Week 8 ENGL 516

 “The Low Bridge to High Benefits: Entry-Level Multimedia, Literacies, and Motivation”

 Daniel Anderson

This article is causing me to have many contrasting ideas.  For instance, while I can see the benefit and use of learning to use and employ different technologies in order to produce multimodal projects, I’m conflicted.  On the one hand, this is not something I have done outside this graduate program, so I’ve found it, for the most part, difficult.  The technologies aside (and that’s a BIG aside), it’s the idea of creating work using multiple forms of expression I have problems with.  I never learned to do it, I don’t particularly like it (being heavily left-brained), and I am not good at it (this is my luck, the minute I get the hang of “how things work”, it changes dramatically).  Now, I know that sounds cranky and bitter.  It is.  At the same time, there are only so many hours in the day.

I hope that the pedagogy of today is catching up faster than implied by so many of the articles we read, and that students are better prepared for the tech-oriented nature of academia.  Probably they are, and I’m simply paying the price for being old (so to speak).  Still, I wonder how useful making multiple videos or slideshows is, if it’s completely unrelated to what you’ll need to do for a job.  I’m in no way against knowledge for its own sake, and for the most part I feel like I just need to learn this stuff.  The other part of me?  Totally not interested in anything to do with videos…or teaching writing.   My options being limited by my schedule, here I am in two teaching of writing courses…with no plans to ever teach writing.  So, this has turned into more a personal rant than anything.  Oops.  Seriously, though, I like to think that we are preparing students for creative engagement and performance of civic duty.  Oh, and for the real world of employment.

In the meantime, perhaps we should have some technology courses for those of us that didn’t grow up with it, and haven’t engaged with new technologies much?  We are at a decided disadvantage and I don’t think it’s something you can do on your own.  There’s too much to learn.  It’s implicit for those growing up with it, but for those of us that didn’t, some explicit explanation would be exceedingly welcome.

The idea of motivation being essential is an interesting one, and again I have to confess that I do not have much when it comes to learning about teaching writing.  I have a vague interest, being a mother of two.  Outside that, I do not plan to teach writing, so I spend a lot (too much) time kicking myself for not doing a better job with my course schedule.

Then there’s this: “That Moriah found the visual mode more challenging than an essay might suggest that the grammars of visual literacy (while difficult because less familiar) may also be difficult because they enable a complexity of expression that rivals that of print. Appropriate technical challenges provide engagement, and the degree of difficulty translates not only into motivation but also into intellectual rigor.”  I think this is spot on, but how does one give oneself a crash course in how to utilize visual literacy in academic expression?  I ask, not rhetorically.  Difficulty does not always translate into motivation and intellectual rigor.  Sometimes it translates into apathy, despair, or panic.  I’m playing devil’s advocate here, but I can’t help thinking that while all the creative folks were denied forms of expression that would be more appropriate for them (which is grossly unfair), the tables have shifted in the other direction.  The old standard is the new minimum. It is a time of creativity and flexibility.  I like the idea of being able to do this: “a workaround that surveyed the available means of production and then moved fluidly between software applications and methods of composition”.

It would be nice to take this concern: “When it comes to integrating multiliteracies into composition classrooms, those who create environments where writers can experience the personal engagement that will translate into motivation and rich convergences of literacies are few and far between. When it comes to really transforming education with new media, even many compositionists must still find their voice”, and find the time to translate it into this reality: “Such a space embraces student creativity and pushes for movement from the practical to the personal to the public, knowing that as multimodal projects are moved from the studio to the networked world they will carry forward “the active mobilization of every individual’s latent creativity, and then, following on from that, the molding of the society of the future based on the total energy of this individual creativity””.

 “Making the Implicit Explicit in Assessing Multimodal Composition: Continuing the Conversation.”

  Susan Katz and Lee Odell

During the first part of this article, I kept thinking not of the difficulties of assessing print text versus multimodal text, but of the personal dynamic.  What I kept thinking, in relation to the conversation they show between the teachers, is that a lot of success in academia lies in sussing out exactly what each teacher is looking for.  Without making judgments about that, the process of learning about human nature involved with determining what a teacher wants is a highly useful skill.  It isn’t precisely marketable, one can’t put on their resume, “–learned to deal with crotchety old guy who never gives As, and got an A”, but it is an extremely valuable skill, nonetheless.

