clangor of tom-toms” (qtd. in Newmark 630). Thus, Newmark argues, Grinnell reports on a “cultural accommodation” to Western, Christianized values at odds with the traditions of the community (630). She posits that the tensions embedded in this contrast may have foretold the Wounded Knee tragedy that lay ahead.

For Newmark, the second document, produced in Minnesota a quarter-century later, reveals the “perpetuation” of the bureaucratic mindset that dehumanized Native populations by recording their experiences in formats designed to foreground efficiency and depersonalization (631). She notes a design consistency she finds telling in that the tabular data in both documents precedes the opportunity for more revealing comment (632).

In the Minnesota document, the physician is specifically instructed to use his space for remarks to comment on the state of the buildings under his jurisdiction: “The physician is asked not about patients, but about facilities” (634; emphasis original). In his remarks, Dr. Brooks, expressed the need for “an infirmary for the very old people” who often “live in solitude, and are ill prepared to look after themselves” (qtd. in Newmark 634-35). Newmark maintains that the specific instructions Brooks followed made it less likely that he would address the cultural issues that characterized Grinnell’s report and less likely that he would feel free to speak to real human needs (635).

The author contrasts the work of the non-Native physicians whose reports she studied with the tenure of Dr. Carlos Montezuma, who served in North Dakota contemporaneously with Grinnell and later at the Carlisle Indian School (635). Montezuma, Newmark writes, grew frustrated with his inability to provide the needed support through government agencies and became an independent activist through his own medical practice and a newsletter, Wassaja (636).

Newmark notes that a Native physician, Charles Alexander Eastman, was appointed agency physician at Pine Ridge in October, 1980, three months before the Wounded Knee massacre (631). In the text and in an extensive note (639n3), Newmark presents the implications of the fact that Eastman’s reports on his role during the massacre are missing from the Kansas City National Archives even though the archives contain formal documents from other physicians of the time. Queries to archives have not produced the missing materials.

From her studies of what the archives do contain as well as what is less accessible or missing, Newmark sees the need for scholars of technical and professional communication interested in the relationship between bureaucracy and colonialism to search for records of the work of Native physicians, exploring how they may have responded to and perhaps resisted the rhetorical demands of their roles (637). She urges scholars to consider how research conventions in their own work may be complicit in what Linda Tuhiwai Smith deems a process of “classification and representation” implicated in power issues (637). Worth study, in Newmark’s view, is the nature of archives themselves, which must be assumed to be incomplete (640n7).

The Western tradition answers the question “What is real?” by placing what is deemed to be real—reports, authorized histories—in official archives. The genre of the report is a genre of the presumptive authoritative real. (637; emphasis original)

Newmark includes figures showing the documents she discusses and her notes link to zoomable copies of the materials.


Leave a comment

Lauer and Brumberger. Workplace Writing as Multimodal Editing. CCC, June 2019. Posted 07/30/2019.

Lauer, Claire, and Eva Brumberger. “Redefining Writing for the Responsive Workplace.” College Composition and Communication 70.4 (2019): 634-63. Print.

Claire Lauer and Eva Brumberger received a grant from the Conference on College Composition and Communication to study workplace writing. They recruited nine professional writers and shadowed them in the workplace for twelve hours each for a total of more than a hundred hours (642). The study included pre- and post-observation interviews that the authors believed not only allowed them a nuanced view of the writers’ work experiences but also afforded a glimpse into features of current workplace writing that the writers themselves may not have recognized (643).

Participants included content and media strategists, technical writers and editors, communications directors, and “UX” or user-experience analysts (642).

The authors describe the current state of professional workplace writing as characterized by ongoing, often rapid and unpredictable change (638). They cite past studies that found that the ability to collaborate with team members and experts, to innovate and adapt to evolving contexts and audiences, to use a range of developing technologies across platforms, and to produce multiple genres were widely valued by employers (638-39). While “writing” continued to be a much-sought-after capability, studies of job descriptions found that new positions such as “content developer” or “social media writer” increasingly appeared. Desirable traits included time management, critical thinking, and “detail orientation” (639).

The authors argue that traditional understandings not only of “writing” but also of “editing” no longer align with what students can expect to find in the workplace. The model of writing taught in classrooms, proceeding from invention of original material through drafting and revision, they contend, is “isolated and siloed” in comparison to what will actually be required (639, 647). Lauer and Brumberger find that in the current workplace, a writer’s job shifts from classical invention and production to finding the best use of information to further an employer’s goals within time and budget limitations (644).

To describe this shift, the authors argue that “editing” can on longer be considered a “review” process separate from writing and intended to improve clarity or correctness or to ensure quality (640-41). Rather, they claim that workplace writing now is “writing-as-multimodal-editing,” in which writers “work with myriad modes of content—often encountered in medias res after the content has been originated by coworkers or consultants” (637).

Multimodal editors are responsible for modifying, adapting, designing, editing, selecting and constructing content in ways that are dispersed, nonlinear, collaborative, and responsive. (637)

To show writers “Working with Existing Content,” they depict “Tom” “extract[ing]” multiple genres from a press release received overnight (645) and “Connie” working with a video provided by a client (646). Though the writers characterized their work as “writing,” the authors contend that “writing-as-editing” more accurately captured their activities (647).

The importance of “Specific Constraints” is depicted by the need to produce video segments with a demarcated time frame and to meet exact requirements for original words in “site content” in order to improve search-engine optimization (648-49). The authors illustrate “Versioned Communication” via Tom’s need to convert press releases and technical documents to forms accessible to “your regular person” and suitable for social media, as well as for audiences in the organization’s “internal education, sales, and management teams” (649-50).

The use of press releases also serves as a demonstration of the “Hybridization of Genre Conventions” (650). Lauer and Brumberger’s observations note how such conventions may be tweaked, as when a printed manual that has been converted to a tablet app for technicians is structured with chapters to more nearly fit what the users found familiar (651). The authors also contend that genre rules may be “ignored” if necessary to meet the required purpose in the given context (653). For example, Madison, a communications director for a small nonprofit, no longer issues conventional press releases because reporters resisted such extensive documents. Instead, she communicates in smaller chunks like emails and on the phone (651-52).

Moreover, when Madison writes press-release language, she now produces it with a more informal tone that can be reused as a blog post, saving herself time and effort (652). The authors write that Madison’s decision to downplay the traditional press release illustrates the ways in which “editing” often involves choices about what “not” to write before any material is produced at all (653; emphasis original).

Participants also perform “Analytic Optimization,” which the authors describe as micro-level analysis of user responses to seemingly minor decisions via analytical software (653). Conducting “A/B testing of a live website” using two versions of a single menu falls under Ryan’s job responsibilities, while Madison assesses the “various click-through rates of email campaigns and messages,” a task that requires her to stay up-to-date with Facebook algorithms (654). The authors note that these tasks must adhere to budgetary limitations so that the writers must prioritize strategically when choosing among the many small changes that may affect audience responses. They argue that “writers (not developers) have the rhetorical training” for these decisions and can highlight the value of their rhetorical skill in their workplaces (655).

Participants also undertook “Image Considerations,” for example, deciding about the rhetorical effects of using emojis and animations to convey tone, capture attention, and follow changing communication conventions even in official texts (655-57). The need for this rhetorical awareness, in the authors’ view, should encourage writing programs to introduce students to “the rhetoric of a range of modes” (657).

Among suggestions for preparing students for these tasks are methods of acquiring content for manipulation from businesses and organizations and the creation of “sprint assignments” that help students recognize the importance of working within time and length constraints (657-58). Assignments that focus on “repurpos[ing] content” for a variety of contexts, genres, and audiences can encourage an awareness of the rhetorical possibilities and decisions inherent in the original text (659). The authors contend that this focus on multimodal editing privileges revision in ways that more traditional composition instruction may not (658).

The authors write that students learn the rhetorical skills required by workplace writing in composition classrooms, but could also benefit from recognizing the value of multimodal editing skills they already practice on their own. They could be better encouraged to see their knowledge and learning as assets in future professional writing contexts (660).

We need to rethink our notions of authorship, reconsider our assumptions about the traditional writing/editing process, and modify the ways in which we prepare our students for this kind of professional work. (657)


Leave a comment

Opel and Rhodes. User-Centered Design in the Writing Classroom. C&C, in press. Posted 09/09/2018.