Getting to the point of the article, which I see summarized here: “new media present new affordances for writers and new challenges for those of us who must assess these media and then incorporate our assessment into our teaching” (3)  It would seem that one is still going to be looking for the same elements, and that the trouble lies in being able to know them when you see them.  In other words, a text (of any sort) still has all the same rhetorical elements, but when these elements are expressed with video, or art, or pastiche, determining their significance is a different skill from reading an essay.  As they point out, “Whether in print or in video, we are accustomed to identifying points at which an instruction is ambiguous or ways in which a claim does or does not measure up to standards of verbal disciplinary argument. But scholarly multimedia requires that we recognize ways in which, to use Ball’s phrase, visual elements ‘‘enact’’ an argument” (3).

Overall, I really like the way they point to the importance of definitions.  If we do not define the parameters of what is expected and appropriate with classroom assignments, how can we both expect students to do what is asked and how can we, without universal definitions, expect them to succeed in future endeavors?  Importantly, how can we possibly do all this and yet remain flexible?

Last week = total garbage.

So, it’s Tuesday evening, and my kids are sick, and so am I (I’m so over sickness, seriously).  I’m missing class. I go to finish up the paper I’m writing for 515 and when I “select all” in order to change the font so it all matches (the last thing I need to do), the program I’m using (libre office) crashes.  Like 10 times.  No matter how I try to fix the problem.  The message that my OS was experiencing an internal error kept popping up.  So I say to heck with it, and copy paste the document into Google so I can finish it and turn it in.  Makes sense, right?  Sure.  Until my stupid internet quits working (my OS seriously hates me sometimes–annoyingly, usually in the middle of the semester).

I worked like 40 hours last week, and just frankly gave up on getting things to cooperate with me.  Eventually (this weekend) I convinced my computer to load in the other OS.  Now I have internet, and I’m playing catch up.  I missed the paper, and I missed most of a week of blogs and online coursework.  So, yeah, that sucked.  Still does, in fact, as I scramble to get everything done with one kid still sick (she goes to the doctor in the morning).

I don’t have an excuse, nor would I offer one.  I could have gone to the library after work.  I didn’t.

My new mantra: things are going to move forward in amazingly productive and positive ways.  That’s right, it’s long, but I mean every word of it.

Ch 8 & 14 HALR, The Neglected “R”, Ivanič, Anson

Chapter 8: Divided Against Ourselves

Standards, Assessments, and Adolescent Literacy

James Marshall

On page 113, Marshall points out that while shorter-lived than its predecessors, the “standards period” (though we’ve yet to label it that, it fits), “has proved comparably powerful in framing debates about schooling at the national, state, and local levels”.  My questions revolve around the reason(s) for that.  What about our society caused us to so embrace this ideology of standards and assessments?  What’s in the discourse of our times that makes this make sense?  Is this really how a majority of people think it should work, and if not, why is it happening anyway?  These are larger ‘how does policy work’ questions, but I can’t help but wonder.

The irony!  I keep reading that the reforms have been implemented…without evidence…and the original claims made about our “nation at risk” were also presented…without evidence.  So, while we expect our students to provide evidence, and we teach the value of empirical evidence, we don’t actually worry about it when it comes to examining test results or teaching standards? In example, “standards policies themselves are seldom evidence-based” and, “generated in response to some modestly shifting test results that are linked-without evidence”. Scary stuff, that.

“To interrogate those policies, to marshal research evidence questioning their assumptions or their procedures, would be to stand somehow against educational excellence, against even our national stature in the world.”  This left the educational community with the options of accepting, “the policies’ basic terms or…criticizing high-profile reforms rather than authoring them” (115).  Well, shit. Again, how ironic is it to NOT use evidence and critical examination when it comes to education reform?  Politics and its rhetoric can be so irritating.

Developing national standards is fraught with difficulties: how can a culturally and economically diverse country possibly have uniform practices for their classrooms when the diversities are ignored?  This, along with the misguided assumption that all subject areas are as tidy as mathematics with regard to things like curricular content, makes for a nasty dynamic.

“the NCTE Task Force members charged with developing national standards in literacy were, in fact, theorizing literacy and literacy teaching. The national standards project helped us define who we were by teaching us what we were not.”  <–old story, new chapter

The state standards seem to be defined by measurability, as opposed to usability.