Opel, Dawn S., and Jacqueline Rhodes. “Beyond Student as User: Rhetoric, Multimodality, and User-Centered Design.” Computers and Composition (in press) (2017): xxx. Web. 10 Aug. 2018.

Dawn S. Opel and Jacqueline Rhodes write about the complexities that arise when rhetoric and composition incorporates the principles of user-centered design (UCD) into pedagogical methodologies.

Interest in UCD follows from the work of scholars on usability in technical communication, who, the authors note, have addressed the concept of usability as a process of “design and testing of digital technologies” (1). Because technical communication shares affinities with rhetoric and composition, concepts like UCD have migrated into writing pedagogy (2). Opel and Rhodes are concerned that this migration has been accepted uncritically and urge a closer look at how UCD can best enhance the values and goals of current rhetoric and composition theory and instruction (3, 7). They offer a heuristic for adopting UCD to the composition classroom.

According to Opel and Rhodes, industry has incorporated UCD into the larger construct of “user experience” (UX), a term that draws on a number of fields, including market research, branding, psychology, anthropology, library science, software design, and graphic arts, as well as others (2). Technical communication scholar Michael Salvo advanced an early definition of UCD as “a process of collecting data from users, creating feedback in the form of information, and then delivering that information to designers” (qtd. in Opel and Rhodes 2). Writing more recently within the field of UX, Jesse James Garrett offers what the authors call an “extend[ed]” notion of UCD as “the practice of creating engaging, efficient user experiences” (qtd. in Opel and Rhodes 2). The authors see this latter approach as more concerned with making room for user input during design (2).

Opel and Rhodes see problems with such efforts to import UCD into rhetoric and composition because of differences in the underlying philosophies and theoretical approaches. They note that many of the fields from which UX, and by extension UCD, draws are “positivist” in nature, valorizing universal optimal designs (3). The authors cite scholarship from composition scholars acknowledging disjunction among three “competing mentalities” (Keith Garrison, qtd. in Opel and Rhodes 3): “the scientist, philosopher, and rhetorician” (3). This competition makes an affiliation between the positivist bent of UCD and the de-centered, constructivist values of composition problematic (3).

Opel and Rhodes write that a too-facile adoption of UCD principles can ignore the distinction between “user” and “learner” (4). The authors suggest a comparison with the approach taken in engineering pedagogy, which has assimilated tenets of “learner-centered design” (LCD) from the field of education (3). Resembling composition’s concept of active learning, LCD brings into UCD the components of “role-playing, case-based learning, project-based learning, and reflection” (3).

The authors advance their discussion of concerns about UCD in composition by exploring their understanding of rhetoric as ethics. They note that “the concept of UX has emerged in disciplinary conversations, bridging rhetoric, the digital humanities, and UCD” (4). Citing Jesse Stommel’s work on the digital humanities, the authors contend that the goal of this field is “not the creation of an effective system,” but rather “a purposeful breaking” (5) that functions as “an ethical interrogation, if not intervention” (4) into any system that purports to erase cultural differences (5). Arguing that rhetoric is about the relations within a system rather than the structure of the system itself, the authors draw on Kenneth Burke’s claims that all choices and actions have ethical consequences and result from the ethical decisions made by agents (5). In the authors’ view, “Designers, writers, users, and readers, then, can act . . . for ethical or unethical purposes” (5).

From this perspective, compositionists who import UCD into classroom practice have an ethical responsibility to interrogate what the authors see as “an ethic of expediency and efficiency” (6; emphasis original) that arrives via the industry-based vocabulary in which actors’ decisions are “tied inextricably to accumulation of capital” (4). Opel and Rhodes write that compositionists can too easily become like “contemporary UX professionals, who conduct research on consumers/users, rather than design in concert with users . . . in participatory design frameworks” (6).

As an alternative for composition instruction, the authors propose a “theory+play” methodology that sees students as active participants in design, simultaneously recuperating the emphasis on “learner” that “user” tends to elide (7). In this view, multimodal composition, as understood in the field, offers scope for play in that it provides opportunities for “remix and mashup” (6) that accord with the idea of play as defined by Jody Shipka: a process of “purposeful choosing, adaptation, and material flexibility” (qtd. in Opel and Rhodes 7). In such play, the authors contend, actors can ask “what-if questions,” imagine new “realities,” and explore how choices constrain and enable action (7). This approach, in the authors’ view inherent in multimodality, “emphasiz[es] agency rather than reception on the part of students” (7).

Consonant with the emphasis on play is the concept of “speculative design,” which moves from a product intended to meet a predetermined goal to a process that explores what is possible, with the focus more on the “discussion” than the product (7).

The authors note that it is common to think of design as “problem solving” (9). They address, however, the issue of what happens when the problems faced by cultures today do not admit of solutions. In this respect, they argue for rhetoric understood as “embodied, relational, ethical, and playful” (7). They draw on Burke’s comic frame as a foundation for such rhetoric, in that it “insists on the continued responsiveness/responsibility of interactants” (7). Multimodal play, then, constitutes a rhetorical act in which students take responsibility for their purposes and choices and the consequences of their activities as “co-creators/designers of discourse operating in complex public spheres” (8).

The authors’ heuristic for incorporating UCD into the classroom provides seven tenets. Several of these address the need for interrogation of “industry rhetoric” as it extols “expediency, efficiency, engagement” (8). Other principles ask for examination of factors like “the cultural systems of normativity” that commonly drive design when it is seen as problem-solving (8).

Opel and Rhodes suggest that these principles follow from a view of design as an act that recognizes its rhetorical nature and that further takes on the inevitable ethical component of all rhetorics as, in Burke’s formulation, “rhetoric,” “persuasion,” and “meaning” (6) are inextricably linked to the purposeful acts of intentional agents. For Opel and Rhodes, UCD that truly positions students as co-designers can enable students to understand their responsibilities within such roles.


Leave a comment

Colby, Rebekah Shultz. Games as Pedagogical Tools. C&C, 2017. Posted 05/11/2017.

Colby, Rebekah Shultz. “Game-based Pedagogy in the Writing Classroom.” Computers and Composition 43 (2017): 55-72. Web. 29 Jan. 2017.

Rebekah Shultz Colby conducted a series of interviews to determine how writing teachers use video games as teaching tools in their classrooms; she asked as well about their “rationales” for using games (55).

Colby located 24 teachers who use games in writing classrooms via a “purposeful snowball technique” (59), asking colleagues in various venues if they knew of anyone teaching with games; she also posted an invitation to the Facebook group “Academic Gamers” (60). She used this method in preference to posting on more widely based listservs because scholarship on the use of games suggested that she would find very few teachers using games through conventional sources (60).

She cites as a primary motivation for her study providing more teachers with the resources to use games. In her view, teachers avoid using games because there are no textbooks or other kinds of apparatus dedicated to this pedagogy, because most scholarship on the topic has consisted of isolated case studies, and because articles reviewing the use of games in classrooms neglects games as tools for specifically teaching writing (58). Thus, for Colby, teachers are discouraged from using games because they lack a sense of the many different options and trends in gaming as a pedagogical resource. Further, teachers may find the complexity of games and the lack of support daunting, especially if they are not gamers themselves (59).

Colby argues that using games provides “rich pedagogical opportunities” (59) such as the exploration of “richly multimodal spaces that incorporate visual, aural, written, spatial, and kinesthetic modes” (56) that create true multimodality because the different modes “remediate” each other rather than standing inertly in relation to each other (56).

She further advocates for games as teaching tools by stressing how they function as “complex systems” that encourage “systemic thinking: how one person’s actions can affect the entire system” (56). Moreover, she contends, as nonlinear experiences, games inspire exploration and experimentation, including “emergent play” in which gamers change or subvert the rules and ostensible goals of the designers. This kind of play can become “potentially resistant” as students enact the theories incorporated into the game as “set[s] of domains or systems of meaning making” (56). Colby argues, for example, that diverse gender roles in games can “embody for students both queer and feminist theory” (57).

Further, Colby maintains that the “paratexts” surrounding game design and play—“walk-throughs, FAQ guides, tutorials, and online discussion forums”—provide opportunities for analyzing and practicing technical writing genres (57). Colby notes that both games and classrooms are “activity systems” with their own rules and purposes (57); whereas classrooms, as specific activity systems, often conflict with the very different extra-academic systems teachers hope to integrate into coursework, games are just such a system that engages students beyond the classroom via processes with which they are already familiar (57).