The theme of morality is an interesting one to examine here.  It is an underpinning of most conservative political ideology, at least on the surface, while actually being nothing but a misguided ideological agenda, in reality. 116: “William Bennett proclaimed the need for teachers to inculcate a “moral literacy” in their students because those students ‘need reliable standards for deciding what should be prized and what should be shunned’”. 121: “They assume, in other words, that ‘ineffective teaching and learning is a problem of moral deficiency and that testing will prompt both students and teachers to greater effort’”.  Wow.  The asshattery is astounding.  This theme of moral deficiency is concurrent with the concept of accountability; the assumption, that teachers have been flailing around in the dark with no accountability and no intrinsic morality, thereby ruining our education system and subsequently entire generations of students’ literacy skills, is preposterous.
It brings out another point about curricular content, as well.  In trying to align content across the nation and ignoring the diversity of people, needs, and situations, an environment is created that puts morality in the background. We learn morality mostly in the context of our cultures and current events (be they personal, local, or national), after all, so presuming that the morals of The Great Gatsby (yay for the roaring 20s) are applicable to all high school and FYC university students is fairly outrageous.  We do not currently deal with prohibition or the lack thereof in the same sense; our moral landscape has profoundly altered since a century ago. That’s not to say there aren’t relevant concepts, it’s to say that we need more texts and discussions that are not the same tired old thing.

In essence, it has been shown that teaching to the test doesn’t work as well as regular instruction for some tests (this comes from the ACT piece as well, I believe), and teachers are still increasingly pushed to do it anyway, and not for pedagogical reasons whatsoever.  They need their students to perform well on these tests so that schools can retain funding, teachers can retain jobs, and “standards can be met”.  In effect, it lowers the quality of the literacy taught.  Total nightmare scenario (also why I refuse to teach–and yes I am familiar with the argument about this, which is much the same for the one about people who don’t want kids and how they are the ones that should have them.  I didn’t want kids, I have them and I adore them, and I’m not teaching. So there.)

Summary quote: “There is a serious incompatibility between the current standards and assessment movement and our long-established, research-supported best practices in the teaching of literacy”. (122)

Question: if the NCTE/IRA standards were rejected by the Department of Education (and is this the divide, between educational organizations and the feds?), what standards were then employed by the Department of Ed for their national standards and assessment policies? The NCLB?

This makes me angry: (mostly because I’m sure it’s true) “The question becomes whether we prepare students to teach comfortably in school cultures that are being reshaped by assessment intensification or attempt to provide them with tools with which they might resist or work around that intensification.  The former approach might betray some of our most central professional commitments, whereas the latter would ask young teachers to make difficult, potentially damaging professional decisions near the beginning of their careers” (122).  This, to me, is reprehensible.  How can we have a set of what educators across the board deem best practices (that are based on research), and ignore that in favor of a politically charged (and created) situation surrounding the “crisis” of our education system?  GAH.

procrustean – marked by arbitrary often ruthless disregard of individual differences or special circumstances, producing or designed to produce strict conformity by ruthless or arbitrary means.

The Neglected “R”

This chapter makes one huge point-we should spend a lot more time on the teaching of writing. In this case, the teaching of writing is a phrase that includes what we teach future writing teachers, what we teach students learning how to write well, what we teach teachers of all subjects about writing, and how we treat writing in general.

It is based in the premise that writing is act of discovery that is itself a method of learning (while doing).  It also examines the notion that we have compartmentalized the subject (process?) of writing in what has to be one of the worst ways possible.  By acting as though writing is one aspect of English, that is acquirable through memorization of a few facts and rules, we have done our students a grave disservice.

According to this chapter, writing is an essential aspect of knowledge creation, one that should be taught in every subject area.  That, I couldn’t agree more with.  I’ve always found it curious that we don’t do a lot in regards to teaching writing, and even more curious that what we do teach is so prescriptive and formulaic (the 5 paragraph essay), and nothing like what comes out of…well, any discipline really.  We do not teach according to genre or subject in secondary school, as far as I experienced.

“Writing is best understood as a complex intellectual activity that requires students to stretch their minds, sharpen their analytical capabilities, and make valid and accurate distinctions” (13).  Certainly these are skills that prove useful regardless of the area one employs them in. We don’t treat writing as a facet of every subject, despite the obvious fact that writing exists not only within every discipline, but in pretty much every single aspect of our lives. This chapter makes the case (again, I’m thinking) for an(other) expansion of our education system, in which students don’t just learn information they can spit out onto a scantron sheet, they learn how to learn…and maybe even develop the desire to learn as much as possible.  Wouldn’t that be awesome?