In coding interviews, Colby detected “seven overarching approaches” used by teachers who teach with games (60). “Game Rhetorical Analysis” allows teachers to introduce study of “communicative affordances and constraints” as well as shifts in audiences as factors in the “meaning and persuasiveness” embodied by in a game (61). Rhetorical analysis also includes the concept of “procedurality” (61), which includes awareness of how specific procedures “position players in specific ways” (61), for example by forcing players to adopt specific personas subject to procedural limitations. Students can also be encouraged to consider ways in which procedures can be “broken” as a critical response to this positioning, a possibility that Colby feels is specific to games as rhetorical encounters (62).

“Composing New Texts: Game Design” is an approach that asks students to develop their own persuasive or educational games (62). A variation involves asking students to recast a written text as a game. Further, game design as a teaching tool can draw students into an enactment of “new media theory” about the role and function of multimodality as well as aspects of design itself, such as those delineated by Robin Williams (63).

Under the approach titled “Games Illustrate Theory,” Colby includes teachers who use games to introduce students to cultural and critical theory (63). Games “interpolate players in certain ways” (63), and a particular assignment that constrains students followed by classroom discussion of how such positioning affects choices can make students more aware of how such Foucauldian “disciplining” works in other systems and contexts (64). One teacher quoted by Colby writes that games “often hail players as individuals, promising them the ultimate in agency, but only if they consent to consume the games in very specific ways” (63).

“Writing with Game Industry Genres” exploits the range of “paratexts” involved in game design and dissemination. Cobly argues that students working on talk-aloud protocols and usability testing can explore how their writing is taken up and used within the “gaming discourse communities” (64).

“Games as a Research and Writing Space” (64) denotes classroom activities in which students investigate specific questions, such as gendered behavior among gamers, and share their results with widely networked gaming audiences, garnering feedback and “a deeper identification with role of researcher” (65).

In “Games Enhance Writing Transfer,” Colby describes teachers using reflection to encourage students to consider what skills they learned from playing games and how these skills might be employed in other contexts (65-66). Similarly, students can compare composing in a game setting with composing other forms of communication and can understand such abstract concepts as kairos by studying how games and their paratexts evolve across rhetorical situations. Some teacher use games to develop reading comprehension, while others find games useful in introducing students to the complexities of collaboration, both in play and in design (66).

Finally, some teachers developed strategies of “Gamification,” in which they converted learning experiences into games, exploiting games’ intrinsic motivation, “positive emotions,” and “sense of accomplishment” to encourage learning. Colby contrasts this use of game structure for learning with “Pointsification,” in which teachers allow students to work for points as they would in games, perhaps even allowing avatars to “die” if enough points are lost (67). Colby cites critique of such systems as providing primarily extrinsic motivation, noting that while participation in an activity may increase while points are being accumulated, in one study, “students stopped using the app once they had accomplished the achievements” (67).

Colby’s quantitative results suggest that games contributed most often to rhetorical analysis and least often to specific ways to encourage “transfer about aspects of the writing process” (68). Colby advocates a clear understanding of the kinds of outcomes being stressed and the importance of incorporating games for a specific purpose rather than just for their own sake (68). She provides suggestions to help teachers become more confident in their own identities as gamers and to include minority students who may not identify with the gaming culture (68-69).


Leave a comment

Litterio, Lisa M. Contract Grading: A Case Study. J of Writing Assessment, 2016. Posted 04/20/2017.

Litterio, Lisa M. “Contract Grading in a Technical Writing Classroom: A Case Study.” Journal of Writing Assessment 9.2 (2016). Web. 05 Apr. 2017.

In an online issue of the Journal of Writing Assessment, Lisa M. Litterio, who characterizes herself as “a new instructor of technical writing,” discusses her experience implementing a contract grading system in a technical writing class at a state university in the northeast. Her “exploratory study” was intended to examine student attitudes toward the contract-grading process, with a particular focus on how the method affected their understanding of “quality” in technical documents.

Litterio’s research into contract grading suggests that it can have the effect of supporting a process approach to writing as students consider the elements that contribute to an “excellent” response to an assignment. Moreover, Litterio contends, because it creates a more democratic classroom environment and empowers students to take charge of their writing, contract grading also supports critical pedagogy in the Freirean model. Litterio draws on research to support the additional claim that contract grading “mimic[s] professional practices” in that “negotiating and renegotiating a document” as students do in contracting for grades is a practice that “extends beyond the classroom into a workplace environment.”

Much of the research she reports dates to the 1970s and 1980s, often reflecting work in speech communication, but she cites as well models from Ira Shor, Jane Danielewicz and Peter Elbow, and Asao Inoue from the 2000s. In a common model, students can negotiate the quantity of work that must be done to earn a particular grade, but the instructor retains the right to assess quality and to assign the final grade. Litterio depicts her own implementation as a departure from some of these models in that she did make the final assessment, but applied criteria devised collaboratively by the students; moreover, her study differs from earlier reports of contract grading in that it focuses on the students’ attitudes toward the process.

Her Fall 2014 course, which she characterizes as a service course, enrolled twenty juniors and seniors representing seven majors. Neither Litterio nor any of the students were familiar with contract grading, and no students withdrew on learning from the syllabus and class announcements of Litterio’s grading intentions. At mid-semester and again at the end of the course, Litterio administered an anonymous open-ended survey to document student responses. Adopting the role of “teacher-researcher,” Litterio hoped to learn whether involvement in the generation of criteria led students to a deeper awareness of the rhetorical nature of their projects, as well as to “more involvement in the grading process and more of an understanding of principles discussed in technical writing, such as usability and document design.”

Litterio shares the contract options, which allowed students to agree to produce a stated number of assignments of either “excellent,” “great,” or “good” quality, an “entirely positive grading schema” that draws on Frances Zak’s claim that positive evaluations improved student “authority over their writing.”

The criteria for each assignment were developed in class discussion through an open voting process that resulted in general, if not absolute, agreement. Litterio provides the class-generated criteria for a resumé, which included length, format, and the expectations of “specific and strong verbs.” As the instructor, Litterio ultimately decided whether these criteria were met.

Mid-semester surveys indicated that students were evenly split in their preferences for traditional grading models versus the contract-grading model being applied. At the end of the semester, 15 of the 20 students expressed a preference for traditional grading.

Litterio coded the survey responses and discovered specific areas of resistance. First, some students cited the unfamiliarity of the contract model, which made it harder for them to “track [their] own grades,” in one student’s words. Second, the students noted that the instructor’s role in applying the criteria did not differ appreciably from instructors’ traditional role as it retained the “bias and subjectivity” the students associated with a single person’s definition of terms like “strong language.” Students wrote that “[i]t doesn’t really make a difference in the end grade anyway, so it doesn’t push people to work harder,” and “it appears more like traditional grading where [the teacher] decide[s], not us.”

In addition, students resisted seeing themselves and their peers as qualified to generate valid criteria and to offer feedback on developing drafts. Students wrote of the desire for “more input from you vs. the class,” their sense that student-generated criteria were merely “cosmetics,” and their discomfort with “autonomy.” Litterio attributes this resistance to the role of expertise to students’ actual novice status as well as to the nature of the course, which required students to write for different discourse communities because of their differing majors. She suggests that contract grading may be more appropriate for writing courses within majors, in which students may be more familiar with the specific nature of writing in a particular discipline.

However, students did confirm that the process of generating criteria made them more aware of the elements involved in producing exemplary documents in the different genres. Incorporating student input into the assessment process, Litterio believes, allows instructors to be more reflective about the nature of assessment in general, including the risk of creating a “yes or no . . . dichotomy that did not allow for the discussions and subjectivity” involved in applying a criterion. Engaging students throughout the assessment process, she contends, provides them with more agency and more opportunity to understand how assessment works. Student comments reflect an appreciation of having a “voice.”

This study, Litterio contends, challenges the assumption that contract grading is necessarily “more egalitarian, positive, [and] student-centered.” The process can still strike students as biased and based entirely on the instructor’s perspective, she found. She argues that the reflection on the relationship between student and teacher roles enabled by contract grading can lead students to a deeper understanding of “collective norms and contexts of their actions as they enter into the professional world.”


1 Comment

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)