Discourses of Writing and Learning to Write

Roz Ivanič

It is interesting on page 228 how the discussion of writing discourses leads to the examination of the political dichotomy that’s been created between the basic mechanics of English and other aspects of writing.  I fail to see why this needs to be an either/or scenario, rather than an and/with situation.

The idea that to learn to write and become a good writer, one must have an interest in the material and practice, is one that seems to have a sound basis in pedagogical practices.  “people learn to write by writing, hence learning to write involves writing as much as possible” (229).
My own experiences are reflected in the following quotes:
“the belief that knowledge about the patterns and rules of written language are best learned implicitly” (228), and: “learning about how to write and what counts as good writing is implicit in the acts of writing and reading, rather than having to be taught explicitly” (229).  This follows along with the idea of apprenticeship as a learning method. I have found it be very effective at providing a formula for different rhetorical concerns.  For instance, if I don’t know how to write something, I will certainly look at the conventions, but I will also examine something that’s already been written. It is a fast, effective way of learning to do something new or unfamiliar (at least for writing).

It’s interesting, on page 232, how he suggests that, “attention to writing processes is relatively uncontentious”, after he outlines how the practice of writing personal narratives has required “sensitive and aware teachers of writing [to champion] the value of writing which represents the experience, perspectives, and ‘voice’ of learner writers” (229), “considered by many current literacy researchers as…serving only to ‘authorise disadvantage’ by encouraging learners to write texts which will not be valued in the real world” (230).  This causes the reflection that while the process versus product debate might be raging theoretically, teachers have continued to operate with what they know to be best practices (which coincides with what I know of teachers of English struggling with NCLB).  I mean, honestly, if practice is one of the best ways to facilitate the learning of writing (and I think that’s true), then why wouldn’t a teacher encourage learners to write what interests them (which is going to be their own stories, let’s be honest)? Ivanič seems to promote a holistic approach that involves many of the discourses he discusses, avoiding pigeonholing any of them as “the one that works best” in a narrow formulaic way, preferring instead to showcase the values and drawbacks of each.
(more later)

Week 7 ENGL 516: Week 4 MOOC

The original blog I wrote on this piece:

Thinking Critically about Digital Literacy: A Learning Sequence on Pens, Pages, and Pixels

by Donald C. Jones

I see a continuum that started in my generation during grade school, with respect to familiarity with and use of computer technologies. Many of my generation were into video games. We had a home computer when I was about 9, but I never played video games. We played Oregon Trail on floppy disks on Apple 2e desktops in elementary school, and had computer class with the black screens and the green characters when I was in middle school. Even as far ahead as high school, I remember there being computers for research, and I don’t remember if we used them for searching for books within the school’s stacks or not. I did type papers, but I don’t think I did research on a computer in high school. Most of what I needed was in our textbooks. Certainly I didn’t have the internet at home and I was an adult long before I learned how to work a VCR or owned a cell phone.

The point I am trying to make with this rambling post is that each year, kids get more and more savvy with new technologies, and this continuum of familiarity with what technologies are capable of wasn’t necessarily immediately reflected in the curriculum. Things happened so fast, it was hard to keep up unless spending a huge amount of time immersed in technology-related activities. It seems that digital literacy took time to gain favor, and that many teachers were less tech-savvy than their students, despite obvious efforts to keep up. People are starting to catch up and the prejudices about digital literacy are changing as the possibilities have come to light, and the discussion, as noted in the article, is losing its polarity.

This might seem like old news to those already fully integrated in the technological landscape, but I was behind most of my peers, and each generation has an advantage over the last at least in terms of familiarity. Especially when it comes to tasks like web page design. Seriously, I can’t do that. Well, I can, but it’s a huge struggle. In short, many of the problems experienced by those unaccustomed to gathering information online are temporal, though sometimes it’s access-related of course. The double-edged sword effect (p. 217) won’t be as noticeable, I’m thinking, in 20 years. At least for this aspect of literacy…as Chris points out (p.217): “It could be said, then, that the best student is one who can recognize the strengths of each type of literacy and use each format when it is most appropriate to to do so. ” They are certainly more complementary than opposite.

A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures (The New London Group)

This is by far the best article I have read this semester (and I’ve read a lot of them).  That said, it’s also incredibly dense (in a good way, unless you are trying for a semi-brief but nonetheless coherent blog post).  In keeping with these facts, I want to address a few points this article makes.

I think these quotes frame a decent summary of their discussion of literacy pedagogies: “This is the basis for a cohesive sociality, a new civility in which differences are used as a productive resource and in which differences are the norm.”  “When learners juxtapose different languages, discourses, styles, and approaches, they gain substantively in meta-cognitive and meta-linguistic abilities and in their ability to reflect critically on complex systems and their interactions.”

I find what they say here refreshing as well: “Insofar as differences are now a core, mainstream issue, the core or the mainstream has changed.” “This is the basis for a transformed pedagogy of access – access to symbolic capital with a real valence in the emergent realities of our time.” “The role of pedagogy is to develop an epistemology of pluralism that provides access without people having to erase or leave behind different subjectivities.”  It’s amazingly relevant still, considering the age of the article. The depth of understanding how multiculturality should work within literacy pedagogy is impressive.

“The metalanguage of multiliteracies describes the elements of Design, not as rules, but as an heuristic that accounts for the infinite variability of different forms of meaning-making in relation to the cultures, subcultures, or the layers of an individual’s identity that these forms serve.”

Overall, this is a fantastic piece that I plan on coming back to (hopefully more today, even). The general theme of redesigning the curriculum to reflect the actual fluidity and flexibility of our multi-faceted culture, discourse activities, genre conventions, language uses, and social practices is both intriguing and deserves much attention.  Even now.  Especially now.

Chapters 18 & 19 HALR

Chapter 18: Literacy in Virtual Worlds

Rebecca W. Black

Constance Steinkuehler

On page 273, right-hand column, last paragraph, they discuss how “traditional expert and novice roles are often reversed as younger members (often adolescents) play the role of ‘old timers’ within the community, giving ‘expert’ feedback to adults on various aspects of popular culture.  In such contexts, the outward trappings of youth can sometimes disappear, providing adolescents an opportunity to take on and experiment with more adult (or even childlike) roles in a community.”  This is a key intervention in the process of identity formation, and it’s interesting to consider the differences between those who have regular internet access outside school and those without out-of-school internet access.  I would imagine that the issue of quality of interaction is somewhat less critical than the issue of quantity, in this case.

On page 277, left-hand column, end of first paragraph: “Research such as Chandler-Olcott and Mahar’s also contradicts claims that electronic media diverts users from activities such as reading, writing, and broader civic participation.  Instead, these robust characterizations of virtual spaces serve to reframe a new generation of tech-savvy adolescents and fans as “consumers who also produce, readers who also write, and spectators who also participate”.”  I’m left both encouraged and wondering by these sentences.  It’s great that online interaction is given its due, so to speak, for the quality and type of interactions it supports. That said, being tech-savvy isn’t going to get you through an interview.  But most of these kids go to school and learn social literacy there so I would imagine that overall, the scale tips in favor of online interactions for adolescents.

“it appears more empirically accurate to conclude that successful MMO gameplay is itself a constellation of literacy activities rather than something that might displace such practices in the lives of adolescents and young adults.”  <–That sounds about right.

This chapter is fascinating to me, for all of its information about gaming and literacy practice.  I knew they were complicated, but I have to admit I drank some of the kool-aid about online multiplayer gaming being a wasteful, entertainment-only kind of engagement.

I really appreciate this from page 283 (I excluded some in parens content): “Games, like all new media before them, have roused deeply ambivalent feelings in American culture, often masking deeper societal tensions and problems, an attitude often rooted in societal guilt over the mistreatment of American youth, one that again casts them as the source of the problems rather than the victims of those oft-ignored risk factors associated with them.”  It would be an interesting study in culture to look at the rise of popularity of video games and how that intersects the relationships of adolescents with both their peers and their family members.  The point is well taken that these are not just kids passively absorbing capitalist culture, but a form of social storytelling–one of our best forms of meaning-making.

Chapter 19: Reading and Writing Video

Media Literacy and Adolescents

David L. Bruce

Umm, right.  I’ll be reading this tomorrow.